Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Don't wait until it's too late

196 pounds
We now know for sure that Michael Jackson only weighed 112 pounds at the time of his death. As I said in my last post, that means he had a BMI that was F A R below what is considered healthy. And as more stories come pouring out of the press, it becomes more and more obvious that Michael Jackson was simply not eating the way a healthy person should.

I think we all have known someone in our lives who has suffered from an eating disorder. For me, it was the older sister of one of my childhood friends who I watched deteriorate to almost nothing right before my eyes. What's sad is that I didn't notice it. My mother had to point it out to me, and even after that, I was still shocked when she spent two different months-long stints in the hospital. And what's even more heartbreaking is that I actually saw her as beautiful—her face was so sunken that her cheekbones were as pronounced as those of a supermodel. And though her hair was falling out, I only noticed her long skinny legs, legs that didn't have any of the fleshiness I had on my own, much younger legs. No, I had no idea that she was sick. I simply thought she was stunning.

So it can't be much of a surprise that, around the same time she went into the hospital, I also stopped eating. I was worried about my "thunder thighs" even though I was only 14, hadn't yet stopped growing, and couldn't have had more than 130 pounds on my 5'4" frame (which would have made my BMI a lean 22).

In truth, I was in absolutely perfect shape—some of the more cruel boys in my eighth grade class used to say I looked great "from the neck down," but I never heard the compliment implicit in that awful statement. Instead I focused on the criticism and, therefore, saw myself as horribly ugly.

My response wasn't to get a new haircut—which I desperately needed—or to learn to stand up straight or look boys in the eye. Instead I stopped eating. I thought that if I just lost a little bit of weight, I would be the most popular girl in my class.

I decided to start my adventures in not eating over a weekend. That way my friends would be less likely to notice. I'd read dozens of young adult novels about anorexia and, from those, had learned all the tricks—eating gum to distract yourself from real food, going to the bathroom while everyone else was in the cafeteria, even counting out Tic-Tacs to make it through the day.

I used the bathroom trick during Friday's lunch, and that night at dinner, even though I'd spent two hours biking around my neighborhood after school, I feigned an upset stomach. By Saturday, my parents were starting to catch on, and in order to get me to eat, they made my favorite meal—if you read my blog regularly, you won't be surprised to find out that was cheeseburgers. They even went so far as to put a big, fat greasy burger on a plate for me even though I said I wasn't hungry, and they made me sit at the table in front of it the entire time it took everyone else to enjoy their dinner.

But my will to be thin was stronger than the intoxicating smell of beef. I continued to claim I wasn't hungry, and my parents scolded me without much success.

My mother took my sister and I shopping at the mall on Sunday, and at around three o'clock, I started to feel the effects of not eating for nearly 72 hours. At first, I felt a bit faint and dizzy. But not long after that, I developed a raging headache. The kind of headache I can still remember 25 years later. It turned out that my will to not eat was not as strong as my body's attempts to fight it. And after all of my misguided intentions, I was in the end not foolish enough to tolerate the physical consequences of not eating. My mom tuned into my failing health and suggested we hit the Wendy's in the mall. Though I wasn't ready to go back to cheeseburgers just yet, I did eat a huge taco salad, which for some reason I thought was lower cal than a cheeseburger, a fact we know now is not always true of salads. (In fact, a Wendy's Taco Salad has 640 calories, while a single hamburger with cheese has 490 calories.)

I wish I could say that that weekend was my last exposure to eating disorders, but if I said that I would not be telling the truth. When I was in college, there were a number of girls in my sorority house who would visit the bathroom together every night after dinner. We all knew what they were doing, but no one did anything to stop them. At least, by then, I was smart enough not to join them.

But later in the evening, when the same group would hit the gym for a late-night workout, I could almost never say no when they knocked on my door to invite me along. I still believed—even at just 150 pounds—that if they were stopping at my door, it meant I needed to lose weight. This despite the fact that by then I was 5'6", making my BMI a healthy 24.

After that grueling headache, I never again considered not eating, though it would be years before I would also give up on dieting. I have realized many times since then how lucky I was to have parents who fought my desire to not eat every step of the way. And I can't help but wonder what would have happened with Jackson if his parents had done something to get him to eat. Would he have needed less pills to get through the day? Would he have simply felt better, both physically and mentally?

It may be hard for some people to understand why the media has been almost singularly obsessed with Michael Jackson since his death last week. But even though I was no more of a fan than the average 39-year-old, I get it. When Michael Jackson stepped onto the stage of the Apollo Theatre in 1983, all of us thirteen-year-olds were watching with stars in our eyes. The whole country was watching. And we didn't stop for many, many years. Jackson epitomized the youth, vitality, and success that we all longed for. Whether we were young and old, he was like magic. And maybe a little part of the reason he had fallen out of favor with Americans was because he seemed to have lost that part of himself, all in the name of being thin and attractive "from the neck up."

Rather than show Jackson at his worst, I'd like to remember him at his best. Which is why I've included an old picture of him above—as the incredibly handsome, fiercely talented, vital entertainer I grew up with.

If you think you might have trouble with an eating disorder, please get help. Talk to a friend or family member, or at the very least, read more about it on the internet. Here's a site to get you started: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eating_disorder_treatment.htm

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson and Beth Ditto:
Why can't we have a happy medium?

195 pounds
I have been wanting to write about the Hollywood pressure to be thin for a while, ever since my friend Mystie asked me what I thought of Beth Ditto after reading my blog. I had not heard of Ditto when Mystie asked me about her, so I was forced to Google her like a common criminal (or, if you prefer, a long-lost high school boyfriend).

Turns out Ditto is the lead singer of indie rock band The Gossip. She's 5'2" and weighs 220 pounds, which makes her BMI just over 40.

It's obvious that Ditto is at an unhealthy weight and needs to improve her lifestyle and drop some pounds if she wants to live a long, healthy life. But couldn't the same be said about me? Or so many of us?

My goal on this blog has never been to criticize people like Ditto. Instead, my goal is to help people who are struggling with their weight feel good about themselves in order that they can gain the self-esteem necessary to be healthier while also helping those people—and everyone—understand that being curvy is not a bad thing and that there are better ways to lose weight than dieting. (See my What is a Diet? post if you want to know why I think diets are unhealthy and not effective in the long term.)

What's most interesting to me about Ditto is not her BMI or her weight, but the fact that she is trying to demystify "fatness" by showing off her body despite her size. Because what's so surprising about Ditto is that she regularly poses naked for magazine covers, has been known to strip down during concerts, and often wears revealing clothing.

On the one hand, I admire her for not being ashamed of her body. At the same time, I'm not sure that the way she displays her body is intended to send the message that she feels good about herself (which is what I promote) or sees herself as attractive. I worry that, instead, she is just using her body to create a type of circus sideshow. The reason I raise this question is that, unlike other larger women (Queen Latifah comes to mind), Ditto does not always try to look attractive when she is photographed. Instead, she often poses in intentionally in-your-face ways that seem designed for shock value. I worry that these images reinforce the wrongheaded notion that being curvy is unattractive and that there is no middle ground between being underweight and overweight. I also fear that Ditto is only doing this in order to raise her public profile and sell records. I guess, for this reason, it's seems a bit hard to take her seriously.

On the other hand, I'm completely disgusted by Ditto's critics. One critic in particular, Kyle Bove, attacked Ditto on his Shameless Conspiracy website for what he sees as her attempts to teach people that it's okay to be unhealthy by "glorifying her gluttony." That reading of Ditto's performance (because it clearly is performance) seems a bit narrow, and my skepticism about his critique of Ditto is reinforced by the fact that Bove goes on to compare Ditto's BMI to the BMIs of a group he calls some of the "sexiest women alive":

Scarlett Johansson—18.0
Kiera Knightly—17.2
Angelina Jolie—18.8
Beyonce Knowles—24.0
Jessica Alba—20.2
Halle Berry—19.3
Jennifer Aniston—18.3
Eva Longoria—19.8
Charleze Theron—19.6

According to the NIH, a BMI of under 18.5 is considered unhealthy, but Bove's only comment about this group is that "Keira should probably gain a few pounds," a very glib take on a really frightening fact: nearly half of the women on this list (Scarlett, Keira, Angelina, and Jen) are underweight or dangerously close to it (not to mention two of Brad Pitt's significant others), and yet these are the women we glorify in our society.

There's something really wrong with that fact, but rather than focus on this much bigger problem, Bove goes on to attack Ditto. He says, "You wouldn’t put a naked anorexic on a magazine cover, right? That would be sending the wrong message to the youth. So why should it be okay to put a fat girl on there?" (Note: Bove's use of the word "fat" here is completely unacceptable.) What's crazy about Bove's assertion is how dead wrong he is. We put naked anorexic women on the cover of magazines A L L the time, and putting one naked overweight woman on the cover of a magazine is not going to hurt the kids he claims to be so worried about nearly as much as these underweight celebrities surely will.

And this brings me to Michael Jackson. By now, we all know that he died this afternoon. Despite the controversy surrounding Jackson later in life, it's been a surreal and sad day for those of us who grew up with his music.

Still, as I watched the news coverage of his death today, what I was most shocked by wasn't his super successful music career or his odd relationships with children (we already knew about all of that), but rather his weight. I learned today that at one point in the past few years, Jackson weighed only 110 pounds even though he's 5'10". That means his B.M.I. was only 15.8, far below where it needed to be in order for Jackson to be healthy.

When you hear about someone weighing that little, you can't help but wonder how something like that could happen. But it only takes a few minutes of thinking about the King of Pop to solve that puzzle. Jackson was obsessed with fitting into the American model of beauty all his life: he bleached his skin, went through painful plastic surgery to reduce the size and shape of his nose, and straightened his hair. Is it any wonder that he was starving himself too? The people we glorify most in our society are primarily pale-skinned, nearly anorexic women with long blonde straight hair, and it seems more than obvious that Jackson was trying to make himself over in their image.

On a day like today, it's a little bit easier to answer Mystie's question. Yes, I think Beth Ditto should try to lose weight in order to be healthier and to be a more positive role model for young girls. But more important is the fact that I think we need people like Ditto pushing the envelope and challenging the notion that overweight women should be hidden from view.

Obesity is a fact in our society, and I applaud Ditto for bringing it out in the open. Even though I wish she'd talk about obesity in more helpful ways, I still recognize her work as crucial in the political fight against idealizing rail-thin runway models. In truth, I'd rather see Beth Ditto on the cover of a magazine, all cellulite and bravado, than see an American pop star so gaunt that he looks like—and apparently is—on the verge of death.

But what would be even better is if there was a happy medium. I don't want to encourage anyone to be overweight, but I don't like that our society teaches us that being underweight is beautiful either. So ultimately I think we'd all be better off if some of the ladies in my Gallery of Gorgeous Women (see sidebar) were featured more often on the cover of our magazines instead of all the underweight women we see time and time again.

Then maybe we wouldn't need Beth Ditto to flaunt her figure in order to prove a point.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Overdoing it . . . not once, but twice

195 pounds
In my last post, I talked about the fact that my recent increase in exercise had helped me to break through my plateau. I was thrilled by this development and dedicated to continue exercising two to three times a day. 

But only a few hours after that post, I injured my knee and have been laid up ever since. I had an MRI yesterday and found out that I have a torn meniscus, and tomorrow I'll meet with the orthopedic surgeon to talk about my rehab. 

I suppose that more than anything my experience should serve as a warning to all of us not to overdo it. I really, really, really wanted to lose weight, and as a result, I went a little bit crazy. 

I'm not saying that I don't still believe that we all need to exercise more often and in ways that we find enjoyable (as I discussed in the Returning to Childhood post), but I am saying that maybe we shouldn't try to make these changes too quickly. 

I had been working out for an hour a day since March, and then almost overnight I went from exercising for sixty minutes once a day to working out three different times every day. Clearly, I needed to make a slower transition.

This is the third time I've injured my knee. The initial injury occurred during a skiing accident in 1996, and during my recovery from that accident, my weight shot up for the first time in my life. It wasn't as significant as the pre-wedding weight gain I mentioned in my What is a Diet post, but it was still the first time I really felt like I had completely lost control of the numbers on the scale. Before my skiing accident, my weight had fluctuated between 155 and 165 pounds all of my adult life, and after the skiing accident, I went up to 179 pounds and never again weighed less than 167 (which was the number I bottomed out at just before my wedding).  

My second knee injury happened less than a year after I was married in the spring of 1999, and ironically it happened the same way it did last week: I was trying to lose the weight I had gained in the six months after the wedding and overdid it by exercising too much too fast. You would think that I would have learned from that experience, but if you read my posts last week, you probably already know how invincible and on top of the world I was feeling. If you had told me then that I was on the verge of a major injury, I might not have believed you and would definitely have kept on going.

I guess this makes me fallible, which is always a good thing for us to remember, but knowing that I'm not invincible is not making my injury any easier to deal with.  In fact, it feels like an uphill battle already.

I went to my regular doctor Friday morning—bound and determined to stay positive about what had happened to my body, something I had been completely unable to do the first two times I injured my knee when I wallowed on the couch for my entire recovery (except for the days I was forced to go to physical therapy). No, I wasn't going to allow myself to wallow again. And in order to make sure this didn't happen, I told myself that I'm a different person now than I was then—more confident and more determined than ever and that even if I can't run or walk, I can still stay active. 

It was a valiant effort, but by late Friday afternoon, I was in the midst of a complete meltdown. Despite my desire to stay positive, it started to hit me that I was going to be off my feet for quite some time, making my attempts to lose weight a zillion times more challenging than it is when I am mobile, which is hard enough as it is. Though I was able to logically convince myself that I needed to be optimistic about the situation, I was unable to do so on an unconscious level and quickly became very depressed.

Like most people, I have often turn to food when I become depressed, but miraculously I avoided that pitfall on Friday night. (I really think that it was this blog and my very public chronicling of my attempts to lose weight that kept me from giving into that temptation.) Instead Dave and I headed to the movies and saw Year One, a silly but entertaining movie that took my mind off my troubles for a few hours. (You'll never convince me that Cinema Therapy isn't real!) 

Since Friday, I have gone back and forth between energetic optimism and sudden depression. I'm as up and down as the teeter totter at the park I was hitting only a week ago, and as a result, I can't imagine I'm any fun to be around. 

Still, I haven't allowed my desire to lose weight to fall to the wayside, and I'm continuing to try my best to be active any way possible. So far that has meant doing exercises on the floor—sit-ups, hand weights, and stretches—but I'm going to ask the doctor tomorrow if I can add swimming to my workout regime. Who knows? Maybe I'll have a killer upper body when this is all over. 

It's difficult for me to admit this failure here, but I feel it's more important to be honest about it than it is to hide behind my shame. And maybe—just maybe—you can learn from my mistake.  

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Peaks, valleys, and plateaus

195 pounds
I talked to my friend Tracey today—the same friend who originally convinced me to try to lose a little weight—and I was thrilled to tell her that I've lost three pounds in the last two weeks.

If you've been following my blog since March, you know that I lost a few pounds almost immediately because I was sick and then I lost a few more pounds pretty quickly after that by simply making sure I exercised every day for an hour. As a result, I went from 203 to 195 pounds in a matter of a weeks. But a week after that, my weight started to creep back up and pretty soon I leveled off at around 197 or 198 pounds, which is where I've stayed until two weeks ago when I started chipping away at those three pounds. 

Except for the fact that I was sharing my weight with the world every time I wrote a blog entry, I wasn't really concerned by this increase. I know from experience that fluctuations are normal and to be expected, and I think it's crucial that we all understand this and not beat ourselves to a bloody pulp over a few measly pounds. 

Whenever anyone starts any kind of weight-loss program, it is common to see a sudden drop in the number on the scale, a quick return on the investment, but that drop is often followed by a slight increase as our bodies adjust to our new lifestyle. 

This is the time when most people start acting a little crazy. They've already cut a few hundred calories from their diet and seen results, and when the weight loss slows or, worse yet, completely stops, they get desperate and start cutting even more calories, usually to the point of being unhealthy.  In the long run, this approach can never work because inevitably it means that the dieter is getting fewer calories than needed, thus causing her stomach to shrink and her body to store fat. 

What's important is that we don't get frustrated by these small changes or the fact that we can be working very hard at being healthy without seeing results for sometimes extended periods of time. The bottom line is it's far more important to be living in a healthy manner than it is to fit into a size six skirt. 

Plateaus can also seem like reasons for alarm, and they shouldn't be either. Just like fluctuations, plateaus are normal and are sometimes a sign that you may not need to lose as much weight as you think you need to lose (ask your doctor to be sure), or simply that you need to vary your routine a bit. 

Even though I was not put off by these fluctuations or the plateau I had settled into, I was still more committed than ever to losing weight and trying new ways to do so without dieting. I was also completely committed to this blog and making good on its inherent promise.  

When I talked to Tracey earlier today and told her I had lost three pounds in the past two weeks, she immediately asked me how I'd done it. I told her I really believe it was the additional exercise I've added to my daily routine that has allowed me to break through this plateau. I mentioned in my last post that I've added fun activities like riding the swings and playing frisbee to my exercise regime, but what I neglected to point out is that, like I used to when I was a kid, I've spread these activities out so that it now feels like I'm exercising all day long.  

In fact, over the past week, I have exercised two to four times a day every single day! Sometimes I can only squeeze in ten minutes; other times I burn through a grueling 80-minute workout. But I'm really shooting for that 90-120 minutes of daily intermittent exercise I talked about in my Returning to Childhood post. And I'm honestly loving it. As I said in my last post, I feel more alive and energetic than ever before. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Practicing what I preach

196 pounds
I wrote my "Returning to Childhood" entry (about exercising as often and as enjoyably as we did when we were kids) almost two weeks ago, and over the past week, I've finally begun taking my own advice. Normally I am pretty good about working out an hour a day—mostly walking and hiking but also playing tennis from time to time—but over the past seven days, in addition to my regular workouts, I have also tossed a frisbee, rode swings,  lifted weights, done sit-ups and stretches, played basketball, mowed the lawn (formerly a teenage activity for me), and walked up and down the balance beam in the park. I'm hoping to go swimming Thursday night, and as soon as I can get some air in the tires, I'm taking my bike out for a long ride too. 

Right now you're probably thinking that I must be crazy to climb up on the balance beam reserved for kids in my local park, but for the most part my husband and I have had the playground to ourselves like two kids let loose in a candy store. I would like to think I wouldn't care if anyone else was there or not, that I'd still jump up on that beam with zeal, but I'm not yet sure about that.  

And this brings me to a question: why are all of our parks made for kids? Why do city planners assume that once we become adults we won't want to play anymore? I've been to many, many playgrounds with my nieces and nephews that have signs that say things like "Kids only" or "Age Five and Below," and I always feel cheated. 

So why do they make these restrictions? Why can't adults play side by side with the children? Maybe there's a compelling reason why we're kept off slides and jungle gyms, and if so, I'd love to hear it. Unfortunately, I fear that it's because we're simply too kid-centered as a society—kids are the center of our universe and adults are just the planets that revolve around them. 

Some part of me knew that I would probably enjoy going back to my days of playing frisbee and shooting hoops, but what I didn't foresee was HOW MUCH I would enjoy it.

For instance, when I was riding the swings in the park last night, I did more than enjoy it. I was moved by it. So moved that I felt a giant rush of adrenaline sweep through my body, a rush as brisk and electric as the thunderstorms that have been crossing our state every afternoon for the past week. 

I was so distracted by my own euphoria that I didn't even notice my husband swinging next to me or process exactly what I was doing. And, without fully realizing it, I leaned back in my swing and found that when my feet were pointing in the air, I was able to gaze directly at the clouds overhead. I'm sure all of you will remember what it felt like—it felt like I was flying!

Immediately, I remembered doing the same thing as a kid, but until that moment, I had no conscious memory of doing anything of the sort. How could I possibly have forgotten something so amazing??? It was as if simply being on the swing took me back to all those moments I had forgotten, and the effect was overwhelming. I was suddenly young again.

If feeling young wasn't enough incentive to keep participating in these child-like activities, I got another reason to do so this afternoon. 

I had to drive out to the country today to pick up our weekly share of produce from a local Amish farmer, and as soon as I got in the car, I rolled the windows down and cranked the stereo all the way up. (In case you're wondering, today's featured songs were America's "Sister Goldenhair" and Murray Head's "One Night in Bangkok.") I always sing when I'm the car alone, but today something was different. I was singing even louder than normal—so loud that I could hear my own voice over the music even though the volume was turned to MAX—and I was feeling even more energetic. Simply put, I felt more alive, more invigorated than I had in years. And though I know this will sound like a cliche, I have to say it: I felt like I could do anything. 

I am absolutely certain it is the changes I've been making in my life that caused me to feel this way, and I couldn't be more happy about that realization. It turns out that riding the swings is good for more than just burning calories. It's good for my psyche too. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Fat" is off the list

195.5 pounds
I've talked a good deal about how much it bothers me when celebrities are criticized for their weight and how much it hurts our collective psyche, and in my last post, I mentioned the New York Post's infuriating "Fat Celebrities Gallery," which got me thinking about the word "fat." 

Technically, "fat" is "adipose tissue," but that's not when we think of or mean when we use the word. Sometimes we mean "plump" or "overweight," but usually we mean something much, much worse. When most people call themselves or someone else fat, they mean it as a true insult. In fact, we all know that calling someone "fat" in our society is equivalent to calling them a pig or a slob, a whale or a cow, a blubberbutt or a butterball, a lard ass. No matter how you choose to translate it, it's not pretty and it's juvenile (a fact best demonstrated by Judy Blume's moving novel Blubber, in which fifth graders ostracize one girl who they deem "fat"). 

You may think you're being brutally honest with yourself when you describe yourself as fat, but in truth, whether you're conscious of it or not, you're reinforcing the notion that you see yourself as horribly unattractive. (I know this better than anyone because I used to do it too.)

Because of this, because "fat" no longer represents its scientific definition but rather something much more malevolent, I propose that we stop using the word altogether. Excise it from our lives. Get rid of it forever. Because what good is it to keep using—or allowing others to use—a word that has only negative connotations, a word that only hurts people's feelings?

So as of this moment, the word "fat" is off the list. It's yesterday's news. I don't use it anymore, and hopefully neither do you. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Celebrity Smackdown: Weight Obsessed Edition

197 pounds
In my last post, I talked about Kelly Clarkson. While I was searching for photos of Clarkson, I read some comments about her that really bothered me—truly ugly speculations about her weight, her sexual orientation, her work. 

I said it in my last post, and I’ll say it again... the only reason anyone criticizes someone as attractive and successful as Clarkson is to make themselves feel better. It’s like the girl in your sixth grade class who told all of your friends that you still sleep with a teddy bear—she only did it to elevate her own standing among the other sixth graders.

During my research, I was also horrified to find that there are hundreds of websites devoted to “fat” celebrities. In fact, T O N S of female celebrities have been sacrificed on the alter of our weight obsessed society. Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Janet Jackson, and Britney Spears have all had their weight scrutinized over the years. Did any of them ever look bad? Not on your life. Were they called fat? Over and over and over again. 

But it gets worse. 

I also came across a New York Post photo gallery of “50 Fat Celebrities.” Never mind that the fact that the Post feels comfortable publishing such a gallery is mind-blowingly insulting and unhealthy, but what really got me is that the list included former model Rachel Hunter and the picture I’ve included above. 

Rachel Hunter? Really? 

If the New York Post thinks Rachel Hunter is fat (in this picture or otherwise), then there’s something seriously wrong with the world. It’s a world turned inside out, upside down. It’s topsy turvy. 

And I can't help but wonder, if these people think this picture of Rachel Hunter is fat, what would they say about me????? Would they call me a beached whale, a tub of lard, morbidly obese?

Well, guess what? I'm not willing to tolerate that kind of criticism—of me, of Rachel Hunter, of anyone. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t know what they’d say about me, and I don’t care. Anyone who thinks Rachel Hunter—in the photo above—is fat is a raging idiot, and I don't give a flying poop what they say. Am I right?  

The fact is that I refuse to live in a world where Hunter—or anyone—is called fat. So not only will I write to the Post and tell them what I think of their inclusion of Hunter on this list, which is ridiculously offensive in and of itself, I invite you to do so as well. Here’s the place where you can do that:


And do us all a favor: boycott the Post until they apologize for their actions and take down this grotesque list. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

Here we go again

197 pounds
I don't know about you, but I'm starting to get really frustrated by the fact that almost every female celebrity who weighs more than 110 pounds is forced to defend her weight and her body. 

Today, another gorgeous curvy woman—this time American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson—had to put her foot down with the media so that they would stop bullying her about her weight. In a Yahoo article today, Clarkson says, "I love my body. I'm very much OK with it. I don't think artists are ever the ones who have the problem with their weight, it is other people." 

I'm downright thrilled to find out that Clarkson loves her body and feels comfortable telling the whole world about it. I say, thank God for Kelly Clarkson!!! 

And I couldn't agree with her more: the reason people talk about her weight is not because of anything she's said or done but because of their own insecurities. The only reason people criticize someone as successful and beautiful (and young) as Clarkson is to try to make themselves feel a little bit better about their own shortcomings or unhappiness. 

But as we all know, that kind of shallow superiority never makes anyone feel good for long, and it hurts us all in the long run. Because if we hold Kelly Clarkson to such unreasonable standards, how is that ultimately going to make us feel about ourselves? Not good, I promise you. 

And since I'm dedicated to helping all of us—big and small, short and tall—feel good about ourselves and see the positive rather than the negative, I propose that the next time you hear a nattering nabob of negativity criticize the weight of someone like Clarkson you tell them to shut it. In fact, I'd really appreciate it if you did. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Returning to Childhood

198 pounds
In my last post, I talked about the first component of my no-diet approach—the importance of indulging from time to time. Now I want to get into the second component, which I like to think of as a return to childhood.

When I was a kid, I had a schedule that looked something like this:

7 a.m.—wake up/shower/get ready for school/eat breakfast
7:45—walk 1/4 mile to bus stop
8:00—ride bus to school
8:15—goof around on playground while waiting for school to open
12-12:30—recess on playground
2:30—ride bus home
2:45—walk 1/4 mile home from bus stop
3:00—eat snack and talk to Mom
3:30-5:30—bike/hike around neighborhood or attend cheerleading/tennis practice
5:30-7:00—eat dinner, help with dishes, etc.
7:00—outside for one last bike ride/game of hoops/check-in with neighborhood kids
7:30—reluctantly do homework/watch TV/read
10:00—go to bed

I have made this schedule to point out how much exercise I got as I kid. Every weekday when school was in session, I walked to and from the bus stop, which took almost 30 minutes when I was little, and played on the playground for about 45 minutes. After school, I was pretty much just like those kids in E.T.—biking or hiking around the neighborhood for approximately two and a half hours a day, if not more. That's almost four hours of exercise every single day! Can you imagine how fit you'd be if you got four hours of exercise every weekday??? You'd look like Halle Berry!

It's true that we need more food when we're kids because we're still growing, but sometimes when I think about how much exercise we got when we were young, I wonder if we could eat whatever we want now if we merely returned to the schedule we kept as youngsters. Casual exercise burns about 250 calories an hour, so if we all exercised four hours a day, we could eat 1000 extra calories per day! That's the equivalent of three and a half McDonald's cheesburgers!

The other thing that's notable about my childhood schedule is that I spread my exercise throughout the day. How many of us exercise more than once a day as adults? I'd be willing to bet that almost no one does that after the age of eighteen. It's hard enough to fit in a workout once a day. But twice a day? Three times a day? Forget it.

Or am I wrong? My morning workout as a child consisted of a fifteen-minute walk to the bus stop. Is it really that hard to squeeze in a fifteen-minute walk each morning? Some people walk their dog every morning while others walk to work or walk their kids to school. When I lived in D.C. in my twenties, I used to ride my bike both ways to work, starting and ending my work day with fifteen minutes of exercise, in addition to playing tennis or doing aerobics about two to three times a week. It's no longer possible for me to walk or bike to work, but that doesn't mean that I can't fit in some other kind of exercise first thing in the morning and right after I get home.

Also, it's baffling to me when I think of how many different kinds of physical activities I participated in when I was a kid. I walked and rode my bike just about every single day, and I played tennis or basketball or participated in gymnastics or cheerleading about three or four days a week at the least. I also swam just about every day all summer and roller skated and skateboarded whenever I could. When I was a teenager, I took up both snow and water skiing, the latter of which I did a minimum of four days a week all summer long, a time when I also was playing tennis on the high school team, which required four to seven days a week of practice both on- and off-season.

And that's only scratching the surface. In addition to my regular activities, I bowled, I scrambled over jungle gyms, I jumped on trampolines, I mini-golfed, I rode the swing in my backyard so high that I thought I might go over the top of the swingset, I played softball and kickball, tag and hide-and-seek, kick the can, you name it. I did it all. We all did. Exercise was as much a part of our lives as breathing. And it was fun! For God's sake, it was called playing. But now exercise has become a chore. We even call it "working out." Why on earth would anyone want to work out?

This raises the question, when was the last time you did something active that was fun, something outside of your normal exercise routine? My feeling is that if it's been more than a week, it's been too long.

I guess my point is that, as adults, we are trained to believe that we should try to "work out" three to five days a week for 30-60 minutes a day, and I think those numbers are W A Y below where they need to be unless we are willing to starve ourselves. I think we have to exercise EVERY day for at least 60 minutes a day and more often than not shoot for 90-120 minutes a day minimum. Can we count things like washing dishes or vacuuming? Sure, but cleaning can't be the only component of our exercise regime. What I believe is that it's just as important to enjoy exercising as it is to do it and that, in a sense, we have got to return to our childhood, to a time when we played rather than worked out.

Finally, it's notable that I exercised after almost every meal when I was a kid. I walked to the bus stop after breakfast, played during my half-hour recess after lunch, wandered the neighborhood on my bike following my after-school snack, and ran outside for one last adrenaline-fueled hurrah after dinner.

What if I did that now? What if I followed every meal with a solid 15-30 minutes of aerobic activity? Again, I think I'd be more than ready for my moment on the red carpet.

And so, that's what I'm trying to do, what I've always tried to do some extent, but what I'm more committed to now than ever. I have my regular exercise routine—which consists of walking or playing tennis for an hour a day—but I'm trying to supplement that with fun things like biking, swimming, hiking and canoeing or shooting hoops or playing ping pong and mini-golf.

It's not as much as when I was a kid, but it's a start.