Thursday, July 30, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

194 pounds
I've had a break-through this week—dipping below 195 pounds for the first time since I started this blog four months ago and even hitting a low of 193 yesterday (though I'm back to 194 today, a fluctuation which is obviously to be expected). I wish I could take some credit for this improvement, but in truth I've only exercised the bare minimum this week. Still, I've been trying to be more conscious of what I eat and how much I exercise for four months now, so maybe this accomplishment is more about the long-term investment I've made in my health than anything I've done just this week.

Of course, I'm thrilled about this dip, and I'm feeling more motivated than ever. Over the next week, I'm hoping to spend even more time exercising and cooking lots of healthy food than I already am.

At the same time, I've been feeling a bit more insecure about my body than normal. I suppose I simply just feel less confident about it than I would like. When I was going swimming the other night, I worried about the way my arms looked in my new bathing suit—did they look flabby or ridiculously out of shape? Would the other swimmers look at them and wonder what the hell I was doing there? Shouldn't a person who swims lap on a regular basis have incredibly buff upper arms?

But on the way home, I asked myself why on earth I would ever worry about what the other swimmers said about my arms, and why I was holding myself to such ridiculous standards. Are my arms really any worse than anyone else's? I don't think so. Are they even bad looking? I doubt it. But, nevertheless, I had felt temporarily defeated by the fact that they did not meet the standard of arm beauty in our society.

And that's when it hit me . . . the problem wasn't me. The problem was the standard. Even I have to constantly remind myself that the standards we hold women to in our society are simply unrealistic. I mean, how many women do you know with Halle Berry's arms? Or Heidi Klum's legs? Or Kate Bosworth's stomach? Or Scarlett Johansson's cleavage?

Let's face it. For the most part, real women don't look like that. Maybe, just maybe, you know a woman who has assets to rival these celebrities in one of these areas, but all four of them? I doubt it.

So why then do we idolize and feature women who are this obnoxiously perfect? After all we have learned about how idealizing impossibly perfect women hurts our self-esteem, why do we still continue to do it?

I really wish I knew.

On the other side of the spectrum are the "plus-sized" celebrities. The women who are routinely cast as the goofy sidekick or the "fat girl."

Have you ever noticed that we almost only ever see these two extremes—the plus-sized sidekick or the impossibly thin glamazon? I don't look like either of these kinds of women, and I don't know anyone who does. So why are these the only two options we get? For God's sake, where are all the real girls???

You might have seen the advertisements for a new television show called Drop Dead Diva. The premise of the show is that "a thin but shallow woman's soul lands in a larger woman's body" and must come to terms with this change. (The two actresses who star in these opposing roles are pictured above.)

Let me say first and foremost that I am flat-out thrilled that this show is taking on the issues of fattism and body image and that it's featuring a gorgeous plus-size woman in the lead role. I hear that actress Brooke Elliott gives an amazing and believable performance, and I'm rooting for both her and the show.

But what bothers me is that we still don't have any television shows or films that feature women of average size—women who don't wear a size twenty or a size zero, women who have a body I can realistically aspire to have. (I'm not sure Ugly Betty counts since the only reason Betty has a normal sized body is because she's supposed to be "ugly.") Again, I can't help but wonder why these women—women who look like me and almost everyone I know—are all but absent from film and television. Why are we so afraid to show women in this middle group? Why is it so important for every character on screen to fit into one of these two extremes—overweight or underweight? Are we simply that opposed to complexity? Or, on the other hand, do producers think we're simply too thick-headed to judge a female character based on her actions or words rather than on her extra small or extra large dress size?

If that's the case, it's time we started letting those in power know that we're smarter than they think we are. We need to talk about the kinds—and sizes—of characters we want to see staring back at us from our television and movie screens. I'm not sure how exactly we can communicate this, but I'm hoping that this blog—and the women I feature on it—will be a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Everybody wins!

195 pounds
Well, that's not entirely true. The winner of the Noodles & Company gift card giveaway is Paul Dracon.

His answer—to the question If you’ve never been to Noodles & Company, what dish would you most like to try there and why?—was:

"Japanese pan noodles, so that the waiter will know which table the Godzilla noises are coming from. I'll get my check faster. Besides, it's fun to pretend that your plate is Tokyo and that the shiitake slices are really terrified civilians who are struggling to escape, as the last chunk of ginger narrates like Raymond Burr."

Pretty inventive, if I do say so myself.

But we all win in the sense that we all get to keep eating pasta and other carbs. In fact, not only do we get to eat them, we should eat them. We just have to eat them the right way.

And for the rules on how to do that, I'd like to defer to someone who's more of an expert than me: Christine Avanti, author of Skinny Chicks Don't Eat Salads (a book I'm anxious to get my hands on) and nutritionist on Dancing with the Stars. Here's what Avanti says about how we should all eat carbs. . .

1. Combine carbs with a protein.
Combining a protein with a carb not only fills you up, but it lowers the overall glycemic index (the GI, a popular way to measure the speed that carbs enter the bloodstream in the form of glucose or blood sugar). According to David Ludwig, M.D. of Harvard Medical School, high GI meals are like newspaper in your fireplace, quick to flare up and burn out, while low GI meals are more like slow-burning logs. This one trick, if used consistently, can influence your weight loss plan more than any other eating tip.
Example: Pasta with a meaty tomato sauce.*

2. Eat carbs more often!
While the conventional approach to dieting teaches you how to omit meals, the smarter approach is to make sure you do not miss meals. And it gets better. Eating a carb-protein meal 4 times per day rather than 3 helps keep blood sugar levels stabilized. This keeps the metabolism firing and energy levels high. Research has demonstrated that regulating blood sugar levels regulates hormonal secretions which results in optimal fat burning. Not only this, but carbs secretions which results in optimal fat burning. Not only this, but carbs must be present in the system for the chemical process of fat-burning to work.
Note: For portion sizes and many more details, check out Christine's book.*

3. Eat carbs at every meal.
Believe it or not, this is a healthier approach because you will stabilize blood sugar and prevent the urge to binge later. Skipping carbs at a meal almost always leads you to make up for it later; usually in the form of late-night cookies. This is because the brain needs the glucose from carbs for fuel and if it doesn't get more within 4 or 5 hours, your body has no choice but to break down lean body tissues (like muscles) for fuel.
Example of what not to eat: salad with grilled chicken—too low on carbs! Much better to eat a grilled chicken burger with a side of fruit.*

4. Eat carbs late at night.
Yes, this is just as important as the rest of your meals. And go ahead and eat dinner even if it is late. Starving yourself or skipping meals slows the metabolism and let's face it—it isn't fun to starve! To keep the metabolism humming and the fat burning, eat a full meal including carbs even in the late evening. Just be sure to eat a healthy protein-carb combo, and if it is really late, you might want to cut the meal in half.

5. Don't overdo it at one time.
Your body isn't a cash register. It doesn't add up your total at the end of the day. It only cares how much you eat at a single meal. If you eat one entire large deep-dish pizza, your body converts the carb overload to fat storage. However if you only eat two light slices now and two slices for dinner 4 hours later, you won't overload the bloodstream with glucose at one time, thus you will keep your fat-burning going. So keep each meal a reasonable size and spread your carbs evenly over all the meals in the day.

*Examples in italic are courtesy of Sarah Fuss's Yahoo Fresh Picks Blog.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Win a Noodles & Company $25 Gift Card Here!

196 pounds
Great news! After reading my last post, the people at Noodles & Company asked me if I would like to offer all of my blog readers a chance to win a $25 gift card to use in one of their restaurants. (I guess they took me seriously when I said any eatery that celebrates noodles and is located in a made-up land called "Noodleville" earns a special place in my heart.) Of course, I immediately said yes.

To enter the contest, please answer JUST ONE of the following questions:

What is your favorite menu item at Noodles & Company and why? If you’ve never been to Noodles & Company, what dish would you most like to try there and why? Feel free to be creative with your response. Extra points for telling fun stories that remind you of Noodles & Company or noodles in general.

The most interesting and/or entertaining response will win the free gift card and be mailed to you from Noodles & Company. The contest is open until Tuesday, July 28th at noon (Eastern time), and the winner will be announced before midnight the same day.

Here's a tip: You have to have a Google/Blogger account to comment on this blog (which you can do by clicking on the "comments" button at the bottom of this post), but if you don't have one, you can simply email your response to me at, and I will post it here for you.

Good luck to all of you noodle lovers!

P.S. If you're not sure where Noodles & Company is located, they currently have locations in the following states:
North Carolina
You can click here to find out if there's a location near you. But even if you don't live near one, you still might want to enter the contest for a chance to win a gift card for someone you know in another city. (Gift cards make great birthday and holiday presents!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bring on the carbs

195 pounds
It's no doubt that we're all aware how popular low-carb diets have become over the past ten or fifteen years, but while I was visiting my parents earlier this month, I was astounded when I realized how much our national obsession with carbs has messed up the way we eat.

You might not yet have heard of Noodles & Company, but it's a wonderful new chain restaurant that has started opening in major metropolitan areas around the country. I say that it's wonderful because, from my way of thinking, any resturaunt that celebrates noodles and is located in a made-up land called "Noodleville" earns a special place in my heart.

But it's not just the noodles I love; it's the affordable prices and the wide variety of options. You see, even though Noodles & Company has higher calorie options—such as Macaroni & Cheese, Buttered Noodles, or Mushroom Stroganoff—it also offers healthier meals such as Bangkok Curry (pictured above), Penne Rosa, and Japanese Pan Noodles. According to the Noodles & Company website, "two-thirds of its dishes are less than 500 calories and one third are 10 grams of fat or less" and "Health magazine named Noodles & Company one of America's Healthiest Fast-Food restaurants in 2008 and 2009."

Because of all this, I wrongly assumed that my parents would be happy to eat there one night during our recent visit. After all, they were the ones who had first introduced us to this new chain the year before.

But as soon as I mentioned the word, "noodle," my dad began to balk. At first, I wasn't sure if he didn't like the food anymore or if he simply wanted something different, but later he made it clear that he didn't want to eat pasta of any kind because he was worried about getting too many carbs.

For the record, The International Food Information Council explains that "As the main energy source for the body, carbohydrates are an important part of a healthful diet" and recommends that we "get the majority of our daily calories from carbohydrates—about 45 to 65 percent of daily caloric intake." Also, UCLA dietitian Dana Ellis explains that carbs are a good source of fiber and "your body actually needs carbohydrates to function at its optimal level" because they help feed "your muscles and cells, allowing you to sustain an active life-style."

Despite this, my dad was adamant about not having any pasta that night. So rather than go out to Noodles & Company for dinner, we compromised and got carry-out—the rest of us ordered noodles while my dad asked us to pick him up an order of Sweet & Spicy Asian Chicken from Wendy's, which is located right across the street from Noodleville. I assumed that what he wanted was some kind of Asian salad, so I happily took his order and headed out the door. But when I arrived at Wendy's, I found out that, in reality, what he had asked us to get him was an order of fried boneless chicken wings served in an Asian-style sweet and sour sauce. Fried chicken wings? Made with processed chicken? This was his healthy alternative to pasta???

It didn't take long for me to put two and two together. My dad believed that since the Asian wings are a meat dish and the Noodles & Company offerings are primarily made with pasta, he was being healthier by going with the meat. Immediately, I questioned this logic, and as soon as I had a chance, I looked up the facts to find out for sure.

As it turns out, Wendy's Sweet & Spicy Asian Chicken is much worse for you than the large order of Bangkok Curry noodles my mother and I got from Noodles & Company.* In fact, though the large Bankgok Curry noodles (at 600 calories and 71 grams of carbs) have about the same amount of calories and carbs as the Wendy's boneless wings (at 550 calories and 67 carbs), the wings have more than three times the amount of sodium. That's right, three times!!! That's because Wendy's boneless wings contain more than 2500 grams of sodium! That's 100-1000 more grams of sodium than the range recommended per day by the Mayo Clinic!

And adding insult to injury was the lack of satisfaction my dad got out of his "healthier" meal. When we all finally sat down at the table, his small pile of meat looked pretty pathetic next to our huge bowls of pasta, meat, and veggies. Honestly, I felt guilty that night, having so much food in front of me that I couldn't even finish it all while my dad picked sadly through his tiny wings like a homeless man eating something he had found in the trash. To make matters worse, it wasn't an hour later that he claimed to be hungry again whereas the rest of us felt satisfied all night.

I told my dad about what I had learned the next day, but I don't know if he processed what I was telling him. The bottom line is that we all need carbs. They're good for us. And if we don't eat them, we may temporarily lose a few pounds, but in the long run, it's not worth it.

And, in truth, we all need sodium too. According to the Mayo Clinic, our bodies "need some sodium to function properly" because it "helps maintain the right balance of fluids in [our bodies], helps trasmit nerve impulses, influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles," and prevents your kidneys from hoarding sodium, the latter of which would unfortunately make your heart work harder and increases pressure in your arteries. But that doesn't mean we don't have to be careful about how much sodium is in our diet because most of us get too much. And the real problem is processed foods. In fact, 77% of the sodium we eat comes from "prepared or processed foods" like the Wendy's boneless wings.

Since that night I've noticed that the advertisements for Wendy's Asian Sweet & Spicy Chicken are everywhere—they can be seen on television and on billboards. Heck, they even pop up when I check my email. And every time I see one of those ads, all I can think is, no wonder our country has a problem with obesity. No wonder.

*I am not trying to assert that Noodles & Company offers meals that are healthier than a home-cooked meal, but I am trying to point out that some things we think are healthy (like my Dad's boneless wings) are not and that we all need to re-examine why we choose some foods over others.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Earning their wings

196 pounds
Flight attendants are probably one of the most maligned segments of our work force. We treat them like servants, they're repeatedly used as comic fodder in movies and television, and—worst of all—they're required to dress incredibly well and appear both attractive and happy on the job.

I've always been bothered by the latter—the fact that flight attendants have to dress so fashionably and act so perky. It seems somehow unethical to require a person to seem so perfect day in and day out. Isn't that asking too much? And is there any other respectable job—being a Hooters' waitress does not count as a respectable job—that asks its employees to smile and be supportive throughout their workday and to do all of that while also wearing a pencil skirt, panty hose, and fabulous heels?

I don't think so.

And we all know all too well that, in years past, the flight attendant industry has been plagued by instances of discrimination based on a woman's looks or weight.

For this reason, I've always felt like a friend to the flight attendants of the world, a supporter of their rights if you will, so when I saw a headline about flight attendants challenging an aspect of their uniform, I immediately clicked on the attached article.

As it turns out, some of the flight attendants Delta acquired in their takeover of Northwest Airlines are fighting for their right to wear the uniform recently designed by Richard Tyler. Apparently, these fashionable red dresses were only made in so many sizes, thereby making it impossible for the curviest flight attendants to wear them. To add insult to injury, the flight attendants claim that the sizes of the dress are not even close to accurate, meaning that if you normally wear a size fourteen (like Meryl Streep), you'd need a size eighteen in the Tyler dress.

(The irony of this slight is that the Tyler dress appears to be a knee-length wrap dress, which I have found to be one of the most flattering things a curvy woman can wear.)

In my opinion, this move reeks of fat-ism and is another example of our society trying to send the message that larger women are not as attractive as smaller women, which we all know is simply not true. (Please see my gallery of gorgeous women to the left if you need proof of this fact.)

And if we let this go, I have to wonder what's next. Will Delta start making flight attendants who don't have perfect upturned noses wear masks??? Will getting a Delta boarding pass become as difficult as getting into the hottest New York dance club??? Will there be a red velvet rope and discriminating bouncers lined up to inspect your ensemble and makeup at the gate???

Of course, none of these things would ever actually happen, but that's not the point. The point is that it's wrong to tell one group of employees that they can't be treated the same as their peers, that they don't have the same rights or perks.

Thankfully, the Association of Flight Attendants is having none of it. They've filed a grievance with Delta in order to make them offer the dresses in all sizes so that every flight attendant can wear them—no matter what their size. And I applaud this organization for standing up for the right of ALL of their members to wear this fashionable uniform.

Unfortuantely, Delta's only response so far has been to say that they don't know why the dress isn't available in larger sizes and that there have been "few complaints." The message is that if only a few curvy women are being kept from wearing the dress, then it's not a big deal. But from my point of view, if one female flight attendant is not allowed to wear the dress, then all of us—men and women alike—suffer because of the dangerous precedent it sets, which basically sends the message that it's acceptable to discriminate against larger people.

So I propose that we all let Delta know that this practice is unacceptable, upping their complaints from a "few" to a few hundred. To do that, go to this website:

Your complaint doesn't have to be long. Just tell them that their practice of making the Richard Tyler flight attendant dress only available in smaller sizes is unacceptable and needs to be changed. (Feel free to copy my words if you'd like.)

The bottom line is that ALL of Delta's flight attendants should have the right to wear Richard Tyler's amazing red dress. After all, they're the ones who have to deal with Sharon Stone when she starts screaming at them about wanting to bring an oversize bag on board. Doesn't that earn them the right to this one little luxury?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The 650-pound virgin

195.5 pounds
I talk a lot on this blog about how women need to accept their bodies no matter their size, but I don't intend to exclude men from this discussion. In fact, I think men suffer from the same kinds of issues as women. Let's face it, we all have trouble accepting ourselves the way we are.

So when I heard about a documentary being aired on TLC about a man who lost 400 pounds, I immediately couldn't wait to hear his story. (If you're interested, this show will be airing again at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15th and 1 a.m. on Thursday, July 16th.)

Thirty-two-year-old David Smith, the "650-pound virgin," finally decided to do something about his weight when his doctors told him that if he didn't, he would die within the next few years.

Smith told himself he had three options at that point: he could have gastric bypass surgery, he could change his diet and exercise habits, or he could kill himself. If seeing the incredibly depressing video and pictures of Smith at 650 pounds hadn't already been enough to make me feel completely horrified by his situation, his admission that he seriously considered taking his own life—and his graphic description of his plan to set himself on fire—certainly would have.

The truth is that Smith's story is heartbreakingly sad and, at times, almost too difficult to watch. He was so unhappy that he nearly ate himself to death. But no matter how hard it was to watch, I still think it's important for us to talk about people like Smith in order to avoid letting what happened to him happen to more people. I often complain about how we try to hide people who are overweight in our society, and Smith's situation proves how dangerous that can be. The more Smith was ridiculed for his weight, the more uncomfortable he became going out in public, and the more he stayed at home, the more he ate. At his worst, he described himself as simply sitting at the window of his house every day and watching the seasons change. His obesity was like a prison he could not escape.

Fortunately, Smith decided to change his entire life rather than end it. He reached out for help, and a selfless local trainer took on his case, initially having Smith do simple at-home exercises—like stand up from the sofa, lift water jugs, and climb the stairs over and over—to get in better shape.

In the end, Smith lost over 400 pounds, having surgery to remove the excess skin and repair other problems caused by his weight gain. And now, despite the scars left over from surgery, he looks like a regular guy.

Everything might sound fine for Smith now, but the problem is that while he was hiding away in his house, he missed crucial opportunities to develop as a person, specifically missing the chance to learn to interact with and date women. And Smith's desire to meet a woman, fall in love, and have sex for the first time in his life is how the show ended up being called "The 650-pound Virgin."

The catch is that he still sorely lacks the skills to approach women, much less ask them out on a date. And, to be honest, this was the saddest part of the documentary: when I realized that not only had Smith missed so much of his life but that he had also missed so much of the learning that happens when we experience life. Smith couldn't simply lose the weight and re-start his re-enter the world. He had to lose the weight, have major surgery, and only then could he even begin the difficult process of learning how to be a functional member of society. And he's still trying very hard to learn to do that.

Ultimately, what I think we can learn from Smith is how important it is to talk about our body issues before we let them get out of control. Smith dropped out of high school because he couldn't handle the constant ridicule from his peers. As it turned out, that was the worst decision he could make because once he disappeared from the world, he ate even more. It's also notable that things turned around for him when he found someone—his dedicated personal trainer—with whom he could talk about his problems, including being molested as a child and losing his mother at a young age.

When I saw the pictures of Smith as a boy—pictures that were described as showing him having problems with his weight at a young age—I honestly didn't think he looked that bad. But from Smith's point of view, he looked awful. And that makes me wonder if he saw himself as obese long before he could accurately be described that way. Did he initially stop interacting with others because of his own negative perceptions of himself? And this makes me wonder whether or not things would have ever gotten so bad for Smith if he simply lived in a society that was more accepting of people of all different sizes and shapes.

I guess the only thing we can do to help prevent this from happening to others is to simply try to be more accepting—not just of others, but also of ourselves.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Running for the border

I'll face the scale again next week!
I just finished visiting my family in the Chicago suburbs, and as I prepared to leave this morning, there was one thought that kept coming back to me—how important it is to let loose and have fun.

I've written before about the importance of allowing ourselves indulgences in our our diet from time to time—in other words, giving in to those cheeseburger and brownie cravings when they come rather than trying to pretend they don't exist (which only makes us want them even more). But I realized today that having a sound mind in a sound body also means that we have to do the same with our behavior—indulge ourselves by sometimes giving in to the crazy things we want to do in life and not just the crazy things we want to eat.

I was thinking about this today because it feels like no one ever lets loose or does anything wild or out of the ordinary in my family. Clearly, this is partially the result of the fact that my sister has two little girls. Whenever the girls are around, it feels as if everyone is walking on eggshells—instructing them on how to behave, carefully answering their never-ending questions, and gingerly guiding them through their daily routine. In this way, their lives seem totally prescriptive: there is a certain way to eat, a certain way to sit, a certain way to be . . . there is a time to practice piano, a time to work on penmanship, a time for swimming lessons, a time to eat meals, a time for bed, a time for everything. And everyone—my sister, her husband, and my parents—follows this world order as if deviating from it might lead to the loss of life or limb.

The effect this has on me is the opposite one it's supposed to have on the girls: rather than being reassured by this carefully crafted routine, I am honestly driven to the brink of insanity by it. In fact, my response to the lessons and the practices and the organic food is to want to blow off the entire schedule, pack the girls into the backseat of my car, roll all the windows down, crank the Abba, and drive them all the way to Mexico—stopping only for candy and purple hair dye before we get to the border but saving enough money for tequila and tattoos after we arrive in Tijuana.

Of course, I don't do that. But that's not the point. The point is that I want to do it.

And when I left my sister's house this morning—windows down, an old Pink Floyd anthem screaming from the stereo—it hit me that my response to the girls' claustrophobic schedule is the same response I have to dieting.

To put it simply, I did not want any part of it. And just the thought of it, just being around other people living under such a tight regimen, makes me want to give into my very worst cravings.

Hand in hand with my response to being exposed to the girls' overstructured lives was my second viewing of The Hangover, which, believe it or not, I saw last night with my mother and my husband. Even though I find the idea of strip clubs wholly objectionable, I found myself agreeing with one of the characters when he defended an out-of-control trip to Vegas with his buddies to his incredibly uptight fiancee.

And when I thought about these two experiences side by side, I understood very clearly that it's just as important for us to give into our cravings for adventure and a life without rules as it is for us to give into our food cravings. When push comes to shove, we all need our trips to Vegas or Mexico . . . or even just a wild night of drinking and dancing now and again. Because if we don't give into these desires, we're not really living, are we?

At the end of Stephen King's novella, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," the character of Red is released from prison and, on his way to Mexico, thinks about what he is about to do. (If you've seen the movie adaptation of this novella, you'll remember that Morgan Freeman played Red, and his thoughts were included as a voice over while he rode a bus south to Mexico.) It is Red's words I will leave you with today since I think they best epitomize why being free to do what we want is so incredibly important.

I find I'm so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope I can make it across the border.

I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand.

I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

I hope.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A whale of a meal

Unknown—I'm on vacation!
I'm visiting my family in the Chicago area this week, and I find that I've been horrified by my behavior since I arrived here.

At home, I am the model of discipline—exercising more than an hour a day if I can, eating tons of healthy food and lost of fruits and vegetables, indulging from time to time but not all the time, and most importantly having a fantastic attitude about my body and self-esteem to spare.

But for some reason, as soon as I cross the family threshold, I become a withering mess. I eat everything I can get my hands on, I struggle to fit one hour of exercise into my day, and, most disturbingly, I start to see myself as an overweight, unattractive monster all over again.

Part of the problem is that when most of us visit family, we tend to fall into our old roles, no matter how much we've grown out of them. In my family, I was always the dorky sister, the less athletic and more bookish one, and my sister was the thin, athletic, attractive one. Lots of kids don't look like their siblings, and since my sister and I were both adopted, this is especially the case with us. In practical terms, that means that these roles have long been reinforced by our physical appearance—Katie has always been stick thin and has had straight long blonde hair for years. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've always been more developed and had a messy mop of dull-colored, uncontrollable curls. I really do like myself the way I am and would not want to look like my sister, but for some reason, when we're in the same house—especially in my parents' house—I forget that and become the awkward, insecure girl I was as an adolescent, the girl who longed to be more thin, more petite, more blonde, more everything that my sister was.

Because of this, I feel as if I am under constant scrutiny and attack when I'm around my family. No matter how healthy I am, no matter how thin or how put together, I still feel as if I'm not good enough in their eyes.

This problem came to a head the other night when the eight of us—my parents, my sister, her husband, their two girls, and my husband and I—were eating dinner together. It had a been a long day, so we decided to splurge and get carryout from Chipotle. We don't have a Chipotle anywhere near where we live in Kentucky, so Dave and I always like to indulge in a big fat Chipotle burrito when we visit places where they do. As I've said before, I think it's important and healthy to indulge from time to time, and Dave and I are normally pretty good about balancing these indulgences with our regular more healthy fare. So we try our best not to feel guilty about it when we give into our cravings for more high-calorie stuff. And if you know anything about Chipotle, you know that one of their burritos packs quite a caloric punch—935 calories for the veggie burrito I like to get.

Normally, I can allow myself that kind of edible luxury without much guilt, but when I sat down at my parents' table with a burrito that has almost half as many calories as most of us eat in a regular day, I felt completely uncomfortable—as if all of my flaws and imperfections were on display for the whole table to see. It didn't matter that everyone else was eating the same thing. I still felt as if I were the only one doing something wrong.

So when my dad, halfway through his own burrito, made the comment that it was "a whale of a meal," I immediately felt like he was talking to me. I glanced in his direction, and when he caught my eyes, he raised his eyebrows at me, as if saying, Are you sure you should be doing this? From my point of view, the message was clear: he didn't think I should be eating so much. Even though I had swam laps for an hour that morning and eaten a salad for lunch, even though both my blood pressure and my cholesterol are well within the healthy range, even though I only ate two-thirds of my burrito before calling it quits, I still felt like he was singling me out.

My sister—who at 5'3" weighs around 120 pounds and is arguably in perfect shape—rarely gets a chance to exercise and scarfed every last morsel of her burrito down without much pause, following that with chips, guacamole, and pudding for dessert, but I was the one who felt like I was standing on a spotlit stage in my bathing suit, gorging on my overstuffed burrito while the whole world watched in horror. Without even realizing it, I had returned to my terribly insecure fifteen-year-old self, and I had no idea how to get the happy and confident 39-year-old me back.

In an attempt to deal with these emotions, I did what most people do: I ate. I ate popcorn and soda (see my last post), I ate lasagna and spaghetti, I ate candy and ice cream. I ate and ate and ate. I knew full well what I was doing. But knowing did nothing to stop me. I was on a mission: I wanted to make my body look as bad as I felt. And if I stayed with my family long enough, I'm sure I would have gotten there.

Thankfully, we don't have to live with our parents after we turn eighteen, and I'll go home tomorrow, hopefully returning to my old self in a matter of hours or, at the latest, by Monday.

Still, I can't help but wonder why it is that I have so much trouble maintaining my sense of self when I visit my family. Yes, I know that we revert to our childhood roles around family, but if I know this, why can't I control it better? Why can't I feel good about myself inside the world of my family?

I end many of my blog posts with answers or conclusions or lessons learned, but today I don't feel like I have any answers to these problems. I feel no better able to deal with the insecurities and emotions that come around when I visit family than I did before I started writing this post. So, I guess, for now, I'll have to simply be content with the fact that I understand what these questions are and how important it is to come up with solutions to this problem. I'll keep thinking about it, and maybe the next time I visit, I'll begin to chip away a little bit more at the destructive fifteen-year-old who apparently still lives inside of me.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why we should all see AWAY WE GO

196 pounds
Tonight I had the privilege of seeing Away We Go, the new dramedy about a confused young pregnant couple played by Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski. It was a film I've wanted to see as long as I've known about it but one I'd been D Y I N G to see ever since I saw a gorgeous but very womanly picture of Maya Rudolph splashed across two pages of Entertainment Weekly with an article they wrote about the movie last month. In the picture, Rudolph's skirt was creeping up her thighs to reveal wonderfully fleshy legs, and I immediately admired the hell out of Rudolph for that photo—not only for showing off her regular-sized body, but for doing so in such a sexy manner.

What's even better is that Rudolph was pregnant at the time the picture was taken. Sure, we've seen pregnant woman knocking our eyes out on the cover of magazines before (Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair comes to mind), but this photo was different. Rudolph didn't look like she had something to prove. She looked like she was merely comfortable with herself—womanly thighs and all.

In a recent post, I talked about my wish that more magazines would feature women who are a happy medium between the severely underweight and the severely overweight, and Maya Rudolph is a great example of someone who personifies that happy medium—both in terms of her body and her non-traditional beauty.

Because of this photo, I was hoping that Rudolph would look just as real in the film, and it did not disappoint. Both she and Krasinski go from average to stunning to disheveled at various points throughout the movie.

But what I really want to talk about is a comment made by Rudolph's character, Verona, in the movie. Without giving anything away, I can say that the comment occurs when she and her boyfriend Burt are discussing their future and their unborn daughter. Verona asks Burt to "promise me that you won't care if our daughter is fat or skinny, and that she won't even be the kind of girl who worries about her weight in a cliched kind of way." (I'm sure I'm getting the words all out of order, but the sentiment is what's important here.)

Verona makes this request during a very moving part of the film, and it was this line that put me over the top. I wanted to stand up in my chair, throw down my tub of popcorn and oversized soda, and shout, "Yes, yes, yes! Please teach your daughter not to worry about her weight! Please teach us all to do that!"

Of course, I didn't stand up and shout like that because I was afraid of getting thrown out of the theatre and really wanted to see the end of the movie.

But I did start to cry.

And I'm not sure I really stopped until the credits had finished rolling.

I guess what I'm saying is that this, more than anything, was a movie that really got me, that really understood what's important to me. (If such a thing is even possible.) And I'd like to take it a step further and say this is a movie that gets all of us.

These two characters were simultaneously the kind of lost souls we all feel like sometimes and the generous, thoughtful people we all aspire to be at other times—whether it be their take on their unborn daughter's weight, the way they both embraced Rudolph's pregnant body, or their stubborn refusal to accept the rejection of strollers. No matter how you look at it, these characters were the real thing.

So I'll add it to my list of Movies Every Woman Should See, but do yourself a favor and see this one on the big screen before it leaves the theatre.