Health

Mini Memoir Monday: 20 More Pounds

At the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I decided to join Weight Watchers with my mom and sister. We were a family of vegetarians who hated vegetables, so we had all gotten considerably chunky on a diet of pizza and french fries. On my first day at WW, I tipped the scales at a whopping 178 pounds. Based on my height and bone structure, they suggested my goal weight should be 145 pounds, a number which seemed so unreasonable and so unattainable I nearly coughed up the ice cream I had just consumed.

After three months of consistently counting my points, eating a carefully measured cup of Wheaties with skim milk for breakfast, a vegetable stir fry for lunch and a WW frozen meal for dinner, I was down to 145 pounds.

At my new weight, I was finally excited to go shopping with my friends. I remember standing in the dressing room, amazed as I zipped up a size six pair of jeans. Just as I was about to draw back the curtain to appreciate the skinny version of myself, I heard one of my friends cry out, “oh my god, the size two barely fits! I’m going to kill myself it I have to get a size four.” I looked in the mirror, and what had seemed skinny only moments ago was now gargantuan. I rushed to get out of the jeans, crumpled them into a ball, threw them in the corner of the dressing room and swore that I would lose more weight.

My friends were all skinny, and blessed with metabolisms that somehow could turn 2,000 calories of chicken wings into lean muscles. They talked about how fat Brittney Spears was, and how certain girls in our grade didn’t deserve to have boyfriends because they had muffin-top. They would pinch the extra skin around their rock hard abs and complain about how much weight they had to lose. They said all this while eating Doritos and brownies.

I went against the advice of my weight watchers couch and continued to lower my point goal. I cut out breakfast, and switched my lunch to two pretzel sticks and a some red pepper slices. I saved all my points for when I was around my friends so that I could eat what they were having. The only thing that made me feel like less of a fat freak around them was being able to pretend that I could eat just like them and lose weight.

I was hungry and exhausted. I could barely concentrate during class because my stomach growled so loudly. But no matter how little I ate, the scale would not go below 140. I didn’t know what else I could do to lose more weight except never eat again. I was thinner than I had ever been, but I hated my body more than ever.

That’s when my mom’s friend casually said to me, “You could be a model if you lost another 20 pounds. No really, I know some agents, but first you’d have to lose the rest of that baby fat.”

We were at lunch and I had spent the last thirty minutes staring at the bread basket. As soon as I heard her comment I reached for the basket and took the biggest piece of bread I could find. As I chewed that sweet, starchy goodness, I thanked my mom’s friend. I wasn’t thanking her for thinking I could be a model, but thanking her for showing me how ridiculous I had become.

Her comment made me stop and think about who I was losing weight for. For my friends who hated their own size two bodies? For a modeling industry that thought women should resemble hangers? Or for a girl who would always think she was chubby no matter how skinny she got? I realized that I would never be the right weight for anyone else, so it was my job to determine the right weight for my health.

I gained back fifteen pounds by the end of the school year, and I’ve managed to stay around that weight for the last fifteen years. I don’t want to be a model, I don’t want to be a size two, and I don’t want to starve myself. Sure I’d like to lose a couple of pounds every now and then, but I have more important things to care about, and one of them is being careful about the things I say to young, impressionable kids.

Go to the dentist

Yesterday I faced my fears and went to the dentist. Nothing churns my stomach quite like the sound of dentist’s tools. Just the smell of the waiting room makes me nauseous. Fortunately  didn’t have any cavities, but the act of holding my mouth wide open with two people sticking probes inside feels so unnatural  and vulnerable, I made them stop after every tooth so I could calm down. Yep, I’m not his favorite client.

The worst part of going to the dentist is the mental video of all the possible forms of torture  that might happen. I have nightmares where my dentist looks at my mouth, shakes his head and says, “These have all got to go.” But going to the dentist is like all things in life: ignoring a problem will only make it worse. Don’t let a cavity become a root canal.

The only thing that made my visit better was the free goodie bag of oral hygiene products. I got the world’s fanciest toothbrush. It has “dual action, flexing probes,” “traction grip handling,” and “ergonomic modeling.” It makes me wonder how anyone cleaned their teeth before, but then I remember that all these extra features are just added so that you’ll pay $5 for a stick with some bristles.

Toothbrushes of the new millennium.

Toothbrushes from the 50s

Take a Deep Breath and Say Ahhhh

I wrote about developing your complete triangle in the last post, but as I said the triangle can always grow bigger and stronger. There is one action that develops all three sides of the triangle; mind, body and soul. It is a simple act that, when done mindfully, can change your life.

Are you curious?

Here’s a hint: you’re doing it right now.

Do you give up?

Ok, it’s breathing. Wait! Don’t stop reading. I promise this is not stupid.

Here is how breathing improves the complete triangle: If you focus on something as simple and repetitious as breathing your mind shuts off. I just wrote in the last post how important it is to develop your mind, but it’s also important to be able to shut it off when it’s not servicing you. Your mind voices your doubts and self-criticism. Your mind is what creates the to-do list while you should be enjoying yourself. So the more you practice shutting it off, the more control you gain.

As for body, have you ever tried doing something physical that you didn’t think you could, but then someone tells you to breathe and all of a sudden you can? Kind of like Lamaze or weight lifting. The breath has this magical power that imbues you with strength and confidence. And again it shuts off your brain that’s tell you “this is too hard.”

And as for spirit, nothing helps you feel more centered and calm like breathing. It reminds you that no matter what, as long as you take another breath you are still alive. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Recently I have been taking Alexander Technique classes as well as seeing a chiropractor. I put these under the body category of my triangle. I didn’t want running to be the only method that I use for developing my body. I’ve always wanted to walk with poise and get rid of my computer slouch posture. But every part of the triangle is connected, so if I want to improve my body I also have to improve the way my mind and spirit interact with my body. This is also described as feeling grounded or more comfortable in your skin.

Alexander Technique is all about being aware of your body, and allowing your mind to control gestures to maximize movement and eliminate unneeded stress and tension. Breathing is a huge part of the study. We often think of breathing as involuntary, but the speed in which we breathe, the volume of air we take in, and the level of intention we use with each breath is absolutely in our control. By focusing on the breath it calms you, and reminds you that you can let things happen, or you can make things happen. (I will put more info about these classes at the end of the post.)

When I started seeing my Chiropractor guess what he told me to focus on? You got it: breathing. He explained that the tightness I feel in my upper back is caused from shallow breathing. When I’m slouched over the computer all day, by rib cage is folding over my organs, basically cutting out half of the available lung space. Sit like you would when you’ve been at a computer for a while and take 5 short breaths. Do you feel the tiny muscles around your upper spine flexing? Now sit up straight and take 5 deep breaths (don’t raise your shoulders – allow the air to fill up your whole torso). You don’t feel those little muscles anymore, right? You feel it in your stomach. That’s because the large, strong diaphragm muscles are what should be helping us breathe, not the little muscles around our spine. We over use those little muscles and they get strained, and tight. That’s why I, and many other nerds, experience that kind of back pain.

So here’s a breathing exercise I learned in yoga. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. If this is uncomfortable lie down. Think of someone very important to you. Think of how happy you want them to be and how grateful you are to have him/her in your life. Now take a deep breath in through your nose (most likely you’ll be smiling). Let that breath expand you; push your sides out, let it push your torso to the ground. Keep inhaling until you feel like you’re going to burst. That air is your gratitude and you want to fill yourself with it. Picture that special person again, and then let all the air out in one slow controlled exhale. Do this a few more times. You’ll probably feel light headed afterward, so wait a few minutes before standing.

Alexander details:

Alexander is very popular among performing artists because it enhances stage presence and poise, as well as improves breathing technique. I’m taking classes with a teacher in training at the main institute near Union Square, so it’s much cheaper than normal. One of the fellow students is a concert pianists and he started taking classes years ago after he injured his wrist and couldn’t play for 4 years. He was able to eliminate  the unnecessary stress that was causing the pain, and now he’s playing professionally again! If you live near Manhattan and wish to go to the same school, the classes are 45 minutes long and they cost $8 each. For a certified teacher, prices can range from $30-$80. The school that I’m going to has trained many teachers and can give you referrals for teachers all over the World.