Category Archives: Body Sacred

Ten Rules for Fat Girls

Body Joy!

 

Note:  I debated with myself whether to allow comments on this post or not.  But frankly, I don’t care if you think I’m wrong.  If you hate fat people, I don’t want you here.  Anti-fat bigotry and pro-diet propaganda will be deleted.  I can do that because this is my sandbox and I’ve got the bullshit shovel. If you want to talk about how fabulous weight loss is you’ve got a whole internet to do it in.     

You may not know this if you’re new to my work, but: I wrote an entire book on body image and spirituality a few years ago.  The whole subject is very important to me, but I haven’t written much about it lately because my focus has been on so many other things.  But then I got cable TV, and the old anger came a-flaring back up.

You see, I’m fat.  300 pounds of awesome from my double chin to my adorable toes. There’s no concealing this fact. My fat is out there. It speaks.  And it says “I am lovable and worthy just like I am, and fuck you if you disagree.”  I’ve spent a lot of time and effort removing myself from body disparagement zones and have gotten comfortable with the idea that people can look like anything and it’s all good…but then I accidentally read the comments on someone’s blog, or I see some article that makes my blood boil, and I remember how many people out there live in a state of perpetual self-denial, self-denigration, and self-destruction just because of their fat.

It is to those fat girls, and to all of us who need a refresher course in body acceptance, that I offer these Ten Rules.

1.  You are not obligated to be thin, healthy, or pretty.

It’s bad enough that our culture assigns moral value to foods:  celery is “good,” donuts are “bad.”  Now, being healthy is itself considered a sign of your moral fortitude.  Never mind the gap between the wealthy and poor and how that affects access to unprocessed food and the time and resources to exercise; never mind genetics or mental illness or stuff like, you know, character and behavior toward others.  Thin people equal healthy people and that means good people.

Here’s a thought I’m sure will shock people:  You don’t owe anyone good health.  You have sovereignty over your body and that means it is no one’s responsibility but your own.

Now, there are larger issues involved in our food supply such as workers’ rights, animal rights, and environmental devastation to be considered, but I can’t make other people’s food choices for them, and I wouldn’t allow anyone to make mine for me.  Evangelizing about any kind of diet or “health plan” is presumptuous and unlikely to make you any friends; showing that the way you live makes you happy is a far more effective long-term persuasive technique.

Let’s assume that being fat is morally reprehensible. Okay, fine. Let’s assume it’s the worst thing ever and every time a fat girl eats cake God kills a kitten. Whatever. How are shame and hatred going to fix that?  How is discrimination and making people loathe themselves going to make them healthier?  Obviously this doesn’t work or the number of overweight people would be rapidly declining, wouldn’t it, given how we’re treated? Has hate ever made anyone a better person?

Besides, how exactly does looking at someone tell you their state of health? There are millions of unhealthy thin people, but the automatic assumption is that they’re healthier than I am just based on my size.

We also have this idea that our bodies are only worth their value to other people. Guess what? MY VALUE AS WOMAN IS NOT DEPENDENT ON WHETHER OR NOT MEN WANT TO FUCK ME.

Even in the Pagan community where you’d think body acceptance would be assumed, there’s been a rise in anti-fat prejudice lately with all these really weird “you’re using up too many resources! Mother Earth is sad that you’re fat!” ideas behind them.  Of all the environmental issues that are mounting up today, that’s the one you have a conniption over?  You really think my big ass is worse for the Earth than Big Oil?  You need to sort out your priorities, Dances With Unicorns.

2.  Don’t talk shit about your body.

Aside from the fact that it makes conversations awkward, would you let a friend – or anyone – verbally abuse you?  Then why allow yourself to do it?

It’s hard to follow this rule given that body disparagement is not only the norm, it’s expected.  A group of women is supposed to talk about diets and shoes and how much they freaking love yogurt.  I’d rather listen to my relatives talk about Obama than my coworkers talk about calorie counts.  In such a situation you can:

A.  Change the subject
B.  Try to change people’s minds by making body positive statements (only do this if you like to argue)
C.  If you’re totally stuck, entertain yourself:  mentally replace words like “carbs” with “balls.”  It’s way more fun to listen to people discuss good balls versus bad balls and whether or not they’re getting enough balls.

Before making a statement about your body, ask yourself if you’d say the exact same thing to the kindest, gentlest friend you have.  If the answer is yes, I’d be surprised if you had any friends at all; you’re certainly no friend to yourself.

3. Don’t talk shit about other people’s bodies.

If you want the world to learn to love all sizes and shapes of women, you have to start with you.  It’s so much fun to gossip and snipe, isn’t it?  It’s what women are supposed to do!  We must tear each other down in order to eliminate competition for the oh-so-rare, elusive man-penis!

I’m not just talking about fat shaming, either.  “Go eat a sandwich” is as mean a thing to say as “go on a diet, fatty!”  Just like people don’t know anything about your health or history by the size of your body, you don’t know what a thin person has dealt with in her life either.  Everyone’s got problems – beautiful people are just as screwed up as everyone else.

Rules 2 and 3 are doubly important in front of young people.  Don’t let the cycle of shame continue with your daughter or niece or young friend.  End it here and now.

4.  Wear clothes that fit.

Viva la Revolucion!

It doesn’t matter what your style is, what your budget is, or what you think of your fat; wearing too-tight or too-big clothes will make you uncomfortable, and that discomfort will show in how you carry yourself.  It’s hard to be confident when you’re constantly yanking a wedgie.

Whatever you like to wear, find the size that fits you – you can move in it, sit down, bend over, walk, without having to stop and adjust every three steps. I’m not saying it’s easy to find attractive comfy clothes when you’re fat – it’s a nightmare.  For all that fat people are supposedly taking over the world, we must all be walking around naked, because we can’t find crap for clothes.  It’s part of that whole “we will make you thin by making your fat life miserable” thing, which is ridiculous (and doesn’t work).  If you find an article of clothing that you love, get more than one if you can.  I love v-neck black t-shirts, so when I found one in a nice Supima cotton on clearance I ordered five of them.

5.  Demand better treatment from healthcare professionals.

Your doctor is prey to the same forces of fat-hatred that you are every single day.  So it’s likely that regardless of your state of health at some point a doctor is going to recommend you lose weight.  I’ve had some doctors who went about it in far more acceptable ways than others – really it’s more the attitude than anything else. Coming from a cardiologist, it’s less ridiculous than coming from an allergist.  If your doctor is generally responsive to your needs and doesn’t force the issue it’s not as big a problem as, say, one refusing to treat you for anything until you’re thinner.

(Yes, this happens.  If you don’t believe it, you’re probably not fat.  The horror stories I’ve heard from fat people in the healthcare system are enough to make you sick.)

That claptrap about obese people being a strain on the economy is nonsense; cancer costs millions of dollars to research and treat but nobody’s suggesting we let cancer patients die to save money.  Since a lot of fat folks are uninsured thanks to our crackerjack health care system, we don’t get adequate care anyway.  It’s just another smokescreen to keep people fighting amongst themselves while the rich line their pockets with the profits of our self-loathing.

Remember this, though:  your doctor works for you.  He is performing a service.  There are thousands of doctors out there, so if yours is a jerk to you or tries to pull that “all your problems would vanish if you lost weight” crap, fire his ass and go somewhere else.

Here’s a question to ask when your doctor tries to tell you your sore throat, aching back, or the axe sticking out of your skull are due to your weight.  “If I were a thin person, what treatment would you prescribe?”

Seriously.  Statistics show that weight loss fails over the long-term 95% of the time. How many conditions can doctors get away with prescribing something with only a 5% success rate?  Yet dieting is considered a panacea.  You know what else has a 5% success rate in treating disease?  Bleeding someone to let the evil humours out.

You deserve respect and attention from your healthcare professionals regardless of your size.  Don’t accept abuse and condescension.  And certainly don’t pay for it.

6. Find a way to move.

Like I said, you’re not obligated to be healthy, but you probably want to be – there’s this weird thing we humans do where we don’t want to die or feel like crap if we don’t have to.  While the evidence directly linking being fat with illness is sketchy at best (studies have shown that active overweight people actually live longer than thin sedentary people), you’d be hard pressed to find evidence that disagrees with the idea that regular movement is good for you.  Our bodies weren’t designed for our modern lifestyle, and it shows in how we feel.  Exercise benefits body, mind, and emotions – and it can be fun, if you find the right kind.

I’m not talking about torturing yourself with some “work out until you vomit” bullshit (people do know that throwing up is a symptom of illness, not a badge of honor, right?); I’m talking about getting up and moving around a little every day.  Even supersized folk have options.  Walk around your house a few times.  Put on your favorite song and dance to it.  I know it’s hard to leave the house and exercise when you’re fat – aside from any physical limitations you might have, people are assholes.   Despite the fact that we’re supposed to lose weight to be acceptable, we’re mocked when we are seen sweating.  But even if you don’t go to a gym (lord knows I don’t) or attend classes, try to move more.  You’ll feel better.

Just don’t go into it expecting to lose weight.  Move to enjoy life more.  Move because dancing is fun or because you love playing touch football with your kids.  Maybe you’ll lose weight by being more active, maybe not – but you’ll definitely feel better and have more fun.

7. Stand up for yourself.

Fat people are expected to just take whatever abuse is heaped on us because there’s something wrong with us that everyone – everyone – knows how to fix.  It’s assumed that we’re stupid, as if our whole lives were lived in a cave full of cake and we’ve just been waiting for a random stranger to deliver the Skinny Gospel.

“Oh my God.  Calories in and calories out – that’s it?  THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO IT? OH MY SWEET JESUS I’M CURED!  WHY HASN’T ANYONE EVER TOLD ME?”

You don’t have to take it.  You don’t deserve it.  You are a human being worthy of love and respect.  I’ll keep saying that until you hear me.

Even if you’re not quick-witted enough to come up with a retort to every insult, you can get a lot of mileage out of making eye contact with an asshole and saying, “Excuse me?” Bullies of all kinds tend to wilt when challenged in front of others.  Fix the spotlight on them and watch their power go poof.  Powerful women scare the hell out of weak-minded dickweasels.

I’ve had more trouble with strangers than loved ones, but family and friends can be even harder to deal with because it’s assumed they mean well and want the best for you.  It’s also assumed, as I’ve said, that everyone knows what’s best for you but you.

“Aunt Gertrude, I appreciate that you’re concerned about my health, but I am healthy and am happy with my appearance.  Please respect that I don’t want to discuss my size.”

Often strangers will try to pass off their cruelty as concern.  Don’t be fooled.  What they’re saying isn’t “I care about your health, total stranger, for I am a concerned citizen.” it’s “I find your body unacceptable and you should feel ashamed because I am insecure.”

The popular idea in psychology is that fat people are “shielding themselves” from something using their bodies.  We’re pushing away our emotions, stuffing our pain, et cetera.  That may be true for some people, but assuming it’s true for every fat person is as irresponsible as assuming every physical ailment comes from fat.

Although in my case, my fat is a great insulator.  It helps keep idiots out of my life.

8.  Deal with your fat.

Don’t pretend to be skinny if you’re not.  Take up space.  It’s okay. You’re not fooling anyone by sucking in your gut anyway.

We tend to gloss over an important aspect of fatness:  fat hygiene.  That stupid stereotype about fat people being smelly comes from a few people who don’t pay attention to the needs of their fat. Don’t punish yourself for being fat by treating your body like garbage.

Wash your fat.  More importantly, dry it.  When you get out of the shower make sure you’re dry under your fat rolls and between your legs and breasts.  Make sure you’re wiping your ass adequately.  Do not fall victim to the perils of Swamp Ass.  There are unhygienic people in every size, but if you’ve got more flesh you might need to spend more time attending to it.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  You’re saving yourself a lot of discomfort.  If you get rashes from sweating in the heat, apply powder or try to find workout clothes designed to wick moisture.  If I wear a skirt, which is rare, I put tights underneath it to avoid getting heat blisters on my thighs.

If your chair is too small, find a bigger one.  If the seat at the movies is pinching you, put up the armrest and take up two spaces.  Ask for a seatbelt extender on the plane.  You can also get them for your car – they should be free from your dealership since they’re safety equipment.

Touch yourself.  You’re not gross.  If you’re doing yoga and your belly’s in your way, take hold of it and shift it.  I’m serious.  Most people don’t think about that, but it can really help – touch your flesh.  It’s yours.  You grew it; you own it.  Don’t be afraid of your body. Often because we are heirs to such body shame, we avoid getting to know our flesh, so when something does go wrong we don’t realize it until it’s really serious.

9.  There are worse things in the world than being fat.

I’ve heard quite a few thin women say things like, “Thank God I’m not fat.  I’d kill myself.”  Or “getting fat would be the worst thing.”

Oh?  Worse than child abuse, genocide, homophobia, or being allergic to chocolate?  Worse than being an asshole?  Worse than treating people like crap because of how they look?

Is being fat worse than being an ignorant bigot?  Worse than being a murderer?  Worse than drowning kittens?  Amebic dysentery?  Losing a loved one?  Losing a limb?

Hating yourself is pretty damn awful too.  Trust me, it’s way worse than being fat.

10.  Don’t expect to feel awesome about yourself every single day forever.

Photo by Lorrie Ottmers. Hotness by me.

This one hit me hard after I had written an entire book on body image and, despite all my effort, still had periodic wars with the mirror.  Even knowing every rule on this list, I still have days when I have a hard time loving myself.

Given the world we live in, it’s really quite a revolutionary act to love yourself at all, even for a single hour.  With the constant bombardment of not-good-enough messages out there it’s bound to happen, so don’t judge yourself for occasional negative body thoughts.  Just gently bring yourself out of it and remember you are more than a number on a scale, more than a body at all.

If you challenge your assumptions, day by day you silence your inner critics.  This takes time and constant effort, but the reward is a happier life and often a healthier one.  Every journey has its pitfalls, though, and sometimes you fall flat on your face.  Even full grown adults can still be toddlers.

This is where affirmations can be really useful.  Look yourself in the eye every day and tell yourself you refuse to measure your life by your BMI. Tell yourself you are loved – because you are, I promise – and accepted exactly as you are no matter what, and that even if you’re not strong enough to believe it every day, it’s still true, and that truth will be there when you can reach out and grasp it. 

Remember you cannot leave a mark on the world without taking up space.

Next post I’ll share a list of body-positive blogs, books, and other resources that might help you find peace with your body, whether it’s fat or thin or short or purple or hairy or has an extra arm coming out the back.

 

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Salad Days

Bring Me a Shrubbery!

This is going to seem pretty random to people who don’t know me, but to me it’s pretty significant, so I thought I’d share.

For about 33 of my 33 years I’ve basically hated salad.  I find digging into a bowl of foliage uninspiring no matter how fancy it looks. It’s hard to eat without half the tiny bits of miscellaneous crap falling off the fork, and most of the time the greens are in these huge chunks you have to cram into your mouth like a raging brachiosaur.  I don’t like salad dressings much either – a nice vinaigrette can be tasty, but the minute you add “cream” or “ranch” or anything else that makes the dressing opaque, you test my gag reflex.

Add to that a complication: my IBS. Thanks to my spastic inner reaches, digesting raw vegetables is, well…hazardous in large amounts, and a good deal of ponderous chewing is required.

As a vegetarian, this is problematic.  As someone who would like to enjoy better health, it’s frustrating. Luckily I love lots of other vegetables, including things like broccoli that are little nutritional powerhouses (like spinach, but without the nasty).

Recently, however, I discovered something rather remarkable about myself. I found a way to eat salad.

I’m still working out the intricacies of the technique, but here, in a nutshell, is how to eat salad Sylvan-style.

1.  Take a bag of mixed baby greens or something like that, and make sure it’s washed.

2.  Shake salt into the bag – a few dashes, nothing extreme.

Except this little bastard. This is Mizuna, and it tastes like EVIL.

3.  Shut the bag and shake the crap out of it.

4.  Sit down and eat the greens one leaf at a time.

That’s it.  No slivered almonds, no pomegranate flaxseed vinaigrette, no shaved stinky feet cheese.  Just a bag of greens and a little salt.

The important thing I find is the method.  By eating the leaves one at a time, with my fingers, I’ve turned a salad into a bag of entertainment.  I get to taste each individual green and figure out which ones I like; I can experience their textures and flavors individually instead of as a giant mishmash of shrubbery drenched in oil.  And by eating it that slowly, I allow my system time to deal with the raw veg without freaking out.  A leaf here, a leaf there – nothing to get all uppity about.

Granted, this is not a meal; it’s more of a snack.  But salad as a meal always felt like punishment to me, the way cottage cheese did; it was “healthy” food, which meant it was food you had to eat because you were fat.  I don’t want any food to feel like punishment, especially not one with as many health benefits as raw leafy greens.

Sometimes it’s all about taking a different perspective. When I was a little kid, I always ate my foods separately.  I wouldn’t eat a sandwich, but I’d eat bologna, cheese slices, and bread.  I didn’t like foods touching each other on the plate.  I’ve gotten over most of that, but the new Salad Method gives me a little taste of nostalgia, a return to a simpler, less emotionally fraught way of eating.

The only annoying side effects I’ve found are:  1) it makes people look at me funny in restaurants, which they do anyway when they see a woman eating alone, especially a fat woman who actually appears to be enjoying her food; and 2) my cat, who loves to steal  from my plate (and sometimes right out of my hand) made off with a lettuce leaf and promptly barfed it up again, giving me a look that clearly said, “Mom, this ISN’T FOOD. THIS IS WHAT FOOD EATS.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a bag of that weird curly stuff that looks like it should be growing out of the north side of a tree.

 

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Balancing The Mojo Budget

There’s a lot of talk in the news about our national budget and deficit – and who should get the shaft so the rich can stay rich – but at the moment I’m more focused on a more personal form of deficit spending…and I don’t mean the kind that shows up on a credit report.

I’ve come to view my personal energy level as a sort of extremely localized economy.  Think of it this way:  a single human being has a certain amount of energy at any given time.  This includes physical, mental, and spiritual energy, which are all essentially the same thing or at least arise from the same Divine source. But even if you aren’t of a mystical bent, the metaphor is still useful.

Say the Goddess gives you a $100 energy allowance per day.  Just being awake and alive, your body going about its normal function uses $50 a day.  Your job takes, say, $20; dealing with family members takes $20; and leisure takes the remaining $10.  (Amounts are purely hypothetical.)  At the end of the day, assuming that $100 is all you had in your account, you’re zonked.

However, you can boost your energy budget by eating nutrient-dense foods like veggies and whole grains, so you earn $10 back.  Exercise you enjoy (if you don’t enjoy it it won’t earn as much of a return) will gain you another $5.  But then, if you eat a whole cake, not only do you use up physical resources, the sugar crash can do mean things to your mental health, so you lose a chunk of what you earned.  Good sex can bring in energy dollars too – it expends some, but if it’s really awesome and with someone you care about (hence, no drama to drain your account), you come out ahead.  (If it’s with yourself, it’s pure profit.)  Meditation and prayer would also add to your positive balance, and since they help you to be more relaxed and confident in other areas, they’re a wise investment.  Working at a job you love will bring you more energy than you spend on a job you hate, and so forth.

Just remember it’s a metaphor, not a zero-sum game; the idea isn’t to have a perfect balance of expenditures and income, because then, if something goes wrong – you get sick, or your car has a flat tire, or your cat needs surgery – you’ll be running at a stress-induced deficit almost immediately.   Human beings have a surprisingly large energy reserve, but modern life depletes it gradually as poor diet, lack of exercise, an abundance of drama, and compassion fatigue drain it cent by cent.  Where does that leave you when tragedy strikes…or, when you’ve gone too long on too little and suddenly find yourself running on empty?  Ideally you want a budget surplus.

Fig. 1.0: The Greater North American Sylvan (not to scale)

My idea is to do everything I can to shift the balance toward the positive.  It’s not complicated math:  everything you can add to your day that brings you energy without draining you, and everything you can do to minimize the energy you carelessly give away, will build your nest egg, meaning your overall wellness.  As I’ve learned with actual money, life is just much smoother if you have a little something in savings.  Then, once in a while, you can eat a whole cake if that’s what you choose to do, and it won’t bankrupt you.

How can you tell if an activity is worth the energy it requires?  Think of how you feel afterward.  Most of us have that one person in our lives that just sucks us dry – nothing is ever enough.  They’re like a giant black hole of need surrounded by tentacles.  The New Agey term for such a person is “energy vampire,” but you could also think of them as pickpockets, rifling through your coat to look for spare bits of energy they can make off with.  You might not be able to totally avoid such a person (they might be a coworker or family member), but you can pay attention to how they drain you, and then either minimize your contact or try to build your energy back up afterward by doing things you know give you an overall boost.

That’s the main thing, really:  learn to pay attention to where your energy goes and how much comes in.  If you’re feeling exhausted and apathetic, you’re losing energy somewhere.  Depression itself is a huge mojo-sucker, and people who suffer from it have to work that much harder to keep their balance on the positive side, otherwise it gradually strips away every last cent and leaves you with nothing.

You can start by drawing a pie chart and dividing it according to how much energy you estimate you spend on the things you do throughout the day. Assume a $100 baseline (because then you’re working with 100%, which is easier to visualize) and divide the pie accordingly.  (Or you could draw a snazzy doodle like the one above.)  You may find you’re spending way more than your $100 and are in debt up to your ears; or you might be one of the lucky folk who’s good at mojo management and is solidly in the black.

Obviously anything you do for a “fix” is probably going to bite you in the butt in the long-term; sure, a quadruple espresso methamphetamine bender might give you energy for a little while, but the cost is very high, especially over the long-term.  Try to find sustainable sources of energy that bring you optimum wellness without costing you, others, or the planet more than they have in their own banks, because eventually resources can run dry, and as we’ve seen with Big Oil, using a resource irresponsibly can cause incalculable damage to everything around you.

Consider where you could be leaking energy and where you could bring more in.  If we were talking about money, it might be something as simple as your $5 a day Starbucks habit that’s breaking the bank one mocha at a time; but for you, that expenditure might be totally worth it.  Maybe that fifteen minutes you spend in the morning sipping your mocha and enjoying the pre-work quiet is adding small but significant gains to your positive energy ledger.  Everyone has different needs, goals, and things they enjoy; gardening might give you a big payback for the work put forth, but for me it would just be work.  For me, dancing and doing Nia are income, but jogging would be a hellish expense.  There’s no “right” budget, only the one that’s right for you.

As they say, health is wealth; managing your income and outflow with mindfulness and care can keep you wealthy for life.

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Book Review: Veganist by Kathy Freston

I find myself conflicted over this book. I’ve been a huge fan of Freston’s first, Quantum Wellness, since it came out; I always really liked her “lean into it” approach to wellness, which involves making small changes, educating yourself, and letting your mind, heart, and body come into a gentle congruence that is far more lasting than trying to force radical changes on yourself.

I know her approach is a valid one because it’s worked for me. I know there are some people who can go “cold turkey” on change, but after years of frustrated failure I realized I’m just not one of those people. Freston’s approach was a breath of fresh air for me on the vegan front, since practically every pro-vegan book out there emphasizes “you must do it NOW NOW NOW and to hell with your emotional needs, that’s all touchy feely nonsense anyway!” and my forays into vegan online community only reinforced my sense of not-belonging. Hippies, non-atheists, and anyone not “hardcore enough” were clearly not welcome. Neither are fat people unless they’re in the process of dropping millions of pounds on their new miraculous vegan diet. Apparently fat people are bad PR for veganism as the perfect lifestyle. Right.

So in that regard, I understand why Freston wrote her new book, Veganist, and is trying to create a sort of new-agey alternative to the term “vegan” which she sees as too harsh and limiting, more about deprivation than wellness. I think the word “veganist” is ridiculous, but I can see where she’s coming from. To me it feels like Freston knows where I’m coming from, too – it feels like she must have had similar experiences with vegans and decided that if she wasn’t going to be welcomed in their world, she would just strike out on her own.

Personally I’d rather go with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s term “joyful vegan” than try to totally reinvent the word; don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but emphasize that there is more than one way to be a vegan…because there are many ways, and not all of them are going to attract people. Lord knows most haven’t attracted me.

My problem comes again with the culture of “diet veganism,” and how it’s become the new cash cow…oh, excuse me, the new “hook.” Lure readers in with the promise of guaranteed weight loss, and then fold in some stuff about animal suffering and environmentalism and maybe eventually they’ll read it.

Again…I get it. I understand the “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” idea. But it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It feels dishonest, and not just because promising effortless weight loss is iffy at best, and cynical at worst.

Sure, you might lose weight by going vegan. But you might not. Statistically speaking it’s 95% unlikely you will succeed in the long term if your only goal is weight loss. I can say from experience that veganism is a wonderful choice for your overall health, as long as you are paying attention to your diet and getting a nice variety of nutrients every day; but placing all your hope on the weight loss power of veganism is dangerous…if you’re expecting some kind of fat-melting miracle and don’t get one, then what? How many people are going to go on a vegan weight-loss diet and realize they haven’t suddenly gotten skinny, then say to hell with it and give up before they’ve managed to get to the chapters about what veganism actually *is* all about?

I mean, sure Atkins is more appealing for dropping pounds! You eat all the bacon you want! Contrast that with veganism, and which do you think will win out? It’s obvious, because weight loss isn’t the main benefit of veganism. You don’t abstain from half the Standard American Diet just to be a size 6; you need more than that to motivate you to make such a profound change. Atkins has no greater meaning; it’s just about creating chemical conditions in your body (dangerous ones) that cause you to drop pounds. End of story. Veganism is so much more than that, because it didn’t start out as a way of “slimming.” It’s not for people who want the same-old-same-old and to be able to do things the same way they always have just using low-fat mayo instead of regular. Veganism changes your life from the inside out.

I find it a disturbing commentary on our society that if you try to tell people veganism is a compassionate, spiritually uplifting, overall healthy way to live for your body, mind, and soul, they roll their eyes at you and crack some lame-ass joke about bacon; but if you start off by touting veganism’s “guaranteed” weight loss, you wind up on Oprah, Martha Stewart, and magazine covers galore.

I’ve heard a lot of vegans bash Kathy Freston for not being a “real vegan” because she is more concerned with 95% integrity than 100% purity. She believes – quite rightly in my opinion – that it’s impossible to be 100% pure vegan right now because of how manufacturing, shipping, and research are conducted, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing the best we can. She also believes that it’s more important to make veganism accessible than to pitch an ungodly fit in a restaurant when there’s a half-teaspoon of butter on your bread. I can absolutely see where hardcore vegans would be outraged over that…but still, I have to say I see Freston’s point.

I just don’t see how being black-and-white has ever helped anyone change. You can’t guilt yourself into compassion any more than you can hate yourself healthy. The thing about loving energies like compassion and healing is that they arise from a place of wholeness and positivity, not one of blame and anger; they come from having your eyes opened. True change comes from opening your arms, not turning your back.

Whatever you think of Freston’s approach, what I like about it is that it isn’t judgmental and doesn’t emphasize the shalt-nots; her way of leaning into wellness involves having your horizons broadened to the abundant health and spiritual freedom that becoming a plant-based human offers. “Promising” anything as a result of a dietary change is a mistake, in my opinion, but it’s a bold move either way. I personally would be much happier to see a million people go 80% vegan and stick with it for five years while gradually upping that percentage than 1 million people go “diet vegan” for a year and give up six months in because it’s “too hard” and their only motivation was ass size. The more reasons you have to do something, and the more they resonate to your heart and spirit (not just your ego), the more likely you are to do the homework, make the plans, and take the time to succeed.

But that never happens overnight. It’s a gradual unfolding, not a switch flipped on and off. There are a lot of mini-switches, sure, but it’s very rare that people wake up one morning and say, “Aha! Today I become a ventriloquist!” and nothing gets in the way. Our culture is terrified of losing time, wasting time…spending time. We want everything to happen in 30 days or less, preferably for $19.99 or less, and if you know anything at all about the human soul, you know that isn’t how things happen. Force creates resistance – and resentment. Is your relationship with your body one that needs more resentment? Or force? Do you need to give yourself something else to fight against? Or would you rather give your body the choice to move into a new way of being at a pace that will become a lifelong change rather than a series of false starts?

I know whereof I speak, here. I’ve been trying to go vegan for five years now. Every single time I’ve tried to go cold tofu, and every single time, I’ve failed, because I wasn’t ready, didn’t have all the tools and information I needed, or the support system I needed in place. If I had taken my time and allowed the philosophy to mature, sought out support, and gathered as much knowledge while making a series of smaller changes, I think I would have been much more successful from the beginning. That certainly seems to be the case this time; I’m working slowly, without judgment, learning more about myself than ever before, and it’s working. I feel safe in this kind of change, my puppy mind is waddling her way along with her tail high and ears perked in curiosity, and I’m so glad I read Freston’s first book, or I might never have come this far.

And so, silly word or no silly word, I have to give a thumbs-up to Kathy Freston’s efforts at taking veganism mainstream, and I wish her luck. She’s certainly made a big difference in my life, and I honor her for that.

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Once, Twice, Three Times a Vegan

Bacon had a Mom.

I was looking back at the significant events of the last few years, which I keep in a Word file because my memory is so spastic, and I realized that I first went vegetarian six years ago at the beginning of 2005; a year later I made my first attempt at veganism.

Now, I won’t lie to you and say that I’ve never “slipped,” or gone off the wagon. Let’s be generous and say that if you subtracted all the times I’ve backslid to meatish ways I’ve been fully vegetarian for five years total.

However, before you laugh and say that just proves that all vegetarians crave meat, let me say that almost every single period of omnivorous behavior I’ve been through has been during a time I was intensely depressed, usually to the point of emotional shutdown. When that happens, I grope blindly for anything that will make me stop hurting, or make me feel good at all for even a moment; food being a visceral source of comfort, it makes sense that I’d eat anything I could think of that had ever brought me solace.

News flash: It doesn’t work. All it does is leave me feeling massive guilt and enduring an IBS attack. (Did I mention meat is another trigger for my IBS? That was one of my 50 original motivations for going veg back in the day.)

Because of my lifelong issues with food, every time I’ve tried to go vegan I’ve hit a wall that, it turned out, was a mirror. I ended up having to face down my demons and in many cases wasn’t ready, so I turned tail and did a swan dive into a vat of queso.

Finally in the midst of all my body epiphanies I realized that going cold turkey (cold tofu, if you will) was just not the way for me to go. Like a great many people I had come to associate veganism with miraculous weight loss, but in my case, that was a bad thing, because that meant it was associated with deprivation and pain – another way to punish myself for not being good enough. Not only was I fat, I was a critter killer! I was paying people to kill animals, grind them up, and slop them on buns!

As I have said many times, shame is no way to motivate people. I wanted to be a joyful vegan, not an angry vegan, and in order for me to make the change in a permanent, positive way, I had to change my attitude and my approach.

I had let go of the thin-is-win mentality, and now I had to let go of the all-or-nothing approach toward veganism: that if I couldn’t do everything at once, I shouldn’t even try to do anything. I find that a lot of people have this issue; they think that because they “can’t give up cheese” they shouldn’t even try to cut back on flesh or animal secretions. I realized this mentality makes no sense. Just because I can’t stop factory farming by myself doesn’t mean that I can’t help animals, and while it might not be much to the whole planet, to those few animals it’s life.

The same goes for your health. Small actions add up, and those little changes can surprise you; I mentioned in a previous post how I realized that all those years of working on my body image had paid off and I hadn’t even grasped just how much. Small efforts, made over time, until they become a part of your life, can often push you just far enough that you can make a larger change without it feeling like the end of the world. Instead of thinking about everything you can’t eat as a vegan, think of it as choosing to eat everything else instead. You’re an adult. Nobody’s going to stop you if you want to buy a hunk of cheese.

Here in Texas there’s a Mexican dish called menudo that’s extremely popular; it’s basically a stew made of cut up guts. In poorer countries there are fewer choices when it comes to eating animals versus starvation; and when you live in rural Mexico, those intestines don’t get sneered at, they are put to use. I come from middle class white America, and I am extraordinarily lucky in that I have the luxury of choosing not to eat organ meats, insects, or anything I don’t find ethically acceptable (or tasty, because menudo…EW. And that’s from a girl who used to eat Spam.).

I am thankful to live where I live and have the options that I have, and this is why I don’t judge people who lack my resources. People keep trying to blame the “obesity epidemic” on the poor, but considering grocery stores in poor areas of the city don’t carry healthier high quality products, what choices are people given to eat better? Classism is a huge problem when it comes to public health, so equating health with moral worth comes down to a class war: poor people can never be as “good” as wealthy people because they can’t buy “good” food like quinoa and organic arugula.

Everyone has different challenges when it comes to making food choices, and I am in no position to say who is “good” and who is “bad” (except maybe Monsanto). But I feel like we do the best we can with the economic situation we’re in and the knowledge we have, so if more money were devoted to educating lower income families about their food options, and trying to expand those options in poorer areas of the country…I mean, no parent sets out to feed their kids the crappiest low-nutrition food they can find. Parents want their kids to be healthy and strong and they do the best they can with what they can afford.

Again, I am thankful, for I have no children and I make enough money to buy all the vegetables and grains I can eat, with some of the pricier processed vegan foods when I want them. This presents its own challenges in that I run the risk of the opposite extreme, wasting food; I have to find ways to feed myself and nourish myself that I will follow through on. I can’t just buy a bunch of broccoli and assume I’ll use it up in a week. I have found that I need to plan ahead and buy off a list. That’s another thing I’m working to learn as I transition back to, and I hope permanently to, veganism.

By approaching the transition this way, gently and gradually and learning about myself and how I can stretch my boundaries without causing deprivation panic, I am finding a way to slide gracefully into veganism without the herky-jerky stumbles of my prior attempts. I really do feel that this time is different. It may take me another month or two to figure out how to feed myself this new way that is kind to my body and the earth but also compassionate toward my poor heart, which has been broken and bruised quite enough. I want my veganism to be a positive, beautiful initiation into the deepest truths of my values, so that I’m not a weight loss vegan or a triathalon vegan, but a mystical vegan. I don’t want to be a hardcore anything – life is hard enough already. Making life choices out of compassion is inherently spiritual, and I look forward to this being an important aspect of my personal practice.

And I feel that, when I am finally ready to say “Yes, I am vegan,” it will be the incredible affirmation I’ve been praying for all this time, a verbal expression of an internal change that has been coming for five years and is finally, finally reaching fruition.

 

 

 

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