Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Body ponderings

Just to warn you, this is a long post.

I've been putting off the composition of this post, although it's been on my mind for a while now. The delay isn't really due to any kind of deep self disclosure, or even painful memories or anything like that. It's just...difficult to talk about in any coherent fashion. However, I was inspired to write down my thoughts finally a friend's recent journey in "honoring the body."

I'm going to quote Scripture here for a moment, which I don't normally do on my blog (I save that for my theology/bible blog), but bear with me. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your body" (NRSV). Now, I don't want to get into the theological implications of "you are not your own," but I find this message from Paul very striking, not only because we are asked to think of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, but also because we are asked to honor God with our bodies.

Just what exactly does that mean? I think it probably, like so many things in the Bible, ends up meaning many different things to many different people. To me, however, it means that I am called to care for this amazing creation in a responsible way for it is an incredible gift from God. Anyone who has held a newborn will know that remarkable sense of awe at the wonders of creation What a gift of life (regardless of from where you feel that gift, or chance, comes)!

In my case, this has meant being more aware of what I put into my body, which in turn leads me to be more health conscious. I was to make it VERY CLEAR that this is NOT about being thin. AT ALL. I'm not sure my caps makes that quite as obvious as I would like but I can't make type shout at people. I don't want anyone reading the rest of this post thinking I'm talking about being skinny versus being fat. Why? Because the word "fat" is, in my opinion, one of the most hate-filled, meanest words people use against one another. Maybe this is because I come from a family with a genetic disposition towards being large, and have heard too many people spit that word at myself, my siblings, or my parents. And it leaves very, very deep wounds. The idea that fat=uncontrolled, slob, lazy, stupid, less of a person (in other words, an embodiment of all that is bad) and that thin=beautiful, smart, controlled, morally better (in other words, an embodiment of all that is good) is one of the most ridiculous outright pieces of bullshit that I've ever encountered. Sorry. I don't usually vent my anger that way, but I'm so digusted by the way that body-type discrimination is rampant in our society that I could spit (to use a phrase of my mom's). That doesn't mean that obesity isn't a national problem, but the moral associations with being large are frankly ridiculous.

Phew. Now that is out of the way, I can share some of my own journey as of late. As I said, this was partially inspired by a friend's blog, but also by a book I read. I happen to work with a really great priest who wrote a book about her struggle with compulsive overeating (if you email me I can give you the exact info, but I'd rather not here for whatever reason); in her narrative, she talks about her binges--how she would just eat and eat without any attention paid to what she was eating or how it tasted. I'm not a compulsive overeater, but it did bring to mind the practice of aware-ness that comes when you make a major change in the way you eat.

So. The story begins, I college? I don't know for sure. That's the first time I tried Weight Watchers. I went to the meetings for a few weeks, lost a lot of weight the first week, but the room was full of middle aged women whose concerns were not my own. And I got tired of being told to buy fresh vegetables when I couldn't afford them. So I stopped going. I think that was sophomore or junior year. Senior year I lost a lot of weight from getting ready for a hiking trip on the AT. I managed to keep the weight off basically until I got to Yale, when I started to put it back on, for whatever reason.

Flashforward to last fall, or even more especially last winter. I remember stepping on the scale in January and seeing the number 220 flash at me. That's when I decided that something had to change. I knew I was predisposed to be heavier, so it was going to take some work. But I also knew that R and I wanted to start our life together healthy, and instill healthy habits in our kids. I did not start to lose weight for the wedding-I would say if anything I started for myself and for the marriage. Luckily R is an adoring husband who constantly tells me that I'm beautiful no matter what. It wasn't ever a matter of trying to look pretty-it was a matter of trying to take better care of the gift I'd been given. So I started working out more. I joined Weight Watchers online (no meetings involved! For some this is a pitfall, but for me it's a major draw. And it's cheaper). I haven't been perfect at it-some weeks I gain. But all in all I've gotten down to about 183ish, which is almost 40 pounds. I feel better, my clothes feel better on me, and I have more energy.

Even more importantly, though, is that I'm actually paying better attention to what I eat. For some this comes through being vegetarian (or vegan, in the case of some friends of ours). For me it's come through thinking about what I eat and how it affects my body. Sure, I'd love to be more conscientious-I've thought about going veggie, or at least pescatarian. R and I had this conversation again last night (he'll never go veggie I bet). His side is that animals were meant to be eaten. Interestingly, I agree with that. However, I don't think they're meant to be eaten in the way we eat them-mass produced by an environmentally dangerous industry (chicken, beef, and pork especially-fish I'm more comfortable with). Who knows, maybe I'll do it again. For now, though, it's not really in the cards and I don't have time to cook something for R and something for myself, or vice versa. I didn't eat red meat in high school (which I'm sure my mom and dad remember not so labled veggie burgers "bird seed burgers" but there you go). Maybe for lent I'll do the pescatarian thing...we'll see. But I do love me some maybe I'll try to find more local sources for the meat I eat that don't have the same problems as the stuff we get at the local market.

Anyway, the point is that part of honoring the body is paying attention to what we eat and how we treat our bodies. I'm not saying that what I did was for everyone-losing weight may not be what honoring your body entails. It could be seeking medical attention for something or actually keeping up a regimen set up by a doctor.

So there you go. I didn't write this to brag or celebrate, because that 40 pounds could be put back on and I don't want to set myself up to feeling like I failed or won at something, because that's not what it's about. I just wanted to let someone know about what's been going through my mind lately.


m. connor sullivan said...

though you're not bragging, I still say well done in sticking to your decisions to be healthier together! before the wedding, you both were running farther than I ever was (back when I briefly started running it's all indoors). Emily and I hope to have bikes one day, and if we move to Providence and eventually back to Boston, maybe you can show us some trails.

Hilary said...

Thanks. I've been biking mostly lately (sometimes I get bored with running) and there are some great places in Boston...and I'm sure in Providence too. Actually, there are a couple I know of in the Providence area, but I'll fill you in on those if you actually move there. You should look up the East Coast Greenway, though. I think it goes up to Maine as's pretty sweet. And look for a local cycling club. Even if you don't join (which we didn't) often you'll find cue sheet libraries that will list good bike rides in the area. That's where I find my routes usually. And there's the "just get on your bike and ride" option, which is just as good (although sometimes hillier than you might like/want).