Lying on my bed on a Saturday afternoon, catching up on months of Time magazines next to my napping boyfriend, guilt curls up next to me like a third companion. Taking the time to read about world events is a fantasy of mine, because I’m always behind. But I was choosing this over a workout and the dishes, since I had plans all evening, so it felt indulgent
I often make myself feel that I need to not only be productive every waking hour, but I also have a very narrow definition of what counts. Recently I figured out that my guilt is a result of a shaky self-worth. This discovery was startling because I do, indeed, like myself and even love myself. I’m a confident person; I think I’m capable. But my self-worth is like a kindergarten performance chart, constantly being added to with new star stickers or sad faces.
I can’t always honestly say “I’m OK” when I choose soda over water, when I haven’t worked out in five days, or when I’m reading Time Magazine – which doesn’t seem a high enough priority to make time for. I feel like I let myself down. This self-critical tendency drives me constantly: If I want to watch a movie, I use my laptop and wash dishes at the same time or crochet. I don’t relax well.
Recently, with the help of my therapist, I’ve started to wonder what a self-worth would look like without all the criticism. My first thought – how can I know I’m ok if I have nothing to point to?
I felt like the alternative to my current system, based on accomplishments and a high moral standard, was something laissez-faire or even empty. I imagined a bare and dark closet a child might retreat to when the world got scary. It felt like unused space.
I told this to a friend struggling with depression. He shared that when he imagines his own self-worth, he pictures a bunch of broken bicycles. It reminded me of a story I’d heard a woman tell of a cross-country move she’d taken while going through a messy divorce. Along the way, a meaningful piece of stained glass had shattered in the moving truck. She’d felt it was symbolic of her own broken life.
A friend took the pieces of glass to an artist who used them to form a new work – a beautiful mosaic flower.
Broken bikes can be fixed or turned into art. Closets can be filled with new and better things. And I learned there’s a lot of hope in my closet.
Even if during any particular moment I’m not capable of saying, “I’m ok,” I’ve always thought I will be. I drive myself hard because I believe in myself.
In my closet I am placing choice. I can choose to love myself, and I can choose to change how I judge my worth. Change happens slowly – I’ll have to choose this better path over and over again until it becomes a habit. And hopefully in the process, my closet will begin to fill up with better things.
When I got accepted into a semester abroad program in Italy, I was instantly worried about two things. 1) There would only be 16 students including me, and what if I didn’t mesh with any of them? 2) We had breakfast and lunch prepared for us with dinner on our own, and I was worried about eating more than anyone else in the small kitchen used for dinner meals that I saw in pictures of where we would stay.
Both of these self-conscious fears were routed in prior college experiences. My freshman year I took a spring break trip with a school choir. We traveled to Colorado and back singing at churches along the way. I wasn’t close to anyone in the choir and often found myself alone on breaks. One night, in the family home of another member, they put two girls on a bed and me on an air mattress in the same room. I asked the girls if we were going to stay up and talk. They said they were tired and would probably just go to sleep. Instead they stayed up whispering to each other. I eventually moved the air mattress out into the hallway.
The next day we traveled for hours on our tour bus, and I stared out the window and cried the entire way. I felt like something must have been wrong with me that set me apart. I had the tendency of getting too deep, complimenting people in ways that were beyond our shallow acquaintance level, and other such issues that seemed to make people uncomfortable. I felt that day like I would struggle with connections to people the rest of my life.
My emotional connection to food started early. My father was gone a lot and would compensate by bringing my brother and I treats – chocolate muffins and smoothies, or taking us to Dairy Queen on weekends at home. I related affection to sweets.
I was taller than most girls I grew up with and a little chubby with chipmunk cheeks and rounded thighs. Most girls I hung out with were gangly or petite cheerleaders with small waistlines.
My creative brain was a conundrum to friends growing up. They’d often comment that I was weird. I had the tendency to start in the middle of a thought and forget to catch someone up. I was young and didn’t know how to articulate the crazy things going on in my head yet. This was one of the biggest reasons I took up writing, to slow down my thoughts and piece them together.
I began slowly to blame the isolation I felt on my size. It seemed easier to handle this than if there was something wrong with my personality. I also didn’t fit the “Teen Magazine” model of beauty. I wore bigger sizes than all of my friends, so I was already set apart physically.
With this physical blame for my isolation and an early tendency to emotionally eat, I was paranoid that my eating habits would further segregate me.
Early on in my semester abroad, I said something at the wrong time and a few people laughed at me. I felt like my fear was already coming true. I felt found out. They knew I was indeed too weird.
After a comforting conversation with our resident advisor, it became my goal during this semester to become comfortable with myself. I wanted to go home with a renewed confidence in who I was.
One episode really jarred me and made me realize how far I’d let my self-identity slip from ideal. I was on a train with three friends heading back from a long weekend holiday that had gone really well. I was sitting opposite the three of them, and I looked over and they were all quiet and peaceful, staring out the window or sleeping. I thought to myself, I’d love to hug them now. And instantly an inner voice said, You’re too big to hug.
I still remember the image in my head in that moment of me as a giant looming over these petite women. Of course, I was taller and curvier than all three of them. Of course, I was the heaviest girl on the trip – this seemed to be my lot often enough.
But the thought felt like an evil intruder, like a slimy creature with claws and sharp teeth that kids picture crawling out of their closet. And I’d created him.
That semester I journaled, read novels, worked out at a local gym, wrote music on my guitar, spent a lot of time with a couple of girl friends I made in spite of my fear that it wouldn’t happen. I worked on vanishing the monster I’d created by nurturing myself and the things I loved about myself.
The last night before we flew home, a group of us decided it was pointless to sleep. We piled into one room to chat on each other’s beds. I said I thought it would be fun to go around the room and say one word we felt like described each other.
These women had only one word for me. It was the only unanimous decision that night. They said woman. They said they were impressed by my maturity and self-confidence. That I seemed grown up to them in a way they admired.
I was shocked and proud, and I carry it with me always in the space the monster used to reside.
In moments like that it feels like the war should be over. My battle to a full and healthy self-confidence should’ve been complete. But of course it isn’t. Other moments where someone says I need to lose weight or that I’m weird still break into my heart through a tender opening. And other moments still are caused by self-criticism.
But it was a victory nonetheless. Never again have I felt too big to be hugged or had any other similar thought. Orvieto is where I studied that semester, so I’ll call it The Battle of Orvieto, where Emily slayed the ugly beast and became a woman.
Readers, I have a lot to share. A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I took a trip to Chicago to visit one of my best friends for her birthday. We went to a Korean spa and spent over 4 hours in various sauna rooms and in their luxurious hot tubs.
The hot tubs were connected to separate men’s and women’s locker rooms. Women undressed and walked into the room in bare skin. Prepubescent girls to octogenarians shared the space, chatted in clusters while lounging in hot water, or scrubbed each other’s backs in little shower stalls. My friend commented that women wore their skin like another outfit, a unique piece of their identity.
When the body is removed from aesthetic expectations and is allowed to simply function as a tool, a means of movement and pleasure, it is valued anew.
My body was just one among many. I’d felt this before, co-showering with my college track team and skinny dipping on a spring break training trip. In fact, any time I’m around a group of women and I have more than the usual amount of skin exposed, I feel comfortable and less self-conscious than I would expect.
It’s liberating to be completely exposed and not feel judged. This is not to say that I didn’t look at every woman around my age and check to see if her stomach had the same curves and lines as mine. I suspect that other women were making similar comparisons of my body.
But in this environment of leisure and self-nurture, all components of this experience felt communal.
Yesterday I taught my first Piloxing class! I had six students for the $5 trial. They lined up in a row behind me. Moving to an upbeat Piloxing mix, I cared about my form, about watching the women behind me to see if they were keeping up, about counting the beats, about how many sets of punches we’d already done. I remember a couple passing thoughts about whether I looked professional and fit in my Piloxing instructor shirt and yoga pants. But the thoughts faded into more pressing ones. Not once did I directly think about six sets of eyes watching my hips, arms, thighs, and butt for a whole 45 minutes.
The experience made me grateful of how functional my body truly is! I was able to give 6 women a new experience with their own bodies. I was able to elevate their heart rate, aiding their health and hopefully their self-confidence. Afterwards women said they enjoyed the class.
When the body is removed from aesthetic expectations and is allowed to simply function as a tool, a means of movement and pleasure, it is valued anew . It seems even more so a work of art, knowing how well it was made to perform.
I got the opportunity to try out both the Fitbit Zip and the Scosche Rhythm fitness accessories. Both devices accompany apps for the iPhone and select Android phones. The Zip can sync directly to your computer using an USB device.
The Zip is basically a fancy pedometer. It calculates your steps and the distance you walk. It uses this information, plus the information you supply on the website about your weight and height, and estimates the amount of calories you burn per day, and what your daily distance goals should be.
A lot of people swear by this little guy. It’s tiny and unobtrusive. It can clamp onto the waist of your pants or your bra and you’ll forget you have it on. It will sync automatically when you’re within a certain range of your computer if you have the USB device plugged in. It’s easy-peasy!
That is, unless you’re like me and you have a hard time getting into habits or find it really easy to lose small pieces. I took the fitbit off to take a shower after a workout, put it into the pocket of my robe and couldn’t find it for three days.
I recommend this device for people who get into daily routines easily. Do you have pills you take every morning? Do you run through checklists in your head? Great!
I further recommend this device for people who, like me, sit most of the day and want to be challenged to get up and go. If you take the goals seriously of how much you should move each day, you will be healthier for it.
I won’t buy this device, because I would lose it, and it would be a waste of $60. But I do really like the idea of being challenged to move.
The Zip is the cheapest and simplest device in the Fitbit family. A little more expensive is the The Rhythm I so wanted to love! I do a lot of interval training and start teaching Piloxing at a local gym this week! I care about my heart rate zone. I loved the premise of a device that tracks your heart rate throughout your workout using a bluetooth device that works in coordination with your smartphone. (By the way, Polar H7 does this too, and I really want to try it!) I wanted to know what percentage of my time I was in my target zone.
Unfortunately, the Rhythm did a poor job of tracking my heart rate. At the start of my first workout in which I used the device, it had my heart rate in the 50s when I was doing push ups (which is where my heart rate is at bedtime). I got on the elliptical at the end of my workout and it was as much as 12 bpm higher or lower than the elliptical’s measurement.
The second time I used the device, I also wore my Timex Health Touch watch, which I’ve found stays pretty close to the heart rate measurement of the elliptical that I use at the gym.
The Rhythm started out much lower than the Timex, but eventually started creeping up and up and up . . . Halfway through my workout, it was measuring my beats per minute in the 200s and then 300s! According to my iPhone app, I was redlining (and should’ve been dead).
I definitely don’t recommend this app until they work out some of the kinks. I’ve also heard that heart rate monitors using chest straps are more precise. Thus, I want to try the Polar device, which is only $20 more expensive than the Rhythm ($80 compared to $60).
What I desire is a safe place for women – in our friendships, in the blogosphere, wherever we talk about our bodies – that allow us to express our desires and our insecurities and our pride without negative criticism.
In an intimate earlier post, I admitted a fear that I would be considered too overweight to teach aerobics. I described my body in a way I felt best portrayed my fears, but not in a way I would normally describe myself. I wrote:
“I’m afraid of getting up there [to my certification workshop], and having a bunch of up and downs where a group of women look at my meaty thighs and pudgy triceps and . . . OK, what I’m really scared of is them telling me no – I’m not cut out for this.”
I shared my post on Facebook and some friends let me have it about being too hard on myself and using terminology that was depreciative of my body.
Right now there is a strong protest to how our culture portrays standards of beauty. People are asking for models at healthy weights; companies like Dove promise to use real women in their ads. I follow blogs on plus-sized fashion that are more and more mainstream. XOJane encourages women of all sizes to wear horizontal stripes or two pieces, pro-curvy facebook pages and tumblr sites flaunt picture after picture of beautiful women.
The scales are tipping more and more toward realistic models for healthy and attractive.
I think it takes a while for us as individuals to catch up with the trends, and for all of us who’ve reached adulthoods with battle scars on our psyche from unrealistic measures of health and beauty, there is an internal healing that might never be complete.
We should love our bodies even if they’re not whatever comparison of perfection we’re using. We should be grateful for what they enable us to do. We should see how beautiful we really are regardless ( in fact, because of ) how different from cultural ideals we might be.
But these shoulds can backfire and lead to guilt. Now even one’s self-confidence is culprit to scrutiny.
What I desire is a safe place for women – in our friendships, in the blogosphere, wherever we talk about our bodies – that allow us to express our desires and our insecurities and our pride without negative criticism.
As much as it’s ok to have a unique body, it’s also ok to have a body image that’s a work in progress. Most of us don’t wake up one morning and just love ourselves, that actually does take work!
I feel compelled to work through my own insecurities publicly, because I believe that sharing my fears will make you feel ok about your own. And me finding a new place of peace and acceptance will hopefully lead you to one as well.
About this place of peace. I wasn’t looked at funny in my piloxing instructors workshop. I wasn’t even the largest woman there. Looking at all the shapes of fitness was both inspiring and comforting. Whatever unresolved issues I have with body image, I know without a doubt I’m still an example of fitness. And even if that seems contradictory or less that perfect, it’s ok.
But there’s a flip side I feel I really need to mention. Years ago I was shopping in a department store and I overheard a mother complain to her daughter about being fat. Two things struck me so hard that years later I still remember the offhanded comment.
First, this woman looked more likely to shop in the petite section than the plus-sized. Second, her daughter looked about 11 or 12 – the perfect age to be absorbing information bout how to feel about her own body.
I began to wonder if mothers in general realize the impact their own body image can have on their daughters. And though I want to encourage women to free themselves of guilt for being insecure about having imperfect self-confidence, I think mindful awareness of the impact we have on others is also important.
With that, I am sorry I flippantly referred to my triceps as pudgy. I will not apologize for my fears of how others see me or actually even wanting more toned under arms. But I don’t think that having more shapely arms takes away from my beauty and I should’ve taken the time in my last post to say that.
I saw a healthy cheese recipe the other day and felt inspired to browse around for other healthy cheese recipes! I thought I’d share some other blog’s recipes that looked particularly tasty for your enjoyment.
Apple-Cheddar Chicken Tartines with Honey-Dijon Roasted Potatoes
Lighten Up: A Healthy Mac and Cheese Recipe
Cauliflower Crust Pizza
This one isn’t cheese based, but a healthy alternative to regular pizza is always a good idea and who doesn’t love pizza without cheese!? (Except vegans, and then there are cheese-like substitutes!)
Fueling Strong Blog Recipe
Skinny Queso Dip Recipe
Kale and Three-Cheese Calzones
Best App For Weight Training and Body Building
The Fitocracy iPhone app is still in beta and has frequent updates. It has its issues, but the development team seems hard at work fixing bugs and adding new features. It also has the sleekest visual design of all the apps reviewed in this article.
Try out this app if you want to record resistance training information like sets, reps, weight and time. Create your own routines or reuse recent workouts. I started using this app because I wanted an easy way to remember when I added weight or how many reps I made it through in my last workout!
The app is tied to fitocracy.com which is host to an impressive community of dedicated athletes, weightlifters and die-hard gym rats. The website supports many social features and specific groups. Are you a cyclist? Join over 36,000 members in the cyclist group for tips, workouts, and camaraderie. Maybe you’re a lady weightlifter, like me! Chat about what brand of jeans fits muscular legs or how to intensify a workout!
Honorable Mention: FitID
Not as feature-packed, this app uses a really simple interface to add exercises to a workout. It also allows you to choose what equipment (body weight, dumbbells, resistance bands, kettleball, etc) you used for an activity. The app doesn’t have as large of a database of exercises and when it crashed while I was recording a workout, I was forced to start over. FitID might not be ready for the major league, but if you’re looking for something fast and simple, check it out.
Best App For Weight Loss and Healthy Living Support
The app can be used on its own for basic food and exercise tracking, but it’s best utilized with its content-rich parent site.
Sparkpeople, sparkpeople.com, is the total package for people serious about lifestyle changes. Sparkpeople.com has a great food tracking system (which is where the app comes in most handy) and a basic workout tracking system, but the real gem of the site is the huge online community with many ways to connect and get support. With everything from personal blogs and instant messaging to teams with their own message boards, goals and team leaders, sparkpeople is the facebook for the health minded, especially people focused on weight loss.
I especially recommend this website if you have specific issues like diabetes, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), you’re pregnant or even just looking for other fitness buddies located near you! Whatever it is, you’ll find a group of people from around the country who will get where you’re coming from!
The app’s exercise tracking isn’t the best for resistance training or routine tracking. Use this app if you simply want to hold yourself accountable to working out so many days a week.
Honorable Mention: MyFitnessPal
Another very popular tracking app is MyFitnessPal. It has a smaller website with less social features, but a big fan base. The description in the app store claims it has the “largest food database of any calorie counter.” Like sparkpeople, this is not an app for detailed workout tracking; it’s best used for accountability and used in addition to food tracking.
Best App for Interval Training
This app has some unique features, including the ability to create supersets and a built-in interval timer. Similar to fitocracy you can create and save routines, so the app works well for resistance training workouts.
JEFIT uses images in the search results to help you identify an activity. Having these visuals is a really helpful search feature since every app has a different name for the same exercise. The app also contains animated images to show proper form for an activity.
If you’re looking for new routines, check out jefit.com to see user-submitted routines sorted by their goal: (general fitness, bulking, sports training, cutting), as well as difficulty (beginner, intermediate, advanced).
I didn’t review running apps, which is a whole different beast! Check out the Men’s Health article on The Best Running Apps.