Diabetes, you are not invited to my pizza party
July 11, 2008 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I want to be fit, but I loathe "fitness." I want to lose weight, but I become so angry at the whole concept of being another woman on a diet. How can I reconcile my anger with my genuine need to be healthy?

I am a second-generation nerd, and I have a lot of the same body issues as many of you, I expect. I was raised by kindly, bookish people, and from my earliest experience, sports and fitness were only pushed on me by rough, uncaring, incurious authority figures. Physical activity was for boring, loud people who were impatient with my many shortcomings at the strange games no one had ever taught me. The smart, gentle people who were interested in me sat inside in the quiet, and never broke a sweat if they didn't have to. I was a grown woman before I glimpsed the possibilities of a deep, healthy enjoyment of your own body.

As for dieting, I have a truckload of issues that I'll just send around to the delivery entrance. Suffice it to say that I was put on a popular adults' diet at age eight, and it made me a food-hoarder and secret eater. As a feminist, I demand to eat. I love food and I am not sorry. I bitterly resent the way that diet writers speak to me. (The only exception has been the Hackers' Diet, and it is no coincidence that it was written for men. It's not very sophisticated as a diet, though.) It is very easy, when I'm craving sweets, to blame the patriarchy and have a Three Musketeers.

But. I want to do the right thing for my heart. I do not want diabetes -- it runs in my family and I do not want to let myself get it. I don't want to let this abdominal fat damage my long-term prospects for, well, having a long term. And I, not the people in my past, am ultimately responsible for my health, and for moving my own flat white ass.

How do you fight the resentment? How do you get over choking on the voice that says fuck you I'm not in second grade anymore and you're no better than me whenever you go to the gym? How do you diet with a full respect for yourself?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
First, you pick your gym carefully. Mine is owned by a hospital where the focus is on health for all types of bodies. Believe me when I say that makes a major difference.

As for food, as you start eating healthfully, learning about proper portion size and enjoying fruits and veggies and other wonderful things, you will find out how much better and more energetic you feel. Don't do a diet, diets suck. Eating healthy is being kind to your body-and it will reward you for doing so.
posted by konolia at 6:20 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you can, get an active, medium or larger sized dog you like. Walking an active dog a couple of times a day is simple long term plan for your own happiness and wellness, as well as the dog's wellness. 2 to 4 miles a day of brisk walking, a little ball throwing and fetching, and a few head pats and tail wags are pretty good fitness regimen, all around, I find.
posted by paulsc at 6:29 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was raised like you, for what it's worth, always guaranteed last pick in gym class.

I don't go to a gym now, nor will I ever. The treadmill and the stationary bike, I feel, teach me a bad cognitive lesson: that no matter how hard I work, I will never get anywhere, instead remaining in the same place always. For some people that message is comforting; for me an hour on the stationary bike is like slow suicide.

I like to ride a real bike. Sometimes I ride it to places I've never been before. There is a satisfaction in this kind of exploration, and in powering it with one's own healthy body.

You don't have to ride a bike, but you need to find some kind of exercise that you can approve of yourself doing, the way that I approve of myself cycling.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:36 PM on July 11, 2008 [10 favorites]

Yeah, konolia is right. Don't diet, just eat healthfully. Moderate portions, less refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Enjoy fresh foods. If you eat out, don't feel obligated to finish all of the food on your plate. Keep plenty of fruit around to snack on if you're hungry. It requires no preparation, same as a Three Musketeers, and it's sweet and tasty.
posted by number9dream at 6:39 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Stop worrying about your weight. Eat healthy food and get more exercise because you want to be healthier. Your weight will be what it will be; in the long run, healthy eating and exercise are going to change your muscle-to-fat ratio for the good, even if you don't lose any scale weight, and that's going to improve your overall health--including your diabetes risk--MUCH more than dieting ever would.

Yes, active people in the "healthy weight range" and in the "slightly overweight" weight range are healthier than active people at the higher end of the overweight range and in the obese range. But active overweight and obese people are healthier than inactive people who might seem healthy on the basis of BMI alone.

So worrying about your weight almost never leads to improved health. Working on your health will lead to improved health, and might also put you at a weight with which you feel more comfortable. You've got nothing to lose by that approach.

The book Slow Fat Triathlete by Jayne Williams is really worth reading.

Good luck.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:42 PM on July 11, 2008

30% percent of being 'fit' is exercise of ANY type - as long as that exercise is consistent over time.

The other 70% of being 'fit' is diet - and as konolia points out, 'diet' does not refer to dieting, but to what you put in your body. You don't have to starve yourself. You don't have to follow a plan. All you need a mixture of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in sensible portions throughout the day. Eat 5 or 6 times a day - small meals - you'll stay full and ramp up your metabolism in the process. You already know what's good and bad for you, so focus on the good long term and - every once in a while - enjoy some of the bad too.

Consistency in both exercise and how you fuel your body is key.
posted by matty at 6:44 PM on July 11, 2008

I am like you (with the exception that my dad was a PE teacher and disappointed in my lack of sports interest/ skills). However, sports were/ are not my thing. I am not coordinated at all.

I started running at age 25. I ran 60 steps, followed by walking 60 steps. I still kind of loathed it. Once I was able to get to a few miles at a time (6 months later), I entered a 5K. I have never met a more accepting group of people than runners. I have always been slow and I am slightly overweight. I have never felt out of place in a race.

Once during an 8-mile race in January, I realized that I was indeed LAST as we were heading into mile 5. Seriously, I was last. But I kept going. The good thing about running is you compete against yourself.

I also go to a gym regularly. I arrive early in the morning. There is little pretense with the 5-6:30AM crew. People are way too tired to notice if you are out of shape, smelly, wearing off-fitting workout clothing..whatever. After a few months of seeing the same faces, they do notice if you skip a few days!

I wish I had advice on the diet part. I stress eat and eat way too much refined sugar. I will be watching this thread because I'd love to pick up some advice there too!

Good luck!
posted by beachhead2 at 6:45 PM on July 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm the exact same nerd type as you, and also raised in a uber-liberal "looks don't matter, it's what's inside that counts!" atmosphere on the East Coast. Gym class was a horrifying experience. I had a weakness for junk food, Smartfood and Italian subs with mayonnaise being the chief culprits, which wasn't an issue until about 3 years ago (late 30s) when my metabolism genes suddenly said SWITCH! and I gained more than 30 pounds. I resisted going on a diet for the exact reasons that you state, as well as the ones mentioned here, but then I felt physically yucky all the time (suddenly allergic to everything, coughing for no reason) and none of my favorite clothes fit. So I bit the bullet and went on one of those purchase-all-your-meals-from-us diets, and told almost no one what I was doing (doing so would drag me into a million discussions that I didn't want to have). It was a joy to watch people look at me, trying to figure out what was different, slowly realizing that I was dropping off pounds.

YMMV, but for me there were a couple of key rewards. First, I could say *^!% you to all those childhood people similar to the ones you mention; my mother, for example, has finally stopped lecturing me about the healthiness of [current trendy fruit or vegetable] every time I have a meal with her. And second, everyone to this day (I've lost 40 pounds) keeps telling me how good I look, and a little flattery goes a long way. The men just admire how I look; the women admire and also are impressed by "how hard I must have worked," so I feel a bit of smug satisfaction on having done so.

In other words, I guess, the rewards (for me) at the end make up for all the anger, aggravation, and banality--not to mention quasi-starvation--that I had to go through, even though I couldn't avoid going through them. Hope this helps. Best of luck to you.
posted by Melismata at 6:45 PM on July 11, 2008

Wow, did I hit myself on the head and then write this?

It's a hard question. I definitely know where you are coming from, and I'm so, so there. Things I've done for myself so far are as follows -

1) Treadmill. Unlike ikkyu2, the treadmill is a place where I can go in the morning and jog safely while zoning out. I rock it out to music that if it wasn't listed on Last.FM I would not admit to liking. Other advantages - I don't have to go anywhere, so I don't have any excuses, and that damn treadmill confronts me every day.

2) Weight Watchers - It's not a diet. To me anyway, I just think of it as, if I want to be healthy I have so much I should eat a day or a week, and I can eat whatever I want. But, I have also found that eating whole foods and a lot of vegetables means I feel better. Whenever I backslide, I feel like crap - physically. Which is great incentive. Get used to eating well and you won't want to eat badly.

3) At this point, Bootcamp. Ironically, I thought I was "preparing" myself for this by "working out" on the treadmill, but this has taught me a couple things so far in the first week - 1) the Enell sports bra is totally, totally worth it; 2) I was not working out before, I was just wasting 30 minutes of my day; 3) not all people who want to be fit are assholes who want to torture me.

Good luck. MeMail me if you want to talk to someone with the exact same problem.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:54 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

First I'd ditch the notion that you have to go to the gym to be fit. I loathe gyms with every cell in my body. Thankfully there are other ways to stay fit. I personally rely on gardening and biking.

Then I'd ditch the notion that diets have to be austere. My diet includes crispy pork belly and plenty of butter. You might want to look at diets that counter the idea that fat is bad for you like the ones I listed here. I also cringe at the idea of things like Weight Watchers, but the diet I found out through those resources and Gary Taube's Good Calories Bad Calories doesn't seem like a diet. No one observing what I eat would ever think I was on a diet, unless they really really thought about it and noticed I don't eat bread or pasta unless I'm at a restaurant and that I never buy candy or chips (if I'm craving sugar I make my own desserts, which adds a layer of effort that prevents binge eating).

It's more like a lifestyle dedicated to fresh whole foods than a diet. I love love going to the farmer's market (and I get a lot of exercise biking there and hauling home melons and pumpkins). It's fun, there are lots of neat people there (lots of fellow nerds), and the food is awesome. Where else could I get rainbow colored carrots? Whereas most diets are limiting, dedicating myself to fresh food has broadened my horizons. Last year I didn't know what fennel was and now I gobble it up.
posted by melissam at 6:55 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've posted about my exercise plan before. I hate exercise, and I particularly hate gyms. So here's how I do it: I have an exercise bike in my apartment and a subscription to Netflix. I rent episodic TV series (with cliffhangers usually). My rules is I'm only allowed to watch the shows while riding the bike. If I get hooked on a show, I sometimes can't wait to get on the bike -- just so I can find out what happens next.

I've also been on the Shangri-La diet for about half a year now, and it's working for me. It's controversial, and I'm not an evangelist for it. It may well be the Placebo Effect. But it's a no risk, easy diet. So it certainly won't hurt.
posted by grumblebee at 7:11 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Anon: I love food and I am not sorry.
konolia & number9dream: Don't diet, just eat healthfully.

Yeah, that's right on the money. Think quality, not quantity. Grab the candybar and blame society, but try to do it less. Get small portions of exceptional food and enjoy each individual bite. If you need seconds, get seconds, but avoid filling your plate on on the first course. An exercise I found rewarding when I started losing weight in earnest was to see where I could find small food. It was a bigger challenge than I thought but it payed off.

Anon: How do you fight the resentment? How do you get over choking on the voice that says fuck you I'm not in second grade anymore and you're no better than me whenever you go to the gym? How do you diet with a full respect for yourself?

It's probably not a healthy way of looking at it, but I got through by remembering that a lot of the gym bunnies and bodybuilders at the gym had body issues that far surpassed mine, and that their desire to control their body were similar to anorexia. Yeah, I might have been projecting a bit, but it got me past my self-consciousness at the gym.
posted by lekvar at 7:13 PM on July 11, 2008

There are a lot of negatives and defiance in your post, and it may sound obvious, but you really have to get away from that thinking, because it's going to sabotage any longterm plans to better take care of yourself. You can't think of fitness and eating properly as things that are on different tracks from "normal" life.

The key to being consistently active is to find an activity (or two) that you can do by yourself or with others. I've posted before on the awesomeness of bicycling, but I'll repeat it. It's a fantastic activity, low impact on your joints and terrific for building cardiovascular fitness, and accommodates people with a very wide range of fitness levels. If you're in a city of any decent size, there is a cycling club with people who love the sport and want to introduce others to it.

There's really no need to go to a gym unless you have time or other restrictions that don't permit you to enjoy the great outdoors. Start small, like climbing a few flights of stairs. Walk fast up a hill. Jump rope. Find a big wall and hit a tennis ball.

As far as eating, have you considered food counseling? Of course, it's okay to have the candy bar and a slice of pizza, but you gotta balance it with the wholesome stuff, like fresh fruit and vegetables. This is the time of year when berries are starting to ripen and peas and summer squash and ripe tomatoes are everywhere. There's nothing like a really juicy cherry or strawberry (or a bowl of them), even if you put a little whipped cream on it.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:49 PM on July 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's more like a lifestyle dedicated to fresh whole foods than a diet.

This. Oh, this.

And I'm sorry for the "Stop worrying about your weight" choice of words. That did not come out the way that I wanted it to--the last thing you need is someone else nagging you about this.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:51 PM on July 11, 2008

I totally hear you...you sound like me, so many times in my past. They say that an alcoholic won't quit until they hit rockbottom. I was definitely in that category and thought that my rock bottom would probably be a heart attack AND diabetes; they run in my family but it's all theoretical and potential until it happens. Sadly enough my rock bottom was seeing my mother die of heart disease and diabetes at 67. I realized then that all my issues HAD to go and that there cannot be any more excuses if I wanted to live to a ripe old age. I actually found that quite empowering because with no one else to blame all I had was myself; all the tools were within me to be healthy.

Another motivator was that my employer wouldn't pay me for my breaks AND piled work on me during my breaks, so decided to go to the gym so they couldn't continue this behavior. I used my desire to stick to them to get me to the gym; that lasted long enough to start seeing and feeling results and then it just kept going from there. As for food, I know what to eat to be healthy (in terms of my heart and avoiding diabetes, as well as to lose weight). To make me feel like I was doing something good instead of depriving myself, I make sure that the healthy food I eat is good food: good quality, organic, delicious, well-prepared, gourmet whatever. What I eat is not a "diet" but simply "what I eat". I let myself go off it for special occasions but really, because I choose to eat good food I don't mind staying on it.

My food is essentially whole food (not packaged, prepared food), mostly organic. I eat grain-type carbs for one meal a day, and all the rest of my carbs are from fruits and veggies (I usually choose low carb fruits and veggies). I don't really eat much sugar apart from dark chocolate and fruit. I don't worry about fat, but I do try to eat good fats and I eat a lot of fish.

My workouts are weight training 4-5 time a week (one session per week with a trainer) plus cardio on my bike out on the road (ideally 2-3 times a week but I've been busy). I make sure to take a day off after 2 days of weight workouts to let my body rest and rebuild. This woman's website is AWESOME; great woman-centered advice and stories about nutrition and workouts; she's quite smart and funny which makes her site a joy to read. I have been very inspired by her.

I get teased a lot at work for eating well (WTF?!) and working out but that makes me deliriously happy.

I am also a feminist who rails against the sexual objectification of women and the dreaded body issues we seem to be be born with. I finally had to accept that the key was health, not body image, so that allowed me to let go of the body image stuff.

Feel free to email me if you have questions. I was very much where you are now and I really know that struggle you're going through.
posted by kenzi23 at 7:54 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I say this as a white man who works in advertising - the "patriarchy" doesn't want you to get in shape. What it wants is for you to keep eating your candy bars, watch TV, work your ass off at your job for low pay, and die.

The high fructose corn syrup that you are consuming is not some kind of nectar made for feminists from a recipe embedded in a poem by Christina Rossetti. It is shit made for stupid, reactive people.

Are you a stupid, reactive person?

In other news, the "patriarchy" is not trying to push you into the gym so that your body can be objectified. If it was that simple, we would just manipulate the conventional standards of beauty to match out-of-shape women, and objectify them.

The truth is that having a healthy body is your *natural state.* The conspiracy isn't to make you healthy, it's to keep you thinking that being healthy is unattainable. That way, you'll spend a lot of money on People magazine and Friends DVDs so you can vicariously live through celebrities who have nutritionists who advise them to:

- Stop eating pre-digested crap. (This is also explained well in The South Beach Diet book, which, by diet book standards, is not condescending, and it's written for both genders.)

- Get full nights of sleep.

- Eat breakfast.

Be your bookish self and, instead of counting calories, learn more about what you should actually be eating, and eat it.
posted by bingo at 7:55 PM on July 11, 2008 [31 favorites]

I'm not in second grade anymore

This is the very reason. You're the adult now, in charge of your body. You're making the kindest, most thougtful, and most caring and positive choices for your body. The choices you're making for your body open up many, many more possibilities for your body than the choices that negatively affect your health. It's like any number of things - the kid in us wants to indulge freely, spend wildly, play and read all the time, and generally follow the id. The adult in us needs to be looking farther down the road, making the wise and loving choices that will protect that child in us and allow it to live longer.

What works for me is not to diet. I hate diets and love food, too, but eating more calories than I need makes me feel lousy and slows me down. What I try to do now is just eat a lot better. I like bulk, so I eat a lot of big big (and delicious) salads, like mixed greens with goat cheese and artichoke hearts and berries and nuts and stuff, or romaine with tex-mex toppings. Eating things that are better food - less processed, more whole grains - satisfies more. And because I don't want to limit calories as severely as some people apparently do, it means I just really need to exercise, to keep calories burning and keep metabolism up, as well as for the obvious cardiovascular, mood, and muscle strength benefits.

It sounds to me like the key is for you to find some real positive reasons why the things you're choosing to do for yourself are actually better than the things you're letting go. Because they are. I can't, in fact, think of anything more feminist than wanting to be strong, powerful, and healthy rather than suffering from habits you can't shake or old ways of thinking planted in your brain by people who weren't correct in their approach. The way you wish you could behave all the time will hurt you if you do it all the time, so learn to love the great stuff about living and eating better. It's no different from smoking - I loved that, too, but one day I had to admit it was going to make me sicker and sicker until I stopped. I'm glad the adult part of my mind was able to say "enough's enough; time for things to change." Feeling really good is what you're reaching for, and what you'll get.
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on July 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

I can't speak to diet, but I can speak to fitness. I was also one of those "last to be picked" nerds.

It's too bad you're anonymous, so you can't respond to us, but maybe these thoughts will help anyhow:

I'll second c_a - find some activity that you enjoy. If you don't know what you like, try a bunch of different things. Sign up for a beginner's class in kickboxing. Learn to rock climb. Do pilates with a friend. Try to couch to 5K program. Go hiking with a local club. If you're not sure you'll like it, just try it once. Drag a friend along.

The second thing is start thinking about what you'd like your body to be able to do. It might be as simple as "walk up 2 flights of stairs and not be winded," or something more complicated like, "I'd like to be able to carry the damn groceries without having to stop every ten feet."

Don't bother with a treadmill, especially if you're going to read while you're on it. That means you're barely moving.

I'll disagree gently with c_a about gyms - good gyms or Ys can be great places to get exposure to different classes of fitness - strength training, kickboxing, stretching, yoga, etcetera. Even your most basic Y often has a personal trainer who can teach you the basics of strength training. If you've never done it, I highly recommend looking into it.

Building muscle will give you some pride of ownership in your own body - give you power to lug things further, help friends move more stuff, and lift those pesky AC units in the summer. It will raise your metabolism to burn more calories at a resting pace, give you a way to burn off stress and nervous energy, help you sleep better, and even give you some nice definition. I'm not even talking about crazy workouts - just a moderate regimen that you can maintain for years.

Taking pride in what your body can DO is worth cultivating. It can spur you on. Always remember, you're not competing with anybody else now... just the you that existed yesterday or last month.
posted by canine epigram at 8:10 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here are some things I've found that give me a fresh, healthy enjoyment of life:

A bicycle for getting places.

Discovering a love of personal, non-competative sports. Have you tried yoga? Yoga is a very intellectual, calming discipline. How about rock climbing? Trying to do courses in a climbing gym is like interactive puzzle solving. Think beyond the traditional gym.

Learning to love weights. Strength training is very empowering and great for women, and can easily be done at home.

A dog to go on walks with and to hang out with.

Being outdoors, whether I am going hiking, camping, skiing, whatever!

Going to the farmer's market every weekend for fresh and delicious fruits, locally-raised meat, and veg.

Reading the labels of things I buy in the supermarket and trying to understand them.

Avoiding high fructose corn syrup like the devil.

Being kind to myself and realizing some days I want to do nothing more than be utterly lazy and eat junky food. Because that's just life.
posted by warble at 8:27 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

one of the ways i have shifted to healthier eating habits is that i know that by eating mostly locally raised produce and humanely-farmed meat, i am supporting responsible agriculture. i don't know how to tie it into feminism, exactly, except that i feel empowered as a consumer to make choices that can benefit the whole world.

now, you can eat local and still pork out, but it does reduce how many processed foods i consume, and that means a lot less high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars.

also, in learning how to cook those foods, i also feel like i'm reaching down into some deep feminine urge to nourish. it also happens to be a great creative outlet and, if you are having a bad day, chopping vegetables can really be quite therapeutic. and, in this day and age where we see so little concrete fruits of our labors, it's nice to actually be able to produce something from start to finish. very satisfying.

as for gym stuff, that's actually good. you'll see people in all sorts of shape at the gym. i find going to a cheap, sort of dingy gym is actually better, because it doesn't attract the glamour queens and the mirror-gazers. getting out and hiking and biking and dancing and swimming are also all great ways to burn calories and build muscle. you just have to find something you like doing. after years of hating to run, i started running and love it. my lungs burn, my knees hurt like the devil, and i sort of want to die after i'm done, yet i love it. i can't explain it. so try things you wouldn't normally have tried and see if anything clicks.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:05 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't be another woman on a diet! I did the "no sugar/no carbs/no caffeine/no alcohol/go to the gym 4 days a week" thing for a minute, and I was in fantastic shape. Only it sure as hell wasn't what I'd call living, and nobody could maintain that indefinitely and be happy.

Fuck. That. Shit.

Dieting sucks and it doesn't work, and furthermore, that way lies resentment, crazy and disappointment. We are living, breathing human beings and we deserve to eat!

I love food and I hate to sweat and I've found the only way I've ever, ever been able to sustain healthy eating & activity choices is when I make it nurturing instead of punitive. Eat only the best damn food, and only do the kinds of activity that are a blast and worth getting sweaty and icky over, because (to paraphase the idiotic commercial) you're worth it.

It will probably take some trial and error to find out what those things are for you, but the rewards are so much greater than losing weight - this is about taking care of awesome, fabulous you; not giving into those misguided people who were pushing you to be someone you're not. Tap into the healthy enjoyment of your body and let that be your guide.

And if you're anywhere near LA, wanna walk to Farmer's Market with me?
posted by Space Kitty at 9:08 PM on July 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

On the eating front, take a look at Weight Watchers. A close friend just signed up, and I had a chance to look through all the materials. I was struck by how basic and straightforward it was -- you could reduce it to "eat real food, eat moderately, add physical activity, and make sure that you eat a well-balanced mix of food." I don't know what the meetings are like, or how much it costs, or anything like that. But if you are looking for guidance on portions and how much impact a candy bar has relative to a steak or to a salad, the WW materials are a really good guide.

On the fitness side, I would suggest not focusing on some abstract concept like "fitness," because what is that, and who defines it? Honestly, who cares? Instead, focus on being able to do cool things that make you happy. I like being outdoors and hate gyms, so for me that's things like riding a bike, walking in the mountains, kayaking, and so on. But you could totally make a list like "cranking out 30 minutes on the rowing machine" or whatever. Whatever it is, make it about the doing -- a process that is enjoyable, not some abstract result that you might not recognize.

For me, the key to getting past visions of seventh grade gym class was just to focus on the pleasure of doing things -- of going for a walk, of building things, of riding a bike. Competitive sports don't interest me any more now than they did in junior high, so I don't do them. But I have lots of friends who get their physical activity playing group sports -- pickup soccer, or weekend softball leagues, things like that -- and what really stands out about those to me is how open they are to inept novices. You can just show up and say "I'm clueless but want to learn" and as a general rule you will be welcomed.
posted by Forktine at 9:14 PM on July 11, 2008

I completely understand! I feel exactly the same way. I don't want to be "that girl" who buys in to our toxic culture and denies herself food so that she can attract a man. Yuck! Eating right and becoming active is not a diet. You need to re-frame your thinking.

It sounds to me like you don't want to or need to diet. What you do want and need to do is BE HEALTHIER. That is not a diet. You're not going to cut out healthy foods and nutritious foods and deprive your body of what it needs, because you're NOT trying to quickly lose 50% of your body weight or fight for a ridiculous 14-year-old-boy body. You're going to cut out unhealthy foods that slow you down and make you feel bloated and depressed. You're going to cut back on foods that make it harder for you to be active and energetic.

And you don't need to "work out" and move your body around in stupid, nonsensical ways. You need to experiment with a lot of different activities (different kinds of dance, jogging, basketball, softball, soccer, muy thai, biking, hockey, etc.) so that you can learn a skill or sport, use your muscles and use your healthy body, become stronger and more powerful, and feel full of life an energy.

Don't tell yourself, oh, here I am, dieting, I am so shallow, this treadmill is so boring, the patriarchy is winning! I MUST FIGHT THE POWER! ICE CREAM CAKE! Those thoughts are tricks, they are sneaky tactics in the war between your smart, mature, adult, in-control self, and your spoiled inner child. You know better. Because you're NOT trying to be the next half-dead waif in leggings. You're just trying to feel better and be healthier. And that's admirable, and worth working hard for.

Tell yourself something like that until it sinks in. It's true, and you're going to get better at seeing that over time. You love being healthy, and you're not sorry! This sick culture is not going to trick you out of taking care of your own body! It's your body, you own it, and you're in charge of what it runs on and what it does!

So make a nutritious, delicious, balanced, and sufficient (rather than indulgent/excessive) eating plan with built in weekly breaks, because you deserve a reward for your hard work (and occasional breaks make it easier to avoid slipping and backsliding).
posted by prefpara at 9:18 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

You can get plenty of exercise without being a part of the exercise culture.

***Heresy alert****

Here's one strategy: get a bike and start riding it everywhere. Muss up the bike and make it look cheap. Don't buy cycling clothes-- you don't need them. A t-shirt is fine. Get a (cheap) backpack, always take it with you, and always store front and rear blinkers and an extra shirt or two inside it. Shun gyms, organized rides, padded saddles, energy drinks or bars, fancy pedals, other falderal. And don't set a goal for yourself. Just make a habit of it and forget about progress, because if you start watching that pot it'll never boil.

As for diet, I'm in agreement with the others who say not to have one. Just as with the bike and the pack, the important thing is to set the circumstances and let it take care of itself. Don't buy the comfort food in the first place. Better yet, stop going to certain stores entirely. I dropped several pounds once by eating the same, identical sandwich every day for a couple months. I would buy the sandwich, go back to the office, eat it, and then feel full enough that it wasn't worthwhile to go out for anything else. My circumstances were the key -- I was back at the office. Plus I didn't have to do any thinking about what to get, much less how healthy it was.

I wouldn't count on plans or goals or programs or schmancy machines or willpower for anything.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 9:41 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would recommend running. It is a solitary activity, as long as you get good, safe trainers, it's hard to hurt your knees, and you can feel a powerful and strong person while you do it. I have also achieved some good sponsorship totals for charities by entering local races.

My senior school never pointed out that the reason I came last in every sporting activity was probably down to being a year advanced, so I was a year younger than everyone else! Consequently, I got to 35 thinking I hated all sport and loved only books and needlework. Well, now I love running too.

With just a few diet adjustments towards more healthiness and brown carb stuff and not fewer calories as such, and a walking-and-running programme, I lost 2 stone last year AND got my blood pressure from a bit high (not very high, but too high for my age) to normal. So that's testament to the fact that it has visible health benefits.

Good luck!
posted by LyzzyBee at 9:51 PM on July 11, 2008

Exercise puts you in touch with your body, and I've found that that attention to one's current physical state that you attain while working out has made me much more aware of my physical self (in a good way) the rest of the time too. I feel more energetic, as well as more sensual (and sexual) when I'm spending a predetermined amount of time paying attention to what my body's doing. Being from an intellectual background it's easy to think of your body as just a brain box and ignore it as much as possible, so it's good to fight that tendency by working out - and it's good for you, too.

Anyway, that may at least be a positive way to think about exercise that won't be fraught with so many cultural issues.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:02 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did the gym thing, and the high protein low carb thing, and all kinds of other things but not until I got into yoga did I ever really find myself able to maintain a decent lifestyle, which is what it's about, best I can see. I just love yoga; it's such a hoot. And maybe yoga isn't for you, it is sweaty and challenging as hell for me, I think maybe we all have to find our way to what works for us, maybe if/when you find whatever it is that works for you the anger and resentment will dissipate.

Since practicing yoga, I just haven't wanted to eat junk; my diet changed on it's own. It's actually sortof amazing to me, I was a junk-food junkie, truly, though I didn't want to be, not at all, and I was shamed by it, my inability to stop -- I'd get out into the night at three or four am, buying ice cream and candy bars and god only knows what other chocolatey sugary garbage and jam it all down my throat, but since the day I stepped onto the mat, whatever it is that I was feeding in those binges is now fed on the mat.

Between the yoga and the dietary changes which it has led to, my blood pressure is down, my resting pulse is down, my cholesterol is down -- I saw my cardiologist maybe ten days ago he's totally gassed about it, and so am I.

And I've never found anything but super supportive people at the two places I've practiced yoga thus far, they shared (and share) my tiny victories with me as I slowly find flexibility in this old arthritic body. I am almost always the least flexible person in the studio but I've never been shamed by anyone other than myself, and I'm learning to leave that behind, some, as time goes by -- I'm just over ten months in.

Last. It isn't pounds, IMO -- it's body fat and muscle, those percentages. Watching scales will drive you nuts, or it would me anyways, and it's not really indicative of anything to care about.

I hope you can find your way to a lifestyle that you enjoy; this thing is short.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:43 PM on July 11, 2008

The comment which resonated most with me when looking at health and fitness was John Travolta (of all people!) who has both ballooned up and got back into reasonable shape (for a middle-aged man); he was asked about getting into shape, and replied something along the lines of, "I had to take up exercise or give up pasta. I'm Italian, so exercise won." I think a variation on that applies to you, from the sound of it.

Exercise is a very broad, vague cloud of activities, of course, and some exercises are more fun for some people than others. Have you considered looking at something that may work well with your feelings around not buying into the diet/exercise industry, like picking up a martial art (Judo's mine, and it's done very good things for my general health and fitness; my asthma medication is used at about one sixth the rate it was before I took up Judo, and despite being the sort of person who will decide to chow down a quarter-kilo of bacon for lunch sometimes, I have a cholestoral level on the good side of the healthy range)?
posted by rodgerd at 1:00 AM on July 12, 2008

For a radical approach, buy a copy of Skinny Bitch, by two female authors.

You might find it glib in some places and unscientific in others. But the book recommends a revolutionary, not dieting approach--converting to veganism. For life.

Vegans, like you, demand to eat and love their food. Vegan food is delicious, and can be eaten in large portions without weight gain.

If you're a feminist, and concerned with activism, why not try veganism as an approach that preserves the life of animals and helps the planet?

I'm an occasional fish eater who subsists on vegan food primarily, but the book has inspired me.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:31 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

i can't really add any more than what has been said above. But if the whole 'healthy eating' sends you shrieking in panic (as it does me), just do what I do. Replace the phrase 'healthy food', with 'fresh food'.

I think 90% of healthy eating is just using fresh food, and cooking it yourself. No microwave dinners (even of the 'diet' variety'), no drowning of meat in exotic store-bought sauces. I just like the nice clean look and taste of fruit from the greengrocer.. or a nice juicy steak from a proper butcher. Gordon Ramsay (the chef-who-says-$@#% a lot) just released a new cookbook with this philosophy in mind, and TheOtherGirl and I are loving cooking it up.

I came to this realisation at roughly the same time i got inspired by a few buddies of mine who ran a 10K race here in Scotland. I was about 15kg overweight, asthmatic, but so was one of my buddies! I figured if she could do it.. why couldnt i?

So i got myself a training plan and jumped in.. no gyms.. not even another person to look stupid in frontof. With running (and cycling) you are only competing against yourself. I hate team sports (I was ALWAYS picked last in gym class), but with running I don't have to worry about some screw-loosened meathead looking down his nose at me.

Good luck! I really hope it works for you.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:40 AM on July 12, 2008

You're doing this as a gift to yourself. Being inactive, being out of shape and not liking your body makes you feel bad. Being active and being in shape makes you feel great and leads to really liking your body.

Can you try to redirect some of your anger at The Man into a fast walk on a treadmill, or against the punching bag at the gym?

Give yourself non-food rewards. After a week of meeting exercise goals, you deserve a pedicure, or a book or a new itunes download.

Listen to Bingo. Instead of a candy bar, made as cheaply as possible from substandard ingredients, go get 1 really fine chocolate truffle and enjoy the quality. Listen to Miko. Eating healthy meals of delicious, high-nutrition food is a way of being good to yourself. You deserve to be healthy and active. Keep saying that to yourself. It's true. You deserve to be healthy and active.
posted by theora55 at 5:26 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Exploit your nerditry. Most nerds excel at hitting long-term goals even in the face of short-term adversity. My goal is to be reasonably healthy for the next 29 years (I figure 60-year-old backupjesus can fend for himself); a really bad week or two is just a bump and not a reason to ditch the whole plan.

Similarly, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the really, really good. I get annoyed that every dieting AskMe brings out comments about eating fresh/organic/unprocessed/etc. foods. Yes, that's the best way to go, but there is something to be said for stocking your freezer with plenty of (perhaps non-organic) lean meats and vegetables and you cupboards with healthy canned foods.

The way I keep my self-respect is taking pride in mostly eating right and mostly hitting my exercise goals and not talking about it. (Well, outside of AskMe.) In general, people who talk about their diets and workout plans are looking for validation or for excuses. I don't want either.
posted by backupjesus at 7:37 AM on July 12, 2008

I'm not saying anything new in this thread, but you're thinking of "diet" in the wrong way. "Diet" should not be some gimmicky bullshit like Atkins or all-pears-all-the-time or cayenne-lemon smoothies, it's about eating sensibly and healthfully and not doing insane shit like eating Mallomars and deep fried twinkies and soda with every meal.

Prefpara has some good thoughts. And remember that when you achieve your fitness goals, you are doing it in spite of a greedy corporate culture that gives us 100 McDonald's for every awesome little Vietnamese place.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:10 AM on July 12, 2008

If you can increase your level of direct engagement with politics and activism, you might find that your identity as a feminist becomes less dependent on the details of your lifestyle. Saying no to candy is definitely not giving in to The Man if you turn around and donate that money to (for example) Planned Parenthood instead.
posted by tomcooke at 8:31 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

You have to give up all these negative attitudes and opinions. There is no "patriarchy". We're all just people, trying to make the best of it. And yes, some of us are assholes who would tell others what to do and how to be. Ignore those people, they have no power over you, unless you give it to them.

What do YOU want to do with your life and body? Before doing anything else, you need to figure that out because you sound conflicted on that. Once you decide what you want to do, figure out how to do it. There is no magic pill.

(That said, Atkins does work. Read his book, it is compelling. And it's not just "eat a shitload of bacon, cheese and pork tenderloin".)
posted by gjc at 9:29 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

How do you fight the resentment? How do you get over choking on the voice that says 'fuck you I'm not in second grade anymore and you're no better than me' whenever you go to the gym? How do you diet with a full respect for yourself?

I'm 27, and I stepped into a gym for the first time 7 months ago. I avoided it for so long because I always hated gym class, was always the last picked, was always picked on, etc. I finally started going because I was on Depo-Provera for 2.5 years and it can cause bone density loss, so I wanted to get stronger to counteract that. I was also stressed out, and everyone says working out lowers stress, so I thought "Hell, I might as well give it a shot." (It has helped.)

I go to a women-only gym, because I thought a co-ed gym would be more intimidating. There are some very perfect-looking women there, and that is occasionally hard for me. However, there are a lot of older, fatter women that I see there consistently and who can lift a lot more weight than I can. They could kick my ass, and I'm striving to be as fit as they are, not as picture-perfect as those other girls are.

I get personal training once a month. I've found it to be the opposite of my experiences in those horrible high school phys ed classes. The trainer is focused on me and is very encouraging. It's not pressure to look better, it's encouragement to hold my body correctly and get the most out of it. I've also found it helpful because I always avoided the gym, so I didn't know the first thing about using the machines or lifting weights or how to stretch properly when I started. It takes the guess-work out of it and helps prevent injuries.

Some of the staff at my gym expect me to be sensitive about whether or not I weigh less this week, and I kind of just laugh at them. I think it confuses them when I don't care about it, which makes me be even more overt about that. I tried calorie-counting and it just made me obsess about it, so I quit because I would rather be sane than 10 pounds lighter. I only weigh myself once every 4 months or so. My gym has this machine that tells you how much of your weight is fat and how much is muscle/bone. I like this better, because I would rather see that I'm gaining muscle and losing fat than to be fixated on The Number. The Number doesn't matter. I weighed less a few years ago, but I wasn't half as strong.

I liked reading In Defense of Food by Pollan and Good Calories, Bad Calories by Taubes, and now I try to eat foods that have just a few simple ingredients. I know exactly what's in the muffins I make. I have no idea what's in Twizzlers. I buy food that goes bad in a reasonable time, otherwise I know it's full of scary stuff. I make most food from scratch.

As for the patriarchy, I try to concentrate on how going to the gym benefits me. I'm getting stronger, feeling better, and gaining an outlet for stress. I'll live longer, and any pregnancies in the future will probably be easier on me because I'm taking care of myself now. Use the resentment. Don't surrender to the gym, conquer the gym.
posted by heatherann at 12:13 PM on July 12, 2008

I hate "fitness" and gyms and workouts too, but for me the trick has been to schedule in the activity in a way I can't say no to. I got a paper route, now I walk roughly 4kms every morning. Since it's a job, I can't just say "I don't want to" or "I'm too tired" or some bullshit, I just have to do it. Also, I am getting paid for it - instead of paying the gym $60 a month, I get paid $500. Also also, since it's so early in the morning I go to bed before I have a chance to get snacky and eat junk food, and I eat breakfast regularly now - which I have never in my life done before. I don't know if I'll keep it in the winter, but it's great for now.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:16 PM on July 12, 2008

Have fun moving! Dance, climb, walk, hike, swim, cycle, do martial arts or whatever it might be (even, heaven forbid, going to the gym) but get off your bum and move. Eat food that isn't processed. Think of both the moving and eating proper food as being gentle and caring and interested in your own welfare - like those caring people who never broke a sweat were except that it's now your responsibility not theirs to make sure you're well. That's it - move and eat mainly nice fresh food!
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:41 PM on July 12, 2008

Put exercise back into normal life. Avoid motors when possible. Cars, planes, trains, buses, trams, elevators, escalators. Every time you use a motor to move yourself, think of the mess it's causing somewhere else and right in front of you, and think of the muscles you're not using because, what, you're too weak and lazy to climb stairs? If you can't walk all the way, take the bus part of the way and walk the rest. If you can't climb all of the stairs, get out of the elevator a few floors early and finish with the stairs. If you're going to go to a gym, change at home and then walk or bike there so that the warm-ups and cool-downs are on your own and you have to spend less time in the smelly gym and locker room.

Eat all the food you like, but make it yourself and know exactly what's in it. Take control over how much fat, sugar, and salt you eat by adding it (if you add it at all) yourself when you cook from scratch. Take a quick look at the number of ingredients on packages. Zero ingredients (no packaging at all) is best: a bunch of carrots, a bag of apples, something that is just itself. Ten ingredients probably is an overprocessed box of non-food that will just make you fatter. Always start your grocery trips with fruits and vegetables. If you go over the budget before you get to the processed crap, that's good.
posted by pracowity at 9:26 AM on July 13, 2008

Hacker's Diet, while simplistic, is the bomb. Partially because he talks like the engineer nerd that he is. Michael Pollan's books might help you think about the social & ethical issues around food, if that helps any.

14 months ago I started thinking about my weight, and remembering how my dad died of a heart attack at 45. 45! I got sort of obsessive-nerd about it, but two aspects of my experience might help:

1) There are no forbidden foods. That particular form of self-denial makes me cranky and rebellious. (Seriously, my favorite treat to myself: a McDonald's "ice cream" cone.)

2) Bike commuting! An hour of exercise, every day unless the weather really sucks, and it's out in (sort of) nature, with my own brain for company.

I lost almost 60 pounds, and I feel better in my body than I have, well, ever. A few months ago I took up yoga, too, and that's extra-awesome. "Look at me! I can stand on one foot & twist myself into a pretzel!"

There's lots of good advice here; I hope something triggers the change you want. Good luck!
posted by epersonae at 4:32 PM on July 14, 2008

I recommend joining a dance class. I started belly dancing a year ago, and it's a very women-only, positive environment. Also, it's fairly difficult to master, so it's challenging and it's a very good workout.
posted by agregoli at 12:56 PM on July 15, 2008

I can't offer much believable advice at the moment, because my weight has ballooned 30 pounds since I got married and moved to an awful car suburb. Now I'm pregnant, which of course causes weight gain on top of what's already there... and pregnancy is not a state that lends itself to vigorous exercise ;) Though I'm making an effort to do laps in the pool every other day.

There was a magical golden time a few years ago that I lost weight, about 25 pounds, without even realizing what was going on. This is because I was living in Rome and walking several miles each day just to go about my daily business. And eating like a madwoman - there's nothing better than real Italian food. I think the two major factors in my steady weight loss were 1) the constant walking and 2) the freshness of the food I was eating. Sure, there were salted cured meats, like prosciutto, and loads of refined-carb pasta, but also a lot of fresh veggies. People in Italy tend not to buy and eat snack foods that have a long shelf life. People shop just about every day, walking to the market and picking up the few things that they will eat that day.

Clearly the solution to your problem and mine is to move to Italy. Because this may not be feasible for you or for me, I think the lesson we can take away from this is to make "exercise" just a part of life by walking to where you need to go, whenever possible. Here in America, where we work 8 or more hours a day at high-stress jobs, carving an extra hour out of your free time to complete the onerous task of exercising is just not going to be remotely appealing or sustainable. You should relax when you want to relax. Build activity and motion into the active part of your day.

Changing the food you eat is harder - I mean, let's face it, who has time to make a trip to the completely annoying grocery store every day and stand in line, or seek out the rare farmer's market that is only open from 6 to 8 am on sunday? Plus, the variety of convenience foods available to us is astounding. Just look for stuff that has simple ingredients, and eat it slowly, savoring the flavor.

I honestly wouldn't worry that much about the food you eat, as long as you're getting the essential nutrients you need and you don't have a binge problem (which is an issue to discuss with a psychologist.) I think the key thing is your average level of activity.

As for me, we're moving to a much more walk-friendly neighborhood, close to our jobs. I hope that walking around and carrying a baby all the time will help me slim down eventually ;)
posted by jenbeee at 1:42 PM on July 17, 2008

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