Archive for happiness

Bonding at boot camp

It occurred to me this week that participating in my local boot camp does more for me than make me healthier; it also makes me happier.

And I don’t just mean it makes me happier because I feel better physically.

I mean it makes me happier because of the time I get to spend with the other people at boot camp.

When I started boot camp back in January, I didn’t know anyone but the instructor. But six months later I know most of the bootcamp regulars by name and am friends with about half of them on Facebook.

As corny as it sounds, I love getting a break from reality three times a week to see these people, to trade stories with them, and to complain about boot camp under our breath. (Would it be any fun if we didn’t complain?)

Research has shown for years that working out with a buddy or in a group is one of the best ways to stay motivated and keep exercising.

In that sense, joining your local boot camp—or any other group exercise program—is a great opportunity to stay motivated and feel like you are part of a community.

It’s also a perfect way to blow off some steam and vent with the other bootcampers about the people who drive us crazy, especially because, when we’re doing any kickboxing, my bootcamp instructor often tells us to imagine a person who has recently pissed us off.

And that is probably the best motivation of all.

With age comes wisdom: almost three years into this project,
and I could not be more at peace.

Since my special midnight post on New Year’s Eve, I have been feeling incredibly happy about I Will Not Diet and the positive message it’s putting out in the world. I could not have been more proud of or impressed by all of the wonderful “non-resolutions” so many readers and friends sent me for that post. I was surprised, too, by how much they moved me and made me want to stay even more focused on the positive rather than the negative. Indeed, it was a wonderful way for me to start the new year.

At the same time, I’ve been encountering people lately who seem amazed by my ability to focus on the positives about my body rather than the negative. “How do you do it?” they ask me, as if seeking the help of a wise sage or zen master. Or else they tell me how much they’re struggling to do the same, a question in their desperate eyes that tells me they wonder if I’m the holder of secrets they want and need about how to accept themselves the way they are.

Of course, I don’t have any secrets because there really are no secrets.

The only thing I have is a commitment—to myself and to all of you. I am wholly committed to accepting myself the way I am and to not letting my body size or shape dictate my happiness. I also have a refusal: I refuse to believe I cannot be happy unless I am thin. I just won’t do it. It’s that simple. As Lao Tzu said, “Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes, it obstructs your vision.”

It’s also occurred to me this week that none of the people in my life—the numerous friends and family members who I know appreciate, value, and love me—like or care about me simply because of the way I look. In fact, they care about me because of who I am as a person and because of my intelligence, wit and humanity. In truth, my looks really have nothing to do with my relationships.

These are the simple truths that guide me through my life and allow me to accept myself the way I am—imperfect but also confident and happy.

And realizing that I allow these truths to guide me through my days makes me feel like maybe I really am a zen master or at least a black belt in body image and self esteem.

All of these thoughts and experiences make me feel as if I am doing something worthwhile with this blog, something necessary. And what a wonderful new year’s gift that is. Thank you all so much for that.

Fat and happy? Or thin and sick? You make the choice.

As I mentioned last Tuesday, my father-in-law, Herb Bell, died about ten days ago.

Though it may sound strange to talk about the positive aspects of losing someone you love, I have to admit that one of the most heartwarming aspects of the experience was looking at all the old pictures—pictures of my father-in-law, my husband, and the entire family. Over the years, I’ve seen numerous photos of my husband and his parents from his childhood, but last week I think I saw every single photo taken during his childhood—and his parents’ childhoods before him.

It was fascinating on many levels.

Some of things that fascinated me were obvious—how different my father-in-law looked as a child and young man. In one picture, from around the time he was twenty, he is leaning against a brick wall, his knee folded against the wall in an pretty close replica of the famous James Dean photo. I saw that photo, and a man who always looked like a grandfather to me actually appeared hot.

Yes, I said it.

Back in the day, my father-in-law was smoking hot.

But the most interesting part of looking at these photos was that we were all searching for a picture in which Herb looked . . . well . . . I guess the only way to say it is heavy.

Why heavy? Because that’s the way we all remember him—with big glasses, a cigar in house mouth, and a bit of a belly. Like Santa Claus without the hair.

So even though we were tickled to find Herb’s James Dean photo and formal Air Force portrait, we were even happier when we put our hands on a picture of Herb the way we remember him—before he was sick, before he weighed 119 pounds as he did in the days leading up to his death. We desperately wanted to remember him as the happy and healthy man we all loved.

And the whole time we were searching for evidence of his healthier, happier self, I kept thinking about how ironic it was—after Herb got sick, he was initially thrilled by his weight loss and would often brag about how many pounds he’d lost. But at some point, the novelty of being thin wore off, and we were all left with the fact that no matter how svelte and dapper the new Herb looked, we all wanted the old one back. In the end, we longed for the healthy and plump Herb and broke down at the sight of sick, gaunt Herb.

It made me wonder why we are all so obsessed with thinness when, for some of us, being plump means we’re healthy. I even had to ask myself, what would you rather be? Thin and sick or healthy and overweight? Of course, we all would choose the latter, but if that’s the case, then why is it so difficult to accept ourselves the way we are? Imperfect, yes, but still wonderfully, vitally alive.

If I had a wish for all of us, it would be this: I wish that we would all be able to truly believe this—believe that we are better the way we are—long before old age and disease makes waifs out of us, and it is finally—and regrettably—too late.

It’s time for everyone to start watching Glee

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A few weeks ago, my cousin Jennifer asked her Facebook friends if it was weird that, at the age of 43, she was in love with a television show about teenagers called Glee.
Since I have totally and completely adored Glee and everything about it since the very first seconds of its premiere last spring, I didn’t think it was weird at all. And I told Jennifer that immediately.
Because Glee isn’t about teenagers—it’s about all of us. Who we were in high school and who we still are now.
It’s about the nerdy girl who just wants to be liked, the jock who just wants to sing about his feelings, the kid in the wheelchair who wants to dance, the closeted gay boy who wants to come out, the overweight girl who wants to feel pretty. It’s about doing what you always dreamed of doing and being your best self.
And in that way, Glee perfectly embodies the message of this blog: that we should all accept—no, love—ourselves the way we are and sing about it from the freakin’ rooftops.
And did I mention that the kids on this show spend a good portion of their time singing?!
They sing like Maria in The Sound of Music, like Satine and Christian in Moulin Rouge, like Sandy and Danny in Grease. I mean, these kids can belt it out. And when they do sing, you feel like you could do anything. If you don’t believe me, watch this clip, and you’ll see what I mean:
And before another second passes, do yourself a favor: set your clocks for the next episode of Glee, airing Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. (EST) on Fox.
I promise that you won’t regret it.

The model cousin

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I caught up with two of my favorite cousins last week in Nashville, and though I was thrilled to see them for the first time in years, I was horrified by the way my self-confidence plummeted in their presence. I’ve talked before about the way family members can affect how we see ourselves, but I don’t think I realized before last week, that this can happen even when we are around family members with whom we have supportive and loving relationships. I guess that’s what took me by surprise: I’ve always been close with these cousins, I’ve always enjoyed their company, and never once have I thought that they were judgmental about the way I look. So why did my self-perception change so dramatically when I saw them?

The first thing that might have played into this change is the way my cousin Jim looked. Most of the people on my mother’s side of the family are solidly built, and as a former high school football player, Jim has always been broad shouldered and brawny. But when he walked through the door of my favorite Nashville restaurant last week, he was so thin that I barely recognized him. Jim had slimmed down after high school, but he still always had that hulking footballer look. This was not the case last week. The man who met us for dinner was a far cry from the Jim I had grown up with. In fact, he’s now what I would call model thin—not too thin, but thin enough that it’s easy to imagine him posing for an underwear ad. I was, of course, surprised by the change in his physique, but more than anything, I was surprised by how handsome he looked. Never a bad looking guy, Jim is now a bona fide hottie.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if underneath his former football player body, this model had been waiting to come out all along.
You can probably guess what I thought next—is there a model inside of me waiting to come out? Could I look that good if I lost a significant amount of weight? Have I been approaching this whole weight loss thing the exactly wrong way???
After dinner, my other cousin Jeff got out his camera for a few pictures, but when I looked at the first one, I was horrified by what I saw. I had turned to the side for the photo, and when I looked at my image on the tiny camera screen, all I saw was arm. A huge, flabby, fleshy piece of whale arm. I was disgusted with myself.
I had not seen Jeff or Jim in years, and here we were, finally reunited—Jim looking like he’d just stepped out of the pages of GQ and Jeff as boyish and cute as always—and I imagined I must have reminded them of the fatty ham our grandmother put out every year at the family’s Christmas dinner.
Admittedly, this is exactly the kind of talk—exactly the kind of thinking—that I want to steer people away from on this blog. But that doesn’t mean I’m entirely immune to it.
Yes, I was feeling horribly unattractive in the moment, but I was also simultaneously angry with myself for breaking the very rules I set forth on this blog. So if I understood even then how wrong it was to see myself that way, why did I still do it?
The answer is probably too complex for someone who’s not schooled in the psychology of the mind to fully understand, but I can take a guess: when we’re around family, we revert to the roles of our childhood, whether they be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. When I saw Jeff and Jim, I became the person they grew up with—the insecure, awkward, somewhat nerdy child of my youth. I often become this way around my immediate family, but it surprised me that I would do this with my cousins as well. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in me. It’s that they reminded me of the person I used to be. And maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world to remember whom we used to be. Otherwise, how would we be able to recognize how much we’ve changed and grown?
Maybe there is a model lurking somewhere deep inside of me. A model I might be able to find if I were willing to starve myself for the rest of my life, which is what I’d have to do to lose and keep off the fifty pounds I’d need to shed to find that model. But what’s different between the me I am now and the me I was when I was a kid roller-skating with Jeff and Jim in our grandmother’s basement is that I no longer want to be that model. I no longer believe that I’ll finally be happy when I look like I’ve just stepped out of the pages of Vogue.
No, I no longer believe that happiness is something I’m waiting for. Now I believe it’s something I already have.

The glass has to be half full

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At the end of my post called “Are you still with me?”, I mentioned some advice my friend Al gave me, and I think his comments bear repeating.

As I explained before, Al is a psychologist, and I know him from St. Andrews College in North Carolina, where we were both members of the faculty before Dave and I moved to Kentucky.

One day Al came by my office and listened to me venting about the fact that I had eaten way too much the night before. I was basically going off on my bad behavior, and Al told me that beating myself up for a mistake I’d already made and couldn’t undo was causing me twice as much harm. He said that, instead, it would be healthier to own up to my bad behavior and move on, focusing on what I could do right in the present rather than what I’d done wrong in the past.

Of course, Al was right, so right that his words have stayed with me since that day nearly four years ago. Not only that, but his advice has helped shape my new and much healthier attitude about the way I see myself and the way I approach weight loss.

Unfortunately, there are still so many people who don’t see it that way.

I was talking with my friend Laura recently about her weight. Laura is really unhappy about her body and completely down about the fact that she hasn’t been able to drop any pounds even though she has wanted to do so for a while now. At one point during our conversation, she told me that she knows that her problem is that she eats too much.

I hate it when Laura is hard on herself, and on top of that, I know she was wrong so I immediately took issue with what she’d said. Since her weight gain occurred before I met her—and I’ve known her for over a year—I know she really doesn’t eat too much anymore. It’s possible that she ate too much in the past—when she picked up the pounds she’s now trying to lose—but I know her well enough to be sure that she is no longer eating more than anyone else. Besides, if she really were overeating, she would be gaining weight rather than maintaining. So the fact that the number on Laura’s scale hasn’t gone up recently tells me she’s actually doing something right.

But rather than give herself credit for not gaining weight, Laura is only able to see that she’s not as thin as she once was. Because she has to look in the mirror every day and see the extra pounds she’s still carrying with her, she truly believes that she’s still eating too much.

In this way, Laura is equating the size of her body with her current eating habits . . . even though that’s not an accurate equation. In a sense, she is beating herself up every day for something she did years ago, and I wish there was something I could say or do to get her to understand what Al told me back in North Carolina, but my words don’t seem to help.

What worries me is that I don’t think Laura is alone. I think many people who are unhappy with their bodies do the same thing. They look in the mirror and see something they don’t like and think, “God, I’m such a pig!” Or “Why do I always have to eat so much?!” even though the reflection they see in the mirror may have nothing to do with their eating habits for a long, long time.

I know that other people do this because I do it too. Yes, I’ve learned to control how hard I am on myself most of the time, but every once in a while I still slip up, go back to my old ways, and see myself through that really harmful lens.

The problem with continuing to beat yourself up for things you did months—sometimes even years—ago is that doing so doesn’t allow you to give yourself credit for what you’re doing in the present. Because if, like Laura, you’re not gaining weight, that means you really deserve praise, not criticism. Unfortunately, it’s one of life’s cruel realties that it usually takes a long time for our hard work to pay off. If life were really fair, we’d all look like Heidi Klum the morning after we spent a whole day sweating it out at Boot Camp and crunching our way through bags full of celery and carrot sticks. Or we’d resemble the Bride of Frankenstein after a long night of downing plate after plate of nachos and spinach dip over half a dozen whipped cream-topped strawberry daquiris and two packs of Kools. Unfortunately, it takes much more time to see the results of our hard work (or the consequences of our mistakes), which is why we have to look for the positive rather than wait for it to be pointed out to us in the mirror.

I’ve been working hard at trying to lose weight for almost five months now, and I’ve really only lost a handful of pounds in all that time. And I’m also not sure that my body looks any better than it did back in March when this whole thing started. It would be really easy for me to get down on myself about this, but what good would it do me? If I had spent the past five months thinking about how little I’ve accomplished, I think it would be very difficult—if not impossible—for me to stay motivated and keep working on being healthy. And that’s the reason it’s crucial that we all take Al’s advice and focus on what we’re doing right in the present rather than what we did wrong in the past.

Running for the border

I’ll face the scale again next week!

I just finished visiting my family in the Chicago suburbs, and as I prepared to leave this morning, there was one thought that kept coming back to me—how important it is to let loose and have fun.

I’ve written before about the importance of allowing ourselves indulgences in our our diet from time to time—in other words, giving in to those cheeseburger and brownie cravings when they come rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist (which only makes us want them even more). But I realized today that having a sound mind in a sound body also means that we have to do the same with our behavior—indulge ourselves by sometimes giving in to the crazy things we want to do in life and not just the crazy things we want to eat.

I was thinking about this today because it feels like no one ever lets loose or does anything wild or out of the ordinary in my family. Clearly, this is partially the result of the fact that my sister has two little girls. Whenever the girls are around, it feels as if everyone is walking on eggshells—instructing them on how to behave, carefully answering their never-ending questions, and gingerly guiding them through their daily routine. In this way, their lives seem totally prescriptive: there is a certain way to eat, a certain way to sit, a certain way to be . . . there is a time to practice piano, a time to work on penmanship, a time for swimming lessons, a time to eat meals, a time for bed, a time for everything. And everyone—my sister, her husband, and my parents—follows this world order as if deviating from it might lead to the loss of life or limb.

The effect this has on me is the opposite one it’s supposed to have on the girls: rather than being reassured by this carefully crafted routine, I am honestly driven to the brink of insanity by it. In fact, my response to the lessons and the practices and the organic food is to want to blow off the entire schedule, pack the girls into the backseat of my car, roll all the windows down, crank the Abba, and drive them all the way to Mexico—stopping only for candy and purple hair dye before we get to the border but saving enough money for tequila and tattoos after we arrive in Tijuana.

Of course, I don’t do that. But that’s not the point. The point is that I want to do it.

And when I left my sister’s house this morning—windows down, an old Pink Floyd anthem screaming from the stereo—it hit me that my response to the girls’ claustrophobic schedule is the same response I have to dieting.

To put it simply, I did not want any part of it. And just the thought of it, just being around other people living under such a tight regimen, makes me want to give into my very worst cravings.

Hand in hand with my response to being exposed to the girls’ overstructured lives was my second viewing of The Hangover, which, believe it or not, I saw last night with my mother and my husband. Even though I find the idea of strip clubs wholly objectionable, I found myself agreeing with one of the characters when he defended an out-of-control trip to Vegas with his buddies to his incredibly uptight fiancee.

And when I thought about these two experiences side by side, I understood very clearly that it’s just as important for us to give into our cravings for adventure and a life without rules as it is for us to give into our food cravings. When push comes to shove, we all need our trips to Vegas or Mexico . . . or even just a wild night of drinking and dancing now and again. Because if we don’t give into these desires, we’re not really living, are we?

At the end of Stephen King’s novella, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” the character of Red is released from prison and, on his way to Mexico, thinks about what he is about to do. (If you’ve seen the movie adaptation of this novella, you’ll remember that Morgan Freeman played Red, and his thoughts were included as a voice over while he rode a bus south to Mexico.) It is Red’s words I will leave you with today since I think they best epitomize why being free to do what we want is so incredibly important.

I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope I can make it across the border.

I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand.

I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

I hope.

Why we should all see AWAY WE GO

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Tonight I had the privilege of seeing Away We Go, the new dramedy about a confused young pregnant couple played by Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski. It was a film I’ve wanted to see as long as I’ve known about it but one I’d been D Y I N G to see ever since I saw a gorgeous but very womanly picture of Maya Rudolph splashed across two pages of Entertainment Weekly with an article they wrote about the movie last month. In the picture, Rudolph’s skirt was creeping up her thighs to reveal wonderfully fleshy legs, and I immediately admired the hell out of Rudolph for that photo—not only for showing off her regular-sized body, but for doing so in such a sexy manner.

What’s even better is that Rudolph was pregnant at the time the picture was taken. Sure, we’ve seen pregnant woman knocking our eyes out on the cover of magazines before (Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair comes to mind), but this photo was different. Rudolph didn’t look like she had something to prove. She looked like she was merely comfortable with herself—womanly thighs and all.

In a recent post, I talked about my wish that more magazines would feature women who are a happy medium between the severely underweight and the severely overweight, and Maya Rudolph is a great example of someone who personifies that happy medium—both in terms of her body and her non-traditional beauty.

Because of this photo, I was hoping that Rudolph would look just as real in the film, and it did not disappoint. Both she and Krasinski go from average to stunning to disheveled at various points throughout the movie.

But what I really want to talk about is a comment made by Rudolph’s character, Verona, in the movie. Without giving anything away, I can say that the comment occurs when she and her boyfriend Burt are discussing their future and their unborn daughter. Verona asks Burt to “promise me that you won’t care if our daughter is fat or skinny, and that she won’t even be the kind of girl who worries about her weight in a cliched kind of way.” (I’m sure I’m getting the words all out of order, but the sentiment is what’s important here.)

Verona makes this request during a very moving part of the film, and it was this line that put me over the top. I wanted to stand up in my chair, throw down my tub of popcorn and oversized soda, and shout, “Yes, yes, yes! Please teach your daughter not to worry about her weight! Please teach us all to do that!”

Of course, I didn’t stand up and shout like that because I was afraid of getting thrown out of the theatre and really wanted to see the end of the movie.

But I did start to cry.

And I’m not sure I really stopped until the credits had finished rolling.

I guess what I’m saying is that this, more than anything, was a movie that really got me, that really understood what’s important to me. (If such a thing is even possible.) And I’d like to take it a step further and say this is a movie that gets all of us.

These two characters were simultaneously the kind of lost souls we all feel like sometimes and the generous, thoughtful people we all aspire to be at other times—whether it be their take on their unborn daughter’s weight, the way they both embraced Rudolph’s pregnant body, or their stubborn refusal to accept the rejection of strollers. No matter how you look at it, these characters were the real thing.

So I’ll add it to my list of Movies Every Woman Should See, but do yourself a favor and see this one on the big screen before it leaves the theatre.

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