Archive for December 29, 2011

Please Lord, help me gain those five pounds back

Losing weight always sounds great . . . until you lose it for the wrong reasons.

I’ve been feeling pretty lousy for a while—my stomach has been killing me for days, maybe weeks. Every day I wake up and think I’ll feel better, and every day I don’t.

As I’ve mentioned here before—in my “Everybody poops” post—I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and I’ve had it since I was seventeen years old (back when they used to call it a spastic colon, the absolute worst thing you could tell a high schooler she had since all of her friends would ridicule her about it when they found out). Since I’ve had it so long, I mostly know how to deal with it, how to avoid the trigger foods, and how to keep myself healthy—though I’ve learned over the past few days, not as well as I thought because, for some reason unknown to me, I’ve been struggling with severe abdominal pain again lately.

If you want to know what I feel like, ask the person closest to you to pummel you in the stomach for five minutes straight. How do you feel? Pretty lousy? Okay, you’ve just gotten started.

Now go all day only eating bland food like white bread or chicken breasts or peeled apples. When your husband eats a piece of cheese, stare at it lovingly a long time, take in its scent, but don’t eat it because it’s one of your trigger foods.

After that, be sure to take at least twelve trips to the bathroom for a total of at least three hours a day sitting on the toilet (might as well bring your computer since you’re going to be in there so long—luckily there’s an electrical outlet only a few feet away). While you’re there each of the twelve times, pass a lot of gas and poop at least four times a day.

Finally, don’t forget to swallow some gassy goldfish before you go to bed—you’ll want to feel them playing Marco Polo in your stomach all night.


Now you know how I feel.

Of course, the upshot of having an incredibly upset stomach is that I can’t really eat very much food. And one of the side effects of that is that I’ve lost four or five pounds pretty quickly. This isn’t really a big surprise given that I gained four or five pounds right at the end of the past semester—which I wrote about in my “Falling down the rabbit hole” post—but since we live in a weight-obsessed society, a society where everyone notices when you gain or lose a few pounds and how much food you put on your plate or how many times you go back for seconds, it feels like a bigger deal than it is.

If I were a different person, I would write “Woohoo! I lost five pounds!” on my Facebook wall and wait for everyone to like my status and congratulate me. (Please don’t do that since it will only piss me off.)

But I am not that person, and to be honest, I would happily take back those five pounds if I could go back to feeling normal and not have to clutch my midsection all day long. I would obviously rather be happy and healthy (and fatter) than sad and sickly (and thinner) any day.

For now, though, getting better and feeling like a normal human being is not happening. So I guess I’ll just have to let out a little rebel yell—Woohoo!—and focus on the non-accomplishment of losing five pounds I would really rather have back.

The countdown to New Year’s has begun
. . . time to write your non-resolutions!

1950s New Year’s Eve Revelers, New York

The new year has always meant two things in our society—partying and resolving. We party the night before and then resolve to be better the next morning. It’s a somewhat messed up way of doing things that—not unlike dieting—is about extremes: I’ll go nuts tonight and be better tomorrow. In reality, we’d be better off doing both in moderation—a little bit of partying and a little bit of resolving, a little bit of indulging and a little bit of being healthy and exercising—but not too much of either extreme.

If you’ve been reading this blog for over a year, you know that, as a result, I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions. I’ve talked in years past—in my 2010 “The glass should always be half-full” post and my 2009 “My new year’s resolution: no more resolutions” post—about how much resolutions can hurt us because they focus on the negative rather than the positive. And this is why I advocate making a list of non-resolutions—that is a list of what we’ve done right and what we appreciate about ourselves over the past year—rather than a list of what we’ve done wrong and need to improve.

To that end, I challenge each of you to send me your non-resolutions by December 31st—your list of one to five things you’ve done right this year—so I can publish them here on New Year’s Day. You can email them to me at

If you’re willing, send me a picture of yourself as well. And if you’d rather be anonymous, that’s fine too—just pick a pseudonym I can post with your list.

All right—you better get started! The new year is less than a week away!

Lisbeth Salander: Expanding our notion of beauty while kicking some serious ass

I’m on a film kick right now, and I hope you can bear with me . . school is not in session, and as a result, I have most of my nights off to have fun. So I’m seeing movies and reading books and spending time with the people I care about.

Tonight’s entertainment was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo about investigator Lisbeth Salander and reporter Michael Blomkvist. And though there are no curvy women in this movie, I can’t stop thinking about how films shape the way we see ourselves. This movie is important for that reason, but also because it’s a film about a woman who refuses to be taken advantage of, a woman who decides for herself who she wants to be and how she wants to live.

This means that Lisbeth Salander is not defined by society. She does not fit society’s definition of beauty, but she is beautiful. She does not fit society’s definition of sexy or attractive, but she is both of those as well. She’s also successful and independent and happy (her words) in ways that society may not get and in ways that women rarely are in film and television.

And if Salander can determine for herself what makes her attractive or happy or successful, then why can’t the rest of us?

Why we all need to see Young Adult,
a.k.a. how Diablo Cody shines a light on the cost of beauty

***SPOILER ALERT: There are no spoilers here in terms of plot, but the film’s themes and the main character’s physical appearance are discussed in full detail and connected to her identity.***

I’m thrilled that it’s finally Oscar season, and I get to see DOZENS of outstanding movies between now and Sunday, February 26th when I’ll walk the red carpet with The Help‘s Viola Davis and The Ides of March‘s Ryan Gosling (also of Feminist Ryan Gosling fame).

Okay, so I won’t really be walking the red carpet, but a girl can dream, right? And who knows? Maybe I’ll spring for a long roll of red tissue paper and unroll it in front of my flat-screen.

I’ve already seen The Descendants (loved it) and Hugo (bleh—too slow for me), and last night I also got to see Young Adult from the Juno writing-directing team of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman.

First, let me say that Young Adult is an outstanding piece of filmmaking—it’s dark and funny and intelligent and honest in a way that not many films are anymore when they’re this entertaining.

But the reason I want you all to see Young Adult is not only because it’s such a good film, but also because it’s an important film for woman—a film that explores issues central to our identity such as beauty, gender, marriage, motherhood, and family among others.

Of course, the issue most relevant to this blog is beauty, which is one of the main themes of the film. Without giving anything away in terms of plot, I can tell you that the main character, Mavis—played with heartbreaking gravity by Oscar winner Charlize Theron—is obsessed with the way she looks and seems to gather a good deal of her self-worth from her looks.

At one point in the film—and the preview—Mavis tells a Macy’s clerk that she wants an outfit to help her seduce her ex. The clerk says, “You want to remind him of what he’s missing,” and Mavis responds by saying something like, “Oh, he knows what he’s missing. He’s seen me.” The implication is that Mavis’ value is completely derived from her looks: her gorgeous, heart-shaped face and her fit, flawless body.

But though other characters see only the physical manifestation of Mavis’ beauty, the viewer is treated to the lengths Mavis must go to to achieve that beauty.

In fact, Mavis spends a good deal of her time (probably a third of most days) primping in some fashion or another—she spends hours styling her hair, applying her makeup, shopping for expensive clothes, shaving her legs, and visiting a salon where she gets manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing, and various other treatments on a daily basis.

Yes, I said daily.

After all this is done, Mavis looks fabulous—almost as good as the real-life Charlize Theron. But when she doesn’t devote that much time to her looks, she is a disheveled mess—she walks the streets in sweats and a t-shirt, gulping from a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke and pulling at her matted tangle of hair.

The implicit message is frighteningly clear: a woman doesn’t look this good—at least not at the age of 37 like Mavis—without a hell of a lot of help. And money.

I especially love that these two versions of Mavis—the Mavis who takes hours of time and piles of cash to put together and the Mavis who rolls out of bed in the morning—are shown in such stark contrast to each other.

She is both the former Homecoming queen who has held on to her looks as she approaches forty…

and the lonely, depressed divorcee who can’t be bothered to change out of her pajamas…

I greatly appreciate this depiction of the two sides of Mavis because I think it’s incredibly real.

We all know what it’s like to want to spend the day in our pajama pants and favorite t-shirt, and we all know that some days we want to go to the trouble of getting dressed and made up for a night out on the town. Yes, we know the value of both of these extremes, but most of us—unlike Mavis—also understand that our worth isn’t wrapped up in our ability to do the latter. But Mavis, sadly, is obsessed with this aspect of herself.

It’s equally sad—and interesting—that Mavis is also depicted as a fast food junkie who hits what she calls the local “Ken-Tac-Hut” (a combo Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut) whenever she needs an emotional pick-me-up. I’ve known for a long time that many thin women eat as much as anyone else (even those who are overweight), so it was incredibly refreshing to see a thin and beautiful woman depicted this way—well, refreshing and painful.

But it is Mavis’ slavish devotion to her looks that is one of the more alarming part of this film.

In one particularly gruesome scene, Mavis is shown applying her makeup. I like to wear makeup as much as the next girl, but watching Mavis Gary put on what can only be described as a face-altering mask frightened me so much that I still haven’t gotten the image out of my head. Like a particularly poignant episode of The Twilight Zone, her beauty regime is scary enough to make us rethink our own. Her physical machinations are, in fact, so arduous that only a masochist would embrace them.

Clearly that’s what Mavis is—a masochist, a person who tortures herself regularly and doesn’t know how to be happy. She is like this in more ways than one, but I don’t want to give away the whole film.

In this way, she is a perfect role model for the kind of person we should all not want to be—beautiful, successful, and miserable, reminding us yet again that there is more to life than physical perfection.

Life isn’t fair: why it’s not right to give us new flaws

We spend all of our lives worrying about what we look like—our faces, our hair, our bodies.

And at some point, most of us wise up and say, “I’m just not going to worry about it anymore. My face is too fill in the blank, my nose is too fill in the blank, my legs are too fill in the blank, my stomach is too fill in the blank, my hair is too fill in the blank. I’m also not fill in the blank enough, and my fill in the blank isn’t fill in the blank enough. And I really don’t even care.”

I’ve been through all of that. I’ve accepted my wide nose, my imperfect skin, my frizzy hair, my thunder thighs, my wobbly bits, the junk in my trunk, etc. It’s all mine, and not only can I live with it, I like that it’s me.

But recently I went to the doctor and found out that there’s something else keeping me from walking the runway at New York Fashion Week . . .

I have—wait for it—oddly shaped feet.

Yes, it turns out that my feet are not shaped normally.

While most people’s pinky toes curve slightly in . . .

mine curve slightly out . . .

And this makes it awfully hard to find a pair of shoes that fit as I age and my oddly shaped feet—like everyone else’s—get a wee bit wider than they were when I was young.

I’m sorry, but I have to insist that this just doesn’t seem right. It’s taken me nearly all of my 41 years to accept my flaws, and now that I’ve finally done so, life is giving me yet another one???

I mean, come on. How damn unfair is that?

Falling down the rabbit hole

I haven’t really talked about this here, but this past semester has been a bit hellish for me.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining. I’ve had a tough semester because things are going well for us—my husband and I both published books, and we were on tour promoting his novel for weeks while school was in session.

Juggling the tour with teaching was kind of like balancing a spoon on my nose and a book on my head at the same time. In other words, it was doable but incredibly difficult.

Despite this, Dave and I managed to keep working out pretty regularly and eating as well as we could. In other words, we didn’t fail completely at living healthy, but we also were not even close to where we are normally and where we need to be. I’d estimate we worked out four or five times a week on average rather than every day, and we were eating out and/or indulging way more than once a week. Sadly, this also means my weight went up a couple of pounds.

To make matters worse, classes ended last Friday, and we went on a road trip. Translation = we ate a lot of crappy food. And during those twenty-four hours I somehow managed to pick up five more pounds.

Five pounds? Really, body?

That just doesn’t seem right. Or fair.

If I could, I’d ask to speak to my body’s supervisor and file a complaint, but I fear I’d just be talking to myself (which admittedly I sometimes do).

Still, this is a HUGE improvement over our behavior and weight gain the last time we were under a lot of stress—when we were on the job market during the 2007-2008 school year and basically stopped working out and eating healthy altogether. (As far as I know, that was the only time in Dave’s life he gained weight, and he managed to lose it pretty quickly after that anomaly occurred.)

Nevertheless, it’s frustrating when we don’t have the time or energy to live the way we want to live, and I’m sure anyone reading this has felt the same way before, which makes me wonder—what can any of us do to stop the backsliding once it starts?

After this weekend’s road trip, I decided to add a little more exercise to my daily routine and cut all the slightly higher-calorie foods I allow myself on a daily basis. I don’t mean unhealthy food. I just mean the foods that we’re told to avoid when trying to slim down—foods high in carbs, fat, and sugar.

Well, that worked for about thirty-six hours, and then I just felt hungry and unsatisfied. And then it hit me—cutting foods high in carbs, fat, and sugar is really just dieting. Without even realizing it, I had accidentally gone on a diet. Sure, it only lasted thirty-six hours, but it shocked me how quickly I reverted to the diet model even though I am the founder of a website called I Will Not Diet.

What was I thinking?????

I’m really not sure what I was thinking except that I felt desperate. I had gained two pounds in three months and five pounds in a single weekend. What the hell else was I going to do?

I guess I have to admit I’m not sure what to do now. Keep exercising. Keep living healthy in the ways I’ve outlined here.

But what do I do if none of that works? What do I do if just keep gaining weight?

All I have to say is, God help me if I actually find out.

How to survive the holiday weight gain

Since the holidays are upon us, I’m sure many of you are worried about overeating and not being as healthy as you’d like.

The bad news is that it’s that time of year when many of us forget how to be healthy—we indulge more than we should (more than once or twice a week) and cut workouts in a lame attempt to participate in the holiday madness that seems to rule our lives this month: partying, shopping, decorating, drinking, eating, rinse, repeat.

The good news is that if you do gain weight this holiday season, you will probably only gain one pound since that’s what statistics show.

So the problem isn’t really that one measly pound. One pound can’t make or break you unless you are a high school wrestler.

The real problem for most of us is that we gain one pound this year and one pound next year and one pound the year after that and so on and so on. Because that’s how most people gain weight—they do it slowly, over a long period of time, without doing anything to counter-act these incremental increases. (Incidentally, this is the same reason why losing weight and keeping it off takes so much time—it takes real time and commitment to lose or gain weight.)

So rather than fret over a few too many holiday cookies or martinis, try not to worry about those extra calories too much. And remind yourself that the most important thing you can do is make sure that, if you do pick up that extra pound this December, you just need to drop it sometime between January and the following November. Then you can do the whole thing all over again the next year.

Then again, maybe overdoing it one month isn’t really worth eleven months of pain. So why not balance every indulgence with an extra hour of exercise? Even if it’s doing something fun like bowling, taking a walk in the snow, or hitting the hay with a loved one.

I do have one request—if you do gain that one pound this year (or overindulge a time too many), do yourself a favor and don’t beat yourself up over it. A psychologist friend of mine once told me that when we berate ourselves for mistakes like overindulging, we do ourselves twice the harm—first, we harm ourselves by overdoing it, and then we harm ourselves again by inflicting more emotional harm on our mental health than necessary. Therefore, this year’s holiday motto will be: no emotional pain even if you gain. 

What’s next? Cyborg models?
How H&M is going all Stepford on us.

Think photoshopping models to have thinner legs or arms, smaller waists, bigger breasts, or blemish-free faces is bad?

Well, then you’ll be interested to know that, as reported by Jezebel, H&M has taken photo manipulation a step further. The hipster retail outlet is now using computer-generated models on their website and in their catalogs to get away from that pesky problem of models who look too real.

After the virtual models are created, H&M puts a photo of a real model’s face on top of these faux bods to make them look more life-like. But otherwise the current crop of H&M models is all CGI. (Notice how all the models above have the EXACT same body.)

According to Jezebel, “H&M designs a body that can better display clothes made for humans than humans can, then ‘dresses’ it by drawing on its clothes, and digitally pastes on the heads of real women in post-production.”

I could tell you why this is a problem.

I could tell you that if we think it’s hard to measure up to photoshopped models or models who are underweight, that’s nothing compared to trying to measure up to a model who isn’t even real.

Yes, I could tell you all of that, but I’m betting I don’t have to. Because it’s so damn obvious that even a half-real model could figure it out.

Holy food of obligation: do we eat to make others happy?

Today one of my students brought a dozen egg rolls to class from one of the local Thai joints, Thai Thai, an authentic restaurant that serves possibly he best Thai food I’ve ever had.

I had just finished lunch when the student showed up with this gift to the rest of the class—literally just washed down the last of my Coca Cola as I walked in the classroom door—and smelled the intoxicating scent of fried food.

As soon as I understood where the smell was coming from, I knew I shouldn’t eat anything, much less a fried snack. I’d just had a decent meal and indulged in a 160-calorie soda. I didn’t need any more.

The only problem was no one else in the room had taken an egg roll—not even the guy who had brought them. And, knowing that students are terrified of standing out in the crowd or doing anything first, I feared that if I did’t take one, no one would. And the student who had gone to the trouble of brining the egg rolls would be left feel as unappreciated as a pop quiz on a Monday morning.

So I did what any gracious host would do: I marched right over to the snack table—head held high—and picked up an egg roll, dipped it in its accompanying sauce, and strutted back to the desk at the front of the room.

After all, I couldn’t send my students the message that I was ashamed to eat in front of them—that would go against everything I believe in—and, as I said, I didn’t want to hurt the one student’s feelings, especially not a student who had gone to the trouble to do something for the rest of us.

But when I got back to my seat and took a bite, I realized I had made a mistake. The egg roll was so greasy that it covered my hands and desk with clear goo, making me look like an infant eating in a high chair.

Still, I soldiered on and finished the wretched thing. Don’t get me wrong—it tasted as delicious as any greasy, fried item does—but I wasn’t eating because of the taste as much as I was eating out of obligation.

And it made me wonder how often we all do that—eat because we feel we must—rather than eating because we want or need to. Is our desire to fit in and/or be polite one of the reasons we’re getting bigger as a country?

During the holidays, my husband’s family does a good deal of drinking. Yes, they drink beer and wine like most people, but they also down jello shots and Buttery Nipples with the same regularity that they eat turkey and pie on Thanksgiving.

When I first got married, I loved this about the in-laws—every holiday was an alcohol-fueled bacchanal—but over the years I’ve grown tired of the routine, and now I approach the coming holidays with a sense of dread rather than joy.

But still, I drink. I drink Cosmos and Gin and Tonics and Bourbon Slushies. I eat stuffing and casserole and potatoes of more than one variety. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it all. I really do. But a part of me wishes I could say no and take a year off from all the imbibing.

Still, I know I’ll never do that. Too many people go to too much trouble to make such a feast, and I would feel guilty if I turned up my nose at their hard work.

But I do wonder if our need to eat to make others happy is part of the colletive problem.

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