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I'm Outside.

It must be four years now. The last time I was here, I was walking on old train tracks. The leaves crunched under my feet, and I watched to make sure that I wouldn’t trip on the tracks. I looked down on that day, watching my feet, hearing leaves crunch. It must’ve been fall, because everything was brown. The train tracks are gone now, replaced by a bike path that connects most towns in the area.

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This is my first day taking my wheelchair outdoors. The weather is finally turning to spring, and I commit to my partner that today is the day. Both he and my dog support my decision. I get outside and start rolling away from my house. Almost immediately, I am in tears. This feels like an important moment. Not one that I want to miss. I’m not sure what I’m scared of, nor what I’ve been hiding from for the last two years, but then again, people can see me. I am outside. And I am disabled.

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It must’ve been five years since last time we took a family walk. The dog wants to smell everything, and I just want to be. To be outside, to be moving.  I wheel my way down the bike path and am overwhelmed: by the blue sky, by the trees and the sun and the evidence of growth around me. I weep. With gratitude and a sense of overwhelm. I am outside. And in a way I never thought I would be. And I am so grateful because the trees are more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen. And I am outside.  I pass another walker and later a jogger. We exchange the usual pleasantries of humans enjoying the first nice day in months. They smile at me, and I at them. And then I’m back on the sidewalk and the cars pass and the people see me and I am outside and I am grateful.  I’m not going to miss another beautiful day inside. Disability has impacted my life in several ways, but most poignantly, it has changed my experience of being in nature. I miss hiking and exploring and crouching to see the new growth. And I will not do those things again. But I won’t let my old experiences stop me from creating new ones. My wheelchair is a tool, a vehicle. And it has given me the gift of being outside again.  

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This is a lesson learned over the course of several years. I have a body that doesn’t move as it used to. I have worries about the judgement of others. And I have a choice. To embrace my new body and explore the planet in a different way, or to stay inside, hiding. I am so grateful for this day. And for the decision to stop hiding. And for this beautiful planet.

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Zooming in...

Yesterday, I posted a boomerang video of myself eating a cookie on Instagram. The objective was to share my neutral stance about cookies, to encourage viewers to seek out their own, if desired, and really, to eat what I wanted.

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Interestingly, when I watched the video after I posted it, all I could see was my hand shaking. (I recognize that boomerang has a shaky tendency to it, but this was my hand, so it WAS SHAKING.) My first instinct was take the post down. Or to change my hand position. Or to have a less active shot. And then I took a breath. I chose to intentionally leave the Instagram post as it was because the value of my eating a cookie far supersedes my experience of having a shaky hand.

I'm sharing this because I want to talk about the concept of "zooming in." As humans, we have the tendency to focus on the things that we perceive to be the hardest, that make us feel shame, or the things that make us feel the most vulnerable. We know what they are, and often try to avoid them. In my case, when I saw my shaky hand, all I could see was my shaky hand. I nearly forgot about the reason for my post in the first place, because I was so distracted by my perceived "flaw."

I zoomed in on the thing that made me feel uncomfortable, and nearly lost sight of my intentions. I hear similar sentiments echoed by my clients when they speak to me about having negative body image, or experiencing significant distress in relation to specific regions of their bodies, or in relation to the sense that they should be doing more/making more of an impact/not feeling stuck in the spot they're in. They stop focusing on the things that are important to them. They get stuck in the SHOULD vortex. And they literally stop being able to move beyond whatever they've zoomed in on. This hyper zoom takes us out of the game. And in such a way that it almost doesn't feel like a choice. 

BUT, thankfully, it is a choice. We get to decide where we put our attention and time. We get to determine where we put our energy. I am actively choosing to zoom out.

I actively chose to leave my video online. I received messages from several people saying that they appreciated my enjoying cookies. I also receive messages from several people suggesting that they hadn't even noticed that my hand was shaking. That it only became apparent after I pointed it out. And even then, it wasn't where they focused. My fear of being judged for having a differently able body was entirely inappropriate. Or at least, a waste of my energy.  

I'M SO DONE WITH GIVING MY ENERGY TO UNIMPORTANT THINGS.

What about you? What do you zoom in on? How does it help or harm?

Wishing you a zoomed out day:)

a.

 

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Your Body Knows Best

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Your Body Knows Best

The idea of body trust, or even the belief that your body is acting on your behalf is likely challenging if you are in the midst of an eating disorder or dieting process. I talk with my clients often about the general lack of body trust that is portrayed in the media, and represented by much of the world. This is Diet Culture 101 messaging: if you were to let go of the reins a little bit, or change your patterns in the smallest way, your body would, in turn, do you wrong. 

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This is unequivocal bullshit.

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I talk about this a lot with clients when they mention fear of incorporation of new foods, or of challenge foods, or historical binge foods. The message I hear repeatedly is that their bodies would not communicate with them at the appropriate time to cue the cessation of intake. When I hear talk like this, I often ask my clients to imagine a day in which the ONLY thing they were able to eat was the target food that we are discussing. Often times, these are historically charged foods. For the sake of this example, let’s talk about donuts.

Imagine a day in which you wake up and are allowed to eat only donuts. For breakfast, you have a doughnut or two, and probably feel pretty good. You’re excited that you’re eating this food with full permission, and move on with your day. Morning snack comes along, and you enjoy another donut. No biggie! You’re probably still pretty excited about the fact that you get to eat this food by the time lunchtime rolls around.  As you continue to feed yourself throughout the day, how are these off-limits donuts working for you as the only food of the day? Regardless of the answer, you continue on the donut-only day and have a few more donuts to keep you going. By the end of the night, I am curious, how do you believe that your body would feel? 

You might have a head full of judgments about the fact that you only in donuts on that day, but tuning into your body, how do you think your body would feel? Most often when I ask this question, clients are very quick to say that they think they would probably feel poorly. They would not feel energized, that they would be bored of donuts, and that they would be wanting other foods.

The important take away message here is that this feedback, this fatigue or less than stellar feeling is your body communicating to you that it knows how to help you care for yourself.  It is NOT the guilt or judgement that makes you feel poorly, it is YOUR PHYSICAL BODY ASKING FOR VARIETY.

The next time you suggest that your body is not to be trusted, consider this.  Your body can communicate with you and help you to feel good.  Those messages can be ignored, but if we practice tuning in, they're present and designed to keep us feeling good.

Drop the food judgments. Tune into the wisdom of your body.

I TRUST YOUR BODY. 

Anna P. Sweeney, MS, CEDRD(S), LDN

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BUT I DON’T WANT TO ACCEPT THIS BODY…A SHOE STORY.

I’d like to start this post by stating that in all the ways that matter, I am a sane person. I’ll circle back to this, but want you to feel comfortable knowing that I am sane. (This will come into question later.)

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“But I don’t want to accept this body.”

How many times have you said those words? To yourself? About yourself? How many times have you heard someone else use these words about their body?

 

When I think about body acceptance, and all that it allows for, I am deeply relieved. And I haven’t always been. As I hear often from my clients, body acceptance gets confused with complacency. It gets confused with liking one’s body. And now, because it is a buzz-worthy expression, it has kind of moved to the cool kids table. If you’re not accepting, you’re not in the club. 

 

When I think about body acceptance, I am thrilled to know that it is possible. I am thrilled because I know that it can happen after years of having complicated, tumultuous relationship with one’s body.  I am thrilled to say confidently that body acceptance is one step to healing one of our most important relationships: that with our own bodies.  For humans who feel at home in their own bodies, some degree of body acceptance is possible. This is not to suggest that body acceptance is simple, but for most, it is possible.

 

From this place of acceptance, we can be gentle. We can be kind. And we can be curious.

 

Over last 10 years, I have treated many hundreds of clients, at all levels of eating disorder care.  I have heard my clients talk negatively about their bodies. I have observed how damaging body comparison can be.  And I have encouraged my clients to speak kindly of their bodies. ‘Comparison is the Thief of Joy’ is one of my favorite expressions.

 

In that same time, I have also lived with multiple sclerosis. And over the last five years, I have become a disabled woman. Living the body with changing abilities is rather extraordinary…It’s a little bit like having the rug pulled out from under you when you least expect it. You continue to operate from a place of not expecting the rug to be pulled at all. And you know that it will.

 

I am not going to make any grand ovations that I have been consistently graceful in the acceptance of my body. That would be a lie. But I have learned a lot about body acceptance, and the good that can come from it.

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A SHOE STORY

Although I was diagnosed with MS when I was in high school, I didn’t have any permanent disability until I was in my late 20s. Starting in high school, I loved shoes.  High heels specifically. I felt like they made me look older, more sophisticated, and elegant. I acquired and wore lovely high heels through high school, college, and part of graduate school. Near the end of graduate school, I stopped being able to wear high heels if I had to travel a long distance. I would ask my partner to park the car close to wherever we were going.  I would wear heels to walk into place where I knew I would sit. I would take off my shoes if I was walking any great distance. As my disease progressed, I wore my high heels in my home only. I would walk in them as though I were practicing to wear them ‘for real,’ but never did.

 

I completed graduate school in 2009. I stopped being able to wear high heels entirely in 2010. And here is where my declaration of not being crazy should come into question: I didn’t stop buying high heels until the end of 2012. I have strong memories of going into the shoe department, and trying on heels. Of literally trying to make my foot and body coordinate in a way that it could not.  Sometimes I stood up in the heels.  Sometimes, I tried to walk around. Sometimes I just looked at the shoes on my feet. And then I’d buy them. I would take them home, store them with the rest of my high heels, all the while repeating to myself the message that I “should” be able to wear the shoes. That to be a respected professional, or found desirable, or recognized for my work, high heels were a mandate.  WHAT A LOAD OF SHIT.

 

Even as I was truly unable to comfortably wear these shoes, I was unable to separate my feelings about what it meant to wear high heels from my lived experience.  I was living in the “I’ll get back there someday-land,” and not practicing any acceptance of what was.  I was stubborn, and insistent that I should be able to wear the shoes.

In this part of my mourning-accepting process, I talked a lot of shit. I made nasty remarks about my body. I made fun of myself in a way that felt protective, but wasn’t.   I was so preoccupied by my disability, and my inability to meet my own standards, that I lost more time and energy then I am proud to admit.

 

And then I was given an enormous gift that in the moment felt awful, but changed the way that I viewed myself.  My fear of being seen as that which is other was confirmed, and out of my frustration, I committed to stop fighting against myself.. It took a while, but I did arrive to the space where I eliminated the shoes that didn’t work for me.  And I ultimately moved past the space where heels held much energy. 

 

This may seem like a small thing, but it was not at all trivial for me, as it was my first overt expression of acceptance of what is. I am a disabled woman, and I can’t wear high heels. Those are two facts about me that actually say very little about who I am.  I imagine that you would find a similar ending if you thought about the parts of yourself that you struggle to accept.  Those parts are not all of you, and they’re probably not the most important parts of you, either.

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On my self acceptance journey, I have learned several things:

1.     Acceptance is not the same as enjoying. Acceptance is a bit like gravity. You don’t have to like it, but no amount of wishing to float is going to make floating possible.

2.     Acceptance might require a period of grief.   If you have been willing your body to be one way for any period of time, transitioning to a new way of thinking about your body might make you sad, might make you angry, and will take time.

3.     Acceptance makes life easier. I spent a number of years vigilantly fighting against my body, speaking negatively of it, and putting myself at risk unnecessarily. It is only because I accept my body that I’m able to live with the ease that I do.

4.     Acceptance is good for you. In the same way that speaking negatively about yourself makes you feel worse, when you are able to speak about yourself from an accepting place - and that can be neutral - you’re better off.  By simply changing the way I spoke about my body, I felt and feel differently in it.

5.     Sometimes acceptance means needing help. This was a hard one for me, as I am superbly independent. But I accept that I need help navigating the world as a woman with different ability. I am choosing to ask for help more and more, and find that this process affirms itself.  For you, this might look like speaking with your therapist or dietitian about body image. And about the challenges of self-acceptance.

6.     Acceptance of what is leaves room for everything else. As I mentioned before, my process of accepting my disability was not always graceful. I fought it with all that I had. And now, I live, breathe, and sleep easier because I’m not fighting against myself.

 

I wish for you the all benefits that body acceptance has to offer. I wish for you the peace that I have found in accepting my present moment body as it is. I wish for you the ability to give yourself permission to approach body acceptance as a part of a larger body journey.

 

And whatever is in your collection of “should's” SHOULD be examined immediately...What is there? Get curious.  And let me know!

 

My best,

Anna

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Handling the Holidays

This year, instead of being pulled down the diet rabbit hole, I encourage you to fully engage in the seasonal celebrations. To resist the urge to apologize for the food that you eat, to respect your own choices about whether or not to engage in physical activity, and to move away from the omnipresent body-bashing.

If you're looking for inspiration, check out this ultimate Guide to Guilt Free Holiday Eating.

The wisdom contained here was compiled by the wonderful Christen Morgan, MS, RDN, CSG, and includes healing words from many of my nutrition heroes.

Wishing you the happiest, most peaceful holiday season.

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I've been talking about this for a long time...

I've been talking for a long time about sharing my writing and ideas in blog format and am committed to making this happen...When Instagram cuts you off because you have too many words, it is time to share in a more cohesive fashion.

Excuse me as I awkwardly navigate this new arena. My intentions for this blog are to primarily speak to issues that I am passionate about: eating disorder recovery, body respect, Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating, and all things that combat the diet industry. This will be the bulk of my writing.

I am also going to use this blog as a forum to discuss my own body and body experience. For those who know me, you know that I have Multiple Sclerosis. For those who don't, I have MS. At this point, I have lived with this disease for most of my life.

For most of my life, I haven't wanted to talk about MS. I haven't wanted to be viewed differently because I am a woman with a disease. I haven't wanted to speak about the ways in which this disease affects my life on a day-to-day basis, I haven't wanted to speak to the ways in which my changing body affect me, but mostly, I haven't wanted my messages to get lost under the cloud of "inspiration."

That being said, I feel very grateful to be in a position in which that I no longer have the desire to be silent about this experience. I am a disabled woman. I am a dietitian. I am a human.

I hope to bring all of these pieces together in a way that is useful for the people who read my writing, and feels good for me. Thank you for allowing me the grace to start this process.

 

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