Above all, what I hope you experience on Find Where You Fit is a community of acceptance, positivity, and encouragement. This to be your go-to resource for connecting with fitness opportunities, as vast and varied as they come. While you are discovering classes and gyms and going to events, you have to know that goals are important, but so are you, right this moment. The reception I got from It’s time to rethink “health” | Sit down with some ice cream and read this warmed my heart and told me that you feel the same. Today, I am thrilled to bring you the writings of my friend, a source of inspiration, and a dang smart therapist, Levana Slabodnick.
I have had a complicated relationship with exercising throughout my lifetime. There have been activities that I have enjoyed, like martial arts and dance where my participation in them was fun and simple. The vast majority of my experiences, however, have felt like a form of punishment and an attempt to control a never-ending battle with my weight. Going to the gym meant I had a “good” day and staying at home meant that I was “bad”. This was a similar approach to how I, and most women view food. Broccoli is good. Cake is bad. Boot camp is good. Resting in bed is bad. Kale is godly. Chips are the devil. Sweating and burning calories mean I succeed. Reading on the couch means I fail.
You know what I mean, right? Of course, you do. Any woman raised in American society has been inundated with images of beauty and health that is defined by thinness (among other things). Even if you managed to escape learning these messages at home from your own mother, you couldn’t escape learning them through friends, teachers, doctors, movies, reality shows and magazines. Thinness, health and everything associated with obtaining both have been elevated and moralized. We no longer tell people to lose weight because they look bad, it is because we are worried about their health. We say this without even having knowledge of their health, but come on, how can a fat person be healthy? We brag and feel a sense of power and superiority for eating “clean” foods, as if the masses who don’t eat like us are eating “dirty” foods. Extreme “health” has now become a superpower that is used to inspire and capitalize on the average citizen. If you are healthy, eat clean, exercise, do yoga headstands and meditate you are guaranteed to live a long, productive, fulfilling and best of all worthy life.
I acknowledge fully that I walked around on this planet for around 27 years (starting at the age of 12) believing this and fighting my body every single day so that I too could be worthy. I knew the promises of being thin involved lasting love and an amazing wardrobe and respect and best of all no lectures about how I need to lose weight. And the fact is that I have never, in my entire life, not one day, ever been thin. It never even occurred to me that I might not be capable of achieving thinness. No one ever mentioned to me that research has shown that most people gain back most, if not more than their original weight when they diet. I was sold on the thin ideal and so exercising became a means to that end. Exercising got put into the good category with broccoli and kale and not exercising got put into the ice cream category. For most of my adult life I have either been on a diet, losing weight and feeling great or off a diet and feeling like a total loser.
Understandably, these swings in my mood, self-esteem, eating patterns, exercise and of course weight has resulted in some pretty serious anxiety. I had a constant knot in my stomach and negative thought in my brain about my failure in weight loss that seemed to extend to all areas of my life. Then something amazing happened. Somehow, I stumbled across a podcast called “Food Psych” in yet another attempt to find a way to inspire me to lose weight. But the podcaster, Christy Harrison, who is a registered dietician was not advocating weight loss with her clients or her listeners. She suggested the most revolutionary idea that I had ever heard in my entire life. She told that I didn’t need to lose weight. That I didn’t need to restrict what I ate. That I didn’t need to punish myself in the gym. What she was suggesting was that I accept myself for who I am. Right now. Like at this exact minute. And love this very person and stop trying to change her.
This was some seriously crazy shit. She then went to inform me that I could work on my health and actually be a healthy person regardless of my weight or size. That despite what I have been told by my doctor, and doctors on TV and TV ads, that the research shows that being fat does not mean being unhealthy. And then she gave actual research to back this up. She pointed to a movement called Health At Every Size (HAES) started by Linda Bacon a woman who overcame an eating disorder and who now has an MA in psychology and exercise science and a PhD in Physiology. Reading her research lead me to understand that I have been killing my metabolism, health and self-esteem through yoyo dieting all of these years. Christy also talked about Intuitive Eating, an ideology of repairing our relationships with food by learning to trust and follow our body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.
I immediately decided that I would try something different and focus on loving myself and healing my relationship with food and exercise. I had to stop exercising completely for almost six months until I could get to the point where I realized that I WANTED to exercise and move my body. Not to lose weight and punish myself, but feel strength and joy with the flooding endorphins. I stepped on that elliptical machine with a willing and joyful heart because I love myself and want to strengthen my heart and all the other muscles in my body. And it felt wonderful! I smiled, laughed and teared up most of the time that I was moving. This was the first time in so many, many years that I was loving what my body could do, regardless of its size.
Levana Slabodnick is a therapist in Columbus, Ohio who specializes in treating anxious girls, women and LGBTQ individuals by helping them feel empowered and strong. She uses counseling and hypnosis, as well as a dark sense of humor to connect with her clients and help them reach their goals. She attempts to practice was she preaches at home with her husband, two kids and dog. You can read her blog and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.