Like memorable brands and epic narrative arcs, strong boundaries take time to develop. Once upon a time, I thought having healthy boundaries 1 meant saying ‘No,’ – ‘No’ to chairing a meeting, ‘No’ to organizing a party, ‘No’ to letting a house guest stay another week. Refusals like this are swimming in the shallow end of the boundary pool, though.
There’s a much deeper and more meaningful application for strong boundary-setting that has nothing to do with family picnics or PTA meetings, and unless and until we get better at it, every healthy effort we ever make is at the mercy of other people.Continue reading →
Let’s call them ‘strong’ boundaries, because people tell me I’m supposed to be branding myself. First person to ask me whether I’m practicing having strong boundaries with the handful of sweethearts giving me business advice out of the kindness of their hearts gets a great big e-raspberry. ↩
Today I play the role of a business owner, a writer, a wife, and a mother. If you time-traveled into the past you’d see me playing a nerd, 1 a goth, 2 a butch, 3 a femme, 4 a poet, 5 a comedian, 6 a Christian, 7 an agnostic, 8, and a couple dozen other roles.
No matter who I was, or where I was, or what I was doing, it felt insincere. I felt like the fraud in a room full of genuine articles, whether they were rolling 10-sided dice or swapping verse or cracking jokes or begging forgiveness. I was a spy without a homeland. No matter how I was walking, I always felt like the shoes didn’t quite fit. Continue reading →
I was 18. Me and my then-boyfriend were taking what should have been a romantic stroll when suddenly the pain of my thighs rubbing together was so intense I could barely breathe.
“I don’t feel well,” I said, and I sat right down on the grass.
I was in a rage. How did I let this happen?
I was scared. How am I gonna get back to the car?
I was determined. I want to live an active, comfortable life, so I’m going to eat better starting tomorrow. No. More. Excuses.
I spent the next 5 years making resolutions to eat better, sabotaging myself, and getting heavier. And heavier. And heavier.
Like many of the coolest, most interesting, and creative folks on earth, I default to addiction and morbid obesity. Self-Sabotage is my middle name, and yet today I’m a fit and healthy fitness trainer. I’ve spent the better part of a decade studying the lies Continue reading →
A little about me: I’m 41, 5’7″, 236 lbs. I’m inactive and totally out of shape – walking up the stairs in my building takes it out of me. I don’t identify as an addict per se, but I’ve clearly let my bad habits get the best of me. I talk myself out of every good idea I have.
Anyway, I signed up for the January run of the Pleasure Principles (I didn’t talk myself out of that one!). I’m excited about it – a girlfriend of mine took it last time and loved it. I like to be able to plan ahead, so can you please give me a sense of when I’ll be healthy by? I don’t need a date or anything, just a ballpark. If I take your suggestions, when will I get…well…healthy?
My father, Brian, was sober for almost a month in 2009. We got close. He even showed up to help me demolish the shithole fixer-upper I’d just bought (photo below). Together, we 1 filled a huge dumpster with plaster, lathe, bricks, and wood. We swapped war stories and laughed and puzzled at how amazing it is that folks like us can want so desperately to change, yet when faced with a choice, strong as we are, we almost always default to what’s killing us.
Should women lift weights? 1 Not necessarily. Weightlifting (and, more generally, strength training) isn’t for everyone. There are a few ‘pros’ to lifting weights, 2 but it’s important to consider the ‘cons’ before committing to any strength training program.
I was 300 pounds by the age of 18. Dating back to early childhood, all my efforts to diet had failed, and always left me heavier than I’d been when I started. 1
In my 20s, I decided to accept my body – fat and all. No more diets. No more wasting time feeling bad about my size. From now on, I was gonna work on loving the body I had. If I remember correctly, about 10 minutes later, my mother broke some news:
“Sweetheart, I’m having weight loss surgery.”
A chorus of ‘No!’ started singing in my head. Every reason why surgery was a bad idea tried to elbow its way to the stage. Continue reading →
First time you’ve ever heard someone say *that*, right? I bet not. ↩
I’m 24, 5’7”, and, like you were, I weigh just over 300 pounds. I have a loving God, and I want to spread His message. I think He would have amazing plans for me if only I could lose this weight. I’m also engaged to the kindest, most generous man I’ve ever met. I want to be beautiful and sexy for him on our wedding night and beyond. I’ve struggled to stay on so many diets, but no matter how long I stick to any diet, I always gain back more than I lost. Your writing really spoke to me, so I’m reaching out. Do you ever work with people like me? Can you help?
-Blessed in the Midwest
Hey there, Blessed –
You’re a woman who believes in a loving God, and that gives you a big advantage over the rest of us. I dig working with people of faith because you already believe you’re loved. To believe we’re loved – and therefore loveable, just as we are – is the first step to genuine wellness, because we’re motivated to take care of the things we love.
When God gives you a gift – any gift – how do you treat it? With care. If God gave you a goldfish, how would you treat that goldfish? With care. Every single day. And you’d be proud of it. You’d say sweet things to it. You’d never, ever criticize it, hide it, insult it, or be embarrassed by it. Same goes for your beautiful body. You were given that body by God. Like any of God’s gifts, it deserves love, affection, and attention. In short: it deserves your care. Continue reading →
It’s 1997. I’m 300 pounds. Every day I push my mom’s coffee table out of the way, press Play on the VHS player, and sweat (buckets) to the oldies.
It would be years before feeling well or caring for myself even showed up on my goal-dar. 1 I wasn’t exercising to get stronger, feel better, or live longer. I was 17, I was fat, and I wanted to be skinny. Because I watched commercial television, I understood that lurching around the living room wearing a headband would make me lose weight.
Whether I was Sweatin’ to the Oldies (thanks, Ma!) or doing a hundred sit-ups (thanks, Dad!), exercising – even intensely – never got me thin. Daily, hour-long aerobics sessions didn’t make me lose even one clothing size. In fact, the harder I exercised specifically to lose weight, the tighter my clothes got. Sure, I felt better, but since that wasn’t the point, I barely noticed. Continue reading →
I’m a new mother. I hate the body I have now, and I’ll do anything to get my pre-baby body back. Can you help me?
Hey there, Mama –
Every time you lift that baby, every time you wear her in a carrier and go for a walk, every time you cradle her in your arms and do the special “Sleep now, PLEASE” Mommy shuffle – every time you move with your baby in the world, you’re lifting weights. Lifting weights is how we build muscle, and building muscle is the only thing besides having skin removed that creates tone, so the good news is you’ve already started getting your body as toned as it can be.
And here’s the bad news: We young mothers have been lied to, and those lies are keeping us from enjoying ourselves and our babies. Let me explain. Continue reading →
There’s another video going around telling us that abstaining from 5 specific foods will get us thin and keep us thin. In it, we hear the story of Cathy, a woman who, like many of us, has struggled for years to get her weight under control. Like many of us, she’s clearly intelligent, and thoughtful. And like many of us, she’s trapped in the loss/gain cycle.
Enter the spirited nutritionist. In a way peppy voice-over, the nutritionist endears us to Cathy (read: us), and then tells us how she solved Cathy’s weight problem – it was as simple as 1-2-3!, and it boiled down to eliminating 5 specific foods from her diet.
In the video, Cathy takes her advice, loses the weight, and keeps it off.
Before I took your course I was one step away from admitting to myself that I have a problem with certain foods – specifically wheat and sugar.
‘Til now, I had minimal boundaries – I strove for moderation, which worked temporarily, if at all. Now I see the fallacy in the “all things in moderation” argument, but the hesitancy is still there. I know I feel a billion times better when MBs 1MBs = Monkey Brains. Continue reading →
On Facebook last week I posted a brief “Thank you” to the hens that laid my breakfast. One man commented on the thread. He dropped in just long enough to call me a “dumb c#nt.”
Each time I put myself out there, I open myself to judgment, attack, and criticism. Occasionally the criticism is constructive, and even when it is, it still sucks. (The “dumb c#nt” comment was unsolicited, I assure you).
Putting myself out there makes me vulnerable. And being vulnerable is uncomfortable. This is true for all of us. But we don’t need to have our hearts splayed spread-eagle on the internet to feel vulnerable. We can have a child or send one off to school. We can ask for a job or a raise. We can be waiting for a call from the doctor. We can voice a dissenting opinion. We can be the first one to say ‘I love you.’ In these moments, we’re at the mercy of the universe. We throw the dice and wonder – will we (or our children) be met with kindness? Acceptance? Good news? Love?Continue reading →
I took the StrongFirst Kettlebell Course at Iron Body Studios in Needham, MA several months ago – a crash course in using the kettlebell to develop basic functional strength. Artemis Scantalides, the super-petite co-owner of Iron Body, blew my mind, lifting heavy weights I’d never even touched. I could barely breathe watching her press a 50-pound ‘bell with one arm. That day, my max on the same press was 20-pounds.
I lift because it brings me pleasure, not so I can hit some target number. But I left Artemis’s studio that day inspired to work toward one very specific goal: to press twice my limit – 40 pounds – just once.
Of course, as with so many things, I was selling myself short. Eight months later I reached that goal and then-some.
We don’t know what we’re capable of until we give it a try.
Learn how to leverage PLEASURE
to get HAPPILY grounded in HEALTHIER habits.
My friend Sandra Costello asked to take photos of me after I wrote a body-positive piece that went viral. 1 On the phone she said “People know you’re fit, but I want to make you look pretty.”
“Eff pretty,” 2 said the part of me that still hearts Nine Inch Nails; 3 the part that still wants to shoot the whiskey and smoke the Camels I dropped years ago. That she thought I gave a crap about looking pretty felt insulting.
“Eff her,” said the part of me that checks herself in mirrors all day, the part that still sucks in her stomach even though she has a six-pack, the part that’s sometimes just as proud of her shapely shoulders 4 as she is of her two daughters. That she didn’t already think I was pretty made me feel defensive.
“Eff me,” said the part of me that’s still being held hostage on the playground, getting pushed and punched to the tune of “Sme-lly Ke-lly Big Fat Be-lly.” Today I’m completely safe and can’t walk across a room without bumping into one of my blessings. That I am wasting even one brain cell worrying about how pretty I am or am not makes me want to clone myself so I can throw a drink in my face. Continue reading →
I used to be 300 pounds. Now I’m not. And there’s things I miss about my 300-pound body. That piece listed five of them. ↩
Apparently, avoiding f-bombs makes my writing more accessible. There’s no accounting for tastes. ↩
I saw them and Soundgarden last week. Trent, Chris – If you’re reading this, we should hang. ↩
Shapely means muscled. Toned means muscled. If you want to be shapely and toned, that means you want muscle. Trust me. ↩
The Pleasure Principles are a road map to better health and happiness for everyone, and the presentations are awesome, but it’s the Q&As that really light up the carousel.
The clip below is from a Q&A following the motivation presentation. A new run of my Pleasure Principles starts soon. Enrollment is limited, and registration is open for just one week. Make sure you’re on my mailing list and you’ll know when the party starts.
he·don·ist: hēdnist / noun / a person who believes that the pursuit of pleasure is the most important thing in life; a pleasure-seeker.
Experiencing pleasure – at least, the absence of pain – was always my priority. But taking my pleasure first often guaranteed I’d deal with pain later. With most vices, this is the order of operations; drinking precedes a hangover, getting high precedes flunking a math test, spontaneous sex precedes all manner of undesirable outcomes, and endless-chocolate-cake-cookies-and-ice-cream precedes unnecessary weight gain.
I’m a personal trainer that identifies as a food addict. At 34, I’m a healthy size 6, but by the time I was 18 I had high blood pressure and weighed in at over 300 pounds. Every day I obsessed about what I would eat. Every day I binged. Every day I felt ashamed of my lack of control. And every day it happened again.
Like so many of us, I thought dieting was the solution. I joined popular weight loss programs. Controlling portions felt like torture, and every tiny meal I ate was like an archer’s bowstring being pulled back, tighter and tighter. Always, at some point, came the moment of weakness — I would let go, and eat. And eat. There were few things as intense in my early life as the binge that followed an effort to control how much I ate.
It never occurred to me that I had an addiction. Why? Because the medical community doesn’t call it that, despite mounting scientific evidence that that’s what it is, and that it effects all kinds of people (see the chart in the infographic below). The Yale Food Addiction scale has been used in studies since 2009. These studies have shown that food addiction has no universal body type — that not all obese people are food addicts, and not all food addicts are obese.
I was both, but instead of addressing my addiction, I tried to exert more willpower. I struggled to get and stay motivated. I wondered how my desire to change kept losing out over my desire to overeat. I wasted years of my life, thousands of dollars, and tons of emotional energy trying to control that which cannot be controlled because I didn’t have the language I needed to seek help.
Desperate, I had gastric bypass surgery in 2003. Not one doctor, nurse, nutritionist or therapist ever mentioned food addiction in the pre-operative screening process. Shortly after surgery, I fell back into my old patterns. At first, by necessity, my portions were small. But like any good addict, I took in as much as I could, over and over again. Though it hurt like hell to overeat, I stretched my post-operative pouch to the size of a normal stomach in under 3 years.
Food addiction needs to be a part of the conversations we’re having around both obesity and weight loss surgery. Bringing the term ‘addiction’ to the table will introduce the language and the framework of recovery, making it possible for food addicts to get the help we need. Ever since I accepted the fact of my addiction, I’ve been empowered to develop a healthy relationship to food. Acceptance has given me freedom and pleasure far beyond anything I might have experienced through any foolish diet or weight-loss program.
Only by calling food addiction by its proper name can we begin to speak frankly about how to help one another recover. Until then, food addicts like me will continue to struggle to control that which cannot be controlled. Many will keep trying, and failing, to “eat like a normal person.” And many will decide, like I did, that their inability to change is simply a sign of weakness.
Food addiction is real. Dieting is not a solution. But recovery is possible. I’m living proof.
Are you a food addict? Take the quiz.
(Quiz is based on the YFAS & is for informational purposes only. It is NOT diagnostic.)
For more information, help, and community, google Food Addicts in Recovery, Food Addicts Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous
We’re tormented by our obsession with weight. Losing weight is hard to do, and the overwhelming majority of us gain back whatever weight we lose (and then some). Every failed weight loss effort drags us deeper into depression. It becomes harder and harder to get and stay motivated. On the heels of every failed effort, we grab for anything to numb out, to check out, to quiet the critical, screaming beast in our heads. We drink, we watch TV, we eat. And eat. And eat. Continue reading →
I used to weigh more than 300 pounds. I smoked like a house on fire, I drank like a blues guitarist, I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and I never, ever exercised.
In 2003 I lost more than half my body weight. In 2007 I started a career as a personal trainer. Today I’m fit enough to run (though I almost always choose not to), and thin enough to comfortably wiggle my butt into size 6 jeans (though I usually wear super-stretchy workout clothes).
You might think that when I reflect on my 300-pound self that it would be with disdain or pity. Hell no. The longer I’m thin, though, the more I miss the gifts of living in a body so big that people often turned away. It may sound strange to some, but here are five things I miss about my old, obese self: Continue reading →
Congratulations! You’ve decided to take the leap and snag yourself a personal trainer. Before you invest time and money, remember: not all trainers are created equal. Here are some red flags to watch out for when you’re shopping for the right one: Continue reading →
The biggest problem with modern eating – the root cause of many of our nutritional, weight, and behavioral woes – is snacks. Compared to what our grandparents ate at mealtimes, modern meals have certainly changed, but the most significant change, by far, from then to now is the volume we eat between meals.
If you’re a regular snacker who’s nonetheless healthy and happy, my hat is off to you. For the rest of us, here are a few good reasons to sack the snacks: Continue reading →
If you have a dog, odds are she’s the happiest, healthiest, most engaged member of your household. Assuming you’d benefit from being happier, healthier, and more engaged in your own life, here’s a short list of ways we’d all do better to treat ourselves like we treat our dogs. Continue reading →
It’s been a long time. Over ten years. Time flies. I’m married now and have two tiny daughters, a two-year-old and a one-year-old. Believe it or not, I’m a personal trainer. I know, I know – how the hell did that happen, right? I’ll spare you the details, but after you and I finally connected, 1 things changed. 2 things changed. I lost half my body weight, and then I started to get healthy, and the getting healthy gave me my first real shot at happiness.3
I only ever see you at the gym. Maybe in other contexts you’re a thoughtful, knowledgeable person. Regardless of how competent you may be in other areas, it’s clear to this personal trainer that you have absolutely no idea what the hell you’re doing when it comes to lifting weights. 1Continue reading →
I imagine the guy in the above photo does actually know what he’s doing. And if he doesn’t, the heavily oiled fella behind him is sure to save the day. ↩
“How do you know you’re addicted to sugar and starch?”
I get this question a lot. Admittedly, sugar and starch addiction is less devastating than alcoholism or drug addiction. But just because I’ve never sold my body for a bagel doesn’t make it any less of an addiction.
There was no darker period than the winter months following the birth of my second daughter. I experienced all the symptoms we’ve come to recognize as postpartum depression – loss of of interest, insomnia, lethargy, rage, hopelessness – symptoms that, in the moment, feel like a life sentence. Continue reading →
It’s a challenge to live healthier – and treat ourselves better – today than we did yesterday. This is especially true if we’re addressing compulsion, addiction, or emotion-numbing behaviors. No matter what we’re trying to overcome, mindfulness can be our greatest ally.
The next time you’re itching for a fix, 1 before you pick up and check-out, ask yourself one or all of the questions below.
You’re doing something new in the service of your 1 health. You’re lifting weights. You’re eating all whole, real food. You quit talking to your back-stabbing “friend.” You stopped huffing glue, or smoking tryptophan. You’re eating mindfully. You threw away your scale. You’ve stopped eating based on convenience and begun eating as we evolved to eat 2. You’re meditating 3 everyday. Whatever you’re doing, you feel GREAT.
Cue the haters: “But WHY?!” “That’s a little extreme, don’t you think?” “It’s just not normal.” “You’re being irrational.”
If you’re anything like me, when other people question your choices, you begin questioning your choices, too.
For folks like me, cookies are cannibalistic: we choose to eat just one, but that first cookie chooses to eat untold hordes of other innocent cookies. Luckily, this snowball effect can work in our favor, too. Weight training, especially for the novice, works in much the same way as the cookie phenomenon: you decide to do the first rep, that first rep practically does the rest. Cookie begets cookie; bench press begets bench press. Continue reading →
I’ve been enjoying a weeks-long period of true abstinence from the foods that make me crazy 1. Energetic and rested, peaceful and proud of my clean streak, it’s a pleasure to wake up every day. Free of the insulin cycle, I am physically and emotionally at the top of my game. The satisfaction is all-pervasive, and I wonder how I could ever feel differently. Continue reading →
We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made
the fat go away. - Dr. Linda Bacon, Ph.D., “Healthy at Every Size“
Self-acceptance is the crucial ingredient to making lasting, positive change. Self acceptance is also the key to happiness, whether or not you change a thing. You’ve been in therapy. You’ve heard all this before. For many, the concepts of ‘self-acceptance’ and ‘self-love’ are purely academic. I hope this post helps make both concepts a tad more tangible and meaningful. Mine is just one story, but the issue of internalized hate is universal. Feel free to sub in your own facts.
Q: “I’m overweight and I want to lose weight 1. What exercise will make me lose weight?”
Let me cut right to the chase: Exercising to lose weight is like bailing out the Titanic with a 5-gallon bucket. Sure, you’re doing something, but the ship is still going down. Even the ACSM agrees – exercise alone is not a very effective weight loss tool.
I’d spent the previous three months rehabbing a sprained knee. I’m a personal trainer, and for those three months I went easy on it every session, every day. Then came that fateful Saturday morning when the knee was feeling good.
I’m eight, sitting on the floor of a hotel room in Orlando. I’m on vacation with my grandparents, and we’re watching the Miss America Pageant*. At some point in the spectacle, Miss New York, my home(state)girl, wisps across the stage as her stats pop on the screen: 22 years old, 5’10”, 126 pounds.
And so the idea that 22 years + 5’10” + 126 lbs = Beauty shoots a firm, thick root down into my young, fertile mind.
I think to myself, OK — I can be that. I’m eight years old, but I’ll age. I’m only about four and a half feet tall, but I’ll grow. Too young and too short, yes, but me and Miss NY are practically the same weight! As long as I don’t gain an ounce in the next 14 years…Hmm…I wonder how many girls don’t gain an ounce during puberty. I wonder how much an inch weighs… Continue reading →
“Coffey, the way you eat seems so restrictive. Removing whole food groups like that? It’s unnatural, not to mention physically and psychologically unhealthy.”
Oh, I disagree. Allow me to explain my thinking.
Our bodies evolved to thrive in perfect synchronicity with the planet. For most humans across most of history 1, this synchronicity involved the ebb and flow of the seasons. And for most humans across most of history, life was a study in survival, a study in securing food. 2
Winter’s end is approaching. We’ve been living on insulin-releasing, fat-storing grain and hardy fruit for months. But these crucial, life-sustaining, high-sugar and high-starch foods are running out. If we are wealthy enough to have cultivated and stored more than the average family, what remains of our food is overtaken by hungry pests – our perpetual enemies in the war for calories (energy) – themselves waking from their winter slumber. By the first thaw, those with the best root cellars have been living for weeks or months on nothing but small rations of potatoes and other starchy tubers. The truly lucky have a small stash of dried beans from which to draw. Come March we are weak and lethargic from inactivity and a lack of nutritious food.
Spring could not come quickly enough.
Livestock, thin from the winter and from gestating young, are giving birth onto newly-thawed ground. We set about planting the food that will mark the end of winter’s forced vitamin and mineral deficiency. Early spring vegetables are soon available in abundance. Once a new generation is safely born, we are at liberty to slaughter a few older livestock and feast on fresh, lean meat. We fish the increasingly populous rivers and streams. The protein in these springtime feasts enables our bodies to repair winter’s damage and rebuild lost muscle. If we’re lucky enough to be able to digest dairy, we share fresh milk with nursing goats and cattle. Sowing fields, repairing damaged homes, and tending gardens means we are active from dawn to dusk every day. There is no wheat and hasn’t been for months. There is no fruit. The tubers and beans are gone. Physically active, living on fresh vegetables, lean meats and milk, we move toward the lower end of our natural weight range. We regain our full strength and health. We are energized. We are sated.
Summer is a time of even greater activity. As each week unfolds, different crops become available, and for the short time that each individual food is ‘in season,’ our tables and bellies are full of them. The ‘balanced meal,’ a post-industrialization fabrication that necessitates both electricity and the internal combustion engine, does not exist. We eat our fill of what we have. What we don’t have, we anticipate. This anticipation makes foods special. It adds meaning to the seasons. It gives us a chance to live in the state of wanting, which increases our experience of pleasure and, many social psychologists report, our overall happiness. Through summer we continue to inhabit the low end of our natural weight range. There is an abundance of fresh food, physical activity and deep, well-earned sleep. In this mode, we reach the lowest end of our natural weight range. We are in perfect sync with the planet and our surroundings 3.
The arrival of autumn is bittersweet. A long, difficult, physically stagnant winter is ahead for most. Harvest time foods provide a tremendous number of calories (energy). These specific foods enable us to gain and store the fat that will take us through the winter. Were it not for the body’s ability to quickly stockpile and retain fat, we wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving the the cold, dark months ahead.
What foods mark the harvest? What foods do we have to thank for our efficient weight gain and retention? What foods, prior to refrigeration and mass transport, were responsible for giving us enough fat to live on to be able to survive several winter months of near-starvation?
Grains (read: wheat). Rice. Cereals. High-sugar fruit. We owe them a debt of gratitude. And we don’t need them anymore.
The sweetness we experience when we eat starch and sugar is pleasurable. It inspires us to eat more. The euphoria we experience when we digest these foods helps to numb our feelings of fullness so we can eat past it.
As far as our bodies are concerned, our very survival depends on our ability to eat every morsel of sweetness that we can secure. Through most of human history, the more starch and sugar we were able to eat, the more fat we stored, and the more fat we stored, the more likely we were to see the spring.
The grain and starchy vegetables and fruit we managed to set aside helped us maintain the fat we’d spent autumn storing. Since glucose is always the body’s preferred fuel, it doesn’t take much of it to prevent the body from burning stored fat. Today, this metabolic safety net is a curse; back then, it was what kept us alive. We were fat-storing machines until the food ran out or the rats and weevils got into the wooden barrels in our root cellars and begin their own Thanksgiving.
My, modernity, you’re…convenient.
With you, it’s always harvest time. I’m no longer competing with rats for my wheat stores. Hell, I don’t even have to bake my own bread! Sugar is something my body evolved to eat healthily for only 6 weeks out of every year when fruit was in season, but now that there’s a freighter full of internationally harvested fruit that arrives in Gloucester three times a week, I can eat it all day every day. How wonderful. How simple. How tasty. How absolutely not how our bodies evolved to eat.
As a society, we demand and fully expect that every day be Thanksgiving Day. Our bodies have become entirely divorced from the natural, healthy ebb and flow of the seasons, of nature. If you have addictive tendencies around certain foods it’s effortless to eat like every day is a feast day, and many of us do. Obesity is evidence that the survival mechanism manifested as the body’s drive to store fat has overridden the brain’s ability to mediate our physical and mental cravings in light new, hugely relevant information: The famine is never going to come.
Say that ten times fast.
When every day is Thanksgiving Day it’s up to us to enforce our own system of checks and balances. We try by limiting calories. We fail. We try by listening to the party line that says we should just eat less and exercise more. We fail. And we fail. And we fail. Don’t beat yourself up, Baby. You’re failing because you didn’t evolve to eat that way.
We were never meant to control our consumption of sweet, high-starch, high-sugar foods – we were meant to eat as much of them as we could in order to store the fat we needed to survive.
Because of our biological drive to eat eat eat sweet foods, portion control is difficult for everyone. I would argue that making an effort to control our portions is unnatural. What’s a modern person, interested in dropping excess weight, to do?
There is an easier, more natural solution: to choose, for a period of time, to eat like it’s springtime and early summer, the body’s natural time of fat loss. Meats. Fresh, seasonal vegetables. Dairy, gut-permitting. Fresh, whole, nutritive foods. The compulsion to eat more more more is quieted. The body has the vitamin and mineral resources to repair old damage. Excess fat burns like a prairie fire. Balance is restored – naturally.
If you’re like me, 4 the coolest part of eating like it’s spring and summer is the time it gives you. Breaking the cycle of bingeing and craving gives us the time and the emotional and mental freedom to develop a new, healthier, happier, more pleasurable relationship to food. With time and practice, some can even develop a natural ability to eat sweet, starchy foods in moderation, in a way that maintains balance. But like any new skill, we need freedom, time, and practice to get better.
*Addendum to the title: I detest the terms "Fat" and "Skinny" and would liked to have titled this post "Why Our Bodies Have a Tendency to Store Excess Fat & What We Can Do To Quickly and Safely Burn Through Those Stores of Excess Fat to Reach Our Healthiest Weight and Then Maintain That Weight As Nature Intended Us to Maintain That Weight Over the Course of Our Lifetimes." Motivated by the desire to reach as many people as possible, I chose to make the title something that would get found in a Google search. Working within a pre-existing paradigm, especially when that paradigm is riddled with dumb, is extremely frustrating. Forgive me.
Read up on Coffey’s Pleasure Principles: an online course to get you HAPPILY grounded in HEALTHIER habits.
For the sake of simplicity, my focus is on the agricultural period (circa 8000 BC-1825 AD). The same applies for the hunter-gatherer period, but with a ton more walking. And spears. ↩
It has come to my attention that, though the conclusion I arrive at in this essay is true, I get there in a convoluted, inaccurate, logical-fallacy-laden kind of a way. So here’s the disclaimer: I’m not science-y. I was an English major. The truth of the matter is that our guts evolved long before the agricultural period, back when we were still primates. We were losing and gaining then, in synchronicity with the ebb and flow of the season. I hope, though, that bringing the process to the prairie as I have in this essay will make it more meaningful and accessible, more relate-able and more memorable. ↩
Of course, through most of the agricultural period people had a life expectancy of about 30. If you wash your hands with soap, have a functioning toilet and are current with your vaccinations, your life expectancy pushes back substantially. ↩
A born over-eater, an addict, a compulsive pleasure-hunter. ↩
“I am fat. I’ve always been fat. I’m also smart, insightful, empathetic, sensitive, loving, open minded, and athletic. I knew I was good at sports, but was afraid to join in. I knew I was smart, but was afraid to raise my hand. I wanted to hide, so that’s what I did. I didn’t want anyone to know the kind of pain I was in. Based on the way people treated me, I concluded that being fat is bad. Regardless of all my good qualities, I am fat, and therefore I am bad.
When I was a teen a man said, “Honey, if you could just lose that weight, you would be such a knockout.” And so it began. For 20 years I dieted, lost some weight, felt good, wanted to eat, felt miserable, gained it back, gained a little more. More than anything, I wanted to lose weight and be “normal.” At the same time, I wanted nothing more than to eat what I wanted when I wanted. The two things I wanted most in my life were in combat with each other. This made for bad relationships, bad parenting, unfulfilled dreams, unmet potential, depression, denial, and a life lived in fear.
Enter Kelly Coffey, stage left. I read a few of her blog posts and wondered why we weren’t BFFs. I’ve never met her, but I can see her heart in her writing. One of my strengths is to be able to pick a good influence out of a line up, so I jumped in and I read all of her stuff. I laughed, and I cried, and I learned that I wasn’t alone.
Next, I signed up for Pleasure Principles. Not everything Coffey said during the four week course was news to me, but she was so damn good at making me understand myself and my behaviors it might as well have been the first time I was hearing all of it. I’ve spent a long time learning the same shit over and over, but when Coffey explained things – like why I sabotage myself, and why it’s been so hard to make lasting changes – it made sense.
Things have changed in my head since I took that course. I finally, honestly, get that I am good – fat, thin, and anywhere in between. I am worthy of love. I deserve joy and peace. I have faith in the process. I can do anything. The only thing that matters is this moment, and when I don’t want to play nice with myself, I can do it anyway. I am good.
It’s not about losing weight. The weight is coming off, but not because I’m trying to lose weight. It’s coming off because I am treating myself with love and respect. There are certain foods I feel best when I stay away from, and in doing so, I’ve discovered many things besides food that make me happier than food ever has.
I’m stronger than I thought I was. I have made peace with what’s true for me. I promise that no matter how hard it is, I will do what’s best for me. I am good. That I can say these things – and actually believe them – makes me happier than anything I’ve ever put in my mouth.”
- C.W., heavy-lifting badass, California
C.W. is a member of The Klatch, the private, subscription-based network of folks who want to keep working the Pleasure Principles with Coffey after they’ve taken the 4-week Pleasure Principles e-course. The future is coming – this is the course that can help you enjoy it.
I want to raise kids who know that women are just as valid, valuable, and capable doing interesting things as men. To that end, when I read to my toddlers, I read male characters as females by replacing “he” with “she,” and “him” with “her.” 1 In doing this, I’ve become aware of a few things I need to share, just in case you missed it. Continue reading →
So, ultimately, I’m adding women and girls where they had previously not existed. For sure, there are folks writing female-centered books where the main character isn’t a dancer or a teacher or someone’s little sister, but those represent an absurdly small percentage of the whole of children’s literature, despite the efforts of some truly spectacular authors. There’s also some amazing websites, like AMightyGirl.com, pushing to put strong female-centered media in front of girls who’re starving for role models that are as complex and nuanced as they are, and in front of boys who’re looking for proof of this whole “girls are just as good as boys” thing they keep hearing about. Sadly, if you’re a mother who’s inclined to take a bird’s-eye view of childrens’ media, efforts to level our overtly, absurdly sexist landscape can feel a bit like trying to bail out the Titanic with a tea cup. Obviously we can’t rewrite history, but we also don’t have to sit idly by while we wait for thousands of books to be written, movies and shows to be made that show women and girls as equal to men and boys. With this simple pronoun shift, we can do some super-practical field-leveling right now. ↩
Some years ago I was in a perfect storm of transition. I’d just graduated from college. Raised on can-do American ideals, I was shocked to learn that I couldn’tdo what I loved (write) and still get what I needed (a living wage and health insurance). So I got a temp job to pay the rent and tried not to worry too much about my health.
Disinclined to wallow in real life, I took the edge off with booze, drugs, food, and any other fasting-acting coping strategies I could get my hands on.