Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 278: Who Cares What You Look Like When Your Kitty is Sick and You Have a New Puppy...

Our new Boston Terrier + Beagle rescue puppy!
If only she slept like that through the whole night....
The days between my last post (Day 269) and today (Day 278), mark the longest gap between posts since this project began.  I apologize from the bottom of my heart for not keeping you all in the loop with what's been going on.  Speaking of my heart, the past week has been a tumultuous emotional roller-coaster.  In addition to the holiday madness we expected from our people, our animals decided to up the ante.  To be more specific: last Wednesday we adopted an adorable 10-week-old puppy, and then on Thursday my sister found one of our beloved cats, Diesel, comatose at our home.  Diesel almost died due to an undetected urethral obstruction. 
This is what a very sick kitty looks like.  He couldn't walk or easily
lift his head. My heart broke when I saw this.
Thanks to these two events the last week flew by in a mishmash of: elation, puppy breath, giggles, puppy kisses, 4am, 5am, 6am, & 7am puppy piddles, stepping in and cleaning up said puppy piddles, exhaustion, bad news, worry, anxiety, fear, crying, drinking, praying for kitty to piddle, relief when kitty finally piddled, followed by more drinking (celebratory this time!), and - of course - continuing all-hours puppy piddles.  We're exhausted and overwhelmed by the extra responsibility that pet ownership has bestowed upon us this past week.  Both our serotonin levels and bank accounts have reached new lows. And yet we feel pretty lucky.
Noelle / Charlie!  Awww...

Our new puppy - a feisty Boston Terrier + Beagle mix who we plan to name either Noelle (for the holiday season) or Charlie (as in Chaplin: check out that Hitler-esque mustache!) - has been an exasperating delight as she wiggles and piddles her way into our hearts.  Diesel is expected to make a full recovery. Under the watchful care of my sister and the fantastic veterinary staff at Nob Hill Cat Clinic and All Animals Emergency Hospital, he's fought his way back from kidney failure to 100% normal blood-work - "a miracle!" according to one of his caretakers.  Just 24-hours after emergency surgery the vet technician "could barely hear Diesel's heartbeat over his purring."

I planned to write a blog post about how my thoughts about appearance change when I come home for the holidays, but I just haven't been thinking much about that topic in the past few days.  I suppose it's a healthy sign that worrying about a new baby (puppy) and a deathly ill furry friend took precedence over worrying about my looks.  Right now I don't really care if it's healthy or not, so long as they are healthy!

Diesel, on a better day!
That said, I'm struck by how little I've considered the impact that our beloved pets ought to have towards our body image.  I've waxed poetic about Michael's unconditional love for me as a person, regardless of how my body changes or doesn't.  Sometimes I've even wished I could see myself through Michael's eyes.  Yet, our animal friends are even more generous with their love and devotion, and I doubt they have any concept of "beauty."  It might do me some good to remember my pets the next time I battle body-image demons.... What do you think?

P.S. - "Noelle" vs. "Charlie" ... Discuss!

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Day 269: Mantra Monday - Find Something You Profoundly Appreciate About Each Person You Spend Time With This Week!

Hello friends!  Season's Greetings!! This Monday's Mantra is running a bit late, but I didn't forget.  Tomorrow Michael and I fly east to spend Christmas with our families - first his (in Louisville, KY) and then mine (in St. Louis, MO).  Between all the travel, the as-of-yet-still-unpurchased-gifts, and the dozens of friends and family we're hoping to spend quality time with, I'm anticipating that the next 9 days will be filled with both holiday cheer and a tinge of insanity.  

Not this year!!
I've read that the winter holiday season actually marks a peak in depression, anxiety, and bitchiness.  This is mostly thanks to outrageously high expectations colliding with the chaos of reality.  We miss our long-distance family throughout the year, but quickly remember everything annoying about them within the first 24 hours of a visit.  This, of course, is immediately followed by our own sudden devolvement back to the entitled moodiness of our teenaged selves.  Fun stuff, right?  Anyway, this year I'm determined to see the best in people and chillax about the worst.  Hence, my mantra this week is:

Find Something You Profoundly Appreciate About Each Person You Spend Time With This Holiday Season.

This mantra is a step up from my mother's longtime admonishment to "find something you like about everybody you meet".  (Well, actually it's a step up and a step down: Instead of finding something I "like," I've raised the bar to "profoundly appreciate."  Yet, I'm not committing to doing this for every single person I meet, but only the folks I "spend time with.")  My mom's advice - which I take quite seriously - has sometimes lead me to "like" superficial things about the people I meet (i.e., great shoes!), as a way to make myself feel better for being otherwise judgmental (i.e., what an annoying laugh!; what an immature/sexist/unfunny joke!; OMG I CANNOT believe these people open their Christmas presents BEFORE church! Blasphemy!! - spoken like a true Christmas-and-Easter-only churchgoer!).  Clearly, this approach is overly judgmental for a season that ought to be dedicated to gratitude and good will.  Further, even if I manage to keep such snarky thoughts to myself (which can be a challenge after a few cups of gossipmongering eggnog!), I've still invited shallowness and negativity into my own psyche.  

Way to go Michael.  How... umm.... thoughtful?
So this year I'm changing things up.  Will I still feel annoyance and occasional snarkiness over the next few weeks?  Undoubtedly.  But I'm challenging myself to open my heart wider by finding qualities in each person that fundamentally supersede my petty gripes.  And this goes for Michael, too.  Who cares if he thought a taser (yes, A TASER!) would be an outstanding Christmas present for his new wife?  (Deep breath.  Repeat mantra.)  This man is the most kind and giving soul I've ever met.  That matters more, and suddenly the taser (non)gift matters less. And, thankfully, my sister warned Michael that the taser "might not be such a good idea" just in time, so he still has a few days to redeem himself!)

Speaking of my sister, I vibrantly recall pitching a crying, screaming, "nobody-cares-about-me" fit a few decades ago, when my Hanna opened a gift that I had put on my christmas list.  "Why does SHE get a makeup-kit?! I'm the OLDEST daughter!!"  I wailed and stomped.  Poor Hanna feared the worst.  After I'd caught my breath and could be coaxed out of my room, my mom handed me an identically-wrapped box which contained the exact same makeup kit.  I was embarrassed, and my parents, I'm sure, were wholly unimpressed (although, from that day forth, all "identical gifts" given to both Hanna and me are opened simultaneously).  Anyway, this story reminds me that I'm not always an angel to be around during Christmas, either.  I've matured a lot since the makeup-kit fiasco, but I've still got my quirks.  Hopefully my friends and family will see the best in me as well!

So tell me, what drives you totally nuts about your family?  More importantly: what do you "profoundly appreciate" so much that it makes all the weird quirks not matter?  
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 264: Time for an About-Face?

Dear Awesome Readers,

You may have noticed that 2011 was a year filled with increased awareness about skewed and damaging media representations of girls and women.  From the terrific new film Miss Representation, to feature stories on 20/20, the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, dozens of Facebook pages, amazing blogs (ahem!), and Twitter feeds, there are a lot of people out there who are fighting the good fight!  I also like to think of  all of you readers as being a part of that good fight.

I know that my blog and academic research mainly contribute by building awareness of the issues that harm women's body image and self esteem.  This is an important piece of the puzzle, but, as you know, making real, lasting change for girls and women requires that we move beyond awareness: this goal requires action. We need to provide young women with tools and skills they can use to combat the dangerous messages they receive each day from our toxic media culture.

This call to action motivated me to become a volunteer and donor for About-Face.

About-Face is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving girls' body image and self esteem.  We do this work through our fantastic website (, through media literacy workshops, and by coaching groups of teens in "Take Action!" groups in which girls build a sense of efficacy by developing their own media literacy projects (see below).
This was my all-time favorite "Action Group" project.  Oprah liked it too!
My own role as a volunteer at About-Face has been to lead media literacy workshops, and to develop an evaluation program that measures how our workshops impact girls' self esteem, body image, and media literacy skills.  The first round of data has been collected and I'm thrilled to report that participants show improvement in all three of these areas (!), even a full month after attending just one About-Face workshop.  

These are what the numbers tell us, but girls can tell you in their own words about their experiences participating in a workshop:
"It was very interesting and gave me a different perspective on body image and the media.  It reinforced the idea of being happy with yourself." - Girl age 14
"I liked how you told us how untrue the media that makes you feel bad about yourself is.  You also helped us for future reference, when we're not sure if we should buy a product or not." - Girl age 11
"It helped me feel better about myself" Girl age 12
I'm so proud to be part of the small-but-dedicated About-Face team!  I'm really busy, and definitely strapped for cash.  Yet, I feel so passionate about the work being done by this organization that I find the time to volunteer, and I regularly dig out all the quarters hiding under my couch so I can donate to the cause.  If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to a non-profit organization this holiday season, I urge you to consider donating to About-Face.  (If you're as broke as I am, I suggest asking friends and family to donate in your name as a holiday gift! Really, don't we have enough stuff?!?!)  I've seen firsthand that even small contributions of $10 or $25 can make a big difference, as About-Face operates in a teeny-tiny office with only one paid staff member managing dozens of committed volunteers.
It all started with this fantastic poster....
Read the About-Face founding story here!

There are so many amazing things about About-Face.  I don't have space to talk about them all here, but you can learn more on the website, which I encourage you to peruse for both inspiration and education!

 I'll end here with a link directing you to the About-Face donation webpage.  Take action!

How might your life be different if you'd attended an About-Face media literacy workshop as a teen?

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day 262: Mantra Monday - "Fake it 'til you make it!"

First, I'd like to thank everyone for their thoughtful and encouraging comments and emails over the past week.  This no-mirrors adventure has had it's ups and downs, and - thanks to my private (well, now public) frustration over gaining a few pounds combined with that lovely NHANES "Preliminary Report (card) of Findings" - the past few weeks have been rough.  As always, I remain determined to focus on healthy behaviors and positive thoughts, and to let the numbers fall where they fall.  I am eternally grateful to have such wonderful family, friends, and readers who help me stay on this path, even when I have my doubts or feel discouraged.  Thank you!

In the spirit of staying on this path of health and positivity, my mantra for this week is:

(Actually, it should be "Fake it 'til you make it!" but who's checking...)
I realize this may seem like an odd phrase to select, since my no-mirrors project is at least partially a quest for greater authenticity.  Is it possible to fake your way into authenticity?  Certainly not in the most literal sense.  Yet, I know from past experience that I often have to change my behavior first, and then wait for my mind to catch up.  In fact, my decision to shun mirrors relies on this logic: I wanted to stop caring so much about my looks, so I stopped looking at myself.  It wasn't instantaneous, but guess what?  Despite some minor self-esteem relapses (including the past few weeks), avoiding mirrors has been an overwhelming success.  All the other interesting things in my life - my goals, passions, friends, family, favorite hobbies, etc. - have attracted the energy and attention I used to give to my looks.  Yeah, it still hurts when somebody - like the U.S. Government - tells me I'm not thin enough, but I have a new identity and healthier practices to fall back on.

So this week I plan to "fake it" back to a healthier and happier place.  I gave myself a head-start last week by getting rid of all of the clothes in my closet that didn't make me feel BOTH stylish and sexy.  Now I only own clothes that make me stand tall and proud (and walk with swaying hips!).  Next up is an attitude adjustment, along with a continued commitment to eat healthfully and stay active, even though I've felt like wallowing on the couch with a bag of chips... and cookies, and cheese, and wine.  This week I will act like I have my shit together, and pretty soon I won't be acting any more.  Hooray!

One last thought.  For those of you who still think "fake it 'til you make it" is a lame mantra, consider this: Gandhi said, "be the change you want to see in the world."   I certainly don't consider myself to be as wise, eloquent, or world-changing as Ghandhi, but my mantra and his famous quote are rooted in the same spirit.  Think about it!  :)

What change would you like to be this week?

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day 257: Does the CDC Care About Eating Disorders? Or, Why My NHANES "Preliminary Report (Card) of Findings" Made Me Feel Fat

Except I didn't exactly get an A+....
A few weeks ago Michael and I won a lottery.  Okay, okay - not the kind where you get rich, but we were (kind of) randomly selected to participate in NHANES, which stands for the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey.  Only 520 residents of San Francisco county were chosen, and 70% of those were Asian-American (called "over-sampling"), so the fact that Michael and I (├╝ber-caucasians that we are) were picked was really unlikely.  (Actually, when I asked our field interviewer why/how we had been chosen, she shifted through some papers and replied "Hrmmm... well, it says here that you're part of our 'low income' group..." Ouch!)

For the past 52 years, the NHANES has been conducted yearly by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  It's the nation's most comprehensive study on the health and nutritional status of Americans.  I've run across numerous academic articles citing NHANES data in my own research, so the opportunity to actually be a data point for this study was totally intriguing to me!  When we were asked be interviewed in our home, and then to come to the study site to participate in numerous medical tests, I didn't hesitate for a second.  Michael acquiesced, even though it wasn't his idea of a fun Sunday afternoon.  In addition to the pure coolness of the experience, we received a lot of (free) medical tests, and were paid a few hundred dollars for our time and participation.
One of the CDC NHANES health study trailers!

Michael at the NHANES site.
Well... so far everything I've told you was very cool and exciting.  The medical tests were also interesting: we had to change into medical scrubs and were guided through a maze of trailers, set up with dozens of stations for medical tests.  In addition to the typical height/weight data (more on that below!), I had my hearing tested, my grip strength tested, I reported on 24 hours worth of food intake (down to every tablespoon of buffet food I'd sampled at Whole Foods!), as well as numerous blood tests.  I received a full body scan, and had various odd body measurements taken, such as the length between my shoulder socket and my elbow.  I peed in a cup, and spat in a vial.  Fun stuff, right?  Well, I thought so too, until I was given a print-out of my "Preliminary Report of Findings".  (Warning: for those of you struggling with an eating disorder, and who may feel triggered by reading about my weight and body measurements, please proceed carefully!)

The short story here is that I was given an outsandingly clean bill of health for every item, except for my "Body Measurements" (i.e., my BMI and waist circumference).  You can check out full the report in the images I'm including in this post.  (Screw anonymity!)  My "Blood Pressure & Heart Rate" are "within the normal range", my "Oral Health" was deemed adequate, my "Hearing" was also normal, my "Muscle Strength" was excellent (!) and all of the measures taken in my "Complete Blood Count" were within the normal range.

But, at 159.8 pounds at 5 ft. 5 inches, my Body Mass Index (BMI) is 26.5, so I am considered "overweight" by our current medical standards (though I would have been considered "normal weight" just a few years ago!).  Add to this the fact that my waist circumference of 36 inches is 1 inch above the recommended maximum, and suddenly I've been warned about "an increased risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease."

Okay, so those are the "facts" of the story.  Here are the feelings: it completely sucked.

I've embarked on a serious (and very public) self-acceptance project in which I haven't seen myself in the mirror in months, and I conquered an eating disorder almost a decade ago.  Add to this the fact that I KNOW that I'm at a healthy weight for my body, and - here's the kicker - I'm intimately familiar with research published by the CDC (yes, the same CDC running this study!) illustrating that the "overweight" BMI category actually has the LOWEST mortality rates (yes, that means lower than the so called "normal" BMI category).  In fact, my current BMI of 26.5 is basically at the "sweet spot" for low mortality rates, according to this CDC study, and many others.

I've read these studies, and know the data.  I've been a co-author on research examining bias in news-reporting on overweight and eating disorders (Click here to read my favorite!).  Oh, and according to NHANES, my every other health measurement was rated either "normal" or "excellent".  In other words, knowing all of this stuff, I should have been in a pretty good position to not care much about the health report card I received from NHANES.
My official "Preliminary Report (Card) of Findings"

So what happened?  I read the report and "felt fat".  (Yes, I know that "fat is not a feeling" but ya'll know what I'm talking about!)  Suddenly my "normal" blood pressure (yay!) was replaced by a warning that my 36-inch waist was putting me at risk for "high" blood pressure (ugh!), and my "excellent" grip strength didn't feel so excellent anymore.  Despite the above data, my personal history, and my current commitment to self-acceptance - especially my belief in Health at Every Size - I struggled for several days to banish the urge to go on a crash diet.  (Do you remember my Day 241 Mantra Monday post in which I wrote about needing to have "Trust, Faith, and Patience" for my body?  That was the day after I participated in this NHANES study.)

So am I really peeved at NHANES?  Well, not extremely peeved, but concerned.  I've had two weeks to put this all in perspective, and that's what I've tried to do.  I've considered my panicked reaction to "learning" something about myself that I actually already knew. Did a part of me (the anorexic part) actually LIKE being told I should lose weight?  I think that's part of what shook me.  NHANES didn't know I used to be anorexic and that their "report card" could, therefore, be triggering.  Also, there are clear instructions on the Report of Findings, that "interpretation of these measurements must be made by a physician".  For the record, my physician is totally cool with my BMI.  (I haven't had the chance to discuss this waist measurement issue with her, but hopefully she'll just tell me to stay active, wear some spanx, and get on with my life!)

Yet, now that I'm feeling more "normal" (aka, empowered and outspoken) I can honestly say that the NHANES study seems to be biased toward preventing weight gain, as opposed to preventing eating disorders.  My first clue didn't come on my "Preliminary Report of Findings" but in the wording of one of the interview questions asked during our home visit.  The field interviewer asked me if I'd "ever participated in any weight-loss diets".  My answer was "yes."  Then she asked me, "How much weight did you lose in your most successful weight-loss attempt?"  The NHANES computer program only allowed her to record the (horrifying and unhealthy) amount of weight that I'd lost in my most "successful" attempt, but there was no space to specify that "it was due to anorexia and she could have died."  Upon my urging, she added a special note, but I have no idea how this will be handled when the data are analyzed.  This is troubling: the wording of this question frames any weight loss as good, which we know isn't true.  Another thing I noticed: despite asking me to describe, in detail, every bite of food that I'd eaten in the prior 24 hours, I was never asked whether I'd purged any of this food, or if I had taken laxatives or diuretics (I hadn't, but that's not the point).  Through these questions (and non-questions), some of the most dangerous health behaviors - such as crash-dieting, purging, laxative abuse, and extreme food restriction - are made invisible.  

I know this post is getting long, so I'll end with this: participating in NHANES was interesting and cool, yet eye-opening and concerning.  For me, it triggered some (eating) disordered thinking.  Further, both the wording of some questions, and the absence of other questions, cause me to question whether our nation's most comprehensive health and nutrition survey is concerned with the presence of eating disorders at all.  Finally, if the data gathered from the NHANES studies actually show that my BMI is in the category with the lowest mortality, why did NHANES send me home with a report card describing me as "above the range of a healthy weight"?

But what do YOU think?  Am I biased for having these concerns??  Have any of you ever had a physician or other medical entity make assumptions about your health without asking the right questions??

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Day 255: Mantra Monday - Early to Bed, Early to Rise, Makes a Gal Healthy, Productive, and ... Happy!

First, I'd like to soundly apologize for my scarcity over the past two weeks.  With Thanksgiving festivities and my "final push" move from L.A. (along with the responsibilities of everyday life) I've run myself a bit ragged and didn't have the bandwidth to keep everyone in the loop.  But, don't worry, I'm back in San Francisco and have a great post in mind for Wednesday!  In the meantime, I'm determined to pay back my sleep debt ASAP so that I can energetically return to life as normal (well, at least until the winter holidays kick in!).  In the spirit of rejuvenation, my mantra this week is:

Early to Bed, Early to Rise, Makes a Gal Healthy, Productive, and ... Happy!  

Yeah, yeah... I know that the original saying from Benjamin Franklin ended with "...Makes a Man Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise" but the "wealthy and wise" bit is a smidge ambitious for my purposes; I'll happily settle for productivity and happiness, which - to me - are deliciously awesome goals.  Who's with me?

On a side note, I'd like to extend my eternal gratitude to Sarah S., Tara & Vincent, Renee & Yannig, & Jenjira & Carl.  Moving homes this weekend would have been impossible without your help!  Michael and I are indebted and warmed by your generous time and effort toward our cause. :)

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