An Inspiring Look: Lauren Grogan on Health, Yoga, and Self-Love

An Inspiring Look: Lauren Grogan on Health, Yoga, and Self-Love

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Lauren Grogan of
Center Your Health. Lauren is a holistic health coach and yoga teacher who is passionate about life. I wanted to interview Lauren because I find her to be incredibly positive, authentic, and kind. These are qualities that I admire most in others. I also love how Lauren lives a full life and manages to balance everything with grace and organization. After reading this inspiring information, please watch Lauren’s video which is embedded at the end of this interview. Her smile and shining light will brighten your whole day.

1) Thank you, Lauren, for taking the time to allow me to interview you. How would you define yourself to those who have never met you?

You’re so welcome! It’s funny that you ask that question, because I’m at the point in my yoga and spiritual practice where I’m trying to no longer “define” myself! It’s been a very, very difficult process since it’s easy to attach to certain labels or ways to identify ourselves. With that being said, hopefully this brief interview together can help others get a glimpse of who I am at this point of my life and accept me for what I’m all about!

2) You are a holistic health coach (like me ::high five::) and a yoga teacher. What are your coaching/teaching philosophies?

It’s pretty simple, do what’s best for YOU. We’re so conditioned to look outside of ourselves for knowledge or healing but we need to remember that our bodies are designed to heal. We each have an innate wisdom within us that’s always there as a guide, no matter what is going on. We must learn to listen to our bodies, hear what they’re saying to us and give them exactly what they need. I love explaining this to my students/clients in hopes to remind them of the personal strength that resides in each one of them.
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3) From what I can tell, you are an advocate of gluten-free living. Do you recommend this for all people or is this just something that has helped you personally?

The only thing that I advocate or recommend for all people is to eat more veggies! Otherwise, I love explaining to my clients how gluten effects our system (it’s an anti-nutrient that causes inflammation) and then ultimately leave it up to them if they’d like to minimize their gluten intake or avoid it all together. Either way, I support them and always remind them to take it slow. It certainly takes awareness, patience, and practice. If they decide to give gluten-free a try though, I’m thrilled! I’m amazed at the symptoms that clear up in my clients after they’ve gave up gluten such as less body (joint) pain, no more bloating or gastrointestinal issues, weight loss or less headaches. To clarify though, while (in my opinion) gluten stinks, whole grains in general may be pretty disruptive to our health in large quantities. It varies person to person though.

How has going gluten-free been a game-changer for you personally?

Going gluten-free was something I never even considered until I was diagnosed with Hashimotos disease, an autoimmune condition effecting my thyroid function. When it comes to (any) autoimmune conditions, consuming gluten is like pouring fuel on the fire, so it must be eliminated. I realized that I had to finally give it up after my diagnosis. It was a slow and gradual process until I finally could feel the benefits enough to ditch it for good. It was a hard breakup, I must admit, one of the hardest I’ve ever gone through.  However, I’ve NEVER been happier! I breathe so freely each day (have absolutely NO congestion in my sinuses), I can focus and think clearly throughout my day (no more brain fog), I’ve lost weight and my muffin-top disappeared, my face/body in general is less puffy, my keratosis pilaris (a rash on my upper arms that I’ve had all of my life) cleared up, and I almost never have that “stuffed” feeling after I eat a meal (even when I’ve eaten a bit too much!). I’ve had a blast getting creative with prepping gluten-free meals. The best part is it’s made me eat more whole, real foods more than ever before. I’ll make cauliflower crust pizza, spiraled zucchini pasta, stuff half an avocado with tuna salad, enjoy hummus with fresh crudite, or create wraps with lettuce or collard greens. I steer clear of foods like breads, crackers, cookies and other goodies marketed as gluten-free. Let’s be real, that’s straight up junk food. Before I transitioned to gluten-free I viewed it as so restrictive. Now I see how wrong I was to think that since I’ve never been so satisfied or felt better!

4) I have written about being body positive and for people to focus on health and healing rather than their looks/weight alone. What are your thoughts on this topic?

I love that you’ve written on this subject. It’s so important, especially today. Obsessing over looks/weight only encourages unhealthy behaviors towards ourselves and effects our relationship with food. I think it’s so important to truly love yourself. This concept may be foreign to us since we are not encouraged to do this, but it’s an extremely important practice. Changing the way you speak to yourself is a great place to start. Most of us would never speak to others using the tone or words that we use towards ourselves. Part of my morning ritual is applying oil to my whole body after I’ve showered and silently thanking each and every part of my body. “Thank you, feet. Thanks, elbows! Thank you, eyes. Thanks, fingers. Thank you, belly.” It may sound silly, but I’ve grown to love, adore and appreciate so many different parts and aspects of my own body. It’s also helped me realize how grateful I am for the body I’ve been given and for its health. I highly recommend giving it a try!

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Where do you think most people go wrong when it comes to dieting and restrictive eating?

All or nothing thinking. I give so many lectures on different types of diets…just to lure people in, not to encourage them to subscribe to them. They think they’re coming to learn all about a plant-based diet, or even a paleo diet, and while I’ll educate them on it I like to give suggestions of how to take aspects of the diet that they like, “drop the label” and make it their own. Then, there is no longer restrictions and unnecessary pressure – two things that should never be associated with foods in the first place!  Create your own way of eating that’s best for you. 

5) Do you have any recommendations for people reading this blog who might be new to yoga and a little nervous to try a class?

Skip the free yoga class at your gym. While gym yoga teachers may be talented and great, it may not be the right environment for yoga if you’re a newbie. A simple google search for “beginner’s yoga class” in your area will bring up a bunch of local studios. Start checking out different studios and see what classes resonate with you and your schedule. Most studios even offer a discount or free class for your first time. When you attend class, go with an open mind. A true yoga class should be free of judgement and/or competition, so if you’re feeling any of that from the teacher or students (or sometimes even your own mind!) that may not be the class or studio for you. Your yoga practice is your own. It will look and feel different than anyone else’s, and that makes it beautiful and your own. Embrace that and you’ve embraced the essence of yoga…even as a beginner!

6) What is your message to more advanced yogis reading this blog?

I find that there is always something new to learn with yoga each and every time we roll out our mat. This mindset will keep us a beginner at heart when it comes to our advanced practice, remind us not to be so focused on “mastering” the asanas (poses) but rather enjoying them wherever we are that day. I have observed that as most yogi’s practice progresses (including my own!), the ego tends to be overconfident. It’s important to recognize when this happens so that you can realize you’re no longer practicing yoga with ego-driven thoughts. Yoga teaches us to be present and honor the body wherever it is. We must remember the fundamentals of yoga to truly excel in our practice…and that may or may not have anything to do with the asanas!

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7) Is there a personal struggle you’ve experienced in your life that you would feel comfortable sharing, as well as how you dealt with that challenge?

I’ve had a few personal struggles with my health over the years that I can now confidently say that I healed myself. That’s a lot easier said than done though! However, since I’ve done it more than a few times by now, I approach any struggle or health issue the same way and can execute the healing process much faster. I catch myself when I’m being the victim and instead look at whatever I’m going through as a blessing. I look at it as a challenge for me to go through so that I can learn from it and then help others to overcome similar issues. I make sure that I recite positive affirmations each day during my struggles and most of all allow myself the time to practice self care. I make rest and food prep my top priority so that I’m nourishing myself healthfully on all levels. I also reach out to the therapists, practitioners and mentors who I know will be helpful in my healing process. Healing takes lots of inner hard work and patience. After healing my IBS, anxiety disorder, autoimmune and thyroid disease, I feel pretty empowered to take on whatever is next. Our bodies are designed to heal themselves, we just have to realize that and give the body what it needs to thrive! 

8) What inspires you?

Yoga…on and off the mat, because it’s the thing that I resonate most with before anything else. 

Creating…in all different forms keeps me sane and allows me to express myself. 

Food…because I’m a total foodie. 

India…everything about it. The smells, rich colors, the rituals. To me, it’s the most beautiful place on the planet. 

Nature…the colors, the patterns, the textures, the taste! 

Connecting with others…because I make it a point to surround myself with others who leave me feeling empowered rather than drained. 

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9) Can you name one public figure who you admire and share why?

Lately, I’ve totally been admiring Daniel Vitalis of Rewild Yourself. I heard him speak about the domestication of human beings and it blew my mind. I’ve been a fan ever since. He reminds us of that wild wisdom that resides in our DNA which most of us have lost touch with. He’s got an online magazine and informative podcast. Check him out! His girlfriend Ali Schueler, of Wild Woman Speaks, also offers a similar approach that I’m totally jiving with. These past few years I’ve been so intrigued by primal living and working towards making little shifts here and there to get back to a more ancestral way of living.  

10) What are the most important lessons you have learned so far in life?

(Cue John Lennon’s song, Love.)

LOVE. Just love. Love yourself. Love everyone. Love every being. Love everything. Love cures all. Love nourishes all. Love is what we all desire. Love is what it’s all about. Give it, get it, share it, enjoy it! 

Also, my Italian Pop-Pop, Mike the barber, would always say, “The darker the vegetables, the better they are for you.” I have fond memories as a child of watching him tend his garden harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables for us to eat.

12) What are some of your future goals?

Bhakti yoga has been a major part of my life in these recent years and I want to continue diving deeper into the practice as time goes on. My husband and I plan to start a family and I look forward to making that a big part of our children’s lives. Chanting each day has brought me so much joy and satisfaction and I look forward to sharing that with any kiddies we may have. 

Any additional thoughts or comments?

Thanks so much for having me, Mary. I’m so inspired by you, your recipes, your homemade soaps, and your warm, positive message in general. Your smile lights up a room and is unforgettable! 

Thank you, Lauren! Keep shining bright!

Love Your Tree: Why Shaming Your Body Will Never Lead to a Healthy Body

Love Your Tree: Why Shaming Your Body Will Never Lead to a Healthy Body

This blog post is for men and women, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, husbands and wives, lovers and friends (cue R&B throwback). I find a universal issue with writing body image and wellness content for one gender over another. We can all benefit from loving and accepting ourselves, while taking care of the bodies we have in a healthy, balanced manner.

Earlier today, I saw the following advertisement online:

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The large font that reads, “Surprise Him with a New Body” really struck a chord with me. It is sad that many people will be exposed to this ad, and many will not see a problem with it. I do.

“Surprise him with a new body.” You know, because your current body is not good enough. You are not attractive enough. Not worthy of intimacy, even. This message is disgraceful, and it is not one that promotes health. It is one that promotes shame, guilt, anxiety, and poor self esteem, not to mention patriarchy and objectifies women. It also perpetuates the problem of people wanting instant gratification. You know, because who wants to work out for 8 minutes, when you can get a “new body” in 7 minutes?

Health is obviously important for all of us. Health as in mind, body, and spirit – not just physical health. Moreover, an individual’s outward appearance is not always an indicator of health. There are many people who may physically look healthy on the exterior, but suffer from a host of ailments and health complications internally.

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It does not serve us to compare our bodies to the outward appearance of other bodies. This does not lead us toward better health; in fact, it is counterproductive.

So what, then, does healthy look like? Great question, and one I will allow you to reflect on. Because the fact is, most people aren’t that concerned with health or being on a healthy path. Instead, they are concerned with looking good (whatever that means). They are concerned with weight loss. They are concerned with looking fit, not necessarily being fit. They are concerned with being physically attractive for others. They are concerned with how others view them and how they stack up against their “competition.” They are concerned with vanity and ego.

We should instead be focused on health and happiness. It is that simple. When we focus on true health and happiness, everything else falls into place.

Next, I would like to share some facts:

1. “In one study of college students, 74.4% of the normal-weight women stated that they thought about their weight or appearance “all the time” or “frequently.” But the women weren’t alone; the study also found that 46% of the normal-weight men surveyed responded the same way.” -Brown University

2. “80% of 10-year-old girls have dieted. 90% of high school junior and senior women diet regularly. Young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents.”  -The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination

3. “Only 2% of women think they are beautiful.” -The Girl Scout Research Institute

4. “More than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women. Similarly, 38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body – again, a higher proportion than women.” “63% [of men] thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough.” -The Guardian

5. “Figures collated by the Eating Disorders Association of South Australia conclude that: anorexia is the third most common disease in Australian females aged 15 – 24 years and morality rates after 20 years are between 15 – 20 percent; the incidence of bulimia within the same age group is five in every 100; at least two studies have indicated that only about one tenth of bulimia cases are detected; and women who diet frequently (more than five times) are 75 per cent more likely to experience depression.” -Psychology.org

6. “A new study of a national sample of adolescent boys, published in the January issue of JAMA Pediatrics, reveals that nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. They are also at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes: Boys in the study who were extremely concerned about weight were more likely to be depressed, and more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and drug use… Of the boys who were highly concerned with their weight, about half were worried only about gaining more muscle, and approximately a third were concerned with both thinness and muscularity simultaneously.” -The Atlantic

7. “8 out of 10 women are not happy with what they see in the mirror.” -Social Issues Research Centre

8. “85% of the world’s population are affected by low self esteem.” -The Self Esteem Book, by Dr Joe Rubino

What can we do to love and accept ourselves and in turn, love and accept others?

We need to be body positive, compassionate, patient, and kind to ourselves and to others. Think of how much your body has changed in your lifetime through the different phases and circumstances of your life: stress level, career, lifestyle choices, relationships, family, etc. It is important to remember how much our bodies will continue to change as we age. My point is, we cannot be so fixated on vanity. Doing that will set us up for long-standing misery. Instead, we should be inspired to be healthy and happy. Say it out loud: “I am healthy and happy.”

Here are some suggestions to achieve health and happiness:

1. Exercise and bring daily activity to your routine for health and happiness, not for aesthetics. Exercise is NOT the enemy. People who are body positive recognize that exercise is done for health. Individuals should not fixate on the aesthetic results. Exercise helps your brain, heart, muscles, and bones. It helps your mental health and reduces stress. It helps your whole body, mind, and spirit. Find physical activities you enjoy doing and have fun doing them. Exercise is essential for health and vitality. And if you are a goals-oriented person, consider performance-based goals over appearance-based goals.

2. Tell yourself kind things, and be mindful of your thoughts. It also helps to make a list of at least 20 things you love about yourself (not relating to your weight or your body’s appearance). Keep this list where you will see it daily.

3. Look in the mirror and compliment yourself daily. Also state positive affirmations about your character, your intelligence, your talents, and your personality.

4. Support healthy media choices (books, films, magazines, videos, podcasts, etc). Don’t expose yourself to media that makes you feel inadequate or bad about yourself. Go through your current media choices and take notice of how the content makes you feel. Ask yourself, “How is this serving me? Does this make me feel good/happy? Is this benefiting me?” You can make adjustments or opt out of certain subscriptions from there.

5. Be a role model for others. It is up to us to set examples for children, family, peers, and even strangers. Everyday we have the opportunity to change perceptions for the better, so let’s be shining examples. Let’s use language that is respectful and inclusive. Let’s challenge what defines health. And most of all, let’s make great efforts toward loving and accepting ourselves.

6. Eat real food and let go of the craziness. Fad diets, restriction, and extremism are not sustainable and lead to patterns of yo-yoing, guilt, anxiety, binging, and health complications. Fill your body with nourishment in the form of real, whole foods. Don’t be hard on yourself. We are not meant to be ‘perfect’. We are meant to be free. Create beautiful, delicious recipes and enjoy them.

7. Surround yourself with positive people. If you witness your peers body shaming you, themselves, or others, kindly correct them and educate them. Formulate a response that is both wise and compassionate, not defensive. You can pepper in some humor too!

For me, I try to remember that our bodies are the homes of our souls. Your body is the home of your soul. My body is the home of my soul. We are very blessed to have our bodies, which is why self love, health, and happiness are essential. We need to reframe the way we think about appearance and our motivations for our diet and lifestyle choices. We need to be thankful, stop worrying about what everyone else thinks of us, and make a conscious choice to treat ourselves well.

I will conclude with this fantastic minute-long video clip regarding self acceptance. It’s a must see! Love Your Tree

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It Is Okay to Be Alone with Yourself

It Is Okay to Be Alone with Yourself

We are all connected, yet for some of us, it has been challenging finding those sustainable, meaningful, deeper connections. Maybe I speak for myself, but I have never felt like I ever fully belonged. I have met thousands of great people, but have chosen to be very selective with who I choose to spend my time with. This may come as a surprise, because I get along with just about everyone, and I enjoy talking with people, and I truly love and appreciate my friends and family; what a blessing to have so much love in my life.

However, I feel as though I prefer to be by myself most of the time or just sitting silently with my animals or in nature, where words are absent. And maybe that is because I just really enjoy the solitude and the clarity. Or maybe that is because it just is. I have chosen to be an observer of everything, of all of the beauty and the source. With each passing year, I let more light into my life. Sometimes I sit outside by myself and I just don’t do much of anything except listen, and sometimes I even lay in the grass. It’s amazing what we can be witness to, if we just allow it.

So what’s my point? My point is, it’s okay to be alone with yourself. I have learned more from that than anything else in this life. I have learned that we are all spiritual beings and we all want the same things: purpose, love, and happiness. I know myself, and I understand this purpose. I know that this life is a treasure. I know that we can be distracted by so many things – so many things that do not matter, and so much negativity. We must filter all of this. I know that labels and doctrines can divide us. We are all human. I promise that no matter what you’re going through or if you’re feeling alone, you are not alone.

We are all one. We are all important. Let this be validation that it is perfectly okay to be alone sometimes with yourself and to learn what it is that makes you happy. ONE LOVE!

Mary Signature

How Much Time Do You Really Have?

How Much Time Do You Really Have?

“I don’t have time.” We have all said it, thought it, and heard it. But is it really true?

A wise friend once told me that we make time for what is most important to us. This is a very powerful point that I revisit every now and again. It takes commitment to self-reflection and honesty with oneself to take a step back and think about how we are really spending our time.

We have 168 hours to spend each week. How do you spend your 168 hours? And ultimately, what is most important to you in this life? This article is intended to encourage each individual to really change the way we think about time.

168 Hours: A Quick Activity That Can Change Your Perception
Estimate how you spend your time each week. Please be honest with yourself and try to estimate everything as best as you can. There is no judgment and no competition. This is for your own benefit. You may learn that you need to readjust things or that you want to give something up or that you want to add activities in.

If some of the activities happen simultaneously (i.e. eating while driving), only count the time once. Please note that the categories factored into this activity are regular, weekly time commitments.

Here are the categories of regular commitments to count:

Personal Care
(showering, grooming, dressing, etc.)

Meals
(eating, cooking, baking, getting take out, etc.)

Commuting
(driving to work and school and back home, driving to other regular commitments)

Chores and Errands
(grocery shopping,  laundry, cleaning the house, etc.)

Sleep
(This one is pretty self-explanatory.)

Work/School
(You can split these up into two different categories, if you prefer. For school, make sure to include your hours in classes and your honest productive studying/working hours. Be as accurate as possible. Do not include time you are distracted by the Internet).

Other categories you can use if they apply to you:
Volunteer Work
Exercise/Fitness
Religious or Spiritual Practice
If you are a new parent, you can add in those hours as well

Total:
Time Remaining:
Self Reflection:

You may find that you have more time left over than you originally anticipated, or perhaps you have very little time left. If that’s the case, the self reflection part will help you. In other words, are you happy with the way you are spending your time? Are there any healthy changes you can make?

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What I Learned from Giving Up Social Media for Two Weeks

What I Learned from Giving Up Social Media for Two Weeks

It is that time of year when writing out the date feels strange. 2014. Happy New Year!

For me, the past two weeks have been experimental… and fulfilling and freeing and so much more. My husband and I took a road trip; we visited the South Carolina shore line. And during that time, I decided to partake in somewhat of a digital detox. It is sort of funny, sort of ironic – me, the public relations and social media professor and a person who has two small businesses that require these communication channels – deciding to give up most digital media.  But maybe that is why it felt even more necessary to test these waters, especially during the holidays.

I read something recently that made a lot of sense to me: “Those of us who are social media-savvy suffer from a burgeoning problem that constantly threatens our ingenuity. If we fail to acknowledge and solve this problem, our brilliant ideas may never see the light of day.”
-Scott Belsky

This really resonated with me. How many hours are wasted getting sucked into mindlessly scanning news feeds? How much of our time is really spent being productive, bettering ourselves, having fun, and being in balance in all areas of our lives?

According to a study by eMarketer, U.S. adults spend an average of five hours and nine minutes a day consuming digital media. That includes online, mobile (non-voice), and other. This does not include other forms of media such as television and radio.

I approached this experiment practically based on what I thought would work for me. I tried to pare down email use (tried being the operative term). I also did not use any social media for two weeks. That is, no: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, WordPress, Etsy, Youtube, etc. etc. The first two days felt as though I was really in withdrawal. I did not get the sweats and shakes, but it was close.

Why did I do this technology detox? Honestly, my soul was crying out for help. I just wanted to let go of the constant cell phone use and checking, checking, checking, and that reactive communication. Because God forbid that someone has to wait a day for an email reply. And what about all those notifications on Facebook I would ‘miss out on’. The thought of that gave me anxiety! It is sad, but true, and I know many people who are in the same boat.

According to the Pew Research Center, “Six in ten cell owners between the ages of 18 and 34 say that they have slept next to their phone so as not to miss any calls, texts, or other updates during the night; and three quarters of cell owners in this age group say that they check their phone for messages even though they did not hear it ring (indeed, 25% of young cell owners say that they do this ‘frequently’).”

Have we all lost our minds? That study was shared in 2012, so it is definitely worse now. Are we zombies or lunatics?

What I Learned from Letting Go of Social Media for Two Weeks was not something I expected. I learned that I am happier without social media and limiting technology use. Yes, happier. Does this mean that I am going to throw my hands up in the air and run away to the wilderness to live with wolves? No. But what I do know is that I am really learning what is virtual clutter for me verses what is necessary, enlightening, and enriching.

I know how many people are completely attached to the internet and their smartphones. (Me too, by the way.) But for our health and happiness, it is essential that we take a step back and figure out what is cluttering up our lives and what is worth investing our time on. For me, I know that blogging and writing are two areas I would like to focus on more, because I see value there.

Some other important discoveries thus far:

1. Life goes on. If it takes me 24 hours to reply to an email instead of 15 minutes, the world keeps moving. It is not a big deal.

2. Social media affects our emotions. There are many studies pointing out this truth, but I did not realize how much social media affects my own emotions until I tried this experiment. I suppose the abundance of low-context content – often which is repetitive, annoying, or useless – can easily affect our thoughts and feelings.

3. Board games, the 1950s-60s version of The Twilight Zone, reading books made from paper, crafts, spending distraction-free time with family, writing, and being outside are all worth doing.

4. With limited distractions, I can be extremely productive, and this is an amazing feeling. My house has never looked better.

5. I want to keep experimenting. My next phase: no iPhone for two weeks. Let’s see what happens. My eyes are already twitching.

Overall, my social media, internet, and technology usage is going to be much more utilitarian and productive. This will allow me more time to explore the areas I love about social media and teaching the subject, while setting healthy boundaries and really living life to the fullest.

I highly recommend unplugging every now and then. I think everyone should do this more often. We should create new norms.

Three Tips to Simplify Your Virtual Life Now:

1. Unsubscribe from email newsletters, coupons, and mail lists that no longer serve you. How do you know if it serves you? If you delete or never open the email repetitively once received in your inbox, you are not using it. It is clutter. Another alternative is to set up a ‘junk’ email account for maybe-someday coupons, alerts, and newsletters. This is not for me, but other people might find this to be a great option.

2. Organize emails into folders. Only keep emails that you really love or absolutely need (i.e. an email from a close friend that warmed your heart, donation receipts for your taxes, etc.). I got my email accounts to where there is nothing in my inbox. When something is in my inbox, that means I still need to get to it. Otherwise, everything is sorted into labeled folders. By using this method, checking my email has gotten to be more refreshing than daunting.

3. Only follow media that brings you joy, inspires you, or educates you. I also like to limit too much repetition. For example, following 50 nutrition-related accounts got to be too much for me, and most of it was regurgitated content anyway. This is something to really think about. The internet can be a stressful and negative place, or it can be informative and fun. The choice is ours. I choose to only follow and subscribe to my favorite blogs, pages, and companies online. This has helped me filter out a lot of nonsense.

Regarding my getaway overall, it was magical hearing the ocean crashing on the shore, and the wind whispering, and the birds cawing. The fresh air and the sunshine did me so much good. But my favorite part was the sand beneath my feet and between my toes. That and the fact that I did not feel the need to take pictures and post them online as I was experiencing them. Each minute was my own. I lived in the moment and I loved every bit of it.

Mary Signature

ZeusandMarySouthCarolina

Body Shaming and Brainwashing: A Memoir

Body Shaming and Brainwashing: A Memoir

“Are you really going to wear that two piece swimsuit in front of him? Aren’t you embarrassed? If I were you, I would go put a t-shirt on. You need to work on your abs.”

I remember this dialogue being something I experienced when I was about thirteen years old while I was at a swim party with some friends. My body was changing, and I was starting to become a curvy young woman who felt awkward in her own skin. I feel as though tiny moments like this from adolescence all the way into adulthood planted seeds – very dangerous seeds that grew out of control.

Regardless of your gender, body type, size, shape, race, or heritage, we have all experienced body shaming in our lives. Some of us have been on the receiving side of this issue and many of us have taken part on the delivering end as well, whether it be with our thoughts, words, or actions.

In my teens, like most young American girls, my selection of role models was based almost strictly on appearance. I purchased fitness and teen magazines and watched MTV and immersed myself in pop culture. The theme was always the same: beauty/appearance is everything. Why weren’t my role models intriguingly intelligent and intellectual individuals or activists or authors or inventors or people who helped humanity or the planet or animals?

I remember when I was in high school, I really wanted a boyfriend, because all my peers (or so it seemed) were going on group dates with boys. I had some acquaintances and friends of the opposite gender, but no one in high school ever asked me out on a date out of their own doing. In one instance, I expressed this issue to a friend who told me, “Maybe if you lost some weight, that would help. Guys like thin girls.” Unfortunately, this was another seed that stuck with me.

When I look back at pictures of myself, I now clearly see that this could not have been any further from the truth; I really was a lovely young woman. Why is it that when we look back on pictures of ourselves, we are often so much wiser and self accepting? I now realize how beautiful I was inside and out (and still am).

I started to internally compare myself to all my thinner more beautiful friends and to the athletic girls too. I was active in sports and school clubs, always on the go, and I exercised, but in my mind I did not look like an athlete or a “beautiful” person. In my mind, I started to associate myself with the dreaded “f” word: fat. This paired with random comments from older, well-meaning people such as, “You have such a beautiful face, if you lost a few pounds you would be a knockout,” really lowered my self esteem.

So, I started dieting and worrying about my weight. This eventually spiraled into periods of binge dieting and binge exercising followed by periods of binge eating, closet eating, guilt and shame. My weight was like a yo-yo, and I don’t think I was ever satisfied. When I would lean out and drop a lot of weight in a short period of time, I would thrive on the compliments and comments. “Oh my God, you look great! What have you been doing?” “You lost some weight, haven’t you? You look beautiful!” Funny how so many of us associate weight loss with beauty. And even funnier how we point out that weight loss as the reason a person looks attractive or worthy of praise. Because of this, I try to be careful with my language when I comment on anyone’s appearance.

Toward the end of my senior year in high school, prom was coming up and I remember wanting so badly to be asked by one of my close guy friends or better yet by someone of romantic interest. That never happened. And last minute, I had to ask a friend a year younger than me if he wouldn’t mind attending. Ironically, that evening I won prom queen and had a really wonderful time with friends. But the sad thing is, I still felt that if I had been thinner and prettier that I would have had a boyfriend, like so many of my peers. I guess I felt as though I was missing out on something. If I could go back in time, I would smack myself.

Needless to say, for years I struggled with disordered eating and binge eating and negative body image. Maybe in college it would be different, I thought.

Somehow, and I don’t know what happened, but everything was different in college. I was the heaviest weight wise I had ever been in my life, and yet I had date after date after date and boyfriend after boyfriend (Note: I was always a very respectable young woman and my dating experiences were for the most part very innocent. That was important to me out of self respect.). What was going on? I remember a couple of times that  leaner/thinner types of men or really muscular, athletic men would ask me out, and I would always think to myself, “Is this really happening? Did they really want to date me?” In my mind, so many of them were gorgeous looking, and I guess in a way everything I had learned in my former years of life pointed to self worth being measured by body size. How sad is that?

But at this point, I do want to say to the men out there who have felt that they need to look a certain way to impress the opposite gender. I feel that really depends on who you are trying to impress. When I was younger, I dated men of many different body types, but that was never my focus. My focus was really on them as people. Were they funny? Were they nice? Were they respectful? What did we have in common? What was different about them? How did they treat others? These were all very important to me. Yes, physical attraction is important, but I never had a “type.” So I just want to put that out there, because I feel that men struggle with unrealistic societal expectations just as much as women.

Over my college years, I did develop a great deal of self confidence that I never had before, but then I would regress sometimes too. And I still struggled with disordered eating on and off.

After college, I was freelance writing for a couple of fitness and bodybuilding websites. In many ways, I learned what a messed up industry that can really be. Most of the fitness professionals and competitors who I met were still not happy with their bodies and partaking in unsustainable diets and exercise routines in order to maintain their appearance when competition season ended. I started to ask myself: “Is anyone ever really satisfied with the way they look?”

One day at work, a customer asked me when I was due… as in EXPECTING A CHILD. I was not pregnant, and of course my face felt like mush. The woman then just said, “Oh, the same thing happened to my daughter recently when someone made the same mistake and she just told them, ‘I’m not pregnant. I’m just fat.'” I do not know if that was supposed to make me feel any better, but I ran off crying. This was a day another bad seed was planted. And in hindsight I know I could have handled myself much better.

The best thing that ever happened to me was meeting my now husband Cody, who is the most wonderful person I have ever met – honestly. He accepts me at any size and has shown me what real love is. He has helped me to learn how to love myself more, and I am lucky to have a partner who encourages me to be positive and healthy.

It took me a very long time to feel “healed” and to really embrace a truly healthy lifestyle free of disordered eating. I have had my road bumps, though, and I sometimes wonder if I will ever 100% heal the way I view myself and in turn have more positive internal dialogue. This is my goal, but as with any goal worth achieving, I know it will take time and effort.

So this brings me to present day. I feel the healthiest I have ever felt in my life, and as a person who lives a plant-based lifestyle, I am happy with my choices. However, recently my self love and self esteem was challenged again when at a health conference.

The first scenario: I was at lunch with a couple in their eighties and one of them asked me if I was vegan. I said, “Yes.” And she said, “What do you eat? Vegans are usually very trim.” I was a bit taken aback, but I did not become emotional. I realized the source and instead turned it into a positive, explaining how just because a person eats a certain way does not mean they should be typecast into fitting a certain body type. I also explained how healthy and full of life I am.

The second scenario at a fitness lecture: A fitness “professional” asked me in an auditorium of about 100 people in front of everyone if I struggled with my weight. This was so embarrassing and hurtful. And I know for a fact, if I had looked a certain way that in her mind fit the status quo of “fit, healthy people,” that she NEVER would have asked that question. I handled myself with as much grace as I could muster up. But to say that I wasn’t affected by this would be an outward lie. In fact, I haven’t really stopped thinking about it ever since it happened. Luckily, due to a series of circumstances, that woman did end up apologizing to me the next day. I accept her apology, but the fact of the matter is, the damage is done. I know it is up to me to release that negative experience, and I will.

So, yeah. These are some of my memories regarding negative body image, body shaming, and brain washing by the media and by society. So this all begs the question: Is there any hope?

YES! I believe there is. It is important for us to recognize this body shaming and correct it, change our choice of language, and change our thoughts. Every time we hear someone say, “Real women have curves” or “She is so thin. She probably starves herself,” this is also a form of BODY SHAMING. It is just awful and is not just something that happens to women or to larger women, it happens to people of all sizes. It is time we become aware of this.

The bottom line is, we should all practice positive self body image and also encourage this among our peers. There is not one size that will ever be perfect. We need to stop being so judgmental, so accusatory, so critical, and so assumptive. “Oh, she must not exercise.” “He must sit at home and eat junk all day.” “She must starve herself to look like that.” “He looks like a lazy slob.” These are all awful, awful things to think about others. What types of things do you think about when you see others? Sometimes positive and sometimes negative, right? This is just human nature; it’s normal. I think it would be a very interesting exercise to just be mindful of this and notice these thoughts and maybe challenge the way you think. I will do the same.

If I could go back in time to a week ago or to a year ago or to a decade ago, I would tell myself, “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, DAMMIT! INSIDE AND OUT! 20 pounds heavier or 20 pounds lighter. With pimples or without. With makeup or not. YOU ARE AMAZING, TALENTED, SMART, FUNNY, COMPASSIONATE, HONEST, AND BEAUTIFUL. NOW STOP BEING SO SILLY!”

These are my memories. But I have so many others. So many positive, joyous memories and so many triumphant moments. I share these memories in particular because I want YOU to know that if you have ever experienced anything like this or have felt ashamed of your body or self conscious or worried or upset regarding your size, that you are not alone. Only we can change the way we feel about ourselves. Only we can take control of our emotions and handle ourselves with grace and self care.

Our bodies are the temples to our souls. I honor, trust, love, and appreciate my body for all the amazing things it does for me everyday. If someone does not like my body, that is their problem. Not mine. I choose to be part of the solution, not the problem. We need to perpetuate the planting of SOUL SEEDS – not bad seeds.

As a college professor, I often hear young men and women making body shaming comments about themselves or about their peers. Just like most of us, the majority of them have been brainwashed. When I witness students body shaming a celebrity or public figure, I will often ask them, “Do you believe that person is an individual with feelings?” And sometimes I will take it a step further and ask, “Do you feel that media is a problem for the way young people feel about themselves?” They will always say yes. So then I pose the question, “So then why do we spend our hard-earned money on media that perpetuates the problem?” This often leads to a lot of interesting discussion and self reflection.

If and when I have a daughter or son one day, I want them to know how important it is to love and take care of their bodies, their minds, and their spirits FOR THEIR HEALTH and the health of those around them – how true health and wellness is not about the ego-driven exterior aesthetic of “looking good.” I want them to know that we are all worthy of love and respect. I will encourage them to be confident and caring and to accept themselves no matter what they look like – accept themselves for all the wonderful qualities they have to offer the world. But most importantly, I will teach them that their self worth and the self worth of others is not and will never be based on their size or body type.

Here’s to good health, happiness, confidence, and living a body shaming-free life. Let’s move from a weight-centered approach to health to a health-centered approach to health and wellness.
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