Tag Archives: Health

Back fat remix

(Because there was more to say about my sixteen year old body, apparently. Whatever, I ain’t questioning the muse.)

When I was sixteenish, I lost a significant amount of weight. I didn’t do it on purpose, and I didn’t notice until a classmate made a big to-do about telling me to turn to the side and then proclaiming “Ah! Where’s Arwyn? It’s like she disappeared!” (I did not thank him.) I weighed somewhere in the vicinity of 100lb less than I do now (I don’t know my current weight, and only vaguely knew it then). I’m supposed to pine for that weight, that body, because I was sixteen and svelte and sexy, or something.

Except I was also getting migraines multiple times per week.

Except I was still “too fat”, still mocked and attacked in the halls, still told by my entire culture I was ugly and lazy and unfit merely by existing.

Except I was so anemic I couldn’t walk a mile, much less run it, not because I was “out of shape” but because my muscles were suffocating, demanding oxygen I couldn’t give to them because my red blood cells were too small or nonexistent.

Except I lost that weight by accidentally not eating, by having nothing but three giant Mountain Dews at school (thanks defunding of public schools, for making overpriced undernourishing vending machines the only way for our district to buy textbooks), near passing out in Drama after classes, eating whatever I could find as soon as I got home, barely eating at dinner an hour later because I was still stuffed (my stomach too-small from nearly 24 hours with nothing but liquids), and doing it all again the next day.

And this is the body I’m supposed to be nostalgic for, am supposed to think was “better” than the fatter, flappier, floppier, fitter one I have now? This is the body people call “healthier” just because it had less mass?

I have more pains now, and less energy, it’s true. But that’s aging (and an old roller coaster injury and endless parenting) doing its work on me, and is to some extent inevitable. I also have more skills, and fewer mood swings. Less anemia, and a broader palate. Two children, and an amazing lifemate. Fewer hang-ups, and more orgasms. More strength, and less fear of asking for help. Less self-hatred, and more compassion for that small, hurting, hurtful voice inside that calls me ugly. I have hands that soothe and heal, legs that take me wherever I ask them to, arms that carry my children no matter how big they get, a brain that’s clever and mostly kind, and scars from skin that’s stretched to protect me when I felt I would burst from the crazy, when my meds fucked me up, when I made two babies, when I fed two children, when I learned to run, when I relearned to walk, when I lived and lived and lived.

My body was never “perfect”, never acceptable by my society’s standards. My breasts grew in pointing down, my skin scarred silver stripes just from becoming a teen, and I have always, always been called fat in one form or another. I learned so early I had a choice of how to feel, give in to labels of “freak” and attack myself, or say “fuck you” to the entire flawed and too often fatal system. The idea we have to love our bodies, no matter the pain or difficulties they come with, is as oppressive as the one that says we can’t because we are “imperfect” for whatever of ten thousand supposed reasons, but we can, we CAN, if we choose, if we want — and for me, for fat and finally healing me, it feels revolutionary.

And even better, it feels fabulous.

There’s no such thing as “healthy food”

There’s no such thing as “healthy food”.

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

And repeat:

There’s no such thing as “healthy food”.

It’s true.

There is Health Food, as a cultural construct1, but, as a cultural construct, it is ever changing; currently we are undergoing a cultural shift from low-fat to low-carbohydrate food earning the appellation. But, aside from the fact that we simply cannot agree on what qualifies, there is so such thing as “healthy food”.

One of the most frustrating things about being a fat woman is: everyone is convinced they have The Perfect Diet, and if I would just follow it, the fat would just walk away2. Everyone. Everyone. The veg*ns. The Paleos. The Atkin adherents. The raw food peeps. Eat no fat; eat tons of fat. Eat no grains; eat soaked grains. Eat a fastfood turkey sandwich every day; eat nothing from a store. Everyone is convinced they have The Truth on what is Healthy Food, and what the other guy (or the fat chick) is eating ain’t it.

Or, maybe, for the super open minded and tolerant, they’ll say we’re not quite sure just what healthy food is (except you won’t find it at McDonald’s). But by all the saints and Starbucks, don’t question the idea that there is such a thing as Healthy Food, because surely, if we just apply Science/Prayer/Common Sense/Historical Analysis/Noble Savage Wisdom, we’ll figure it out. And no one will ever die.

What? That’s the logical conclusion to the idea of Healthy Food. If we eat right, we won’t get sick. If we eat right, we won’t get fat. If we eat right, we won’t become diabetic. If we eat right, our kids won’t get autism. (If we eat right, we won’t be infertile, and we’ll be able to have children, who will obviously be free of all illness and defect.) If we eat right, we won’t be crazy. If we eat right, we won’t die from heart attack or stroke or cancer or liver failure or kidney disease or AIDS — and, if we eat right when we’re pregnant, neither will our children.

These are all things believers in the myth of healthy food have said. Half of them to me.

Ok, but let’s say that’s a hyperbolic misrepresentation of the position of Healthy Food’s believers3. Let’s say that when you say “she got diabetes because she ate like crap” you don’t actually mean “she wouldn’t have gotten diabetes if she’d eaten right” which itself could only be true if “no one who eats right gets diabetes”, which is utter bollocks. Let’s say that, instead, you have amazing powers of sight into alternate dimensions and a perfect ability to predict outcomes of statistical likelihoods4 — because that what it comes down to, risk, with some eating patterns carrying, on a population scale, different risk profiles than other eating patterns. You’re just saying healthy food improves your odds, not actually calling healthy food a panacea. But there’s still healthy food and unhealthy food, right?

No.

If we are not claiming there is a food, or a way of eating, that brings perfect health (which is assuming we can even meaningfully define “perfect health” in the first place), then the best we can do with food is risk management. “Healthy” can only exist as a comparative, not absolute, value.

So, compared to what? Which is healthier, raw cultured butter from pastured cows, or cold-pressed organic olive oil? That depends on whether you’re vegan, or lactose intolerant, or live in a dessert without a means of keeping food chilled5, I’d say. Which is healthier, a plate of brown rice spaghetti in fat-free sauce made from tomatoes from your own garden, or a protein shake with artificial sugar substitutes — to a diabetic? Which is healthier, the home cooked meal a growth-delayed, sensory-averse child absolutely won’t touch, or the McDonald’s chicken nuggets they’ll scarf?

Food — all food — brings things that are “good” for us, and things that are “bad”; or, more accurately, things that we need in that moment and things that we can store for later and things we don’t need (right then or at all) and things that we have too much of and things that actively harm us. All foods have all of these — only the specifics and amounts of each change. And the specifics are variable depending on our needs, which not only are different from person to person but each person’s needs change all the damn time.

Given that no food can fill all needs simultaneously6, and eating is a practice in good enough balance over time, how can we call a food “healthy” as an absolute?7 Food is meant to meet our needs8, and can only be evaluated on its ability to do so. Even a Twinkie is “healthy” for a person starved for caloric energy.

So there it is. There absolutely are foods that have a better need-filling to harm ratio in any given situation9. There absolutely are reasons to aim for eating foods that better meet more of your nutritional needs more of the time (though you have no moral obligation to do so). There so absolutely are reasons to call for large corporations to take out unnecessary harmful components from the food they sell and for, at the least, factual labeling about those additives. I disagree with not a piece of that, nor with helping people, should they wish, learn how to feed themselves in a way that meets more of their needs more of the time with less harm. Please, if that’s your calling, keep at it.

But the fact remains: there is no such thing as “healthy food”.

  1. Whence we have the terms “crunchy” and “granola” to describe people — as many would describe me.
  2. SOMEONE BUY ME THIS.
  3. It isn’t.
  4. Remind me not to play craps with you.
  5. Helloooo rancid oils.
  6. For example: the presence of calcium inhibits the absorption of iron (and, pertinent to both me and the Boychick, oral thyroid hormone supplementation), and therefore we need to eat some foods high in calcium and deficient in iron, and others high in iron but lacking calcium.
  7. Even postulating the theoretical existence of a food that perfectly filled all of our nutritional needs simultaneously in a perfectly balanced way: would it be healthy to be bored out of our ever-loving gourds by eating the same exact thing all the time?
  8. Not just nutritional needs, but emotional, ritual, social, and so on — none of these is more or less important than others.
  9. A large apple may do as well for our theoretical Twinkie-eater — though only if they have the teeth to eat it.

Guest post: Birthing at Home

Amanda Llorens, of Mommies are Light, Daddies are Dark, is 1/3 soon-to-be 1/4 of a kickass multiracial family. She talks about race, LGBT rights, adventures in parenting and their experiences as a multiracial family — and today, she writes about why she is planning a homebirth with her second child. Although I birthed both our children at home, and so don’t have the hospital experience to contrast it to, her reasons are largely similar to mine.

Note: Although I do not require that every commenter agrees with the choice to birth at home, this is not a place for debate. Bear in mind that regardless of what you would choose for yourself, choice of birth place and attendants is and must be a part of any authentic reproductive rights movement.

Birthing at Home

By Amanda Llorens

There’s an African proverb that likens giving birth to crossing a narrow bridge.  You might have help on either side, but when it comes to the actual crossing, you’re on your own.  I’m due for my second narrow bridge crossing in early December.  When I went into labor with my first child, I remember getting strong urges to run off into the woods and have the baby alone.  Even fully immersed in the throws of labor, I was aware that literally having a baby in the woods was not a viable option.  In retrospect though, I realize that something deep down was yearning for a peaceful, secure, and familiar space to give birth.  This time around, I intend to get closer to what my body and soul were asking for.

I gave birth to my son in a hospital, supported by family, a doula, and a well-respected midwife group.  He came a little early at 36 weeks and 6 days.  I’d planned on a waterbirth in a hospital but because my son came early, neither birthing nor laboring in the water was an option.  In fact, even if he’d been full term, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to use a tub since the hospital only had two they were both already in use by the time I arrived.  Nevertheless, our birth experience was pretty good, as hospital births go.  There were no complications, and we had a healthy baby boy.  Still, two hours into a three-hour pushing session, our midwives changed shifts.  Needless to say, it completely threw me off.  In fact, it actually made me angry at the time.  The new midwife had a very different bedside manner and even told me that my previous pushing had been unproductive, so none of it “counted.”

Although my hospital experience didn’t leave me traumatized, it did leave me wanting more from my birth experience.  The hours and days after the birth had consisted of constant messages coming through the intercoms and nurses coming in to check on the baby, check on me, or run one of a dizzying number of different tests.  Then, just as we established a rapport with one nurse or another, their shifts would change.  I’d  left the hospital completely in love with my son, but completely exhausted. With all of the various interruptions, sleep had been nearly impossible.  The shower had been dirty and the cuisine was often greasy cafeteria food.  They’d even strongly encouraged me to give my son formula while we were just getting to know each other and trying to figure out breastfeeding.

This time around, I’m more confident in my own body.  Not only can it grow people from scratch, but it has successfully birthed a pretty amazing little person and it’s getting ready to do it again.

So, after years of knowing that women before the 1900s all birthed their babies at home, that home birth is as safe as a hospital birth for a normal pregnancy and that home births mean a reduced chance of unnecessary medical interventions, I finally sat down and asked what I really wanted for my future daughter and myself at our birth experience.  It’s one of the most special moments we will ever share as mother and daughter.  I will, with a push and a breath, push her out into the world to fill her lungs with air for the first time.  The two of us deserve a peaceful, secure, and familiar space in which to share that moment.

When I bring my daughter into the world, I’d like to be surrounded by the sounds, smells and comforts that I am used to.  During my last pregnancy, I labored at home for around 12 hours and felt totally safe and secure.  It wasn’t until I got in the car to head to the hospital that I started to get tense.  Then, sitting in triage in mid-contraction, I felt less like I was about to experience the most amazing day of my life and more like I had some disease that needed to be cured.  Then, to top it off, I went wrong somewhere while fastening what seemed like a thousand snaps on my hospital gown.  I remember looking down and realizing that my breasts and butt were exposed.  Talk about distracting.  This time around, I want a calm experience.  I want to be surrounded by things that remind me of how much I love my life and my family.  I want my son to be able to see his little sister and stay as long as we want him to.  I want to sleep in my own bed, with my husband, the night after I give birth.  I want to eat healthy food, prepared with our family in mind.

My birth team will consist of some pretty awesome people.  First, my husband, the only other
person in the world who loves our children as much as I do.  A man I’ve been with since I was 19 and he was 20.  The one person in the world who knows me as well as I know myself.  Second, our midwife, who is guaranteed to be the one “on call” since she has a solo practice.  She is a certified nurse midwife, a registered nurse, and has a bachelor of science in nursing, a master of science, and some other certifications I don’t even understand.  She also happens to be one of the warmest, kindest people I’ve met.  She has 21 years of birth experience in hospitals, at birth centers and at home births.  Third, the doula and childbirth educator from our son’s birth who is now the birth assistant for our current midwife.  There is something very special about knowing that two of the people that supported me while bringing my son into the world will also be there with me this time.  Both of these women have children.  Both of these women enjoy birth and are committed to supporting mothers and their babies as they journey through one of the most important experiences of their lives.

Don’t believe the hype.  My midwife isn’t going to show up with a bag of herbs and some happy thoughts.  She’ll bring along oxygen, medications for clotting if the need arises and all kinds of other important medical supplies you’d find in a hospital.  I have the choice to decide if I want my baby to get a vitamin K shot and the erythromicin eye ointment.  Birthing at home, I’m more likely not to get an episiotomy or any other intervention unless I really need it.  In some hospitals, you have to be very explicit and insistent to achieve that same kind of outcome.  In the event that something does go wrong, my midwife will call the emergency room nearby and I’ll be transferred there.  In the event that I need an emergency c-section, we’re lucky enough to be located about 7 minutes by foot from the hospital.  Technically, my husband could pull me there by sled (remember, it’ll be December), but an ambulance or a car will get me there much faster.  Most emergency c-sections require a 30-minute operating room (OR) prep so they’d still be prepping the OR while we checked in and got settled.

We’re planning to birth in water, but if meconium is present or something else about the situation changes, we may not have that chance.  If I do birth in water, I am less likely to tear than I would be birthing out of the water at a hospital.  People ask if I’m worried about the clean up afterward, but more than likely, the birth team will handle it.  Unless I have some sort of major hemorrhage, I likely won’t notice the clean up just like I didn’t notice them grab the Chux pad and sheet from under me at the hospital.

After all, I’ll be giving birth to a baby, not having a major surgery in my basement.

Elimination communication: in order to hear, you first must see

When the Boychick was an infant, in the long-ago days before this blog was started, he was known online as Naked Baby. Most days, he’d be found at home wearing, at most, a shirt and a snappi’d prefold — and in newborn days, would simply lie or be wrapped in a large flat diaper. Though it was partly due to his predilection for spitting up that made clothing seem a ridiculous endeavor, it was also thanks to elimination communication, aka EC — an alternative-to-exclusive-reliance-on-diapers (and alternative-to-conventional-potty-training) parenting method that we used with the Boychick way back when. And now it’s Vulva Baby’s turn.

As dressed as we ever get

Although I frequently roll my eyes at the term “diaper-free”, by which EC is sometimes also known, the way we practice elimination communication is nearly so. But far more compelling at the moment to me than the way is the why of it — and Vulva Baby is reminding me daily of those reasons. There are reasons like earlier toilet independence (and a smoother road to get there, usually), reduced diaper use, reduced diaper rash, less time spent cleaning up or in contact with poo (really!), etc, etc — but honestly, those aren’t the things I’m thinking of these days, especially not when I’m tossing yet another premium size prefold in the laundry because of one tiny grain of poo on it.

No, we do EC because Vulva Baby tells us to, because within the first day of being born she was clearly grunting at us and waiting to eliminate until we held her in position. We do EC because she fusses until we hold her over a bowl and say, with a psss, it’s ok to pee now. We do EC because I can’t imagine ignoring her first communications now that I so distinctly recognize them for what they are.

We do EC because she relaxes and trusts us more, knowing that we understand her — at least most of the time. We do EC because sometimes she sleeps through a pee and sometimes squirms and kicks until pottied, only to fall right back asleep. We do EC because it’s another tool we have to help us figure out why she’s upset, and, sometimes, gives us the ability to do something about it.

We do EC for philosophical reasons, too — because I believe that children, even newborns, are people, because I believe it’s more respectful. But more importantly, we do EC because it’s fun, because it’s satisfying, because neonates spend nearly all their awake time either eating or eliminating, and this turns half of what she does into something we do together.

I admit I had a lot more anxiety, and put a lot more pressure on myself, when doing EC with the Boychick. There are many factors to my more relaxed attitude now, among them that Vulva Baby signals more clearly (or are we simply better at recognizing them?), less anxiety overall (so far, *knocks wood*), a better understanding of what EC with a newborn is like, and, most tellingly, more confidence, now that I don’t feel the need to “prove” that it “works”, because I simply know that it does.

Although there are many problems with EC advocacy, many reasons not to shame or pressure others into doing it, this experience leaves me wanting to shout about it in every venue available, especially because I am becoming ever more convinced that the reason it is perceived (and experienced!) as “so hard” and “too time consuming” is that we don’t see it. I’d read all about EC before the Boychick was born, read and watched everything I could get my hands on, pestered people with a thousand questions online — but still, I had never, ever seen it in practice. I knew how it was supposed to work, but had no idea what it was actually like in daily life. Only now, having done it once already, do I have that practical, indelible experience and observation that society had denied me.

I’d delve further into kyriarchy and its obsession for consumerist fixes and its disdain for the messy complexities of relationship, but if you’ll excuse me, I have a baby to potty.

On the moral obligation to be healthy

I started this post in May 2010, shortly after the event I termed Backpocalypse 2010 (in an ill-disguised attempt to use humor to distance myself from the pain and terror I felt), in which I injured my back to the point of needing to take a hiatus from my course of study at massage school. But while the personal resonance mentioned below has lessened some, the questions and issues involved are still here, and still concern me — and ought, I would argue, concern you.

Should we strive to be healthy? Most people would say yes.

Do we have an obligation — to ourselves, our families, our community (or country, or world for that matter) — to maximize our health; by which we are supposed to understand to mean our ability to function (to be “productive”, preferably in an explicitly capitalist way), and the longevity thereof? Maybe you wouldn’t say yes to this, but it’s the same question as above, just explicated a little.

I say no. Why?

As it stands, the moral obligation to be “healthy” according to the above definition is what:

  • gives fatphobes the “right” to comment on my appearance, my diet, my activity level, my life (because, of course, everyone knows that fat is unhealthy).
  • creates pressure on a pregnant person to use every test available to determine whether her pregnancy is “healthy enough” to continue, whether or not she herself wishes to.
  • supports telling some people that they are not good enough to have children in the first place — because how dare they risk passing their disability, their atypicality, their ill health, their moral failing on to another generation?
  • allows us to shame women for not breastfeeding, rather than focusing on the ways we can help her meet her own breastfeeding goals.
  • defends forced-medication rulings for those whose thoughts and emotions don’t fit society’s expectations.
  • allows us to tsk-tsk “those people” for not eating “right”, for making “bad food choices”, ignoring the multitude of reasons why people (especially those without class privilege) might eat “suboptimal” food.

None of that is OK.

The idea of moral obligation to heath has a particular resonance right now, when I feel the sting of inability, when I question my worth as I possibly fail, again, at a goal I have set myself.

Long ago I gave up on trying to fit into office work. Then I gave up (or set aside) the idea of being an academic student in a traditional college (which hurt far more than giving up temping, as you can imagine). Now I’m facing the potential loss of practicing massage therapy1, while simultaneously finding myself unable to eke out enough time to write, either. And I wonder: what is the point of me? Am I ever going to be able to make a living? If not, what good am I?

And the assumption behind those fears is, of course, highly problematic. It is the idea that we are only valuable for what we earn or produce — a capitalistic definition of “value”.

Which is not to say I “shouldn’t” want health or productivity for itself — nor that I should. Let’s just toss out all “shoulds”. The simple fact is that I DO want to do these things for themselves (I chose massage because I love it), and I DO want to be “productive” because I, like almost everyone else on the planet, want to be part of something (my community, my movement, my tribe, my family). The problem isn’t the idea of health2 or productivity; the problem is when we make those things moral obligations, rather than recognizing that they have inherent value, and that, lacking outside pressure, people will still want them for themselves.

When we make health an obligation, we create a hierarchy of people, based often on things outside of their own control. We say that some people are better than others, because of chance or choice or circumstance. We say that if you’re not “healthy” (by whatever criteria the judger has decided to focus on, often related barely or not at all to my or your or science’s definition of “health”), you aren’t working hard enough, you don’t know enough, you aren’t buying the right things. We allow people the grace of bad luck old chap if they can prove that it’s not their fault (and please, dear reader, take a moment to contemplate the impossibility of proving a negative, and the burden of having to do it over, and over, and over again), but still, under that, is the sometimes unspoken yet always detectable question are you really doing everything you possibly could to get better?

The burden this places on people — is placing on me — makes a difficult situation so very much worse (or, for some, turns what is simply and joyfully their life into a trial — not the state of their health but the social conversation around it is what drags them down). It’s not enough that we may not have the health we want, that our bodies may not do what we wish of them, that we may be limited in our choices: the moral obligation to health means we are failing those around us. It’s not enough that we may struggle, that I struggle: the moral obligation to health means we struggle with our society’s disapproval as well.

So no, I do not believe there is a moral obligation to health in some imaginary “objective” sense, nor that we as a society should impose one. Rather, I would say, society has the moral obligation to assist each person to be as healthy as ze wants to be (including, as my culture so spectacularly fails at right now, removing barriers to health and health care), and to respect the intrinsic motivation and decision making of its members.

Health — in the fullest sense of an individual’s optimal wellness, whatever that means to them — is not something we need to bribe or shame or obligate each other into pursuing. And to try is not only futile but counterproductive and often, as I feel so acutely now, cruel.

In the nearly-year since I started writing this, I have spent hundreds of hours in many practitioners’ offices working to regain my ability to move and to perform massage safely and without pain; have graduated massage school; and just this week passed the written portion of my licensing exam. The imposition of a “should”, an obligation, toward health added a layer of anxiety to my initial period of injury that this post reflects — but it was out of my own desire, not out of obligation, that I worked so hard toward recovery and that I continue to work on my physical wellness. It was only after coming to some sort of peace with the idea that I might not be able to perform massage — might not be productive in the way I’d so long planned, might once again fail, or defy, the expectations and pressures society places on me — that I was able to be centered enough to move forward, and do it in a way that was healthy for all of me, body and mind.

  1. Not a certain thing, but my back is not yet healed enough to perform regular, full-length massage, and in my darker moments I despair that it ever will.
  2. Though perhaps part of the problem is how we define health.