One of the more esoteric but much beloved tools in the paleo dieter’s tool-kit is intermittent fasting.
What is intermittent fasting? I.F. is the practice of maintaining overall caloric intake while consuming those calories in fewer meals or in reduced time windows throughout the day. The goal is to create conditions of fasting in the body, but not for extreme lengths of time.
Some examples of intermittent fast strategies include 10, 8, or 5 hour eating windows throughout the day, or perhaps eating just two meals each day: one in the morning, and one at night. The evolutionary premise — the argument that proponents of intermittent fasting make — is that humans evolved to optimize their health under less-than-optimal conditions. Intermittent fasting, they say, is a natural and perhaps even necessary part of being human.
The modern-day scientific correlate appears promising, too:
Most people are nowadays aware that a calorie-restricted diet has the ability not just to decrease body weight but also to lengthen a human life. Emerging research is beginning to show, however, that intermittent fasting is just as effective as calorie restriction in ensuring these health benefits! Amazingly enough, this happens without any of the psychological crippling side effects of cravings and food obsession that practictioners of calorie-restriction often experience.
Intermittent fasting women is a specific interest of mine because of what I have witnessed both in myself and in working with literally thousands of women in the PfW community.
Many women report to me (read more about that in this awesome book) that intermittent fasting causes sleeplessness, anxiety, and irregular periods, among many other symptoms hormone imbalance, such as cystic acne.
I have also personally experienced metabolic distress as a result of fasting, which is evidenced by my interest in hypocretin neurons. Hypocretin neurons have the ability to incite energetic wakefulness, and to prevent a person from falling asleep, in reaction to the body detecting a “starved” state. Hypocretin neurons are one way in which intermittent fasting may dysregulate a woman’s normal hormonal function.
After my own bad experience with IF, I decided to investigate intermittent fasting. I looked into both a) the fasting literature that paleo fasting advocates refer to, and b) the literature that exists out in the metabolic and reproductive research archives.
Intermittent Fasting Women: Problems in the Paleosphere
What I found is that the research articles cited by Mark’s Daily Apple (and others), focus on health benefits such as cancer-fighting properties, insulin sensitivity, and immune function.
However. I was struck by what seemed like an egregious sex-based oversight in that MDA post I linked to above. MDA cites this article as a “great overview” of the health benefits of intermittent fasting. This startled me because the article MDA cited was for me one of the strongest proponents of sex-specific differences in response to fasting.
Sex differences were relevant in two striking areas:
1) women in studies covered by the review did not experience increased insulin sensitivity with IF regimes and
2) intermittent fasting women actually experienced a decrease in glucose tolerance.
These two phenomena mean that women’s metabolisms suffered from IF. The men’s metabolisms on the other hand improved with IF across the board. Recall that the review was reported by MDA as “a great overview of benefits [of IF].”
Secondly, in another fasting post at MDA, of which there are many, the health benefits of fasting are listed and reviewed, but the sex-specific aspects of the hormonal response go unmentioned, and reproduction/fertility/menstrual health isn’t mentioned at all.
This is not to say that Mark is not attentive to who should and who should not be fasting. He knows very well and cautions people against the dangers of fasting while stressed. Still, the mere fact of being more sensitive to fasting simply by being a woman is, I would assert, pretty important for a woman who is contemplating or already practicing IF.
This goes nearly unmentioned in the blogosphere.
Intermittent Fasting Women: Problems in the Literature
Beyond reporting biases in the blogosphere, there remains an even greater problem of a significant testing bias in the fasting literature. Searching “men” + “intermittent fasting” in a Harvard article database yields 71 peer-reviewed articles. Searching “intermittent fasting women” yields 13, none of which are a) solely about women b) controlled studies or c) about more than body weight or cardiovascular benefits.
The animal studies are more equitable, but also a bit less applicable to human studies.
It is well-known in both the research and the nutritional communities that caloric restriction is horrible for female reproductive health. This is not news. There is an infertility condition – called hypothalamic amenorrhea – that millions of women suffer from due to being overly restrictive. But what of fasting?
Intermittent Fasting Women: Should we Fast?
The few studies that exist point towards no.
It is not definitive, since the literature is so sparse, and it necessarily differs for women who are overweight versus normal weight (and who have different genetic makeups), but when it comes to hormones, women of reproductive age may do well to err on the side of caution with fasting.
What follows first is a brief review of what can be gleaned in sex-specific responses to fasting in animal studies. Afterwards I talk about what has been concluded by the few relevant human studies.
Mice & Rats
First up is a study that demonstrates the hippocampal changes of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting for both male and female rats. In this study, they do alternate day fasting, which entails free eating on one day and a fast day on the next.
The study found that brain states while fasting were different for male and female rats. For male rats the change in hippocampus size, hippocampal gene expression, and ambulatory behavior was the same no matter what kind of restricted diet they were on – but for female rats, the degree of change in brain chemistry and in behavior was directly proportional to degree of calorie intake, demonstrating the unique sensitivity of female rats to the starvation response.
” The organization of the females’ response to the energy restricted diets is suggestive of some underlying mechanism that may allow for an organized, pre-programmed, response to enhance survival in times of food scarcity. Comparatively, the males’ genetic response was less specific, suggesting that the males respond to a general stressor but they seem to lack the ability to discriminate between a high energy and low energy stressor.”
Moreover, “IF down-regulated many gene pathways in males including those involved in protein degradation and apoptosis, but up-regulated many gene pathways in females including those involved in cellular energy metabolism (glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, pentose phosphate pathway, electron transport and PGC1-α), cell cycle regulation and protein deacetylation.” In this study, both male and female rats gained small amounts of weight on IF diets.
For female rats, even in the most innocuous form of restriction–intermittent fasting–significant physiological changes take place. Male rats do not experience as dramatic hippocampal and general brain chemistry change as female rats do, and their behaviors, specifically their cognition and their dirunal and nocturnal activity, do not change.
Female rats, on the other hand, “masculinize.” They stop ovulating and menstruating. They become hyper-alert, have better memories, and are more energetic during the periods in which they are supposed to be sleep. Theoretically, according to these researchers, this is an adaptive response to starvation. The more the female rats need calories– or at least the more their bodies detect a “starvation” state– the more they develop traits that will help them find food. They get smart, they get energetic, they get active, and they stop sleeping.
In a follow-up study conducted by the same researchers who explored the masculinzation of female rats, the researchers analyzed the gonadal transcription of male and female rats subjected to IF regimes.
This study found that male reproductivity up-regulates in response to metabolic stress. Female reproductivity down-regulates.
Completely opposite to the female rats becoming infertile while fasting, male rats become more fertile. In the researchers’ own words: “our data show that at the level of gonadal gene responses, the male rats on the IF regime adapt to their environment in a manner that is expected to increase the probability of eventual fertilization of females that the males predict are likely to be sub-fertile due to their perception of a food deficient environment.”
In the final relevant IF rat study I could find, researchers subjected rats to the same diets– to 20 and 40 percent Calorie-Restricted (CR) diets, as well as to alternate-day fasting diets, and monitored them over the long term for hormonal responses. The results were striking. Below is the abstract in full because it’s so powerful:
Females and males typically play different roles in survival of the species and would be expected to respond differently to food scarcity or excess. To elucidate the physiological basis of sex differences in responses to energy intake, we maintained groups of male and female rats for 6 months on diets with usual, reduced [20% and 40% caloric restriction (CR), and intermittent fasting (IF)], or elevated (high-fat/high-glucose) energy levels and measured multiple physiological variables related to reproduction, energy metabolism, and behavior.
In response to 40% CR, females became emaciated, ceased cycling, underwent endocrine masculinization, exhibited a heightened stress response, increased their spontaneous activity, improved their learning and memory, and maintained elevated levels of circulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor. In contrast, males on 40% CR maintained a higher body weight than the 40% CR females and did not change their activity levels as significantly as the 40% CR females. Additionally, there was no significant change in the cognitive ability of the males on the 40% CR diet.
Males and females exhibited similar responses of circulating lipids (cholesterols/triglycerides) and energy-regulating hormones (insulin, leptin, adiponectin, ghrelin) to energy restriction, with the changes being quantitatively greater in males. The high-fat/high-glucose diet had no significant effects on most variables measured but adversely affected the reproductive cycle in females. Heightened cognition and motor activity, combined with reproductive shutdown, in females may maximize the probability of their survival during periods of energy scarcity and may be an evolutionary basis for the vulnerability of women to anorexia nervosa.
They also found this:
The weight of the adrenal gland was similar in rats on all diets; however, when normalized to body weight CR and IF diets caused a relative increase in adrenal size, the magnitude of which was greater in females, compared with males.
The testicular weight was unaffected by any of the diets. In contrast, both CR diets and the IF diet caused a decrease in the size of the ovaries.
And this, bearing in mind that “daytime” for nocturnal rats is “nighttime” for humans:
The daytime activity of females was doubled in response to IF, whereas the IF diet did not affect the activity level of males. Nighttime activity levels of males and females were unaffected by dietary energy restriction.
Uterine activity was monitored daily with vaginal smear tests; cyclicity was scored as regular, irregular, or absent. The mild energy-restriction diets (20% CR and IF) significantly increased the proportion of animals displaying irregular cycling patterns, whereas the 40% CR animals displayed an almost complete loss of estrous cyclicity.
In males, corticosterone levels were elevated only in response to the 40% CR diet, whereas in females corticosterone levels were significantly elevated in response to all three energy-restriction diets, suggesting a relative hyperactivation in females of the adrenal stress response to reduced energy availability.
For lipids, all the rats did well: “Collectively, these data suggest that atherogenic profiles of both males and females are improved by dietary energy restriction.” Interestingly, too, as they pointed out in the abstract, human females also perform cognitively much “better” (memory and alertness) on CR and IF diets than on normal feeding schedules.
There are of course some caveats to this study: A) They are rats. B) They are somewhat “metabolically morbid” rats, which may make them more susceptible to disease. C) The rats were allowed to eat ad libitum on the IF days, but they simply did not meet their caloric requirements this way. So while it is a somewhat natural form of IF, it is still calorically reduced, such that that must be taken into account when gasping in horror at the hormonal responses of IF-ing female rats.
The Few Human Studies
I mentioned above that through the same review that MDA used as a “great overview” of IF benefits for all sexes, I found harmful metabolic effects for women subjected to alternate-day fasting regimes.
This is the study:
Heilbronn et al found that with IF, insulin sensitivity improved in men (21 participants) but not in women (20 participants): after three weeks of alternate day fasting, insulin response to a test meal was reduced in men. Women experienced no significant change. “It is interesting that this effect on insulin sensitivity occurred only in male subjects,” they report.
With respect to other health markers female health actually declined, specifically with respect to glucose tolerance:
“Another diabetes risk factor that has shown a sex-specific effect is glucose tolerance. After 3 weeks of ADF, women but not men had an increase in the area under the glucose curve. This unfavorable effect on glucose tolerance in women, accompanied by an apparent lack of an effect on insulin sensitivity, suggests that short-term ADF may be more beneficial in men than in women in reducing type 2 diabetes risk. ” The opening line of their discussion reads: “Alternate day fasting may adversely affect glucose tolerance in nonobese women but not in nonobese men.”
In a follow up study, Heibron et. al studied the effects of alternate-day fasting on cardiovascular risk. When human subjects fasted on alternate days for another three week period, circulating concentrations of HDL cholesterol increased, whereas triacylglycerol concentrations decreased. This is a good thing. However, the shifts in lipid concentrations were shown to be sex specific: ie, only the women had an increase in HDL-cholesterol concentrations, and only the men had a decrease in triacylglycerol concentrations.
This study of alternate day fasting included 12 women and 4 men. In eight weeks, body weight decreased by about 10 pounds, and body fat percentage decreased from 45 to 42. Blood pressure decreased, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and traicylglycerol decreased. These people were significantly obese, which limits the results of this study to an obese population. However, “perimenopausal women were excluded from the study, and postmenopausal women (absence of menses for >2 y) were required to maintain their current hormone replacement therapy regimen for the duration of the study.” (Their words, my emphasis)
The one, big study of intermittent fasting conducted on men and women looked at differences between isocaloric feeding schedules: 3 meals/day feeding versus 1 meal/day.
The study focused on body weight composition, blood pressure, and body temperature in subjects. Subjects were fed isocalorically either one meal each day or three meals each day. All subjects were between 40 and 50 years old (excluding women of reproductive age), and between BMIs of 18 and 25. They ate, so far as I can tell, a healthy diet with 35 percent fat, PUFA < MUFA < SFA. Only 15 of the original 69 completed the study (which goes to show just how fun everyone thought fasting was). As for the results,
“Systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly lowered by ≈6% during the period when subjects were consuming 3 meals/d than when they were consuming 1 meal/d. No significant differences in heart rate and body temperature were observed between the 2 diet regimens. Hunger was enormously larger in the one meal/day than in the three meals/day group. “The 1 meal/d diet was significantly higher for hunger (P = 0.003), desire to eat (P = 0.004), and prospective consumption (P = 0.006) than was the 3 meals/d diet. Feelings of fullness were significantly (P = 0.001) lower in the 1 meal/d than in the 3 meals/diet.” Body weight dropped only four pounds after several months. Cortisol dropped, but Total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol were 11.7%, 16.8%, and 8.4% higher, respectively, in subjects consuming 1 meal/d than in those consuming 3 meals/d.
In sum: patients on the one meal/day regiment were unhappy, hungry, lost a little bit of weight, increased cholesterol. This was a small sample, included somewhat menopausal women, and all people of normal body weight.
Intermittent Fasting Women: In Conclusion
All that being said, that’s it. That’s all that exists! Women don’t have much to go on.
There are a few rodent studies. They found that when alternate-day fasting,female rats and found significant negative hormonal changes occurring in the females.
There are even fewer human studies. Human studies on alternate day fasting have not been conducted on women of reproductive age at all, nor have any studies analyzed reproductive responses to fasting.
Moreover, the few studies that have been conducted on non-obese women have demonstrated that their metabolic responses are not nearly as robust as those of men, and may in fact be antagonistic to their health.
This post has focused on sex-specific responses to fasting, specifically intermittent fasting women. Another important distinction to make is between different body weights. Overweight and obese patients appear to experience significant improvements with IF regimes, but normal weight patients do not show the same across-the-board benefits. For women this may be a particularly sensitive issue. Overweight women may experience metabolic benefits, whereas normal weight women do not. I suspect that that may roughly be the case, but who knows. Honestly, no one at this point.
The practical solution, then, I believe, is to look at options, to be honest about priorities, and to listen to one’s body with awareness and love.
Is fasting worth trying if a woman is overweight and trying to improve her metabolic markers, and so far hasn’t had much success? Perhaps. Should it be undertaken if a woman is of normal weight? What if she is a light sleeper? What if her periods begin to dysregulate? Or stop? What if she starts getting acne, getting a stronger appetite, or losing her appetite altogether? These things happen, and I see them in women who fast and contact me time and time again.
We women (people!) should be honest with ourselves about our priorities, and act constantly with our mental and physical health foremost in our minds. All women are different. But the literature is so sparse in this area that we cannot make any real statements or predictions about the effects of fasting, other than that we just don’t know, and that we should continue to emphasize the centrality of awareness, caution, and loving nourishment in moving forward.
IF is one realm in which the female body has unique characteristics and needs that demand attention. There are boatloads of others. If you’re interested in reading about the collective set of them and learning how to optimize female skin, weight loss, and hormone balance, for a few examples, you could do worse than my best-selling book, Sexy by Nature,here.
Cellulite is a very natural part of the female body!
Female hormones cause layers of the skin to fold differently over fatty tissue than male hormones do. This causes the majority of women to have cellulite.
Period. End of story.
Even women who are incredibly thin have cellulite on their tiny little fat deposits.
Cellulite is fact of female life… but it’s naturalness has been beaten out of us.
We have been told it’s unnatural. We have been told it’s ugly. We have been told it’s disgusting.
Corporations who want us to feel badly about ourselves and buy their products have told us time and time again that we are not worthwhile if we have cellulite.
But imagine a world where cellulite is not shameful and punishable, but instead celebrated!
Imagine a world in which women weren’t ashamed of their natural bodies, but instead proud and happy! Wouldn’t that be amazing?
I do my best to live in and to create that world around me. Want to join in? Here are the top 5 reasons I love my cellulite – and I think you might be loving your cellulite at least a little bit (more) by the end, too.
1. It gave me my clear skin, fertility, and sex drive back
I began seriously restricting my food intake back in 2009. I probably ate aroun 1000 calories a day. I also woke up at 5am to hit the gym for an hour before class, then spent another 90 minutes at the gym before going to bed.
I shed a lot of weight, fast, and I kept it off by continuing to restrict calories and exercise a lot. I was very thin. I had eight pack abs. I looked like this:
But when I looked like this, my body rebelled. My hormone levels became incredibly imbalanced. I developed PCOS (which I later figured out how to overcome, and now spend my life helping other women do the same). I developed a severe case of acne. I stopped menstruating and lost my fertility. I completely lost my libido, and in fact my desire to be romantic at all.
When I summoned the courage to re-gain weight and let some cellulite sit on my behind and thighs, my body no longer felt like it was starving. I became much healthier. My skin cleared up remarkably (you can see before and after photos in this post). My fertility came back. My menstrual cycle returned. And my romantic and sexual capabilities again skyrocketed. I became sexually ravenous.
And I will never, ever, ever give that up again.
The female body is naturally a bit fatty. Your hormone health depends upon this. Without robust hormone health, your skin, your sex drive, your fertility, and your mood may all suffer like mine did.
Cellulite has real health consequences. When you have it, you permit your body to feel as nourished and fed as it needs.
2. Without cellulite, I wouldn’t have curves
I have cellulite on the inside and outside of my upper thighs. While it might not be photoshoppy-ideal to have the cellulite, if I didn’t have this weight, I also wouldn’t have a fairly robust hourglass shape.
When I added the cellulite, I also added some weight to my hips, and some D sized weight in my chest.
There is not a single thing wrong with being a twiggy, sculpted woman. That’s a perfectly beautiful thing.
It’s simply not my version of beauty.
3. I get to eat when I am hungry!
Back when I was magazine-worthy thin, I felt hungry 1000% of the time.
During that time, I thought feeling that way was normal. I was so used to it. I had been restricting my food intake my whole life.
Nowadays, I eat when I am hungry. Sometimes I even eat when I’m not hungry, but just because I feel like it. I don’t normally stop until I get pretty full. I feel good about what I eat, and I love not being hungry any more.
Eating heartily is far more fun than a size 00 jean could ever be.
Trust me, I’d know.
4. I get a brand new kind of compliment
The way that I exist in my body has changed, and that’s cool. Yet so has the way that other people notice.
Back when I was waify thin, I got a lot of compliments from women. They said “you look so great!” all the time. Sometimes women told me they were intimidated by me, because my abs or my thigh gap or whatever were so impressive.
I thrived off of that attention – I met the standard for the way women are “supposed” to look – and women gave me the complimentary awards I convinced myself I deserved. I was on Cloud Nine. It was the most amazing feeling to “win” the game.
When I gained weight, people stopped complimenting me on my size. No one called me “tiny” anymore. No one said I looked “great.” Women pretty much stopped commenting on my appearance at all.
But men on the other hand…
Men began to compliment me a lot more.
Albeit, they were often objectifying compliments. I’ll never forget the “hey you look better from behind!” remark.
But the bottom line is that the men see something that women are often too blinded to see:
I exist healthfully in my natural body now. I am comfortable in my skin. I am fertile. I am sexual.
Men aren’t yoked to the standard image the way women are. They are more free to embrace various bodies, and to not care at all about some cellulite here or there. Not at all.
Seriously. I have a lot of data to back this up. They care not at all.
(And if they do, f’ em!)
Women could probably love and appreciate a body like mine too, if it weren’t for the fact that the womanly gender is so tragically caught up in the skinny skinny skinny mantra that magazines and corporations ram down our throats.
And again, I need to emphasize that neither body type – my thin waify body type of old or my more jiggly curvy one of today, is better than the other. But they aredifferent, and I have settled into the body type and type of existence that is right for me.
5. I get to be the change
Ghandi said “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
A lot of factors make me love and keep my cellulite. Yet the most powerful one of all has nothing to do with me, and instead has everything to do with the people I am helping other than me.
Society tells women and girls that we need to be fat-free in order to be beautiful. It tells us that we need to be stick figures. It tells us that we need to be air-brushed. It tells us that we need to deprive ourselves of enjoyable food and nourishing calories in order to be loved.
It tells us that in order to get attention and be worthwhile, we need to prioritize our looks, and even to punish ourselves because of them.
These ideas are wrong. They are oppressive. They are responsible for depression, anxiety, self-loathing, hormone imbalances and other health conditions, hospitalizations, and even deaths for millions of women and girls every single year.
As a woman, I consider it my duty to stand up for my jiggly parts.
The world will never change unless someone makes it happen. I and every other woman who say no to norms and embraces our natural bodies – whether it has curves or fat or cellulite or scars or pimples or anything else – we are literally making a stand for social justice. We are changing the world.
One impression at a time. One girl at a time. One friend at a time. When I proudly wear my jiggly parts and still consider myself worthwhile, I subtly influence the people around me.
If I hated myself, starved myself, and tried to get rid of my cellulite, then I would be participating in the oppressive social machine.
I can’t do that.
Of all of the reasons I love my cellulite, this is the most important one:
I love my cellulite, ladies, because I love you.
Why do you love your cellulite? Or do you hate it? What do you think of MY reasons? I would love to learn from your opinions and experiences!!!
Loving your body is one of those things you are supposed to do. You are supposed to cherish it. You are supposed to appreciate it. You are supposed to enjoy looking at it in the mirror. We are all supposed to do these things. Hell, I’ve written a whole book on them. Have you read Sexy by Nature?
Right? I’ve worked on body love so much I even know how to help you do it.
From all of that experience, I know that there are good ways to do it, and there are bad.
I (obviously!) do it all the good ways. I love my body because of what it does, and because of gratitude for what it provides to me — like the abilities to breathe, and to laugh, and to be happy. I love my body because it is my home. I love my body because it does its best to make me healthy. I love my body because the number of things it does right far outweigh the number of things it does wrong. I do not love my body based on shallow, transient characteristics like the circumference of my abdomen or the semi-linearity of my almost-white teeth. (I do, admittedly, really enjoy having orange hair.)
I love my body in all the right ways and for all the right reasons.
(there’s got to be a “yet,” right?)
Sometimes I do not love my body.
Sometimes, in fact, I hate it.
Sometimes I fear it.
Sometimes I resent its limitations so fiercely I dig my nails into my mattress and sob until I run out of breath.
Here is why:
My body works, but not the way it is supposed to.
My body sleeps, but never for more than four hours at a time and sometimes not at all.
My kidneys process potassium, but at a much lower rate than other peoples’ do.
My heart beats, but faster and harder than a healthy heart beats.
My skin protects me from the outer world. It looks pretty good these days. But one sweaty workout, one bite of vegetables fried in butter, one handful of nuts, one small period of fasting, one ten-minute exposure to UV rays, and I will most certainly have acne the following morning.
My eyes work, but are photophobic, which means that I get migraines from any lights brighter than a desk lamp. I always wear sunglasses outside, and sometimes I even have to wear them inside. This is not a whole lot of fun in ballet class.
My metabolism burns, but slowly. Just one “off” day and my pants are noticeably tighter. If not careful, I’ll put on five pounds in a week.
My ovaries now work better, thanks to serious efforts and healing on my part, but I also experience weight gain and quite depressing PMS like clockwork every 27 days.
My muscles contract, but those in my back more than other people’s, which means I get headaches if I have poor posture or sit down for too long.
My eardrums are great at detecting quiet sounds. Their sensitivity can be helpful. It can also be oppressive, since loud sounds and pressure from the wind give me headaches. I always have a pair of ear plugs on me in case I need them.
My body works, but is limiting.
My body works, but I cannot necessarily fix it.
My body, in fact, often stops me from being able to visit friends and relatives. It prevents me from enjoying meals that my friends make. It forces me to leave all rooms with fluorescent lights. It doesn’t let me sleep. It makes my heart beat too fast. It gives me anxiety. It makes me chronically exhausted. It erodes my faith in my ability to ever be able to have a stable health and happiness.
In these moments, do I love my body?
Well, deep down, yes. I know that it is my only home. It is my shelter, and my partner. It does many good things. I do know this.
But sometimes its just f*cking impossible to feel it.
It is my firm and loving opinion that it is unrealistic to demand of ourselves that we always feel positively about our bodies. My solution is to stop doing that.
I don’t put any pressure on. I do my best. Life is hard. Health is hard. I no longer need to be perfect, in this as much as in other things. I simply cannot do it. As much as I do genuinely love and appreciate my body, I am a human being who struggles. I have good days and bad days. On bad days, I am so unhappy with my body it physically aches.
And to be honest, since I have accepted the pain and frustrations and patience required for living in my body…
it has all gotten easier. Permitting my negative feelings space has allowed me to heal. I’ve got at least three degrees of acceptance here working in my favor. I enjoy thinking of myself as intelligent, so let’s call it Meta-Acceptance. It’s 1) okay that my body is so delicate, 2) also okay that I don’t like that my body is so delicate, amd 3) also also okay that I don’t like that I don’t like that my body is so delicate.
These days when I’m scared or pissed off about my body, I let myself be angry. My mom will call me and I’ll say – hang on, I’ve got a big cry to let out, I’ll call you right back. And I do it, and I’m unhappy, but I’m fine, it’s actually all fine. I go back to the tasks and rhythm of my Monday. The more I have accepted these moments and feelings, the easier they flow through me and out of my life.
It’s kind of nice.
…Even though (!) the point of this post has NOT been to teach you a lesson on how to heal.
Sure – yes – acceptance has been powerful. Woooo. Go acceptance!
What I really want to do here more than anything is to “come out” – so to speak. It is to be a blogger who cares about body love, who has literally written the book (one of them) on it – and to still be someone who isn’t always overbrimming with joy and love.
More and more acceptance all the time, sure. Stuff is what it is, and that’s that. But life as a human animal is hard and imperfect, and here I am saying, do your best to be loyal to and embrace your body, but – well. Whatever. If you don’t always feel it, more power to you. You need more than just the easy stuff to make life worth living anyway.
It’s all okay. Good day, bad day, how much you are capable of accepting limitations. Whatever.
Sometimes I don’t feel love for my body.
No big deal.
If these thoughts resonated with you, you will probably really enjoy my book, Sexy By Nature. All my thoughts on body love and acceptance can be found there.
The following post is written by a lovely and powerful new voice in the body love scene. Her name is Madelyn, and she used to be a body builder.
I first came across Madelyn’s work I believe at some point in 2013. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan. I was perhaps even appalled. A bit horrified, maybe. Sad. Angry. I mean – it was okay. But what she was selling on her website, more or less, was herself as a muscle-glorified sex object.
Honestly, that’s got to be a hell of a body to let go of. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to step ‘down’ from so high a pedestal.
Now this is the kind of photo I used to look at and weep tears of envy.
If you go to her site today, you’ll see a lot of the same photos. These kinds of photos sell appearances more than health, which isn’t my favorite way to inspire people.
Yet with a keen eye, you’ll see, too, a woman on a hell of a journey of change, and a set of photos that tell a story.
Because while so many of the photos are the same, the language is different. Madelyn talks about “health” and “inner strength” and “acceptance.” Those photos are old, and she and doesn’t compete any more. Her invitation to join her mailing list reads like this:
“Ready to love your body? Sign up for the FREE eCourse “Mind Body Satisfaction, Sacrifice-Free” and learn how to fall in love with yourself exactly how you are. “
but anyway. It’s so powerful to witness someone coming through these changes and rocking them out. Madelyn now loves her body because of the way it feelsfar more than the way it looks.
Madelyn is over body building. And in love.
She recorded a hell of a youtube video about her journey –
– and if you’ve got ten minutes it’s definitely worth the watch.
Here she is, in her own words. You can find more of Madelyn (and her kickass podcast, which I was just recorded for last night) @ mindbodymusings.com.
The following story generally rings true for many people, which is why I’m such an open book in regards to my food and body issues growing up. Nobody is alone in this battle and there is most definitely a solution just waiting to be discovered. I am so glad I can now share my discovery of that solution.
I started my food obsession, body shaming, and negative self-worth at a really young age. When I was about 15 years old I watched a television show that warned against the dangers of anorexia, bulimia and the likes. Even though it warned against the tragic habit, it was the first time I had really heard about eating disorders and it stuck in my head as something to try out later and see what happened.
I wouldn’t say that I suffered from one specific eating “disorder” but I’ve had disordered eating most of my life. My relationship with food always depended on my relationship with my weight. And my relationship with weight depended on how “in control” I was of everything else. It was a terrible cycle that I seemed to never get out of.
I started the cycle as a vegetarian, mostly for animal rights, but it eventually turned into a weight control practice. I then realized I wanted the body of a fitness model and physique competitor, so I switched over to the meat eating clan and began to eat like a bodybuilder AKA six meals a day, every three hours, no salt, no fruit, everything had to be weighed and measured and eaten out of Tupperware. Soon enough, getting my body fat pinched every weekend was a typical activity, as well as my hour-long cardio sessions in the morning paired with lifting sessions in the evening. Amidst this loveless, foodless, deprived life, I was starting to become addicted to seeing my body transform. As the body fat melted off, my self-esteem skyrocketed. As my butt got rounder, my smile got larger.
After hitting the stage for my first and even second fitness competition, I gained a little weight back and returned to my average size. In fact, I was much stronger, healthier, happier, and fuller (physically and emotionally) but less toned. Womp, womp. The psychological struggles continued. I loathed my lack of leanness, I hated my distorted body image and I still measured and weighed my food in attempt to create that perfect body again.
Soon enough I discovered paleo after receiving a book to review for my blog, and then again, when a friend told me how awesome the “diet” had been for him. I became really interested and really involved in the community, where I met many people who taught me to love myself no matter what. Though this is easier said than done, after extreme commitment, positive affirmation, journaling, getting a dog, and moving states (not necessarily because of my body image struggles but it certainly didn’t hurt), I finally found something deep inside of me that was dying to come out.
Not just physical strength but emotional strength. I developed the strength to challenge social norms and to decide for myself what I think “beautiful” really means. In the end, I decided beautiful means life. It means coffee in bed on a Sunday morning. It means an extra spoonful of peanut butter just because. It means going four wheeling or boating whenever I want, because I no longer have to worry about bringing Tupperware meals. Last but not least, it means being able to tell myself “it’s okay” to not work out when I don’t feel like it. It’s okay to put family and friends FIRST before the gym and bulk cooking. It’s okay. Why? Because I’m already beautiful.
As many people say, paleo is not just a diet. It’s a lifestyle. It means to live organically, stress-free, happy and healthy. Healthy can be subjective but for most people, it means to live a life that promotes your version of optimal health. It means to live in a way that promotes mind-body satisfaction, without the sacrifices.
When I first discovered paleo, I went the strictest route. I basically did a Whole30 but for four months. I became too rigid and decided that wasn’t the healthiest for me, personally. I even discovered I have no allergies to gluten, dairy, beans or grains. While that’s kind of cool, I didn’t go crazy on eating them because as I listened to my body, I discovered those foods don’t necessarily make me feel optimal energy.
Truthfully, I rarely eat gluten or legumes by choice because they don’t make me the best version of myself. Dairy on the other hand makes me feel like a rock star.
So I make it work for me. Paleo has allowed me to find the best version of myself by helping me realize what makes me feel best, inside and out.
There are no meal plans, no food scales, no body fat pinchers, no tiny swimsuits hanging on my “inspiration wall” and certainly no sports-bra and spandex clad photo shoots in my near future.
I’m so excited to now have the “Madelyn Moon Diet” and nothing else. And more than just the diet aspect, I now live a much more minimalistic life. I try to keep my household minimalistic, as well as my face (less is more, ladies) and even my workouts!
The people I have met in the paleo community have literally changed my life in every aspect. I could name you ten people right now that have impacted me in some way or another and have brought me to tears from their support and generosity.
I am in no way exactly where I want to be in terms of body image and my relationship with food, but I am much farther in my journey than where I started. I have come incredibly far in all actuality, and as long as I remember to keep up the self-love and acceptance, I will be in the best “shape” of my life (possibly literally, but that one is more metaphorically).
Because I wanted to share how I’ve learned to retrain my brain into loving my body just the way it is, as well as block out all of the lean body fitness fluff, I created an eCourse that guides readers step by step on how to do exactly that. The course is called Mind Body Satisfaction, Sacrifice-Free. The eCourse is completely free, and you will receive a lesson every four days. My goal with the course is to give you small, easily implemented changes you can make every day that will eventually lead you into non-negotiable self-love and body acceptance. To sign up for my eCourse simple go to my website here and type in your email address in the box at the top.
Lastly, I wanted to further share my passion for the ever-so-important mind body relationship by creating a podcast, called Mind Body Musings. The podcast features various guests that are well-known in the fitness industry who share their stories, theories, research and knowledge with us so that we can all better understand our bodies and brains. The podcast can be found on iTunes here, or you can go to my website here for the direct download links.
A big thank you to Stefani for letting me share my story with you today. Stay tuned for this story to be published in The Paleo Miracle 2 as well, along with many other inspirational mind body strengthening stories.
I hope you enjoy any newfound insight you learn from these two tools and further develop your own strength, beauty and self-love.
First, let me say: thank you, community. After just 24 hours on Amazon shelves, Sexy by Nature was already #1 in one of it’s listed categories, “whole foods.” I couldn’t do this without you. Your love and support is incredible, and as I drove east from Detroit to Boston yesterday all I could think about was how much I wanted to hug all of you all of the time.
If you’ve got a copy, I hope you love it, and I hope you’ll let me know what you think. I’m watching all the relevant review sites like a hawk, ready for your honest stars (I don’t even need five, I promise. Just honest ones.) (No, give me five, okay?)
So it gives me even more joy to bring to you one of the best, practical, empowering, and did I say best? posts that I think I’ve ever written. It’s up at George Bryant’s (the civilized caveman of giveaway and incredible recipes and big time LOVE fame) blog.
and (of course – because you know me well enough by now) 9. Strut!
(except George likes to use more exclamation points, as you’ll see in the post 🙂 )
So check it out! This list is NOT in Sexy by Nature– much as I wish it were. Nor is it anywhere else, really. You might want to check out the “10 Reasons to Love Your Body” VLOG, which is similar, but that’s as close as I get anywhere on the internet to telling you how to have a good relationship with your body.
Today, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror of Barnes and Noble for an embarrassingly long amount of time. Three minutes. Five. Ten. Why? Yesterday I finally “caved” – I went to the thrift store and bought a whole new set of pants, having barely managed to squeeze myself into my last pair of “fat” pants no longer.
I needed to up my size. I learned in the dressing room the need was even more drastic than I thought.
This was a bit of a shock – to go from a zero to a six – (holy I’ve been squeezing Batman) and so I found myself poking and prodding for days afterward.
How different do I now look?
Honestly I have no idea.
And am I any more or less attractive than I was before?
Well. That’s subjective, but I am feeling damn adamant that it’s about the same.
To assert in the title of this post that you lack objectivity is, I know, offensive. I apologize. Nonetheless I am certain the statement is true – it is literally impossible for me to see myself (and for you to see yourself) outside of my own current situation and time. As human beings, just as it is impossible to see ourselves without judging ourselves relative to other people, it is impossible to see ourselves without judging ourselves relative to a way we have been in the past or how we anticipate we might be in the future.
We have no objective standards. It is beyond important for us to realize this fact.
To help demonstrate to you just how powerful this phenomenon can be, I have compiled a wide variety of comparisons of different photos of myself taken at various points in time. Below are two photos posted with comments on them: one set from the context in which the photo was taken — the then — (so if the photo was taken in 2011, I share my thoughts from 2011), and then one set from today, the now.
Today I look back on photos in which I had thought I was egregiously overweight, bloated, jiggly, or poorly shaped and I think either ‘healthy wow’ or “skinny wow” – two sets of thoughts that were completely beyond my my current, unobjective, fearful mind.
Will I do the same thing in the future with my current self? Will I, over time, come to view the body I am in in this moment in 2014 as even more worthy of admiration and love and beauty than I do now? Will I look back and think all of my “bad” days were so unbelievably uncalled for?
I am not objective.
I do not pretend to be.
First up are photos from my pre-weight loss days.
Fall of 2009, right before I shed thirty pounds in three months, so I weighed approximately 135-7 pounds. Here, I am participating in a (unorthodox) wilderness evacuation group, having the time of my life, and in extraordinarily good health and fitness, as I lifted heavy things and climbed mountains all day every day:
Spring of 2008:
Fall of 2007: Hiking the Great Wall – after a whole summer of living and doing trailwork in the Colorado wilderness.
In retrospect, I looked good, and happy, and healthy.
Then come the post-weight loss double-zero, lean years, in which I maintain my attitude of being hyper critical and fearful:
This photo is from the Spring of 2011, from my go-go dancing days:
The fall of 2010:
This photo is from the winter of 2011, in which I thought I was having a “fat month” intermission during the lean years:
Spring of 2011 on a beach in Taiwan:
Okay, the fact that I was worried about being “fat” in these photos is scary.
Also the spring of 2011 on a beach in Taiwan:
This photo is from the summer of 2013, right before my recent complete fertility and regular menstruation-gaining weight gain:
Then are the photos I have taken of myself since the weight gain. Since they are so recent I do not have “then” and “now” selections, but I do have “bad brain” and “good brain.”
From the thrift store when I was trying on new pants – checking in on how far apart my feet now need to be for the gap:
This photo is from last weekend, taken at 4am in the hallway of a Latin dance conference in Chicago, at which, of course, I was so happy:
So there you have it. What are some takeaways?
-You probably saw a woman much healthier and lovelier than I ever did/do – then, now, good brain, bad brain. Though I think I’m getting the hang of it now.
-Thighs are a big deal for me. We all have that one “big deal” flaw or what-have-you that is the most important to us.
In fact, this point is worth delving into a bit, since a study I participated in in college demonstrated that we seek in and judge other people the things that we are so attentive to as flaws in our own selves. So I immediately look at people’s skin and their thighs when I “judge” them – or at least these are the characteristics that stand out – because I focus so intently on my own.
-When I was 137 pounds I nitpicked specific body parts – mostly my thighs, though I guess that’s not apparent in these photos – and every time I looked at these photos on facebook I winced, thinking other people would find me unattractive.
-When I was 105 pounds I nitpicked specific body parts – mostly my thighs – and every time I looked at these photos I felt bad about myself, like I wasn’t winning the skinny game.
-When I returned to 130+ pounds in 2013 I still had bad days, but the good days significantly outnumber them. “Bad brain” tries to pick apart my body and put it into these tiny, scrutinizable, dissectable pieces, but “good brain” says “hell no, woman, you are healthy and whole, inclusive of every piece of you.”
-Fear robs us of love and objectivity. In my current body, I am so afraid of being judged and rejected as substandard. But in hindsight – having already lived the time – I look back on it knowing that everything was perfectly fine and healthy.
-Even in a case in which I/we look back and find myself in less good health, I can still see how my fear made me feel unacceptable, but I needn’t have felt that way, since everything was just plain okay. And I am on a continuously evolving, surprising journey.
-Life is not neat. It is messy. This fact can be scary, but it can also be quite lovely and liberating. Looking at photos of like this demonstrates how much our bodies change even while our reactions to and fear about our bodies stays the same. I have the same fears and anxiety at 130 pounds as I did at 105, and at 137. Of course there are differences, but my anxiety about it all has always been present. Knowing this fact teaches me a bit more each day to let go of control and embrace each day as it is.
Okay! Whoopah. What do you think?
Also, I talk about these things at great length in Sexy by Nature, and I am giving away free copies and sharing parts of the book at the blog post here (!). So check it out and get free stuff.