Sunday, June 8, 2014

On Cleanliness and De-Cluttering

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."  ~ William Morris 

This is a great quote.  I've been cleaning today.  If you would like a reminder of why it's better to cook bacon in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, you should spend an hour cleaning the stove-side steel shelf that you have not cleaned thoroughly in a month (COUGH-it'   Full disclosure: this activity might, in fact, put you off bacon entirely for a while.  

Deep cleaning almost always coincides with efforts to get other things in my life "cleaned up."  These days I'm working on balance, on nurturing my health and my joy.  I'm reaching for the tools that have always helped me: love, time in my garden, time on my bike, food that is "close to the source" instead of packaged neatly and chemically preserved.  I'm working to find my healthy center again, and my efforts are working.  I'm trying to define what "healthy" looks like to me, for me.  

Questions of body image seem almost impossibly tangled with judgement.  I have friends who feel too skinny, friends who feel "fit but fat" and friends who either feel they are too fat or feel other people feel they are too fat, those other people ranging from mothers to spouses to friends to utter strangers who feel qualified to judge because we have BMI ranges and weight charts with nifty labels that let everyone who cares to indulge that sort of impulse feel like an expert.  It's a colossal waste of energy, and if it were not so charged with emotional pain it would be boring.  I'm bored by my own exploration of how best to manage my weight.  Sick of it.  Bored to death by my own voice when people ask how my latest efforts are faring, what the "secret" is.

The secret, it seems, is probably nothing new.  It is likely to be comprised of eating real food and moving our bodies as much as we can.  The secret is probably avoiding foods that contain chemicals we can't identify or pronounce.  It's likely best to eat food that didn't come from a process (Ore-Ida friends, remember the "formulated factory" label?  there's a sign!).  The secret is probably balancing our lives so that pleasure and work, joy and striving, stress and reward, are all in balance. The secret is probably enjoying food without guilt, but not turning it into a reward and punishment system that makes us lose sight of the basic function of food as fuel, or the simple pleasures of food as part of a life well lived.  The secret may involve lounging in gardens with books, dancing to music, hugging people we love, drinking wine or coffee or whatever makes your heart sing--just not in a mega-mug.  

I have struggled and wrestled with "healthy weight"--but not with any other symptoms of health--my entire life.  In my 20's I discovered that if I quit worrying about the number on the scale and whether other people thought I was too fat to walk, hike, play tennis, bike or swim, I could have a damned fine time doing all of those things and become a fitter (slightly smaller) version of myself. I have especially always loved biking, which has been a favorite activity from the time I had my first gold Huffy with the sparkly banana seat.  In my 30's, I routinely logged 150 miles a week on my bikes, most of it on the Boise Greenbelt pathway.  

That said, there is a weight range that I feel comfortable in.  I feel strong, energetic and (if I'm getting enough time on my bike saddle or in my walking shoes) fit.  That weight range is well above what weight charts think I should weigh.  I'm not big-boned, I'm big-curved.  And if I diet and struggle enough to get to the "target" weight, I'm tired all of the time but can't sleep 12 hours a night because I have to fight like a demon to maintain it.  

But you know what's strange about our culture?  If I write about wanting to get back to MY self-defined healthy range, which is still in the too-high BMI range, the too-heavy for healthcare discounts range, I will risk being labeled as a hater.  A fat-shamer.  I'm not, for the record.  I have very little interest in telling healthy women or men how much I think they should weigh.  I have very little interest in anyone else's weight at all, except as a function of how good they feel.  If I love someone, I'm likely to also have an opinion about how much junk (food that isn't food!) is in their daily diet.  Live, I say.  Splurge a little, I say.  Enjoy, I say.  Eat produce prepared delectably. Eat what makes you feel good, and makes you feel like living well.  Hell, eat some junk!  Just don't confuse food with happiness, don't confuse the bliss of a chunk of chocolate cake with fulfillment of a lasting kind.  Don't feel entitled to a gigantic serving of anything Starbucks or Taco Bell or your favorite Thai place makes because you had a difficult day.  The food and the challenges of everyday life are not related, you see.  Conflating them will cause no end of blechiness, including the fact that you won't enjoy the food.  

But the fact that I need to cushion my words with these assurances--I'm one of you!  I am not judging!--hurts, more than a little.  It makes me aware of how achingly judged people who weigh "too much" or "too little" feel.  It makes me aware of how lucky I am to have been loved and have found success in many corners of my life while simultaneously being a heavy person.  I know that the labels hurt--but I have also learned that the labels are only words.  I know that they are not limits on what I can do unless I believe them.  I know that it is 100% okay to love the me I am today while striving to be a fitter, and slightly smaller as a result, version of me.  I know that those who love me will love me no matter what.  

For me, life at my heaviest was not painful because I thought I would be judged for my size.  In fact, I was often shocked on those occasions when I realized that I had been judged for my size.  No, it was painful because I did not feel true to myself.  It was painful because I hated how clearly my size was reflecting the crazily out of balance nature of my life.  It was painful because Jeff, my then-husband, felt responsible for all of that and it was so visible, so clearly present, that I could not deny any of it.  It was painful because it was actually more difficult to do the things I believe healthy bodies are meant to do, to dance and walk and bike.

As ever, I am aware that not everyone has been as fortunate as I have been.  Not everyone feels loved no matter their weight.  Not everyone has been successful despite having a body size outside the narrowly accepted limits.  And so, while I love Morris' quote, it helps to de-clutter a home, and a life, I think some variants are useful:
  • Eat nothing that you do not fully enjoy, and do not allow guilt to color your enjoyment.
  • Remove from your life anyone or anything that does not make you feel joyous, happy, worthy or beautiful.  
    • Corollary: Feeling guilty that someone who is important in your life does not make you feel joyous, happy, worthy or beautiful is not a reason to ignore this life rule.
My best to all who happen this way.