An Open Letter to Weight Watchers

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An open letter to Weight Watchers, in light of offering free memberships to teenagers

Dear Weight Watchers,

Your program is a rite of passage. Both my mother and grandma were on Weight Watchers in the 90s, at a time where cigarettes and Slimfast were also popular diet aids. They used to attend meetings together, and who can’t get behind female solidarity? Women coming together to talk about their struggles, finding strength in the collective?! I should really get myself to the nearest Weight Watchers meeting if the whole premise didn’t reek of bullshit.

No matter how you dress this up as “wellness” or “health”, your program is only one thing: A brilliant and manipulative business plan.

As the popular flavour of the day changes, (Cindy’s legs, Britney’s abs, Kim’s gravity defiance) the world tells women we are not quite good enough. But fear not! We can be the “best versions of themselves” by simply ignoring our body’s signals and hunger cues and obsessively tracking calories. Sorry, not calories…Points. And it will work! At first…

A hopeful woman will look at the Before and After photos and be inspired, take out her credit card, drink the sugar-free Koolaid, and agree to beat her body into taking up less space. And she will lose weight, because calories-in and calories-out is simple math. But the best part? The minute she stops tracking every morsel, loosens the reigns…She’ll be back. The revolving door of yoyo dieting all but guarantees you have a customer for life, as long as you keep telling women there is something wrong with their bodies. Like I said, brilliant business plan.

But why bring the children into it?

Teenagers, children, who are supposed to be absorbing the world and trying things, making connections, learning how to talk to people, and discovering who they are and what they stand for – Why the fuck should a kid know how many Points a bagel is? Where are the points for intelligence? Kindness? Creativity? Where does your program nourish those parts of their beings?

Growing brains and bodies are trying to figure out how to navigate this world, so I guess my question is, why are you distracting and limiting the children by suggesting they need to count and measure, pinch and resist?

The world will inevitably convince them that they aren’t meeting expectations, that there is always something to improve. Why are you throwing children into the hellscape of diet culture before the brain knows which way is up?

You’ll be happy to know that I went on my first diet when I was 6-years old, after a little girl in my class told me my thighs looked big in my bicycle shorts. Most years, I blew out the candles on my birthday cake with an earnest wish to be skinny. Thankfully, and hilariously, my wish was often followed by digging into a sweet slice. But there have been too many times where I’ve vowed to be “good” and deprived myself of experiences that threatened to break my diet. I’ve avoided swimming lessons, shorts in the summer, spaghetti straps, all while I followed the rules of dieting and waited for my better (ie: smaller) body.

Once, while on a similar diet (what I came to know as an eating disorder) I reached my goal weight! I had starved and crunched and punished my body into the number in my head that I had been told was “right”. And guess what? I maintained my goal weight for 12 whole hours. After eating my breakfast of apple, the ounces on the scale crept up and I was failing once more.

I did just as you asked, Weight Watchers, engaged in discussion about “temptations” and labelled food as “good” and “bad”, ate the pre-portioned snacks promising to “stave off hunger”. I counted and tallied, and juggled and budgeted my precious Points so I could have a slice of pizza with my girlfriends.

Just like my mother, and her mother before her, I paid good money and followed the rules, waiting for the day I would be good enough so I wouldn’t have to count anymore. That day never came. But you already knew that.

Aiming diet culture at children is heartless and greedy, no matter how it’s branded. Whatever it is you’re doing, do not try to sell it to children as “health”.

Be better,

Victoria Bain

analepsis

It comes as quietly
as dimming cinema lights
But it’s not butterflies I feel,
It’s smallness.
Hurtling through the tunnel
Of old hurts cast upon the walls,
I remember.

Sitting in moonlight, twisting my heart in my white and red hands,
Confined in this driveway –
Did you love me yet.

I remember.

The words spilling from my mouth uncaged,
Hanging in the air like a soured final note
Into dampness, silence.

I remember.

Needing the hit of detergent and chlorine,
That brand of shampoo,
Through my nose, down my lungs, dumped into my blood,
To be okay.

I remember.

Your eyes reaching mine, meeting mine
You didn’t let go.
I didn’t. You didn’t.
We didn’t let go.

All Queued Up

All Queued Up is a monthly run-down of what I’m reading, listening to, and watching, as well as the funny, heart-breaking, or interesting things I come across in my travels. I love knowing what other people are giving their attention and allowing into their minds, and I encourage you to share the the nuggets of wisdom, annoyances, or ideally, the peace you glean from the content you mull over. More importantly, I’d love to know what you think about what your consuming – does it ring true for you, is it insightful, or is it a flaming ball of fresh trash? I’ll start by sharing what I’m currently surrounding myself with.

My Nightstand: 

HungerDifficultTamingSave the Catethical slut

My Netflix Queue: 

Jerry.jpg

Drug Lords

Dave.jpgOne more shot

In my ears: 

hilarous-world-depression_tile@2

Particularly this and this. 

Sword and Scale

New Season of my creepiest/guiltiest pleasure

Web Travels: 

This Is Not a Sex Panic

Aziz

This would be such a great way to come home! By : Daniel Anjos #animalonearth

A post shared by Animal On Earth (@animalonearth) on

Every single day, the world gives us a reason to be blood-red mad. I hope that by educating myself and listening and looking for the good out there, that I can contribute to the healthy, constructive conversation, and maintain my sanity.

Until next month’s All Queued Up!

Sunday Mornings

tenor

I wait at the window, holding my breath. Hearing only the warm pump of my heart in my ears. I catch the scuffling sound of beer-logged footsteps at a distance, and the tempo echoes between the sleeping buildings. A long pause. A shoe drags. Footsteps begin again.

I smell him before I see him. Beer and sweat and musky, almost-man smell – flavours that usually made my nostrils flare, taste sour. He steps into frame, and I watch him as if through a television. He doesn’t look up. With one eye closed, he peers into his small mobile phone with the other and deliberately, slowly, mashes the buttons down on the device. Snaps the phone shut.

My heart lifts. I’m here.

Reaching for my phone, I hear the chirp of his device in perky affirmation.

His face illuminated by the screen once more, he peers back into the beckoning phone before snapping it shut and guiding it down his backside into his jeans pocket. His face turns sharply, and his body follows, and his feet fall into a determined pace, retreating from the window. I watch as his shape becomes smaller and smaller, a prick in the landscape, until he turns a corner and can no longer be seen.

Cold in my hand, my phone is undisturbed.

I lay down to close my eyes.

It’s 2:47am.

Battle of the Blues

Sad-SnowmanIt’s been a minute since my last article. As is the cyclical nature of mental health, December brought a dip that zapped my motivation to write, but more accurately, a dip that made me feel too self-conscious and vulnerable to share with “the world”. Adding to the mental health conversation is normally a source of confidence for me, however, when I don’t have a firm grasp on my symptoms or a plan of attack, my voice falters. Which makes it all the more important to keep sharing when I’m able to again.

The winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a special brand of depression that will often coincide with the change in seasons, particularly as it related to drops in serotonin levels (a mood regulating hormone) and melatonin levels (your sleep hormone) and decreased exposure to sunlight in the winter months. This can be a common, yearly condition for the average person, and an especially bitter cocktail of symptoms to add to someone with existing mental health diagnoses.

I’ve been tracking the symptoms since November. Maybe you’ve noticed them too – The chronic fatigue, the irritability, the mental fogginess, the scant motivation, the sudden cravings for potato-based foods…

I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve tried to combat the winter blues, and I continue to add to it as the winter continues to stretch out before me.

Leaning into Winter: Perhaps I’m more of an indoor girl when it comes down to it, but I have always been a staunch “winter denier”, never fully facing the reality of the temperature outside or being prepared with the appropriate attire and can-do attitude. Winter will prevail. Acquiring hats, scarves, boots etc that I like and will wear has reduced my discomfort and improved my attitude. Not revolutionary, I get it. But for someone who always used to claim that I “always lose my gloves”, I now utilize mittens-on-a-string.

A contributing reason to my disdain for cold temperatures was that it eliminated some of my favourite fair weather activities like walking, hiking, and general outdoor hang-abouts. Realizing that being prepared for the cold means I could still go for a walk and get that all-important regular physical activity.

Vitamins: Studies suggest that a lack of vitamin D could contribute to SAD symptoms, so, with a why-not disposition, I incorporated a Vitamin D spray into my morning and evening routine.

I’ve been educating myself on the practice of juicing, that is, pulverizing pounds of fruits and vegetables into green juice, which claims to deliver essential vitamins and minerals to your cells in the most efficient way possible. While juicing studies has its critics, I’m open to including more fruits and vegetables into my diet in a way that doesn’t require tucking into an entire head of red cabbage in a one sitting.

Light Therapy: My ever-woke best friend gifted me a HappyLight this Christmas, a light therapy box that claims to provide the natural spectrum light missing from our lives in the winter months. I’ve only just started using it at work and have been making my early observations about its effectiveness, and will report back. Another “why not try it” in the war against SAD.

Hobbying: I used consider hobbying as limited to something creative, such as crafting or knitting or building model airplanes. Things that required a certain amount of skill that I just didn’t have. I didn’t consider that I had plenty of hobbies, as in interests and activities outside of work that bring me pleasure or that I glean value or knowledge from. I’ve come to recognize my passion for mental health as a personal hobby, and I consistently look to increase my knowledge and add to the conversation around this subject matter. My reading habits, podcast interests, even my Netflix queue, very much speak to my desire to absorb and learn more about mental health. If cooking is your thing, educate yourself – read more about it, try new recipes, watch the videos, and talk about it with like-minded individuals. Take an interest in your own interests! It concerns me that social media and mindless television has become a pseudo-hobby of sorts – something we do a lot that seems to give us pleasure. But what and where is the value? A conversation for another day.

Make butterflies: Simply put, it helps to have something to look forward to. If life does not seem to be throwing exciting events and opportunities your way, find a way to create those feel-good “looking forward” butterflies for yourself. Even while on a budget, when trips to sunny destinations are all but off the table, I try to have one or two little things to look forward to – a weekend with girlfriends, a date, a new book, a day of sporting, trying a new recipe – things that evoke what my precious friend calls “excited stomach” – to keep me motivated.

If you are so inclined, let me know what SAD symptoms you’ve noticed in yourself, and things that you might add to this list.

Baby on a Budget

It all started with a letter in September from my auto insurance company that they would not be renewing my coverage for the next year at the current rate I was paying. I hadn’t had to adjust my insurance for several years, and had all but put this expense out of my mind. I’ve never claimed to be good with finances, after all. But as I asked my mom how I should go about finding another provider as a “high-risk driver” (yikes) I have never felt more like a plastic bag blowing in the wind when it came to money.

I started asking people how they kept track of their spending. I think I half-hoped that budgeting required some rare, innate skill that I simply didn’t have, so I could continue to bury my head in the sand about my spending habits. Then, my best friend showed me how her banking app categorized and tracked her spending so that she could make conscious decisions about when she could afford to eat out at a restaurant that week or buy new winter boots this month.

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Breakdown of my bills and expenses during a healthy month

“Sometimes looking at my bank account feels gross,” she said, “but I’d rather know than not know.” The magic words I needed to hear. I needed to face the damage. It was no longer acceptable to make a habit of accumulating ever-more consumer debt. I’m supposed to be a grown-ass woman!

So, I started doing some research. My mom had been encouraging me to use an Excel spreadsheet to budget my spending, however, it felt clunky and unrealistic to type in expenses retroactively and hold on to receipts to ensure accurate numbers. I have enough clutter – there had to be an app for that. And then I found Mint. After connecting my bank accounts to the app, I saw the state of my finances in all its colourful glory, and it was…gross. My spending exploded wildly from month to month, on things I could barely remember buying. I could literally trace the peaks and valleys of my depression by tracking increases in spending on things like take-out, delivery, and fast food, and decreases in gas and travel purchases. Clearly times where I was not leaving the house and seeking comfort. And by the end of every month, I was putting more and more things on my credit card, because I simply had no cash left. The whole exercise was horrifying. But now I knew. I had developed some self-indulgent habits that were extremely costly and I was overspending every single month.

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The yellow reflects reckless spending under “Shopping”, “Uncategorized” and “Food &  Dining” in the months prior to having an organized budget

Mint made it easy to plug in my bills and arrange for pre-authorized payments so that all my bills were paid in cash. (Do I sound like an advertisement yet?) The app categorized my past spending and made suggestions for monthly budgets for what I regularly spent money on – groceries, gas, restaurants, coffee, pharmacy, cat food, etc. It became clear that spending $150 monthly on coffee like I was Beyonce, was living beyond my means, to put it mildly. Starbucks, and its wildly successful Gold Star customer reward program that made me a loyal minion, had no place in my new budget.

The knowledge of the boundaries and limits of my budget has allowed me to create habits that have a positive spillover effect into other parts of my life. Making my own coffee at home in the morning cuts financial costs as well as calories, yet I don’t feel deprived of taste and have created more time for myself in the morning. Meal planning requires a level of preparation and organization, so staying within budget promotes a cleaner kitchen space, something that has always felt elusive to me in the past.

You might be asking what working within a budget has to do with mental health, and before writing this post, I couldn’t put my finger on why managing my finances properly made me feel better. But, like I discussed in my previous post about the burden of keeping secrets, my unaddressed debt and poor financial hygiene weighed heavily on me because I didn’t own it. It was a sore spot that I didn’t want to face, and on some level of my subconscious mind, it bothered me.

The cycle of good habits I’m creating will serve me well when the next depressive low rolls around, because the routine is already in place. This is particularly crucial as winter descends, a season that traditionally does not treat me kindly. In learning to accept my financial reality and face consequences, I’m shedding light on one of my biggest blind spots. There is a sense of peace in lifting the lid on my shortcomings and living transparently.

Secrets Are Bad For You

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At some point in life, secrets are not always so fun. I already know what I’m getting for my birthday, that Santa Claus isn’t real, and I told all my childhood crushes that I was the secret admirer long ago. Sometimes I think there are no more good secrets, because as I reflect on the purpose and consequences of keeping secrets, I see how this can create more harm than joy.

In the wake of the #MeToo Harvey Weinstein explosion, it has become abundantly clear that the combination of power and secrecy have been fuelling abusive and harmful treatment of women for decades. And Hollywood has just taken the spotlight in this moment. To believe that the same dynamics are not at play in corporate settings, technology, labour industries, and government, is evidence of the pervasiveness of secrecy. The power of secrets can be found everywhere.

At its worst, my eating disorder was my best-kept secret. I would lie and sneak around in order to preserve that intoxicating sense of control I felt I had earned by restricting my intake. I felt empowered and superior in exerting willpower over my body, all the while, denying I was actively dieting and chasing the feeling of control. The lying, the secrecy, fuelled the ED because I had nothing to challenge the perspective of the hungry, sick voice in my head. Only when I was finally confronted by my family and my doctor about the obsession with eating (or not eating) and food, did my secret finally spill out and I felt embarrassed and weak. I wasn’t in control at all – my illness had been dictating my every mouthful, social event, and passing thought. It had been controlling me. This secret had imprisoned my mind and harmed my body.

Working as a Probation and Parole Officer, I see countless clients who have endured some form of trauma or abuse that has deeply affected their lives, and without a doubt has contributed to the reasons they are seated across from me in my office. Whether they experienced abuse as children, or experience it present day in a toxic domestic relationship, clients disclose that their abuse was founded upon secrecy. To protect a loved one, an abuser, families and children, fear or threat of life or livelihood– I’ve heard every combination of reasons why a victim would keep their abuse a secret. And therein lies the power, and permits the harm to continue.

While I generally try to navigate my life being as forthcoming as possible (this blog being one of a number of exercises in honesty) at one time, I allowed myself to be swept up in secrecy in my personal life. The effect of keeping the secret was poisonous, and took its toll on my sense of self. I was lying to my friends, my family, and myself– and while I did not have the mental toughness to punish my physical body like I did when I was a teenager, I was in a near-constant state of emotional self-harm. All that negativity had to be directed somewhere, and my self-esteem and confidence were easy targets. Keeping secrets created a toxic discrepancy within me that I could not live comfortably with. I wanted to be a good person, but I was not acting like one.

Freeing myself from secrets felt like shedding a snakeskin, and I felt immediate relief from it’s hold on me. I could honestly believe others when they reminded me that I’m a good friend, that I’m thoughtful and a good listener. I remembered that I can expect from others everything I’m willing to give in relationships, that I don’t have to settle. I had forgotten that being honest with myself and being happy can be achieved at the same time. Who I want to be and who I am are back in alignment, and I can feel good about that. Growing up may mean there are fewer fun secrets left, but that’s okay with me.

Be Hard on Yourself

lazycat

Whenever I make the mistake of sharing my unfiltered negative self-talk with my friends or family, as in, the really abusive things I can sometimes say to myself that I would never dream of saying to anyone else, I always receive some variation of “you are being way too hard on yourself!” in return.

And I would take this gracious bit of validation that I was doing just fine, doing my best, chugging along. In my lowest places, I really lean into this practice:

Don’t be so hard on myself – the dishes can wait.

Don’t be so hard on myself – I’m so tired, I can’t possibly get to the gym today.

Don’t be so hard on myself – cooking for one is exhausting, I’ll order butter chicken delivery instead.

Don’t be so hard on myself – I’m too sad to take this call from my mom, best friend, auto insurance company… maybe later.

Does it smell like bullshit in here, or is it just me?

Whether this is a testament to my improved state of mind as of late, or whether it’s becoming more work to spin my tendency for avoidance into a cute anecdote, I think I am lifting the lid on some of the ways I am, in fact, way too easy on myself. I’m not sure I want to be the girl surrounded by takeout containers in my bed, cuddling with my computer watching calls go to voicemail between mouthfuls of naan bread. I’m not sure she’s doing her best.

There will always be things we don’t want to do – the tedious administrative parts of our jobs, taking out the leaky garbage, spin class at the gym. And yet, people do them. Those things get done. In my experience, the first casualty of depression is my motivation, and during a depressive low, the list of things I don’t want to do can become quite the long read. How do other people get up on time, even after a bad night’s sleep? They just do it. How do other people save money by meal prepping and grocery shopping ahead of time? They make time. The gym? They go, whether they are particularly feeling like it or not.

I may never feel like doing something, but I should do it anyway. Why? Because there are certainly consequences for doing it (it will be hard, exhausting, take a long time) but there will be consequences for not doing it, and I will likely regret these more. I need to care enough about Future Vic to take care of things for her and to not make life any more difficult than it already is by avoiding it. If I would do something for a friend without thinking twice, I need to do it for myself whether I feel like it or not.

I think we wait for inspiration or motivation or willpower to kick in at some point. And like being stood up for a date in the 1990s before cell phones, we may be waiting a long time. I’ve referenced Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck in a previous post, and I shamelessly do it again to promote his idea of flipping the script on motivation to read something like this:

Action → Inspiration → Motivation

*not the other way around.

The brief moments of motivation and energy are fleeting, and this feeling is usually front-loaded at the top of a project or goal we have some emotional attachment to, like starting back up at the gym after seeing a particularly ratty-looking tagged photo of yourself. But it takes a lot of energy to keep that motivation revving, and it will inevitably wane. This is where Mark Manson says we need to DO SOMETHING, even something small in the direction we want to go in, because the act of doing something – anything – can cultivate some of those feelings of accomplishment and passion that got us started in the first place.

By forcing myself to do something small, like taking a moment to prep the coffee machine the night before, I initiate a chain of steps in a positive direction. With coffee prepped, I can turn it on in the morning while I get dressed, fill a travel mug with the life-giving nectar, leave the house on time, skip Starbucks, save money, and roll into work caffeinated and on the right foot. I didn’t feel like doing it, but I was looking out for my future self #thxbbgirl.

I think I’m particularly prone to the paralyzing effect of being too easy on myself, where, in my desire for comfort while in a particularly bad place, I monopolize my decision-making. I’ve seen my willful ignorance affect my relationships, my social life, my ability to fit into my jeans – most recently, I’ve taken the blinders off to the state of my finances (more on that later).

I get it. Doing things is hard. Doing things is very hard when living with a mental illness, and all you seek is to feel comfortable in your own head. I can’t promise that you will feel better soon, but I can assure you that those brief moments of discomfort that come from doing something good for yourself, can help.