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Julie Fanning LCSW

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life

My Rant on Being Fat!

I am fat.  I’ve been told this my whole life by both friends and society.  Sometimes I will look at a photo of myself from when I was young and will wonder why everyone thought I was so fat.   Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophesy but I am fat and that has been part of my identity as long as I can remember.  At times it has determined what risks I have been willing to take and what experiences I participated in.  I would blame it for relationship troubles or truly believe it was one of the reasons for general unhappiness at different times in my life.   As I’ve gotten older I am able to more often recognize that I am not just a fat person and my weight doesn’t determine my happiness.   Also – and this important for people to remember about themselves too – what I weigh does not determine my worthiness as a person.  I am going to repeat that.  Our weight does not determine our worth as a person.  The value I have as a human and my happiness are not dependent on numbers on a scale.   Each of us is worthy of love, happiness and kindness,  regardless of how much or how little we weigh or our physical appearance.

Right now I am doing the whole30 challenge.  I get accolades about how great it is that I am doing this.  If I lose weight, I will get praise for losing weight.  People will say “You look so good.” Or “It is so great you are hanging in there.”  I soak up any praise and it it is a motivator to keep eating healthy. However,  when it comes down to it, if I choose to live healthier, if I lose 40 pounds or if I end up gaining 40 pounds – it makes no difference in who I am.  I am a not better person if I weigh 40 pounds less.  I will not be less worthy if I gain 40 pounds more.

In my private practice both women and men come in and virtually with each and every person there will come a time where there is a discussion about weight and negative feelings surrounding it.  I have worked with so many teenage girls who have issues around their weight.  They tell me “My mom (or my grandma) told me I need to lose weight.”   These are teens who are active and within the norm of weight for their age and they will cry and ask why their parents can’t accept them if they don’t weigh the right amount.

Then I have adult women come in and tell me the same stories of family members and friends telling them they needed to lose weight.  They are told they will be all alone in life because they are fat or if they didn’t lose weight they would never find happiness.  Generally, these messages are well-intended.    You want the people you love to be happy.  Only, the feelings these messages induce don’t go away.   It sends a subtle implication that you are not quite good enough because of your weight.  You might not even notice you are saying these things to others or yourself because it is such a part of our culture.  It is difficult to step away from thoughts about weight because American society is filled with the messages everywhere telling us that thinner is better.

      Julie in first grade   "Too fat to have friends"
Julie in first grade
“Too fat to have friends”

When I started first grade there was a girl who told me she wished she could be my friend but she couldn’t because I was too fat to have friends.  I wasn’t even six years old.  Now, almost 40 years later I remember this and I know it became part of my identity.  I don’t remember the girl’s name or face but I remember the conversation.  Probably one of my brain’s first lessons on starting to believe “don’t be fat or you will be all alone.”     How much more will words about heaviness stay with someone when it is a family or friend saying them.  You might say “I worry about their health, I want them around for the grandkids” or a hundred other very valid reasons why someone would be better off losing weight.  You are just trying to help.  I would argue that if the person is an adult – they are very aware of how much they weigh.  It only amplifies the shame to be reminded that your fat bothers others and you are not quite good enough because you don’t lose it.   There are ways to be encouraging and supportive without adding to pain.  It is up to the person to decide how they want to tackle their weight.  People have very complicated relationships with food and weight.  You can be pithy and say “just don’t put it in your mouth” but there are often many factors at play.  It is not necessary for you to let someone know they need to lose weight.  Even disguising it with “I worry about you” is still saying “you are not good enough because of your weight.”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t help your children be active and maintain a healthy weight.   I would just say consider how you promote it with your children.  Eat healthy and be active yourself.  Don’t hold others to expectations you aren’t able to sustain.  Live by example.  Which also means recognize that each time you put yourself down for your weight or your eating or exercise habits you are teaching your children and others that your importance has something to do with your physical looks.  You are even reinforcing your own beliefs.  “See I’m not good enough because my body isn’t perfect.”  Stop yourself when you find yourself putting yourself down.  Stop comparing yourself to others.  I bet virtually everyone who reads this has thought at one time or another “at least I’m not as fat as that person.”  I have thought it.  Unfortunately it just reinforces the idea that if I weigh less I am better.  Being a little healthier than someone else does not give us the moral high ground.

Not making your weight be such a huge factor in your identity doesn’t mean someone can’t make changes and be healthier.  I want to live healthier.  I want to lose weight.  I want a better relationship with food.  These are reasons why I am doing the Whole30 challenge.  However, this is my journey.  If I don’t succeed I will be disappointed with myself but it doesn’t make me a failure at life.  Conversely, if I complete the challenge it won’t make me a better person.  Happiness, love, money and opportunity won’t just fall out of the sky to me because I shed a few pounds.  My life will still be my life.  If you are working on changing your weight do it for you and not because you think it will make others accept or love you more.

I want to note that it is OK to accept yourself at whatever weight you are.  You don’t owe anyone explanations on how much you weigh.  You are allowed to be happy and enjoy life and it is not dependent on your size.  You are worthy of love and joy and you will find the people who really matter don’t care how much you weigh.

I know as someone who is heavy that it is easy to forget to live life because you are waiting to lose weight.  Just don’t do that.  I am working hard at living the life I choose, embracing opportunities and not letting my weight stop me from living.  Whatever we are on the outside does not determine our happiness unless we let it.  I know that it is easier said than done, but my hope is that instead of focusing on our perceived shortcomings that we instead embrace life.  You are worthy because you are alive.   Instead of feeling shame over your weight focus on embracing experiences, loving those dear to you and being kind to all.

Julie- July 2015 Living Fully Pacific Ocean
Julie- July 2015
Living Fully
Pacific Ocean
With BFF Karen Campbell Embracing Life Accepting Me
With BFF
Karen Campbell
Embracing Life
Accepting Me

Use Your Imagination

Imagination
Imagination

My client said “Never” and laughed and laughed and laughed when I asked her “Have you ever pretended you were a spy?” I have.   I wasn’t trying  to get my client to play ‘spy’ with me (although play is important too.)  I was making a point about imagination.  I encourage cultivating imagination in children because children who have an imagination are often more resilient.  Being able to picture a different outcome or a different life can be hopeful.  If a person is bullied or sad but can picture a scenario where that is not the case – this is hopeful.  It bodes well if a child can picture situations where they are cared about and valued.  Kids can even practice social skills and building relationships using imagination.  (What?  Julie you come up  the craziest things you think.)  Think about it as practice like role playing or imagining a situation in your head like adults do all the time.

Unfortunately, I think this is a skill people can lose as they become adults.  People would think I’m stranger than I am if I spoke to an imaginary friend all the time.  However,  the ability to imagine what ifs and the ability to imagine being loved or being happy or achieving your dreams – can be so very beneficial.

My advice to you is to practice using your imagination.  It will be so worth it.

For the past week, every time I try to sit down and write a blog post I get distracted by shiny things.  I just can’t get into it.  I looked through all my blog ideas and starts (and there must be 50 of them.) There is one on voting I really want to finish soon.  There is one on finding a therapist and one on positivity and I’m just indifferent to all of them.   I skipped over each blog start thinking, “boring”, “I don’t care,” “not interesting” and just passed them by.  I also save articles in my email for the purpose of blogging or Facebook and, no surprise; I was able to avoid writing by reading a bunch of interesting articles.  I just didn’t find a spark to write about.

I started to wonder about how my complete block  parallels our lives.   How often do we have a task we just can’t get around to doing?  Sometimes it is not just duty or tasks we don’t like to do, often people can’t even get started on enjoyable activities.  I have heard more times than I can count from people that there are things they want to do but just can’t seem to start.   I question how much people miss out on just because they can’t get started.   So, I decided to write about nothing.  It got me started and I already have the urge to finish one of the blog starts.

The advice to just get started might seem basic.  It may prompt a “duh!” response but there it is.  Just get started.  People tend to feel more confident, more purposeful; more accomplished when just doing something. It doesn’t have to be a big, major event.  It can be starting your cleaning project by emptying your dishwasher.  It can be beginning to write your great novel by typing up a paragraph.  It can be starting that new career by updating your resume.  It can be starting that hobby you’ve always dreamed about doing by just looking up information on the internet.    Just take action.  Stop being distracted by shiny things (whoops, that may be just me.)

Giant leap not necessary.    Just get started.

Doctor Who Quote IV

I haven’t shared a Doctor Who quote in awhile.

Previous Doctor Who posts are:

Doctor Who Quote I and explanation

Doctor Who Quote II

Doctor Who Quote III

The new season has started so I’m going to have so many new ones so I better start sharing the list I already have.  I like the quote below because life is messy.  I constantly tell people “…but that doesn’t take away from …”  Sometimes we have this all or nothing mentality.  Life is so much  good and difficult.  It just is.  The good days, the good times doesn’t take make the bad times disappear but the good times are still good.  Difficult times don’t minimize the times that are great.  There is no all or nothing.  It just is.

Busy Busy Busy

Busy, busy, busy.  You have a list of so many things you want to get done.  Cook healthy meals.  Take me time.  Get a promotion at your job.  Clean out your closet.  Go to yoga.  Take your kids to that show.  Figure out your life.  Find a significant other.  Paint the fence.  Paint a masterpiece.  Floss.   Go rock climbing. Saving your marriage.  Walk your dogs.  What is on your list?

The question is – “What are you prioritizing.”  You will always be busy.  There will always be work, responsibilities, carpooling, classes, responsibilities and duties.  Things you ‘have’ to do will always be there.   Is it possible that making time for the things that mean living and life are more important than cleaning your home?  Is it possible that prioritizing having happy, healthy family relationships is more important than making sure your child is in every activity possible?

Prioritize what is important to you.  Your priorities illustrate who you are.   Take a moment and review your priorities.  Are you putting your relationships, friends and family at the top.  (Keeping in mind quality not quantity.)  It takes time and work to keep nurture our relationships.   “I’m too busy, “is really just a convenient excuse for us to use.  You can always find to time to do what is important to you.  It is just figuring out what is really matters to you.

“It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?” ~Henry David Thoreau

The Thoughts That Hang In There

People say to me “it is in the past – it doesn’t matter anymore.”  People might say to me “You just have to deal with and move on.”  People might say “I’m not blaming my childhood for my problems.  It wasn’t that bad.”  Or “It is a choice if you want to be happy.”

You know – a lot of that is true.  We are more than what has happened to us.  There does come a time where we have to choose to accept and work through stuff or stay stuck. We can usually choose the light we put our life in.  There is so much more to the picture though.

Things we learn when we are young, things we learn repeatedly or things learned through a traumatic experience stay with us.  It is an effort to change these thoughts.  It may be an effort you make throughout your life – even for thoughts you know aren’t true.  I always tell people that once our brain holds a belief or learns something it sticks with it.  Our brains like to be right so it will look for reasons to prove it is right while discounting anything that would poke holes in the story.  For example your brain might constantly give you the message “you aren’t very smart.”  Every time you don’t figure out something or every time you feel stupid or every time someone knows something you don’t – your brain will say “see, you aren’t very smart.”   It is up to you to keep reminding your brain to shut up.  Remind your brain that you know a lot of stuff and that you are smart.  It becomes easier but it takes time to assist your brain in writing another story.  (Such as you are smart or you have great common sense.)  Sometimes people are frustrated because they know an internal story isn’t true but it still pops up.

I was reminded of this again this weekend.  It was a thought I was told over and over again when I was a child.  Growing up, my mom had a pretty severe mental illness.  She believed that everyone knew everything about her and by extension me and other family members.  She believed that everyone was sending her messages and trying to show her how to behave.  Some of her beliefs she repeated to me over and over and over again which my brain soaked all in.

I was visiting my BFF and we were shopping this past weekend.  (In my life I never have as much fun shopping as I do with her.  Thank goodness for fun friends.)  Overhead in the department store there were some bells ringing periodically.  It is like two or three tones playing (sort of like a xylophone but not really.)  I hadn’t heard those in years.  Before my mother was more stable she used to tell me that the tones were about us.  She would tell me that the tones were telling people to watch us and make sure we were behaving appropriately. This would shoot her stress level up.  She believed this whole heartedly and sincerely.    I have always known this is not true.  I know the tones have nothing to do with me at all.  (Although, right now, in my head I thought “probably” – LOL Julie’s brain LOL.)

However, every time I hear the tones I think of the meaning my mom put to them.  It is an automatic response “I guess people are watching.”  I laugh at my brain and say whatever. There are no emotions tied to this anymore.  It doesn’t invoke an uncomfortable feeling but the thought persists.   I also mentioned it to my BFF who hadn’t even noticed the tones.  I encourage people to talk about the unbeneficial thoughts with safe individuals. It is only a brief moment but it is still there.  Even though my mom hasn’t said something like that to me in more than twenty years that thought pops up.  I still have to correct my brain.

Give yourself time to change those unhelpful thoughts and the thoughts that fill your brain.  You may always have to work at it but it is worth it.  Give yourself a break.  It is OK if you are still working on something that was a moment in the past.  Those stories and moments in your past do matter.  It is not a case of using your past as an excuse.  It is a case of relearning.  You are capable of changing your thoughts.

Perils with Following your Path

I often speak about speaking up about your own truth.  Be who you are. Follow your dreams. . I know I can get quite passionate on the subject.  I just am not sure that I always remember to mention that even if it is the path you are supposed to take, it isn’t necessarily easy.

 

It isn’t easy facing rejection from others of who we are.  Some people won’t agree with the statements you make or the actions you take.  Some people will be brutal in voicing their disagreement.  It isn’t easy being vulnerable and laid out open to others.  Following your own path may mean having to grieve over the safety of hiding, or of not having immediate supports or being unsettled.  There might not be the panacea of freedom; there may be sadness and hollowness.  I encourage everyone to speak up because I think all of our souls are amazing and worthy but don’t worry if it just isn’t your time yet. Don’t worry if you have to take a step back or break.  Everything will happen in its own time.  Everything you do, every path you take, leads you to where you need to be.  None of your time is wasted time


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