Calipers of doom
A friend recently shared this excellent article called “It Happened to Me: I Taught Fitness and Failed a Fat Test.” The article is written by a yoga instructor who volunteers to undergo a fitness test. In addition to examining things like her cardiovascular health and flexibility, she was also subjected to measurement of her percentage body fat using calipers. While she passed all other parts of the test with flying colors, she was told that her body fat percentage was over the recommended level. As someone who was clearly physically fit, and who ate a balanced, healthful diet, this was unwelcome news. Thankfully, as an intuitive eater and someone familiar with the Health at Every Size (HAES) philosophy, the author was able to dismiss these findings and realize that any action she might take to “remedy” the situation would do far more harm than good. Her body had reached its comfortable set point with moderate exercise and intuitive eating, and she trusted that this was where she was meant to be.
This article reminded me of a post I had written a few years back while I was still in graduate school. In the post, I share my negative reaction to having to reveal my height and weight, as well as a 24-hour diet recall, with a classmate as part of a nutrition lab exercise. I also mention being anxious about an upcoming lab in which we would be taking anthropometric measurements of one another, including percentage body fat measurements using the calipers the author describes in her article. Even though I’m usually pretty good at not comparing myself to others when it comes to body shape, it was impossible not to make comparisons when the numbers were right there in black and white, and I had a hard time swallowing the fact that my friends and classmates had “better” numbers than I did. I was actually hesitant to share the link to the post here, because I’m sort of embarrassed by how much something like this affected me at the time. In fact, I’ve considered taking that post down altogether. I mean, who’s going to trust a nutritionist who can’t even deal with her own body image issues?!
However, I think it’s good to acknowledge that, first of all, I’m far from perfect. Just like everyone else, I’m surrounded by images and messages that tell me that thinner is better, and sometimes those ideals creep into my head and make me feel insecure. Most days, I’m completely secure in my ability trust my inner cues to drive my eating, and I’m at peace with food and my body; other days I waver a little. In the last few years, though, I can truly say that the vast majority of my days resemble the former, not the latter, and I feel totally comfortable in my own skin, which is a pretty amazing thing! And even though I know I’ve grown since writing that post back in graduate school, I still think it wouldn’t feel great to have to get all my measurements done and my fat folds pinched by calipers. But just like the author of the article, my firm belief in Intuitive Eating and HAES helps me to cope with these hiccups, and I’m able to talk myself out of starting down a negative, destructive path when these situations inevitably arise.
I also think it’s important to talk about my reaction to a situation like this in order to illustrate the fact that becoming an intuitive eater is a non-linear journey, where ups and downs are to be expected, and even welcomed. Instead of viewing them as setbacks or failures, they should be seen as opportunities for learning. I learned from that experience that I still needed to take care of myself and continue on my Intuitive Eating path. Just because the day to day has gotten easier doesn’t mean that I won’t encounter challenges from time to time, and I need to be ready to pull from my Intuitive Eating toolbox in order to make it through these difficult times unscathed.