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Why it’s so hard to be a girl

Vancouver photographer Vince Hemingson gives a snapshot of a different kind.
And it will take your breath away.

 

Girls are being held to impossible standards of beauty, at younger and younger ages. Their sexualization is leading to low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders. How they feel about their bodies and what they are doing to them is heartbreaking. Hemingson offered this post in response to criticisms he has received on Facebook about the physical appearance of his female models.

 

By Vince Hemingson

In the past few days, I have had people leave comments on photographs of mine that I felt could not be ignored. And while the majority of viewers raved about the images, I was astonished that there was a vocal minority who felt that they could criticize women for being either too fit or too voluptuous. That they referenced the Holocaust and concentration camps, farm animals and beached marine mammals in their comments was beyond the pale.

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New Year, New You?

It’s the new year! That magical time when everything seems to lie ahead of you and you envision yourself anew. One of the ways that many of you will do this is with a slimmer body. Over the past year (or even the past few years), you may have put on a few pounds, and you believe everything would be better if you lost it. Or maybe you catch yourself as you walk past a mirror; you gaze uncomfortably at the reflection of a larger self than you realized and can’t help thinking that you’re not the way you know yourself to be. Either way, changing your body typically means going on a diet. But if you’ve gone on diets before, you know you usually gain the weight back…if not more. You think if you could only do it better or if you could just find the right diet for your body type, then it would be different. You end up feeling like a failure. But have you ever stopped to wonder if you are really the problem? Maybe diets are the problem. On that verdict, the jury is in. Statistics say and have said for years that only 2-5% of those who embark on a diet will lose the weight they want and keep it off.

 

Those who do “succeed” often do so because they are willing to see the rest of their lives as a form of diet. Even the “saner” exercise-based programs for weight loss do not fare much better. And yet one of every two US women is on a diet right now. Girls are going on their first diet younger and younger. More and more men are joining women’s “dieting” ranks. When you include diet pop, gym memberships and bariatric surgery, in 2013, Americans spent $66 billion dollars on the weight loss industry. Canada is not far behind with its numbers.

 

Why is permanent weight loss so hard? I mean really, it should be as simple as “less in and more out.” To add insult to injury, obesity rates in the affluent western world continue to rise. I believe that there are many interesting reasons for this, and will be writing a series of articles on this in the coming months on this blog.

 

The first thing I want to emphasize is that diets don’t work. Why not? Because they are based on deprivation, and deprivation sets up an equal and opposite reaction. Weight gain. There is a brilliant illustration of this in the aptly titled book Diets Don’t Work! by Bob Schwartz.

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How mindful eating changed my body, mind and life

I had always been a slender and active kid, never giving a second thought to my weight until puberty, when I suddenly realized I became fat. At age 14, I tried various diets. One high fibre and low fat diet worked well for me—so long as I stayed on it.

 

At age 17, I found a life-changing book called Thin Within. It was my first exposure to what I term intuitive hunger eating principles: eat when you’re hungry, eat exactly what you want, do so with presence and intent, and stop as soon as the hunger goes away. The book also explained that if you eat outside of intuitive hunger signals, you are likely eating for emotional reasons. It was as though a light had been switched on for me. (It had already occurred to me that if diets were so great, why did people gain weight back? I wondered why some people manage a “good” weight their whole lives yet eat whatever they want? It occurred to me that if people eat a lot but get hungry again, haven’t they burned off all the calories?) The intuitive eating philosophy ultimately led me to ask myself why I was turning to food, which sparked a healing journey in me that continues to this day.

 

A few months later, I had some bad experiences with my mum’s boyfriend. I felt unsafe around him, and unheard and unsupported at home. Anxiety and confusion overwhelmed me. My body, unprotected by fat, felt too unsafe. I literally could not stop eating, and over the following weeks my weight climbed from 120 to 180 pounds. I remember not recognizing my reflection once, in a mall mirror . Thick red stretch marks stared back at me unapologetically from all over my body. My family judged me and made verbal swipes. Intuitive hunger eating seemed beyond my control. I felt humiliated and unworthy. I see now that I was trying to protect and care for myself through the weight.

 

When I left home things got easier. With the help of therapy, I gained significant insight into my personal and family history, and what the weight was voicing for me. I lost much of the weight. But my size would still fluctuate a bit based on the love and security I was feeling at any point in my life. Food was my “go-to” for warmth and stability.

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Mindful eating is an ancient mindfulness practice with profound modern implications and applications for resolving this troubled love-hate relationship with food.

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