“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s with perfection” bhagavad gita
I decided long ago that if I was going to represent any form of wellness that it had to be realistic- for me, for my friends, and for my students. I’m not by nature a tan, skinny, chiseled instructor who works out for 3 hours a day, and so I can’t preach that to my students. I may not have the “most perfect” body in my field- but considering I’m turning 40, have two kids and an ice cream habit, I look pretty good. More importantly, I FEEL GOOD in my own skin- and am grateful for the journey I had to take in order to get there. I am sharing the following story with you in case you are now, or have ever been in the same situation- NOT because I think obsessing about weight issues is a good thing!
I remember the first time I “felt” fat- I was 5 years old and my cousin and I were running in the backyard playing tag. I was “it,” chasing her around, and once I caught up to her, not only did I tag her, but wrapped my arms around her so tight that we lost our balance and fell to the ground in a giddy pile of laughter. All the fun came to a halt as our grandmother came flying out the back door screaming- “ Dani- get up, get off of her, you are going to crush her! She is a skinny little thing, and you..you..you are way too BIG to be on top of her!” She never even used the word fat; she didn’t have to. It would be her comment, and my parent’s obsession with their own weight that would put me into a tailspin of working out, dieting, losing weight, gaining weight, and feeling horrible about myself; all in a vicious cycle that would be out of control by the time my mother committed suicide 16 years later.
In seventh grade I realized that there could only be one thing keeping me from nabbing a cute boyfriend like all my friends, and I was convinced it had to be those pesky ten pounds or so. ( In reality, it also could have been the glasses and the braces!) Those were the ten pounds that people still referred to as baby fat, but really, when you are 13 there is nothing in your life you want to be associated with being “baby-like,” not even your fat.
I clearly remember picking up my mom’s copy of “Fit For Life” by Marilyn Diamond- It was the first diet book I had ever seen, and I figured if I followed along her program of eating cucumber and mayonnaise sandwiches I’d be rockin’ a bikini in our new pool by summer. My plan worked too well. After sticking to her program for a few months, I had not only lost those 10 pounds of baby fat, but 10 more just to be safe.
For the next four years, I pretty much maintained my weight by over-exercising and being obsessed about everything I put in my mouth. When it came to eating I would follow my diet plan as long as I was home around “good” food”, but when I went to my friends house where there were cookies and sugar cereal, and “oh my god” devil dogs, it all fell apart. I would stuff my face because I never knew when I was going to be able to eat something “bad” again, then I would feel “bad” about myself and not eat for 2 days.
Being at my friends house one or two days a week couldn’t compare to the impact that going away to college had on my waistline. Six months before I left for school, my dad’s mulitmillion dollar guitar company had gone bust, my grandfather died, my father left my mother, and I had graduated highschool early to work before I left for college. Nobody every taught me how to eat what my body needed as fuel, so at that point I was all about emotional eating- and after going through the hardest six months of my life, all I wanted to do was drown my fears and tears in the bottom of a pint of ice-cream.
With no one to tell me what or when to eat, I went overboard in the dining hall at every meal, and then made the mistake of finding my first apartment above a Ben and Jerry’s. What was I thinking? I left high-school and my little cheerleader skirt behind, and would up gaining 20 pounds. I wasn’t so much concerned with what size I had become, however going up 4 sizes in a year and not exercising wasn’t healthy, and I was too blind to see what was going on.
I didn’t feel like myself; I was tired all the time, none of my clothes fit- and at that time I was working four jobs just to pay my NYU tuition, so I didn’t have extra money lying around to buy a new wardrobe. I struggled that year to eat right and exercise, sometimes making it to the campus gym, but overall I was just not taking care of myself. Years later I discovered this was probably due to the very large amount of guilt I was feeling over being away from my mother, who was very depressed after my father left and moved to California. It was as if not being able to take care of her translated into feeling guilty about taking care of myself. If she couldn’t be happy, then why did I deserve to be.
This self-destructive behavior continued when I started working fulltime at MTV, but instead of focusing on eating, I focused on not eating. I had finally discovered caffeine. Yes, in this day and age I would have been considered a late bloomer, but our parents didn’t let us drink Frappuccinos when we were 12 like they do now. Each floor at MTV had a rockin’ kitchen with non-stop coffee brewing, and a soda fountain that dispensed diet soda on demand. I soon realized that if I drank coffee and Diet Coke all day I wouldn’t be hungry, and that combined with my mother’s suicide completely killed my appetite. In no time I was back to looking like a “lollipop,” by Hollywood standards, and buying clothes in the Gap kids department- ridiculous, I know; but they were much cheaper than “adult” clothes during a time I was struggling financially.
Just to be clear- I am not sharing this information with you because I believe that any of my behavior was healthy- I am sharing for those of you who have ever been in a similar situation. I am known for teaching yoga from my personal practice, and that is the only place I can write from- personal experience.
Clearly, now I can see I was obsessing over my weight to distract my mind from the difficult situation I was facing with my parents, with my financial situation, and with my already distorted body-image. It was as if the extreme dieting that took me up and down the sizing chart was a metaphor of the extreme life I was leading- from one where Ferrari’s filled the driveway, to one where I was struggling to buy books for school. I was filling myself up with food from the outside, trying to numb the pain I felt on the inside; I was not being mindful at all- something that is very important for both our physical and mental health.
THEN I FOUND YOGA!
After almost 15 years of practice I can honestly say it has been the meditation that has had the greatest effect on my life and on the lives of those around me. It has helped me to be a better mother, a better wife, a better friend, and a more compassionate teacher. It has taught me to be okay with myself, with the moment, and with whatever the universe throws my way. Through my yoga and meditation practice I learned the art of being mindful and being in the present which completely changed the way I looked at food. Instead of using it as a comfort for my emotions, I used it as fuel for my body. Eventually I got back on track and in tune with my body; with my yoga practice and an incredible acupuncturist, I was able to resume a “normal” workout routine which helped me get healthy both physically and mentally.
Now I know that if I want to make a conscious decision to treat myself to something I normally wouldn’t eat, then at the next meal I make sure to get myself back in the zone. My rule of thumb is 80% of the time I am eating healthy and “in the zone,” and the other 20% I am eating whatever I want- usually pizza and ice-cream. You’re 20% might be maritinis or potato chips- whatever makes you happy.
Another thing that has been a real eye-opener is having a realistic idea of what I can, at 39 years old, expect to look like. I want to look the best I can while spending a REASONABLE amount of time working out- not the 3 hours a day I spent at the gym when I was 25, before having 2 children. But that’s okay, I am not being negative here, I am being realistic. At my age, I am not looking for a quick fix. I don’t think it’s resonable to try and look like a 20 year old model on the cover of Vogue-at least without working out hours on end or getting plastic surgery; and I’m not a big fan of knives, so that one’s off the table. I’m honest about how much time and energy I want to put into “looking good”on the outside- an amount that might seem like a lot to some people, and not enough to others. On any given week I probably spend about 5-6 hours doing some sort of physical activity. I probably take 2 spin classes a week and practice my Xen Strength class 3 times a week. That’s about 5 hours right there; usually that last hour is some sort of yoga class. I want to be healthy and fit, but I also am extremely mindful of practicing what I preach. I also meditate for 20-30 minutes every morning because it makes me feel as good mentally as exercise does physically.
I am not about restriction 24/7, so that is not where I can teach from. I do the best that I can with where I am on any given day, and when I look in the mirror I feel really good about my body because I know it comes from a place of healthy nutrition and a realistic workout schedule. I can play sports with my two boys in the backyard without getting winded, and I can stand on my hands in the middle of the room for an extended period of time!