Tag Archives: stomach

Midlife Mid-Drift

I had one of those moments today. As I was pulling on my jeans, I could feel they were too tight. My midriff was mid-drifting. And that first automatic thought – “I’ve gained weight!”- was quickly followed by a shitload of culturally conditioned fat-shaming judgements. The good news is that then I took a deep breath. And remembered this voice comes in when I am suffering in some way that needs tending. That I have over twenty years of eating disorder recovery behind my back (and in my stomach). That this fearful voice doesn’t pop up very much any more and I have another way of being with myself now. Compassionate-Curious-Recovery-voice kicked back in.

Might these jeans be tight because they just came out of the drier?

If you did gain weight, so what?

Here’s how the rest of that conversation went down:

Anxious-part-of-self: What do you mean so what? SO WHAT? My body is supposed to stay the same. This is my recovery body and it’s not supposed to change.

Compassionate-Curious-Recovery-Self: Interesting. Where did you hear that? Actually, your body has changed many times over the past two decades. Most people’s bodies do. Who told you your body is supposed to stay the same? I think I remember your very first recovery mentor telling you twenty years ago (when I was a young adult and she was middle-aged) two things:

1) The size of your body is not your business.

2) The only constant is change.

When I work with women on body image suffering, often there is a correlation with the uncertainty that come with the life-passage transformations such as young adulthood, marriage, pregnancy, postpartum, middle age, and elderhood- and body image. Life transitions can be challenging, and the culture we live in doesn’t have a container for women traveling through these rites of passage. We do have a body-shaming culture that tells us there is something wrong (with our bodies) and it is our responsibility to fix/change them (our bodies). In the absence of community, and of rituals that assist us in crossing these thresholds, a fearful body-shaming voice can come in to keep us “safe.” Safe from what? Safe from the scary changes of the unknown by assuring us that If you can keep your body from changing, then this (life-change) will not be distressing. Safe from having to go through it alone. Safe from facing all the mixed messages in a culture that feels ambivalent at best, and actively disdainful at worst, about supporting women through the rites of passage into adulthood, motherhood, middle age, and becoming a crone. But in practicing hating our bodies, we miss out on appreciating how wise they are in leading and guiding us through these life transformations.

Midlife Mid-Drift (and other women’s body/life changes)

In perimenopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen, which can cause the body to store extra fat (because fat cells can produce estrogen, which offers the body a safety net). Interesting. Thus the thickening around the middle. Pretty smart, body!

In adolescence, a hormone called GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) is released, and then forms two new hormones that signal the body to gain weight and become fertile. Smart body!

In pregnancy, weight gain is distributed in all kinds of useful ways, including: increased

jadebeall mothers belly

Photo by Jade Beall, A Beautiful Body Project, http://www.jadebeall.com

blood, breast tissue, fat stores for future breast feeding, amniotic fluid, the placenta, oh, and the actual baby! Wise body. 

Just like postpartum, when the stomach carries shapes and marks that show it grew to hold a child. Successful body!

My body is  changing again.  It’s what happens for women throughout the life cycle. By the way, when I was researching reasons why a woman’s body changes in adolescence, the perinatal period, and midlife, guess what popped up on Google? You got it: 10 Ways to Diet That Away. (“That” being the inevitable changes in your body.)

A Recovery Reminder

If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, or any form of body image hatred (aka if you live in this culture), DO NOT visit Dr. Google for your answers to questions about life transitions. Dr. Google will always tell you that losing weight is the answer to complex life problems. Stop dieting, start rioting, and find your people. Find your support team of friends, professional help, and spiritual sustenance to help midwife you through your life transitions. Listen to the wise, fiercely compassionate and sometimes as* kicking part-of-you-that-knows and act on that voice. Now is not the time to let the weight on your stomach go. Now is the time to let the weight of holding up unrealistic expectations of who-you-are-supposed-to-be vs. who-you-actually-are go. Or, as Brené Brown so eloquently states about midlife:

I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders (or your midriff), pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.
That about sums it up: Show up and be seen, midlife midriff mid-drift-ing over your jeans and all.

What can’t you stomach?

“In a time of torture camps and daily bombings, when civil liberties are disappearing as fast as the ozone layer, when one out of three women in the world will be beaten or raped in her lifetime, why write a play about my stomach? Maybe because my stomach is one thing I feel I have control over, or maybe because I have hoped that my stomach is something I could get control over.

Thank you, Jade Beall and  abeautifulbodyproject.com for this beautiful image of loving a postpartum belly.

Thank you, Jade Beall and
abeautifulbodyproject.com for this beautiful image of loving a postpartum belly.

Maybe because I see how my stomach has come to occupy my attention, I see how other women’s stomachs or butts or hair or skin have come to occupy their attention, so that we have very little left … for much else… Maybe I identify with these women because I have bought into the idea that if my stomach were flat, then I would be good, and I would be safe.  I would be protected.  I would be accepted, admired, important, loved. Maybe because for most of my life I have felt wrong, dirty, guilty, and bad, and my stomach is the carrier, the pouch for all that self-hatred.  Maybe because my stomach has become the repository for my sorrow, my childhood scars, my unfulfilled ambition, my unexpressed rage. – Eve Ensler, The Good Body, 2004

I love Eve Ensler’s words of wisdom, the raw power and vulnerability of them. The stomach is an area for many women, many PEOPLE, that holds a “pouch of self-hatred.” When I work with clients around developing a different relationship with their stomach, we often explore the questions of:

What are you hungry for?

(cookies, sweetness, ice cream)

What are you REALLY hungry for?

(to be loved, to feel safe, to be connected and not alone, to feel that I am safe in the world, to know that the world is trustworthy and I can stomach it.)

What can you digest?

(ex: nourishment, the right amount, honesty)

And what CAN’T you digest?

(ex: toxicity, being asked to stuff or stuffing myself with what is “not mine,” secret keeping, dishonesty)

In yoga, the stomach is the third or “solar plexus” chakra. It is the place where self-esteem (or lack of) resides. It is where anxiety rests in “the pit of your stomach.” And it is the place where you experience your “gut instinct.” Getting your gut instinct back, listening to and honoring it is a major part of recovery, from trauma, from disordered eating, from self-hatred. IMG_2079 All (non traumatized) children have a natural love, pride, and listening to their stomachs. Have you ever seen a toddler or preschooler show you their belly? They LOVE their belly. It is a source of esteem, not of shame. They know what they want to eat and they know what their boundaries are. They are proud of their developing self. They know their “No’s.” (And from this, they find their yes’s.) Here is my invitation for you: Instead of changing the shape of your stomach, how can you listen to your gut instincts more? What can and can’t you stomach in your life? What are you REALLY hungry for? And what esteem able acts can you take toward honoring the answers that come? (Feel free to comment below. This is week 5 of the 8 week every body love your BODY challenge and 1 commenter will receive a free affirmation.)

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