Best of Both Worlds podcast: Body image — thoughts and discussion

A few months ago, Sarah wrote a post on body image that got a lot of comments. She noted that she has been pretty careful about keeping her weight in a tight range. She finds this keeps her from feeling distracted by negative thoughts, but she wondered if this was evidence of being influenced by the diet culture/patriarchy.

In this episode of Best of Both Worlds, we talk more about this topic (so, note — if you find this topic triggering, you might want to skip this week). I have not kept my weight in nearly as tight a range, though I do pay aim to stay active, get enough sleep, and eat my vegetables. That’s about all the mental effort I want to put into this subject. Sarah and I discuss our somewhat differing views on this topic and discuss how body image issues interact with pregnancy and nursing too.

In the Q&A we tackle a question I’m getting frequently. Lots of folks are still doing virtual/flexible work, and plan to keep doing so. If you’re in an office 9-5, you really can’t pick up your kids after school. If you’re working from home and working flexibly, you can. So…should you? As people set their school year schedules there is a lot to think about, and we note that this doesn’t have to be an either/or question. You could end work early two days per week and have the kids do after care the other three. If you have slightly older kids, you can take a break to get them and then have them play independently while you finish your work day. There are lots of options!

Please give the episode a listen (well, or don’t if you find it triggering!). How has remote/flexible work changed your after-school plans?

9 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Body image — thoughts and discussion

  1. I listened to this while running around the lake by my house – definitely helped make the 4 miles go by faster. My HS weight is 100% unattainable, and was probably unhealthy? The only time I got down to my HS weight was when I trained for my first marathon. That’s the only marathon where I lost weight despite constantly eating! There’s a 5-7 pound range that I like to stay in so that my clothes fit and I feel good in my clothes, but I’m finding it harder to get to the bottom end of that range since entering my 40s. So I have adjusted expectations and I got rid of a bunch of clothes this spring as I knew it would require too much sacrifice to be able to wear them.

    I grew up with a mom who always seemed to be on a diet and often ate differently than me – usually packaged foods, like probably Jenny Craig meals or something like that. I was very aware of the fact that she was dieting/watching her weight. I think there is more awareness around this subject now, though. But I remember thinking that I was overweight when I was a child when I definitely was not and was probably underweight. I remember a pediatrician showing me a weight/height table to try to get it through my head that I was not overweight. I think girls are more prone to absorbing that kind of message but I am still very careful around my boys about how I talk about food and exercise. I say things like “mommy gets to go for a run” and we talk about how important it is to be active to keep our bodies strong.

    Lastly, I am also an upholder, but I am 100% an abstainer. I so wish I was a moderator! My husband is a total moderator. He can sit down with a half gallon of ice cream and eat less than I would if I dished up a bowl of ice cream. There are foods in our house that I would never buy if I lived alone, like ice cream, doritos, potato chips, soda, etc. So I’ve had to adjust to having the temptation of treats around that I would prefer not to have in our house! But I also have a gluten intolerance, so my husband’s eating has changed since merging households.

    1. I wish my husband was a moderator! He’s definitely into binging, loves his chips and sugary fizzy drinks. And he (sadly) comes from a family with a lot of weight-related health issues as well. He never eats the vegetable dishes I make and even complained that the meatballs (which I got from a prepped meal delivery service) tasted “weird” (it had a lot of vegetables mixed in). I don’t eat the chips too often (pretty much only when we get tacos and we order chips and guac) and the only fizzy drinks I like are sparkling water (usually unflavoured) and Champagne. I’m always worried that he’d set a bad example for our son. 🙁

  2. I agree with lots that you both said in the podcast! For body image, I do pay attention to my weight (I like numbers; they feel objective). I probably spend too much mental energy on it, (and I agree that I gained weight when training for a marathon – I also gained weight when nursing; I was constantly hungry; I ate four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a day, outside of regular meals, so not even anything fun.) I agree that focusing on behaviors is more important than numbers. I logged my food with Noom, which helps me focus on increasing healthy food to crowd out the processed food; when I focus only on weight loss, I do stupid things like only eat Pasta Zero noodles and diet coke. The weight is an indicator; it should not be the outcome, but this can be hard to remember, and I def spend too much time thinking about the last 5 pounds.

    I agree that we do all probably spend too much time thinking about our appearance, and I try not to. (Like, painting nails and dying my hair seems to be like giving myself a chore… you’re just going to have to repaint them or color them again, so I don’t bother in the first place. Also, it costs money.) But, our bodies aren’t just tools; they are something to look at. And the reality is that in this world, we are judged by our appearance, so by being thin and having your clothes fit correctly and having your hair styled in a way that matches people’s expectations, you do get benefits. I’m a professor and I know I have to look like what students think a friendly professor should look like, especially as a woman; otherwise students will think I don’t know my stuff, or they will think I’m not approachable, and that impacts my course evaluations, which impacts my promotion file in a big way. Also, when I put on the professor costume, I feel like a professor, which makes me happy. But the professor costume kind of has size requirements. You can’t wear leggings or yoga pants, which would be more forgiving. (A student once wrote that my skirt was too tight in my evals. I had just had a baby that semester.) I know I get more done when I look the part because of people’s perception of me, and I get a little extra benefit of the doubt when I’m on the slimmer side. And I think that’s kind of the challenge with these kind of issues, right? We sort of victim-blame – you’re giving in to the patriarchy! – but the reality is that we benefit by being complicit in very tangible ways. And it doesn’t have to be either/or, like you said in I know how she does it. You can work for change and still play the game.

    1. Laurak made a really good point that I’ve often thought about – looking the part. I probably spend too much mental energy thinking about what I wear (less about my body and its size, but more about what I put on it and how things fit [or don’t]). But there IS something to be said for outward appearance, whether we like it or not. I have found that looking put together and even a bit older has given me more clout in my field; I’m quite young to have ‘made it’ to the level of expertise that I have in my small niche, and most of the people I interact with are decades older. It took a while for people to take me seriously. I do definitely think this type of pressure affects women more than men. But – for whatever reason – it also does make me feel better about myself and more productive when I feel good about how I look. Maybe that’s just the patriarchy. If so, oh well.

  3. I sure hope the student that made the skirt remark got a stern lecture on how to evaluate things such as education, not people. Grrr.

  4. Such a big topic to discuss and great considerations here. I went on my first diet at 11 (Weight Watchers; counting points) WITH MY MOTHER. And I’ve been thinking about my body way too much ever since.
    In the last few months I’ve been reading a lot of literature about anti-dieting and this summer have basically removed all restrictions.
    For years I’ve tried various elimination diets to help with health issues AND to try to lose weight. But honestly, they never accomplished much and left me thinking about food constantly. Eating more intuitively lately has been freeing, but I have gained 5-6 pounds which doesn’t feel great. Feels like it’s hard to win at this game of balancing health, image, and freedom to enjoy food.

    1. Have you tried eating Mediterranean style? It’s not super-restrictive and honestly, you don’t really lose out on a lot of things. It’s very plant-influenced, but not plant-based and even includes wine. Lots of whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fish. I think it’s absolutely delicious and that’s how I try to eat (though to be honest, I’m probably more Mediterranean-influenced since I still eat more poultry. And I eat foods not found in the region like soy. I suppose my eating/cooking is a mix of Mediterranean and East Asian). That, combined with a lot of walking and Essentrics (it’s slow(ish) movements and incorporates aspects of dance and physio) as part of my resistance/strength training helps a lot too.

  5. I grew up in an immigrant family, thus, ate food from the old country for the most part. While there’s definitely fried foods in Cantonese cuisine (think spring rolls, dough fritters and the like), what we ate at home mostly consisted of stirfries and steamed dishes. Lots of vegetables, too. That was normal for me. While my cooking as an adult isn’t exactly Chinese/Cantonese, what I ate growing up influenced what I eat now. I make sure that I get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and love my berry bowls and salads. I don’t understand the concept of “elimination diets” or super-sugary drinks and foods. I manage to stay relatively slim (okay, genes have a lot to do with it, but so does what I put in my mouth and my family’s mouths as well as exercise. And I didn’t even have a gym schedule until I was an adult, having been ingrained in my mind (thanks to my Poh Poh (maternal grandma in Cantonese) that over-exercising and too much muscle is “unlady-like”). I also don’t understand why limiting certain foods (namely processed foods, candy and the like) is “bad.” Maybe it’s because I never craved candy, but my Halloween candy was most certainly checked (I’m turning 43 this year so this was during the “people hide blades in candy! Make sure it’s checked by an adult when you get home!” era) and put away. And because I rarely asked for it, at least 1/3 was left by Christmas. I really only had sugary drinks in high school due to peer pressure (Starbucks had JUST arrived in Canada in the mid-90s and EVERYONE at my school went off campus at lunch for Frappuccinos and caramel machiatos as there was a store near the school. I think I had these drinks maybe twice this century). Unfortunately, people, especially people from families who came to the country generations ago, think I need to “live a little.” Ummmmm, I just don’t like that stuff? I don’t even do bubble tea.

  6. Very interesting topic- I really appreciate Laura’s comments about the time/mental energy it takes to focus on our appearance. I spent my teens and 20s obsessing over my weight despite it being square in the healthy range. Something clicked after I had my first child and I simply didn’t have time/energy to think about dieting/meal planning. Somehow, not thinking about food made me eat less and I dropped to my lowest adult weight. My diet is admittedly healthy but I enjoy and indulge in delicious food. BUT- I still could not let go of my scale. So I cannot say that I really didn’t care about my weight- I just achieved the “ideal” through a different, more enjoyable path.

    After I weaned my second child, plus started a daily craft beer habit during the pandemic, I gained about 5lbs. It was the first time in many years that I even considered trying to lose weight again. I decided not to. I simply didn’t want to go back to my old life of tracking, obsessing, punishing, etc. First, it sucked. Second, it never worked for me! Then I got pregnant, and the obsessions came back to the point that my OB asked if I had an eating disorder history. These patterns are very hard to escape! It has required constant vigilance for me to keep a healthy body image/attitude towards food. But the payoff is worth it to me. I’d rather carry a few extra pounds, enjoy my food, not feel stressed at every invitation to a restaurant/social event, and not waste my energy on tracking what I’m eating.

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