Getting Fat Shamed as a Size Four

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I love you…just kidding.

“I liked you better skinnier.”

It was a bright spring morning, and my boyfriend and I were relaxing at home before I had to go to a work event. I jumped off the couch and stared slack-jawed at him.

“You’ve changed so much since we started dating. You’ve gained weight,” he whined as he stretched out like a sleepy lion. Then he tilted his head, widened his dark brown eyes with a look of betrayal and said in what I had come to secretly call his Snob Voice:
“I feel deceived. Did you…sell me a bill of goods?”

Let’s see if this makes sense. Apparently in his mind I had purposefully lost a lot of weight while I was on the dating market in order to snag a man.  Then once I was in a relationship I gained it back (again, on purpose). Yeah, that was my evil plan all along; it was all about tricking him. Logical, no?

I was too stunned to think straight and immediately went into defending myself. I should have said something funny like, “Well, I liked you better when you had more hair and a job!” or “I liked you better when you got the hell out of my house five minutes ago!” but by that time in the relationship I was so desperate for his approval and terrified of his criticism that I felt stuck. Every other week or so he would threaten to pick up and move out of state for a job, or he would point out ominously how “incompatible” we were. Loving him made me a nervous wreck. I couldn’t take another criticism, especially about something as sensitive as my body.

“I was sick when you met me!” I pleaded. “I wasn’t eating, and I was drinking too much! I was so unhappy! I looked terrible! People kept asking me what was wrong! I needed to gain weight and get healthy again. I’ve told you about this before. Why can’t you understand? ” Sadly I felt like I had to apologize for myself rather than the other way around. Panicked, my thoughts went to debating over whether I should start starving myself again.

He turned up his perfect little nose and looked away from me. With angry tears in my eyes I drove to my work event and pouted silently the entire time. I was burning with hatred for him. By the way, I was 116 pounds and a size four petite at the time of this incident.

Later that day we tentatively made our peace with each other, but the issue never really resolved itself. By the time we broke up, which just happened to be a week after my bo dan test, it had been buried under a pile of other irreconcilable differences. It was just as well that I made the last six months of my journey to black belt alone. 

Here’s the real deal: When I had met him at my “skinnier” size I was several pounds lighter and in the throes of food restriction, alcohol abuse, and a severe bout of depression. I was thin and haggard to the point that my family and coworkers began to notice. I looked brittle and sunken. My skin was sallow, there were dark circles under my eyes, and my clothes hung from my bones. Of course I lied to everyone that I was fine. Tricking a man into dating me in all my skeletal, miserable glory was not really top of mind.

Once I began taekwondo training my priorities dramatically shifted. I had something wholesome and positive to focus on, something to look forward to every other day, and people who cared about me without judgment. I was doing something just for me, not to make myself seem better in some other person’s eyes. I was no longer punishing myself by punishing my body. I began to see myself as a strong athlete and food as necessary fuel. In all I probably only gained around 7-8 pounds, and much of it was muscle…okay, some of it. A few weeks after I began training I met the boyfriend, and we started dating. We were off to a good start, but my body image and eating issues didn’t go away.

He told me every day of our relationship that I was beautiful and that he loved me, but the pressure to stay thin was on me from the beginning. Early into our relationship he’d admitted he preferred the waif body type—flat chests and slim hips, thin spaghetti-like arms and soft shoulders. He bragged that most of his previous girlfriends were from Europe and would starve themselves other than eating one indulgent meal per day. He was originally from South America, so the stereotype that Latin men appreciate a woman with curves fell…well…flat, for lack of a better word.

I remember feeling stressed during the first week or two of seeing him. I had just started to get my health back thanks to taekwondo, and then I found myself wondering if  I would need to continue my unhealthy starvation habits to remain attractive to him. He once casually mentioned that during the summer he usually skipped dinner to cut weight and get lean, hearkening back to his weight-dropping habits as a high school and collegiate wrestler. He would often remind me (in the midst of telling me how beautiful I was) that he was dating against type since I was (1) American and (2) a little rounder than his typical pencil-thin paramours. He noticed the bulky muscle I put on from taekwondo before I did.

While I was ultimately the one who chose to let his comments get under my skin (well at least THAT part of me is thin), no woman, regardless of size or looks, deserves a cruel dismissal and strange accusation from someone who supposedly loves her. I’ve had disordered eating and body image problems since my teens, so my anxiety around weight existed long before this guy entered the picture. I’m not sure if I will ever totally overcome them, so if someone makes a comment about my looks it really messes with my head.

Disordered eating and body image problems aside, I just couldn’t understand why he would say something so hateful when I thought I was quite healthy.  I’m small, proportional, and look both feminine and strong. My waist is the same size it was in high school. These days my “walking around weight” hovers between 118 and 120 pounds, which is probably WAY too fat for the ex’s standards, but it’s a much leaner version of the 120-pound version of myself that I was in my mid-twenties. The last time I checked I was at 18% body fat, which is healthy for a woman in her late thirties. In short, I look pretty damn good. So why the criticism?

And come on, who doesn’t put on a little bit of “happy weight” into a new relationship? Sunday night pizza and a movie was our THING! Our big treat was going to the SAM’s snack bar to get Nathan’s hot dogs! I didn’t become Munchkin-sized Jabba the Hutt on my own!

A reader who knows me personally recently asked me why I stayed in that situation while at the same time my blog posts were pointing to all the epiphanies and confidence breakthroughs I was having thanks to taekwondo. How could I be such a badass in the dojang while at home I was submissive and sensitive? My immediate defensive response was: don’t judge me the way he did (he LOVED to look for loopholes between my blog versus how I was in “real life”). We can have insights and ideas that take longer to implement due to our hard-wired habits and history….meaning stuff that makes sense in our heads may have a 10 second (or 10 year) delay to show up in our actions.

My second response was: you don’t know how it feels to be in that situation unless you are in it. As dysfunctional as our relationship was, we really did love each other. While it’s true I let myself be bullied for too long, I did start to gain more confidence and self-assurance, even if it was in small increments. Taekwondo was my lighthouse during all of this. Slowly I was growing stronger and more able to be fully independent without looking to a relationship as a crutch. If I didn’t have taekwondo I’m sure I would have stayed in my self-destructive patterns for much longer.

Even though that was a terrible thing for the ex to say, I don’t want to play the victim and blame him for everything. Mr. Fat Shamer wasn’t all bad, and neither was I all good. Complicated feelings make it very difficult to leave a complicated situation. There were some very nice qualities about him and our relationship. …well, other than the whole “bill of goods” thing. Really? Who talks like that? “Bill of goods?” Is it the nineteenth century? “You, sir, have sold me a bill of goods! I slap you with my glove and challenge you to a gentlemen’s duel!”

Should I have handled things differently? Yes, but by now any regrets I have around that relationship have faded to a fuzzy washed-out hue, and indifference feels better than anger.

The ex used to say that one can only grow in relationships. I disagree since much of my growth has happened during periods of solitude, and I continue to grow and change in my chosen state of singlehood, but there’s some truth to it. Whether they’re a blessing or a lesson, the people in our lives can stretch us beyond our comfort zones.

I’m okay now. I look good and more importantly, I feel good.

While I have absolutely no interest in dating any time soon or perhaps ever (read why in this post), I know that I’m strong and confident enough to value myself over the approval of whatever man crosses my path in the future. I finally love myself, so I don’t need to look for love elsewhere. I know now that I can stand up for myself the way I do in in the dojang and in the boardroom. So if a man ever tells me my ass is too big, I’ll reply like the Big Bad Wolf:

“The better to kick yours with, my dear.”

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Guest Post: How Female Martial Artists Can Celebrate Their Strengths

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Check out this guest post I wrote for BookMartialArts.com: “Girl Power: How Female Martial Artists Can Celebrate Their Strengths.”

BookMartialArts.com is the world’s leading martial arts travel company. It is a unique travel site that appeals to martial artists, yoga enthusiasts, fitness buffs, and anyone who wants to challenge their minds and bodies while visiting another part of the world. Search the site to find destinations near or far that will help you make your martial arts dreams a reality.

Little Black Belt is TWO!! A Year in Review…

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Wow, it’s been two years since I launched my taekwondo blog! Since last year’s anniversary I have increased my number of followers and made new friends from around the world. I also reached a major milestone when I tested for and received my first degree black belt in October 2015. Since then the fun and the learning hasn’t stopped. Thank you all for reading, commenting, and following me along my journey.

As I did last April, I’d like to share with you my favorite posts from the past year. Read, enjoy, and share your thoughts in the comments.

1. Dragged Kicking and Screaming Into…Well, Kicking and Screaming– A reflection on the emotional shift I experience through taekwondo, plus I pick up my favorite mantra.
2. How Giving Up Drinking Saved My Skin 
– It’s all fun and games until you start having whiskey face. Read about the health improvements I experienced when I quit drinking cold turkey…for seven months, anyway.
3. Operation Fix My Hip Begins
I begin the long physical therapy journey and also make butt jokes. (When someone is jamming their thumb into your piriformis you might as well make it funny.)
4. Five Things I Lost
Gaining a black belt helped me let go of some other things in my life that I no longer needed.
5. I Am My Own Nemesis – I face my biggest and meanest opponent.
6. The Jyo Kyo Neem’s On YouFor those who think black belt is “it,” I have news for you: the fun’s just beginning!
7. Love is Like Grape Soda – This is my favorite non-taekwondo post (although the most popular among the readers is my chocolate chip cookie recipe). I experience a feeling about my non-relationship status that society won’t allow single people to feel: absolutely NOTHING, and it’s grand.
8. A Black Belt Goes To Barre Class 
– I get my ass kicked with pliés and relevés.
9. A Surprising Way to Snap Out of It
One of the blog’s most popular posts about how I used taekwondo to power through some rough emotional waters.
10. When You Know You’ve Found Your Tribe
 – That moment when I realized I was home.

I have also written guest posts for the personal development site Seeds4Life and an article about revitalizing one’s martial arts practice on the martial arts travel site BookMartialArts.com. Keep your eye on my blog for upcoming guest posts I’ll be writing for BookMartialArts.com.

If you want details about taekwondo practice and not just all the flowery thoughts in my head, check out The Poomsae Series (now with two new posts about the first dan forms!) or anything tagged under the categories “Class Diaries” or “Training Tips.”

The Six Month Long (and Counting) Black Belt Test

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Next week two of my classmates will be testing for first and second degree black belt, and several other students will be testing for various color belt levels. In addition to our normal training, much of our practice time has been devoted to preparing these students to test.

It’s nice not to have the heat on me as far as being a testing student, although if time flies as quickly as it has been, it’ll be my turn to test for second dan before I know it. These last few weeks have been a test in a different sense though: do I continue living up to my black belt duties?

First degree black belt is just that: The first among many levels. The beginning. Ground zero. I still have a LOT of work ahead of me. There’s no rest period. While the black belt test last fall was physically strenuous, mentally I was more calm and poised than I’d ever been for a taekwondo belt test or for that matter, the presentations I do for work. Kicks, forms, self-defense, breaking, sparring, no problem. I had done these movements over and over again, and my body knew what to do. It felt like the real part of the test began after I was awarded my black belt.

After I was awarded my belt it was application time: new forms, more complex self-defense including weapons defense, the expectation that color belt skills be performed at black belt caliber, and of course coaching and refereeing. For the first few weeks I felt like my brain was melting, much like my first few weeks as a red belt. The red belt test was a pivotal moment in my taekwondo career, but the real test was when I nervously attended my first red and black belt class.

As a learning and leadership development professional, I always preach to my clients that the real work begins after the meeting, workshop, or team building event ends. That also rings true in taekwondo and very likely other martial arts. In every class I build upon what I know and make the conscious effort to improve. Every class is an opportunity to use my technique to master a new skill, get creative with what I already know, and to demonstrate my understanding by teaching another student.

I feel like I am earning my black belt every day in class as much as I was that Saturday afternoon in October. 

This should go without saying, but in case anyone assumes this is undue pressure I’m putting on myself to be perfect or I’m anxious or self-conscious about taekwondo…I’m not. My taekwondo practice is as much as spiritual practice as it is physical. It is a joy to do, and I love challenging myself. As I continue to evolve and change, so does my practice. The more mindful I am of my taekwondo practice, the more I fulfillment I gain from it. Okay, I can’t do a jump spin kick to save my life, but everything else is peaceful, floating cloud, enlightened hippie bliss. Ahhh.

Anyway, last night’s class was dedicated to helping our testing students. As a group we ran through a good chunk of the kicking requirements that our lone bo dan will have to do at next week’s test to earn his first degree black belt. You know all those kicks and combinations you learned over the years in taekwondo class? Yeah, do them ALL in succession without stopping other than taking a few seconds to wipe steaming sweat from your face. Although my instructor paid most of his attention to testing students, I took it seriously, giving it my all and performing each kick as if I were the one testing. Power, speed, and strength never go out of style. Black belts can’t afford to get sloppy.

When we switched to breaking practice (hitting pads to simulate the precision and power necessary for board breaking) I grabbed a sturdy red pad and was assigned a tiny girl who wore glasses and a silk flower clipped to her curly hair. This was a black belt test of a different kind. I had cast to my own training self-interests aside and go into coach mode. How would I talk to her? How would I draw out the personality of one of our quietest students? How would I help her make decisions? How would I demonstrate and coach in a way that she could understand and follow my instructions?  I prayed that I wouldn’t have to re-tie her belt, which is the hardest thing to do with a wriggling little kid.

When the testing students were asked to demonstrate their breaking techniques in front of the entire class, I watched my little charge with anticipation, hoping she did everything we practiced. She did great job and had a big smile on her face as the class applauded. (Thankfully her belt remained intact.) Whew. Our work had paid off. I’d just passed another black belt test. I’m ready for the next one tomorrow.

Chocolate Chip Cookies for Your “Cheat” Days…or Every Day

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While fitness is one of my highest priorities, I haven’t given up my sweet tooth. Luckily I have found the Holy Grail: a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that are both tasty and SLIGHTLY less harmful than the normal processed white flour crap you’d find on the shelf at the grocery store. It can’t be brown rice and vegetables 24/7. You need to have a little fun.

First let me give credit where credit is due. I originally found this recipe on Ambitious Kitchen. (Click here) It all started with some cookies I had at a yoga retreat (you can stop rolling your eyes now.) They were fat, chewy, sweet, and unbelievably yummy…and just happened to be Paleo, but whatever. I couldn’t get the taste out of my mind, so I hunted down a similar and even tastier version on the Ambitious Kitchen website.

How awesome are these cookies?
-They are soft and chewy. Who likes a hard crumbly cookie?
-The dark brown sugar and coconut oil give them a unique taste.
-They’re gluten free thanks to the quinoa flour, and can be dairy and soy free depending on the type of chocolate you use….but, sorry vegans, they do contain eggs. I don’t understand Paleo, so I don’t know if they are or not….nothing against it; I’m just too lazy to research it.
-They are very popular. Other than two people, no one in my family has dietary restrictions and has to avoid wheat and soy. Everyone just likes the cookies because they are THAT good.

Ingredients
-2 cups quinoa flour (I have found it at Sprouts and Fresh Market)
-1/4 tsp salt
-1 tsp baking soda
-2/3 c melted coconut oil (Whole Foods sells some liquid coconut oil specifically for cooking, but it’s hellaexpensive. Target now carries liquid coconut oil for about $6. Yeah!!)
-1 1/4 c dark brown sugar. (Seriously, get the organic DARK kind, not just that regular sand-colored brown sugar if you want a yummy, molasses-y flavor.)
-1 egg
-1 egg yolk
-2 tsp vanilla
-1 c chocolate chips (Now this is where I do get down with Whole Foods. Their in-house brand 365 jumbo milk chocolate chips will make you want to leave your family and live on a paradise island with a bag of these chips.)
-sea salt for sprinkling. Don’t forget!

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Whisk together quinoa flour, baking soda, and salt.
3. In a separate large bowl, beat together the coconut oil and brown sugar with an electric mixer. When it starts to smooth add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Beat until it becomes creamy.
4. Add flour mix. Mix on low speed and add chocolate chips…if you haven’t eaten all the chocolate chips already.
5. Roll into 2-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet.
6. Bake approximately 12 minutes or until they turn golden brown.
7. Remove from oven.
8. While the cookies are cooling, very lightly sprinkle with sea salt.

Option: Chill the cookies in the refrigerator if you like cold cookies. Once in a while the quinoa taste comes out, which is a little weird, but that goes away when those amazing chocolate chips punch you in the face.