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Expat Life

If you harbor body hate and body love, which will you feed?

As a member of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, I’m privileged to have as colleagues some of the most accomplished Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs).

Our guest columnist this week is an expert dietitian/nutritionist who, in her words, is, “On a mission to serve the breast cancer community through education and inspiration to “BITE Back” with nutrition, “MOVE Back” with fitness, and “STRIKE Back” with health-supportive lifestyle strategies – especially at the time of diagnosis.”

Cathy Leman, MS, RD, LD

Cathy Leman, MA, RD, LD, NSCA-CPT is a registered dietitian, nutrition therapist, certified personal trainer, blogger, speaker, and founder of “DAM. MAD. About Breast Cancer,” ™ a nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle resource for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer who want to build physical resilience to better tolerate treatment. Visit www.dammadaboutbreastcancer.com

Cathy earned her bachelor’s degree in human nutrition and dietetics from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and holds a master’s degree in health psychology from National Louis University. Cathy is also certified as a personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

If you harbor body hate and body love, which will you feed?

Do you know the parable “The Tale of Two Wolves?”

A grandfather is talking with his granddaughter. He tells her there are two wolves inside each of us, which are always at war with each other.

One of them is a good wolf, representing things like kindness, bravery, and love. The other is a bad wolf, representing things like greed, hatred, and fear.

The granddaughter stops and thinks about that for a moment, then looks up at her grandfather and asks, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.”

Shortly after my diagnosis was confirmed, I shared the news with someone who later uttered this well-intentioned comment:

“You must feel like your body betrayed you.”

I’d kept my diagnosis private, telling people on an “as-needed” basis only, and this particular instance was that. Because I hadn’t shared this big ‘ol life-altering event with anyone outside my family and a handful of friends, I wasn’t versed in, or comfortable with, any conversational exchange around it.

Cue the squirming.

To be honest, I spent most of my time trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid even thinking about, let alone exploring the nuances behind “it.”

And now, here was the idea of “body betrayal”, something I’d never before considered, splayed at my feet. My response?

“Um, not really.”

Profound, I know.

As difficult to believe as it may be, considering my personal and professional philosophy of “give your body everything it needs and it will repay you in kind, I honestly didn’t feel any sense of betrayal.

So I wrestled a bit with that idea, and what I’ve since realized is that I think my body was doing its best. In fact, I’d give it an A+ for effort, fortitude, and holding-it-togetherness.

I believe my body did everything it possibly could (with some deliberate lifestyle help from me) to stem the tide of a global breast cancer epidemic, untold, ubiquitous exposure to hidden environmental toxins lurking everywhere, and my own personal risk factors – of which there were a few.

Not surprisingly, this view isn’t the case for everyone.

But I Did EVERYTHING Right!

I’ve spoken with a number of breast cancer survivors who vehemently shared their anguish and yes, rage, over the betrayal of their body. They lament the fact that they ate relatively healthy (I recall one woman sharing that she “only” ate organic), tried to be or truly were physically active, and never missed their annual mammograms.

All to no avail. They still fell prey to every woman’s nightmare.

In the underground nutrition world I work in and am writing about this month, I regularly observe how the belief that one’s body has betrayed them doesn’t leave much room for body kindness.

The form of revenge one can take on a body deemed as “failing to deliver” can be nothing short of horrifying.

I’ve witnessed women engage in life-threatening extremes of deprivation and restriction, rapidly consume voluminous quantities of food in an astonishingly brief amount of time – repeatedly, and purge relentlessly via extreme exercising and/or vomiting up the shadow of a bite of food.

Not to mention the innumerous ways self-injury serves as the “go-to” punishment for, or distraction from, a body perceived as behaving badly.

The damage inflicted by these behaviors is serious, long-lasting, and often life-threatening.

But then, so is breast cancer. Tit for tat, as it were.

Every woman, including you, is 100% entitled to her feelings about and the reality of her own breast cancer experience. Yet should you find yourself wavering between self-care and self-destruction, it may be time to look beyond what perhaps has become a too narrow “world-that-is-you” view.

How to give your body love when you really, truly believe it’s let you down?

Start simply, by giving yourself grace. Challenge your thoughts. Change your perception.

Even if your body no longer looks or feels the same, you feel let down and defeated by every fiber of your being, and you can’t for the life of you reconcile just how far you now find yourself from your once familiar center, please know this.

You can make the choice to celebrate your body’s ability to recover and exhibit deep reserves of resilience, for exactly what it is.

Nothing short of a miracle.