The 9 Books That Defined My 2019

Part of being a good writer is being a good reader

After what can only be described as voracious reading of fiction and fantasy as a child, I lost reading for pleasure as an adult and switched only to “productive” reading. Self help. Motivation. Business building. Personal development.

After several years, I let myself read fiction again. I read Outlander for a book club and consumed the rest of the series, my childhood appetite for fantasy rushing back.

I switch back and forth now in a relatively 50/50 split between stuff to make my brain smarter and stuff to make my brain relax and have fun.

They’re both necessary for me to be the best writer I can.

These are the books that defined my 2019

  1. The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner 

This book was the single most important book of the year for me, and honestly for every single person in the world. Go read this book. Caroline’s work changed me. I finally stopped hurting myself in the name of weight loss and thinness. I understood fatphobia and diet culture in a way I never had before. This book may have literally saved my life.

The F*ck It Diet provided the paradigm shift I needed to see the truth about my body and the fact that it’s okay to exist in it.

2. Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Ph.D.

Before and after TFID arrived at my doorstep, I decided to read up on other body positive books. Health at Every Size helped solidify what Caroline Dooner had already begun to teach me: my body isn’t inherently unhealthy because it’s fat. I remember calling my sister in a rage while I was listening to it, angry at the lies that had been told to me as fact about my body for 30 years. Everyone should read this book.

3. Dietland by Sarai Walker

I heard about Dietland on the Unladylike podcast and felt compelled to read it right away. This fiction novel follows the life of Plum, a lifelong dieter who is saving up for weight loss surgery. She goes on a whirlwind adventure and makes a bunch of new feminist friends, while the narrative weaves back and forth between Plum and a series of murders that appear to implicate a new friend. It was a delightful read (even with the murdery bits) that has stuck with me all year. Highly recommend.

4. Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D.

Like TFID helped me see the ways I was stuck in diet culture self-talk, Getting Past Your Past helped me see the ways my trauma manifests in repeated patterns linked through a lifetime of unprocessed memories. Francine Shapiro, who died in June this year, developed the EMDR method of trauma processing therapy. Just reading the book helped me start viewing my trauma in a new light, and entering EMDR therapy has helped me process my eating disorder, my abusive marriage, and traumatic memories from childhood emotional abuse.

5. The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation by Caitlin Fisher 

In 2016, I wrote a blog post about an idea I couldn’t get out of my head: The idea that millennials as a whole were being systematically gaslit by older generations and the capitalist systems at play in our country. In 2019, I published my debut book of the same title. Each chapter highlights an aspect of society that our generation has supposedly undermined and destroyed, with advice on how to keep killin’ it on a regular basis.

Maybe some parts of society suck and deserve to be dismantled.

6. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk 

Shockingly, this book is also about trauma processing. In The Body Keeps the Score, the author discusses the physical ways that trauma manifests in the body as chronic pain and illness. It turns out that neglect, emotional abuse, and other traumas can have lasting effects not only on the brain but on the entire human body. It was eye opening to learn about and helped me get a diagnosis for my fibromyalgia this year when I acknowledged the physical pain I had been ignoring in my body.

7. Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey 

When I was married, I read the first three books of a great sci-fi series, The Expanse. And then I didn’t read any books or watch any television that I had ever associated with him for eighteen months. No Expanse. No superhero shows. Not even the shows I had enjoyed by myself when I was with him. I was on media lockdown.

But in 2019 I met a friend who also loved The Expanse and he encouraged me to get back into the series. Reading Cibola Burn, the fourth novel in the series, was my first contact with husband-related media in a year and a half, and despite my fears it felt safe. I’ve continued to work through the rest of the books in the series this year and I’m all caught up on the TV adaptation as well.

8. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

I have a list of things I’m going to do with my life, and they are: foster kids, rescue dogs, buy a house, and hug Brené Brown. Her work on vulnerability and shame helped me realize that I’m worthy of love and belonging right now. Brené Brown also taught me to play and have fun (which helps me read fiction and schedule socializing with friends). Whatever way you can get your hands on any of her content, you should do so immediately.

9. The Animorphs Series by K. A. Applegate 

Re-reading this series that I adored as a child is doing some kind of healing in me that I don’t fully understand. I am amazed that I still remember major plot points and even lines of dialogue decades after reading them once or twice each in elementary school between fourth and sixth grade.

As an added bonus, reading them has strengthened my resolve to start a young adult science fiction series. I’ve allowed myself to return to the parts of YA sci-fi that I loved as a kid, and my brain just tossed a fully formed idea at me in the shower, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

My 2020 reading list

Looking over my 2019 list, I realize that I need to start branching out. Last year was about survival, this year was about laying the groundwork to heal, and next year is about becoming an improved version of myself. This will mean some of the same type of reading (and writing!) as 2019, but I also feel a deep need to read from more diverse authors.

I want to help all people, not just people who look like me and have similar experiences. And I am aware that I haven’t always examined my privilege closely and critically. In 2020 I want to open myself up to listen to the experiences of others so that I can be more aware.

Simply put: It’s time for me to stop focusing on reading work from white people.

Rather than continue to ask people of color to educate us about how we can better understand their experiences and be allies, we have to do our own work. Here are some excellent titles I’ve started researching that are on my 2020 reading list for a start:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

How do you measure a year?

In books, in words, in reconnecting with characters you thought you left behind a long time ago.

Comfort in my own skin

Losing weight used to be the most important thing in my life. Year after year, it was my resolution each January. And year after year, despite my weight, I still never felt like I had succeeded. If I gained, I had obviously failed. If I maintained, I had not done enough. If I lost, I still had so much further to go.

My highest weight was 300 pounds. I panicked. I felt out of control. I changed my diet and exercise habits and started to lose weight.

My lowest weight was 201 pounds. I panicked. I felt unsafe. I changed my diet and exercise habits and started to gain weight.

While I was elbow deep in an MLM company selling shake mix and workout DVDs, I used to collect and share all sorts of fitness inspiration (“fitspo”) graphics and memes in my coaching groups. Slogans like “Eat like you love your body” and “Don’t let food be the boss of you” and “Strive for progress, not perfection” and “In three months you will thank yourself” were my absolute bread and butter (but, like, gluten free, because gluten is evil).

And I strived for those things. I ate salads and raw veggies and superfood shakes because I wanted to eat like I loved my body. I avoided sugar entirely, even eschewing condiments, because I wanted to eat like I loved my body. I did three day clean eating cleanses and sugar fasts and Whole30 so that I could be the boss of food, instead of letting food be the boss of me. When I slipped up and ate something off-plan, I tried to remember that it was still progress as long as I didn’t gain weight back — a couple bad days on a diet doesn’t mean utter failure and a life in this fat body. I knew that after three grueling months of breaking my bad food habits, I would be on my way to a toned, lean, fit Pinterest body. All of the fitness memes promised that soon, this lifestyle change (not a diet, a lifestyle change) would become an addiction and I would wake up in the morning and all of the little Disney blue birds would come put my moisture wicking skintight pants on me so I could go run a quick 10k before breakfast. Every day. I looked forward to that day.

I would finally love myself, if I could only overcome my lack of self control. If I could eat right, I would finally love my body. If I could exercise enough, I would finally love my body.

One of the graphics saved on my phone says “I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her own skin.” I was determined to lose enough weight to reach this point. I knew I could become comfortable in my body once I had found the right mix of food and movement to unlock the secret code to making my body get smaller.

I started running. I did 5Ks, and then a 10K, and then a half marathon. The next year, I did another half marathon and signed up for the race that would change my life and make me a true runner. I signed up for a Ragnar relay. Two hundred (ish) miles in two days, sleeping in a van, running on sleep deprivation and cold bagels and the promise of epic satisfaction and pride when I was finished.

But the Ragnar didn’t change me. I felt the same. I questioned if I had done it right. My first leg was partially canceled due to flooding, so I didn’t even run my whole Ragnar. My position had shorter legs, so I questioned the validity and badassness of my Ragnar experience. Did I even do a Ragnar if I wasn’t completely broken by the end of it?

I was still chasing that self love. I was still chasing body satisfaction.

And I thought pain and exhaustion and limitation and control was part of that journey to becoming comfortable in my body.

I started therapy to specifically target my relationship with food just a few weeks ago. On February 1st, my therapist and I identified a target thought process: I am not allowed to eat. I had a very rough night that evening and cried a lot. Processing is hard. But over the weekend and through the next week to my first “reprocessing” appointment (in which we focused on changing the target thought to “I am allowed to eat”), I did a lot of work.

I unfollowed any account on Instagram or Facebook that focused on dieting or thinness. I followed a bunch of real, actual body positive accounts (especially large bodies). I started reading about the anti-diet culture. I pre-ordered “The Fuck It Diet” by Caroline Dooner.

After the reprocessing session, I ate without restriction. And something unexpected happened inside me.

This is going to sound so hokey and silly but I swear, this is what happened.

The space in my mind that previously held all of my rules and need for control had given way to hold contentment and joy instead.

Where I used to ask myself twenty questions to determine how valid a hunger pang was, I now just made something tasty and enjoyed it, then went on with my day.

Where I used to keep a constant inner monologue of comparison to what I had eaten the day before, how fast my dining companion was eating, whether or not I could finish my side of fries without looking like a fatty mc fatty fat, I now just ate what I wanted and went on with my day.

Where I used to look at a large body on Instagram and focus on fat rolls and sagging skin, I now saw what I was after — the look on their faces. The way they held their shoulders back and head up. The way they were comfortable in their bodies… as they were right now. 

Y’all, something snapped inside me.

That is what was missing for me. Contentment with my body isn’t an aspiration. It’s not something that will happen if only I can achieve and limit and drag myself to it. It’s not the reward for suffering. Contentment with my body – becoming a woman comfortable in my own skin – is a right-now thing. Not a someday-maybe thing.

I was obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her own skin. And all I had to do to become her was love myself right now.

The shame was so, so heavy. After over two decades of carrying the burden of hating my body, I put it down. And what rushed in to fill the void was love.

bikini

This. is. what. I’m. talking. ABOUT.