In the past 12 1/2 years, since I gave up sugar, my weight has fluctuated many times. Sometimes by a lot. When my beloved grandmother was dying, I lost 20 lbs, eating exactly the same as I had been. When I quit smoking I gained 30, eating significantly less than I had been at my thinnest. When I was eating sugar and carbs, I was morbidly obese. But since I have given them up, I have been in regular sizes, but not one regular size.
My eyes are broken when it comes to size. When it comes to food portion size and my own body size. I am bad at those.
I think that there is an expectation, by others, and occasionally even myself, that over time certain aspects of my thinking will normalize. That somehow I will know what a portion looks like. Or that somehow I will see my body clearly.
After over 12 and a half years, that is still not the case for me. Even right now, when my body dysmorphia isn’t looming large, I am subject to my own broken eyes.
I gained weight a couple of months ago. It hasn’t come off, even though I stopped eating soy nuts (the weight gain offender, in this case) and I have come to terms with the fact that it may not. At least not on my schedule. My weight fluctuates. Or stays stubbornly static. I had to make friends with that.
Also, it occurs like more than it is. My weight does change from time to time. But I am particularly sensitive to it. So a little gain will feel like a huge one. My jeans got a little tighter a couple of months ago with the soy nuts. But in my head, I got “huge.” The same jeans still fit, just differently. But I sometimes wonder if anyone notices, and thinks bad things about me, if people at work can see the difference. (Spoiler alert: nobody at works cares enough about me to notice if I have gained or lost weight, except my husband, who actively avoids thinking about my weight, because “nothing good can come of that.” – His words. Compulsive eating ladies, this is the kind of man you want to marry.)
And then this week I bought some new workout clothes on the internet. Based on the size chart, I was supposed to buy a medium. But I thought for sure I would need a large. This is ridiculous when I think about it rationally. A medium was for size 8/10, and I am an 8. I could still go up a size and need a medium. It was still so hard to buy a medium.
When they came, they were hard to get on, and for a moment I thought, “damn it! I knew I needed a large.” And I almost didn’t even bother to try to get them on. But I did, and they actually fit perfectly. I just forgot how hard it is to struggle into new workout clothes. (My old ones were pretty stretched out, because I’m cheap, and I have only had 3 sets of clothes for over 2 years, but I work out 5 days a week. So my old ones have been worn and washed twice a week for years. Hence the need to buy new ones.)
As for food size, I control my portions with a scale. Some people seem to think this is extreme. It may be. But I have an extreme problem. I don’t know when I’m full. I don’t know what enough means.
This morning, I ate some bacon, sausage, and egg, plus whole milk in my coffee, and a quarter of a ginormous honeydew, and I will tell you, I could have eaten a whole other one. I mean a second complete breakfast. Seriously. Please know, sometimes I fantasize about it. Because I love to eat. I love food. It’s why I control my portions. Because how does a girl who would happily eat like a hobbit, know what enough is? The answer is, she doesn’t.
I am glad to be aware of the fact that my eyes are broken, and to have measures in place to make that irrelevant. I weigh my food to know exactly what I should eat. And as long as I control my portions, and keep boundaries around my eating, I don’t need to know what my body looks like. As long as I stay rational and look at the size chart when I buy clothes off the internet, I should be OK. Also, there is always sucking it up, and paying for return shipping. (I better keep an eye on the size chart, because let’s face it , once it’s here, it’s probably not getting sent back.)
I consider myself to be lucky. I am very happy with the way I look. I don’t love the creases between my eyebrows, or my knock knees, or how big my belly is, but I also don’t hate them. And I feel like that is pretty good for a modern, Western woman, especially one who used to be morbidly obese. I think I am naturally beautiful.
And I think a lot of that peace and confidence in my physical self comes from taking care of myself.
There was this thing I learned years ago. When we wrong someone, we have to justify it to ourselves, or we have to own up and make amends. So if we are not willing to make amends, we have to make the person we harmed appear wrong to us in some way. For example, if I were a jerk to my husband and yelled at him about something, probably trivial, (not that I would ever do something so imperfect!) I would either have to make it right with him, or I would have to really dig my heels in about what a jerk he is. (My husband is most definitely not a jerk.) This is easy enough to see in a relationship like a marriage. (Well…Easy-ish to see. It’s not always easy for me to admit I have done something wrong.)
But what I learned since I got my eating under control is that it works the same in my relationship with myself. Only not so straightforwardly.
When I was eating compulsively, especially because I just couldn’t stop, I was forced to reinforce all of the negative talk about myself in my own head. I was fat, I was ugly, I was worthless. Because if I were beautiful and strong and capable, I would have to admit that I was abusing my body. I would have to admit that I was harming myself. And I would have to make amends to myself. And for most of my life, I wasn’t going to be able to do that. I really could not stop eating. I had no idea how.
When I was harming myself, I had to choose that I “deserved” to be harmed. My “just desserts” were literal desserts full of sugar and flour, that were making me fat, and crazy and miserable. I hated my body, because I fed it junk and poison, processed sugar and carbohydrates that got me high and made me lethargic. I abused it, which only made me hate it more, and made it justifiable to feed it more poison.
Now that I take care of my body, I love it. I love it even though it is not tiny and svelte and “flawless.” I love it with all of its rolls and sags. I love its 41-year-old’s share of wrinkles and moles. It never had to fit into society’s definition of perfect for me to love it. Really, I only needed to start treating it like it was lovable.
And when I started to love it and treat it as beautiful, the world around me started to agree. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t dye my grey hair. I don’t wear shape wear, and I rarely wear heels. But, for the most part, people like me. People are attracted to me. And I think it’s because I love me enough to treat me, my whole body, the way I deserve to be treated. With love and respect.
There are two ways both the media and the medical community talk about obesity.
The first is that fat people are lazy slobs who are unwilling to do something about their bad behavior and are subjecting all of the “normal” people to their shamefulness.
The second is that fat people are just fat, and that if they try to lose weight, their metabolisms slow down and they maintain weight regardless of their intake and output. Which, by the way, completely disregards the fact that both nationally, and globally, humans are fatter than they were 40 years ago.
Now, in some ways it is true that trying to lose weight can cause a person’s metabolism to slow down so that they maintain their weight. Depending on *how* one tries to lose weight. And the ways most modern doctors, and “health & lifestyle” articles tell fat people to try to lose weight is a serious part of the problem.
They tell them to eat processed sugar and carbohydrates in moderation. They tell them if they don’t eat that cookie, they will feel deprived, but only the one cookie. And if they can’t stop, they tell them it’s their fault. That they lack the moral fiber that we like to call willpower. They tell them to exercise, often for hours a day. They tell them that exercise has a much bigger impact on their weight than it actually does. (My daily workout burns less than 250 calories. An 8 ounce apple is 130 calories. 2 eggs is 156 calories. So jogging 2 miles a day doesn’t even burn off 2 eggs and a medium sized apple. But fat people are told that if they get out and move, they will magically get thin.) They tell them to fast (starve themselves) and that this does some kind of woo woo magic to their metabolisms. They tell them to eat low calorie processed foods, which often end up having increased sugar and low nutrient content.
What very few people are talking about is giving up processed sugar and carbohydrates. Yes, more people are talking about it than before, but still not very many. We are stuck in the paradigm of “a calorie is a calorie,” and it is killing some of us.
For me, a calorie is not a calorie. I eat a ridiculous number of calories in a day now. I don’t count calories, though I do control my portions. But I do know that eating 300 calories of full-fat Greek yogurt, I mean the super extra fatty yogurt, leaves me satisfied completely until lunch, sometimes 7 hours later. If I ate 300 calories in doughnuts, or a bagel, I would be craving immediately, and continue to eat. I would eat more carbs. And even if I didn’t, even if I could somehow force myself to “be good,” I would still not be skinny.
When I was 25-27, I lost weight by counting calories and working out. I ate sugar and carbs in moderation. I was crazy, I was miserable, and I was constantly hungry. And I was about the same size I am now. But now I am 41, with a slower metabolism, and eating way more calories, and more satiating foods. In other words I suffered then to look like I look now. Because sugar makes me fat, and it makes me crave more sugar.
I understand that not everybody is the same. I understand that there will be outliers. I understand that your aunt may have joined Weight Watchers, and she ate whatever she wanted, including cookies and bread, in moderation for her whole life and maintained a normal weight. I salute her! I am very happy for her. I have people in my life, in my very own family, who have that story too.
My story, and the story of dozens and dozens of people that I know personally, and the story of hundreds of people I am in contact with, is that we could not lose weight no matter what we tried. And then we stopped eating processed sugar and carbohydrates, and we lost the weight and kept it off for years, and decades.
I have maintained a weight loss of half my body weight for over 12 years. I went from a size 28, to a size 8. I have been a size 4/6. My weight fluctuates. I gain a little, I lose a little. I still don’t eat a lot of low calorie foods. I like my meals rich and delicious. I did not exercise in any regimented way for the first 10 years of not eating sugar, and still maintained my weight. Even my current exercise routine is minimal. I am not currently, and have rarely been what you might term “skinny.” Though, skinny in the US is extreme now. But I am not fat anymore. And I have not been for over a decade.
I read an article this week. The point of it was that we need to stop shaming people for being fat, especially the medical community. Yes. I wholeheartedly agree. I still carry a lot of the fear and hatred of doctors that I felt having grown up fat.
But there was something else that struck me in the article. It said that people are fatter now, and we won’t be able to change that back. We can’t turn back the clock to 40 years ago and the obesity rates of the 1970s. This, of course, is true, and wise. Obesity is here to stay and we would do well to stop being jerks to fat people.
But I want to carry the banner for what an individual can do if they want to change themselves. For the past 7 years, this blog has been trying to offer an example of what one person who wants to change their life can do. Give up processed sugar and carbohydrates. Give them up entirely. Treat them like poison.
It can be done. I was fat in the 80s and the 90s when it was still relatively rare. Certainly not the “epidemic” they term it today. I remember what it was like to be shamed. And I did not think there could ever be a solution. But now I live comfortably in a body I love because I gave up processed sugar and carbohydrates.
I am saying that we may not be able to reverse the trend, but as individuals, we don’t have to be a part of it.
Having been fat from childhood to my late 20s made me particularly body conscious. Even now, when I don’t want to be, I am. I just want to eat delicious food within my boundaries and let my body be what it is. (Yeah…because that’s easy.)
About 5 months ago, I started eating soy nuts again. I know that I can be a little obsessed with them. And I know that they make me gain weight. But I had a craving for something nutty and crunchy and they are absolutely allowed on my plan. So I bought some. And I agreed with myself that I would not eat more than an ounce a day. And in all honesty, for the first 2 months, I didn’t eat them every day. I maybe had them two or three days a week. But nothing happened.
And they are tasty and convenient because there is no cooking involved. And they make for a great texture in my homemade ice cream! So I started eating more of them on a regular basis. And after about a week of eating them whenever I wanted and ignoring my one ounce a day rule, I woke up one Sunday and realized I had gained weight. Enough weight for my pants to feel tight. Not “kill me” tight. “Not go buy new pants” tight. But I was uncomfortable. And it really did happen over night. Saturday, pants fit like normal. Sunday, pants are tight.
So I did what any body conscious woman with boundaries around her eating would do. I stopped eating them. It has been about 3 weeks. And I have still not really lost that weight. My pants are a bit looser, but not the way they had been that one Saturday, before I woke up and had gained weight.
I actively try to not care about my weight. Not like I am trying to hide anything from myself. But I keep my boundaries around my eating every day, and day by day, that is enough. I don’t have to worry about the size of my body. That will be what it is. (Again, the not worrying is easier said than done.)
But I want to note a thing that has always been interesting (and often upsetting) to me. It takes 2 days and no effort (for me, and most of us) to gain weight, and 2 months and a lot of work and care to lose it. It always takes more to achieve our goals than it does to destroy all of the work we have put in.
I try to remember that when I don’t “want” to do the things I do to take care of myself. I have the life I have because of the things I nurture, and the habits I practice. But even after years of work and commitment, it only takes 2 days for my pants to get tight.
I was talking to my mom this week and she told me a story that made me angry. She had a friend who quit smoking, gained 30 pounds, was put on a strict diet by her doctor, and didn’t lose the weight. So they sent her to a psychologist (maybe a psychiatrist, I am not positive) with the implication that she was lying about what she was eating, and that is why she was not losing the weight.
I cannot say how this makes me burn, how it fills me with rage. When I quit smoking almost 6 years ago, I also gained 30 pounds. And because I have body dysmorphic disorder, it took a real toll on my mental health. So I started scouring the Internet.
Now, in general, don’t do this. The internet can be a dark, crazy-making place. But I am really glad I did. Oh, I was not at first. Because the first thing that I found was a lot of sites like Web MD telling me that people only gain 2-10 pounds, and mostly because they eat more to make up for not smoking.
Then I went on forums where I found a bunch of traumatized people asking why they gained 20-40 pounds after quitting smoking, and a bunch of trolls telling them it was because they were making up for their “oral fixation” with food. And often fat shaming them. (And it felt like they were fat shaming me. As if I haven’t gotten enough of that BS in one lifetime.)
I read a lot of things along the lines of.
Stop eating so much and exercise. Quitting smoking doesn’t affect your weight. There is no scientific evidence that says that quitting smoking makes you gain weight.
But by the time I quit smoking, I had already had my eating under control for 6 years. I had already been strictly controlling my portions. And my quantities on some foods were cut in half. I was not eating more. I was eating less. And I knew it. It was quantifiable. And I was keeping track like I always had. Plus I had started walking more. While I had been generally walking 3-5 miles a day in my daily life in the city, I then added 8 mile walks 2 or 3 times a week.
What eventually helped me was when I found forums for fitness buffs. These were filled with people who, like me, were already tracking their food and exercise routines. They already knew what they were eating and how much fuel they were burning.
What they had to say was not pleasant. And I did not want to believe it. But in the end, it turned out to be true for me. They generally gained 26-40 pounds. And their bodies and metabolisms didn’t go back to normal for about 3 years.
I quit smoking in June of 2012. Between June and December of that year, I gained 30 pounds. I went from a US size 6 to a US size 10, I stayed a 10 for 3 years, and then in June of 2015, pretty suddenly, I was a size 6 again.
There is also an article in Time from 2017 (5 years *after* I quit smoking) that says that one French study showed that while a quarter of participants gained less than 3 pounds or even lost weight, a quarter of participants gained more than 17 pounds.
When people, especially doctors, say that there is no evidence that quitting smoking causes weight gain, I remember those fitness forums. I hope more studies like the French study are done about smoking cessation and weight gain. Because gaining weight when you quit smoking is basically understood to be the norm. But blaming the people who quit for being gluttons also seems to be the norm. And I, personally, have had enough of that crap. It’s already hard to quit. And blaming people for something they have no control over makes us feel crazy! I was committed to quitting, no matter what. And I had a food regimen in place that kept me grounded. But I promise you, if I hadn’t, I would have said “screw this” and just started smoking again. Because I am vain. And because society judges us on what we look like, more than how healthy we are. In fact, society equates thin with healthy. It does not ask if that person is a smoker.
I am not sorry I quit. But only because I got through those awful 3 years and got my body, the one I am comfortable in, back. So if you have quit smoking and gained more weight than is comfortable, and you feel crazy because you know you are not overeating, I have been there. And this, too, shall pass. You are not crazy. You are not a glutton or a liar. Your body will stabilize again. Don’t quit quitting!
I was talking with a group of friends the other day about International Women’s Day, and someone mentioned movements like “fat is beautiful,” and “fat as a feminist issue.”
The truth is that I do think that fat is a feminist issue. I do think that being fat and being beautiful are not mutually exclusive. And at the same time, I absolutely hated being fat, and I never want to go back.
I think that part of the problem with these ideas is that we conflate them. Let me break it down for you. There is a difference between what you, as an individual with a body, want to believe about and do with your body, and what our society and culture tell you about what you *should* believe about and do with your body.
I have had to deal with this for myself. I had to do some serious and painful soul searching. Because I really hated being fat. I was miserable and I felt ashamed. I hated my body. I hated the way that I looked, and the way that I felt. I hated that I could not stop eating. I hated how hard it was to live in that body.
But separately, I also hated the way I was treated by others. I hated that people were given the “right” by our culture, to openly comment about my body. After all, this body is me and I am this body. Whatever its size and shape. If you shame my body, you shame me. If you disrespect my body, you disrespect me.
I have come to really understand, only after years of being in a comfortable body, a body that I am comfortable in, that just because I was unhappy with myself didn’t give anyone else the right to judge me. It was not ok that I was shamed and abused. It was not ok that I was humiliated by others. That I hated myself did not give friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers a pass for being jerks.
My food problem is a sickness. It is not cured by “pushing away from the table,” or “just not eating so much,” or “having willpower,” or “having some self-respect.” I don’t now, and never did, earn my place in the world by being beautiful, thin, accommodating, and feminine. I have always had a place in the world. I was born into it, by virtue of having a body.
And I will say that I consider myself to be incredibly beautiful (and my husband would add humble.) And I love it. And I don’t apologize for loving it. But it doesn’t define me. And I don’t owe it to others. Not to men on the street, not to my parents, not to friends, not to bosses. Not to my husband, either. I do not owe any particular body to anyone but myself.
So in honor of International Women’s Day, let me recommend to you that you love your body exactly as it is right now in this very moment. Remember that it *is* your place in the world. And if, like I once was, you are unhappy with the body you are in, love it anyway. I believe that it is only by loving ourselves first that we can make lasting change. If we are waiting to be “perfect” before we love ourselves, we will be waiting a very long time.
My husband and I are in a town outside of Indianapolis for the next month or so, and I am having a hard time finding some of the things that I love to eat. So far, I have not been able to find Italian sausage that doesn’t have sugar, but that’s nothing new. However, I can’t find bacon without sugar here either. Ugh! Let me say that again. Ugh!
I cannot tell you how it makes me furious that companies put sugar in everything. Not only because I can’t eat them, but also because I believe that they are eroding our palates and our minds.
When I gave up sugar, my palate shifted. A lot. As a little kid, I loved Brussels sprouts. I loved cauliflower. As an older kid, teen, and young adult, I hated them. Hatred. Passionate, unyielding hatred. When I put down sugar in all forms except artificial sweeteners, and some fruits and vegetables, I gradually came to love them again. Now I also love chard, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, and mushrooms. I also enjoy carrots and squash, winter or summer.
By adding sugar and starch to everything, I think food companies are doing us a huge disservice. They are creating a culture that equates food with a “rush.” They are getting us addicted, as a society, to an additive that is cheap to them, but incredibly expensive, health and well-being wise, to us. They are setting us up to eat more than we know we need, and more than we want. They are getting rich off of giving us diseases and disorders.
I want to say clearly that I believe in personal responsibility. I don’t want to imply that I don’t. But doing what I do is hard. Seriously difficult. Worth it every time and in every way, but not simple. It takes a kind of determination and individuality, the ability to disregard the pull of “normalcy” in a culture that has taken up the mantle of pleasure over contentment, instant gratification over long-term fulfillment. And food companies are using our own survival/evolutionary instincts against us. They want profits to grow exponentially. How can they do that if we eat their food in moderation? The fatter we are, the fatter their profit margins are. Frankly, I think it’s sick. Morally bankrupt.
I know that many people can eat junk food in moderation. Bless them! To them I say, “Enjoy every bite!” But the rise of obesity in the western world shows that the way food is being produced, processed, and marketed is making most of us fat and sick.
And it’s making a girl who can’t find bacon she can eat annoyed and cranky. I don’t expect this to change any time in the near future. But I am going to make a recommendation to you. Read your labels. Even if you don’t change what you buy. Look at what these companies are offering. Notice them change. I have had to give up things I ate for years because someone decided to add sugar or starch.
But I will say this too. About 4 years ago, a company that made wheat germ changed its ingredients to add sugar. In that time, people who do what I do sent out the word to one another. We all stopped eating it. Now I am not saying that my small group was the reason, but less than a year later, the company changed back to the original, sugar-free formula. My guess is that the kind of people who eat wheat germ are generally people who care about what goes into their bodies. And when they saw that they were now getting sugar, they switched brands. Just like myself and others in my food community.
So remember that you can eat what you want, but also. you can vote with your wallet. And I highly recommend that.
I have been thinking about my fitness level a lot lately. I have been slow on my jog, and not getting any faster. And not trying to get any faster. My experience is that faster comes in its own. Or it doesn’t.
But I am fascinated by the fact that in about 2 weeks of not jogging (October 26th to November 11th, due to such extreme, though temporary, changes in my time and living situation) I managed to lose all of the progress I had made over a year. And two months of being back on my regimen hasn’t done much to catch me back up.
The truth is, it’s fine. I don’t actually care about my run time (though I do still track it.) I don’t care about “leveling up.” I care about making a commitment, and sticking to it.
Just like I have rules around my eating, I have rules around my workout. I jog 2 miles a day, 5 days a week. I can’t jog 4 miles in one day and have that count as 2 jogs. I have to do the 2 miles at the same time. I can’t walk, but I can be slow as long as I keep up a jogging pace. As long as I hit these marks, I have fulfilled my promise to myself.
I learned this from getting my food under control. That was the first time I understood guilt-free eating. There were rules, and as long as what I was eating was by the rule book, I didn’t have to feel guilty. Pork rinds and bacon are on my food plan. I used to eat apples that weighed over a pound for breakfast. (Lately I find a 14 oz apple is enough. That’s still a pretty huge apple, by the way.) Some people consider this “working the system.” I know because I have had people tell me as much. But that is because they don’t understand the goal. They think the goal is weight-loss. They think the goal is a diet. They think the goal is skinny. Or when it comes to working out, they think the goal is to look like a fitness model on a magazine cover. But none of those things are my life goals.
The goal of a regular, specifically defined workout for me is not beauty or perfection. The goal is not even progress. The goal is not to be skinny. It is not to be muscular. It is not to be an award winning athlete. It is not to be an athlete at all. My goal is to help this body, that I had abused with food and excess weight for so long, age as gracefully and healthily as possible. And to keep a promise to myself that is sustainable and makes me feel like I have accomplished something.
I spent the first 28 years of my life completely undisciplined, and unfocused. I was a slave to food, but also to instant gratification. I hated living in a fat body, but didn’t do anything about it and didn’t know how. Because I didn’t know how to be gentle with myself. I didn’t understand the power of the bare minimum. Because I would not be able sustain this lifestyle without a clearly defined bare minimum. If I didn’t know it was ok to do the least, on the days I couldn’t manage to do my best, I would quit.
Now, on the days that I don’t want to jog, I still jog. I jog slow. I jog cranky. I jog resentfully (until the endorphins kick in, anyway.) But I jog. And that is enough to keep the guilt at bay. Because if I am not guilty, I don’t need to quit. But more importantly, I don’t have an excuse to quit.