Halloween has passed and Thanksgiving is this week. As many of you know, I don’t participate in Thanksgiving. It is essentially a food holiday. The whole thing revolves around one big meal. You can say it’s about family, or gratitude, but tradition says it’s about turkey and potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Every family has their own traditions, and they are all about the meal.
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.
I made it through my 12th Halloween without sugar and carbohydrates. And it was painless.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how fat people are here to stay. It was a real epiphany for me a few weeks ago when I read an article that pointed out that Americans, and in general, Westerners, are statistically more overweight than we were 40 years ago, and that is not going to change any time soon.
I already knew we were fatter. It was the realization that this trend is not going to get “fixed” that hit me. After all, I learned a long time ago that the first step in changing anything is acknowledging the reality of the situation.
Heath articles and reports of statistics always seem to imply that somehow we could get back to 1975. It reminds me of the way I used to feel about my own body and weight problems. Every time I got fatter, I said to myself that I just had to get back on track and then I was going to lose the weight. For good this time. But I wasn’t doing the things that I needed to do to lose weight and keep it off. And neither is the U.S.
That has me think it’s time for fat representation. That it’s time to stop judging fat people. That it’s time to get used to seeing fat people. That we need to watch them on TV, and in movies. Let’s see them in magazines and on billboards. Let’s stop telling them fat and beauty are mutually exclusive. Let’s stop treating them like they are lazy and shameful.
I read once, a million (or at least 10) years ago, that Ancient Egyptians had high rates of obesity, diseases like diabetes, and lots of dental problems, much like our own society. And that it probably had to do with their high-carbohydrate diet. After all, they may not have had sugar, but they almost entirely ate fruits, vegetables, and grains. Lots of bread. But I remember that they had something else that we have too. A glorification of the thin body. That struck me as more surprising than the fact that so many were overweight.
It seems the fatter a culture of humans gets, the more we adore skinny, and the skinnier skinny is, the more we adore it.
I think we need to stop glorifying skinny, and start representing who and how we really are.
Now, before you freak out and complain that I am promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, stop. Just stop. I am not promoting anything of the kind. What I am promoting is kindness. I am promoting minding your own business. I am promoting respect and honor for the human in front of you.
When I was fat, I hated myself. And I didn’t lose weight and then start to love myself. I took a million small actions that let me like myself enough to take bigger actions that led me to feel like I deserved to take care of myself. I started to like myself and then I lost weight. You cannot shame anyone thin. But you *might* be able to love them thin. And if not, all you lost was your hate.
And if you really want change, then you are going to need to get political. Let’s talk about labeling. Let’s talk about food deserts. Let’s talk about the food industry in general. Let’s talk about how the government lets a cereal company say right on the box that its product of processed carbohydrates is “heart healthy” (even when the FDA says this is misleading.) Let’s talk about subsidies for corn that make high fructose corn syrup cheap and readily available to add to processed food. It’s already too late to go back to 1975.
I am not dismissing personal responsibility. I firmly believe in it. And I do believe change is possible. I am living proof. And I will happily be a beacon to those who want to put boundaries around their food as a means of losing weight, or getting free from food addiction. And I do not pretend that I liked or enjoyed being fat and in the throes of my addiction. But I am one person, making decisions for one person.
When I got my eating under control, I was single. I didn’t have to worry about feeding a family on a budget. And now that I am married and a DINK (Double Income No Kids), I am very well off. I don’t worry about the price of vegetables, meat, or dairy. If farmers didn’t get enough rain and cauliflower is expensive, I buy it anyway. In other words, it was easy for me to get my eating under control, not because I was “good” or had “willpower.” It was easy because my class and my lifestyle let it be easy.
And ultimately, I did it for myself. Not because I was a burden on the U.S. healthcare system. Not because “nobody wanted to see” me in a bathing suit. Not because strangers and/or doctors told me I was ugly or lacking.
So I am calling for our society, and each of us as individuals, to stop thinking, speaking, and acting like another human’s weight is our business. I am telling you that unkind words, judgement, cruelty, and intrusion never helped me. They did not help me lose weight. They did not help me change my life. They really only made everything worse. If you don’t already know, addicts use, in part, to stop the pain. If you are causing pain, you are not helping.
So can we stop treating fat people like they owe us something? Can we stop acting like their weight gives us the right to invade their privacy? Can we start showing them we see them? And can we actually start seeing them? Not as a problem to be fixed, but as other people just doing the best they can to get through life. Like all of us.
St Francis of Assisi said “Wear the world like a loose garment.” 12 step folks use this phrase a lot.
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.