I was getting dressed the other day, and I looked down and I did not like what I saw. Belly rolls. It made me a little sad. Mostly what made me sad was how little I liked my body in that moment.
I was getting dressed the other day, and I looked down and I did not like what I saw. Belly rolls. It made me a little sad. Mostly what made me sad was how little I liked my body in that moment.
Low carb diets are, of course, all over the news and advertising that is meant to look like news. I see all sorts of things on social media, especially since my blog is an eating disorder blog, about food, and weight, and weight loss.
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 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.
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.
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.
I read something the other day that was rather interesting to me. It was an opinion about how fat shaming and skinny shaming are inherently different because of thin privilege. The gist of the article was basically that while it’s never OK to shame anyone, and certainly skinny people can, as individuals, be insecure about their bodies, being fat in modern western society is considered taboo, a sin, and in particular, everybody else’s business. That while individuals may shame a skinny individual, western society as a whole shames overweight people. As if there is a moral imperative to ostracize obese people.
If you have ever been fat, or even just chubby, you probably know that this is true. People will go out of their way to express their disgust for your body. They not only have opinions about your clothes, like how short, tight, or revealing they are, they feel at least entitled, and very often morally obligated, to make their disapproval clear.
Remember when Lady Gaga performed the Super Bowl halftime show? I don’t know about you, but there were a bunch of people on my social media feeds saying that she “looked fat” because her little belly occasionally hung over the top her glittery hot pants. Of course, in the following days, there were a bunch of articles and opinion pieces about how having skin that rolls and puckers is normal and natural. And rightfully so. And I would specifically like to point out that Lady Gaga is in no way, shape, or form fat. The idea that she did not look like airbrushed perfection while executing a spectacular stage show with costume changes, complicated choreography, and aerial stunts may be because she was not freakining airbrushed. She was working her ass off.
My point is that people that you know personally, and maybe you yourself, have almost no room for human bodies to deviate from the shape of “post-Photoshop underwear model.” And these people feel obliged to make sure that you know it, and Lady Gaga knows it, and everybody else knows it too.
Being bullied, tormented, humiliated, and generally made to feel ashamed of myself happened to me my whole life. I can still recall specific insults from people I knew and people I didn’t about my body at nearly every stage of my life: at 8, at 12, at 14, at 18, and all through my twenties. I can remember the way it was made abundantly clear to me that my body was disgusting. It was expressly said to me that looking at me made people sick. “Nobody wants to see that,” became something that I not only heard often, but eventually internalized and started to say about myself and my own body.
And I believed it. I did not believe any man would ever find me attractive. I did not believe that I would ever fall in love. I did not believe that I deserved to be respected. And it was strangers, friends, and even my family that instilled these beliefs in me.
I believe that thin privilege does exist. I am not saying that it’s kind, or friendly, or even acceptable to tell a skinny woman to “eat a cheeseburger.” It’s rude, and obnoxious, and quite frankly nobody else’s business. But I will say that whenever I have seen a picture of, or a story about a fat model in my social media feeds, there are pages and pages of comments about how fat models are setting a bad example, and companies that use them in their ads are sending a message that promotes unhealthy lifestyles. But there is not the same outcry when girls and women dying of anorexia are walking runways during fashion week. And that is not hyperbole, many of these girls are literally dying. Where is the outrage over the unhealthy lifestyles being promoted by every fashion house and magazine in the United States? (I mean besides my own outrage. Because yes, I am personally outraged.) We claim to be so worried about health (as opposed to aesthetics) unless the girl is skinny. Then we look the other way. Because we are not really worried about health. We are worried about how we can let the fat person know that we find them morally reprehensible, without looking like the assholes we’re being.
On a personal note, I would like to say that fat shaming and living in a world with thin privilege has done me a lot of psychological and emotional damage in my lifetime. And I have done a lot of work on myself, inside and out to deal with it. At 35 I first started to wear my bikini in public. And finally, at almost 40, I have started wearing shorts in public for the first time since I was probably 10 years old. I spent my whole life believing that my wearing shorts in public was an affront to “normal” people. And that belief was instilled in me by people who were eager to tell me that they disapproved of my body and that I should too. And even after losing an entire person worth of weight, it has still been a slow, years-long process that has brought me to the point where I feel like I deserve to be comfortable. Like I am allowed to show some portion of my thighs because I am a human with a body like any other body.
I like routine. Love it really. Or at least can become attached to it. I can get stuck on the way things “should be,” if only because that is the way they have been. Friday morning, I woke up at 5:30 like I do on weekdays. I drank a bottle of water, and put on my running clothes, also like I do. But I was tired. I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep. That may seem like a lot to you, or at the very least enough, but I am very much used to a full 8 hours a night. And I was afraid that I would hurt myself if I went to work out when I was too tired. It took some serious thought, and it made me a little anxious about my time and the things I needed to get done in the day, but in the end I decided to rest a little more, and run later.
When I was an exercise bulimic, I hurt myself all the time. I was so obsessed with getting rid of the excessive amounts of food that I was eating, that I ignored any injuries I inflicted on myself. I played through the pain, as they say. Now I’m a grownup, physically and emotionally (you know, for the most part) and I don’t want to get injured in the first place. Because I don’t like pain (obvs), and because I can’t, in good conscience, exercise when I am injured. I would have to rest and heal. And I would rest and heal because I am not obsessed with getting rid of the food I ate, because I eat a healthy amount of nutritious food.
Each of us acts, on a daily basis, according to intentions that we have created within the context of our belief systems. And I believe that most of us are not present to those intentions, because we are unaware of these beliefs. I’m not talking about our beliefs in, say, God, or science, or fairies, or astrology. We know that we believe in these things, or not. I am referring to things that we don’t even see because we cannot fathom that there could be any other way. Before I got my eating under control, one of my beliefs was that I was fundamentally broken, and that my fat body was both punishment for me, and a signal for others, like my own scarlet letter (but a big F for FAT.) That there was some other explanation (like addiction) never crossed my mind.
When I was fat and eating compulsively, all of my exercise was to force my body into a shape and size that I believed to be socially acceptable. I thought that was the only reason to work out in the first place. I thought that everyone who exercised was doing it for that reason (only more successfully than myself.) I didn’t understand that for some people it was about health, or peace of mind, or self-care, or because it felt good. (Gasp!) That exercise was punishment was so ingrained in the way I saw myself and the world that I didn’t recognize that there could be another way. Exercise was a punishment for not being able to stop eating. Or for just being born broken. It was the price I had to pay for being fat. It didn’t matter that it hurt. It didn’t matter that I was miserable. It did not matter that I was harming myself. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it to please strangers on the street. I was attempting to preemptively silence the people I believed would shame me. And I was doing it for God. I was exercising as a form of penance for my shameful body, self, and life. And people supported me in that. They did it because, according to society, I was a “good girl” for recognizing my shamefulness, laziness, unattractiveness (or whatever it is that they decided being fat meant about me) and trying to do something about it.
We definitely live in a culture that praises people who work out. But what we praise them for is being beautiful. If someone is fat and working out, we (usually) praise them. But it’s an automatic reaction, and we don’t even realize that what we are praising them for is trying to lose weight and become the Western standard of beautiful. If someone looks like a fitness model, we praise them for being that standard of beautiful and maintaining that beauty. If someone is skeletally thin, we praise them too, for having willpower, or looking like a supermodel. But we never ever praise anyone for being overweight. That is the worst thing you can be physically in our society. That is the context of weight and exercise that permeates our culture.
But we frame it in the context of “health,” while what we really honor is skinny. In our culture, we love to talk about obesity and it’s ramifications on our health, but we judge people on their weight as it affects their appearance. Somehow we have it in our collective psyche that a woman who is 20 pounds overweight is a scourge on our healthcare system, but we let a girl dying of anorexia be a model, a standard for beauty, while she dies in the middle of a fashion show. (If you think I am being melodramatic, in 2006, a model died from heart failure due to anorexia after passing out on her way back to the dressing room in the middle of a runway show.)
Because I was an exercise bulimic (as well as a regular old vomiting bulimic), when I got my eating under control, I did not work out. I walked to places that were close enough. I took the stairs instead of the elevator. (Still do.) But I did not put on spandex and move to the point of sweaty breathlessness, as is the socially expected definition of exercise.
When I started running again about a year ago, I had made a decision about the context of my exercise: I was doing it exclusively as an act of self-care. I was not trying to lose weight. I was not trying to force my body into a socially acceptable shape or size. My only goal was, and is, to keep my body working well and easily as I age. After all, I will turn 40 this year. It was about my heart (literally and figuratively) not my ass.
I have made the decision to love my body as it is. I am not skinny. I am a slow runner. I do not diet or feel deprived. I eat in a way that keeps me satisfied and content in terms of my appetite, my physical appearance and my health. I am not always trying to lose that last 10 pounds. I am not always managing and obsessing, doing the math in my head about what I have eaten and how much more I can eat and what ramifications what I eat will have on my weight. I eat and exercise as a practical means of loving the body I live in, which is perfectly lovely right now.