This week I think I want to talk about body positivity and fat acceptance. I say “I think,” because I have a lot of feelings about it. And not all of them are positive. But that’s about my feelings. Rationally, I am all for it.
This week I think I want to talk about body positivity and fat acceptance. I say “I think,” because I have a lot of feelings about it. And not all of them are positive. But that’s about my feelings. Rationally, I am all for it.
I have been struggling with how I feel about a recent(ish) weight again. I feel like this happens once a year or so, in the past 4 years. I gain weight. For no discernible reason. I do not change the way I eat, at least not it in any major way. I just gain weight. Eventually I lose it. (At least that has been the case so far.) And then I gain it back months later. And then lose it again. Back and forth, over and over.
I forgot I had to write a blog today. That, my friends, is what the alarm is for. I have an alarm that goes off on Sunday morning, asking if I posted a blog. Today, the answer was no. Actually, the answer was a lot of profanity, because I was just about to cook for the week. Anyway, time to write.
I have had a difficult week. My husband and I have moved into our new place. Getting adjusted to a new town is difficult. This is a small town. It’s no Corpus Christi, TX. It’s no suburb of Nashville. And we have begun our new job. It is not going particularly well right now and that is stressful. I have not done my workout at all this week. For the past month I have been gaining weight with no change in my eating or exercise habits (until this week). I am frustrated and annoyed and kind of unhappy.
I have to remember that I often miss my workouts when I first get to a new place. It’s hard to get accustomed to a new home. To know where I can run. To know what time is best for me to do it. To get a new routine and to get my workout firmly set up in that routine. I think it happened when we moved to Tennessee. I know it did when we moved to Corpus Christi. But I need to figure that out this week. My workout is a priority. Not because of my weight, even though I am gaining. And not even for my health. But for my mobility and my mindset. I feel better about myself and my life when I work out. I feel better about my body, whatever its size and shape, when working out is a priority built into my day.
And I have to remember that this new job is going to be just fine. That the beginning is always bumpy. I am already doing a good job, because I am good at my job. It’s just a lot of things are not panning out. And there’s nothing to do about that except take accurate stock, and solve those problems. Solving problems is a thing I am good at. But I am vain. And proud. I would like to make it look easy. And right now I am not making it look easy. I am making it look like it takes work. Because it is taking a lot of work.
I am also afraid I am not going to like it here. I was afraid of that in Corpus Christi too. I remember crying in my new tiny kitchen when we got there. I was afraid of that in Tennessee too. Especially when I got into my first car accident when I had been there for 3 days. I cried there as well. But when a woman at the grocery store last Saturday asked me where my favorite place my husband and I had lived was, I told her it was Corpus Christi. So obviously I’m no Oracle.
And as for the weight gain, which I am taking in stride, I have to remember that I am stressed out. And that since I have had my eating under control, stress has always been a factor in my weight. I eat the way I eat, within my boundaries. And weigh what I weigh. Sometimes more. Sometimes less.
When my dad’s mom was in the hospital before she died, I lost weight like crazy. Was the skinniest I had ever been. Eating the same as before, and more because my weight was dropping so fast. When I quit smoking, I gained all of it back and then some. Even though my food quantities were cut drastically to stop the weight gain. After the smoking cessation weight gain, I decided that I was not going to try to wrangle my body into some size or shape by eating or not eating things that may or may not affect my weight. But I still don’t like it. I used to weigh 300 lbs. That will give a person some serious issues that will never quite go away. And a sudden weight gain is never any fun. And does crazy things to my head.
But I will tell you this. Two weeks ago, I made all of the lunches I needed for two weeks. Packed them and froze them. Stuck them in a cooler when I drove for 8 hours and put them right back in the freezer. And I did not have to worry about cooking all week. I didn’t have to take hours out of my busy schedule. I did not have to eat mediocre fare to get me through. I had what I needed to make a rough transition that much more bearable.
And my food is what it has always been. Delicious. And within the same boundaries that it has been for over 13 years. The lady at the grocery store yesterday said sort of shocked, “You sure have a lot of vegetables!” And I thought, yep. That’s what is saving my life. And that is another thing that helps me emotionally deal with weight gain. That my food is nourishing. So I don’t have to worry about what I ate or didn’t eat. I know what to eat. And I get to love every guilt-free bite.
One of the most important lessons I have been learning over the past 13 years is to stop worrying about my weight.
I used to think I had a weight problem. What I had was an eating problem. It resulted in me being fat. In living in a body I didn’t like or love. It resulted in a physical vessel that was hard to live in. A body that I was embarrassed of. But also a body I was shamed for. A body that was considered ugly and unworthy by society.
And I had it particularly rough, because I was particularly fat. But I can see now that over the years, none of us, especially women, get out unscathed. If we’re fat, we should be thin. If we’re thin, we should be thinner.
I want to stop that kind of thinking in my life. I still don’t want to be fat, but I want to stop thinking of my worth as tied to the size of my body. I want to stop thinking of my beauty as tied to how big my belly is, both compared to other women, and compared to other times in my life. I want to stop thinking about “losing 5-10 lbs.” I kind of have. But I want to more.
Here is what I can tell you. I have peace in my body when I treat it with care, no matter its size and shape. I don’t have to be my thinnest to enjoy my body. But I do have to keep my food boundaries, and my exercise and water drinking commitments. I have to floss. I have to sleep 8 hours a night. I have had to *show* my body love before I can love it.
Action is an important part of loving my body. As soon as I do something good for myself, I like myself that much more. I did not have to lose all of my weight to get comfortable in my body. First I just had to put boundaries around my eating. The longer I kept my boundaries, the more confidence I had. And it grows. The better I treat myself, the more self-care I take on, the more comfortable I am in my own skin, the more I love my body. The more I love my body, the more I want to honor it with self-care.
I guess what I am saying is that I am not always comfortable with how I think others see my physical beauty, and sometimes I want to look the way society says beautiful women look. And *that* is what I want to stop. I want to decide my own beauty. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I want to judge what I see in the mirror as true beauty. And I think I can, as long as I treat myself as a precious thing.
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 saw two things on social media this week that frustrated me. Both of them were about how sugar is “not the problem.”
One of them was a tweet from an obesity doctor that said that when people come into his office and say they gave up sugar and lost weight, they really mean they gave up junk food. What they really did, according to this doctor, was reduce fat, starch, and calories, not just sugar. He literally ends his tweet with “It wasn’t just the sugar.”
And the other was an article about debunked health myths. And one of the “debunked” myths is that sugar is addictive. First, the title of the section is “Sugar is as addictive as heroin.” This is the last line of the section:
“So, scientists don’t know what addiction in the brain looks like, yet, and until that mystery is solved we should not be living in fear from something as fanciful as sugar addiction.”
Fanciful. Total silliness! Ridiculous! Go get yourself a cake and hang out in a food coma until scientists agree that sugar addiction is a thing. Or better yet, a diabetic coma. Whatever.
The thing that really pisses me off about both of these is the condescension . If you believe that sugar is the problem, you are an idiot. You are delusional. “What people are *really* doing is cutting calories, but they are too stupid/brainwashed to understand.” “Its fanciful to believe that sugar could be addictive.”
I believe in science. I don’t want to imply that I don’t. But I also believe that science, and our true understanding of the effects of something, can be limited by our biases, preconceived notions, and beliefs. I believe that the food industry has knowingly and purposely propped up sugar as “innocuous” for over half a century. “Food is food.” “A calorie is a calorie.”
But we have paid the price for it. There is more sugar in our diets than ever before, and there is more obesity in 1st World civilization than ever before. And I cannot stand this defense of sugar, and the subsequent shaming of people suffering from obesity, in the name of science.
“It’s not the sugar. It’s you. You are the problem.”
First, I do believe that sugar is addictive, but that not everyone is as likely to become addicted. I happen to believe that I have a predisposition to become addicted in general, and that I am addicted to sugar. But I know plenty of people who can and do eat sugar in moderation and do not suffer from health problems in any way from their sugar consumption. My husband is one of those people. I buy him sugar all the time. I pack it in his lunch. I keep it in the house for him.
And second, I am for freedom. True freedom. If you want to eat sugar all day, I believe that is your right. Even if it means morbid obesity. Even if it leads to diabetes and hypertension and Alzheimer’s and stroke. Even if it means suffering. I am not going to tell you how to eat. That is none of my business. And I don’t think it should be.
But I am not for the shaming of humans in defense of sugar. Nor am I for the belittling of my intelligence because science has not come to a consensus on whether sugar is addictive. As a person with a very clear experience of sugar as an addiction, I do not doubt that science will eventually show what I already know. But even if it doesn’t, that in no way diminishes my experience that when I abstain completely from sugars, grains, and starch, excepting some whole fruits and vegetables, I do not crave more than is healthy, and I do not suffer from food obsession.
But I can’t help but be frustrated that an obesity doctor would be so obnoxious about people, his own patients, who say they gave up sugar and lost weight. Is *he* a sugar addict? Or is he being paid off to downplay the effects of sugar on a person’s health? Otherwise, I can’t see why he would go out of his way to point out his patients’ “wrongness,” to defend a substance. It seems cruel and rude to me.
I will close with this. My whole life, growing up fat, doctors and nutritionists would tell me to eat sugar in moderation. But I cannot eat sugar in moderation. I cannot eat a slice of cake. It is either no cake, or the whole cake. I don’t have a done button. So, as far as I am concerned, any obesity doctor who can’t even consider the possibility of sugar addiction for some number of his patients, is not very good at his job.
On Friday I celebrated my 2nd Wedding anniversary. I don’t really think about it on a day-to-day basis, but it’s a miracle. Certainly to my child self it’s a miracle. I felt shameful and unlovable for nearly all of my early life. I had resigned myself to being alone forever at a very early age. And to my early-teen self, it’s something more than just any miracle. Because I married the guy I had a huge crush on from about 12 to 14, until we lost touch. If you told 13-year-old Kate that she would marry him, she would have told you that you were crazy.
Of course, it took more than 20 years of separation, and a whole lot of personal change, physical, emotional, and spiritual, but it sure did happen.
And that is all thanks to keeping my eating boundaries. All of it. Period. Sometimes my husband says very sweet, romantic things about how he would still love me if I gained weight. And I believe him. Because I don’t think he understands what would actually come along with weight gain. I think he is thinking in terms of physical beauty. And I think he believes that I am just beautiful no matter what. Which I love! And I am grateful for.
But when I am eating compulsively, I am not beautiful for a few reasons that have nothing to do with size. I don’t like myself when I am eating compulsively. I get depressive and ashamed. I second guess myself. Also, I don’t have a whole lot of integrity when I am in the food. I lie, cheat, and steal. I hide truths and manipulate people. I am just generally difficult, angry, and unhappy. And I don’t think about anyone but myself. Everything is all about me.
When I started writing this blog over 6 years ago, it was to open myself to love. It was to stop thinking all of those thoughts I had about not being worthy. And there was something to do about it. I took an honest, searching look at myself, took stock of what about myself I wanted to change, and started working toward being the kind of person I wanted to be in a relationship with. There is a saying: Self-esteem comes from doing estimable acts.
But I could only do those estimable acts because I put sugar and carbs down. When I am eating sugar and carbs, I am only thinking about that. If something I want would impede my eating, I would let that thing, that wish, go. Because eating sugar is the most important thing in the world when I am eating sugar. When I am not eating sugar, my life and my relationships are the most important things.
So at this time of the anniversary of my marriage, I am so grateful for that 28-year-old Kate who decided that a life that revolved around sugar was not enough. That there was something better to be, and something better to be had. And that she was willing to go through the dark, scary world of withdrawal and uncertainty, to get to the other side. That’s where the love is.