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 am already pretty used to my new routine here in Oklahoma. I am enjoying my outdoor jog in the morning. Though admittedly, it is still pretty chilly when I go. I don’t exercise well in the heat. Which is surprising for someone who is almost always cold in temperatures below 75, and doesn’t seem to notice the heat when not exercising. When I stopped eating sugar I started to get cold. I lost weight, of course. But even when I am not particularly skinny, I still get cold easily.
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.
There is a saying I heard many years ago. Do not pray for patience. Whatever you pray for, God will test you.
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.
When I gave up sugar, I figured I would end up with an average, boring, mediocre life. And that did not thrill me, but I had become so unhappy in that previous year with eating and body image disorders that I was willing to go to any lengths.
I had always despised the thought of my own mediocrity. Perhaps it was being a child who grew up in the 80s. Sesame Street told us we were all special. Perhaps it was that I had a huge personality and love of the attention of strangers. People expected me to be a performer. And that made me expect to be a star. Or perhaps it was that I was born with a lot of a particular kind of talent, the kind of keen intelligence that made understanding the world around me easy as a kid. People called me precocious. I expected that I would be able to win for my whole life as easily as I had early on.
This was not the case for several reasons. Obviously, my pool got smarter. It turns out, they put smart kids with other smart kids. Also, I was pretty fragile emotionally. I did not take failure well. And I didn’t learn much from it. The lessons I took from failure usually ended up being not to do that thing I was bad at anymore. And, probably most importantly, early in life I figured out that sugar and carbs would make all of my difficult feelings go away.
This life that I have now would almost certainly make child and teen Kate cringe. It would occur to her as pathetic and pointless. It would occur to her as mediocrity incarnate.
But I look at this life as particularly extraordinary. And I think it’s specialness, and the fact that I think so, is all about having my eating under control.
Being the person I am now means I judge my success in terms of my integrity, my growth, and my contentment, not accolades or prizes from outside. This lack of outside approval is exactly what mediocrity looked like to my young self. How would I know I was awesome unless someone else told me. Unless everyone told me. Unless *important* people told me.
I am not diminishing the power of “important” prizes. But not everyone is going to win a Pulitzer. And I don’t have to base my pride in my life on whether or not I do. (I am not even writing right now. But even if I were.)
When I got my eating under control, it finally clicked for me that wanting an outcome had nothing practical to do with getting it. By putting boundaries around food, I learned about taking action. I learned about practice. As crazy as it seems to me now, I somehow had it in my head that wanting to lose weight was enough. But it’s not that crazy when you consider that sugar gets me high like a drug. The thing that was making me fat was also muddling my thinking. It was a win-win for sugar and a lose-lose for me.
Sometimes people in the self-help world talk about visualization. I used to think this meant something like visualizing myself winning the Pulitzer. And while science says that there is a case for that kind of visualization being effective, what is more effective is visualizing oneself *doing the work.* Because if you picture yourself doing the work, you are more likely to actually do the work.
Through having my eating under control and thereby getting a body I could love and be comfortable in, I came to understand about the practicality of achieving something. I got this body by entirely changing the way I eat. I did something about my body. I didn’t just “want” it to be different, I did the work.
Between my meals, I do the next right thing in my life, whatever that is for my next goal. When I wasn’t working full time, it was writing. Now that I am working, it can be dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s on a particular work task, making sure I am doing my job to the best of my ability. Or in my free time it can be ripping out a section of knitting because I realized I did something wrong and I want to get it right. Or it can be drinking my water quota or going on my jog.
I practice the things I want for myself and the things I want to get better at. And in understanding practice, I have come to recognize that one doesn’t win a Pulitzer Prize by aiming to win one. One writes the book or the music. One does the thing. And maybe it strikes a chord with one’s fellow humans. Or maybe it doesn’t.
The idea that something I do won’t wow the world no longer feels mediocre to me. The idea that I do *anything,* especially with any semblance of integrity and consistency, whatever that may be, feels like I have become a powerhouse in the world. I feel like a shining example of accomplishment. And I haven’t won an award of any kind since high school.
I used to think that everyone understood life but me. I used to think that knowing with certainty what to do next was obvious to everyone else. I felt incapable compared to all of the confident, well-adjusted beings all around me. But I realized that most people are flying just as blind as I always was. They are just better at hiding it.
And I realized that wanting to be liked by others more than honoring oneself is about as average and mediocre as it gets. And here I am trying to impress the hell out of myself. That sounds pretty extraordinary to me, if I do say so myself.
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.
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.
I was talking to my dad the other day and he mentioned that in another post (this one here) I wrote that if you have never been able to successfully lose, or keep off weight, that I recommend that you give up sugar, or your personal binge foods for good. I said that I didn’t know anyone who had once been fat and both lost weight and maintained that weight loss by “managing” their binge foods. And he said that I knew him, and that he manages his food.
This is true. I know that he was bigger when he was younger and is not now. And I know that if he notices that he is gaining weight, he restricts his food intake; he stops eating dessert. I said to him that I wasn’t talking about “naturally thin” people, and he said that he did not consider himself “naturally thin.”
So I felt like I should touch on this again. At least clarify. Because perhaps what I am talking about is the ability to learn a new lifestyle. My dad had the ability to lose weight because he changed the way he ate every day. I had to change the way I ate every day in order to have a new body, and I am pretty sure that is true for everyone. If the way you were eating before your diet made you fat, then if and when you go back to that way of eating, you will be fat again. You actually have to change your entire eating lifestyle to maintain a long-term weight loss. Getting the weight off once does not “stick” unless you “stick” with the new food plan.
For me, when I was eating compulsively, I had two modes, dieting or eating. (Mostly eating, by the way.) When I was dieting, I was restricting the number of calories I was taking in. I was eating boring, bland food. I was eating everything steamed, and low fat, and “lite.” I was eating foods I hated, because they were “diet” foods. And then, when I was off the diet, I went back to eating the way I had eaten before because I hated the way the food I had been eating on a diet tasted. So I gained the weight back. And then some.
If you lost weight by changing the way you ate, and then never reverted back to the old way of eating, then you would have successfully changed your relationship with food. You would have successfully taken on a new lifestyle. If, in that new lifestyle, you let yourself eat like crazy on Thanksgiving, but then spend the rest of your time eating balanced, nutritious meals, and don’t take “Thanksgiving eating” into the New Year, then you could be said to be “managing” your food, it’s true. If you eat a sugary, or “binge food” treat twice a week, and the rest of the time, your food is clean, and your weight is steady, you could be said to be “managing” your food. And I do know a handful of people who have learned to do this.
But I would say, that if you have lost 30, or 50, or 75, or 100 pounds, only to gain it back, possibly more than once, then I am going to guess that you have a problem with sugar, or a problem with your binge foods, and that the answer is abstinence.
I, personally, have never been able to manage. And I would suggest that if you have been on Weight Watchers, or Nutrisystem, or any other diet, lets say 3 times, and you have not learned how to eat in any way that helps you maintain a weight that you are content with, then perhaps you cannot manage either, and you should consider abstinence. If it doesn’t register for you that you have to change your eating habits as a whole in order to maintain your weight, then perhaps you are an addict, and you should consider abstinence. If you know that you don’t want to gain weight, and you know that you should not eat that cookie, but you cannot not eat that cookie, then perhaps you should consider abstinence.
Ultimately, my point is that in order to lose weight and maintain that weight loss, a lifestyle change is necessary. But I could not change my lifestyle because sugar kept sucking me back in. It was only in choosing abstinence from sugar, grains, and starch that I was able change my eating as a whole, and maintain my weight long term. So if you can manage, then by all means manage. But if you have given managing a good, hard try, and you repeatedly fail, then perhaps you should consider abstinence.
And an apology from me to all of you “managers.” Just because I could never do it, I ain’t mad at ya!