onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “weight”

Impossible is just another word for “don’t stop eating junk food.”

Of course. Another article on how it’s “nearly impossible” to lose weight. An article about how there are receptors that help/hider weight loss on a molecular level. It even brought up the contestants on The Biggest Loser. Again. 

There was at least one thing about the article that I wholeheartedly agree with. Calories are not the answer to weight. Losing weight is not about creating a “calorie deficit.” 
And as for the study of the participants of The Biggest Loser television show, who had their metabolisms shut down, causing them to gain back their weight, along with not being able to lose weight any more, can we please remember that those participants were exercising for 6 to 9 hours a day. Which is a great way to create a dramatic physical change in a body for a reality TV show. But is not a practical practice for people who have to, say, go to work, make dinner for their family, have a life. And it is not a lifestyle change that facilitates long-term maintenance.
I am not saying the science talked about in this article isn’t valid. (Though I do not know who funded it and that always makes a difference.) But I take issue with some of the things the article implies. 
The most important one, I think, is this quote from an endocrinologist at Columbia University:
“These data are quite interesting, and are consistent with the hypothesis that the obesity epidemic is in part due to evolutionary pressures to prevent starvation in stress,”
So we are just evolving to be fat?
Guess what was not mentioned. Food. Processed food. In the past 45 years, my lifetime, Americans (and people in general worldwide) have gotten bigger and bigger. Americans have stopped eating at home. We have stopped cooking fresh food for ourselves and our families. We have started buying and consuming packaged, processed and “ultra-processed” foods, most with added sugars, on a daily basis. We eat and snack all day, as opposed to having meal times. We have no concept of portions, and when eating at a restaurant, we feel cheated if we do not get a full plate. We eat the whole bag, the whole box, the whole pint. In the past 45 years, we have gone from a society that ate junk food as an occasional treat, to one that considers junk food a reasonable meal choice. And we’re talking about evolution to explain why so many more people are fat in that same 45 years? 
I feel like this is an example of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is probably the valid one. We have told “Big Food” that it can get us addicted to its poison with impunity. We have agreed that rather than call out chips, and microwave snacks, and soft drinks, and granola bars made with “all natural” ingredients, as processed junk, we will say it’s evolution that is the problem. That it’s our bodies that are betraying us, as opposed to the food industry. 
I can’t say this enough. I do not care what you choose to eat! I do not care if you are fat! I do not care if you are fat and sick! I do not care if you are fat and sick and still want to eat ultra-processed foods all day every day! I do not care! You do you!
I care that seemingly everyone in the scientific and medical communities wants to talk about every effing thing except food. They want to talk about how close they are to creating the magic pill. Or the magic procedure. They want to say that it is either too hard, or too silly, or too strict, to give up processed foods and sugar. 
No doctor has ever told me to give up sugar and carbohydrates. They told me moderation. Because I wouldn’t be able to do something so extreme. That it was crazy. That it was impossible to give up cake on my birthday. 
Eat what you want. Whenever you want. But if you are miserable in your body, and you want to lose weight, for yourself – not a spouse/partner, or your parents, or society in general – don’t believe that it is evolutionarily impossible! Don’t believe that there is no hope. Maybe try not eating crap. Maybe try eating whole food that still looks recognizable as what it was in the wild…
My bottom line is this. Can we stop pretending not to see the problem with our food? Can we stop pretending that food we eat and serve is not addictive? Can we stop pretending that we can’t possibly imagine what has changed in the past 45 years to create what we are calling “an obesity epidemic?” 
We should really be calling it a “malnourishment epidemic” or a “toxic food epidemic.” We should not be vilifying the people who are reaping the consequences of a consumerist culture gone awry. An obesity epidemic seems to me to imply that fat people are to blame for not “putting the chips down” and “pushing away from the table.” But companies are making an awful lot of money on these same people. Food companies, and medical/drug companies. They sell us the ultra-processed microwave meal, with an “Organic/All Natural/No GMOs” label slapped across the front, and tell us it’s healthy. And then they get us under the knife for a procedure to “help us” out of the horrible bind we’ve gotten ourselves into by not having enough willpower. (I hope the eye roll implied there was not lost on you.) Those lap bands and gastric bypass surgeries aren’t free, you know. And we all know that insulin is so expensive some people are going bankrupt to stay alive. 
Do not believe them when they say it’s hopeless or impossible. Do not believe that evolution alone has made us fat. We have certainly evolved to have the bodies we have, but I firmly believe that evolution is not making us as fat as our addictive food choices are. 

And I say that as someone who has maintained over 100 lb weight loss for over 13 years. That is not a fluke. That is not an anomaly. That is over 13 years of not eating addictive foods. I *know* that it is not impossible. I am living proof.

Advertisements

“Follow Me” and change

I was very excited this week to get to see a documentary I am featured in about sustained weight loss. It’s called Follow Me, and it features 12 people who have lost a significant amount of weight and have kept it off for 5 years or more. I am honored to be a part of it. You can visit the website and see a trailer for the movie at www.followmefilm.ca
What I particularly like about the film is that it features a bunch of different approaches to sustained weight loss. But they all have one thing in common. We each had to change our lives. 
One of my biggest problems with losing weight when I was still eating sugar, was that I wanted to do what I had always done, and have it be different. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was not eating so I could eat later. The reward was the same. Just less often. And someday. Until I couldn’t wait anymore and I ate again. And I couldn’t put it off anymore, and it went back to being the norm, not the exception. 
I could never stop eating sugar when I was eating sugar. I could never *want* to refrain, because I craved it. My brain and my body told me I needed it. And when I first *really* gave up sugar I experienced a lot of physical and emotional pain. The cravings were intense. The feelings I had been numbing with sugar were overwhelming. I was cranky. I felt high from not being high. I had to cope without my primary coping mechanism. Like learning to swim by being thrown in the lake and told “don’t die.”
But I did learn to “swim.” I learned a new way to live. And it was a life I never knew I wanted. But I did. 
One of my many (many) problems with the fitness/diet/beauty industry is that so much of what it is advertising is something that will do the change for you. Hell, even the medical industry is selling that. Take these “vitamins,” they will melt away fat. Drink this shake, it will make you want to eat less. Get your stomach removed/constricted. It will make it impossible for you to overeat. Except it doesn’t. Not even the medical/surgical solutions. I have met people who have stretched themselves a new stomach after gastric bypass. They are not the solutions they promise to be. (Oh great. Now, I am going to be singing Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina all day…)
I am not saying that surgery is necessarily “bad.” Eating as a coping mechanism worked for me until it didn’t anymore. A gastric sleeve might save someone’s life. But  if one’s problem is eating, like mine, and weight is a symptom of that problem, I don’t think anything outside of oneself is going to help. 
And I am not saying that anyone “needs” to change their eating. I want to be friends with fat acceptance, body positivity, and fat pride. I want to make this a conversation about choice. 
But I hated being fat. And I *wanted* a solution. And I was doing all sorts of self-harm and acts of self-hatred in order to try and wrangle my body into a certain shape and size, hoping that one of those awful, painful, and shameful things would be the solution to my self-loathing. And none of them were. 
But finally I found a real solution. One that doesn’t require sustained starvation. One that doesn’t require hating myself into submission. One that is abundant, delicious food, plus a body I actually love, and love to live in. 
So I am honored to be part of this film, Follow Me. I am honored to talk about the fact that sustained weight loss is not a fictional fairytale. That it can be done. And that it’s not about being special or being a specific kind of fat person. That it’s about choices and change. And that if you want something else, there is a way to have it. 

Beautiful. But still not skinny

When I got my eating under control 13+ years ago, I expected to find my husband right away. I thought that the only thing keeping him away was my being fat. Because even when I wasn’t fat while I was still eating compulsively, any hold I had on staying the size I was was tenuous at best. I could always feel it slipping away. 

But when I put boundaries around my eating, and especially when I stopped eating foods I am addicted to, like sugar and carbs, I lost my weight, and it was staying off. And I wasn’t afraid of gaining it back. At all. I didn’t feel like it was a fluke. I wasn’t what they call “white knuckling” it. I was in a regular sized body and fully expected to stay that way. 
But he didn’t show up. For years he didn’t show up. I went on dates. I got pretty hair cuts from a salon. (The kind where you needed an appointment!) I regularly got my nails done, fingers and toes. I wore pretty clothes. For a few years there in the beginning I even wore makeup every day. (I would stop after about 5 years of having my food under control.) But no husband.
I went on dates. I went to bars. I talked to men on the subway and in Starbucks. But he did not show up. 
And then I quit smoking. And I gained weight. I gained a lot of weight. After the first 30 lbs, I stopped weighing myself. I had my food under control, but my weight was out of control. I was terrified. I was miserable. I felt betrayed by my body. But I kept my boundaries around my eating, even in the face of that weight gain and insecurity. 
And I thought “I missed my window. My husband didn’t show up while I was skinny. And now that chance has passed.”
And then my husband showed up. When I was not skinny. When I was, in fact, the heaviest I had ever been with my eating under control.
And I had to come to terms with the fact that being skinny was not what made me beautiful. And it occurred to me that having my eating under control is actually the thing that made/makes me beautiful. The clarity. The kindness. The confidence. The good judgment.
So here I am, a woman with her food under control, who is not skinny. I am fit, and present, and growing, and happy. And still in love with my husband who is still in love with me. He still thinks I’m beautiful. (I still think so too. Because…humble.) But still not skinny. 
And I am so grateful that I got to learn that lesson. That my beauty is not determined by my physical size. That my size is fine, whatever it is, as long as I have my eating under control. Because it was the compulsive eating that made me feel ugly and crazy and unlovable. And in having my food taken care of, I am showing my body that I love it. That I think it is worthy of love. And that opened the way for my husband. Love opened the way to love. Not being “skinny and perfect.”

I don’t want to feel broken even after the broken part got fixed

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.

When my gram was sick in the hospital before she died, I lost a lot of weight in a few months. I definitely was not trying. I just dropped weight. I got down to about 131-133 pounds. That’s skinny for me. I was still pretty curvy, but definitely skinny. And from about April of 2010 to about August of 2012 I stayed basically the same weight. I stayed skinny regardless of what I ate. I ate a lot of bacon. I ate a lot of fried foods. I had to add a second piece of fruit to my day to keep from losing even more weight. And I just stayed skinny. 
But ever since I quit smoking, my weight has fluctuated wildly. A huge gain in the months following the weight loss. 3 years of maintaining that higher weight. Then I lost it in just a couple of months. Never all the way back down to my skinniest, but back into my size 6 jeans. Then a gain and a loss and a gain and a loss. Again and again.
A friend who has thyroid problems recommended I get mine checked. It’s not a terrible idea. But living on the road makes it a bit of a pain. Though we have great insurance and I could find a doctor anywhere. 
But the problem is also that I don’t like doctors. Having grown up fat, I don’t trust them to listen to me, to respect me, to look at me with anything except what seems to be a disdain for my lack of willpower. I was told for a long time that everything that was wrong with me was that I was fat. And that I could do something about it if I would only pull myself up by my bootstraps, or whatever. 
It’s hard for me to take doctors seriously when they all had opinions about me, but none of them could actually help. They sent me to nutritionists who told me to eat in moderation. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just stick to a diet. They were frustrated and angry with me. For not being good enough. It’s hard for me not to feel like they were the ones who weren’t good enough. That they were the ones who failed me. That they shamed me for my disease, when they didn’t actually understand the disease. And kept forcing on me a “cure” that wasn’t.
But that’s unfair. Kind of, anyway. Because I don’t know if I would have been able to give up sugar if that had been the recommended treatment. I don’t know if 12 or 16 or 23-year-old Kate would have been available for that. Thank God 28-year-old Kate was. That took care of the eating. And most of the weight.
I don’t want to worry about my weight. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to care about it. I don’t want to be ruled by how much gravity is exerted on my body. I want to take care of it to the best of my ability, and just have that be enough. I want to nourish it and hydrate it and move it with love.
I probably should find out if my thyroid is not working properly. I should probably brave the doctor and find out if there is something wrong with my hormones, something that could be corrected. For that love of my body. Not to squish it into a socially acceptable size and shape. 
But that said, even if I do get my thyroid checked and it turns out that I am not running at 100%, I don’t want to care about my size. I don’t want to judge myself for the size of my butt or my belly or my thighs. I don’t want to feel like I am sick or broken because I am not skinny anymore. Especially when the thing that was most sick and broken about myself, my eating, my addiction to sugar and carbohydrates , is taken care of, with commitment and honor and love, 3 times a day. No matter what.

Easing into Oklahoma

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. 

I have also been eating lighter out of necessity. Mostly just for breakfast. There are not a lot of the really decadent breakfast foods here that there were in my neighborhood in Tennessee. There are no giant 12-15 oz honeycrisp apples, or 5+ lb cantaloupes. No honeydew melons bigger than my giant head. I have been having 8 oz of frozen strawberries in a smoothie for breakfast. It’s delicious. And a lot smaller than my Tennessee breakfasts, and also a lot fewer calories. Because I can’t get my really super decadent Greek yogurt here. The one with a hundred more calories per serving than any other plain Greek yogurt. (Also, I don’t count calories. I just happen to know that’s the case.)
But I’m not unsatisfied. It’s delicious. I feel sated when I’m done. All is well.
I have not noticed any weight loss. Which is, of course, not why I am eating less. I am eating what I most want to eat given all of my options within my boundaries. It is how I always eat. But I had wondered if smaller fruits and less fat would make a difference with my weight.

I have also wondered if my stress levels going back to basically normal will affect my weight. My experience is that stress causes me to gain and lose weight. My last job ended with me under a lot of stress. This job started out difficult and stressful. A few weeks in it is starting to go more smoothly. Things are falling into place better. The other job is done. Perhaps that will shed a few of these pounds.
I want to say that I wish I didn’t care about my weight. I wish I didn’t see it as such an indication of how “good” I am. That is an old story and it has never done anything worthwhile for me. I am in better shape now than I have ever been. I have not been skinny and in great shape ever. It has only been in the past 4 or so years that I have been so fit. And I have never been skinny in all that time. 
My run has gotten easier too. I don’t want to cry every time I get to the big hill on my jogging path. And since 5 laps is 2 miles, that’s 5 fewer times I want to cry (and swear) in a day. Which I am grateful for. And I am significantly faster now than I was when I started 2 weeks ago. 
I am always amazed by how quickly my body can adapt to things. This jogging path seemed like such a burden when I started using it. I kept thinking I wanted to find a gym and run on a treadmill. But the truth is, now I do not miss the treadmill at all. And I am loving the outdoor experience. I used to only run outside, and forgot how much I appreciate it. And I forgot how much a little variation in incline and direction can make a difference in my stamina and health. I am in even better shape for the change. Plus I hope that a gradual change in the weather will ease me into running outside in the heat of summer.
I am reminded that I always get better than I think I want. That whenever something goes away, something else shows up. Usually better. At least in some way or on some level I wasn’t expecting. I lost a gym in my apartment complex and gained a better workout. I lost giant fruits and fatty yogurt and got reminded that I adore smoothies for breakfast. And I am reminded that I can always eat foods that I love, wherever I am and whatever I am doing. Because the foods that I love are not limited to sugars and carbs. They are fruits and vegetables and proteins and fats. They are seasonings and flavors. And I eat all of it without guilt or shame. 

In defense of sugar. JK! It apparently has enough defenders.

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.

Food is not my enemy (anymore)

I am not “on” a diet. I have a diet. I find that this is a distinction that a lot of people don’t have. Most of the people I interact with see no reason to maintain food boundaries when I am in a “normal” sized body. One should only “take such drastic measures” if you are fat. Other than that, it seems crazy to them to not eat a cookie. It’s just one cookie. Because to the average person, food revolves around weight.

I don’t keep my food boundaries to manage my weight, though, to a certain extent it does manage my weight. That is just a side effect of keeping my eating under control, just like being fat was a side effect of eating compulsively. My point is that fat is not the disease. Eating is the disease. And while I have never been fat since I gave up sugar, grains, and starch, I have also had times when I was not thin. I made food changes in those times, and sometimes they helped me lose weight and sometimes they didn’t. For example, when I quit smoking over 5 years ago, I gained weight. I tried to eat lighter at that time –less bacon, smaller fruits, more salad, not cooking my vegetables in fat – though still within my boundaries, and it did not help. I did not lose weight, and sometimes gained. Even cutting my food didn’t help me lose then. The only thing that helped was time. I put my body through a lot with all of those chemicals and all that tar for so many years. I suppose it needed time to heal. But in that time, though I was desperately miserable about my body, I did not seek out some other thing to help me lose weight faster – pills, exercise, fasting, extreme calorie cuts – because I had already learned that being thin wasn’t the answer to my problems.

In my mid twenties, I had lost a lot of weight by counting calories and working out. From the outside, I looked normal. In fact, I had never looked so “normal” in my life before. But I would say that I have never been crazier than in that time. I felt insane. I made plenty of poor life decisions. And I was really miserable, partly because I felt so crazy. Look, I am not talking about feeling out of sorts. I mean I thought that I must really belong in a mental institution, and I spent a lot of time trying to hide my crazy so that I wouldn’t be found out and institutionalized. I was living in fear of somebody realizing I was so unstable. And I was so thin. At the time, the thinnest I had ever been, and certainly thinner than I have sometimes been in the past 11+ years with my eating under control.

Being thin didn’t make me happy. Food was my enemy. We were at war, and food was winning. Everything I ate was either “good” and tasted disgusting to me, or “bad” and was delicious, but made me ashamed for having eaten it. I could not win, and I still hated my body, even though it was thin.

Nothing has ever made me as happy as having a handle on my food. And I do it gently. I eat foods I love, because I am not being punished. I don’t feel the need to “detox” or fast. Food is not my enemy anymore. Food is a delight, my 3 moments of respite in the day. Food is my “me time,” where I stop worrying about the things I have to do, and get to drift away into bliss. I don’t count calories. I don’t work out for more than 45 minutes a day. I don’t treat my delicious, nutritious, abundant food like a poison I need to get out of my body before it ends up on my thighs. My thighs are going to be my thighs.

I eat my meals and only my meals. My food is my food. My body is my body. And neither one is my enemy. So I am not on a diet. And I don’t plan to ever be on one again. And that makes me happy as well.

F*ck Karl Lagerfeld

This week I kind of freaked myself out. I was looking in the mirror, which I do all the time because I am particularly vain, and I was thinking that I look really beautiful. Again, this is not that far fetched for me. Body dysmorphia aside, I think I’m pretty hot much of the time. And then the next day, a friend whom I had seen on a video conference told me that I was looking really beautiful. But then I realized why I, and perhaps others, may have been thinking I was so beautiful. It’s because I am particularly thin right now. And that made me uncomfortable.

So I did something I almost never do. I asked my husband. You should have seen the look on his face. You’d think that Admiral Ackbar just snuck up behind him and yelled, “It’s a trap!”

Of course, it wasn’t a trap. But he was wise to tread cautiously. Obviously weight and size are loaded in this society in general, especially for women, and super extra especially for me. And my husband had to live through my most debilitating body dysmorphic episode ever after I quit smoking and gained 30 pounds, even with my food boundaries firmly intact. He knows first hand that nothing can reduce me to tears (and insanity) as quickly as some unwelcome belief about my weight, real or imagined.

He told me very clearly that he actively avoids looking at my size. That he knows no good can come of it. And that ultimately, it really doesn’t matter to him.

And if my obsession with my weight and body were, as I truly believed for basically all 35 of my single years, about being attractive to men, especially the one I am in love with, then this post would be done. But it’s not, and it’s not.

The truth is that I have mixed feelings. I do like what I see in the mirror, whether I have been conditioned to think so or not. And obviously, I am not the only one, if a friend was seeing and saying the same thing that I was. And I truly hated being fat, whether that was also conditioning or not.

Wallis Simpson is credited with saying that a woman “can never be too rich or too thin.” But she said this before the 1970s and 80s, which is when cases of eating disorders began to escalate. (It is worth noting I think, that this is also when cases of obesity began to escalate.)

Now we know that a woman can, indeed, be too thin. A person can starve themself to death. Vital organs can shut down. Perhaps Wallis Simpson couldn’t imagine a world where a girl would have a heart attack in her teens because her desire to be ever thinner led to the weakening of all of her muscles, including the ones to keep her alive. Perhaps she had too much faith in a human’s survival instinct. (I have opinions about whether it is possible to be too rich as well, but as this is an eating disorder blog, I will keep those to myself.)

But on the other side, I think that there are reasons that being thin, or at least not being fat, is considered attractive. I mean that I don’t think it’s entirely about societal conditioning; I think there are also evolutionary reasons.

My dad sent me an interesting podcast a few weeks ago. In it, Gary Taubes, who wrote a book called “The Case Against Sugar,” talks about how he believes that there is a fundamental flaw in the way the health and medical community views weight. (I feel the need to note that Taubes clearly states that he is making a case, but that there have not been clinical trials and scientific studies that have proven this idea. He is simply making an argument, and he would like to see this idea studied. I will also say that in my very much not scientific, but particularly personal experience, I think he is on the right track.) He says that we talk about obesity and weight in terms of a balance of energy – calories in must be equal to calories out – but that what the calorie comes from doesn’t matter. He argues that, in fact, what we eat matters because foods have chemical and hormonal impacts. In this podcast he said something that really struck me: “People don’t …accumulate 100 pounds of excess fat because they eat too much, they do it because their body is telling them to accumulate fat. And that’s going to be a hormonal, enzymatic problem.”

I happen to think that over millions of years of evolution, we humans “understand” various things subconsciously. Not in thoughts and words, but in basic “gut” reactions. And I think it is possible that humans find fat less attractive because it indicates some form of ill health, some problem with the functioning of our hormones/chemicals/biology.

I know (rationally) that I was not fat because I was lazy, stupid, greedy, or shameful. I did not want to be fat. I wanted to be able to stop eating. I went to nutritionists and did workout tapes. (Yes, I said “tapes.” That’s how old I am.) I joined programs with weekly motivation classes and pre-packaged food plans so you didn’t have to think for yourself about what to eat. I worked my ass off to work my ass off and it never did go anywhere. I could not manage to not be fat.

And while I limit the amount of food I eat now, I still eat a lot. Pounds and pounds every day. Including full-fat greek yogurt, whole milk, pork rinds, bacon, and sausage. But I am not eating most sugars (except for some natural sugars in the form of some whole fruits and vegetables) or things that turn into sugar, like grains, starch, and other carbohydrates. And the elimination of those foods has meant that for the past 11+ years, I have never been fat again. And I think that chances are good that eating sugar was always the culprit; sugar was signaling to my body to store fat.

But if it were only a matter of a healthy, properly functioning body, versus an improperly functioning body, then I wouldn’t be so freaked out about the fact that I like being thin. I’m freaked out because we have taken “thin” too far. And I am afraid that I will mix up what I am constantly told I “should” look like, with what I look like when I am in a healthy, properly functioning body.

From the 50s through the 80s, famous beauties generally had a BMI of somewhere between 17-20.5, while the average American woman had a BMI between 23-25. As a young adult, I had a BMI of about 45. (Yes, I know that BMI is a flawed system, but it is a “standardized” system, so it is helpful in illustrating my point.) So when I was growing up, the real knockouts were somewhere between a modern size 2 and 6. Today, a model who is a size 6 is considered “plus size.” So a woman with a BMI of 20.5 is considered fat by today’s (fashion industry) standards, while the average American woman currently has a BMI of 27.6 and is a size 14.

My point is that I don’t want to get caught up in liking or not liking my body based on a fundamentally flawed definition of acceptable weight made up by an industry that makes it’s money by telling women that they are lacking. I don’t need Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, or Mark Jacobs to tell me that my healthy, strong, fully functional body is not pretty enough, because clothes “look better” on a girl who is about to experience renal failure. (Seriously, f**k them.)

But mostly I am afraid that I will get brainwashed by them. You see, I don’t want to listen to them; I don’t want to come to believe them; I don’t want to let them in my head. And I am afraid that if, when I look in the mirror, I like my thin self better than my less thin self, I will make myself sick physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s not that I don’t want to like what I look like, I just want liking what I look like to not be so tied up in weight. I want to be able to be happy that I am thin. I have changed my entire life so that I could be happy in my body. But I also don’t want to have to take it that seriously. Perhaps ultimately I should think about my weight the way my husband thinks about my weight, which is to say, not at all. But for a girl with a lifetime of food and body issues, perhaps that’s asking too much…

 

It may well be that “nobody wants to see that,” but they are going to have to take the initiative to stop looking for themselves.

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.

 

My heart, not my ass

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.

 

 

Post Navigation