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A Weighty Issue

December 7, 2014

It’s time to admit it. I’ve gained some weight. Ok, more than some. Ok, enough that none of my clothes fit and yet I’m too ashamed to go out and buy new ones. Enough that I almost never date, mainly because I think that I’m too large for anyone to find me attractive. Enough that I’m anxious about seeing my friends and family this holiday season, because I don’t want to hear anything about how I look – good or bad…being told that I look good, especially when I don’t feel it, just seems disingenuous and condescending…and I REALLY don’t want any pictures taken of me. I’ve gained enough that I’m pretty much dreading going to Mexico on vacation next week… yes… dreading.

I know that I SHOULD (should? according to whom?) be able to go to the beach, no matter how I look, and just have a good time. I SHOULD be big and bold and proud of who I am at any size, and just have fun. It’s true that most other people probably don’t care how I look in a bathing suit, and most likely aren’t even looking at me anyway, but it’s not about them, it’s about me. I KNOW that instead of just enjoying my vacation, I’m going to be looking around and feeling ashamed. I’m going to cover up, and think about how, a year ago, I was able to wear a two-piece swim suit and, after a moment or two of feeling a bit embarassed, just have fun at the pool without worrying (too much) about what I looked like. It’s going to be a challenging week.

Here’s what happened: I was a chubby kid, and a fat teenager. Everyone in my life seemed to think that it was not just ok, but in fact their responsibility to comment on my size. I can’t remember a single meal with my extended family, from the time that I was very young, where someone didn’t make some comment about my weight – whether I had gained or lost, or just something about “she’ll grow out of it” or other such ridiculous comments. It didn’t stop at family, either. I very clearly remember a friend of mine, when I was only 9 or 10 years old, poking me in the belly and saying “you’re starting to get a bit chubby. Maybe you should do something about it.” He thought that he was being helpful. My weight, my eating, my exercise were a constant subject of conversation. It’s no wonder that those things have become something of a mental and emotional obsession for me as an adult.

Around the age of 15 I started the cycle that has lasted almost 20 years… diets, eating plans, restricting certain foods, pills, potions, books, websites, clubs, exercise programs, nutritionists, etc. etc. etc. Being able to control my body became the most important thing in my life. To be honest, some of it really really worked…temporarily. I have had times where I would have called myself ‘normal’ or maybe even ‘thin.’ I, of course, still wanted to be smaller, but I was able to wear clothes that I liked, and didn’t feel ashamed stepping outside my front door. But… something would always happen. I would put on a bit of weight, or be bloated for a few days and my clothes would feel tight, so I would throw myself into another plan/diet/exercise program etc. As time went on, those attempts at ‘fixing’ and controlling my body have become less and less effective, and yet my eating has become more and more restricted. I honestly believe that it was the restricted eating that made my food allergies so much more prominent – If I hadn’t been so worried about eating ‘cleanly’ then a little bit of ‘unhealthy’ food now and again probably wouldn’t impact my body nearly as much as it does now.

I finally realized that so many years of trying so hard to be ‘healthy’ has made me anything but, and so when I felt myself putting on some pounds this time, I did a different kind of research. What I found was that I’m not the only one who has come to this conclusion. To put it plainly, years and years of restrictive eating and over-exercising has basically thrown my hormones out of whack and killed my metabolism. It’s no wonder that the slightest indulgence can cause buttons to pop off of my clothes. I did this to myself. The cure? Well, apparently, the only way to fix a metabolism is to rest, and eat… a lot. The theory is that on a restrictive diet the metabolism shuts down, because there’s just not much to metabolize… and so you have to force the metabolism to wake up by giving it work to do. Yes, that means an initial weight gain, but, supposedly, after a few months of this the body will even itself out with a properly functioning metabolism.

So, I tried it…. and I failed. I simply can’t eat that much. I tried – I really did, but after a couple of weeks I just couldn’t keep forcing it. I gained the weight, but I don’t think that I can continue the ‘re-feeding’ process until things even out… It just doesn’t feel good.

So, what now? Sure, I could go on another diet. I could try, once again, to force my body to do what my brain wants. I might, we’ll see, but what I really need to do is change the narrative, change my thoughts. My weight, my food, and my exercise take up the majority of my brain space. It’s there when I wake up, when I go to sleep, in the car, at work, when enjoying time with my loved-ones. Sometimes it’s the predominant thought, sometimes just somewhere in the background, but it’s there. Far too much. As long as the thoughts are there, I will never truly enjoy this life. I know that I was “happiest” (not that I’ve ever been truly satisfied) with my body when I wasn’t thinking about food – when I treated myself to nice meals, ate without worrying too much about what exactly I was eating. Yes, I realize that my allergies do dictate that I have to be a little bit more careful, but strict diligence isn’t healthy for me, either. It only feeds the obsession.

I’m not the only one who is obsessed with weight, size, and appearance. It is everywhere! It is a constant topic of conversation – in both positive and negative contexts. We are always talking about how each other looks – I’m guilty of it, too. Even when we say things that are meant to be kind, the focus on body and image is just too prevalent. I’m not even talking about the idea that we are all beautiful (which we are) and that standards of beauty in the media are ridiculous (which they are). I’m talking about how we can’t seem to stop ourselves from talking about appearances. We comment on how great someone looks after losing weight. We comment that someone has put on a few. We refer to people as chunky, if they’re not as thin as their peers. We smile and say “you look great today!” as a casual greeting. We use appearances to define and distinguish each other. Sure, I understand that looks and image do matter. Sexual attraction is what keeps our species alive. How we dress and present ourselves in our workplaces can really impact how seriously we are taken by others. I get all of that, and am actually ok with it. I just want the conversations that we have to shift focus.

I’m not naive enough to think that we’re ever going to stop talking about how people look. It’s too ingrained in how we interact. I just want us all to take it down a notch or two. We have been hearing a lot about body-shaming lately, but I think it’s even more than that. Body-shaming is horrible, but body-discussing in general needs to go, too. I’m not saying that having my body spoken about was the ONLY cause of my current issues, but it was one of them… a big one. There is a summer camp in upstate New York where the kids are not allowed to comment on each others’ appearances – no “you look nice today” or “great hair style!” Nothing. They can only talk about each others’ personalities, skills, accomplishments. That sounds really tough to me… and really wonderful too. Sure, it feels great to be told that I’m beautiful – I think that we all crave that kind of affirmation, and I think that it’s ok to seek it out once in a while, but the obsession is just too powerful. I’m going to try to stop focusing so much on appearance – both mine and everyone else’s. I’d love it if you all tried, too.

And me? I went out for a nice lunch today. I sat in a restaurant and really, truly enjoyed my meal. I didn’t count calories. I didn’t obsess over the micro-nutrient ratios. I didn’t over-eat. I didn’t under-eat. It felt really great. It was only one meal, and I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but… well… baby-steps.

wishing you light and love

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