I’ve noticed that many people who’ve never been obese tend to be very naive about the causes of obesity. If only it were true that I got this way by lazing around and stuffing my face with junk food all day long! If it were true, weight loss would merely be a simple matter of eating less and moving more. If only! If only their naive assumptions were true, my weight loss journey would be much easier!
I resent it when naive people say naive things like “fat people lack self-discipline,” because when people say that, it shows that they have no idea what my life has been like, no idea what I’ve been through, and no understanding of how I even got fat in the first place. I don’t lack self-discipline. I have an excessive amount of willpower and discipline, and I’m pretty willing to bet that I can put most thin people to shame when it comes to willpower and discipline. I’m able to deny myself food for weeks at a time. I’m able to live for weeks on little else but cottage cheese and carrot sticks. I know how to starve and starve and starve, and I’ve been doing it since college. My ability to starve myself for weeks on end is a psychological issue that I need to monitor carefully, because it trips me up. It’s easy for me to simply stop eating food altogether, and I tend to be very tempted to live on nothing but salad and water, and this is the very thing that’s made me so fat.
Flashback to college, junior year, 170 pounds — I was perfect. I had a perfect body, with a perfect BMI. But I hated my body and saw a distorted version of myself whenever I looked in the mirror. Junior year, I decided I needed to start taking drastic measures to ‘get in shape,’ so I began starving myself. I started eating only lettuce – salads, no dressing, just water to drink. I didn’t really succeed in losing much weight because my body didn’t actually have any excess weight to lose. I was perfect, toned, lean and my body didn’t want to lose weight. My body responded to this prolonged abuse by clinging to every calorie, hoarding every bit of fuel I ate, slowing my metabolism to a crawl. Eventually, after a month of starvation, I was so malnourished and so desperate for sustenance that I just freaked out and started eating normally again. But this time, when I ate, my body clung to every morsel of food that went into my mouth, and my waistline grew and grew. So, guess what I did? I stopped eating again. Again and again, the cycle went, and I continued to pile on the pounds. By graduation day, I’d gained 40lb — 210 lbs!
How could anyone be so stupid? I was deluded. I truly believed I was much too fat at 170 lbs. I truly believed that I needed to lose weight. I truly believed that food was a vice and that eating was bad and that starvation was a virtue. I truly believed that good, virtuous, feminine, fit girls didn’t eat food. I cursed myself for being a disgusting fat pig each time I ate a sandwich, or any kind of normal food. This is something I still struggle with, now. The idea that feminine, virtuous, good women aren’t supposed to eat anything is very deeply ingrained in me. I know it’s a screwed-up idea, but I’m never going to lose weight until I deal with that. I can’t fall back into old patterns; rather, I need to force myself to eat 1,800 calories a day even when it seems like too much food. I wish I had a time machine so I could travel back in time and show my 20-year-old self what extreme dieting would do to my body. If only I’d just eaten a healthy, normal diet throughout my twenties, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
So, consequently, I weighed 210 lbs at graduation – OFFICIALLY OBESE.
This extra weight brought on a number of health problems! I developed a thyroid condition soon after college, and I still need to take medication for it. I gained another 60 lb. in a year directly as a result of the thyroid problem. I gained 60 lb. without even trying. I gained 60 lb. before my doctor was able to figure out what was going on. I was put on thyroid medication, and I immediately lost 40 of those pounds, but then I gained 15 pounds back and I’ve been bouncing between 230-250 pounds ever since then. I haven’t gone below 230 lbs since 2007!
The other thing was major depression and self-hatred. I felt like I was worthless as long as I was overweight (hence, the reason I started trying to diet in the first place), and I was absolutely miserable. What do people do when they’re full of misery and shame? They tend to mope around. I fell ill with major depression, and half of it was probably the result of my shameful feelings about my weight gain, and the other half of it was probably the result of all the physical damage I’d done to my body through dieting. I just moped around. I was very deeply depressed and found it difficult to get up out of bed. So, I wasn’t burning calories. So, I continued to be fat. Weight gain tends to go hand-in-hand with major clinical depression, and this is why I think the entire idea of “LET’S SHAME THEM SO THEY’LL LOSE WEIGHT!” is a losing proposition. Shame only motivates people to get even fatter.
Man, if shame motivated people to lose weight, nobody would be obese. Most obese people carry a massive burden of shame around with them constantly. Most obese people feel nothing but shame about their bodies. They feel shame every time they look in the mirror, they feel shame every time they have to eat food, they feel shame every single moment of every single day. Really, obese people already feel plenty of shame already, so there’s no need to keep piling it on. The trouble is, shame doesn’t motivate people to take action. Shame is deeply paralyzing, it’s deeply demoralizing, it’s deeply debilitating. The only thing shame motivates people to do is lie in bed crying all day long, which, as you can guess, isn’t really conducive to fitness and weight loss.
I certainly think most obese people have huge mental problems — I don’t think obesity is something that happens to people who are perfectly sane and healthy, which is why I can’t really say that I support the fat acceptance movement. I support the fat acceptance movement insofar that it’s wrong to discriminate against, ridicule, or shame another human being because they are too fat. But I can’t accept fat as a healthy variation of normal, because it isn’t. If you’re living a healthy lifestyle and you’re still obese, then that’s one thing, but let’s face reality: If you’re obese, you probably are’t living too healthy a lifestyle. I know the kinds of mental issues I’ve had, I know what caused my obesity, I know what I’m still fighting against, and I know that it isn’t healthy. But, generally speaking, mental problems aren’t a socially-acceptable reason to treat another person with such cruelty. The fact that it’s so socially acceptable to be so cruel to fat people is pretty fucked-up.
Obesity is a complex issue, but love and compassion is much more motivating than shame and cruelty.
For me, I’ve spent the last decade of my life fighting this. What’s finally motivating me to do something about it? I don’t know, it’s hard to verbalize it. Ideally, I’d like to use this blog to help people, so I’d like to be able to explain exactly how and why I am losing weight. I know that it’s a mental thing, and I know you need to make a mental shift to be able to do this. I haven’t lost too much weight yet, so I can’t tell you anything with much authority, but I’ve been sticking to my plan longer than I ever have in the past, and here’s what’s working for me, right now:
1. Eating 1,800 calories a day, whether I want to, or not. It’s very tempting to eat far too little. Forcing myself to eat 1,800 whether I’m hungry or not prevents extreme hunger and the feelings of malnourishment that derail me.
2. Forget about the entire idea of “dieting.” “Dieting” is what made me fat in the first place. I’m never going to do another diet again because forcibly beating my body into submission isn’t going to make me thin; it’s just going to wreck my metabolism and create more health problems.
3. Weight loss doesn’t need to be difficult, and it doesn’t need to be done quickly. You don’t need to starve yourself and slave in the gym and beat the shit out of yourself. Weight loss should be easy and fun, and this is where I’ve gone wrong so many other times. It’s not even the idea that weight loss should be “quick,” but it’s the idea that weight loss should be difficult and grueling and I’m being a lazy slob if I’m not making it difficult and grueling enough. I think a lot of fat people have this idea that they “have to do their penance” by suffering and starving themselves. Like, “I’m guilty, I’m a bad evil nasty fat person and I have to suffer for my sins.” That idea is very, very pervasive, but it really tends to derail people. Being fat is not a sin, you’ve done nothing wrong, and you don’t need to “do penance for your crime.” If weight loss is easy and enjoyable, you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
4. Getting over the idea that good, virtuous, and feminine women are supposed to avoid food altogether. This screwed-up idea is very deeply-embedded in me. This idea has been central to my relationship with food since I was a little toddler just starting out with solids. Eating is a biological necessity. You’re supposed to enjoy eating. Eating is something you’re supposed to do. Growing accustomed to this idea has helped me.
5. Overcoming my perfectionism has also been a big part of it. I used to spend the day crying my eyes out of I ate, like, an extra kernel of popcorn. Yeah, sometimes you’re going to slip and eat junk food, and you’ll have your setbacks, but this is okay. “If I can’t do it perfectly, it’s all for naught!” is another idea that’s tended to derail my efforts. Don’t berate yourself if you mess up. It happens, we’re human.
6. Daily exercise really perks me up and makes me feel good, and this good feeling is very motivating. I must point out that I needed to have antidepressants to reach the point where I was able to get up and exercise. Fat people reading this: please realize that there’s no shame in taking antidepressants if you’re feeling too debilitated to move. Seeing a therapist and getting depression help might be an important first step.
7. Support groups — it’s important to me to mentally stay in the zone, which is part of why I’m starting this blog. I like to read message boards like 3FatChicks just to keep myself in a certain mental zone. I like to write to hold myself accountable. I like to have friends there to support me. I haven’t joined Weight Watchers, but it might be a good idea. Having that supportive network of friends to keep you fired up is a huge part of it.
8. Remove other stressors in your life — it’s going to be harder to do this if you’re focused on a million other things. I’m lucky to have few responsibilities and an easy, low-pressure job that I’m not particularly invested in, but the entire world is really set up to squeeze fitness and good dietary habits out of our lifestyles, and I know that cooking healthy meals and working out is easier said than done when your’e juggling a family, a busy career, and other responsibilities. Still, the thing is, I don’t think you really need to go to a huge effort to lose weight. If you’re busy, start with baby steps – a 30 minute walk at lunch, and a healthier fast food lunch.
9. I’m starting to have physical problems, like hip arthritis, and I don’t want it to get any worse. I don’t want a hip replacement!! Hell, no, the thought of undergoing hip replacement surgery lights a fire under my ass that sends me running straight to the gym at warp speed. I think it’s important to have a motivating factor like that.
10. You really have to be well-organized and take the time to plan what you’re going to eat and block out time to exercise. If I’m not well-organized about my diet and exercise, I’ll tend to grab whatever when it’s time to eat. It particularly helps me to automate most of my meals. If I spend too much time thinking about food (in the past, dieting caused me to obsess over food), it often derails my efforts. It’s important that I not have to think about food at all, so I tend to eat the same things every day. Someday, I’ll write a more in-depth entry about the foods that I specifically eat.
11. Find healthy foods that you enjoy eating, but don’t force yourself to eat foods you hate, because you’ll end up derailing yourself like I always did when I forced myself to do low carb diets, which I could never stick to, because I HATE MEAT. I can’t eat very much meat, it sickens me and makes me gag because it tastes bad. I’ve finally learned that I don’t need to eat foods that make me gag in order to be healthy, so I eat mostly-vegetarian diet now, because it’s more pleasing to my tastebuds. Pleasing your tastebuds is an important priority, because you aren’t going to stick to your plan if you hate the food you’re eating. There is no one-size-fits-all diet plan. You need to do trial-and-error and find what works for you. Do you gag on salads? Then don’t force yourself to eat salads.
12. I think you have to make peace with your body. If you approach this from a place where you’re like “Oh, I’m so fat and disgusting and I need to beat my body into submission because my body is hideous and unacceptable,” I think it’s going to derail your efforts (which is why fat-shaming just encourages people to be fat.)
For the first time in a decade, I’m starting to actually succeed with my efforts partly because I think I’m starting to make peace with my body. See, my mother has been taking a lot of pictures of me for my online dating profiles. In the past, I wasn’t able to bring myself to look at pictures of myself because I was such a hideous, nasty cow! I know how hard it can be to bring yourself to even look in a mirror when you’re fat, let alone stand in front of a camera and let someone snap photos! After posing for hundreds and hundreds of photos, and sorting through hundreds of pictures of myself to find a few to put up on Match.com, I’ve come to a realization that I’m actually a fairly good-looking woman. My feelings about my looks and my body have improved, and this makes me want to love and nurture my body.
I don’t think you can beat your body into submission because you hate it so much. I think you need to love it and nurture it. It’s hard to treat something that disgusts you with love and gentle kindness. This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever treated my body with any love or kindness. For me, this has been the biggest mental shift of all.
The best way to improve your health is to love and honor your body.