When I first stopped dieting for weight loss, restricting food intake, and intermittently starving myself, I was terrified of gaining weight.
Okay… I use hyperbole freely so “terrified” is a word I overuse but in THIS case, I am using it intentionally and without exaggeration. I was terrified. Allowing myself – on purpose – to gain weight was probably the scariest thing I had ever done.
I’ve had two children, without pharmaceutical interventions, at home, in doula tubs. I’ve been a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’ve travelled on PLENTY of overnight buses, many in foreign countries. I actually, once, travelled on a greyhound bus from New Mexico to Connecticut over 3 days and nights with only $5 in my pocket. I’ve moved my entire life, by myself, cross-country FOUR times (BEFORE CELL PHONES!). I’ve performed memorized spoken word poems in front of large – and small – audiences. I’ve shared intimate, personal details in my poetry at readings and performances from New York City to Napa. I went back to school when I was 40 years old and had the audacity to quit a full-time tenured professorship at the age of 45. And, now I’m starting my own business.
My point is: I have done scary things.
And, without exaggeration, allowing my body to gain weight was THE scariest thing I had ever done. This is the case because of Diet Culture. This is the case because I had been told ALL OF MY LIFE that gaining weight was the WORST thing that any woman could ever do, MAYBE just shy of committing infanticide – MAYBE. Does that notion – that gaining weight is scary, the scariest – seem utterly ridiculous to me NOW? Of course it does! But fear is NOT rational and when I was steeped in Diet Culture, I was not rational.
When I was STEEPED – as so many of us are – in Diet Culture. I believed my weight and the size of my body inversely correlated with my worth and lovability. The thinner I was, the more worthy and loveable I was. The fatter I was, the less worthy and loveable I was. I learned this from my parents then I learned this from Diet Culture who was VERY happy to pick up where they left off.
I believed that gaining weight meant I would lose my husband, I would lose my friends, I would lose my children, and I would lose all of whatever miniscule amount of self-respect I had. Once I began interrogating those beliefs, I realized they didn’t hold water. I hadn’t married a vain asshole, for one. I didn’t hang out with vain assholes, for two. People don’t, as a general rule, have their children taken away from them because they gain some weight, for three. And, I could no longer maintain my self respect and continue to starve myself, restrict food intake, and diet for weight loss – so, I had only my self-respect to gain.
Let me back up and explain to those of you not in the know why it was probable that I was going to gain weight when I stopped dieting for weight loss, restricting food intake, and starving myself. When someone who has been restricting, dieting and starving themselves (even “just” intermittently) for years (in my case, DECADES), there CAN be a long phase of equalizing foods, learning how to feel hunger, normalizing hunger, and honoring hunger which means… for the first time in DECADES, I allowed my body to have the food it needed and wanted when it needed and wanted it. As part of my intuitive eating journey, I had to allow myself to UNAPOLOGETICALLY eat foods I had considered “bad,” “off-limits,” and “triggers” for a very long time. And, for me this phase lasted a good long while. It takes a while (remember, restricting for DECADES over here!) for the body to trust that it can REALLY have the food it needs and wants whenever it needs and wants it. It takes a long time for the body to learn to trust that it is not going to be plummeted back into starvation mode at any moment. It took my body DECADES to learn that famines were apparently quite common, to learn to survive despite these famines, and to learn to eat as much as I could whenever I was allowed to because those moments were rare. So yes, weight gain, in my case – on this journey toward intuitive eating – was fairly inevitable.
Now, I find myself on the opposite end of this Intuitive Eating conundrum. My body trusts that I have access to the food I want and need when I want and need it (which, of course, is a place of privilege but that’s a conversation for a different post). My body trusts that I will allow it to have what it needs and wants when it needs and want it. Also, I am no longer afraid or hateful of the fat on my body or anyone else’s. When my internalized fatphobia rears its dumb head from time to time, I now know how to whack-a-mole that bitch right back into oblivion (with loving kindness, mindfulness, and grace, of course).
The world is a different place for me now than it was when I began my journey toward becoming an intuitive eater. It is a different place for my body than it was when I obsessively dieted for weight loss and punished myself with excessive exercise.
And now, I’m working on some other aspects of MY intuitive eating journey. Now that I know what hunger feels like, can accept it and can honor it – I’m learning how to do the same for fullness. Now that my body trusts that food is near and safe, it’s also learning that it doesn’t need as much as I had originally thought when I first opened these flood gates. Now that I truly no longer feel the need to punish my body for eating or earn my food by exercising excessively, I am moving again simply for the joy the movement itself awards me. I do the things I want when I want. When I don’t want to, I don’t force it. So, movement is always fun, always a pleasure, always a game and a gift rather than a chore or a duty.
And I have felt in the last few weeks and months that these changes – this deeper move into intuitive eating, this engagement in joyful movement, is leading to weight loss. And I have recognized that, once again, I am terrified.
I am terrified of the attention. I am terrified of what people will say when they see me. I am terrified of positive comments (“Oh my god! You look so good! You look so healthy!”). I am terrified of negative comments (“So much for Body Liberation, huh?” “Didn’t like being fat as much as you thought you would, huh?”). As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I am terrified for the triggered way I will feel when men look at me “that way.” As a person who has weight-cycled (lost a significant amount of weight then gained it back with interest) three major times in her life, I am terrified of doing it again because, it turns out this is VERY bad for our health and threatens our longevity more than just remaining at our original weight.
But, I reassure myself, THIS time is NOT like those times before. I am literally doing nothing to lose this weight except living the life I want to live. This weight loss is nowhere near extreme. In fact, I can feel it happening SO incredibly slowly that the slowness, in itself, is reassuring (most weight loss that leads to weight cycling or regaining weight takes place quickly). I am not TRYING – in any way – to lose weight. It is happening just as a result of me respecting my, unique body’s desires and needs. There is no part of me that feels restricted, punished, or deprived. That means that my body is very simply returning to its preferred set weight now that it feels its homeostasis is secured.
Also, and probably most importantly, I am not attached to this weight loss. My body – like every body – is constantly changing. Here comes another change. And, as I continue to age, as my daily life continues to be impacted by quarantines and career changes and whatever else comes along , my body will continue to experience more changes. And my personal Body Liberation journey has helped me embrace this fact with self-compassion and love.
Body Diversity, friends, is the fact that every person’s body is different. We were born different. Our bodies will change throughout our lifetimes and continue to be different from other people’s bodies. Some of us are bigger. Some of us are smaller. Some of us are fat. Some of us are thin. Many many many of us are somewhere along that continuum and very in between.
Every person’s journey to and through Body Liberation and Intuitive Eating will be different. Intuitive Eating is NOT a weight loss plan. Neither is Body Liberation. The purpose of Body Liberation and Intuitive Eating are NOT to make any body smaller. The promise of Body Liberation is that you will learn to live by your unique body’s internal signals instead of by the external rules of Diet Culture (or any other abusive system). The promise of Intuitive Eating is that you will heal your relationship with food and the body by listening to your body’s internal signals and allowing the body to come back to homeostasis. When the body comes back to homeostasis and trusts that it will be staying there, it will return to a set-point weight that feels comfortable and is easily maintained. Sometimes that set-point weight is still going to be “too high” according to a mainstream medical doctor, personal trainer or fitness instructor that still swears by a completely outdated and bullshit-to-begin-with BMI chart. I don’t doubt that my body will begin to even out at a “higher-than-acceptable” weight. And I’m GREAT with that. Now.
DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME: I am not telling MY story here so that you can apply it to all fat people or all people living in bigger bodies. I am not admitting to my fear of weight loss so that you can then believe that all fat people and people living in bigger bodies simply have this same fear or if they would just “get-over their fear,” they could “lose the weight.” THAT IS NOT TRUE. Many people are fat because they are fat. There is no pathology there. It is common to be fat and happy; fat and as perfectly, mentally healthy as anyone is. Being “afraid” of weight loss is MY, personal hang-up at THIS stage in my journey and I’m guessing it could be SOME other people’s hang-up as well, which is why I share it here. This is not anyone’s permission slip to go around fat shaming people and telling them to stop being “afraid” to lose weight! So, don’t even let your mind go there, dear reader.
When I was still firmly entrenched in Diet Culture, I used to whole-heartedly agree with that horrible, disordered phrase: “nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” My god! What a fucked-up slogan for anorexia and intentional starvation!
Now, I deeply believe that no promise, or hope, or expectation of thinness is worth my self-respect, dignity or physical and mental health. And that doesn’t roll off the tongue like the slogan above but that’s because it’s not a slogan, it’s a reality. I am so grateful that it is now MY reality. And as I write this, I am realizing, I don’t have to be terrified of losing weight. I have come too far through and into my Body Liberation journey to be in any jeopardy of losing what I have truly gained – my own self-respect, my own dignity, my own sane relationship with food, movement and my body! And, I’m not losing any of that!
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.