This week, I was out with friends and something icky came up. A (lean) friend was eating nachos and in response to my (probably offside) comment about their all-star dietary choice for dinner, they responded that since they weighed ___ lbs (a low number), it was okay.
Of course, this innocent person didn’t mean to offend me, but I was put off by the comment because my immediate thought/reaction was to say something along the lines of “Good thing I had dinner, I don’t weigh ___.”
Looking back, I could blame the innocent here for saying that eating junk food is okay when you’re smaller. But it’s not their fault—that’s commonplace in our world, whether it’s true or not (my thought is that the idea that you can “get away with” things because you’re skinny is blind to the fact that you can be skinny and seriously unhealthy). Alternatively, since I don’t know exactly what anyone else eats or does behind closed doors or what’s going on in their minds or bodies, I can focus on what I can actually control: my own thoughts on the matter and my own actions.
So back to the idea that if you’re skinny, eating something “indulgent” is okay, which suggests that if you’re not, it isn’t. That sounds a heck of a lot like the dieting mindset rearing it’s ugly head.
In the past, dieting has mostly left me angry. I spent the majority of my high school and university years obsessing about food and exercise and weight or thinking about how I shouldn’t be obsessing about those things—not exactly freedom or health, in my opinion. There’s irony in the fact that the weight I’ve gotten to that has made my body happy (i.e. to get my period back, mainly) is pretty much right where I was when I started down the road of my disordered habits.
So, on the outside, that weight might look the same. But when I think about all of the learning I’ve done—about myself, my self esteem, and not just my physical body or exercise and nutrition—I know I’m not at all the same.
For instance, one thing I learned is that, like with the nacho example, putting conditions on when you can or can’t eat something is a recipe for mixing up my relationship with food and myself (whether or not that holds true for other people, I don’t know). You weigh too much to eat nachos = you don’t deserve nachos = you don’t deserve things = a recipe for feeling like crap. In that mindset, I know that when I do eat something that I think I shouldn’t, I’m going to feel like crap about myself and that I’ll quite likely end up overeating. There’s also a big problem with that thought process given that no matter how small I’ve been, I still didn’t qualify myself as someone who should be allowed to eat junk food.
Slipping back into the weight loss mindset sets me up for failure: I don’t eat the food I really want when I really want it and then I end up overeating on my own; I work out two times in one day and then feel sore, spiteful, and hungrier than ever.
So if I’m frustrated about putting in effort/worrying about my weight but still weighing more than other people who I feel like worry less than I do, what really needs to change?
I think in the past I’d have argued that I’ll get over it when I get smaller, but that’s not proved successful. The real issue isn’t that I’m bigger than those people—my body is healthy and for the most part, I’m more accepting of it now than I ever was when I was smaller and fighting against it—it’s that I’m pouring so much energy into worrying about it. It’s the mindset and the behaviours that suck. It keeps coming down to this: It would be okay if I weighed this much and I was enjoying nachos without needing to write a blog post about them, or doing the workouts that I really like, or relaxing in this body.
I think I’ve got an answer, and it isn’t to change this body to one that I think will deserve those things—to a body that can go to yoga one day, run the next, and lift weights the following instead of worrying about which workouts will mean the most fat loss, or to the body that can share a piece of cake and not go off the rails and eat chocolate chips compulsively the minute she’s alone—it’s to do those things now and trust that my body will take care of itself.
If I can resist the idea that if we don’t blame and shame and control our bodies, we will be overweight slobs (I think believing this this is the main reason I spent so long buying into the diet industry), I can start trusting my body. If I give up the dieting mindset, I have a feeling, paradoxically enough, that I will eat better and move more—and in ways that I actually enjoy. I know what a healthy lifestyle looks like, and even though it’s hard to resist the messages that seem to bombard me that I should be concerned with my weight or that I need to pour tons of energy into controlling my body, I’ve always liked a challenge.
Heading into Christmas, I don’t want to resent thin people who eat what they want. I don’t want to tell myself I can’t have a cookie and then eat 12 standing over the sink when I get home.
During my recovery, I can remember being frustrated with my old habits and feeling stuck and having a dietitian say something that shook me out of it along the lines of, “That’s the way it’s been for you for a really long time. But that’s your old story and it doesn’t have to be your story any more.”
It’s time for a new one.
What’s your old story when it comes to dieting or your relationship with your body? What do you want your story to be?