I think that this title is somewhat of a “dirty” word. Most of us think of it in terms of restrictions and frustrations and defeats. I know that is how I often view dieting.
This is also a somewhat new concern for me. I am one of those people who was born fit and stayed fit for most of my life. I ate all the carbs and all the candy and still kept my 120 pound perfect figure. When you look at pictures of me in my youth, I am bronzed and buff and looking like a tiny body builder. And then, in my teens, I had that great T and A with a tiny waist that was apparently super desirable. And that figure stayed well into my 20’s, though a couple of pounds more T and A were added.
But then, I got sick.
I didn’t even know that I was sick. I just knew that I was tired, and I was gaining weight. I decided to take up running. I would make it about a half mile and then be in pain and walk back. Then it would be four to six days before I could summon the energy to run again, with similar results. I started spending more and more time on the sofa and less and less out trying to run. And I kept gaining, slow but sure. 140. 145. And then I had three or four rounds of steroids. 160. Trying to run again. 158. 162. And then the dreaded diagnosis happened. The reason I had been so tired all those years, and complaining of fatigue came to light—fibromyalgia. I started on Neurontin and kept on gaining. I went through a really bad year, where almost all of my time was spent sleeping or lying on the sofa depressed and in pain, and I gained even more. 170. 180. 198. And then the horrible moment when I hit that mark I was struggling against: 200.
I’m currently 208. And my BMI is 35, which puts me in the category of the “obese”.
And I found the bright side in that by saying, “at least I am not morbidly obese!” But inside something was cracking and a fissure that could swallow my obese butt was opening.
For the past several years we have been trying all sorts of things to keep my weight from climbing. Switching up medications, sending me to physical therapy regularly, getting me into the pool to swim, increasing my calories, then decreasing them after new studies showed my low calorie diet actually made sense given the way that fibro bodies metabolize in comparison with “normal” bodies. And nothing has been helping. And it is ridiculously difficult to cope with this, after a life of great bodiness.
I know that I shouldn’t be saying some of these things in this manner. I know that there are men and women who have struggled for an entire lifetime to manage their weight—kids who were “husky” from childhood and who were constantly challenged by body image and weight control. And I don’t mean to deny their experience or trivialize that struggle. But I didn’t know that early struggle, so becoming acclimated to a big body has been really difficult for me.
I used to be able to put my foot behind my head, or do the splits, and now I can’t touch my toes without a blob of belly fat getting in the way. It is quite the transition, and not in a “good” way, according to most.
But in some ways I have learned good lessons from this experience. I have learned that I only judge myself by societal standards of beauty and size, and not my friends. I have learned that I don’t accept or love myself well at any size. I have learned that bodies aren’t all made to appear the same, but we are very diverse. I have learned that health and size are not necessarily linked in the ways society teaches us they are. I have learned that bodies are still amazing, complex, beautiful, and fantastic at any and every size. And I have learned that all of the things that I was taught about “calories in/calories out” can be thrown out the fucking window, because it just isn’t always true.
One lesson that I haven’t quite learned is to love my own body in this state, and not to shame myself for being larger than I once was, or being larger than society and the media and whatever other influences dictate as appropriate or beautiful or “healthy”. I’m working on that. I have this fabulous yoga sequence I do from yogaglo where I get naked and jiggle my parts and offer love and thanks to all the parts of myself that I struggle to accept. I have a list of things I love and am grateful for about my body. I work on dissecting my illness from my personhood, and instead of saying things like “I’m so dumb today” I correct and say “my fibromyalgia and PTSD are really affecting my cognition today”. And I am far from perfecting these strategies and loving my jiggling parts wholeheartedly, but I am on the road to accepting who I am as I am.
And I think that is the space we all need to start from before we seek to make any changes, ever.
I spend a lot of time using mindfulness exercises to stay in the present moment, and to accept that moment as it is. This is a coping strategy that is basically saving my life. Chronic pain and chronic mental illness are really difficult to manage, and learning to accept the present moment, and to sit in it without reacting to it in any way helps. Separating pain from suffering, letting go of thoughts, noticing my environment, and being more aware have all helped me in myriad ways.
And this way of being aware and of accepting are transformative. So, when I think about transforming my body, I can’t begin without finding an awareness and acceptance of my body now.
Getting naked and letting all the parts wiggle and flop and whatever else they may do is part of that, but so is looking at the ways that food and I interact, and noticing the ways that I am influenced by outside media and standards, and looking honestly at how healthy or unhealthy parts of me are, and being able to recognize and embrace all of the amazing things my body can and does do. I mean, have you ever stopped for a moment and considered the process that happened in order for you to pee? It is kind of amazing.
My body has lots of flaws—dissociated parts of the brain, pain where there should not be pain, benign tumors hanging out in a few places, a pelvic floor that can’t figure out when to hold tight and when to release, weak quadriceps, ruptured bursa sacs, a CMC joint that can’t seem to get its shit together, and the list goes on. But it also has lots of amazing power and strength and goodness and health. The fat bits are just one part of the whole. And the whole is actually pretty fabulous.
I am scheduled for a visit with a nutritionist the end of next week. And I suppose you were not expecting to hear that, after all of this loving the fat bits talk. But I want to choose my best self, so even though I have tried many ways of eating and exercising in the past, and even though I think that diet should refer to an abundance of good foods, and not refer to restrictive and uncomfortable programs that usually fail us, I want to make certain that I am actually doing what is most healthy for my body, and for my life.
Choosing my best self includes ensuring that I am eating well, and not allergic, and not suffering from some metabolic issue, and being certain that there isn’t a disconnect between what I think is healthy behavior and what science says is healthy behavior. And that doesn’t mean that I am going to “go on a diet”. It does mean that I am going to work toward my best body. If I don’t lose an ounce, but I find that I would be healthier with less sugar and more fat in my diet, I will still be pleased with the experience. Because awareness and acceptance create change. I don’t fully understand why or how they do, but they do create change. Being aware of myself and being accepting of my body as it is moves me toward changing myself and my body in positive ways.
People often use a saying that the Buddhist gains nothing from meditation, but then goes on to list all of the negative things that have been removed or lost. This is what I think needs to be kept close when I think about diet and body image and size and health. I gain nothing from accepting my body, but I lose the tendency to criticize or compare myself to others, I lose an unhealthy connection with food, I lose the need to prove my beauty or strength to myself or others, I lose the need to force my body into a mold made by unrealistic normative standards, and I lose the habit of speaking negatively about this amazing body that offers me life. And losing all of that is more important than losing pounds.
My body might always be this size. The nutritionist might say that all the medications I am taking and all the ways my diseases harm my cells are not things that I can overcome with dietary changes. The verdict may be that I remain above that 200 mark, that I am always hoping to get below, and that I need to set more realistic goals for my body and my life. Or, conversely, I might learn that I have terrible habits that are contributing to the ever-increasing waistline, and be taught ways to eliminate or manage such habits to reduce my weight.
Either way, I intend to remain committed to the jiggling of the naked parts and the offering love to my body. No matter my size, I still know that awareness and acceptance are the tools that bring me the most good, and the least struggle, in every part of my life. Skinny or fat, frail or fit, tall or short, dark or light, broad or petite, stout or lanky … none of that matters more than the awareness and acceptance of the self. And, really, none of that matters at all. I won’t love you any less because you are short and wide than I would were you tall and thin. And anyone who would offer love and compassion and kindness only to the thin or the tall or the light or the petite or the whatever is just an asshole. Because the point of this post may be that we are all human. And all humans are equal. And all humans deserve to be treated with respect and kindness and compassion and love. Just because.
So, I encourage each of you to go get naked (probably in private, given the laws against public nudity in some areas) and shake out all those parts, and offer them love, and thank them for being, and start being aware and accepting of your body and self. Bask in the glow of the beauty of being. Revel in humanity. Love existing in space and time. Love your body. Love yourself.