Gaining weight and losing weight is hard, and it doesn’t matter if you’re middle aged, young, old, male, or female. It also doesn’t matter if you’re an American. The fact that I’m even writing this is a testament to the fact that our current society has culturally contrived to keep us wound up in this mess. So, now that the hard part is over, how do we break free?
In a culture where being healthy can be a code for being thin, and speaking openly about “feeling fat,” seems to be a double-edged dagger; being open to the conversation about feeling fat, weight maintenance, and self image, takes courage. Why is that?
It’s a combination of things. For one, although the fat-positive movement began back in 1967, it is only within the last 5 years that the media is publishing images of people who aren’t thin, more regularly: and images of regular looking people are still not the norm. So, there is the brainwashing that we are breaking through.
Then, there is the fact that when the conversation comes up, emotions may crop up as well, and who wants that? When I feel fat, the last thing I want to happen is to randomly enter into a conversation about it. Just last July, I knocked on my neighbor’s door, and after our chat, she said to me, “Elizabeth, you’ve gained weight. You’re getting fat.” This was true. I had gained 5lbs. But I certainly wasn’t anticipating a pleasant chat with my neighbor about it. I sheepishly replied, “My clothing still fits.” and shot her a confused look.
It wasn’t my most honest moment. I was being elusive on purpose. A more authentic reply might have been, “Yes, I have. And it’s been frustrating, because some of my favorite clothing doesn’t fit right now.” At least that would have been the truth. I might have left myself open to the discussion, but I felt surprised and a bit violated, like she had asked me what my rent was. Only, this is NYC, and so I would have happily told her my rent and had a conversation about that, rather than talk about my weight with her. And why is that? I’m a fitness professional. I talk about healthy weight loss and weight gain all the time. Why did this feel so strange and personal?
If I admit I feel fat, what will people think? Will they judge me for my comment as a statement about my self-esteem? If fat is not a feeling, then why does it seem to resonate as a way of being, like being happy? Aren’t I proud to simply be who I am?
I was a binge eater from age 12 to age 30. I could start with a can or two of ravioli; move on to making a tuna fish salad sandwich; then eat all the leftovers from dinner the night before; easily eat 3 bowls of cereal while watching General Hospital and Oprah; and finish with cookies and ice cream. 3pm to 5:30pm, right before my Dad came home, was prime binging time.
Sitting in front of the television, eating was relaxing! Putting something in my mouth, and tasting it took away all the confusing feelings, and replaced them with a sensation I could understand. I love food. There is nothing wrong with loving food. So, then why did I feel so guilty on a “bad food” day, and so much adrenaline when I started starving myself and drinking SlimFast for breakfast and lunch?
Learning how to eat real, whole foods, every 3 hours; create balanced snacks; and preparing balanced meals ahead of the time that I was hungry were a few of the steps in the process of overcoming my binge eating disorder. Another part was learning how to be conscious of what I am eating without obsessing about what I am eating. I remember saying to my nutritionist, “I just want to eat like a normal person. I don’t want to think about food all the time, and judge myself based on what I eat.” She replied, “If you’re thinking about food you’re probably hungry.” It was the first time someone normalized thinking about food for me. It was the first time that I didn’t hate myself for wanting to eat food.
One of the most helpful things that I’ve learned is that I can prepare snacks and meals, and bring easy-to-carry things with me (like apples and nuts) so that I am not waiting until I am starving to eat. I’ve also learned that the easiest way to feel full is to make sure that I am eating enough vegetable and fruits. It is very easy to grab bagels, baked goods, egg sandwiches, and big meaty subs, that have very little vegetables involved. Yet, vegetables are the things that have fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and they help us feel satisfied. We need them to help our bodies absorb nutrition because they slow down the digestion process.
How else do we break free?
When you look in the mirror, think 3 positive things about yourself for every criticism. And notice your actual feelings, rather than simply turning your feelings off, or an again: reflect on your feelings and express your emotions to the people in your life.
You don’t have to fight people, avoid people, or lecture people: you can listen to people and share vividly with them, about whatever it is you’re going through.
People are pack animals.
Above all, being open to being in the conversation about what it is to be a human being, and the possibilities that we share with one another, can shed a whole new light on what it is gain a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Creating a way to make a difference, rather than criticizing ourselves and one another, can build up the community that we all need to support one another. So, just being open to talking about our weight, is a big start. I kept my binge eating a secret for 18 years: please have the courage to join the conversation, when you are ready!