Thursday, January 24, 2013

On Fat, Friends, Family, & Above All, Self-Love

Do you remember the post I wrote last fall about my friend Lindsey's & my 100-day self-love challenge? Probably not, because if you blinked, you missed it – & I never mentioned it again. I was on a real roll for awhile – I even lost about 12 lbs.! I was tracking my caloric intake, trying to make healthy eating choices, exercising a bit more regularly than usual (which means exercising at all). Lindsey & I texted & emailed each other every night to give one another a rundown on what we'd eaten that day, providing one another with encouragement, support, & friendly reminders not to fall off the wagon.

But fall off the wagon I have, & I've been too ashamed of myself to mention it here. I've spent literally months debating: "Should I remind my readers of this? Should I say something? Should I publicly admit failure?" I guess this is a public shaming of sorts, because I ultimately decided that these struggles are worth writing about. I know I can't be the only one who has them.

I've gained all that weight back, plus some more; I've lost any hint of the motivation I briefly had. I've returned to feeling disgusting & lumpy & uncomfortable in my own body, embarrassed of the way my clothes cling to my body & the creeping numbers on the scale. I look at photos & videos of myself & feel physically ill; how can that really be what I look like? And somehow, despite this loathing for the body I've built for myself, I seem unable to make the mental connection between what I put into my mouth & how it negatively affects my appearance & my health. I find myself engaged in dangerous thinking & behavior, like sneaking fast food in my car, or eating a regular meal around others but then waiting until they're gone so that I can eat more, or zoning out & somehow consuming 10 Oreos without even realizing I've done it – & then still wanting more, despite feeling like I could throw up.

This? Is not normal.

In April while with my family in Ohio for my grandmother's funeral – which was already so long ago – I felt particularly conscious of my body, of the fact that I am the least healthy of my relatives. My uncle, who is a tennis instructor & soccer coach, occasionally makes casual comments about strangers' bodies that I can't help but internalize. My mother, who has lost 30 lbs. over the last year thanks to a newfound love of bicycling, more frequently expresses her concern about my weight. My cousin, who has always been slim & athletic, is a marathoner who runs miles a day just for fun & chooses frozen vegetables over carbs just because she likes them. Hyper-aware of their habits in comparison to my own, I spent that week together agonizing over everything I ate in front of them – & somehow still sneaking mini Snickers bars out of my grandmother's pantry.

In October, on the way back from lunch with a friend, the course of our conversation turned to the fact that I've gained nearly 20 lbs. since I began working from home in early 2011. I snack more & I move less, especially because it seems that the only time I ever leave my apartment is to go to places that have food – whether it's working from a coffee shop during the day or going out to eat with Nathan at night to explore our new town. My friend casually mentioned that my Instagram pictures give her the impression that I "don't hold back" when it comes to food, & regardless of her good intentions, that comment stung more than any others before it have. It's stuck with me, both encouraging me to work harder & making me hate my body even more than I already did – a real mixed bag. After that conversation, I joined a gym, & I've been doing a decent but not necessarily good job of working out every two or three days, running/walking two miles or riding 10. I've been trying to eat better, to eat less, to drink more tea & less Diet Coke. To do all the things I'd become so proud of myself for doing last fall, & to encourage myself to stick with it this time. When Sandy kept us homebound in the fall, though, I found myself snacking like mad, just because I could, because I was bored, because things tasted good & I couldn't be bothered to consider how they affected me beyond my taste buds. Each time I took a bite of something terrible, that comment haunted me: "It seems like you don't hold back." In any other aspect of life, this might be a good thing – but not when it comes to overeating.

While in Israel for the last 10 days, I tried to make good – or at least not bad – food choices. I ate breakfast, lunch, & dinner, & I almost never snacked. I ate cucumbers for breakfast, drank fresh pomegranates & grapefruit juice during the day, consumed literally gallons of water, tried never to eat more than one bureka at a time. With our intense itinerary, I did a lot of walking, too, & I felt great about it. And yet when I returned home, the scale told me I'd actually gained a pound – & worst of all, the few photos of me taken during the trip were just awful, me looking happy but horrifying, with three chins & big cheeks & eyes all squished into my face. I had a great time, felt wonderful about the whole experience, & came home to photos that showed me looking like an inflated, 'roided out version of the person I actually imagine myself to be. How can I ever look back on those photos & feel good about myself or that experience?

And perhaps that's part of the problem: that I don't necessarily see myself as being the size that I am. Sometime I think I must suffer from some sort of body dysmorphia. When I look in the mirror, I don't think I'm big – or not too big, at least, just a normal sort of big. I don't feel like a fat person! But when I see photos of myself looking horrible, when I have to order XLs or XXLs, when I don't fit into the clothes at Target or Macy's, when I compare myself to the smaller women around me, it's then that I realize that my perception of myself is skewed, off, that I am big. Because I don't see myself that way, though, I have trouble motivating myself to do anything about it; if I look in the mirror & feel pretty, why bother changing? When these things jar me back to reality, I want so badly to change, but on an everyday basis, I've found it nearly impossible to convince myself that I need to.

In the meantime, I try to love myself anyway. I try to remain cognizant of the fact that I am more than my body, that I am more than what I eat or how my clothes fit or the way I look in photographs or even what other people think of my body. I know that there is much, much more to me than being fat or thin. I try to be body-positive, to read blogs written by women who own their sizes & look good doing it. I try to remind myself that if any other person in my life said the mean things to me about my body that I say to myself, I would immediately stop being friendly with that person; I try to remind myself that I literally never judge other fat women the same way I do myself, that I think they look just as beautiful as smaller women. I try to tell myself that I am still beautiful, too – but I'm so tired of feeling that I could be more beautiful if only I lost all this extra weight. I try to remind myself that this is a manageable problem, a common problem, & that if I just commit to change, I will see success – & I'll be so enamored of the results that I'll stick with it.

I deserve better than this. Mentally, physically, emotionally, I know I deserve more – so why can't I find it within me to treat my body the way it deserves to be treated? Or, if I can't do that, just suck it up & love myself anyway?!

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