Like everyone else on the entire planet, I struggle with my weight.
I was a pretty lean kid, due in part I’m sure to how much time I spent outside playing, and managed to balance my insane teenage “eating an entire Totino’s pizza followed up by a carton of Ben & Jerry’s” calorie overload with 4-mile walks and bike rides and trail adventures (the only good thing about living in the suburbs – you had to walk EVERYWHERE, and everything was super far away).
But that all changed when I hit 16 and got a job at McDonald’s (woot! free chicken mcnuggets and quarter pounders!), and simultaneously discovered alcohol. If there were ever two things that can mess up an awesome metabolism, it’s fast food and booze. It’s no surprise then that I gained 40 pounds in less than a year, and became more interested in getting drunk and watching TV than heading outside.
Still, the weight gain didn’t bother me that much until I dated an absolute asshole (more on that at a later date) who mentioned it. All the time. Every single day. Which resulted in my barely eating anything – I would basically have a can of coke for breakfast, snag a Hostess product for lunch, and drink my way through the rest of the hours at school. But (also no surprise), this method failed to help me magically drop pounds (turns out a fifth of Bacardi is not exactly health food), with the added benefit of frequent fainting spells, low energy, and being sick for days on end. Who knew? (Adults, probably.)
Luckily I finally wised up enough to dump said asshole, took a good, hard look at myself in the mirror, and clean up my act – ditching the booze for actual nourishment, and spending my now-relatively free and very lonely time in the indoor pool at our apartment complex. I was slim for about 4 years, and then I fell back into unhealthy eating patterns (read: when you’re young and broke, you exist on top ramen, easy mac, and the 99 cent menu at Wendy’s) and plenty of drink once I was settled down and engaged.
Which led to me being a classic yo-yo dieter for almost all of my 20s and some of my 30s. Fat, thin, fat, thin, fat, thin, fat. In desperation, I tried everything: Atkins, South Beach, eating only granola, drinking measured protein drinks for 2 meals a day, green tea cleanses, etc. And then, hilariously, the last time I lost a whole bunch of weight was completely unintentional — I have dubbed it “the heartbreak happy hour diet” — I was drinking more vodka/tonics than I was eating food by sharing 3 appetizers amongst 6+ people, and was passing out by 8pm, so my caloric intake was drastically reduced. One of my friends actually called me “the incredible shrinking woman” because it dropped off so fast. I was the thinnest I’d been in years, but I was MISERABLE about everything – except having a closet full of size 8-10 clothes.
What’s my point? Even I forgot. OH, RIGHT. All this up and down and second-guessing what I’m eating and what I’m not eating and how many steps I’ve taken or how far I’ve walked was gut-wrenchingly hard and I eventually just got totally SICK of it. Dieting MAKES ME CRAZY, and I never learn anything good from it. I only learn shame and remorse and how to feel like crap when I eventually cave and sneak in that sugary-carby thing I’m not supposed to have. Now that I no longer diet or drown my sorrows in alcohol every weekday from 5-7, my weight stays pretty much the same — unfortunately the number on the scale translates, according to the medical charts, to “obese”. (Related: You do not know pure rage until you step on a Wii balance board and have a cute, cartoony voice say, “You’re obese!” like some kind of demented Disney character.)
Look, I can’t really say it any better than Lindy West and Lesley Kinzel and hundreds of other writers I admire already have: weight is a super-personal thing, so stop judging people based on your expectations of what “too fat” or “too thin” is. There are absolutely times when I go out in public and worry about what people think of me when I order a fattening dish, or am conscious of people staring and imagining they are judging me because of my size. (Even though I know this isn’t true…most of the time.) And I’m sure there are people who are super-skinny who feel the same way — judged when they only order a salad or when they’re not hungry, being branded as anorexic, or bulimic, or worse – a top model contestant! When they might just be naturally thin.
There are also days when I feel beautiful and confident, and I don’t fucking care who thinks what about me, because all that matters is how *I* feel about me. This is when I suffer from what I like to call “reverse body dysmorphia”: whilst shopping I pick up a million pieces of clothing that I swear will fit me, only to find out that there is no way in hell that shit is going to stretch over my body once I get in the dressing room. Sometimes I shrug and say “Whatever” and grab a bigger size, and sometimes I leave that dressing room in tears, vowing to eat only salads and yogurt cups for the rest of the week….but then I come to my senses, and realize it’s not about that. It’s about being happy and accepting of me, the way that I am, and not stressing so much about what other people are thinking about me and my dress size.
Man. What is that such a hard thing to learn? Even when you’re 40?
Basically it boils down to this: I will never deny myself that frosty cupcake-y treat, or a donut for breakfast, or a bag of potato chips when I’m craving a salty snack. This is where some people would say, “Yeah, that’s why you’re fat.” – but obviously that doesn’t mean I just eat sugar and salt every single day, of course I recognize the importance of things like vegetables and fruits, otherwise, I wouldn’t ever have any energy to do anything and I would feel terrible all the time. It also doesn’t mean that all I do is lie around on the couch and watch movies while eating tubs of butter-drowned popcorn (man, I WISH), either. But I would rather have the thing I want to eat, when I want to eat it, instead of not. Does that make sense?
And really the whole point is: no one else is in charge of what I eat and how much exercise I get and how I look and I feel — I am in charge of those things. And no one else knows how many walks I take a week, or how many yoga classes I sign up for, and how much organic produce I cook with. People make assumptions based on someone’s weight, and that is the thing that hurts the most, doesn’t it? The thing that makes you feel the crappiest, like you aren’t doing enough, like you need to work harder — because obviously if you’re fat, you’re just being lazy. That is the thing that makes every person ever talk constantly about the gym and how many hours they spend there and exactly what elliptical machine they were on and for how long.
That does not mean I’ve found some magical way of accepting my body the way it is and feel amazing about it every day (who does that? anyone?); I’d just rather be happy than sad, and not beat myself up for making a choice to eat what I want, when I want it. Having one cupcake isn’t going to magically expand my waistline — while we’re at it, can the phrase “straight to my hips” die now, please? — and I also don’t want to eat it, then freak out and do aerobics for 3 hours straight to make up for having it. I don’t want to purge it because I feel guilty. I don’t want to never have a cupcake again because I’m only allowed one, ever. I don’t want to count the calories in the cupcake and estimate how much exercise I will have to do to burn those calories. I don’t want to order the sugar-free cupcake because it’s “light”, and I don’t want to cut it into fourths and eat a tiny sliver of it.
I just want to have it — the whole thing — and be happy about it, you know? I want to enjoy the sugar-sweet fluffiness of it, and move the sprinkles against my tongue and ENJOY that damn cupcake.
Life is just too short to deny yourself the little things that make you happy, especially if those things are frosted gourmet cupcakes. It won’t solve all my body issues in one fell swoop, but it will make me happy enough that I’ll forget for a little while.