Thin won’t give you happy. It doesn’t have that kind of power.
But you do.
So, here’s the deal. When I started this I’m-done-with-dieting-I’m-worth-more-than-the-size-of-my-body-I-want-to-love-myself-for-who-I-am journey, I was 150% on board. I was pumped. I was going to kick all this crap to the curb and live a free, fantastic life and never look back.
When I started this journey, I was also the thinnest I had been in years. While I was feeling some (kinda-sorta) confidence in the way I looked, it required all, I mean ALL, of my energy to maintain that look. It required obsessive exercise. If I missed a day, I would freak out. I figured out how to exercise on vacations. And if I couldn’t, I ate less. I had to exercise no matter what. The lovely outcome of this was an injury (that I ignored for months) and am now paying for.
It required counting every calorie I consumed. And the amount of calories I was allowed to consume kept getting smaller and smaller. It started out at 1200. Then a good day was 1000. Then I was really rocking it if I could make it through the day on 800-900 calories. It was a full time job. I would calculate– on paper, in my head, on the computer– the same calories all throughout the day. Over and over and over. I would be having conversations with people and in the back of my mind be re-tallying (again) my calories for the day. Could I have more? Did I eat too many? So if I ever had a conversation with you during this time, I apologize. I was not all there. You can also probably guess that this calorie-containing process also required that I be hungry ALL THE TIME.
It required supplements that made me break into a sweat, made my heart race, and made me feel like I was going to puke. This actually got kind of scary. Fortunately, there was some wise place in me that started to scream, “What the hell are you doing to yourself?? Is this worth a heart-attack???” The fact that it still took me a while to stop taking them is, well, frightening. And disturbing.
It required obsessively measuring myself every single day to make sure I hadn’t gotten bigger. And, since I’m being honest, I might as well go all in. I would measure myself 2, 8, 10, I don’t know how many times in-a-row, to make sure I hadn’t misread the tape measure. I know. Like I was going to actually “misread” the tape measure.
Side note here. I quit weighing myself years ago when I first tried to quit dieting, because I was totally obsessed with the number. It made me have a good or bad day– it defined me as a good or bad person– depending on whether the number went down (good) or up (bad). When I fell back down the dieting vortex, I thought I was being smart and clever by continuing to not weigh myself. Of course, I couldn’t tell for sure how I was doing and I started to panic a bit. What if I’m not actually getting skinnier? What if I’m deluding myself? Enter The Measuring Tape. It was blue. Just a regular old sewing measuring tape. It was super good at helping me determine my worth for the day. Because that is the power I gave it. Might as well have been a scale. It’s the same difference.
Anyway, if you have seen any of my other blog posts, you already know that I didn’t maintain that size. I gained weight. I gained weight when I quit dieting like an addict and exercising like a maniac. And that is when all my gung-ho love-myself-no-matter-what attitude started to take a nosedive. The “easy” (and societally approved) answer to this nosedive is to say that if I just hadn’t gained weight, if I had just maintained, I would have been fine. Problem solved. But did you read the first few paragraphs? That was not fine. Not even close.
No. The problem and the answer are actually pretty complex. The problem was not what size I was. The problem was what I had made size mean. I didn’t see gaining weight for what it was– just a natural, biological process in response to starving. Gaining weight, for me, was a catastrophic failure. It didn’t just mean I wasn’t skinny anymore. It meant I wasn’t any of the things I had convinced myself skinny meant. And, conversely, I was now all of the things I had convinced myself being fat meant. (I will use the word “fat” here because it is the most generally accepted word in the body positive world.)
Here’s what I mean about, well, meaning. You’ve probably heard people talk about how it’s not the “thing” (whatever that thing is) that happens that has any actual, intrinsic significance. It’s what meaning we personally give that thing that gives it it’s value, that makes it a good or bad thing. It’s kind of like “the glass is half-full vs. the glass is half-empty” concept– we determine what it is we actually see or experience. Make sense? I hope so. Because understanding this concept is the answer to the problem identified above.
My mentor, Isabel Foxen Duke (find more about her awesomeness here) talks about this concept in relation to weight. She talks about how no one cares about weight in a vacuum. What she means by this is that we don’t really care about weight for weight’s sake. I mean, think about it. If you were all alone on this earth, would you care one hoot about what you weighed? Would the most important driving force in your life be the all-powerful calorie? Would you be working out all the time with the intent to try and force your body to look a certain way? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the vast majority of us would answer “no” to all of these questions. They would fall into the category of, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” We only care about how we look (thin or fat) and our weight because of what we make weight mean. Allow me to demonstrate.
One of the assignments she gave me when I was working with her was to make a list of what I associated with being thin and what I associated with being fat. It was essentially a list of the meaning I had assigned to fat and thin. Here is the list I sent her. Embarrassingly unedited. Ughhh. Here you go…
Thin is: smart, capable, healthy, grounded, confident, sexy, successful, worry-free, impressive, totally zen, tons of energy, happy all the time, not bothered by anything, better belly dancer, better at pole dancing, care-free…
Fat is: unhappy, unattractive, not good enough, failure, tired, lazy, quitter, uncomfortable in my skin, no confidence, depressed, anxious, pathetic, settling, can’t ever be happy, definitely not sexy, not a good dancer (not pretty to watch), too heavy for pole (embarrassing), disgusting…
Ok. So the first thing I want to say is that I am painfully aware that this is a sad and, even more importantly, an unkind list. And I am ashamed to admit that this is what I thought. Because what it shows you are what my own stereotypes and judgments were. Not super proud of this.
But as mortifying as confronting my own biases has been, it has also been a reality wake-up call. What it did was shine a light on who I wanted to be and how I wanted to feel, as well as on who I didn’t want to be and how I definitely did not want to feel. And, the truth is, that light really just illuminated all kinds of crazy (or irrational thinking, if you want to be more precise). It did. Seriously. Did you really take in what those lists were saying? I had decided that if I was thin, it would mean I could/would finally be “successful…totally zen…happy all the time…not bothered by anything.” Not one of those things has anything to do with the size of a body! Not only that, but “happy all the time” and “not bothered by anything” don’t even really exist! That is not how life works, no matter what the storybook (or our delusional society) says. But that is the message we are given. That is the message we are sold, day in and day out. Thin=happy.
Unfortunately, you are then stuck with the flip-side of this horrible equation. Fat=miserable. But here’s where I get real, y’all. (Does that make me sound tough? I’m not sure I can pull it off…) You know that list of what I made fat mean? Failure, not good enough, unhappy, anxious, pathetic, unattractive? Drum roll, please… I felt that way when I was skinny. I felt that way when I started this I’m-done-with-dieting-I’m-worth-more-than-the-size-of-my-body-I-want-to-love-myself-for-who-I-am journey. That’s why I wanted to do it in the first place. I was miserable. I felt horrible about myself. I felt like a failure. I was unhappy with the way I was living my life. Are you hearing this? I was thin and…UNHAPPY.
The reality is that thin and fat are simply descriptive words relating the the size and shape of a body. That’s it. Dictionary.com defines thin as: having little flesh; spare; lean. It defines fat as: corpulent (large or bulky of body); plump; well-fed. That’s it. Nowhere in those definitions do the words successful, failure, attractive, unhappy, or totally zen come up. Not even once.
So, ultimately, when I started this journey, what I wanted was what I thought thin meant. When I started this journey, I was thin and I felt like what I thought fat meant. That’s the take-away here. When I start to feel like I need to be thinner, what I am really feeling is the desire to feel happier, more relaxed, more engaged in life– like I’m rocking it. But thin will never give that to me. It doesn’t have the power. Only I do. When I’m feeling like I need to be thinner, that is my wake-up call to make sure I am doing the things I am probably not doing at that point. It is my wake-up call to do the things in my life that bring me joy, that give me a sense of accomplishment, that help me feel grounded. And maybe even help me feel a little bit zen :o)
PS This is what happened to the measuring tape ;o)