My office has just launched a brand new weight loss incentive that involves losing weight to contribute money for charity -- a program that is no doubt meant to capitalize on a persistent culture of pursuing "healthy habits" more than ever upon the arrival of the New Year.
While participation is not mandatory (thank god), its presence has made a discernible impact around the office.
My co-workers are all on various diets, discussing cleanses, detailing their personal workouts and exercises even more than they usually do (which is, to be honest, quite often), and I suspect this chatter will continue to heighten as the weight loss program continues through the end of the month.
Meanwhile, I am internally screaming with frustration from not being able to escape an environment that seems hell-bent on skewing my self-perception, hoping to god I don’t break in favor of pursuing a weight loss mission that I know will fuck me over -- because it already has, countless times in the past.
I've spent a hell of a lot of time and effort trying to break myself of the weight-loss mentality that has been driven into my skull, while the world around me insists that pursuing weight loss is exactly what I should be doing.
I've battled disordered eating, yo-yo dieting, and fitness regimes that fell more under the umbrella of "punishment" than anything else. After years of crashing and burning, never achieving the "body I wanted" and seemingly forever trapped in a cycle of self-hate, I eventually found an escape in learning about Health at Every Size and other body-positive ways of pursuing health and wellness.
I began to think of exercise as "moving my body" in ways that make me happy rather than torturing it into submission. I learned how to eat food intuitively rather than obsessively counting calories and heavily restricting myself. I stopped pursuing a level of health dictated by others and started defining what "health" means to me and why.
Above all else, I resolved to stop being so hard on myself and start listening to my body. It was time to start treating myself the way I ought to be treated -- the way I should have been treating myself all along.
These ways of thinking have ultimately made me a much happier, healthier person than I ever was while pursuing weight loss -- but as someone who also struggles with depression and anxiety, it is a constant battle not to relapse into old habits.
It involves sitting for hours on end, trying to will myself to get in the car and drive to the grocery store to buy nutritious foods for the week.
In the event that I actually make it out the door, half the time my anxiety and fear of the kind of judgment that comes with food shopping will impede my ability to leave the driveway and I’ll return to my kitchen to comb through my cupboards, making do with what I have at hand -- pasta, oatmeal, tea, canned or frozen food -- the things that keep. Or nothing.
In the event that I do leave the driveway, my fear will sometimes guide me into a drive-thru in order to avoid extensive human interaction.
My anxieties take advantage of impulse. I think, “Here is an easy way to sustain myself that doesn’t involve being subjected to the gaze of others,” and seize it automatically.
During the times I finally make it to the grocery store, I make a beeline to the essentials. A lifetime of food-shopping experience as a fat person tells me that making eye contact with anyone could warrant unwanted and judgmental comments from other shoppers, so I keep my head down and my eyes on the prices. I struggle to keep from looking at labels and numbers, calories and sugar content, in an attempt to restrain the damaging diet mentality I’ve tried so hard to overcome.
I aim to shop for the week but end up shopping for only a handful of days, rushing myself through self-checkout before I can consider anything too carefully.
Filling more than a small grocery basket means going through the checkout line with an actual person scanning my food choices who may feel entitled enough to make comments on my purchases as they fly past the scanner.
Oh, these are so good! I wish I could eat them, but I’ve been watching my figure.”
Oh, really? Are you insinuating that I should be?
Look at all this food! Having a party?”
Nope, shopping for one, but thanks for making me feel as though I ought to be putting some of this back. I really appreciate your ability to inadvertently make me second-guess my food choices.
Ice cream and wine? Gee, you must be having a hard week.”
Please, kindly fuck right off.
When I am in a better mental place, I tend to record the things I consume. Not like I used to (as a method of punishment to be sure I’m keeping to arbitrary restrictions) but as a reminder to myself that on the whole, the food I eat is quite varied. That while I sometimes default to quick food fixes to appease my anxieties, the times I don’t are enough to create a nutritional balance that pleases me.
But I've realized that I go through phases where I seem to relapse and test my hunger like I used to, especially when I feel pressured to entertain the pursuit of weight loss once more. Most frequently around the holidays and after the New Year. NOW.
What others choose to eat or not eat is none of my concern. I literally could not give a shit less about your fruitless, sugarless diet or your sudden drop in weight as a reward for abstaining from indulgence. But you make it my concern when you proclaim these things out loud with pride, as if expecting a badge of honor, without considering the consequences of your words or how they may impact those around you.
By all means, enjoy the pride you feel in your personal food choices and physical changes. I wish you happiness in your weight loss pursuits -- a happiness that I never had the privilege of experiencing. Instead, dieting mixed with my mental illness in a way that would have surely destroyed me had I not found the strength to fight against it.
I firmly recognize that my experience is not yours and I respect your right to restrict your eating habits and keep track of your weight.
Honestly, I do.
Just don't expect to get a "well done" from me when you go on about how much weight you've lost, how you've dropped a dress size, or started a new fitness DVD with a scary, shiny-muscled dudebro flexing on the cover.
I'll be too busy trying to remind myself of what is true to me: that your methods are not the solution to my madness.