What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
A lot of things bum me out -- vending machines accepting exact change only; bras whose underwire gives up the ghost too soon, but not before stabbing my tender pit-meats; walking into leftover fart in a revolving door -- but nothing bums me out the way dieting does.
Sure, there can be the initial flutter of excitement that comes with buying the new permissible food, getting the hang of the new routine -- be it recording the calories, the points, the carbs. But when the novelty ebbs, it leaves inside me a feeling of leaden unhappiness. Also hunger.
I’ve dieted, in one form or another, since I was 12. I don’t remember ever thinking my body was OK. I went from not thinking about it at all to running to my mother, tears in my eyes, at the development of the livid red stretch mark etching my inner thighs. It can’t be easy to be a mom, and being a mom to a little girl and watching her struggle and fail to accept herself, mimicking your own patterns in relation to food and her body as my mother had to do, must be a special brand of heartbreaking.
I went to a nutritionist before I was a teenager. I stepped onto the accommodating scale and started down at my belly, ignoring the flashing red number. Just two rolls, I thought, I have just two rolls, that’s not so bad, I can get rid of two rolls. I watched my friends leave half-eaten cookies, thinking, “How can they do that?” To me, unfinished confection remains one of life’s greatest mysteries.
I joined the swim team because at the end of the week I could reward myself with a package of Now and Laters. I made the snacks and foods I enjoyed rewards for physical activity, putting everything from chocolate bars to mashed potatoes on a pedestal. I counted calories and stepped onto the Stairmaster with whatever book I was reading.
I’d think about how when I was skinny, everything would be different. I lost weight and gained weight and lost weight and gained weight, but any change in my life that happened didn’t coincide with there being less of me. I continued climbing imaginary stairs, directing montages about a big romance and a skinny me set to the music of Alanis Morissette. So in other words, I continued to bork my relationships with food, my body and reality.
Even as the pounds came off my still-developing body, I was unhappy. This article discusses how changing your diet drastically -- restricting fat and sugar -- actually create symptoms of withdrawal, which affect your dopamine levels, making you edgy, emotional, and angry. You know, LIKE A DRUG ADDICT. It’s a parallel people have made before -- and while the similarities are there, here’s the big difference: you need food to live. There is no telling yourself that once you get through withdrawal it will be the last time -- you have to eat food forever.
So in addition to contending with my self-worth issues, and the complex societal messaging branded into my tiny brain at so young an age, I was actually making shit even harder for myself, perpetuating a cycle that ensured total, permanent misery. Ashamed Becca, Happy Becca, Dieting Becca, Giving Up Becca, Happy Becca, Ashamed Becca, Dieting Becca -- it is like a carousel where they give you free funnel cake and then speed shit up until it’s so out of hand that the free funnel cake makes a second appearance. I call this the carousel of suck.
It didn’t occur to me that my unhappiness might not rest with how I looked, but in how I was living until -- this July?
But it’s not like it was an overnight revelation -- it was 17 years of restriction, self-castigation and shaaaame. I think the biggest myth about dieting is that when you achieve whatever pound-goal you have set in your head, your life will have changed for the better. To be smaller, to reduce yourself means you’ll be able to attract the sort of romantic partner you want, you’ll get the sort of job you deserve, you’ll just be more innately happy.
But the thing is, that’s hokum. The thing you get when you lose weight is a different number on a scale. That number isn’t good or bad. That number has no real power at all other than what we assign it. Most of us can assign it enough power that I’m surprised the damn scale doesn’t bellow, “TEN POINTS HUFFLEPUFF!” every time someone steps upon it.
Realizing this, fully realizing it, and then recognizing it to be true every day is harder than anything I have ever done and I am not always successful. But the flip side of that coin is that these days -- at almost 30 -- I’m happier than I have been in a long time, because the things I used to assume were only fixable by banishing my boobs, my hips (which seldom, if ever, lie) and my butt, I’ve started tackling in other ways.
I’ve sort of had to accept that I am never going to be one of those people who is all, “This Baby Ruth is toooo rich.” I’m always going to think about food I’m eating whenever I eat it, but it doesn’t have to be in the combative self-destructive I used to.
What I’m saying is, I’ll finish that Baby Ruth for you -- happily.