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The Fat-Positive Diet

Scale 3How do you be a fat-positive feminist who’s losing weight?

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to turn into a diet blog. I’d rather hit myself on the hand with hammers. But this thing has been happening with me: it’s kind of a big effing deal for me, and I think it may be of interest to my readers. So although I’m finding myself with an uncharacteristic reluctance to talk about something this personal, I’ve decided to take the plunge.

I am, as anyone who knows me or has seen photos of me knows, fat. I have been fat for a long time, and have been more or less okay with it for a long time. My attitude towards my fatness has largely been shaped by the feminist fat-positive movement: I wasn’t going to make myself miserable trying to force my body into the mainstream image of ideal female beauty, and I was instead going to work on being as healthy as I could be — eating well, exercising, reducing stress, etc. — at the weight that I already was.

But a few months ago, my bad knee started getting worse. I’ve had a bad knee for a long time (I blew it out doing the polka and it’s never been the same since); but as bad knees go, it wasn’t that bad. I had to be careful getting in and out of cars; I had bad days when I had to rest it; I had to quit doing the polka. No big deal. I can live a rich, full life being careful getting in and out of cars and not doing the polka.

But a few months ago, it started getting worse. Like, having trouble climbing hills and stairs worse.

Lombard streetThat was not okay. I live in San Francisco. I need to be able to climb hills and stairs. And I know about knees. They don’t get better. I could see the writing on the wall: I knew that if I didn’t take action, my mobility would just get worse and worse with time. I could easily lose more than just stairs and hills. I could lose dancing. Fucking. Long walks. Walking at all.

Short of surgery, there’s really only one thing you can do for a bad knee that I wasn’t already doing.

And that’s to lose weight.

How do you be a fat-positive feminist who’s losing weight?

Fat!so?It’s really hard not to feel like a traitor about this. When I reach a benchmark in my weight loss and get all excited and proud, or when someone compliments me on how good I look now and I get a little self-esteem-boosting thrill, it’s hard not to feel like a traitor to my feminist roots, and to the fat women who fought so hard to liberate me from the rigid and narrow social constructs of female beauty.

And even apart from feeling like a traitor, there are about eighty million emotional traps along the way: traps that threaten to upend years of hard mental health work spent learning to love myself the way I am.

For starters: I know that weight loss typically fails about 90% of the time. So far this weight loss thing is working; but I’ve only been at it for a couple of months, and I know that in the long run, it could easily fail. And if this fails, then I get to feel like… well, like a failure. I get to be back at Square One, with my bad knee and everything — but without the emotional supports I built up during my “Fuck You, Body Fascists” anti- dieting years.

But if I’m one of the 10% that succeeds… well, then I feel like an idiot for having whined about it for so long, and for not having done this sooner. (I’m already feeling like that now. In a purely practical sense, this has been easier than I’d thought it would be, and so now I’m feeling like a jackass for having insisted all these years that it was all but impossible.)

And if I am successful, the last thing in the world I want to do is get all smug and judgmental about how easy it was and how if I can do it, anyone can. If there’s anything I hate, it’s when people who’ve lost weight (or never gained it) get smug and judgmental about how if they can do it, anyone can. (I’m looking at you, Dan Savage.) That is a huge, ugly trap, and it’s one I’m desperate to avoid.

Voa_Guinea_chimpanzee_picking_30jan08Plus, it’s so hard to let go of thinking that food and the appetite for it should be “natural.” I mean, it’s food. It’s one of the oldest, deepest instincts we have. (Reproducing and escaping from predators also leap to mind.) The fact that I can’t just “eat naturally,” the fact that I have to pay careful, conscious attention to everything I eat and when… it’s hard not to see that as a failure of character.

And as much as I want my weight loss to purely be about my health, the reality is that, now that I’m in the process, it’s become more about my appearance than I’d like. I really don’t want that: I find it politically troubling and emotionally toxic, and I think in the long run it’ll undermine what I’m trying to do. But it’s hard. As much as I like to think of myself as a free-spirited, convention- defying rebel, the reality is that I’m a social animal, and social animals care about what other animals think of them. And since I’m non-monogamous, I have to be aware of the realities of the sexual economy… and the reality of the sexual economy is that I’ll almost certainly get more action and attention as I lose weight. I dearly wish I didn’t care about that, but I do.

Scale 5In case you’re curious: So far, I’ve been successful. As of this writing, I’ve lost 20 pounds in two and a half months. And in case you’re curious, I don’t have any great secret to my so-far success. Counting calories; keeping a food diary; regular exercise; patience. Absurdly simple in theory. In practice, it’s been a fucking minefield, especially at the beginning: crying fits in grocery store parking lots, heavy conversations with family and friends, planning that at times borders on obsessive compulsive, a painful and complicated emotional dance every time I have dinner with friends or eat out, and way more processing with Ingrid than I ever wanted to have to go through. (And I don’t even get to call this a success yet. 90% of people who lose weight gain it back within a year; so until I’ve lost all the weight I want and have kept it off for a year, I don’t get to relax and think of this as a win. And to some extent, I’ll never get to completely relax: I’ll probably have to do some form of calorie- counting and weight management for the rest of my life.)

But it is getting easier with time, as I get more and more used to my new eating habits. It’s getting physically easier: for the first week or two, 1800 calories a day just didn’t make me feel full, and I was cranky on good days and despairing on bad ones. Now 1800 calories feels like plenty, as my body has adjusted its sense of how much food is enough. And it’s gotten easier mentally as well, as I’ve found some strategies — emotional, psychological, practical strategies — that so far have helped.

Origin-of-speciesIt’s helped to remember that my appetites and instincts about food evolved about 100,000 years ago on the African savannah, in an environment of scarcity. The taste for sweets and fats; the tendency to gorge when I’m hungry; the impulse to keep on eating even after I’ve had enough; the triggers that make me hungry when I see or smell food… that’s not weakness or moral failure. That’s millions of years of evolution at work: evolution that hasn’t had time to catch up with the modern American food landscape. And as a rationalist and a skeptic, in the same way that I’m not going to let myself believe in deities just because evolution has wired my brain to see patterns and intentions even where none exist, I’m not going to let myself eat three brownies at a party just because evolution has wired my brain to think I might starve to death if I don’t.

Chocolate chip pancakes and sausage on a stickIt’s helped for me to think of this as a political issue. It helps to remember that the multinational food corporations have spent decades carefully studying the abovementioned evolutionary food triggers, so they can manipulate me into buying and eating way more food than is good for me. It helps to think of weight loss, not as giving in to the mainstream cultural standards of female beauty, but as sending a big “Fuck You” to the purveyors of quadruple- patty hamburgers and Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick.

It’s helped for me to remember that my other “natural” impulses aren’t so natural, either. It’s worked for me to remember that as a non-monogamist, I have to think carefully about who to have sex with and when; that as a city dweller, I have to think consciously about whether I’m genuinely in danger or am just being paranoid (or conversely, whether I’m genuinely safe or am just being oblivious). Food is no different. It’s “natural” for humans to be rational animals, and to think about our choices instead of just reacting.

Doing this with Ingrid has been a huge help. Being able to support each other, encourage each other, plan meals together, share strategies, vent… it’s been invaluable. I don’t know if the people studying weight loss have looked at whether it’s more effective to do it with a partner or friend… but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

Lose it ihpone appKeeping a food diary has helped enormously. It helps in the obvious way: that’s how I keep track of my calories. But more than that, it helps me be more mindful and present about how I eat. I’m a lot less likely to run to the corner and get a Snickers bar if I know I have to write it in my journal. (If you have an iPhone, btw, there’s a wicked cool calorie- counting app called LoseIt. I can’t tell you how much easier it’s made this process. If you don’t, though, not to worry: the Interweb has made calorie- counting a relative breeze.)

It helps to think of this as a permanent lifestyle change. It’s hard, but it helps. If I think of this as something I’ll just have to do once and will then be finished with… well, that wouldn’t just make this harder to sustain in the long run. It’d also make it harder in the short run: easier to blow it off for a day, and then another day, since all I’d be doing is postponing my “final” goal by a day or two. Thinking of this as “This is just how I eat now” makes it easier to keep it up.

It helped a lot to get a sane calorie count from my medical provider that took into account how much exercise I get. (As much as I love my little LoseIt iPhone app, if I’d have gotten my daily calorie count from that, it would have been way too low… since the gizmo apparently assumes that anyone using their program is about as active as a recently- fed boa constrictor.)

It helps to avoid using moral language about weight loss: to avoid thinking of “cheating” on my diet, “forbidden” foods, etc. It’s hard enough to not eat the things I’m trying not to eat, without making them seem more attractive because they’re naughty and wicked.

In defense of foodIt helps to eat real food… and to avoid “diet” food like the plague. No diet shakes, no power bars, no lowfat cardboard cookies from the industrialized food industry. Fruit, vegetables, bread, meat, rice, beans… that sort of thing. I don’t even eat lowfat cheese. I’d rather just eat regular cheese, and eat less of it.

It helps to eat slowly. Partly because it gives the “fullness” trigger in my brain time to catch up with my stomach… but partly because I get more pleasure from my food, and don’t feel deprived. And it helps to eat smaller meals more frequently: since I never get all that hungry, I can make smarter and more conscious choices about what to eat.

Measuring cups spoonsIt helps to measure my food, as much as I can. For calorie counting, it’s pretty much essential. My instincts about what constituted a cup of soup or a teaspoon of butter were way, way off. I don’t whip out the cup measure when I eat out, obviously… but I almost always do it at home, and since I’ve been doing it, my estimates on portion size when I do eat out have gotten a lot better.

It’s helped to break down my ultimate long-term goal into smaller, more manageable goals. When my health care provider told me I should lose 60 pounds to be at my maximum good health, I just about gave up in despair right then. Instead, I decided to fuck that noise, I was simply going to lose 20 pounds… and then I’d see how I felt, and how hard it was, and whether I wanted to continue or stay put. I am now shooting for another 20 pounds… and when that’s gone, I’ll once again re-evaluate and decide whether or not I want to keep going, and how far.

It’s helped to make incremental, non-drastic changes in my eating and my exercise. I think this is what trips up a lot of people who are trying to lose weight: they want to become health- obsessed gym bunnies overnight, and when that’s too hard, they give up. It helped instead to add one workout a week to what I was already doing… and then, when I got used to that, to add one more.

And on a related topic: It’s helped to be aware that weight loss can happen in fits and starts: there are natural fluctuations, with some weeks where I lose a lot and others where I don’t or even gain a little. One of my big hysterical grocery-store crying fits came early on in my program, during a week where I gained weight… and it took Ingrid forever to convince me that this didn’t necessarily mean I was doing something wrong, or that I had to make an already difficult weight-loss program even more strenuous. But she was right. It makes much more sense to keep my focus on the big picture, the overall arc. If I gain half a pound a week three weeks in a row, then I might decide that I need to step things up. But if I gain half a pound one week, I’m not going to decide that what I’m doing isn’t working. I’m just going to stick with it.

DumbbellIt’s helped for me to find exercise that I love doing. I am now doing bicep curls with 20 lb. dumbbells. I feel like a fucking Amazon goddess. Weightlifting rules.

It’s helped for me to do some sort of exercise almost every day. It’s not just that I burn more calories that way. It’s that it makes exercise into a normal part of my daily life: not a special thing I do a couple times a week and can blow off if I’m not in the mood, but an everyday routine like brushing my teeth.

When I’m not in the mood to exercise, it helps to remember that I never, ever, ever have been sorry that I worked out. Ever. No matter how crummy I felt when I started, I have always felt better afterwards.

Going to the gym helps. It’s not absolutely necessary; if you can’t afford a gym membership, you can get good exercise without one. But for me, the gym has been a lifesaver. The thing about the gym is it takes minimal willpower. All I need is the willpower to get in the car and get my ass to the gym. Once I’m there, of course I’m going to work out. I mean, what else am I going to do?

But it’s also helped to have some exercise equipment at home. Nothing fancy or expensive: some dumbbells, a stability ball, a resistance band, a mat. Having exercise equipment at home means I can easily do at least a little exercise every day, even if I can’t get to the gym. And that’s helped turn it into a regular part of my daily life, like brushing my teeth.

It’s helped to get a trainer. (Hi, Marta! We love you.)

Autumn_Red_peachesIt’s helped for me to to find healthy foods that I love. (Summer fruit season has made this so much easier: I can eat peaches and cherries and strawberries for months and never get tired of them.)

Dynamo donutAnd it’s helped to not be a purist: to eat the occasional cheeseburger, the occasional barbecued ribs, the occasional donut. I have to budget my day’s calories for it (or else budget for the occasional day when I don’t worry about it). But thinking, “I can never have another donut again as long as I live” would make this intolerable. Thinking, “I can have a donut today if I have a light dinner” makes this do-able. An entertaining challenge, even. Like my food for the day is a puzzle, and I’m trying to get all the pieces to fit together.

Knee jointFinally, more than anything else, it helps me to remember my knee. It helps to notice how much better my knee already feels now that I’ve lost the 20 pounds: to notice that I’m climbing stairs and hills again, with little or no problem. It helps to think of how much better my knee will feel when I lose another 20, and then another. It helps to pick up the 20 lb. dumbbells at the gym and think about how rough it would be on my knees to walk around carrying them all day… and how much better it would feel to set them down. It helps to think that I might even be able to do the polka again someday. And when I start thinking that this weight loss thing isn’t that big a deal and I can have that ice cream if I want it, it helps to imagine my old age, and to think about whether I want to be spending it dancing, walking in the woods, exploring new cities, on my knees committing unspeakable sexual acts… or sitting on a sofa watching TV and waiting to die.

There’s something Ingrid has said about this, something that’s really stuck with me. She’s pointed out that if I were diabetic or something, and I was told I had to change my eating habits in order to stay alive… I’d do it. I might gripe about it, but I’d manage, and I’d even find a way to enjoy it if I could.

Well, the reality isn’t that far off. I have a choice between a good shot at a healthy, active, pleasurable middle and old age… and a long, steady decline into a vicious circle of inactivity and ill health. I am, as the old ’80s T-shirts used to say, choosing life.

So that’s what’s working for me. If you’re doing this as well: What’s working for you?

Important note: I am most emphatically NOT looking for diet tips. Anyone who offers diet tips will be banned from this blog. I am only partially kidding. I already know the mechanics of what I need to do: count calories, keep a food journal, exercise regularly, be patient. Rocket science.

What I’m looking for is psychological tips. Ways of walking through the emotional minefield. Ways of framing this that make it more sustainable. Ways of answering the question:

How do you be a fat-positive feminist who’s losing weight?

And for that matter, how do you be a fat-positive skeptic?

(To be completed in tomorrow’s post.)

Comments

  1. says

    I’m with you all the way. Another fat positive feminist, now in my 40s, tackling weight issues. I went from 235 to 165 pretty easily but wasn’t able to keep it off. I’m now back at the halfway mark, trying again. I have a love/hate relationship with the praise that comes with losing weight. It’s a tough battle.

  2. DSimon says

    Thinking, “I can have a donut today if I have a light dinner” makes this do-able. An entertaining challenge, even. Like my food for the day is a puzzle, and I’m trying to get all the pieces to fit together.

    This, this, and more this. Making work into a game (provided it’s a well-designed game) is the best way to reduce drudgery and annoyance.
    Although I hate Weight Watchers as a company, I have to admit that their calorie counter game is neat. You save up “points” by eating healthier food, and can then spend them as you please later on to eat snacks. It’s largely the same thing you described doing with the occasional donut, but making it something formal and earned can add to the feeling of accomplishment.
    The same concept can apply to other everyday obnoxiousnesses too, such as with Chore Wars. That link is worth clicking on only for the entertaining splash screen featuring orcs with recyclables and wizards with Windex bottles.

  3. Charlie says

    I need to manage my food pretty carefully in order to regulate my blood sugar. One thing that has helped me is to frame it as “I choose to not eat that” rather than “I can’t eat that.” I’ve found that when I think of it as an externally-derived limit, I’m more tempted to cross it. When I think of it as my choice, it’s a lot easier.
    I also make room for indulgences, but I always make sure that the treat will be worth the cost. If I eat sugar, I usually end up craving more sugar for 2-3 days. So a Hershey Bar isn’t worth it, but a piece of a really amazing chocolate cake might be.

  4. sav says

    Anyone, no matter their size, can be fat positive by not condemning, making assumptions about, or judging people who are fat. That’s one way we can all be fat-positive feminists.
    The first time I lost a lot of weight, it was about health. Now I’m doing the same again, and it’s also for health.
    I’m older now. That’s reality. I was sick and tired of feeling tired all the time, and I was having RSI problems because of the work I do. Also, my doctor said I needed to lower my cholesterol.
    This shit just happens as we get older. Our bodies do not work like they used to. We need to maintain them so we can remain as independent as possible. I don’t want my kids to take care of me. I want to take care of myself.
    So that’s how I approach weight loss and eating. I’m not 20 anymore. I do it to feel good and to spare the people around me from having to deal with a cranky asshole because I feel like shit. (I’m not saying fat people feel like shit. I’m saying I did, and not just because of my weight, but because I didn’t exercise as much as I should.)
    When you exercise and eat mostly healthy things, I’d say nine times out of ten, the weight just comes off, or at least some does.
    Also, there are foods I will never stop enjoying: pizza, beer, ice cream, chocolate.

  5. says

    Funny, I just wrote a blog entry about this. I’m really into fat-positivity and HAES (although I myself am just on the border between normal and overweight right now), but the doctor just told me that I have high blood pressure and have to make some lifestyle changes. I’m trying to frame this in a very positive way for myself–this is a thing I’m going to do out of bodily love, not bodily hate. Congrats, similarly, for taking care of your body.

  6. says

    It seems to me there’s a distinction between being (your term) fat positive versus enabling of extremism on either side of the debate.
    You’re doing something to improve your likelihood of having a longer, more active and more healthy life.
    That does not reflect as a judgment on anyone else’s life, whether they’re 50 lbs. “over” weight … or 50 lbs. “under”.
    It almost seems to me like you’re overthinking the entire issue. How about backing off on all matters weight related for a while and living without having to charge every choice or decision you make with intention or ramifications?

  7. Solar Hero says

    Greta, I love you for daring to write, here publicly, about such things. It is inspiring.
    I am pretty sure I’ve seen you at some event/reading or whatever, and I think you are hot, I mean, sexually attractive. Now for me sex is imaginative, and I give my imagination full sway. That imagination is doing its work right now, while reading your post, thinking about you, you a little leaner. I get sexually aroused by this. It sure does not seem to be false consciousness or theistic behavior to me, but there I am, also “buying into” stereotypes.
    But I’m not sure, some people should be plumper, I imagine…

  8. says

    Wow, Greta, this is fantastic stuff. I am struggling with very similar problems. I actually lost 15kg, kept 12kg of it off for 3 years, but it’s all back now. And freakily validating the setpoint theory, it is back to EXACTLY THE SAME as before I started. To within 200g (half a pound).
    I do want to make it go away again, both for health reasons and shallower appearance reasons. And I have hopes that I can, because the regain came with two largish changes to my lifestyle which entailed more food and less exercise. If I can only readjust the balance…
    I do have a couple of tips. One is small – another fat positive weight loss blog that I follow desultorily is http://attrice.wordpress.com/
    The second is perilously close to being a “diet tip”, but I’m going to risk it anyway. Please please please just delete this comment, and not me, if you think I’ve gone too far!
    It’s about the dreaded “plateau” phase. There’s an Australian scientist Dr Amanda Sainsbury-Salis who researches the biochemistry of weight loss and her theory is that a weight setpoint exists, but can be shifted given time. Crucially, when you get to a plateau and start to feel super-starving: eat whatever your body is telling you that you want. This is about helping your metabolism to realise that you are not in fact in a famine and needing to conserve as much as possible. She has a popular book called the Don’t Go Hungry Diet which I do recommend reading. It’s largely advocating intuitive eating and HAES – though she does this as tools to weight loss, so it’s rather a mixed bag from the fat positivity point of view. But it makes my inner scientist happy.

  9. jemand says

    I loved this post, as I love all your posts. I think my boyfriend may someday be in your situation, I think he’s *totally hot* the way he is but sometimes he complains about his back. So if he ever decides it bothers him enough to lose weight, I’d be interested in the kinds of support you’re getting, so I could give it to him.
    I was really quite underweight as a teen, once I hit 21 I think my metabolism changed significantly but I’m still only average weight. If my metabolism ever changes again I’ll probably be considered fat. We’ll see if my joints can handle that.
    (I wonder if people who are somewhat chubby as children have stronger joints/can live better with more weight? Do joints grow stronger if constantly stressed while young?)
    and the best response to anyone who suggests weight loss tips is something along the lines of “yeah, and I suppose if I gave myself cholera I’d lose 100 pounds in a week too…” ;)

  10. Dan says

    If you are feeling guilty for losing weight because you feel you have to be “fat positive”, how is that any different from feeling pressured to stay abnormally skinny? You don’t need to justify the decisions you make regarding your own personal health to anyone else.
    I feel like the pendulum often swings a bit too far away from the diet craziness and that the fat positive movement encourages people to remain overweight. There is a happy medium somewhere out there between being overweight to the point where it affects your physical well-being and being so obsessed with staying trim such that it affects your mental well-being.

  11. JustThisGirl says

    This is a fantastic post…It very eloquently expresses a paradox that I think many “feminist,” “progressive,” “whatever,” women feel about the weight they happen to be or want to be. You have the right attitude about the “shallower” aspects of it though. You may enjoy your newfound attention, but you’re wary of the seductive side of enjoying it too much. Bottom line, you can still be fat-positive and choose to lose weight.

  12. says

    I’m fat-positive for other people and have to fight tooth-and-nail to be fat-positive toward myself (which I think is common). Most of the time I lose. My aesthetic preferences for female appearance, while varied, doesn’t include my own body type.
    Above all, I want to eat healthier and do more exercise and feel actively thwarted by variables mostly out of my control right now. This is encouraging for the future in which I am in more control. My main efforts are going to be to not police my eating efforts, but to try for moderation. I enjoy working out, especially with the TV on, and I plan to have an elliptical machine before I have my own sofa. It’s worth it to me, because I greatly miss having that kind of work out.
    The truth is, I’ve hit critical mass. I’ve long since passed clinical obesity (based on fat percentage, not BMI), although my poundage probably wouldn’t phase someone taller than me. It’s gone past the discomfort stage and into problems with my health. My tiny feet that already have and will have problems cannot support my weight during rigorous exercise (hence the elliptical machine, which takes the stress off the arch). My back is beginning to hurt. Circulation to my hands and fingers is getting problematic. I suspect it’s affecting my menstrual cycle. I’m afraid of type II diabetes. Even at my young age.
    All of those are aside from the serious self-image issues surrounding my body as a whole. Therapists have tried to get through my logical illogic, and it hasn’t worked. It always comes back to not liking or sometimes not even recognizing what I see in the mirror. And for the record, not being butch-identified, I don’t appreciate being confused for a teenage boy.
    … Okay, I’m done here. Not even halfway done with my issues, but I’m done here.
    Now for the encouragement for a healthy and happy weight loss toward your necessary goal without feeling pressured into a body type that your body isn’t meant to fit.

  13. says

    Well it might be a bit extreme for you but I’m just back from three weeks of Muay Thai training just outside Bangkok. There’s no way you can avoid losing weight when you’re working out four hours a day, six days a week and sweating out your entire body weight every few minutes. I was there for the training rather than weight loss but came back 4 or 5 kilos lighter anyway :-)

  14. says

    And for that matter, how do you be a fat-positive skeptic?
    I’ve meant to do some thinking on this very issue because it’s one where people seem to have a disconnect between what people think and the rest of their worldview.
    I guess the way I see it is that there are always two issues at hand: the “value” judgement of different body shapes/sizes (including issues of sexuality, attractiveness, pop culture etc etc) and the “health” side of it.
    The problem is that a lot of people conflate the two. On the one side skeptics and people concerned with evidence often let the reality that your body shape affects your health (in a complex way that doesn’t lend itself to sweeping generalisations) spill over into an attitude of seeing people being fat as something intrinsically “sinful” as a thing in itself. Conversely, the motivation of many fat-positive people to avoid passing simplistic and damaging value judgements on the bodies of others spill over into them denying quite conclusive medical evidence.
    Whilst it’s impossible to separate these two threads entirely, being mindful of the distinction is one way I try to keep myself sane. But I haven’t had the chance to think about it enough — maybe I’m missing something else.

  15. B says

    My main diet mantra is ‘You need to eat.’
    As long as I’m going by the hysterical idea that food is sinful, it’s easy to eat the fattening stuff; hung for a sheep as for a lamb. If, on the other hand, I consider eating to be good for me, I get to make choices about what. So I get to choose delicious food that’s full of vegetables and fibre. That way, eating remains a happy thing.
    Another rule I have is ‘Don’t weigh yourself.’ I find it too compulsive. By my tape measure I lost six inches in the last year, but I stayed well away from scales and all the self-hatred they provoked, because they would only have discouraged me.
    Exercise is good. You start feeling fitter much faster than you start looking thinner, and tangible rewards are important for keeping going.
    My main rule is ‘Be emotionally all right.’ I gained a lot of weight because I was going through a seriously bad time; swallowing food was a way of distracting myself from that tight sensation in my throat that was the suppressed desire to cry or scream. Till that was sorted out, I wasn’t okay enough to diet: I had far bigger problems than my weight. If weight gain is a symptom of something being wrong in your life, you need to tackle the cause.

  16. Tara Roberts says

    First, yes many professionals have studied and written about how support and basically having a “buddy” that is also eating/exercising with you makes all the difference in losing and maintaining weight loss.
    My husband and I have been working out together for almost 20 years and it definitely helps keep the motivation going. We are kind of competitive, plus it is unusual for both of us to feel like slacking at the same time.
    My two cents about the fat positive thing; I do not think you have to be fat to be fat positive. I am not gay, but I support and am positive about the gay community. I do not have children, but support good parents….I could go on and on. You are doing something that is right for you, not preaching to anyone else, not condemning anyone else for not making the same decision.
    There is certainly no shame in being proud of how you look (no matter your size.) If losing weight and lifting make you feel stronger and more confident, then that sounds like a good thing to me. I do agree that it can be a slippery slope, but that is where you have to self analyze and maintain your perspective. Good luck on your road of longer, healthier living.

  17. Josie says

    Great timing on this post. I’ve been fighting my weight for the past 2 1/2 years, and while I have lost 75#, a plateau lasting three weeks so far has sapped my determination. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not doing this for my appearance (or the number on the scale), but for my health, and how much better I feel now than I did before.
    Now to log OFF the computer, and go take my walk.

  18. Rebecca says

    This addresses exactly the issues I have had about my own weight loss, particularly my guilt about liking the positive attention so much.
    Another thing you may end up facing (or may already have experienced) is the praise/envy, not for your appearance, but for having been able to do it. Why the hell does one get more praise for losing weight than for getting an advanced degree or a promotion? And when you get that from people who AREN’T fat-positive, who buy into the cultural skinny-is-inherently-better crap, it feels so weird and almost dirty. How do you respond without suggesting you too think skinny is better? “Yes, I’ve lost weight, but I think I also looked great the way I was”?
    The whole thing is such an emotional minefield. But when I’m briskly walking up a hill that used to leave me gasping for breath, it’s worth it.

  19. Anais Starr says

    Hey, I just want to say, good work! A good dissertation, and all points I have pondered myself. Life in this body is an every day thing until it isn’t. Top of the line, love and be happy. I’m happier if I feel better. Got that after a few years of being on this planet in this particular body.
    I support you in the mind-set of maintaining mobility going forward. This is a defining desire that can help support the goal.
    I use EFT (emotional freedom technique: http://emofree.com) to help myself and others with all sorts of physical, emotional, situations-old and new. Recommend it to you and everyone. They have a banner up now about EFT for weight loss, among other issues.
    Once again…good going! And I enjoy your blog very much. Rock on!!

  20. says

    I’ve come across this strange thing a few times – feminism making women feel guilty. Isn’t that just another kind of peer-pressure or oppression? It seems reactionary rather than empowering.
    My wife for example felt guilty when she discovered that she enjoyed cooking much more than her professional career. I told her if it makes her happy she should do it – especially as her healthy food also makes me happy!
    Surely feminism should be saying, “Women can be lawyers, scientists, explorers, astronauts, overweight… but only if they want to be.
    You’re right to focus on what is healthy. Healthy is attractive. I think that’s natural.
    Incidentally, people who find it difficult to gain weight (my sister is one) get very little sympathy/understanding – probably as they are a minority.

  21. Pierre says

    I ate three carrots while reading this post, which I absolutely loved! :-) I have recently reached my “ideal” weight for the fourth time in ten years and this time I’m absolutely determined to keep the weight off! That truly is the hard part. Thanks so much for this post!

  22. David Harmon says

    I feel like an idiot for having whined about it for so long, and for not having done this sooner
    A lot of succeeding at weight loss is simply being ready to do it… having the context (reasons, purposes, etc.) and resources (support, knowledge, etc.) that let you set your will to the task. Before, you weren’t ready. Now, everything has lined up, and you’re ready to do it.
    I’m only about 20-25 pounds heavier than I was in college, but it all seems to be hanging off my belly. And I’m short enough that I was already having trouble finding pants that fit… well, that’s some incentive right there!
    My big problem is that if I try to juggle too much I tend to go into overload and drop everything, and I’ve already got several “issues” on my plate. That said, I’ve been making slow progress on several weight-related fronts — weekly hikes, cooking for myself more, and so on. (Next up: portion control.)

  23. says

    I’m in the same boat. I need to lose weight to relieve the pressure on my knees (and feet, too). Looking better would be nice but at my age that’s not a priority!!!

  24. says

    I want to pass along that I have a phenomenal sports massage therapist who works magic with “bad” knees, backs etc. I’m oversimplifying here because I’m a lay person, but essentially, joints get out of whack and start hurting because the muscles connected to those joints get out of balance. One muscle is weaker than the other and so the joint gets pulled to one side creating pain. He has worked wonders with shoulders for me and knee for my husband. He gives “self-care” (“exercise” for those of you who use the X word) activities that strengthen the muscles that are weaker. He says that as long as the joint has not worn all the way down to where bones are rubbing on bones, that pain can be relieved.

  25. Jack says

    Good for you, Greta. And yes, forget fad diets. It really is all about calories in V calories out, at the end of the day.
    I’m not fat, but once I hit 40 I found that I damned well would be if I didn’t rein in some of my habits which I’d previously been able to get away with. As a young man I’d been one of these fortunate people with a pretty fierce metabolism (although I also played squash and exercised pretty seriously) so my weight was easily managed. Then I blew out an achilles and gave up squash as a result. And I was in my forties. And then I went to live in New York on a high salary. With all those great restaurants. Oh dear…
    Anyway, I dealt with it by getting back to exercise (gym is good; “little but often” is better than “lots but irregular”) and just watching those calories a bit more than I’d previously done. The calorie diary is essential. I started really faithfully counting the calories I ate and weighing myself every day at the same time, to try to get some sense of what was working for me and what wasn’t.
    I learned about low-cal foods and meals that were also tasty and, most importantly, filling! I used mixed grains (quinoa, millet etc) instead of all rice; leafy, bulky veg like kale, escarole and chard can be used in a surprising variety of dishes and, with the aid of lemon juice, herbs, spices, seasoning etc can be really tasty. If you like pasta (and who doesn’t?) you can cut the amount and use low-cal but bulky accompaniments (like the aforementioned leafy veggies) to flesh out the meal without, er, fleshing out yourself!
    There are some great low-cal recipes on epicurious.com and the “Cooking Light” website. Also, this book has some very useful tips for making the calories go further (although the recipes aren’t as inspiring as some of the ones you’ll find on the previously mentioned sites)
    Good luck!

  26. Meagen says

    I have kind of the opposite problem. I stay indoors, sit at the computer all day, eat mostly sugary snacks and the occasional fried meat. I’m thin (thanks to my genes), but I’m not healthy. I have very poor stamina, and a host of minor health problems.
    I know that I should eat more fruit, exercise at least a bit and go outside occasionally, but it’s hard to keep myself motivated. Yes, I’ll probably regret my lifestyle when I get into my fourties, but that’s half a lifetime away. And while “healthy at all weights” communities sound great in theory, I’m afraid of being accused of bragging about my thinness if I join them.

  27. says

    Thank you all so much for your thoughtful responses! A few answers to a few specific comments that have been made so far:
    B: “Another rule I have is ‘Don’t weigh yourself.'” If that works for you, then that’s great. But I will say that, in the research done on the 10% of people who successfully lose weight and keep it off, one of the constants is that they weigh themselves regularly. And it works for me. One of the problems here is that I can’t trust my instincts, since they demonstrably don’t work: I have to rely on external cues. And weighing myself once a week is one of them.
    jemand: “I wonder if people who are somewhat chubby as children have stronger joints/can live better with more weight? Do joints grow stronger if constantly stressed while young?” I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure the answer to that question is an emphatic, “No.” Joints aren’t muscles.
    Cath the Canberra Cook: Don’t worry, you’re fine. That’s not at all what I meant by “diet tips.” (I meant things like, “Have you tried this new modified West Beach diet, where you only eat tangerines and vodka?”) And what you say about plateauing dovetails with some new research, suggesting that if you’re losing a substantial amount of weight, stopping every 20 pounds or so to go on weight maintenance instead of weight loss may help re-set your body’s set point. And I definitely think that, if you’re super-starving, you should eat already. I’d rather go 100 calories over my day’s goal and just figure out how I can plan differently the next day than go to bed hungry.
    Sav: “When you exercise and eat mostly healthy things, I’d say nine times out of ten, the weight just comes off, or at least some does.” Alas, that hasn’t been true for me. When I wasn’t calorie counting etc., when I was just exercising and eating mostly healthy things, I did stop gaining weight… but I didn’t lose it, either.
    I could reply to lots more of you, but I don’t want to hog my own comment thread. Thanks to everybody — I’m getting lots of good ideas, and the support means an enormous amount to me.

  28. Lana says

    Go Greta!
    And go Ingrid who has been so supportive and on track with truly helpful comments.
    Tangerines and vodka? Hm. Sounds tempting. I’d still be fat but I wouldn’t care.

  29. Katie says

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate not only your blog, but you right now.
    I’ve always stuck to my guns about being healthy at the weight I am despite being over weight. I do more physical activity then most of the people I know. But, most of all, I’ve never really cared what people think about me (or have tried not to). However, I recognize that I am indeed overweight, and that it runs in the family and that I am starting to show the signs of being overwiehgt, despite still being a teenager.
    Up until recently I’ve been working out more then ever, watching what I eat and when, and paying special attention to my nutrients (which is doubly necessary as a vegetarian). However, a recent visit to the doctor had me horribly discouraged to find I had not lost but gained, and that I would have to see a specialist about the possibility of my having a hypoactive thyroid. Maybe to some this would come as good news, because it meant that they were doing nothing wrong themselves, and that by taking medicine they could easily drop the weight, but to me the idea was daunting.
    It was a life sentence: a pill a day for the rest of my life.
    At that moment I stopped caring about exercising and eating right. The doctor herself had said that I could be the ‘poster child for diet and exercise’ and it would do little for me. I figured I’d refuse, and go back to being the ‘funny, fat friend’ that I had always been.
    You have convinced me otherwise, though. I have agreed to see the specialist, but until then I am working my ass off (pun intended) to do all I can on my own, because it is possible to be okay with who you are, but still want to change things. And not just want, but need to change things for whatever reason.
    And so I believe that it is very possible to be okay with who you are, but still recognize that it is sometimes good to change things. As for you personally, I hope you realize what an amazing inspiration you are about this issue about the many other issues in the world. Perhaps the knowledge that you have truly inspired many will…well, inspire you yourself to do even better.

  30. Jen says

    I don’t really have any tips for you but I definitely took away a lot from this post. Thanks for that! I live in SF too and I’m trying to lose weight as well. I recently watched the movie “Food, Inc” (it’s playing at Balboa and the Embarcadero) and it inspired me to eat organic and cut out all that processed, synthetic junk. It’s like paying these companies to feed me shit! Ugh. So I’m doing that and I signed up for a couple PE classes at City… I’m trying to have the right mindset when it comes to food. I want only natural, healthy foods because, goddammit, I’m worth it, I’m valuable, why would I taint my body with that stuff?
    Good luck to you! :)

  31. Alyssa says

    When I was a personal trainer, I used to tell my starting-out clients a few things:
    One: Do not tell me you hate your body. No amount of exercise or nutritionally sound eating will work unless you LOVE your body, want to understand it and treat it with respect and kindness.
    Two: Most of my clients START going to the gym because they want to look better, but most of them keep going because it makes them feel better. I cannot tell you how many clients I’ve had who, after losing some weight, stop focusing on that and get really jazzed about how much more energy they have, how much more capable they feel, etc. That was the most rewarding part of the job.
    Three: Leave morality out of it. If you eat something that you think was a poor nutritional choice, try not to say you were “bad,” it is just a poor choice for that moment, in that context. You are only being “bad” when you eat if you are stealing the food from a starving person or drowning puppies while you nosh.
    Just remember to love yourself however and whoever you are and you’ll more likely make the right decisions.

  32. Becca says

    Greta, I really appreciate your post. I don’t have anything necessarily profound to say here, but I have been going through the same struggle for almost two years now, and it has been extraordinarily difficult. The thing that gets me down the most is thinking, “I’m going to have to do this for the rest of my life.” But knowing there are other people out there who feel the same way and are dealing with the same problems makes me feel better and makes me feel like I’ll be able to reach out when I have trouble.
    Thanks again, Greta, and keep writing your inspiring posts. ^_^

  33. says

    This is fabulous. I’m wrestling with the very same issues and also afraid of being in the 90%. Thank you for articulating this so well, and please keep talking to drown out the others.

  34. Adam G. says

    Hi Greta,
    I’m coming back to this somewhat late. I’ve been fat and fat-positive for most of my adult life, but in early August, my doctor dropped the big D-bomb on me: Type II diabetes. In a panic, I searched everything I could find on the web, and stumbled on the low-carbing method of eating promoted by (among others) Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple, Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades of Protein Power, and Dr. Richard K. Bernstein of Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. I was dubious, but decided to try it for two weeks.
    It’s been five weeks and my sugars have dropped like a rock into nearly normal ranges. I’ve also lost 30 pounds without feeling any deprivation or hunger, and my blood pressure has come down some as well. As I’m also a fat-positive person who is having to drop weight for health reasons, I wanted to point you at this way of eating in case it might be something you’re interested in. I can personally attest that it works.
    Best to you.

  35. says

    Adam G., if that works for you, then that’s great. I can only say what the research says: When studying any particular diet — low-carb, low fat, whatever — the failure rate is about 90%. So researchers instead started looking at the roughly 10% of people who, across the board, succeed in keeping weight off, regardless of what the specific diet plan they’re on… to see what they have in common.
    And what they have in common is that they count calories, keep food journals, weigh themselves regularly, and exercise every day. That’s why I’m following that plan.

  36. says

    What I loved most about your post is your “journey” and self learning. All diets “work” — it’s finding the one — or designing your own — that gives you the results and motivation to keep going thru thick & thin.
    I’ll be watching your progress & cheering you on!

  37. says

    CroMagna: I do cardio if I have time. If I’m under time constraints at the gym, I mostly just do weights.
    But outside the gym, I also do a lot of walking and a certain amount of dancing… which gets a certain amount of cardio in as well.

  38. Lara Zuehlke says

    Loved this insightful, thoughtful post, as I think your journey is one we can all relate to! I think in addition to the idea of actually eating REAL food, another key point is getting in tune with your body. And it sounds as though this journey is getting you closer to that, which as a food psychology coach is the real success to me.
    I think so many people in this country live from the neck up and don’t really live in their bodies. Checked out, stressed out, and running around, we have become really out of tune with our body’s natural rhythms.
    So when it comes time to eat, many of us simply tune into our brain to tell us what to consume versus our bellies. In other words, every time I feel hunger, I ask myself: what am I hungry for? If I really do feel the physical hunger, then I stand at the pantry or fridge and literally sense myself eating certain foods.
    In other words, I ask my stomach: do you want fruit? Veggies? Protein? And I envision eating each food, then when I feel a response sensation in my stomach (often feels like a flutter) then I know that’s the food my body wants to eat.
    But often times when I’m not really physically hungry, I’m wanting something else: I feel bored, I feel lonely, I feel angry, etc. So I just sit with that feeling or find another, more constructive way to fulfill it (get a hug, massage, take a bubble bath, beat the hell out of some pillows, etc.).
    I believe the more we can learn to listen to our gut wisdom and decipher the messages of what we’re truly hungry for, the more we tune into that evolutionary wisdom that you refer to.
    I have a free report on my site (link removed due to commercial content – GC) that outlines some simple steps in doing this.
    Thanks for this candid post, and best wishes on your journey!

  39. sylviamaris says

    I always used to tell myself that as long as I could walk a mile, it didn’t matter what I weighed, and I didn’t care what shape my ass was as long as it worked. Well, now I can’t walk a mile anymore and like you my danger signal was knee pain. I’m the kind of all-or-nothing person who’s more likely to convince herself to be afraid of food than to eat only two bites of fatty cheese, so it’s seeming to be especially difficult to lose weight without relying on disordered behavior. I’m working on it.

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