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The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet: An Update

Doll tape measure I promised I wouldn’t turn this into a diet blog, and I meant it. The thought of turning my beautiful atheist sex blog into a tedious daily update on what I’m eating and how much I weigh fills me with existential horror. It’s not going to happen.

But when I wrote my series a few months back about weight loss — and about the assorted issues it raises with feminism and skepticism and self-image and whatnot — a fair number of you seemed interested. And since I’ve recently hit a new milestone — as of this writing, I’ve lost 50 pounds — I thought I should give y’all an update.

*

Scale 1 I’ve been reading over the stuff I wrote when I was starting out with this. And I’m struck by how difficult this process was for me then… and how much easier it’s become. I actually feel bad that I might have frightened some people off from trying weight loss themselves, with all my talk of conflicted emotions and political battles and crying fits in grocery store parking lots. This has all gotten so much easier with time; when I read the stuff I wrote earlier on in the process, it seems almost alien.

I’m not going to say that this has been easy. But as I’ve gotten accustomed to it — as my body has adjusted, as my psychological strategies have become second nature, as calorie counting has become a habit — it’s gotten easier. It continues to get easier every week. And the benefits are greatly outweighing the costs — much more greatly than I’d anticipated — which makes sticking with it easier when it does get rough.

I don’t want to evangelize about weight loss, though, and I hope it doesn’t sound like I am. The cost- benefit analysis on this stuff is different for everybody, and what’s good for me isn’t good for the entire world. What I’m writing here — it’s all just what’s true for me. More on that in a bit.

Pear_on_a_diet The thing is — it’s hard to speak honestly and accurately about both the difficulty and the ease of weight loss. In a strange way, this has been both easier and harder than I’d expected. On the one hand, weight loss has required a major reworking of the way I structure my life: not just food, but all the things associated with food, things like friends and family, time management and money. I have to plan most of my meals ahead of time, and forego almost all impulse eating that comes my way. I’ve had to let my friends and family know about my new eating regimen, and I’ve had to ask them to take it into consideration when we eat together. (And even then I have to budget and be careful, since other people’s ideas of “eating light” are often very different from mine.) I have to treat parties where lots of food is available with kid gloves and careful planning. I have to structure my life so that I can get a good amount of exercise virtually every day (and this in a life where time is an enemy, the demon dog constantly yapping at my heels). I have to eat out rarely. Not to mention all the major re-thinking I’ve had to do about the politics and psychology and emotions of food and body size… re-thinking that’s involved some painful realizations about how much denial I was in about my body, for years.

And I’m one of the lucky ones, someone with lots of external factors making this process easier: supportive friends and family; a supportive partner who’s participating in this with me; living in a part of the world where healthy food is readily available; enough money to afford a gym membership.

Whats_on_your_plate On the other hand… once I got into a groove with this, it became so natural that I almost don’t have to think about it. The day to day of this has become no big deal. I count calories; I exercise a lot; I weigh myself regularly to make sure that what I’m doing is working. It’s second nature now. I’m almost embarrassed at how much of a stink I threw about it before I decided to just do it. And the difficult emotional stuff is smoothing out as time goes on.

This tricky balance — the weird balance of the difficulty and the ease of weight loss — is complicated by the fact that I’m talking to more than one demographic in this piece. To the people who are considering weight loss, or who’ve tried it and been discouraged, I think it’s important to say that this is do-able, and that it doesn’t necessarily mean a life of misery and deprivation and constant, depressing vigilance. And to the more extremist advocates of the fat-positive movement — the ones who insist that weight loss is never, ever, ever right for anybody — I want to get this message across even more clearly. This has not made my life a misery. This has made me neither neurotic nor physically ill. This has just not been that bad. (More on that in a bit.)

But to the people who deride fat people for being fat; to the people who dismissively say “Just eat less and exercise more — sheesh, how hard can it be?” without having any idea of just exactly how hard it is; to the people in the skeptical movement who fiercely battle (and rightly so, I’ll add) the fat-positive movement for their denialism of the health problems associated with being fat — but who don’t offer any acknowledgement of how difficult weight loss is, or any recognition of the social and economic factors that make it even harder than it has to be — it’s important to stress that this is not easy. This has been a hard row to hoe in many ways, both emotionally and practically. And again, I’m one of the lucky ones, with supportive circumstances that not everyone has.

Knee But back to the update. By far the most important thing on my update: My knee is much, much better. I can’t even tell you. My bad knee is the main reason I decided to lose weight: I was having serious trouble climbing hills, and was having to haul myself up stairs by hanging onto banisters. I am now running up stairs. The improvement has been astonishing. (Physical therapy has helped immensely, too… but even before I started PT, the weight loss was improving my pain and my mobility by leaps and bounds.)

There’ve been other health benefits as well — benefits I hadn’t been expecting. My feet, for instance. I didn’t realize how much my feet hurt until I noticed that they weren’t hurting any more. I used to have to wear shoes all the time; I couldn’t go barefoot even for ten minutes without my feet hurting. And I couldn’t clean the house for more than an hour without having to sit down for ten minutes. No more. I can now go barefoot (yay!), and I can now clean the house for hours without stopping (less exciting, but at least I get it over with sooner, and my feet aren’t killing me at the end of it).

My asthma is better, too. I had no idea that was going to happen. It made sense once my doctor explained it — my lungs don’t have to work as hard just to get me around — but it was a lovely surprise. And my overall energy and stamina are way, way higher. I don’t know if that’s the weight loss per se and having less bulk to carry around, or whether it’s simply a result of exercising more and eating more nutritious food… but since the two are directly related, I’m not sure it matters.

Hand mirror And I’ll admit that I’m happier with my appearance. That wasn’t the reason I started losing weight, and it’s still not the main reason… but I’m going to be honest here, and say that I do think I look better now. Healthier, mostly. More energetic, more libidinous. And more comfortable in my skin. For the record: I think plenty of fat women look great, I think there are fat women who look sexy and delicious and exactly the way they’re supposed to look. But looking back, and being as honest with myself as I can be? I don’t really think I was one of them. When I was younger, maybe… but not for some years now.

It’s not like I think there are objective abstract standards of attractiveness. Of course beauty is subjective, and of course a huge amount of attractiveness has to do with confidence and self-love. But even purely according to my own personal subjective standards, I don’t think I’ve been an attractive fat person for some years now. I had some degree of confidence and self-love… but it was interlaced with a sizable portion of unhappiness and ill health and disconnection from my body — and a great heaping portion of denial and cognitive dissonance about how unhappy and unhealthy and disconnected from my body I was. Some of my confidence and self-love was real… but a chunk of it was bravado, and me lying to myself. I now feel more like myself, more comfortable in my skin. And I’m happier now with how my clothes fit, and how many more options I have for what to wear. There were only so many kinds of clothes that looked good on me when I was fat… and that range got narrower and narrower as I got older. (I’m wearing jeans again, for the first time in over a decade. I love jeans.) This pleasure in my new appearance is complicated… but I’m not going to pretend that it’s not there.

All of which leads me to some of the stranger emotional stuff about this.

(Tomorrow: The stranger emotional stuff about this.)

Comments

  1. says

    This is fun to read, because it’s where I was about a decade ago.
    Just some advanced warning for you. Losing weight is easy. The hard part is keeping it off.

  2. JulietEcho says

    It sounds like you’re doing a great job integrating the changes you’ve made into your life without letting them take over your life. That’s important, because to keep the weight off, you’re going to have to keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing. You probably already know this. So many people lose weight successfully only to gain it back when they let their old diet/habits take over again after they’ve reached their goal.
    Keep enjoying the benefits of good health, and thanks for keeping us updated!

  3. Richard H. says

    Very interesting to read, and I’m happy to hear that you’re accomplishing the things you wanted to accomplish.
    Through the post, you sound nearly apologetic about your success and goals.
    This is very different than the way you write about other parts of your life.

  4. says

    Thanks for sharing this. And congrats on your improved quality of life.
    Could you post more about what methods are working for you? I’m very curious about that.

  5. Sarah says

    Ugh, I can’t tell you how much you have let me down today. As I read this I am on my 2nd hour of working out because working out for one hour every day and controlling calories for the last 2 months has resulted in no weight loss whatsoever, so I am doubling my efforts. Every time I hear a doctor advise me to eat well and exercise more I want to punch her or him in the nose for lying to me. Please don’t you start too.
    I know I am reacting emotionally here but I have found I have to be deeply emotionally invested to keep up this amount of effort in the face of constant failure. Please qualify the word “easy” to mean easy for you. I AM trying to be happy for you and I am glad your efforts are working for you.
    Well, I’ve got 45 minutes left in this workout, so I guess I’ll move along. I know a few fat-positive blogs that always make me feel better after a setback.

  6. says

    Just some advanced warning for you. Losing weight is easy. The hard part is keeping it off.

    Tommy: I’m aware of that. I write about that in the pieces that are coming up. But thanks — forewarned is forearmed. (Any tips you have on maintenance would be greatly appreciated.)

    Please qualify the word “easy” to mean easy for you.

    Sarah: I already did. “What I’m writing here — it’s all just what’s true for me.”
    I’m sorry this is being hard for you. I realize that what works for me doesn’t work for everybody. But the reason I’m writing this is that I’ve found it helpful to read about what did and didn’t work for other people. Some of which helped me; some of which didn’t. I hope you can do that with this series. Take what you need; leave the rest.
    You might get some use out of a couple of resources. The National Weight Control Registry studies people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off, and examines what they have in common. (I write about them more later in this series.) You might find it useful to check out their research. (Don’t just read the summary — also look at the abstracts of the studies. I found them very enlightening.) And WebMD has some good, evidence- based suggestions on successful weight loss and maintenance that Ingrid and I have found very useful. Best of luck doing whatever you need to do to stay healthy.

  7. says

    Through the post, you sound nearly apologetic about your success and goals.

    Richard H.: Didn’t mean to. I’m not apologetic. Just somewhat conflicted. No, not conflicted exactly — it’s just that this is complicated and difficult, practically and emotionally, and I hate weight-loss writers who are smug about it.

    Could you post more about what methods are working for you? I’m very curious about that.

    Mojo: You betcha. That’s Part 3.

  8. says

    Talk to me in 5 years! It’s easy to lose weight. Good luck keeping it off. I’ve never figured out how. I went through the torment you went through, lost 70 lbs and have regained more than half. I still exercise 2 hours a day. I don’t drink. And I’m a healthy eating vegetarian. My body seems to have adjusted to healthy living…I’m not sure now what to think about it all. I’m healthier now than I was. I eat better and I exercise more. I have to think that’s good even though I am no longer thin.

  9. says

    Oh yes. I did that too. And then when I stopped monitoring super-carefully, and tried for maintenance with sensible habits, it came back. And stabilised at EXACTLY my previous weight. To within 1/2 a pound. Even though I was eating way less sugar and exercising more and drinking much less than when I was previously at that weight.
    I think you are right that weight loss can really help you feel healthier. Even more than just the fitness improvements. And I wish that I could achieve it. I aim for “overweight”, which is the healthiest BMI category to be in.
    But my challenge to the skeptics is to find me ONE proper peer-reviewed study of any program at all, that has a greater than 5% success rate after 5 years. Just one. The usual response? *crickets*

  10. says

    Greta, I’m loving reading these posts. It’s a bit like picking up a book only to find that it contains a story you’ve kicked around for ages only written by a far superior writer. I’m thrilled to see so much of my experience explained so clearly.
    Cath,
    I wouldn’t argue that the studies on the long-term efficacy of diets show anything other than a small success rate. Although I find the five year mark a bit arbitrary unless we can isolate some mechanism that would make a difference as to why someone would gain weight back after five years rather than two years. However, what research can do is start to narrow down the reasons for why diets generally fail to provide results. This review is a good first step in answering those questions.

  11. says

    Congratulations Greta! That is an amazing achievement. Like some many people here, I have done the whole weight loss thing and they are all right, keeping it off is hard, but the positives of being healthy and having a better self-image makes it worth it.

  12. Jack Rawlinson says

    Go you, Greta. The benefits of getting excess weight off really are worth the effort required.

  13. says

    Cath: (and Sam, and Tommy): Sorry it took me so long to get back to you; my Internet access was a little dicey yesterday.
    This is the website of the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks and does research on people who have lost more than 30 pounds and have kept it off for at least a year, and does research on what their eating/ exercise/ etc. patterns are, and what they have in common. Registry members have lost an average of 66 lbs and kept it off for 5.5 years. And the research they’re supporting talks a lot about these very issues: not just what people do who are successful at losing weight, but what people do who are successful at keeping it off.
    I’ll be talking a lot more about this research in Part 3. But one of the big keys seems to be not significantly changing your eating habits from “weight loss” to “weight maintenance.” Whatever we do to lose weight, we basically have to keep doing, in a modified form, for the rest of our lives. If there’s a secret, that seems to be it.

  14. Sarah says

    Thanks, Greta, I am going to take your advice and read what you suggested. I really, really, really want this to be possible, despite the observed facts…I’m slipping into weight-loss atheism…

  15. G says

    Thanks for this! The parts about having to be firm with people about what “eating light” means – I struggle with that too, since I’m already vegetarian and that feels like imposition aplenty. Eating right means planning more.

  16. says

    I am so proud of you and in awe of your writing about this and your practice of mindfulness (so corny, but so true).
    I think you should make a PDF/ebook/xerox book of these columns and sell it! And I actually want more. Please don’t let this be the end. A lot of us are hanging on your every word on this topic.
    I have more subjects I’d like to hear from you from:
    “Your First Sports Injury After Losing Weight and Finding Yourself Stuck at Home NOT Exercising and Fearing You Will NEver be able to “DO IT” again”
    “Exercise and being fit means getting sick less… the fabulous immune system… but then when you do get sick? What then? Hard to come back from”
    “the Unfair Part about how as you get older you are fighting an uphill battle”
    “Burning out on your support group but not really having an alternative”
    “I wasn’t going to let those mean critics/trolls get under my skin but they did anyway”
    as you can see, I have plenty to POUT over in my wobbly maintenance era, and I need your expert skeptical guidance!

  17. says

    I am currently experiencing many of the same changes you are, and I feel similarly also… not surprisingly, your blog was just linked as “recommended” on mine… and I loved reading this!!!! And all of your links, too. You are certainly a breath of fresh air in a sea of negativity that I have been dealing with (see my Lenten-break post, in which I was roasted and eaten, pardon food imagery)…
    Glad to make you a regular stop. Keep on keeping on.

  18. Ms Anonymus says

    Congratulations on your weight loss!
    This interesting post could been 40% shorter by cutting out all of the disclaimers and platitudes to the various groups you were afraid of offending simply by describing your experiences :).
    No offense meant. I’m serious. No offense. Again, I really mean no offense.

  19. Ms Anonymus says

    Hi Greta;
    I noticed the naysayers among the comments in this post.
    I used to believe all of their stuff.
    Then 2 years ago I used the “Hackers Diet” ( counting calories ) to lose 50 lbs and I’ve kept it off, despite having a “slow metabolism”.
    Ignore the naysayers, join some supportive forums for weight loss maintainers to keep you juiced up.
    Good luck!

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