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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)