1.06.2011

Trying Something Crazy: Self Acceptance

I've had a lot on my mind the last couple days, and this could get long-winded, so bear with me.

A couple weeks ago, when I discussed possible resolutions for the new year, I wrote about how I wanted to focusing more on self-love and that maybe my first goal to good health should be to focus on my overall health and happiness, to love myself and accept myself for who I am, my body for what it is, and forgo the whole weight loss thing as a main goal. Let it be more of a side-effect of good living, if that is to be the case.

Then I went to the doctor and had some standard bloodwork done. Cholesterol, metabolic panel, etc. When the results came back the next day, I received a call from my doctor's office saying I would need to come back in and go over a few things because my bloodsugar came back elevated. For fasting, it was 135. Not exactly disastrous, but certainly higher than it should be. More tests will be necessary of course to see if this wasn't some kind of fluke. My bloodsugars have always been normal, and my previous doctor always used to run Hemoglobin A1C tests just as a precaution, and they always came back in the 5.5 range, but I have a genetic history (and a fat ass) so it was always better to be safe than sorry.

When I got the news of the elevated bloodsugar, however, my world crumbled in that instance. It finally happened. My fat ass had finally turned diabetic, just as all the news reports, scientists, doctors, and well-meaning friends and family all said jt would, because I'm (in my own words, but let's face it, the sentiments are the same) a gluttonous cow who must eat powdered donuts by the truckload in order to tip the scales as high as I do. I was ashamed of myself. The self-hatred I had been breeding since I was 10 years old and began to grow taller and thicker than all of my peers finally gave birth to an ugly, insulin-resistant baby that pointed its pudgy fingers at me screaming, "HA, told you so fatty! Shoulda stayed on that diet! Too bad you're weak! Weak weak weak!"

I stormed out into the garage to gather up all of the packets of Medifast food I'd been holding onto in the event that I was ready to start clinically starving myself again and tossed them onto the table. And the next day, I started the ghastly regimen of liquid and semi-liquid meals followed by a dinner of steamed chicken and broccoli, all the while miserable, tired, and so very very hungry. The kind of hunger and weakness I remembered feeling when I first did this in April, bound and determined to punish myself for being gross and corpulent.

Then last night, I started reading more about obesity, really reading about it. I started reading more about Type 2 diabetes. I started reading more about the science of weight loss through constant dieting. And then I got up and made myself a sandwich. You know why? Because I was fucking hungry. And because I've been reading about Health at Every Size, which is the most common sense approach to good health I've ever seen. And I started reading the Shapely Prose blog at Kate Harding's site. It has since been closed, but there is a wealth of info in the archives.

I'm DONE dieting. I'm done with commercially-supported starvation that will surely backfire in 6 months, a year, two years, or three, or five (it's been scientifically demonstrated that almost all dieters gain their weight back and then some inside five years) and put me back in the same pit of self-hating despair I've been in most of my life. But most importantly, I'm done thinking I'm inferior because I'm fatter than you and that I should therefore punish myself.

Because isn't that what all weight loss programs end up boiling down to? At the root of every single one, no matter how sensible they sound, is the belief that we are not good enough. We are fat, therefore we suck. Therefore, we shall never eat at a holiday dinner or restaurant with friends, we are unworthy of respect and dignity and love, and we will only be acceptable as humans when we've reduced our bodies enough to fit in a template that our culture has deemed acceptable and desirable.

Do you know how many years I have lived this life in a constant state of "I'm not good enough?" Let's do a brief history of Allie's childhood, teen and early adult years just so you get the idea:

  • At age 10, I was wearing a women's size 12. By this point, when several of my friends were starting to take an interest in boys, it was made clear to me that my size was making me a target for ridicule rather than a source of attraction. One of my friends was already dabbling with anorexia, so I mimicked her behavior. I would starve myself with her while at school as a sign of solidarity, not eating breakfast or lunch, and then gorge myself when I got home because I was so hungry. This developed into a pattern of eating that exists until this day, and wouldn't you know I kept getting fatter.
  • At age 12, in the seventh grade, I skipped school as often as I could to avoid facing the bullies who used to tape pictures of back tits on my back, follow me down the hall making Godzilla sounds, etc. My mom left for work early in the morning and came home after I was due home from school, so this was easy. I watched soaps and worked out to this Kathy Smith aerobics tape we had. And I watched this VHS recording of Terminator 2: Judgment Day so many times I had memorized every line of dialogue. I don't know how I managed not to flunk that grade. 
  • Age 14: So roiled with low self-esteem and a certainty that I would never be good enough for anyone, I give myself to the first boy that shows me the least bit of positive attention. 
  • Age 16-19: My weight actually reaches a point of stability. I wear a size 18 and overall am pretty satisfied with myself, even though I'm still (at least in terms of my BMI) obese. 
  • Age 20: I move to Washington state to be with my now husband. After a couple traumatic experiences with my health (and going on Depo Provera), I put on about 50 pounds in a matter of six months. While I had grown somewhat more sedentary and wasn't exactly eating great (I'm a carb junkie, I admit it), that was a lot of weight to gain in such a short period of time. I go on my first diet program, Jenny Craig, and drop 25 pounds in time for my wedding. A few months later, I'm pregnant with my daughter and then deal with a bout of post-partum depression and antidepressants that cause me to gain more weight.
  • Age 23-25: I have since given birth to my second child and have ballooned up another 40 or 50 pounds, bringing my weight drastically close to 400 pounds. An inexplicable number to me, really. My feelings of dread, doom, and disgust have never been higher. I can't even look at myself without wanting to vomit. I join Weight Watchers and lose 70 pounds. 
  • Age 25-29: Turbulence in my marriage puts my life on the rails for awhile, and my social life explodes into nightly acts of drinking and debauchery. I very slowly but very steadily gain back all the weight I lost. 
  • Age 29-30: My husband and I get back together and I decide to give up the debauchery and start taking my writing seriously. As such, my life becomes more sedentary and the weight increases by another 20 pounds or so. Terrified of the fat, I go on South Beach and drop about 20 pounds. That fails a few months later and then I try Medifast. I lose about 25 pounds in the course of 6 weeks, but my god what a tough six weeks that was. 
  • Now: I've been off Medifast since April and I haven't gained much of the weight back (about 5 pounds or so with a few vacillations in between). And for some stupid reason, I think resorting to another unsustainable eating program is somehow going to be the ticket to good health. 
Here's the thing, I know I can lose weight when I really put my mind to it. But the sad fact is that MOST people don't stick to these programs because they're not sustainable, because the minute you stop doing whatever it is that's making you lose weight, your body goes right back to doing what it was designed to do: store calories. Diets focus on deprivation and self-punishment. These two concepts are not COMPATIBLE with basic and happy human existence. Humans are social and emotional creatures. We enjoy food. We assemble rituals and holidays around it. We gather around the table and share stories and laughs. We craft new and amazing tastes, celebrating the bounty the earth gives us every single day, because unlike any other creatures, we have brains capable of processing this complex information. And whether we're fat or thin, we're all a part of these rituals. But when you're fat, your participation in these rituals is always marred by guilt and shame, because for some reason in this culture your fat means that you're "not one of us." You're immoral, unclean, sloppy, smelly, or taboo. You're "other." 

It doesn't matter that diets don't work for the longterm. That we endanger our health by repeatedly forcing our bodies to go against their biological grains by trying to beat and starve away the calories that for whatever reason they insist on storing. That we're doing irreparable damage to millions of self-esteems and self-images by reinforcing these ideals. To be loved and respected and beautiful, we must. be. THIN. 

Well here's the thing. I am loved. Always have been, even when I didn't think I deserved it. I have amazing family and friends. I've never been starved for dates and have some pretty incredible memories of my times between the sheets. I have an amazing husband and two beautiful kids (who are not fat, because contrary to what the media tells you, it's possible for a fat mother not to have and raise fat children). I don't smell because I have excellent hygiene. Up until this latest round of bloodwork, I have always had excellent cholesterol and sugars and blood pressure. My body chemistry has been a direct contradiction to what all of the "experts" say it should be for a person of my size, and I'm pretty sure that if there wasn't a world hellbent on demonizing people for being fat, I wouldn't think there was a damn thing wrong with me unless I was diagnosed with an actual disease. 

This isn't to say I'm giving up on myself or that I'm going to do nothing in the face of a diagnosis of diabetes, that I'm going to subsist on a diet of twinkies and McDonald's. First of all, I don't like Twinkies or McDonald's and I never subsisted on those things to begin with (believe it or not, I don't eat more than an average person eats, and probably less than many of my thinner cohorts do). But the status quo is not acceptable. I haven't  been feeling as good as I know I can feel, and there is more I can do about that without putting some harebrained goal of thinness in my path that will only wind up disappointing me. 

I will get out and move more, not to lose weight but because when I do, I feel better. And when I'm not focused on the primary goal of burning fat, I enjoy the activity so much more. Also, my mind works better and I'm happier overall. Furthermore, I'm going to eat the kind of foods that make me feel good. That might be fish and vegetables one night, but it might be a hamburger or taco the next. Either way, they will be wholesome foods that are kind to the earth and to my body, but if I want a cookie (a delicious, homemade cookie made with wholesome ingredients), I'm going to have one. And if I do in fact have diabetes, I will check my bloodsugar frequently, see how my body responds to what I eat, and then act accordingly by either exercising or making better choices that are better on my body. I will take an intuitive approach to food, but I will not put myself through controlled starvation. If I lose weight as a result of doing these things (and I'm pretty sure I will, just because I know my body well enough to know it responds pretty positively to being treated well), so be it. 

I'm also going to engage in new hobbies and ways of expressing myself. I'm going to make new discoveries that force me to put myself out into the world more and force me to make use of this wonderful life I've been given. There is no reason in the world I can't achieve anything I want to due to my size. I've gotten far in life the way I am, and I will fight for the acceptance I deserve and defy anyone to stop or demean me based on how I look.

Most importantly (and perhaps the one thing that will probably cause the biggest change out of all of them), I'm going to eat when I'm hungry. I'm going to stop eating when I'm full. I'm not going to binge on food to prop myself up in some way emotionally or entertain myself when I'm bored. I'm going to eat slowly and mindfully and savor every bite and taste. I'm not going to punish myself by this perception that I'm "cheating" or "being bad." I refuse to feel shame. I'm going to stop excluding myself from social engagements because I feel too fat to be seen in public. I'm going to be more positive and stop pressuring myself to be something I'm not and wasn't born to be, and thereby fuel my self-loathing even more. I'm going to make peace with this body by doing what fills my soul with light. 

This is going to take a long time for me to do. You can't undo a lifetime of self-hatred overnight, but this is the first time I'm putting a concerted effort into it, and I'm determined to make it work. I think everyone around me will be happier as a result.

My daughter and I were sitting together the other night when she looked over and said, "Mommy, you're beautiful." At that moment, I wished I could believe her. But now, I'm damn well going to. Not only because I need to do it for myself, but because I don't want to raise kids that think fat = miserable = shame = diet = fat again. 

If someone calls me fat, I'll respond with the only word that is worthy: "Duh." 

12 comments:

  1. Christine Beth ReishJanuary 6, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    you...are...amazing.

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  2. Thank you for saying that. I'm feeling pretty damn good about myself right now. :)

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  3. Allison,
    (*standing ovation*) Bravo! I know it's also a 'radical' way for some to think but I've also decided on this course for myself to free myself from the endless dieting and binging. The only difference betweeen you and me is that I have better metabolism and eat waaaay more junk food than you do. Given these details, I have had the exact same struggles with food and dieting. I've never been the source of harrassment due to my weight but I went from 100 pounds when anorexic to 200 pounds in a matter of months when I was convinced I could eat again.
    After the trauma of self-induced starvation, I never wanted to starve again. I swear I felt like Scarlett from 'Gone With the Wind' and swore I'd never be hungry again.
    Food is my drug of choice, that said. When I'm imbibing in it, I KNOW I am and I eat with the least guilt that I can. Guilt and shame and any negative emotion set me up to soothe with food. I've had to unlearn all the brainwashing that i incurred over the years.
    When I read your status about your blood sugar and your resolve about Medifast i wanted to support what you felt worked for you. However, I was concerned for you, too. I think what you wrote above is THE perfect 'way of eating' and also way of living! Here's to a 2011 that's chock full of self-love/acceptance and courage to say f*ck this I'm not wasting any more of my life on this. As an agoraphobic who has better days than others, I know what it's like to 'punish oneself and confine myself to home. This is the year we both need to 'be seen' and loved for who we are.
    love, jody

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  4. ps. Geneen Roth changed my life back in '89 as she writes books that say what you did above. She wrote "Freedom from Compulsive Overeating" and also "Why Weight?" Both books were not advocating a 'diet' but the emotional aspects. When she stopped dieting (the author) she LOST weight.

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  5. "it's been scientifically demonstrated that almost all dieters gain their weight back and then some inside five years"

    Ain't that the truth. I gained back every one of the 80 pounds I lost even though I'd kept it off for 2 years. omg the self-loathing!

    Good for you for bucking the mindset. Nothing good can come from the self-hate. xoxo

    Babs

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  6. I am SO glad Oprah finally got on the acceptance bandwagon. She has been the poster-child for fat self-hate for far too long.

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  7. Babs -- Thank you. Yeah, I'm going to stop the yo-yo in its tracks. If anything, it's contributed to me feeling worse than ever. That ever-oppressive feeling of failure. Oy.

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  8. This is FABULOUS stuff. Im proud of you for bucking the fat-hating moral panic that is the rest of the world.

    also, just think of all the money you'll save on food and clothes when your weight and eating habits arent yo-yoing anymore!

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  9. This was beautiful, Allie! I've never had too much weight to lose, but I've never been able to diet. The only way (started to type weigh) I can lose weight is by increasing exercise. I remember my mother and stepfather doing this crazy diet in the 80s, and I did it for a few days, too, but gave up on it because I was starving. It involved eating these little chalky chocolate wafer things and not much else. There's not much worse than that super hungry feeling (other than say, childbirth, kidney stones, broken bones...;)

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  10. You ARE beautiful. Don't you ever stop believing it.

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  11. Awesome post. If you want more support for integrating Health at Every Size in dealing with diabetes, check out this article: http://www.lindabacon.org/pdf/BaconMatz_Diabetes_EnjoyingFood.pdf.

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  12. It actually took me a day to decide what I wanted to post about this piece b/c it brought up so many different emotions. So, I've narrowed it to:

    1. Take it from a lesbian--e.g. a woman who is practiced in spotting hot babes--based on you profile pics, you are objectively smokin'. Lol. Nat is right--you're beautiful. None of the "beautiful on the inside" stuff (in this instance).

    2. More importantly, your honesty in writing about your self-esteem and experience around weight from childhood to now is startling, stark, and other st-strong words. It kind of blew my mind. These words have the real potential to change your perspective and others'.

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