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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What to eat when you're fat

I don't typically use this space to complain about my life specifically, just life in general ;). But because I feel that food is so connected to life and our daily experience of eating and living is intriguing to me, I feel the need to discuss something here that is on my mind almost constantly. 

I don't post pictures of myself on this blog for two reasons: 1) I want the experience of reading it to feel like you are cooking the food/present at my stove, and 2) I'm about a size 14 and I don't want people to leave hurtful comments about my size. People do that when you post pics of yourself on the internet. Thick skin required. My writing has been criticized many times on various publications I've written for in the past, one that sticks out is a comment from a person who claimed they would rather read a book by Sarah Palin than anything I wrote. That one stung, but hey. To each there own. I rationalized it by saying to myself that although writing is one of the most important things to me, it's not all of me, and not everything I do is going to please everyone. I'm trying to get that attitude about my appearance as well.

I have gained and lost over 300lbs in my lifetime. I'm 33. Not only is this extremely unhealthy, it's extremely frustrating. It's caused periods of isolation and paranoia that have made me feel very lonely and bitter. I grew up with a father who was obsessed with my appearance, and who made it very clear to me that my first duty as a woman (before I was, you know, a person) was to look good. Everything else was secondary. He applauded me when I was the right weight, wore the clothes he selected for me, and wore my hair and makeup the way he liked. When I did these things, I was rewarded with money and praise. When I did not adhere to his specifications, I was punished via neglect and shame. Once, when I didn't want to wear my hair in the style he preferred to Christmas dinner (a double braid wound around my head in traditional Ukrainian style) he threatened to return all my Christmas presents. I have lots of stories like that, and I'm sure other people do too. Men as well as women to be sure, but let's be honest, women are far more likely to be judged for their appearance than men. 

This kind of thinking wormed its way into my brain until it was hard to get it out. I assumed my friends who were awkward and unattractive in high school would go on to do nothing with their lives, because I had come to believe that attractiveness = success. It didn't matter that these were kind people or people much smarter than me, because they would never be accepted into a club of which I was a member. All doors would be open to me, forever.

Then I got fat.

Through depression and anxiety disorder, I gained a lot of weight really quickly, and found myself to be the embodiment of horror to my family. My father most of all, but also his father (my grandfather) and some of my shallower friends. My father begged and begged me to lose weight, claiming that everything in my life would come up roses if I could just get a grip on it. I was 16, and it was a turning point, the first time in which I felt I was a living, breathing, embarrassment to the human race. I felt so much shame that I lost the weight. Well, partly from the shame. My father also promised to pay me $500 if I did.

I stayed thin for quite a few years after that. Then I got fat again. Then thin. Then fat again. A little thinner, then fatter than ever. That is where I am now. At 33, I am 5'7 and 3/4" and 205lbs. The heaviest I have ever been.

I'm not happy with the way I look, but if I'm really honest with myself, I never have been. No matter what, I will find something to be unhappy about. I'm much more accepting of others' physicality than I am of my own. I don't know why.

As a culture, we are fat phobic. We hate fat and hate fat people and live in constant fear that we are going to be fat, and if we're fat already, that we will never lose weight. Some people argue that the phobia is a good motivator, if you feel bad about yourself, you will do something about it. I find it to be the opposite. When I feel bad, I have to work against that deficit to feel good about myself, and rarely does it motivate me to improve my weight. It motivates me to hide under the covers, fearing that I will never measure up. When I nurture a healthier attitude towards my body, praise it for what it can do, and appreciate it for what it is, I find myself motivated. Acceptance and self-love are the key, but those are often the most difficult things to achieve when you feel you don't deserve them. And that's what fat hatred does: it sends the message that your physical body has made you unloveable and unacceptable. Instead of just being labelled as unattractive, which it often times is, it's become much more than that. Fat is equated with worthlessness.

I want to change myself and my body. I want to feel better, more in control. Most of all I don't want to hate my body, the only body I will ever have. Because only then will the disapproval I feel from others matter less. And if you really want something, as we learned in kindergarten, you have to give it away. So:

I love you, fat people. I love you for your insatiable appetites and hatred of exercise and self-loathing, if you have it. I totally get it. I love it for your shitty food choices and breve lattes and potato chips eaten in the middle of the night. I accept you as you are. You are not worthless. You are a person with a heart and a soul and things to give the world. You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.

I have started an exercise regime with a good friend who is a personal trainer. I have started a "mood and food" journal to pinpoint choices that will work for me, and those that won't. I have decided to give a shit about myself enough that I will accept my body as it is, because I want it to look better, and for me this is the only way. I have decided to love and respect myself, my WHOLE self, as it comes. I have decided to love my weaknesses in order to change what I can and accept what I can't. I have decided that I am loved.

(PS what to eat is something you like that makes your body feel good, whatever that might look like to you. Me? I'm having almonds and a green tea)