Why I Wanted to Be Thin (And How I Learned to Stop.)

Body positivity.

Like other social justice movements (yes, this is a social justice issue), body positivity is a reaction to a silent cultural norm that nearly everyone participates in. It’s the unspoken, unnamed¬†body negativity.

You are practicing body negativity when you think that your health, your worth as a human, your attractiveness, your ability to do things, your ability to wear things, your ability to get up in the morning and look in the mirror and feel good about yourself (….etc. etc. etc….) are related to¬†how your body looks.

I’m going to write a random thought here that I had in the car the other day. Maybe you’ve had it too?

I want to be thin.

I have thought it, silently and insidiously, for my whole life. Ever since middle school, my body has not been how I want it. It has been literally 15 years of wanting to be thin. In my core, in my brain, with desperation and a sense of futility, I have wanted to be thin.

Why? Because being thin is a sign of success, attractiveness, sex appeal, acceptance, belonging, victory, confidence, health, and worthiness. I don’t even think I’m wrong right in this moment. I’m totally right. Thinness is associated with these things on a social and cultural level whether it’s right, good, and healthy…or not.

Here’s a radical, countercultural idea: thinness does not represent¬†literally any of these things.

You can be thin and sick. You can be thin and poor. You can be thin and fail. You can be thin and insecure. You can be thin and loathe yourself. You can be thin and completely unsexy. You can also be thin and happy, healthy, self-loving, super hot, confident, and worthy of belonging.

You can also be FAT and be happy, healthy, self-loving, super hot, confident, and worthy of belonging.

I used the word “fat” there not as a negative judgment (which IS how most people use it), but as a word that describes somebody in a body that’s larger than “thin” – whatever that means.

The comment “you’ve lost a lot of weight” is synonymous with “you look better than you used to!” What if the person lost a lot of weight because they became so desperate to be thin that they stopped eating? Is that happy or healthy? Should that be encouraged? But we are also disgusted when people are too thin.

Maybe the problem isn’t actually¬†the size of someone’s body. Maybe it’s actually that we have arbitrarily equated size with health in a damaging way for anyone who isn’t “just right” – whatever that means.¬†I’m going to write another post on this framework I’ve learned about called Health at Every Size. It’s based on the idea that we have culturally defined “health” wrong.

We have culturally defined one type of body as ideal, as healthy and happy, and another type of body as a thing to worry about and negatively judge. One problem with this: there are not even just two types of bodies. This video, called “Poodle Science” is incredible at showing in a brief and humorous way how this happened. It’s 2 minutes, watch it.

The other problem is that this attitude perpetuates the problem. The real problem. The social justice issue. Which is that:

Weight stigma helps nobody.

When we think that all fat people are unhealthy (or worse, unworthy, ugly, etc. etc. etc.), we are mis-defining what “health” is. Contrary to popular belief, health cannot be measured by a scale, and it can’t be identified by observing someone’s body and making judgments about it.

I wrote a post on some of my personal definitions of health. Everyone should get the right to decide their level of health for themselves. Everyone is worthy of making that decision on their own and doing what it takes to feel healthy for themselves.

Shame¬†and judgment¬†do not help people lose weight, they help drive people to practices that make them sick. Not fat, SICK. A thin person can be sick. So can anyone in a body larger than “thin” –¬†whatever that means.

Anyone can be sick, and anyone can be healthy. 

What helps people be healthy is¬†trusting their unconditional worthiness and humanity¬†along with¬†listening to their inner voice. What helps people be healthy is¬†connecting to others¬†and¬†having positive and healthy relationships with people who accept them for who they are, regardless of their body size.¬†There is research to prove that these matter more than weight. There is research to prove that weight stigma does more damage than anything else when it comes to people’s health.

 

Your body size. My body size. They are not even close to the most interesting thing about us. And yet we spend so much time thinking about them?

Time to stop.

I need to be positive about my body. I need to challenge body negativity. I need to confront comments and beliefs that perpetuate weight stigma in order to keep myself and everyone else healthy.

A healthy person is a happy person. Let’s stop confusing “healthy” with “thin,” and then we can identify for ourselves what our own health and happiness are really all about.

I’ll leave you with a screenshot of this poem, by (I think) Rupi Kaur, with the caveat that it almost always moves me to tears:

rupi body posi

 

Why I Wanted to Be Thin (And How I Learned to Stop.)

A Lesson From Baby Anne

I have a little baby as a neighbor. I’ve become friends with her mom, so I get to see her quite often. Not only does she always brighten my day, she also frequently puts things that I’m thinking about into perspective.

As humans grow, we receive messages about our worthiness, our likability, and our identity. They come from our families. They come from our friends. They come from the particular culture of our hometown. They come from the media, whose influence is only growing as our world becomes more connected.  They even come from advertisements.

These messages are often wrong. Often, because they generally aren’t based in the understanding that¬†everyone is different.

When I was a baby, I ate every two to three hours, and I always ate “snacks.” I knew exactly when I was hungry and when it was time to stop eating. I knew whether or not I liked a food, and I’d respond accordingly.

I have no idea how I knew, Baby Anne being incapable of metacognition, but somehow I was able to eat for fuel based on nothing but intuition.¬†I still have fond memories of my favorite baby food (sweet potato), which I’m pretty sure I ate well into childhood (and SP’s are still my favorite today).

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Almost-Baby Anne

We all have this miraculous ability as babies. We were all capable of regulating our own fuel intake (with delicate, gentle signaling to our caregivers…right Mom? ;)). Healthy babies aren’t obese or suffering from cravings and food addiction (special circumstances such as fetal alcohol syndrome, drug addicted babies, etc., change things of course).

So what goes wrong?

The messages!

We should eat three times per day. We should eat whole grains, dairy, protein, fruit and vegetables. We should limit sugar. We should limit fat. We are fat, we need to restrict to lose weight. We should burn more calories than we consume. We should look like that picture in that magazine. We should fit into these clothes. We have to eat this and look like that to attract a mate.

These are only some of the more general messages. All of us also get specific messages that interfere with our natural ability to intuit what we need when we need it. “Should” is tyrannical and “should” be eliminated from our vocabulary. There is no should. There is only need or want and don’t need or don’t want.

Side note: my August intention is to eliminate “should” from my vocabulary, whenever I’m using it to make myself feel bad for something I’m not doing. If I’m not doing it, I don’t need or want it. If I need or want it, I’ll do it.

The processed foods!

Another thing that interferes with the ability to identify hunger-full signals and intuit bodily needs and wants is sugar. Or processed snacks. Crackers are my personal kryptonite: if I eat one, I keep eating until the box is empty (wayyy past when the stomach is full).

There is actually an entire industry (the “food” industry) that employs “food chemists” to determine the exactly perfect flavors to include in processed snacks that will make people crave more. They engineer combinations that tantalize and trap us into buying more more and more. That is how they make money. That is how we DIE!

Okay, a little dramatic. Some chips and cookies once in a while won’t be the death of us. However, falling out of touch with the needs of our bodies could.

Sugar is a particularly troubling disruptor of hunger-full signals and our ability to be intuitive. It actually causes the body to store energy through hormonal signaling, which means the food we consume turns directly into fat. We feel hungry because none of the energy was used immediately for fuel. And we also accumulate fat cells. Scary stuff.

Being ignored and/or restricted.

I won’t go into eating disorders here, because they are frightening and dark and require much deeper treatment. However, they are the extreme version of what I mean here.

Actively ignoring the body’s signals to the brain (I feel stuffed, but I’ll have one more…I’m craving meat, but it’s too many calories…etc.) will eventually¬†turn them off. In the midst of busy lives, a sense of control is many people’s saving grace. However, control can be dangerous when aimed at the body.

Numerous studies have shown that restricting the food you can eat actually makes it harder to avoid eating what’s less healthy for you. I found no long-term success with rules like “I can only eat 1500 calories a day.” Some of you may say “but the Whole30/another elimination diet is super restrictive!” Yes, but it’s¬†temporary, and you can eat¬†as much as you want.

Melissa Hartwig did much research on habit formation, and she found that people more easily stick to habits if the “rules” are black and white. This is the reasoning behind the NO list on the Whole30. But, she’s up front that it’s not for the long term. It’s an experiment to figure out what your food future looks like. The key is to gradually reintroduce foods and see what happens, not to eliminate groups randomly forever.

So, black-and-white to kickstart a journey toward sustainable lifestyle change: yes. Black and white to fit into a dress/shirt/pair of pants or feel good about yourself: no.

Bingeing is the opposite, and also involves ignoring signals from the body. Using the W30 as an example again (tired of it yet?), one of the rules is that you can eat as much as you want. As much as it takes to feel full. So how come it doesn’t turn into bingeing, you ask?

Well, have you ever binged on some pan-seared chicken breast, cauli rice, and broccoli that you had to make yourself?

There’s your answer. Theoretically, and as I’ve found in practice, when we eat real food, we don’t want to binge on it. We¬†feel full.

 

We should all be able to learn a lesson from having been babies. Not only did we all intuit our needs perfectly well (even better than we do now), we also were special enough to have someone addressing our needs as they came up.

Maybe we never had people who met our needs, or maybe we did; regardless, being an adult means suddenly having to do all that need-meeting all by ourselves.

The best, most healthy thing that anyone can do is to¬†pay attention to their body. All bodies deserve their owner’s love and respect. That doesn’t mean that you can never have more than what makes you full. I overate some plant-based ice cream and super awesome sushi last week. But, that’s becoming an intentional choice rather than a mindless habit.

Love that body, it’s the only one you’ve got. ‚̧

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson From Baby Anne