I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been experiencing an emotion that hasn’t been entirely natural for me for most of my life…I’ve been happy. Happy and completely content, both with my life and myself. I’ve felt happiness before, but it often felt tainted with mild-but-persistent anxiety.
It has only been very recently, when I’ve begun to embrace who and how I really am and the gifts I have to share that life started feeling really good. When I shucked off the expectations I thought the world had for me and just went with my own expectations…my life really started to open up.
And yet, I am as fat as I was before I started my first diet. We are frequently told fat people can’t be happy with themselves, so how is this possible? (Sarcasm meter: 10/10)
Looking back before my first diet, I cannot recall truly disliking my body. I knew that society saw my body as “wrong” but I didn’t have problems looking at myself in photos, and I didn’t look in the mirror and think “yuck.” I went out dancing a lot back then and remember feeling pretty awesome when I rocked an outfit I really liked. However, I went on a diet anyway because as much as I liked myself, I became tired of being the butt of society’s joke. I didn’t want to be seen as “wrong” any longer. When I began to lose weight rapidly and relatively easily, it just reinforced the diet mentality for me. When people around me started to congratulate me on my new body, I was hooked.
So in fact it was after I had lost weight that I learned to hate my former fat body.
When you lose weight and everyone tells you how awesome you suddenly look, that is some seriously addictive mojo. Now you know: before, not so good. Now, good. I decided to blame my former fatness for all that was wrong with my life before: the lack of love, the lack of self-esteem, the choice of bad hairstyles, feeling invisible. Since I had been able to “fix” the fat problem, it did not fully occur to me that this was actually a societal problem and not an individual one — that everyone knows the message that fat bodies are worth less and just maybe that negatively impacts our experience in the world.
I got into a relationship that I was pretty sure would not have happened had I remained fat. On the one hand I was relieved that I was no longer fat and could be in relationships, yet on the other hand, I was angry that my romantic life depended on something so trivial as my weight and appearance (little did I know, it didn’t have to). This, I guess, is what is meant by cognitive dissonance. It was hard to get relaxed enough in my life to fully feel happiness or contentment in any meaningful way.
Many years later, when I started to regain my lost weight after giving up dieting, I was disconcerted to say the least. I had somehow convinced myself that this was not possible or likely, and yet there it was – a straight shot back to my starting weight, pre-dieting. I was unhappy but also determined that I would make peace with my body and even try to like it. I was determined I would not let fat bigotry dictate how I felt about myself.
In the past few years, after a LOT of rumination on how fucked up this societal fatphobia bigotry bullshit is, I’ve come closer than ever before to accepting and liking my body, and feeling right and relaxed in it. Knowing that my body didn’t need to be my part- or even full-time job has freed me up to pursue my career (which, ironically, is about food and nutrition – but not about my body or my nutrition) and magic started happening. I finally garnered the confidence to start this blog and a podcast; I’ve been offered guests spots on other podcasts (check them out here, here, and here), I’ve been published in a magazine, I’m getting offered speaking opportunities, and soon I’ll be starting my own business and helping those who need it to find peace with food – essentially my dream job (more info on that to come in future posts) . I discovered that being loved did not depend on the size and shape of my body. On top of that, I’ve met a whole community of amazing people who also don’t buy the fat=bad thin=good BS we are sold on a daily basis.
When I was thin, I thought I should have been happy, but I really wasn’t. When I was thin, I longed for a career that I was excited and serious about, but I was too self-conscious to pursue. When I was thin, I wanted my relationships to feel like they were based on more than how well I approximated the cultural beauty ideal. When I was thin, I wanted to feel relaxed and unworried in my body, but I couldn’t. I got all that, but not when I was thin. That all happened when I got fat again.
I can’t guarantee this outcome for anyone else, and I can only speak to my own experience. My fatness is not someone else’s fatness. But I do think it’s important that we challenge the myths that the diet industry and society sells to us which few of us profit from.
We might not be happy with ourselves when we lose weight; we might not be unhappy if we are fat. As much as we are able, let’s try to determine our own levels of happiness for ourselves, and then, hopefully, also change the world.
Dietitians Unplugged Ep 10 – Be Your Own Beloved with Vivienne McMaster:
The picture I used this week was taken during Vivienne’s Beloved Beginnings class. I hope you’ll join Aaron Flores and I for the Be Your Own Beloved 30 day class starting July 1. I have had so much fun in this class so far. I’ve started to learn to hush my inner critic and see myself with compassion. I can’t recommend it enough – and I don’t even get paid to say that.