This is the story of my relationship with food and why I chose to stop dieting.
I’m fat, and have been that basically my whole life. And not like 20 pounds “overweight”. We’re talking full-on Death Fat here, people.
Coming out of high school, I dieted. Boy, did I diet. I did Weight Watchers in college and lost something like 30 pounds, but I stopped (and, predictably, gained the weight back) because dieting feels extremely disordered to me and, in fact, I found myself engaging in disordered thoughts about my body and disordered eating habits when I was dieting, and I am convinced most women have a higher proportion of disordered thoughts when they are dieting. I stopped, too, because I grew up in a household where whole foods mattered, meals mattered, and in the diet days, I found myself reaching for the no-fat-super-processed stuff instead of making my own meals. Non-fat cool-whip and low-fat graham crackers, for example , was a dessert I often ate, because it was like 1 Weight Watcher point. Strawberries? Were 2. To me, choosing the former over the latter was an unacceptable way to eat. (And as a side note, I think Weight Watchers has changed this to give foods with, like, actual vitamins in them preference over the processed stuff).
I can’t tell you exactly when it finally clicked that simply because every woman in the world seemed to be constantly dieting and worrying about her caloric intake didn’t mean I had to as well, but it was a series of events in late 2008 that really cemented my personal and political commitment to living a diet-free life.
1. I started becoming involved in Fat Activism and started reading the work of writers like Kate Harding, Lesley Kinzell and others in the “Fat-o-Sphere” and learning about how fat is a feminist issue.
2. I went to see a new doctor, who said the most life-changing words anyone has ever said to me. I had become accustomed to deflecting talk about my weight with medical professionals by saying “Well, I’m a vegetarian and I exercise for 30+ minutes 3-4 times per week and I just don’t lose weight without drastic changes to my diet” (all of which is true). Fat prejudice is rampant in the health care system and among doctors, so being treated like I was somehow a failure for not being thin, like I was ruining my health and shortening my life, by every doctor I’d ever seen had become the norm. But this doctor, the most wonderful doctor I’ve ever had, asked me how I felt about my weight. No one had ever asked me that before. “Um. Actually I… I’m fine with it? This is…this is the only body I’ve ever had so…” And then I went into my “But I’m a good fattie!” spiel. She did a quick check of my chart, shrugged and said “Maybe this is just your body. Some people are larger than others. Your blood pressure is great, your heart is strong, you are active, you don’t smoke, you don’t do drugs, you’re fine. If you’re fine with your weight, I am fine with your weight.” I literally almost cried.
3. It started to click that I thought I was
attractive freaking hot and started actively rejecting cultural messages that fat bodies were somehow less beautiful than thin ones. And I started dating more (mostly fat men, whose bodies I happen to find attractive) and had more men hit on me and tell me I was beautiful. Which, is kind of a horrible thing to admit as a feminist; like, I was using male attention to buffer my self-esteem, but it’s true and there it is.
4. I like being a freak. A fat body is a non-conforming body. It pleases me to be non-conforming in a visible way. It has always pleased me. I have a nose ring. I dye my hair crazy colors. I have always felt like “the weird kid” on the inside, mostly due to my brains, so being non-conformist on the outside, well, I dig that. Being a big-ass stylish fattie, fucking with perceptions of beauty in a very small way? I dig that even more.
5. Dieting does not work. It doesn’t. 95% of people on diets will gain all the weight back within 5 years and studies have shown happy, active, fat people have better health outcomes than dieting, unhappy skinny people. In fact, dieting is really, really bad for you. Possibly worse than actually being fat.
Far be it from me to tell you what to do with your body, because I certainly believe above all else in this life that your body is your own, and you may do with it what you wish, including diet. But nearly every study that has shown a correlation between high BMI and bad health outcomes has been bank-rolled in some way by the diet industry. It’s a billion+ dollar industry. Those people don’t have your best interest at heart.
That was the final piece of the puzzle for me. The diet industry? Not my friend. I know my body better than they do. I know what it likes to eat and when it likes to be active and I want to take care of myself the best way I know how. Dieting had never sat right with me, and now, for all those reasons above, I decided to stop. Put down the Weight Watchers Points Manual. Start eating again.
So sometime in late 2008 I signed an opt-out with myself. I opt out of dieting. Forever. Because I’m expected to do it, as an American woman in the 21st century, for no other reason than vanity and I reject that reason. Because women will talk about their diets instead of talking about other, more interesting things, and I refuse to participate in that. Because, above all, I believe that I was less healthy and more disordered when I was 30 pounds lighter. Because I believe that I can be the size I am and be healthy, and I believe that being healthy is a subjective, not an objective measurement anyway. Because I believe that health should be divorced from thin and should be divorced from any moral judgment.
But if you want to know the truth of it, taking care of myself, that euphemism you so often see on dating sites to mean no-fatties (“I want someone who takes care of herself”) involves not dieting. It involves exercising 3-4 days per week. It involves getting enough sleep. It involves actively disengaging myself from cultural messages about fat bodies. It involves looking at pictures of happy fat women at various places around the internet in order to disengage from cultural messaging about fat bodies. And it involves eating when I’m hungry, not eating when I’m not, eating a wide variety of whole, delicious foods, mostly making up meals I cook myself. It means I do not worry about good foods and bad foods, because I trust myself and I trust my appetite’s ability to steer me in the direction of the good stuff it needs.
And my version of taking care of myself also involves not beating myself up for not doing one or more of these things if I can’t manage it that day/week/month/year.
I am thankful every day I opted out of dieting 2+ years ago and figured out how best to care for myself. I’m happy. With the way I look, with the way I feel, with the energy I have. I’m healthy. All those things that the “after” people tout about weight loss in weight loss product commercials? Well I achieved all of them. How? I stopped listening to people in weight loss commercials.