If I lose five pounds, I will become a happier person. A more confident person. I will be more desirable. That is the message we're given, isn't it? That as women, we are somehow more complete if we look a certain way; perhaps if only because thin = confident and not thin must therefore =
I have to challenge something here, and that is the assumption that weight and confidence have so much to do with each other. Having worked with hundreds of clients to help them lose weight, I can honestly say that some of my most confident clients were also the biggest. Conversely, some of my thinnest clients have been the most obsessed with their weight. One client in particular comes to mind. I'll call her Cindy. Cindy was a tall, gorgeous blonde. She looked like a model, and I often saw other clients watching her surreptitiously in the lobby. I knew what they were thinking, often because they burst out with the question the second they got into my office. "What is she doing here?! She doesn't need to lose weight!" But she thought she did, and nothing I or anyone else said could convince her otherwise. She was terrified at the thought of gaining weight, was sure that no man would find her attractive, and gave herself a guilt trip over every ounce she ate and every time she didn't work out. Of course, Cindy was an extreme. But the truth was, she wasn't that extreme. I would like to say she was my only client like that, but she wasn't. I would also like to think that, working at Jenny Craig, I had a skewed reference point for how women think, but I don't believe that's true either. The words I heard were the same I've heard from friends for years. "I feel fat." "I need to lose weight." "Ugh. I feel so gross." Have you ever said those words? I certainly have.
We live in a society that is obsessively focused on weight. Every pound that Jessica Simpson puts on or takes off is scrutinized in the media. If she loses fifteen pounds, she's on the cover of US Weekly with a big smile and a "How Did She Do It?" Suddenly, she is on top of the world and we should all look up to her and try to lose weight like she did. If she gains fifteen pounds, she is no longer smiling. The magazine now wants to know, "Was She Cheated On Because of Her Weight Gain?" Really? Really?
But you all know this. That the media enforces a negative body image in women is not news to any of us. So why am I talking about this today? Most of you know that I lost about twenty pounds five years ago. If you've been reading since the beginning, I've probably mentioned wanting to lose that last five "vanity pounds." In fact, I'm sure I have. It's always there, a niggling thought in the back of my mind. If I could just lose those last five pounds, I would [insert life changing idea here]. I don't even know what would be different. But something would, right? I generally eat healthy, and if I work hard, I lose a few pounds. Then I overeat and gain them back. I lose them a few months later. I overeat again and gain them back. I end up staying at the same weight, cycling those couple of pounds over and over. Lately, I've been struggling -as I often do- with food cravings and the guilty feelings that come with them. But today, I was reading a book on overeating, and the author posed a question that made me stop and think.
The question was based on the idea of being stranded on a desert island with the knowledge that no one would ever see you again. There was plenty of food on the island, but no people and no hope of being rescued. Now, set aside the idea of how horrible and devastating that would be, and just ask yourself the question, "Would you try to lose weight?" I didn't even have to think about the answer. Of course not! If no one would see me, then who cares? But I asked someone else and her answer was yes. Why? Because her joints would hurt less and she would feel more comfortable in her own skin. I understand that. At twenty pounds heavier, I was not comfortable in my skin at all. But now? I had to stop and think. If someone asked me if I want to lose weight, my answer would be yes. But did I want to lose weight if no one else was around to
It took a simple question to make me see what people have been telling me for years. That I don't need to lose weight. No, that's not quite right. It took a simple question to make me realize something more than that. I always knew I didn't need to lose weight. Today, I realized that I don't want to. No wonder it's always such a struggle! It's only when I'm comparing myself to others that I suddenly feel the need to have the "perfect" body. When I'm doing my own thing, my body feels pretty perfect to me.
I don't want to lose weight. What a small statement with such a big impact. Even just typing it, I think, "That can't be right. I should take it back. I must be lying to myself. I can't be okay with myself just how I am, can I? If I'm happy with how I am, then...then...well, I don't know what then." Why do I rebel so strongly against the idea that I'm great just the way I am? I'm still working on the answer to that. The idea that I don't want to lose weight is a new revelation to me, so I'll have to take some time to sit with it and figure it all out. One thing I do know is that, at twenty eight, I've spent years believing I needed to lose weight. That's not something I can erase in one day. Even at my lowest weight (which was actually ten pounds lighter than I am now), I still thought I should lose weight. I don't even think I had a reason at that point. Just because. Just to be like all the shiny people on magazine covers. Just to be a star.
So here I am now with this idea that I like my body at this weight. I know it won't make a big difference unless I work at it. I know those doubts and niggling whispers about the power of weight loss will come back and try to worm their way in. I know that this new revelation could float back out the door if I let it. But if I allow myself to accept what I now realize is a more honest view of my own feelings, what other truths might I come to find? If I stop believing that I have to look like someone else in order to be the perfect me, what will I do with all that excess energy? All that energy that I've used to agonize over food, bingeing, and weight loss? That's a lot of extra energy floating around, waiting for something positive to invest in. That's a reality I've never known. I don't know what it feels like not to worry about my weight. I don't know what it feels like not to obsess over food. I know what it feels like to obsess less. But not to obsess at all? Is that even possible?
Here's what I'm promising to myself, and I'm promising it to you because then I can't conveniently forget this. I will not tell myself that I am fat. I will not look in the mirror with the intention of picking out my flaws. I will get rid of the skinny jeans that were tight on me even ten pounds lighter than I am now but that still lie in my dresser drawer. I will not tell myself that I need to lose five pounds before I move to Seattle. I will not berate myself for wanting to eat a cookie, and I will not feel guilty if I eat more cookies than I had planned. I will not judge myself when thoughts of weight-loss creep in, but nor will I harbor those thoughts like lost souls looking for a home. And on days when I fail at all this - because I know those days happen - I will at least tell myself I am beautiful.
I know. Easier said than done. Well, I said it and you all heard me. So now I'm going to do it.