I would like to address something I saw on the Facebookwebs earlier today… implicit in the statement is a slight sneer: You won’t gain back the weight you lose on a diet if you don’t return to overeating.
Meaning, of course, if you are disciplined, motivated… if you can control yourself after you lose weight, you won’t be like the roughly 80% of people who lose weight on a diet and gain it back. Some people are more successful than others at losing weight on a diet and keeping it off. But the price of thinness is eternal vigilance. Always weighing and measuring.
And that’s true. I’ve done it. I’ve lost weight and kept it off through discipline. If you exercise iron self-control, counting out every molecule of food you’re allowed… eating cheesecake on Thursday even though you wanted it on Monday but Thursday is your day to eat whatever you want (ie, binge) so you ate 3 slices on Thursday because damn it it doesn’t taste good (whereas on Monday, maybe 1 slice or 1/2 a slice would have been enough). And then you realize on Thursday what you really wanted was pot roast, cornbread and mashed potatoes, so you have that too. And you’re left with a sick tummy that didn’t enjoy any of the food it was force-fed and you end up wondering what’s wrong with you that you want what you can’t have, and then what you give yourself makes you sick.
I think that having a fit and healthy body is important. This body is going to be with me until the end of my days, so I want to take care of it. And yeah, I don’t want it to look like hell when it’s 60. But I also want to live my life. And a life that involves lugging chicken breasts and hardboiled eggs with me, or timing my intermittent fasts with planned binges or standing on my head after every meal so the calories don’t float to my ass is a life that’s half-lived.
The trouble with weight is that it’s not just about food. Yes, it is about food, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. Under that tip is a whole bunch of other issues that need to be dealt with. Dieting piles up more stuff on top of the food (because of our emotional and biological responses to restriction and being told “no you can’t have that cookie” because then fuck you I will eat 10). So that tip of the iceberg gets bigger and there’s more schtuff to sort through before you can get to what’s underneath the waterline.
I wish I could draw a crappy little blog graphic to illustrate this point. Maybe with stick figures and kitschy little labels.
If you are filling up your stomach with food because you feel hollow — hollow from sorrow or anger or loneliness or boredom — switching to broccoli instead of potato chips isn’t going to solve the underlying problem of not being able to distinguish between feelings that are physical signals of hunger and feelings that are manifestations of emotions. Did you know that our emotions produce physical sensations? A heaviness in the heart, a sickness or emptiness in the stomach… heat behind the neck, tightening of the eyes.
I honestly did not know that.
Yesterday, I heard about someone who had gone through a nasty break up. Everyday on her way home from work, she would stop by the store and buy herself a bottle of wine and a birthday cake. And she’d consume both.
As someone who loves both cake and wine (see my logo above), even I shudder at how sick that must have made her feel, and I can eat 8 cupcakes in a sitting (there are witnesses). But it’s interesting the items she chose to torture her body — wine, which we associate with plenty and jubilation (remember, Jesus’ first miracle was making vats and vats of the most delicious wine for a wedding feast). Wine is celebratory. And birthday cake! The only thing more celebratory is wedding cake! And in their proper uses, wine and cake are meant to be shared with loved ones. That’s why we don’t have single serving birthday cakes and decent wine doesn’t come in individual bottles.
In my opinion, I think she was putting into her belly things that she felt she would never have again. Or things that she felt were in uncertain supply. Delight. Joy. Celebration. Love. Companionship.
Does she need a diet? To learn about carb counts? Or the glycemic index? Weight watcher points?
It seems to me that for many of us, we keep ourselves in a semi-deprived state. We work at jobs we do not like and we spend our precious time and attention on activities we don’t feel passionate about. So we fill ourselves up with the next best thing to joy and fulfillment — the food that is associated with joyfulness and celebration. And while we’re filling ourselves, we don’t learn the skills to truly engage with this very short life of ours.
And when everything gets out of whack and the nights of solitary wine and birthday cake catch up with us, someone hands us a diet. “This worked for my cousin/mother/neighbor,” they say. Of course, we don’t know that it worked for their cousin 5 times — that’s how often she has gained and lost weight on that particular diet. And the more diets we try, and the more we fail at, the more desperate and strident our attempts become. We move from “No eating after 7 pm” to 500 calorie diets. All meat diets. All fruit diets. Food combining. Juice fasts.
Last weekend was a busy one for me, and I ended up teaching both days. Then I had my regular week of classes on top of it. Monday evening I was already wiped and the week loomed ahead of me. I ended up going 2 weeks without a rest day, which I never do. I found myself cranky and fretful all week. I had too much wine one night. I found myself munching pistachios and dry cereal another night. I felt fidgety and uncomfortable. I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t feel hungry, but I didn’t feel satisfied either. At one point on Sunday afternoon, in exasperation, I laid down in the middle of the day and slept for 2 hours. I woke up and finally felt fullness in my stomach. My body needed rest and I had ignored the signals. I’d thought it need food when what it really needed — demanded — was care.
If we listen carefully, we can hear our body speaking and telling us when it has had enough food. It will tell us when it doesn’t want food, but it wants something else. A hug. A walk. A long talk. A bath. Maybe even a nap.