[Trigger warning for brief mentions of dieting and calories]
I was recently given some photos of a birthday dinner I attended. Everyone looked so great. Then I came across one of the pictures I was in. I won’t lie to you. I cried. My stomach, my upper arms, my chin — just ugh. After experiencing numerous times the shock and surprise of looking *smaller* in old pictures than I felt at the time, I was disappointed to feel the opposite when confronted with these current pictures.
My first reaction was to start a diet. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been strongly convinced for over two years in my fat acceptance beliefs (I understand two years is not all that long really), and here I was reverting right back to my pre-FA mind set. I haven’t started a diet…yet. But I’m afraid I will. I have calorie-counted a couple of days since then. Not restricting, but just tallying up. I still write down everything I eat, which is probably evidence of disordered thinking. The totals did not leave even any room for dieting unless I truly want to go the starvation route. Actually, it’s hard to argue that all diets aren’t experiments in starvation anyway.
Well, problem number one with my temptation to diet is that I promised myself I wouldn’t (see number 7). I hate when people break promises to me or lie to me. I certainly don’t want to do either to myself. I lost an organ because of dieting. It’s commonly believed the organ is an unnecessary one, but let me tell you, not having it has affected my digestion and as odd as it may sound, my ability to live normally to a certain extent. (If it sounds odd, just talk to someone with IBS or Crohn’s disease.)
The second problem with wanting to diet is a major tenet of the fat acceptance movement and one I agree the evidence supports completely: diets don’t work. Even if I didn’t believe one whit in any aspect of FA, why would I logically engage in an activity that has a 95 percent chance* of failing (some studies contend it’s a 98 percent chance)? If my desire is to lose weight, why would I do something that 95 times out of 100 will result in not only failure but in accomplishing the exact opposite? Rational thinking would tell me those odds are terrible. It’s just astonishing how often losing weight is prescribed in this society (by medical professionals but, more often than not, by laymen) when it’s an endeavor practically guaranteed to keep the dieter at the same weight or even make them fatter!
The last (for now) problem I have with my urge to diet is that it’s an unhealthy practice. I just finished reading Breaking the Diet Habit: The Natural Weight Alternative, and while it’s old (from 1983), there’s a lot of evidence discussed about just how detrimental dieting is to one’s health. Something not surprising to anyone who’s ever dieted: dieters are in a constant state of stress. Another non-shocker to those of us aware of FA and/or HAES: dieting (in some cases permanently) damages the body’s internal cues of hunger and satiety. I’ve long thought that the missing piece of the equation “fat = unhealthy” is fat*dieting = unhealthy. Breaking the Diet Habit is great at pointing out that the only reason fat is even in the equation is that fat people are more likely to diet. Thin people do, too, but not as prevalently. I can’t endorse the book wholeheartedly because they seem to ascribe all eating “misbehaviors” to dieting behavior whereas I think overeating and emotional eating are sometimes also variations in normal behavior by normal (i.e., non-dieting) people.
So basically I feel like the promise of being thin and all its entitlement — as achieved by dieting — is the sirens’ call. The fact that dieting is unhealthy for you and ultimately doesn’t work for 95 percent of those who attempt it *and* oftentimes results in weight gain is your ship crashing against the rocks as you tried to get closer to listen to the sirens’ song.
I also recently read Fat!So? by Marilyn Wann. It’s old, too (1999), but *so* good. I cannot recommend it highly enough. By far the funnest FA book I’ve read yet. I’ve been trying to do a suggestion I found there with these birthday party pictures. I’ve been trying to look at them and not think negatively about myself and find the good. Trying to desensitize or resensitize or I’m not sure what. I’m actually over being bothered by my stomach and arms. I’m still working on the chin.
I feel terribly vain for thinking all of this and then posting it, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like a vanity issue. The confidence I’ve been building for the past two years as a fat person just got terribly shaken by those pictures. For me, the issue got complicated because my first instinct was to diet. I’m still trying to fight that and stick to a more HAES approach.
Here’s a quote I’ve been thinking a lot about from Breaking the Diet Habit:
The pressure on aspiring models to maintain a skeletal physique is legendary: fashion models are notorious for the nutritional abuse to which they subject their bodies. As difficult as it is for them, however, it is even more difficult for their public. Models, after all, are intended to set standards. When even the skinniest segment of the population has trouble adhering to the ideal, there is not much hope for the rest; yet the ideal, however unrealistic it may be, remains in force, forcefully.
*I’ve seen in the past commenters questioning where this figure comes from. This is where: International Journal of Obesity 13, number 2 (1989), pp. 123-136, F. Kramer et al. “Long-term follow-up of behavioral treatment for obesity: patterns of weight regain among men and women.”