CW: fatphobia, disordered eating. I wrote this to help myself crystallise my thinking about the topic, and to understand my motivations. It’s not advice, judgement or criticism of anyone, including myself. If you don’t like what I have written, then please do your best to forget it and move on with your life. Always take care of yourselves and each other.
I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to lose weight
Not for ‘virtue’. Not to look ‘better’. Not because anyone has shamed or pressured me into it. For health reasons.
EDS has damaged my joints and overstressed my muscles. The heavier I am, the more stress is put on both. Knees, spine, ankles, hips – I already have osteoarthritis in each, the ligaments and tendons damaged, the grinding of bone against bone within the lax joints clearly discernible. I end every day in a huddle of knotted, twitching muscles. I can’t stand for longer than ten minutes without significant pain in my lower back (scoliosis), can’t walk around for more than half an hour without stabbing pains in my left heel (tendinitis). I need two hands to carry a full glass of water upstairs because my finger and thumb joints displace so easily and hurt so much. My left kneecap keeps popping out of alignment and I have a pinched nerve in my right hip. I need to give the load-bearing structure less work to do and that means being lighter.
Isn’t it OK to be fat?
I’m well aware that there are hundreds of toxic narratives around weight and diet, and after lots of long hard thinking sessions on the topic, I’m conflicted. Fatphobia is all around – I was raised to believe that no-one has to be fat if they work at not being so, and it is better not to be fat. I never really questioned that view until I started reading blog posts about body positivity – and even now, while I totally agree that beauty is infinitely variable and that what’s important is to be happy with yourself no matter what that looks like – I still can’t shake off the conviction that being overweight is not a good thing. However, I also know that view has been shaped by the opinions of my family and peers, popular culture and the messages of the multitute of people trying to sell stuff. Feeling that way might mean I’m a horrible person or an ignorant one, and if so then I apologise for that. I have no right to judge anyone else’s choices or situation and I would never dream of telling anyone else that their weight is ‘wrong’ (‘cos that would be fucking rude). I don’t consider fat to be a detractor to sexiness – in fact, I much prefer the look and feel of curves; it’s just that I’ve always been led to believe that it’s ‘better’ to have a taut and toned body than a roly-poly one, and that idea is become deeply embedded.
We don’t yet have a well-rounded understanding of the roles that metabolism, hormones, genetics, epigenetics play in regulating weight, the destructive influence of capitalism on physical and emotional wellbeing or what the ‘right’ size and shape should be for any individual; and it’s seldom as easy as saying ‘fat is bad and anyone can get rid of it if they choose’. Since there are genetic conditions which cause slow metabolism, and there are genes, neuropeptides and hormones that affect appetite or eating/activity; there’s clearly more going on here than the mantras of the ‘self-control’ brigade can overcome. The simple narratives with which we govern our lives break down when applied to complex systems; and this intersection of biology, sociology and psychology is about as complex as things get
I hate the way looks and weight are used as a weapon against people. I hate the amount of anger and contempt and the lack of empathy or compassion that permeates through so many discussions about weight. I hate the smug arrogance and unthinking ignorance of people who interpret body size as a measure of character or intelligence. I really hate the way that (on the whole) women are judged and sentenced far more harshly than men when it comes to body size and shape .
I also prefer the body I had as a 21-year-old to the one I have now. I had a waist smaller than my hips and I liked the way that looked. My face was more angular, which I think suited my features better. And everything hurt a lot less than it does now.
Of course, part of the reason my 22-year-old self had far fewer joint pains is that her joints were less damaged – from car accidents, falls, bad posture, overuse, underuse; the wear and tear of a life lived. But there are other reasons too; a lifelong toxic relationship with food, emotional self-regulation problems, antidepressants, chronic fatigue, biology and self-image, all of which have contributed to many variances in the numbers on the scales and in my clothing labels.
No apps, no lists, no programmes
I know from experience that formal, structured approaches to food intake trigger panic, fear, resentment, rage and despair within me – the same feelings I screamed at when I was seven and broccoli was the most horrifying thing in the world; that held me sitting in silent mutual standoff against my long-suffering mother when even the idea of chewing a mouthful of sweetcorn made me actively retch and the actual reality of doing do; vomit (that one’s still an issue actually). Nearly every mealtime for years was a struggle that left everyone drained and depressed and further entrenched my food trauma.
I got better at food. Much better. I now eat a wide range of items and cuisines. I’m not good with many fruits (sensory aversions to certain textures) or vegetables (taste, texture and difficult associations) but I can make and choose a big variety healthy, tasty meals. I’ll even try new things occasionally – although not if it involves seafood of any kind.
So I won’t be following any set of rules, any programme, keeping any logs or considering any risk-reward system. I’ve went through all of them as a child and none of them worked.
What I am going to do is improve my diet and eating habits. Not fad-dieting, just cutting down on all the sugar and processed food, stopping when I’m satisfied rather when the food is all gone, preparing more meals from scratch and not giving in to cravings all the time. Eating meat less often (that one’s for ethical and environmental reasons too). Snacking on things like roast chickpeas instead of crisps, preparing snacks to carry around with me rather than picking up convenience food while I’m out and about. Things I should be doing to stay healthy regardless of my dress size or BMI. No shame, no guilt, just quiet reminders to myself. No ‘treating’ myself for being ‘good’ but reprogramming my habits so that I don’t feel bereft or angry at the idea of not having dessert or a second helping of something delicious even when I know I’m already full.
And I’m going to be stricter with myself about strengthening my muscles so that I can hold a better posture and not just flop about like a puppet with tangled strings. That means taking ten minutes in the the morning and evening to do gentle muscle-strengthening Pilates exercises until I get to the point where I’m confident that attempting any more significant exercise won’t break me, either by exceeding my (pretty goddamn high) pain tolerance or by confiscating the beans* I need to get up, go to work, do my job well, come home, have conversations, have sex, read, write, plan, organise, tidy, and all the other things that sap a supply limited by physical, mental and emotional challenges of living with EDS, Aspergers Syndrome, endometriosis, and the occasional tendency to be a complete dickhead
It’s not going to be easy and I need to be realistic about it. Any kind of high-impact exercise will increase my risk of dislocating something, repetitive movements aggravate existing damage, I barely have enough energy to do a highly-demanding job in a very niche profession part-time already, let alone adding get-fit sessions. If I change my working pattern or position in order to give myself more time for working out, I might not earn enough to support myself independently. That leaves making changes to my eating habits as the best option for tackling this. I don’t need to be able to run marathons. I don’t want to be skinny. I just want to hurt a little less and get my waistline back.
Please, wish me fortitude in tackling this.
(*beans are my version of spoons. As in ‘full of beans’, or more often ‘low on beans’, ‘bean-deprived’, or ‘in bean debt’.)