Disclaimer: this pretty much came out of my head as-is. I’ve been trying to put it into a more coherent format, but it hasn’t worked thus far. So please excuse the utter lack of smooth transitions in this post.
I’ve been reading a lot of stuff in the Fatosphere recently about dieters and whether or not someone who diets can really call themselves part of the Fat Acceptance movement. The general consensus seems to be that it’s not possible: that you can’t simultaneously accept yourself as fat, and be trying to get rid of said fat. At first glance, that makes sense to me. It’s been causing some cognitive dissonanance though, because I’d like to drop some weight. I’m not willing to be unhealthy to do it (some would argue that dieting is inherently unhealthy, but I’ll cover that in a minute), and I still believe that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of weight or health (or anything else, but right now I’m just talking about weight and health). Does that mean I can’t be a FA ally? Some would say yes, others would say no, and a few draw a line between Fat Acceptance and Fat Rights, where I’m guessing I’d fall more into the latter category, although I haven’t asked anyone about that.
So I’ve been thinking a lot: examining my assumptions about myself, weight, dieting, HAES (Health At Every Size), selling out for a smaller body, etc. And here’s what I’ve come to: when I say that I’m going on a “diet,” I don’t think I’m selling out, and I don’t think that it’s antithetical to FA. But I have a very different definition of “diet” than most people do. I would agree that someone who decides to go on a diet solely for reasons of weight loss, and without undertaking any sort of emotional and mental inventory is going to end up mentally unhealthy. I remember going to Weight Watchers meetings and hearing people say things like, “Well, I used to have a piece of Brie and a glass of wine every evening for dessert, but now I eat 3 cups of sugar-free Jell-O instead and that’s SO MUCH BETTER!” I remember sitting there at the time thinking, “Um, no. You’d be better off with the cheese and wine, because at least your body knows it’s FOOD, for God’s sake! WTF is Jell-O except a bunch of scary chemicals!?” Ahem. The WW people didn’t take too kindly to that viewpoint, though. In their books, of COURSE the chemical food was better: it had fewer calories, and therefore was better by definition!!!! (And let’s not EVEN get into the idea of “fewer calories” = “better.” That’s a whole blog post – or 20 – all its own. Suffice it to say that less =/= better. Jesus.)
Actually, I had to stop doing WW after a while. I was losing weight, but I was more disordered about it than I had been since college. I finally started deliberately drinking lots of water right before “weigh-in” so that I could skew the numbers up. That way, I didn’t really know if I’d gained or lost, and I couldn’t obsses about the number on the scale. So yeah, I would agree that kind of a diet is rarely ever healthy. (I’m sure there are people out there who manage to stay sane about it, but based on the number of women who admitted to starving all day the day of the weigh-in, or brought the same clothes to change into every week, I don’t think there are very many mentally healthy dieters out there. There’s an exception to every rule, but still.)
I tend to use substances an emotional crutches. Usually that’s food, but I’ll use alcohol if it’s handier. Now I’ve heard people say that eating for emotional reasons is an acceptable way to eat, that even thin people do it, and therefore it’s not a contributor to being fat. That may be true for that individual, and it may be true for a lot more people than that one. But for me? I call bullshit. If I’m eating because I’m sad, angry, tired, lonely, stressed, happy, hyper, bored, etc, then it’s NOT healthy eating. If I do it a lot, then it definitely becomes a contributing factor in my weight. And if I’m eating for those reasons, then OF COURSE diets will make me crazy: they take away my emotional sedative (food), and I suddenly have to deal with all kinds of emotional shit that I wasn’t prepared to deal with, on top of a dramatic change in my caloric intake, which fucks with my body. (Please be advised that I know some people are indeed genetically predisposed to be fat. Those people will be crazy on any diet, because THEY ALREADY EAT NORMALLY. Even if they’re emotionally healthy, they’ll go batshit from starvation.)
I watch myself sabotage myself with the way that I eat and drink (not what I eat, so much as the way I eat it: when I’m tired, stressed, angry, etc.). As an example, I had too much to drink on Saturday. I had planned to get up on Sunday, go to my crazy-liberal church, come home, hit the farmers’ market, paint some furniture and try out a couple of new recipes. After drinking Saturday night, I woke up without a hangover, but I was definitely tired and sluggish from my body trying to process the alchohol out of my system. I didn’t go to church or the farmers’ market. I lay in bed reading, and then got up and wandered aimlessly around the house for several hours, not really wanting to do ANYTHING. I finally put some clothes on and went to Lowe’s at 1:00 just to get out for a while. When I got back, I did paint some furniture (though not nearly as much as I’d hoped), and I did make a Marsala sauce that night (though I didn’t make the other 2 recipes I had wanted to try). And the sad thing is, I can’t claim that I didn’t know the alchohol would affect me that way. I know I always feel sluggish and tired and cranky and full of body-loathing if I drink too much (even one glass too much will do that to me). But I did it anyway, and I shot a good portion of my Sunday to hell because of it. That is not healthy – and it wouldn’t be any healthier if I had done it with food (a big bowl of pasta eaten when I’m stressed and want “comfort food” affects my body the way that too much alchohol Saturday night did, which is different from the way the same bowl of pasta eaten because it’s dinner time and I’m hungry affects me).
(Random logic jump here.) I hate the word “recovering.” Hate it, hate it, hate it. I’ve had more than a passing acquaintance with various 12-step groups in my life: mostly family members, although I tried Al-Anon and Overeaters Anonymous at different times in my life. I got through my disordered eating/exercising in college pretty much under my own power, although I did see a therapist from time to time. I think the 12-step method has some valuable stuff going for it, but the idea that you never get better – you NEVER recover – I think is bullshit. I think it perpetuates a victim mentality, and I’ve seen it over and over in my family and friends (and subscribed to it myself for a while). Again, I’m not saying it’s true for everyone, but I’ve seen it an awful lot of that mentality in the various 12-step groups I’ve been to: probably about 90% of the people exhibit some sort of victim mentality, regardless of how long they’ve been in the program. The belief that, “I’ll never get better – I’ll be an alcholic (addict, whatever) for life, and I’ll never rid myself of the behaviors related to alcoholism/addiction,” is bullshit. Isn’t that what a “searching and fearless moral inventory” should be? Your best attempt to find the root of the problem and then DEAL with it. Get therapy, throw some pillows, spank your inner moppet, whatever (no, it’s never that easy, but you get my point). But don’t think that just because you glimpsed something at the bottom of the dark space in your head – just because you saw the reptilian scales glimmer faintly in the half-light – don’t think that THAT is a “searching and fearless moral inventory.” Get down there, face it, fight it, forgive it, love it, and let it GO. THAT is how we get better. Not by rehashing every bad thing that ever contributed to our current state of being: rehashing will only cause you to remain the same as you are right now. Do you really want to be where you are now in 5 years? In 10? In 20? (This is all related to that “When do you become responsible?” post from a couple of days ago.)
SO. Having said all that, when I say that I’m going to diet, I mean something different than “cut my calories under [x] number and exercise like a maniac.” I mean that I’m going to examine why I eat what I do and when I tend to eat it. I’m going to focus on digging out the emotional issues at the bottom of things. I’m going to learn to deal with stress and anxiety using methods that don’t involve burying said stress and anxiety in my body with food (or alchohol). And I know from previous experience that when I do that, I lose weight.
At this point, I would call that HAES, except for two things. FIrst, that the fastest way for me to bring my emotional crap to the surface is to stop eating (or drinking) when I’m anything but hungry (no pasta when stressed, no glass of wine when I’m tired, no chocolate when I’m bored). Witholding that sedative will unleash a mental and emotional shitstorm that will knock me on my ass, and force me to deal with the stuff I’ve been avoiding, but it IS a “restricted diet,” so I’m not sure it would fall into HAES. Second, HAES stresses that weight loss be an ancillary, not a primary motivation. And honestly, although I wish I could say that my motivation is strictly related to my health, it’s not. My motivation for fixing my internal self really comes from about 60% wanting to lose weight, and 40% wanting to fix my emotional and mental health. Mostly I really want to lose weight, but I know that for me, there’s only one way to do that in a healthy manner. My choice to get healthy is really a choice to “diet” without being disordered. So what does that make me? Am I a “dieter?” Am I practicing HAES? Or is it more complicated than either of those things?
Now, I realize that not everyone has this experience. There are people out there whose genetics predispose them to be fat. There are people who eat too much. There are people who really do clean out their houses and lose weight “releasing clutter.” There are people who have royally screwed up their systems with disordered eating and their bodies don’t work the same anymore. There are thyroid problems and medications that cause weight gain. There are SO MANY FACTORS, and most FA people will tell you that being fat does not always (if ever) equal calories in=calories out. They’re right. But the overwhelming message I’ve gotten is that weight-loss, unless practiced under HAES, can only be disordered and antithetical to FA, and I’m not convinced that’s always the case either.