Something interesting happened to me this week. I was at work when I looked at my reflection in the mirror in the Ladies room and didn't hate what I saw. This might sound less than eventful, but think about this for a moment - when was the last time this happened to you?
Like many of my peers, I've been on some variety of diet or weight-loss plan for most of my life. My weight has vacillated from around 100 in high school (all-time low was 93 lbs in 1986) to 185 (2002, shortly after getting an office job, moving to the suburbs, getting married, and not changing my eating habits even though my physical activity came to a screeching halt). I've done Atkins, The Zone, Weight Watchers (which actually worked and got me back down from that high point). I've given up some foods for good - soda, Rice-A-Roni, frozen dinners and other assorted things I know I shouldn't eat. I've also maintained a gym membership since 2002, working out at least three times a week most of the time. Plus subscriptions to various magazines like "Shape" and "Fitness", which basically repeat the same articles every month about how giving up soda and taking the stairs will make me lose 10 lbs. But what if I'm already doing that?
All this attention on weight and what we eat and what we should eat (and what we shouldn't eat) takes a lot of time and energy. Add to it the mental static of being convinced that your own reflection is horrifying every time you are even close to anything shiny and it's a wonder some of us accomplish anything. It certainly explains why I felt like shit after those Suzy-Q's the other day. Sure, part of it was the sugar and chemicals and other assorted bullshit that no one should eat - ever. But part of it was also a good dose of self-loathing for indulging in a 200-calorie snack. (I know this because I googled "Suzy-Q" to get the calorie count before I hit the vending machine. I do this every time I think about something in the vending machine. Sometimes several times in a single day.) That lasted for a good day or so.
I know more about the caloric content of junk food than I do about world geography. Meanwhile, my male counterpart can hand-draw a map of the Middle East and correctly label all - yes all - of the Stans (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, etc.) Why? Because he doesn't feel like crap after every meal, snack, desert, secret binge in the middle of the night. He sees food as something nourishing, to be shared and savored. I see food as a necessity and something to have as little of as possible. Food relaxes him and makes him feel satisfied. It stresses me out and most meals leave me feeling lousy for hours (sometimes even days) afterward.
Of course, this is not how it should be. This denial of a basic need that so many of us devote so much of our time and energy to distracts us from real happiness. It can lead to the opposite of dieting - overeating. I've watched this other end of the spectrum among my family and friends. Either situation results in a maladjusted view of food and self.
There is a wealth of reading material available about this now, from "Eat, Pray, Love" in which a woman reclaims her sense of self by first reclaiming food, to "Women, Food and God", a seriously deep dive into recovering from eating disorders like bulimia and overeating and building a normal relationship with food. Plus a lot in between. I've been reading some of these and, while interesting and easy to relate to, they are all somehow unsatisfying. They contain truth, but no real answers, no resolution for us chronic dieters.
So how do we get so fucked up about this in the first place? How old were you when you first started dieting? What was your favorite dieting short cut? (Mine was always water pills) Can you maintain a normal weight yet? I'm still gaining and losing the same 20 lbs on a regular two-year cycle.
I'll admit, I'm at the high peak of that weight-loss cycle and just gearing up to drop those two sizes. When, out of the blue, in the middle of a busy, hectic day when I was preoccupied thinking about really what it is I am supposed to be doing, I caught a glimpse of my reflection and thought it was OK. I stopped and took an actual look at myself. And it was still OK. Even that belly. I went to my toning class at the Y and thoroughly enjoyed my dinner and slept soundly that night without a trace of anxiety. If I figure out how to make this last, I'll let you all know.