I was talking to an acquaintance who doesn’t know what I do (this body acceptance/HAES stuff) for at least some of my time, which is why she said to me, “I’m looking for a 1500 calorie diet – I saw pictures of myself at my nephew’s wedding and I didn’t like the way I looked. What diet should I do?”
Not being paid to treat her, I dispensed with any sort of motivational interviewing sensibility and pleaded, “Oh Harriet*! Please don’t even bother. Diets are horrible and in the end you just gain even more weight back.” She was interested in that, so we talked for a while about what all the science says and how food-and-calorie restriction just leads to crazy-eating and how in the end, almost no one loses weight forever.
But she kept coming back to one thing: I have to do something, because I’m just too big. Being a short, fat, older lady, she most likely receives confirmation, like all fat people, on a daily basis that she has the wrong body, if from nothing more than the near-total absence of fat bodies presented in every form of media that exists (but also probably from a lot more sources). I totally don’t blame her for getting stuck on this. I had talked about listening to our inner cues of hunger and satiety to regulate our eating, but that it probably wouldn’t make her thin. She concluded with, “I’ll try to listen to my hunger and fullness…but I also just need to have portion control,” which, sadly, is really just another way to say “diet.” And I totally get it, because the way she feels about her weight and needing to do something – yeah, I’ve been there.
So what I want to talk about today is not the massive failure of any sort of intentional weight loss effort, but rather the problem of body unhappiness. Because unless we at least explore the reasons for body dissatisfaction, it can be oh-so-hard to even contemplate achieving a peaceful relationship with food.
Why? Look at the above example. Harriet was interested in listening to her internal hunger and satiety cues (and she had a poignant story about childhood hunger that continues to fuel her need to overeat to this day) but she felt she needed to fix her body size first. She couldn’t get past it. She didn’t feel she had the right to exist happily in her body, no matter what her size. And we talked about the reasons for that too: the expectation of women that we always appear “attractive,” the lack of representation of fat bodies in the media, the weight loss industry who continues to perpetuate the idea that permanent weight loss is possible, the medical community who backs up this idea without acknowledging the overwhelming evidence that says that we don’t need to lose weight to be healthy, and society at large which says we need to lose weight to be happy. Everything that she’d ever heard told her that her fat body was wrong wrong wrong.
I think more than ever, thanks to this rampant fat-fear-mongering, so many of us have come to the conclusion that it’s NOT okay to 1. be in a fat body and 2. be happy with ourselves and our lives in that fat body. This is simply wrong.
So this is what I want you to know: you have the right to be happy in your body no matter what its size. You might be miles away from that, but you need to at least know that this is a possible outcome if you decide to choose it.
Permission is a powerful thing. We’re holding ourselves back from a fully-lived life when we feel we lack permission to be authentically ourselves. Your eating will suffer; your happiness will suffer; and your health will suffer.
Becoming happy in your fat body isn’t a quick trip. But you at the very least need the ticket – permission to be okay with your body – to get on board.
*Totally not her real name