I’m Over Being Overweight
Posted on March 26, 2021 Posted by Athena Scalzi 175 Comments
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I wasn’t sure how to without making it sound like I’m fishing for compliments or throwing myself a pity party. But I think I finally am able to express this in a way that’s kind of just matter-of-fact, rather than being a sad sack about it.
I am, and for most of my life have been, overweight. If you go through photos of me as a kid, you can pretty much see exactly where it happens. I go from being a regular sized kid, to the chubby kid. I never really noticed it until junior high, because I didn’t have many friends until then, so when I started hanging out with more people in larger groups, I started to realize I was the biggest one.
I remember in seventh grade, I joined the powerlifting team. For competitions, they divide you up by weight class. While a lot of my friends were in the 100 or 110 weight class, I was in the 120 or 130 class, and it felt… not very good. The average weight of a 12 year old is about 100 pounds, but I didn’t need to know that to know I was tubby. It’s just something that has always been painfully evident.
That trend continued for as long as I did powerlifting (I stopped after sophomore year). I was just always one up from the rest of my friends. Always the biggest.
It’s something you get used to, being the fat friend. Though, sometimes it’s harder than others. Like when your friend that’s only 120 insists they’re so fat and you think how you’d kill to look like her. Or when your friend wants you to spend the night and you say you don’t have any pajamas, and they insist you can just wear something of theirs, but you know you’d burst through the seams of their clothes, and you end up wearing something their boyfriend left behind because the only thing that’ll fit you is a six foot tall man’s clothes.
I know I’ve talked about the issues that come with being plus sized before, in my post about women’s fashion. But that post (while it did mention me being a marshmallow and my issues regarding bouncing between regular sizes and plus sizes), focused more on the faults in the women’s fashion industry, whereas this one is more about how I feel about being someone who is fat.
I have seen significant change in the past few years regarding how clothing companies advertise and portray different body types. When I was younger, the only bodies shown were the thin ones, but now I see curvy, thick folks everywhere! Mainstream clothing companies are starting to accommodate towards people who don’t have Barbie-like bodies, and that’s great (not that Barbie-esque bodies are bad!).
I am someone who always tries to be body positive. I ascribe to all of the classic body positivity sayings like, “How to get a bikini body: put a bikini on your body!” I agree with all the sentiments of “it’s okay to have rolls!” and “don’t be ashamed of your cellulite!” and “all bodies are good bodies!” I really do agree with all these things! Except when it comes to me.
In my head, I am the exception to all of these. It’s not okay I have thick thighs, it’s not okay I have a muffin top, it’s not okay I have a double chin.
It’s weird, because any time someone has a reason for gaining weight, it makes perfect sense to me. Like if someone told me, “Oh, quarantine was really rough, I gained like twenty pounds.” Of course you did, that makes perfect sense, and that’s okay! 2020 was really hard and stressful, it’s okay if you gained a little bit. What’s important is that you’re alive and healthy!
But I can’t apply that same logic to myself. I gained about fifteen pounds throughout the last year, and I’m so terribly unhappy about it, as if I wasn’t tubby enough already. Wasn’t quarantine supposed to be my chance to workout at home and get in shape? Wasn’t quarantine the perfect opportunity to stop eating takeout and just cook at home? But did I do any of that? No.
It felt like the world was ending, all the time. Everything was on fire, hundreds of thousands of people were dying, how could I bring myself to care if I was eating too much ice cream or think about how I should be eating broccoli instead? How can I focus on my health when the world is crumbling around me?
Of course, the counter argument there is that my body and what I put in it is the one thing in life I can control. When it feels like there is no order in the world, and everything is just constant chaos, wouldn’t it make sense to try to control the things that are within your power and no one else’s? Like your weight and your diet?
I’ve been a bit of a nihilist for a very long time, and I think it affects how I view my health and diet. It’s hard for me to see anything long term, or imagine the future, because I’m constantly filled with thoughts like “what if I died today?” or “what if nuclear war started tomorrow?” So it’s hard for me to meal plan for the week, because who knows if I’ll live to see it? It’s hard for me to choose not to eat a piece of cake, because what if the world ends tomorrow?
The future is never guaranteed, so I’d rather enjoy every moment of the present and not think about the consequences that will come around eventually.
This Tumblr post accurately represents my mentality:
Again, there’s nothing wrong with being fat! And fat people shouldn’t be discriminated against, ESPECIALLY considering how poverty and obesity go hand in hand, but that’s a whole other topic entirely.
So while there is nothing wrong with being fat, I don’t want to be anymore. I have wanted to be thin for what feels like forever. It’s hard to hate the way you look every single day of your life, yet feel like you can’t do anything about it. Some days, I just feel resigned to the fact that I am fat and I will forever be fat and I should just accept that that’s what I am. Other days, I can feel the motivation boiling inside of me, so desperate to change, but it simmers down just as quickly as it arises.
The worst part of being fat and wanting to not be, is knowing how easy it is on paper. Count your calories, exercise, don’t eat like complete fucking shit. So easy. Yet so incredibly hard. So hard that I feel like I can never accomplish it. Though I see people accomplishing it everyday. I see so many weight loss journeys, stories of how people went from life-threateningly obese, to fit and “normal.” I’m simultaneously so happy for these people and resent them at the same time. If they can do it, why can’t I? And the truth is, I can! There’s nothing stopping me from exercising or eating right, other than myself.
That’s the other thing I hate about being fat. I did it to myself. And I will never forgive myself for letting myself get this way. So how do I stand for it everyday? How do I let myself continue being this way?
Every day I tell myself I’ll change. I wake up and tell myself I’ll completely 180 flip my diet and my fitness habits and I will change. And every day I fail.
Every day I tell myself the same excuses as to why I can’t change. I ask myself the same questions; “how can I exercise when I don’t even know which exercises to do? What if I’m doing something wrong, like my squat form is wrong, and I hurt my knees or something? What if I get shin splints from running?” All these silly little fears keep me sedentary.
I remember my senior year of high school, I gained forty pounds. I went from overweight to obese in one semester. It seemed like it happened overnight. I don’t remember it happening, I only remember waking up and realizing I was 200 pounds. I had to buy an entire new wardrobe, nothing fit me anymore. Suddenly my waistbands were elastic and my tags had an X on them. I graduated high school and entered college, obese.
Looking at my graduation photos should bring me happiness, but it only makes me think of how bad I looked in front of alllll those people. My prom photos could make me cry.
Is this how my peers I graduated with remember me looking? I spent my last year of high school looking like this? I just can’t believe it sometimes. I never even thought that I really that big when I was a freshman in college. I just didn’t really notice it, despite being at an all-time heaviest.
Then, the middle of sophomore year of college, it seemed to vanish just as quickly as it had appeared. I woke up and was 170. And I felt so fucking good. I was enthralled. I could fit into a large instead of a double XL, I could wear a 12 instead of a 16! It was incredulous.
I’m pretty sure 98% of my clothes are from Maurice’s at this point. Copped some outfits for the summer cuz lord knows all I own is marshmallow sweaters. pic.twitter.com/1sMBRxoDG9
— Athena Scalzi ⭐️ (@AScalzi98) May 9, 2019
Wow, look at that! Photos I’m not entirely disgusted by!
I was still overweight, but I finally felt like I looked almost normal.
Guess who finally got a lemon dress! 🍋🍋🍋 pic.twitter.com/Sjkl5cgSPv
— Athena Scalzi ⭐️ (@AScalzi98) June 28, 2019
So, I thought my troubles were over. I went through a fat phase, but that’s all it was, right? The weight was gone now, magically, sure, but it was gone and that was all I cared about.
I foolishly believed it would just, stay off, forever. I had done nothing in the ways of changing my diet or exercise habits when I lost it, so why would it come back if I continued doing what I’ve always done? I told myself I’d never get even close to 200 again, I couldn’t stand to be that big again.
Alas, here I am, 190 and fucking miserable.
Part of me is just waiting and hoping that the weight will magically come off again, it did before so why wouldn’t it again? But I’m so tired of waiting. As much as I desperately just want to wake up and have it be gone, part of me feels like that’ll never happen, and it’s silly to wait around for it, when I could be out there actively making a difference in my body. I don’t have to wait around for it to change, I could make it change.
I wouldn’t even have to exercise, really, I would just need to count calories or something of the like. Just eat a little less and a little better, and I’d surely make slow and steady progress, right?
But I’ve found that every time I try to count calories, I just… don’t eat. You’re basically given a certain amount of calories you can spend on food throughout the day, but I don’t spend them. I hoard them. I am afraid to spend 200 calories on breakfast because what if I want something later in the day that costs those 200 and I don’t have those 200 because I spent it on breakfast? But then I just do that nonstop until I’ve reached bedtime and only eaten 300 calories for the day.
So, I figure it’s better to be a black hole and not look at the numbers, than to starve. Which means I eat way, way more than I’m supposed to in a day.
I wouldn’t say I have an eating disorder, but I would say I have disordered eating. There’s a difference.
Living day to day life as someone who is fat can present challenges in ways you would’ve never thought about before. The fact that I barely fit into a plane seat makes me feel so bad I could straight up die. Same goes for rollercoasters. And movie theater seats. Basically anywhere I have to squeeze into that is designed around the dimensions of someone who is “normal” sized is a recipe for self-hatred and craving death.
You’d think that my unhappiness would drive me to change, to finally diet and finally exercise, but instead I just live in misery, and I’m not sure why.
Why do I do this to myself? Why don’t I just cut out sweets, or carbs, or just go for a jog? Why don’t I do these things that I know will make me happier in the long run?
Sure, running and dieting would totally suck right now, but wouldn’t it pay off? But what if it doesn’t? What if I break a sweat and vow to never eat cake again, and nothing changes? But what’s the harm in trying, right? It’s not even like I have to lose hundreds of pounds, just thirty or so, that’s not so hard, right? It can’t be that hard, if only I’d try.
Maybe this is all TMI, maybe this did come across as me throwing myself a pity party. Poor girl can’t stop shoving sweets in her face then cries when it all goes to her thighs. Pathetic girl can barely button her jeans but orders dessert with her meal.
I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want to be told it’s okay that I look like a busted can of biscuits. I don’t want reassured that weight is just a number, and in a thousand years my existence will be forgotten entirely, and no one will remember I was ever overweight. I just want to be thin.
Recently I stopped eating fast food. And I stopped eating candy. And now I only drink water and like, one diet soda a day. And I still do Zumba at the Y! No changes in my weight yet, but these count for something, right? Small steps, right?
For now, though, I’ll keep trying to be better, slowly but surely. All I can do is my best. And this is my best right now. Maybe my best will be better further down the line. Maybe I’ll cut out sweets entirely instead of just candy, or exercise everyday instead of a couple times a week.
For now, this is my best. And that’s okay.
Having once topped the scales at near 200 pounds a couple of years ago, there’s a lot in this piece I am empathetic to and can sympathize over. And for me, the most difficult thing was starting working on it.
This is a fight that is very real. I’ve been fighting my weight since I was under 10 years old. I realized I was “fat” in first grade. I’m 45 now. I’ve done a lot of things to my body, including surgery and yo-yo dieting, and I am worse off for it. I did keep the weight off after surgery, at least more than 90% of people who have WLS do. My relationship with my body is better now that I’m older, but still strained.
I have wasted so much of my life–my money, my focus, and most precious of all, my time–flailing over my weight. I would give so much, so very much, for that time and energy back. That’s what makes me so sad here–all the time and energy this is taking from you. I work out several days a week and I try eat well, but I’m also trying not to spend too much time thinking about it. Don’t let that time and energy suck happen to you. I am not telling you not to care, or not to devote time to it, but simply to think very carefully about how much priority you want to give it in your life, and how much space you want it to take up in your brain. Concern over weight will eat your whole world if you let it.
I’ve never fully been able to break away from my weight occupying a lot of my energy. I hope that you find a way to not lose the same amount I did. And I hope I haven’t over stepped in my comments. If I have, I apologize.
Try not to compare yourself to others. I like numbers so I want to track changes and the results.
If numbers aren’t your thing, try measuring your waist for changes. Or see how the fit a pair of pants changes.
Don’t track your weight because that varies too much with muscle gain, water retention and things like that.
Weight loss is tremendously difficult.
My sister-in-law is married to my tall skinny brother who has probably never gained weight since hs (where he was tall and skinny). While I’ve always thought she was beautiful she always felt overweight. Over the years I’ve seen her lose and regain weight. A couple of years ago, with her son’s wedding looming, she went back to WW. (wanted to look good in the pics). Now when I see pics of her (haven’t seen her in person for a while) she looks a tad underweight to me but beautiful. Reached her goal a while ago but think she still tracks her food.
I went back on WW and lost 20 lbs. Most of which has returned.
The truth is that body positivity is all well and good, but it’s about how we feel. And there are lots of REASONS but losing and maintaining is brutal. If it’s important to you, really important, you’ll figure it out. Whenever it’s time and whatever works for you.
I’ll be back on WW after my 2nd shot. Maybe it’ll stick, maybe not. But will keep trying since while I usually like myself just fine, just don’t like the extra weight.
In the meantime, you are beautiful and talented and have LOTs of love both human and fur. Best of luck from Maine.
I seldom or never use the word ‘hate’, but I hate beauty standards. I hate that we make people despise themselves and question themselves and feel ashamed of themselves and then slam them for feeling despised and confused and shamed. I hate that so many people cheerfully insist that this is about health and/or concerns when it’s clearly not, or when that’s the excuse for being horrible to people. I hate that it’s all racist and arbitrary on the broad societal level. I hate that any humans become convinced that their bodies are aesthetically wrong and that these sorts of feelings are very difficult to shake off.
I remember seeing a question years ago at Go Ask Alice (Columbia University’s student health Q&A site) about someone who really disliked their thighs, and ‘Alice’ responding: well, you have two choices: change them or accept them. And I remember thinking that both of those options require a huge amount of work on the part of the person who’s already become self-conscious and are kind of thankless and there isn’t even a problem here, just a body with a human in it. I remember seeing a comment on Tor about a book where a girl from an indigenous group in South America hates her face because she knows that her forehead will never be flat enough. Odds are she’ll be thinking about that with respect to her body for the rest of her life. We’ll be thinking about that with respect to our bodies never. Is shape/weight the other way around? Doesn’t everyone deserve ‘never’ all the time?
No solutions for me to offer here, just that this post was very poignant, and also made me newly eager to go out and gather up beauty standards from every place and time and culture and set them on fire. Gender roles can go in there too, while we’re at it.
I know that pain very well. Stopping yourself feeling anguished, recoiling in horror at every photo. Oh yeah. I have gotten better since I decided that losing the weight is not likely to happen (I have looked at the research) and I am refusing to diet, ever. I would love to go back to 50kg, but it just ain’t gonna happen and might as well make my peace with the fact.
I am generally very healthy, and I like myself well enough. Everybody else, EVERYBODY including fairly think people, is spending way too much of their precious time on earth obsessing about food. How many people you know who are not trying to lose weight?
I also firmly believe that SCIENCE will one day discover the magic pill.
Your prom photo is great and you look smashing btw. But you know that.
Sounds like a typical journey to finding what works for you! I tried a million different things, but the only thing that works is resigning yourself to the fact that you need to make healthy decisions you can actually stick with long term; the “lifestyle choices” you can live with. Otherwise you’ll snap back to old habits eventually. Good luck, and never stop trying until it works!
After years of having my weight yo yo I reached my all time high in the pandemic. My blood pressure went crazy. I looked terrible. I have struggled all my life (I am 53). I feel and think all the things you wrote.
I am taking the weight off now. I am hoping this is the last time I put myself through it. I realized this last year I really don’t want to give up potato chips and cake. So I didn’t. Instead I bought small portioned controlled bags. I am counting calories but like you I would often under eat in the past which makes it incredibly difficult to lose weight. I knew I had to change my relationship with food. Embrace it while moderating it.
My calorie counting also requires I eat a certain amount of calories at each meal. Over time with each meal I have gotten bettor with finding foods I like that fill me up. I love eggs so I go ahead and have eggs for breakfast. I discovered that I have a soft spot for yogurt mixed with grape nuts. So now that is in my diet. I have also been working really hard at the mental aspect. If I have a hamburger and fries I try not to beat myself up. I just go back to doing what I have been doing.
I like numbers and writing so I keep a journal. I write down the calories and I how I felt about the meal. It’s coming off slowly and I am okay with the slow. I think slow means I am actually making changes I can sustain.
I don’t pity you but I do understand you in this particular fight. You are not alone. I think opening up and telling the world is actually a good first step. I know I hid my shame which fed my guilt and my body. I wish you success on your journey.
Was there anything that changed in your life or habits around the time you “magically” lost weight? Even if you were eating the same amount, if you were eating different foods it could point to a food sensitivity or some nutrient imbalance that was corrected…
As to the other stuff. I recommend checking out the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. Good luck!
Hey, empathy. I know exactly what you mean when you say you don’t want people to reassure you that you’re lovely and you look fine. Yeah, been there, heard that, wanted to smack people.
I’ve been fat most of my adult life, and five years ago I was morbidly obese. I’m 5’11”, and I weighed about 335. It just crept up over the years — I’m 57 now — and the fact that I’m tall just means that every ten pounds makes that much less perceptible difference, so by the time I notice my pants are a little tight I’m up forty or fifty pounds, yay.
I didn’t actually set out to lose weight. I have arthritis, and am about to bump my head on the daily medication ceiling, which is scary, because things had been getting a step worse every few years for the last decade or so at the time. My doctor recommended an anti-inflammatory diet that some of her colleagues had had success with. She told me about it, and it sounded pretty radical, so (in October) I said I’d try after the holidays.
So on National Start a New Diet and Exercise Plan Day (1 January) I started a new diet and exercise plan. My husband and I had gotten each other step counter wristbands for Christmas, and on 1 Jan. I went on my new diet and just walked around, to see what my baseline steps were. I thought I’d be like 4-5K, something in there, since I’ve always been a good walker. Umm, turned out to be less than 2K, yikes. Next day I started walking more, a minute or two at a time, back and forth at home, because when you’re 335lbs your feet and tendons and all don’t like hauling your lardy ass around, and while walking there was always the chance that something would go Sproing! and I’d suddenly need to sit down right now. So I walked back and forth at home, where there was always a seat nearby. I built up slowly over the next year and a half or so until I was walking 10-15K steps a day, unless I was sick or something, and sometimes more.
The diet was ridiculously restrictive — no wheat, no corn, nothing related to wheat or corn, no white rice, no beef, no pork, no dairy of any kind, no added sweeteners (real or fake, neither), no artificial additives of any kind, blah-blah-blah. Plus whenever I ate any of the allowed proteins (including allowed grains), I had to eat twice as much fruit or vegetable at the same time, and potatoes don’t count as a vegetable.
This was incredibly difficult to stick with, but I was hoping my joints would be happy and stuck with it. This diet isn’t meant primarily for weight loss, and I didn’t want to be disappointed if I didn’t lose any weight on it, so I didn’t weigh myself until the end of the month.
I lost 32lbs that month.
The diet helped my arthritis a bit, but I stuck with it for the weight loss, which also helped my arthritis.
What works about it is that, if I stick to fruits and veggies, I can eat as much as I want. So if I want to snack, I can have an apple and a huge pile of grapes, basically keep eating fruit until I’m full, and that’s okay. You don’t count calories, or fat grams, or anything — you just eat at least twice as much fruit/vegetable as you do protein. If you’re just eating fruit or veggies by themselves, you can eat all you want.
I can do that.
Most of the time. :/ The Plauge Times have sucked, and I’ve regained about 45lbs since the covid thing started. At first I couldn’t get the foods I usually eat, and later even when I could, I didn’t want to. I was comfort eating, and didn’t want to stop. Still don’t, not really. I know, though, that when I feel ready to go back on my diet, I’ll re-lose the weight I’ve gained. And I plateaued at about +45, which is still a lot down from where I was.
My point is, I guess, that you don’t have to count calories. There are other ways of improving how you eat. When you’re ready, look up Kathy Abascal’s book on Amazon. My doctor recommended it, and it worked for me. Maybe it’ll work for you. Or maybe something else will. But don’t think counting calories is the only way to eat healthy, and that if you can’t do that you’re sunk.
About that loss that just happened — it didn’t “just” happen. Something about how you were eating and/or exercising changed. SF writer Steve Barnes has a mantra for that: “My body does not defy the laws of physics.” Mass-energy in, mass-energy out. That’s it, that’s how it works.
When you’re ready, you’ll find something, if you really want to. Most of the problem is figuring out what’ll work for you.
Best of luck!
A lot of what you wrote resonates with me. It happened a little later for me; I went from being a high school runner at around 190 to 275 a couple years into college, and peaked at 305 a year and change ago. I didn’t HATE the way I looked or felt, but I sure as heck didn’t like it. I was never able to get on board with calorie counting or formal exercise.
What’s been working for me this last year is first, to set a very VERY open goal: “eat less, move more.” That’s it. No specifics, no deadline, no pressure, just “eat less, move more.” Only take one cookie for dessert instead of two? Yay! I’m eating less. Get up from my chair and go for a 15 minute walk? Yay! I’m moving more. It allows me to feel good about what I am doing even when the objective impact is pretty small.
Second, when I DID start to establish a regular(ish) exercise routine, I asked some people I trusted to see through my B.S. to hold me gently accountable to it. Not drill-instructor GET ON THAT BIKE, MAGGOT, but “hey, I noticed you haven’t mentioned exercising this week, you ok?” I even started a little Facebook group and hashtag #SMQMoves to recruit people to my support team. :)
Maybe there’s something there you can use. Maybe something someone else who reads this can use. Or maybe it’s just what’s working for me. In any case, you’re not alone. Be well.
To (mis-)quote Mark Twain: “Nothing is easier than loosing 10 pounds. I have done it a dozen times.”
Fighting your weight is one of the hardest fight you can pick. Your opponent is every bit as tenacious and determined as yourself, as you are fighting yourself.
Now, after 30 years of battles, I can only recommend to make those battles not a central issue of your persona.
Martin (BMI > 40)
This sounds a bit familiar. I’ve basically had “dad bod” since I was about 10, and it’s never really gone away. At a few points, I’ve broken the 200 mark, and not because I’d been a beast in the gym (the very idea of that makes me giggle).
I still have a dad bod, and TBH I’ve put on some flab during the later stages of the pandemic (hooray for eating your feelings!). A couple of things that helped me get a bit less flabby were (1) Cutting out most sugars (2) A minor amount of portion control (3) Finding ways to make vegetables delicious without making them too unhealthy, and (4) Aikido.
That last one is the only exercise I’ve been able to maintain over the last decade. Finding an exercise that you actually like and want to stick with can be really f’ing hard! For me, it needed to be something that kept both my mind AND body active at the same time. Maybe when all this pandemic madness subsides to a reasonable degree, try some different activities and see if anything sticks?
Oh, and I gave up on the scale (that lying SOB), because weight is a crap way to measure health. Personally, I use my pant waist size, because that’s where most of my flab lives. Maybe try something like that?
I feel you. 100% get it. My brother was the athlete in school, I went to work. It was all downhill (uphill?) from there. Somewhere in my 40s, instead of walking my dog, I just started running a little. IT FELT SO GOOD I just kept doing it. That’s ultimately the thing that keeps me in good shape a decade on – I love how strong and capable exercise makes me feel. Also, this might appeal to you, try listening to great novels while you walk or run. I bet it will make the miles fly by for you too. Enjoy!!
When I look at your graduation and prom pictures I see a beautiful young woman. And one day I hope you see yourself in those photos the same way.
Now to make this about me. I rarely allowed people to take pictures of me when I was younger because I was fat so I can understand those kinds of feelings. I was fat most of my life until I had bariatric surgery, mostly for health reasons but there was some vanity too. It has taken years for me to find my version of normal. I respect your honesty, I hope you lose weight, be healthy and find your version of normal.
As someone who’s disabled and struggled with weight and body image their whole life I feel for you on this. It’s not easy, especially when society is constantly screaming at you that fat is unhealthy.
There’s so many possible reasons why we can get fat and so many reasons why we lose weight and we often only have control over a fraction of them.
Recently I’ve lost over 100lbs and here’s some things that helped me.
First, stop focusing on your weight and being fat. Focus on improving your ability to do things and ignore the number on the scale. This is important for the next step.
Next, start lifting weights. If you can, find a female trainer who you can connect with, who makes you feel good and strong and provides positive feedback. You want someone who will celebrate your successes and lift you up when you fail and encourage you to keep trying.
Focus your weightlifting on building functional strength rather than weight loss, and ignore anyone who asks “aren’t you worried you’ll get bulky?”
In addition to lifting weights, find something physical that you enjoy. For me it’s sword training. I can’t wait to get back to it when things are safe.
As for food, increase your protein intake and listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry. If that means many small meals or only a few big ones that’s okay.
Drink water. If you’re dehydrated then you’ll retain water. You could be retaining water for any number of other reasons as well.
Stop weighing yourself for at least three months. Get yourself to a place where you feel good and then maybe get on the scale. If you do, weigh yourself at the same time on the same day each week, preferably right after you get up. And if you can, get a body comp scale as the lbs are only one bit of data on how fit you are.
I hope what I’ve said helps. :)
Oooh, this got me where I lived. I’m a little older than you (late 20s), and my weight gain was a little later (after college, when I got a very stressful job and wasn’t walking all over campus anymore), but I can really empathize.
I don’t have advice on how to lose weight, but I can say that my loathing of my body has really been helped by getting into a form of exercise (strength training) that I like and where I can see progress. It helps me frame my body as something powerful and strong, and to feel a sense of progress, rather than just focusing on my looks or the number on the scale. I have lost a little weight because of it (not as much as the BMI scale thinks I need to, but also I’ve shifted some pounds from fat to muscle), but the change in my attitude towards my body has been huge. If you don’t have a form of exercise that makes you feel cool and strong and happy, seeking that out might be a good place to start. If nothing else, I put better care into my body when I’m grateful for it instead of hating it. Also, as a person with mental health struggles, my state of mind is much better with some endorphins – not everyone experiences that, but I sure do, and it helps with the self-loathing in that regard.
“losing weight is so easy to do on paper” — True, but false. There is so much more to it and you’ve hit on everything. Some days the pounds just seem to appear. Some days they seem to disappear. Everyone is different. You might benefit from ignoring the scale and trying to improve your “numbers” (blood pressure, etc). Or maybe focus on what makes you happier. You have a long life ahead of you (if you don’t get hit by a bus), you’ll find what works for you. (And let me just say, we all loved your Prom pics when your dad posted them. You were gorgeous.)
I see others have given you plenty of advice and you will probably have all the advice you can use and then some by the time comments are closed. So no advice from me. Just a lot of thoughts about how this resonated with me, and how absolutely garbage it is that social norms make us feel this way and make us have to spend time and energy on fighting the feelings.
For the record, when I look at the photos you posted, I don’t see someone gross or ugly, and I don’t say that to be patronizing or sympathetic. I say that because I want you to know that looking at them with a different frame of mind is something that can be done, and it is a place you might get to even if it feels very far away now.
My wife, now 56, has struggled with this for a good part of her life, but after two C-sections for boys around your age and then a difficult recovery each time it really became an issue for her (and I need to stress here: not for me). In the last two years, though, after finally putting her mind to it, she’s lost 75 pounds. Which, considering she’s only 5 feet tall, is quite something. She has stuck with the MyFitnessPal app for keeping track of caloric intake, allows herself the odd day to veer slightly away from that, and gets up early to exercise M-F (stuff on the matt followed by initially a stationary bike, now an elliptical). When the weather is nicer than what our winters allow she and I bike on weekends.
This morning she vented at me how just a glass of wine on the weekend, coupled with not doing her exercises, means she has to spend the week getting back to where she was. So, the body is unhappy with the equilibrium and that’s some serious willpower required to stay in place.
I probably have no point here other than to a) suggest trying that app, which I know has helped some friends as well, b) know this will require some real and sustained effort, and c) remind you you’re just fine, that if you do this you do it for yourself, not for other people.
Good luck with this.
When you say “cut out sweets entirely”, I worry because as soon as I cut out anything entirely I spend ALL THE TIME craving that thing. But if you have one day a week you can eat all the things, you can make a list of whatever you craved while you ate healthy that week, knowing that you have that one day to look forward to.
Also, I put on about fifteen covid pounds, and I’m extremely grateful that I had lost about 26 pounds before the covid started.
Oh man. I feel this post so hard. Most of my post-puberty life has been oscillating between “hell yes, I’m going to love my body no matter WHAT” and “oh my god I’m so fat, I need to turn myself around, I hate the way I look.”
I don’t have anything offer other than, please, take care of yourself! Physically, yes, no matter what size, but especially mentally. This stuff can be exhausting, and I’m sure it’s 10x worse for women in our culture.
I’m not known for being non-judgemental, but first of all, you look beautiful in your prom dress, and not even in spitting distance of obese. That is the picture you will look back at in 30 years and think “I thought I was fat?? WTF was I thinking?” (Very Belle.)
Second, healthy weight varies a lot, as I found when I got measurements from a bunch of active women to order unis for my rowing crew. I’m 5’2″ and smallboned, so 120lbs always seemed like a reasonable weight to be – but there were these tall strong women (including a couple of firefighters) weighing up to 190. You are tall and you seem bigboned; a healthy and comfortable weight for you may well be higher than you think – though it’s always good to add muscle.
Third, at your age it has worried me when you write about getting no exercise – I suspect that ‘magical’ weight drop in college had a lot to do with walking to classes, and with not spending hours at a desk with food handy. I hope you will continue to stick with Zumba. Add more walking if you can. Don’t worry about running – the best exercise is the one you will do consistently. You just won’t do ones you don’t like, at least not for long. And cutting out sodas sounds like a good plan, because they don’t have any nutrients, along with a really astonishing amount of sugar.
Oh, and don’t use airplane seats as a gauge. THey’re not comfortable for anyone.
Two things, maybe they’ll help, maybe you’ve been wrestling with them yourself:
Our bodies are evolved to store energy, like miserly batteries because times were really hard for millions of years for our ancestors. It makes losing weight hard,.even maintaining weight hard. Gaining is easy as pie. Physically, it’s HARD to compensate for the smorgasbord cornucopia we are embedded in now. Our bodies say: eat! The next meal might be weeks away!
Two, food addiction is the hardest addiction there is. No one ever had to snort cocaine. But every day, you gotta eat. That’s the right choice at least once.per day every day for life. With snacks and goodies literally strewn across every path you can take.
No one should feel or be shamed for being thicc. Our bodies, our minds, our culture are against us.
Good luck. Barring apocalypse, this struggle won’t end.
I’m 59. I have been heavy since my late teens, obese since my first pregnancy. I have 4 autoimmune disorders which haven’t helped. Steroid treatment sucks wind. Constant steroids permanently damaged my heart and contributed to T2 diabetes, though none of my doctors had any real insight into what to do about it for someone with a damaged heart and neuro problems that limit mobility. After 40 years of ineffectual treatments, you know what my doctor told me 5 weeks ago, when my last treatment regimen failed yet again, with more damage to my heart?
“You might as well try a plant-based diet. We don’t really have any more treatment options for someone with your complex of problems.”
It was my decision, though. He just threw it out there as a Hail Mary pass.
“We don’t know what to do with you, so here, this is, like, the last thing on my list.”
I’m not ready to throw in the towel on my life, so I’m trying it. I went into it with the idea that I can’t really ‘do it wrong’, because it’s pretty clear that nobody knows how to do it ‘right’. I admitted my addiction to cheese, so I decided on fully plant-based instead of lacto-ovo, and dropped the ‘ovo’ because ONE visit to an online friend’s organic, cage-free chicken farm grossed me out so bad that I can’t imagine eating anything that came out of that kind of place. Other than that, I’m kinda winging it, but for me, the big difference between this and every other time I’ve looked at changing my food is that I don’t feel like I’m punishing myself. I feel like I am doing my damndest to give myself a chance. It’s making this so much easier than I ever imagined it would be. I guess what I’m saying is, regardless of anything else, when change becomes a thing you’re moving towards instead of a thing you dread that makes you feel like it’s all just a torture, it makes a difference, I think.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I needed to hear it. My adult journey with weight is very similar – I started gaining around 25, yo-yoed in my early thirties, a few years ago in my mid/late 30s it literally disappeared with no effort, but now I’ve gained it all back.
Now, this quarantine I quit nicotine, quit energy drinks, quit caffeine, and stopped running (super bonus for losing weight – it doesn’t hurt to run and I never knew I liked running), so like you were saying it makes sense that I’m back at 195, and I keep telling myself “patience” and “this is temporary” and “you have all the tools to lose it so you can go back to running, it’s just gonna be starting again” but right now I’m so….I just hate it.
And I can’t talk about it with people because I get pushback. Everyone either points to the future or pretends the present isn’t what it is. And I’m like “do I not get to be unhappy about this?” That’s the hard part. Is that everyone seems to say I don’t get to be unhappy about this. Well, yes I do. And there is nothing wrong with being unhappy about it. I don’t think. I don’t want to go in self-pity, but I think it’s useless to try and deny reality. When my hair goes white, I’m either going to accept it or dye it. Not pretend it’s not white, and not pretend I’m happy about losing my hair color.
I didn’t realize I had this much to say. But you put it perfectly and this has been weighing on me. Thanks for telling your experience eloquently enough to give me the space to share mine.
Long time lurker, rare poster.
Good for you AS. Personal stuff is the hardest to write about, because you have to be honest with yourself before you can even start being honest with your readers. Also, today’s world is a very difficult one to have an opinion that might smack of unorthodoxy. So that’s harder still.
No opinions or advice from me except — consider swimming, because it has helped me improve my health, tighten my middle aged waistline a little, and — bonus — my dad bod is below water the whole time so nobody seeees me. Just saying.
Good piece. Good luck!
As others have noted, you’re getting lots of advice. My two cents worth:
Make the goal fitness, not weight. Go for health, go for strength, go for feeling capable of doing what you want to do. Aesthetics will follow.
(I find comics’ Power Girl more attractive and realistic than Supergirl. Power Girl looks like she can rip a tree out of the ground and smack some guy catcalling her. Supergirl’s super-strength looks like it comes from, honestly, magic.)
My ideal weight, where I feel and look best, is about 165.
Way back when I joined the Army, I considered myself fat and out of shape and hated myself. Barely passed the physical requirements of basic training, and thought those mile runs might actually kill me.
How much did I weigh when I enlisted? 165. I was flabby, not actually overweight. Getting fitter and stronger from Basic made the difference. At the end of Basic, I was fitter and stronger and felt better in my own body…and still weighed 165.
So maybe going back to strength training might be something to consider? (Or a varied schedule, which some people recommend? Zumba one day, weights the next?)
(So, how fit am I now, how much do I weigh now, fifty years after Army training made me fit for the first time ever? Uhhhh…thanks for the motivation to get back to regular exercise myself, Athena!)
Athena, I hear you. Small steps are definitely the way to succeed. One thing that helped me was building the exercise into my routine. I started riding my bike for transportation, not for exercise. But I have slid off the wagon since I retired, mom died, covid, and a move, and need to figure out how to get back into moving my body. For myself I have to up the exercise first before I can start dealing with the diet because I am not happy only eating 1200 calories a day. It’s hard and feels like I am missing out on too much. Good luck with your journey.
Agreed with most of the preceding comments where solutions are so individual. All I can affirm is that each of us is empathetic and rooting for you to find what works best for you.
Sharing one resource that helped to reset my perspective on sizing:
Two things to remember when you want to lose weight permanently.
The changes you make are permanent. Your weight will settle out at whatever level is consistent with your changes.
You are what you eat!
As an overweight dude all of this resonates with me. I’m almost 50 and still will be fighting my weight forever. Thank you for sharing. It is powerful to know that other feel the same way I do.
I also gained weight during the pandemic. I’m an active walker except during the MI winter. Pandemic + winter really did me in.
I have struggled with weight my whole life, just as my parents struggled with their addictions. So I appreciated this piece, Athena.
I saw you got a puppy recently, she can be a great exercise partner. Take her for a walk each day, easy way to add activity to your daily routine.
I’m, um, mumble decades older than you, Athena, and it’s still a struggle. When I was moving into teen-hood Twiggy (Google her) was the icon. Even at my thinnest I am built more like my peasant forebears: sturdy and busty. My chances of being tall, willowy, and more or less flat-chested were pretty much nil. Over the ensuing years I’ve gone from 117 to 190 and back again (my easiest weight loss came after I gave birth. Both times the damned kids just took all the fat with them, to the point where strangers on the subway offered me sandwiches. It’s not a weight loss program I would recommend, however. It has a long tail). In my head I’m Katharine Hepburn. In the mirror… so not.
The thing to get away from, if you possibly can, is ascribing a moral weight to what you eat. This is BAD. This is GOOD. I am BAD when I eat chocolate. I am GOOD when I eat kale. That all or nothing shit will mess you up. Same with cutting all the yummy stuff out of your diet as if you were punishing yourself. Cause you can’t keep it up.
So I get this. I can only say, with the wisdom of fighting this bullshit battle for years: it gets easier when you let up on yourself. Hating on yourself is no way to start out accomplishing anything.
Just a few thoughts from my struggle. Our bodies are much more complex than “Calorie in calorie out. A quick read is: The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body’s Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You . The Fast Diet has science behind it. I do Tue. & Thur. and tell myself: “I can be a hungry for just one day.” If hunger/sugar is an issue, get professional help. Not everyone can write well, not everyone can self assess. No shame in getting help. Many of us eat just to get a quick mood change/feel good. It takes courage to see if this is part of the problem and to borrow a line/title, Take the Road Less Traveled and get help taking a walk inward. Walk 3X a day, even if it’s just around the house. Dog will love it, and by day 4 will be self trained to give you the guilt stare to take them out. Best wishes. Wish I was perfect, but I’m not. Ron
I have so much empathy. I am 54 and have struggled with my weight all my life. I am an average weight now, and work really hard for it. There is a big part of me that questions whether it is worth the effort.
It took me years to realize that I wasn’t to blame for me weight, that I just had an unfortunate biology that makes weight gain really easy. Accepting this was very mentally healthy for me (even if it couldn’t fix the problem). I really hurt for you as you blame yourself for your weight. You didn’t ask for it! Your body works different than skinny bodies, and that just sucks. You have no more control over your propensity to gain and retain weight than you do of your height.
Looking back, it makes me incredibly sad how much mental energy I have expended worrying about my weight. There’s so much more I could have contributed if that took up less mindspace. I hope that whatever you decide regarding your weight that you are able to achieve mental peace and not have it dominate your life.
For the record, I think you look great. Weight is a funny thing. A friend of mine began doing some very low-impact exercising and after a while said to me, perplexed, “The scale shows I haven’t lost any weight but my clothes are loose!” So maybe we (and I’m including myself here) need to focus on how our bodies feel, how WE feel, rather than on that number on a machine. Incidentally, I think it’s hilarious that if I move my scale around the same patch of floor, I get a different number. No need to tell you I move it until I get the lowest number, right? LOL
What a powerful piece, Athena.
Thank you, as always, for your willingness to open up and share yourself with us.
I’m sure you don’t need me to say this to you, but I want to urge you never, ever to give into partisans on either side.
What I mean by that is that you should ignore the folks on all sides of the debate who think they get to decide why you should or shouldn’t want to look a certain way.
My sister is plus sized, and she is under subtle and not-so-subtle pressure from family to lose weight.
Still others want to pressure her to eschew diet and exercise altogether just to stick it to critics.
Still others have decided that she is somehow betraying the plus-sized community and feminist movement if she wants to lose weight to look pretty.
According to these folks, she is within her right to drop the weight if it’s about health, but she has no right to make decisions about her own body if that decision is rooted in a need to meet beauty standards, disgusting though they may be.
I say it’s nobody’s damn business whether or not someone wants to cary or drop body-weight.
All that matters is the person inhabiting that body.
I wish you luck in your journey, whether it be to self-acceptance of where you are now or to total transformation via an intensive diet/exercise routine and lifestyle change.
This mini-marshmellow is rooting for you no matter what.
Not going to discuss the weight issue; I have another question, if you’d be so kind:
I recognize your mother; who’s the third person in your graduation photo?
Hi Athena, yet another reader with a lot of empathy for what you’re going through. I’m 52 and have fought the weight battle pretty much all my life, particularly in the last decade or so when my weight shot up over 200 following several surgeries I had to have. Not fun. Working on an exercise and calorie counting regimen these days, and it’s going well but it is hard work.
As others have said you’ve gotten a lot of advice, but since I didn’t see you asking for any, I’m not offering any–just empathy. Very much feeling what you’re going through!
The problem for almost all of us is that we have to eat every day, food tastes good, and, worst of all, it can be comforting. Which makes losing weight (and keeping it off) the hardest thing that most of us will ever do in our life — because we can never let up.
There were early indications that excess weight was a risk factor for COVID complications. I thought that was a good incentive to finally lose weight. Since March 2020, I’ve managed to lose 20% of my body weight and keep it off.
But I wanted to do it in a way that would be sustainable for the rest of my life. Diets never work long term. Counting calories is too much trouble (and inaccurate). Depriving myself of my favorite foods and desserts — not gonna happen for very long.
My strategy has been to eat less of everything while learning to enjoy what I do eat even more. Sounds suspiciously too simple and too easy — which it both is, and isn’t.
As I said, I had to consciously learn how to enjoy smaller portions as much as I did when I would eat until I was stuffed. Which is easier if you use a few simple mind games on yourself. They are blatantly obvious yet surprisingly effective.
Use smaller plates: Sounds stupid, but you need to convince your mind that you are eating a full plate of food (see what I did there).
Take smaller bites and chew/savor each one: Again, sounds stupid, but as a food lover, I really want to enjoy the flavor as much and as long as possible.
Wait 20 minutes before going for seconds: It takes about that long for the stomach to signal your brain that food has arrived. Which isn’t as long as it sounds if you are eating slowly enough (see previous point). Think about how much you will enjoy eating the leftovers even more tomorrow when you are not already full! 😀
Never indulge in mindless snacking — but snacks are extremely important: Don’t ever let yourself get to the “I’m starving” stage of hunger, or you will overeat the next time you see food. Instead, when you are hungry, get a reasonable portion of something good in a small bowl, and move away from the source before you start to eat. Something to nibble on one at a time is good — I like nuts or trail mix because the “fats” will help you feel full, but pretty much anything will do if it takes the edge off for a few hours and lets you focus on something else. Never sit down with a full bag of chips, etc. Don’t automatically grab snacks when you watch a movie.
Only eat when you are actually hungry: Your body, left to its own devices is surprisingly good at regulating its own food intake for most people. A lot of our food intake is cultural and emotional, and if you can make it to the stage where your inner self truly believes that food tastes even better when you need it, you have won the battle.
As I said, this is both easy and hard (at least for the first few months), but it really does work and should be sustainable for your whole life. And you don’t have to give up any of your favorite foods or even the occasional overindulgence. This was really important to me. I love pretty much any food — even most of your dad’s famous burritos.
I can only make suggestions that might help. I got a genetic lotto and got my maternal grandfather’s metabolism or at least a good portion of it. The man could take down an entire bag of fun sized candy bars in an evening and he was as skinny as a rail till he passed. I know cause I’ve watched him do it. And these were the old fun sized that were bigger than the current which are just 2 minis cut to that double size.
I’m not like him entirely and I am overweight and have always carried weight in the obvious dude places. But considering my average diet, I shouldn’t be where I am at. I can’t do regular exercise, it bores me to tears so I stop. Gyms and fitness centers were a no go long before the pandemic. The culture that tends to live in those to me is toxic. I get in them and feel everyone staring at me. I don’t feel welcome, I don’t feel I fit in with anyone there doing anything, even something simple like walking around a walking track.
I’ve basically had to create my own styles of exercise. Most of it revolves around my animals. I run a hobby farm (as in my hobby is throwing good money away for the sake of having farm animals around me). So I move around several times a day doing things for them. At my fastest, I can do morning and evening chores in about 20 minutes, weather and animals cooperating. There’s 40 minutes of ‘I’m moving!’ time. plus I’m out 1-3 other times checking water or adding feed to feeders so 10-20 more minutes a thing.
I realize you don’t happen to have a bunch of farm animals handy that require hauling grain, tossing hay and refilling buckets of water all day long. I’m not exercising. I’m doing chores. They just happen to be physical exertion.
But you’ve got a Charlie.
Charlie seems to be an active pupper. Active puppers need good walks. Take Charlie for a walk maybe twice a day, like over to your nearest neighbor’s driveway. This is her time to exercise, get mentally stimulated and work on leash manners. You just get dragged along for the time and happen to be moving. It’s not your exercise routine. It’s Charlie’s. Charlie needs walks to be a happy and healthy dog. Athena just happens to be there the entire time right behind holding a leash while Charlie walks.
Maybe this way will be beneficial for you. I’m pretty certain Charlie will appreciate it anyways.
Be happy with yourself as you are. Try to take good care of yourself physically and mentally. From your pics, you are a lovely young woman, from your writing, well spoken and thoughtful. To hell with what the world might think. Other peoples opinion of you is not your problem and none of your business. What they think of your WORK (job performance), whether writing or whatever (I used to be a factory baker), THAT matters…
Hey. I’m 26; I’m not going to say I understand what you’re feeling, but at the end of high school I was also 20 lbs heavier than I am now. I think high school can just do that. I want to say 2 things:
First, I think you look SPECTACULAR in every photo you’ve posted here. I absolutely agree with your father that you’re beautiful (I’ve been following the blog at least 5 years, you know how many photos he posts of you?). You’ve always looked like someone who’s friendly and caring and who I’d love to meet and befriend in real life.
I always thought you looked like a princess in your prom photos. I tried on a dress like that before my prom, but didn’t have the guts to go through with the skirt–your look is what I wish I’d done. It looks AMAZING.
Second, you might enjoy watching, on YouTube, Shelbizleee’s “why sustainable brands hate me” and Anna Akana’s “negotiating with your inner critic.” Both are pretty recent, and I thought of both as I read this post.
Also, like, I admire you for doing zumba with weights! I’ve been doing zumba on and off all pandemic but never with weights–that seems such a challenge!
Athena, I just want to give you a great, big hug!
My struggle was illness induced weight loss and i got too skinny (not the same i know) but I struggled to regain my strength after the hospital in a similar way. I need to be strength training and exercising and I just cant bring myself to do it. I know this sounds stupid but here was my answer: Nintendo Switch Ring Fit.
Yeah! Ring fit! Its super cheesy and cute and you totally battle a dragon with your leg presses and other exercises. Its so cute! Try it out. If not for weight loss then for fun! Its so much more fun than I thought it would be!
Its silly but fun! And it has worked! Im finally strong enough to open jars and carry groceries upstairs again!
Big hugs. I think here that you are looking for some control, right? Control over yourself, your viewpoint of yourself, and your body and how that makes you feel. I’m glad you’re coming to this as a young woman! Because it’s much harder to form good habits as you get older (says the 45-yo woman). I highly recommend education first. I read the Obesity Code recently and learned about what goes on in my body and how fat is stored. Then I made changes to my diet (low carb but not ALL the time because I do like chocolate) and eating schedule (intermittent fasting). I was able to find something that I liked and is sustainable for the long haul. Exercise is great too! But remember that you can’t out-exercise a poor diet. Your parents care a lot about you, and I bet you all together could come up with something awesome to make this happen for you. Remember that it’s not about beauty. Beauty is achievable at any size. It’s about doing what’s right for your health and your body. You’ve got this!
Honestly? I think you look great and that prom picture shows a lovely and fit young woman who is strong and proportionate.
Look. I’m 63 years old. My baby pictures show me as Ms. Chubby from the very beginning. I have fought the weight battle for YEARS, and the only times I have been anything close to what medical science says I should be weight-wise is when I a.) starved myself and b.) obsessively tracked food and exercise.
But here’s the thing. Every time I was down to that level of thinness, I was also stressed to the max. One time, I was swimming a mile daily, and when I wasn’t in the pool, I was on the couch with serious muscle pain, plus dealing with a number of messy stuff in work and home life.
The last time I was dealing with nasty bosses, going through menopause, on a long-term antibiotic for a menopause-related problem with UTIs, puking every time I had a break from teaching that went longer than a weekend, and was not even eating 1000 calories a day. I was down to the fabled size 0.
But my body hurt. I had a whopping huge case of situational PTSD from dealing with a principal who hated older women. I had gut problems. My son went through surgery for Crohn’s disease and was sick as could be.
It’s telling that the minute many of those stressors went away, my weight shot back up. I can’t even deal with the concept of tracking food any more because it is so associated with that horrible time (weight and food were something I could control).
I have gained weight during the pandemic in spite of being able to go out and do horse chores and ride–this past winter has been particularly bad. But what I have discovered is that if I focus on being fit, rather than my weight, I’m a lot happier with myself.
You are built to be strong. Focus on strength and health, and the weight will go to what it is supposed to be. At least that is my current mantra.
Sure, work on getting rid of that Covid 15 or 20. Nothing wrong with that. But be aware that more than getting fit and strong requires lifelong vigilance and obsession–I’m a poster child for what happens if you aren’t vigilant and obsessive.
Some people are all right with doing that in their lives. Others aren’t. It’s up to you to figure out which one you are. Choose which one makes you happy, and to heck with what the messages you get from society are.
Whichever choice you are…strive to be strong, fit, and happy.
I don’t know shit about dieting, but I am aware that losing weight is VERY HARD, especially when your body seems to have a certain set point that it wants to be and apparently fights you all the way.
(I also second that I love the Belle dress and you looked absolutely lovely.)
Look, I’m average weight, but I have fat stomach and double chin. That’s genetic. That isn’t going away unless I take up anorexia, probably. I am thinnish (other than belly, boobs, and fat head) and my body stays about the same regardless of what I do, because that’s just what set point it’s at.
What really stuck with me was that I had a friend who had the same issues–genetically fat stomach (like she looked pregnant all the time level of fat stomach), and she took up running for a few years until she got plantar whatever-that-is and had to give it up. She had to do an extreme amount of exercise to get the weight off. She actually looked very thin and frail, rather anorexic even, was probably a size six or so…AND SHE STILL HAD FAT STOMACH, because that would NOT go away. She was considering getting liposuction, and then she had the foot injury, had to give up running, all the weight came back, why bother.
Losing weight is super fucking hard. Keeping it off is even harder. I certainly can’t tell anyone to not beat themselves up because I do it all the time myself, but trying to do it is EXTREMELY HARD and there shouldn’t be any shame in finding it to be hard to stick with doing what’s unnatural to your body in order to change it.
I loved the book “The Well-Designed Life” by Kyra Bobinet. I highly recommend it, if you want some insight into why change is so hard and why sticking to change can feel impossible. One of her fundamental points is that we hate feeling like failures so when we think of change as a win/loss scenario (I ate ice cream, therefore I fail), we’re actually setting ourselves up to avoid changing: we don’t avoid the ice cream to stop thinking of ourselves as failures, we just stop trying to change. I’m not explaining this well. But it’s a great book, really interesting, focused on habits and life and identity and brain science, not specifically diet or exercise.
Also — and I know you probably can’t hear this, there’s probably no point in saying it — you looked fantastic in your Belle dress. I am reminded of an experience I had four weeks into my first round of anti-depressants when I looked into the mirror and thought, Wow, you look great. It was so odd to discover how much my brain chemistry was lying to me. When I looked in the mirror or looked at photos, I enumerated flaws. When I was younger, I was 5’6″, 110 pounds, and I truly believed, truly saw, my fat hips and thighs, instead of the fact that I was emaciated. This is not necessarily a recommendation for anti-depressants — their drawbacks outweighed their advantages for me — but I don’t know you, I don’t love you, I have absolutely no reason to lie to you, and I am telling you that you looked terrific at your prom. Your current photo is also gorgeous.
This is hard. I know. I have been overweight since before I was a teenager. I am 70 now. The only times I have lost weight was by following a strict diet and obsessing over every bite I took. That was no way for me to live.
So I stopped obsessing over it. I stayed semi careful about what I ate and made sure I stayed physically active in some way.
I did not lose any weight this way, but I stopped seesawing back and forth and weight came on very slowly. I was content with that, even if my doctor was less sure.
Now I am ill with ALS and it is effecting my central core muscles first. That means it is becoming very hard to swallow food. My tongue won’t push it down, My esophagus won’t constrict correctly and continue to push food down.
Now I’m losing weight and the doctors all say STOP.
We all obsess too much about weight.
Take care of yourself, by staying as strong as you can mentally and physically and be well.
And please don’t feel sorry for me, I’m 70 and have lived a good life. What happens, happens.
The human body has evolved, as Brown Robin observed, to pile on weight during times of abundance in order that we might survive during times of scarcity. Certainly there are parts of the world where famine is (shamefully) common, but not where you or I live! And thus we no sooner feel a hunger pang than we drown it with food. We exercise for the sake of using up excess kilojoules, like hamsters on a wheel. We put on metaphorical blinkers and try to navigate a path of self-discipline through a dense forest of ubiquitous food, and reminders of food.
Beneath that forest run hidden rivers of money. Money for agribusiness, food wholesalers, processors & retailers, and restaurant franchises.
Money for the weight-loss industry, and for treatment of “diseases of affluence.” Money for clothes manufacturers, because the target market’s waistlines might expand & contract, but the anxiety (Does my bum look big in this?) never, ever goes away.
In fact there is an enormous vested interest, not just in helping us put the weight on to begin with, but in shaming us for doing so, and exploiting our desire to get rid of the hated kilos once we are stuck with them.
Lucky are those who keep their figures trim with blithe, effortless unconcern, for they are few & far between.
I wish you luck. I was bullied as a kid and it’s the gift that keeps on giving, as I still deal with self-confidence and self-esteem issues 50 years later. I dropped 60 lbs in college pretty much just from not eating and kept it off thru some of my 30s, but with a more sedentary life style it eventually came back. It doesn’t get enough attention and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
I started walking and while the weight didn’t come off like I hoped, my doctor says I’m a lot better healthwise than I was previously. So I hold on to that. You don’t see many elderly overweight people because you either get rid of it or you die earlier so I am still working, only I’m trying to make it a lifestyle change, not a diet.
I know your dad walks and he’d probably enjoy some company. You don’t have to do hardcore workouts to make a difference.
If you decide that you want to weigh less (for whatever reasons are important to you), here is some suggestions from someone who was overweight for 40+ years and (after a health scare that involved an unexpected stay at “Club Med”) managed to find a reasonable method.
I developed a hypothesis that your body is constantly running the numbers on your current caloric input and projecting them into the future — “What will happen if the current state of affairs continues indefinitely?” If the answer is “you will starve to death”, then all the alarm bells start ringing, and your body will do absolutely anything to get you to hunt down a wild Cheesecake, kill it and eat it. Now! NOW! NOW!!!!!!
If, on the other hand, the result of the computation is “you will stabilize at a healthy weight”, then there’s no problem. Your body will just shrug and say “Oh well, you’re a little under, but NBD, we’ll make it tomorrow.”
So the secret is to lose weight the same way you gained it — slowly. If you run a caloric deficit of 100 calories a day (below your setpoint), At 100 calories a day, you’ll lose a little under 1 lb per month, around 10lbs per year. So what if it takes you 5 years, even 10 years, to get to your final goal?
The next step is keeping to just below your set point. The key concept is portion control. It’s very easy to eat a 300 calorie meal that’s actually 500-600 calories. My solution was finding packaged meals and snacks that I liked, maximizing the hedonic return per calorie ingested. But there are many ways to do this that balance different convenience/taste tradeoffs. You’ll have to experiment to find something that works for you. But the goal is eating healthy food (mostly!), that you like, in a way that gradually loses weight, and ruthlessly maximizing the yummies you get for every calorie that goes in your mouth.
Once you get used to this system, you can increase to 150 calories/day deficit, and if that works for you, then you can bank 50 cal/day and spend it on treats, like meals out or cake. All that will do is adjust the rate of weight loss, not the fact of the weight loss.
I spent 5 years losing 50 lbs, and never really felt like I was dieting the whole time. That, I think, is the key: you find the rate of weight loss that does not feel like you are depriving yourself.
I highly recommend the podcast Unfuck Your Brain by Kara L. She gets into how we think the things we do and what our brain does with those thoughts.
I can tell you that no one ever beats themselves up into a better body or feeling better about themselves. Trust me- been there, done that. Focus on who you want to be and what you already are – which is amazing and beautiful and then let your actions change over time.
I see there is a ridiculous amount of weight loss advice in the comments. I’m just going to point out that no weight loss plan has been proven to help the majority of people keep the weight off after 5 years. As someone who has typically regained all weight lost + 50% more, I no longer trust any company making money off weight loss.
But here’s the thing I want to say to you: you look at your pictures and you say you look horrible, fat, embarrassing. Is this something you would say about ANY friend of yours? Do you look at their photos and say, “oh, she looks disgustingly fat?” I bet you don’t!
If you are a good and supportive friend to others, please think about being a good and supportive friend to YOURSELF. Stop yourself from saying mean things to YOU. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others — we like you and we would stop other people from saying such things to you.
I have spent most of my adult life being overweight. My freshman 15 was a freshman 30-40 because of a knee injury. Last spring, while recovering from three eye surgeries, I ballooned to almost 300 pounds. Then the pandemic started…
I have a friend who is a pro soccer player. He got injured in December 2019, went home to Spain to rehab, then got stuck there. He needed something to do, so I suggested that he use his education (a BS in kinesthology and multiple fitness and nutrition certifications) to help me get in shape.
We started with three things:
1. Cardio: Getting 10,000 steps per day.
2. Nutrition: Track everything, get more protein (30% of calories), and fewer carbs (50%).
3. Strength training: Five 45 minute workouts per week.
Not a huge time commitment, and we started with a loose target of 2200 calories per day, which is plenty enough to avoid hunger.
Over time we have tweaked things, increased the amount of weight in my strength training as I could handle it, and I bumped my steps to 12,000 per day.
I’m down 101 pounds in ten months, all through small changes. I have a small $30 under desk cycle for getting my steps in at work or when watching television. I have gotten religious about tracking what I consume, but I started with a ton of estimates. My strength training has gone from body weight work to 35 lb dumbbells and some barbell work. But it was far from an overnight transformation: It was a series of small changes to build healthy habits. Beyond that, when my trainer added something I hated, I told him so and we changed it. (I hate eggs and burpees!)
What I tell people is my general advice for life: Learn something every day, help someone every day, and do something to make yourself better able to help others every day. Small changes every day to become better.
But, as someone with depression, I know that’s not always possible. Sometimes getting out of bed is your victory for the day. Take the win and build on it.
Just be the best you you can be that day. That’s all anyone can reasonably ask, and you should be the only judge of that.
Your prom dress is a better live action Belle dress than the one Disney made.
Hi, Athena! I endorse your baby steps, congratulate you for making a start (just giving up soda made a dramatic change for a friend of mine), and encourage you to get past the self-doubt and discouragement as best you can. Find healthy ways to reward EVERY baby step accomplishment. You deserve those rewards! Also, apologies if I just repeated what 30 other people wrote, but I did want to add my support. Best of luck in finding a strategy that makes you feel great!
Wow – I could have written that post. Well, except for the part about the prom (my high school didn’t hold those), but your journey from “chubby kid who always weighed more than her friends” to “overweight/obese adult who can be body-positive for everyone but herself” is all straight out of my history.
One of the things I’ve come to realize is that food is the only addictive substance that we still have to ingest, just in smaller quantities. People who quit alcohol or nicotine or illicit drugs just stop outright, and yes, that’s hard! But those of us who try to lose weight still have to ingest the substance we’re addicted to (whether that is a physical or an emotional addiction), and then after we ingest what is deemed a single serving, we have to just ignore the rest of the roast chicken or mashed potatoes or tray of cookies. And in my 64 years of living, I have never managed to succeed at that for more than a few months to a year or so at a time.
I don’t have any answers for you, sadly, save to assure you emphatically that you are not alone. I hope you can find a way to be happy with yourself, whether that is a result of finding a weight-loss method that works or arriving at the conclusion that you are lovable for who you are, not for your shape. I know both of those are a struggle, and I wish you all the best in your quest. Solidarity!
If there was advice that worked for everyone on how to lose weight, it would already be well-known.
I’ve spent at least the past 20 years being between 3 and 10 kg over my ideal weight. Which is ridiculous. But see first paragraph.
However I also I know what works for me.* Which is why I’ve been between 3 and 10kg overweight, not 20 to 30kg overweight
I don’t have an answer for you. You’ll need to try things out and find something that works for you that you can do forever. Because losing weight and then maintaining that lower weight requires a long-term lifestyle change, rather than any kind of short-term dietary or exercise change.
*Little snacking, no sugary drinks, eating until not hungry, not eating until full.
You are giving us gifts by sharing your feelings and your thoughts, so articulately, and your beautiful photos. I wish I could offer a gift of advice that would help. I suspect it’s more likely that there is no strategy you haven’t already heard from some source. Plus, I’m fairly stubborn and usually find I won’t take up a plan unless it comes from someone who has fully heard me and I have bought into it myself. Maybe I can give you the respect of not telling you what to do instead.
I do respect your intelligence and self-awareness. You’ll find your way.
When I was learning to be a life coach, my teacher, Martha Beck, had worked with both heroine addicts and people who wanted to lose weight. She said heroine is easier to let go of, because you can’t go cold turkey on food. Finding a good relationship with food and your body is hard, and our society makes it harder with unrealistic body images, vast unkindness based on looks, mixed messages, and food designed for temptation and advertising designed to tempt everywhere.
I decided to not remove hair from my body, including my menopausal mustache, to stand as the strangest bulwark to women who feel they need to look prepubescent to be attractive, and as my own rebellion against beauty standards, and because my skin rebelled against every hair removal method I’ve ever tried. I’m not always tough. But this one, I could apparently do.
Plus, it makes me look queer, and who wouldn’t want to grow hair in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community?
I am touched by your words and smiling at my own absurdities. I truly wish you well. If there was any way I could help, I would.
Here’s a thought pattern that I found helpful: The sensation of “hunger” is what it feels like when my body is losing weight. The sensation of “fullness” is what it feels like when my body is gaining weight. So feeling hungry isn’t an annoyance or a problem to be solved, it’s a sign that I’m on the right track.
The diet suggested by this pattern is very simple. You can eat whatever you want – BUT never eat until you’re full. Always try to leave yourself a little bit hungry, because being hungry means that you’re making progress.
Thanks for sharing your story. I know that it can be difficult to be honest with yourself and I think you did a great job. Love the last bit:
“For now, though, I’ll keep trying to be better, slowly but surely. All I can do is my best. And this is my best right now. Maybe my best will be better further down the line.”
I would change the “Maybe my best will be better…” to “Maybe my best will be different…” because in my experience, different is really the key. I hear what you are saying about not feeling like anything matters and that small changes don’t add up to results. I lost about 40lbs a few years ago and what helped me the most was, quite literally, anything. I would get so depressed and worn down by the concept of another day of working out. It was even worse when I projected myself in the the future and thought, “you mean I have to do this FOREVER?!”
Showing up was what helped me. I know that everyone is different and our bodies all respond to workouts and diets differently. On days when I just couldn’t w/a workout, I would do some stretching. On days when I was too hungry to operate, I would eat more. I eventually got really into the P90x videos which are pretty intense but offer one of the best messages for me ever and basically has become my mantra to keep my weight off. “Just show up. Just keep pressing play.” It isn’t about keeping up with the models and body builders of the world, which I know you understand. Its about just showing up. Doing one more than you did last time. Honestly, its about allowing yourself to do less than you think you should and still being ok with it because you showed up.
Don’t know if any of that helps you but I hope so! You seem like an engaging, intelligent and positive person, despite, you know, the “whole world might end any second” vibe :) I am very much of the same stripe and can get a bit hedonistic w/my drinking and other things that I know aren’t good for me because, like you say, you just never know! However, I am fortunate that after a few years, I have gotten myself into the mindset that even if I miss a few weeks of working out, I will eventually find myself back doing pushups until I can’t get off the floor!
Good luck with your journey! Yer a badazz. You got this!
Athena, you are lovely and a great writer (I hate telephone conversations too). I’ve gone up and down in weight all my life also and now that I’m 50 and have gained during Covid I’m having heartburn and high blood pressure. For your health it’s best to be as close to your optimum weight as possible but I know it’s hard to be motivated by health at your age. It’s not until you have a meal a little too late and then can’t sleep and are sitting bolt upright waiting for an alien to burst through your chest that you think, Ok, this is heartburn and I’d better get on it.
I’ve had success with calorie counting but it is tedious and so much math and weighing on a digital scale. My mother (who is a wee 100lb bird of a dietician) advises against “diets” because they’re not sustainable. When I ask her to write me a diet, she says, “just eat half”. I have found this to be useful advice and easier (after the first 3 days) than stricter methods. It takes longer of course but it is a lifestyle change which you can maintain without looking odd when you’re out for dinner. And you don’t feel deprived. Have the ice cream, but just one scoop, not two. It’s not easy but you know that already. Apologies for the unwanted advice but I’ve been reading your posts with enjoyment and it broke my heart a little to read this one. I’m trying to cut back too and it’s so hard. (I made fucking cookies yesterday….) Anyway, good luck and keep writing! I think you’re brave and honest and brilliant and beautiful.
I think many women go through what you’re going through. Heavens, I wasn’t born a woman, and I’m still going through some of what you’re going through.
I’ve even got a good reason why losing weight would be a good idea: if I want to get gender confirmation surgery, most surgeons will insist my BMI be below a certain amount. Which it is decidedly not.
And yet, I can’t even manage to get myself started. Part of it is, my roommate (who is also overweight) won’t even consider a weight-loss program, and her having crappy food lying around the house is just too much temptation for me. Maybe once she moves out to be with her boyfriend…
I’ve gained 26 pounds in the last 15 months.
I FEEL it. I feel old. Slow. I can’t even move in the ways I used to. I hurt all the time, every day.
This post is extremely timely for me. I cannot thank you enough for writing and sharing it. Being vulnerable in public is an extremely brave thing to do and I am hugely grateful to you for doing it.
Speaking as a usually-fat person:
Beside its being wrong to be a jerk, a bad thing about people being jerks about other people’s being fat is that it uses the very real problems associated with it as weapons and makes it easier for the attacked to dismiss those as just part of the ‘social B.S.’.
(Analogy: terrible drugs laws convinced some people that there was nothing really potentially wrong with doing drugs.)
Diabetes II is no fun, and especially not neuropathy and kidney damage. Neither are the wear and tear (literally) on joints ‘engineered’ for much smaller humans. Sure, some, maybe many overweight people avoid these, and non-overweight people can get them, but playing the odds reasonably….
I love, love, love this post. So honest about what it’s like to be fat. I’ve struggled with it for 30+ years and several times the magic weight loss has happened, and each time I say never again but then…well – here we are. I am absolutely body positive for everyone but myself. It’s taken me a long long time to learn what you are learning now, that the small things matter and doing what you can comfortably do is better than doing nothing. The best motivation I’ve ever had is ‘half-ass is better than no-ass’ which is extra funny considering I have so much ass already! But it’s helped me approach my physical health in a way that makes sense for me. 10 min of exercise a day is fine! It’s better than none! Maybe someday it will be 15!
For me I’m learning that it’s all about how much effort I’m willing to put into the battle, and being kind to myself about where I am each day.
It is wonderful that you are thinking through all this so young, and are figuring out what makes sense for you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world.
I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this—I read some of the comments but not all—Monique Melton over on Instagram makes some very good arguments around the racist and white supremicist nature of beauty standards. They need to be changed for many reasons. It’s worth some thought.
I totally get this. I also totally get that you probably don’t want to hear this, but your prom picture is fucking beautiful. Like, GORGEOUS. The ugly is all in your head. I know that doesn’t take it out of your head, but it’s true.
Here’s what’s worked for me for weight loss: track everything I eat with an app (and let myself eat whatever I want.) Big changes are too easy to stop. Food choices are mostly about habit, comfort, and emotion for me, and I can’t do some huge overhaul because it’s unsustainable. But when I track what I eat with an app, I know when I’m overeating. And then I think, do I really need to eat 800 calories in popcorn today? And sometimes I say, YES. In fact I DO. And I go ahead and do it, because I need to. And other times I think, no, I don’t really need that today. I am just bored. And I don’t. And that little bit is generally enough that I can lose weight (slowly.) No idea if this would work for other people, but it’s (relatively) easy, and unlike virtually all other options, possible for me.
I am so sorry you’re in this headspace. Fatphobia seriously screws us up. I’m a fat person and it’s frustrating to me because so many things contribute to my weight (I won’t list mine because this post is about you, not me) and managing them all at the same time is nearly impossible. The headspace thing in particular has such an impact – I also have a hard time living through the crap this world slings without offering myself some delight. I get it.
I wish you the best of luck in finding ways to love the body you’re in, the way it is. Sending lots and lots of support.
Just dropping in to say that this is easily your best piece so far. I’ve been watching your writing improve in fits and starts (it’s hard!) and in this post it just flows.
(Haven’t read the comments yet)
OK, the important thing is your health, right? You can be overweight or far or whatever, as long as you are healthy. I have friends who would be considered obese by any standards, but somehow they are healthier than other friends who are thin. Why? Don’t ask me!
My wife has had weight issues since years before I met her and we’ve been married for 50 years. She’s been on a hundred diets. What works for one doesn’t work for another. I’ve never had a weight problem, and if I do gain ten pounds I can easily lose it, but that doesn’t help her (or you). So no advice here, other than to make sure you are healthy. Don’t smoke, don’t drink to excess, don’t use drugs, get some moderate exercise (run around with Charlie for 30-60 minutes a day should do it), and watch what you eat a little better.
And try not to be so hard on yourself. You look good really.
I should have mentioned that my wife is 5’10” too, and if she looked as thin as you do she would be celebrating right now.
Long time lurker here. I don’t have any advice; I just know that I could have written this when I was your age, and it brought tears to my eyes. I know the pain and the frustration and the self-loathing, and I’m so sorry that you feel that way (and I understand entirely why).
You have one thing I didn’t: loving, understanding parents. I know they’ve got your back, however you decide to move forward, and I wish you the best of luck and all happiness.
Thank you for your honesty. It’s not easy to put yourself out there like that, I know.
I’ve fought my body type my entire life–half of my siblings (and I) got my Dad’s sparkplug shape, and the other half got my mother’s tall, slim build. Neither half understands what it’s like for the other, really.
But you know what? A. I’ll never have to worry about osteoporosis, and B. My body does almost all of what I want/need it to do. That’s a win, in my book.
I hope you can reach a peace with your body and how best to care for it. Thank you again for talking about this.
Wow, this resonates. Though I’m the same age as your dad.
I did go the other way in quarantine – “if not now, then when?” and have lost ~90 so am just over 200. I went low-carb/keto but the method doesn’t really matter.
I did some cognitive behavioral therapy for other issues, and I’d recommend this The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person
I find it helped me to reframe how I looked at stuff – especially the red light metaphor – OK, you ate too much, now stop, not keep running the red light because you blew the day. Very helpful, so much of diet and exercise is mental
But nothing works for everyone, took me 30 years to find the correct approach.
And also +infinity on that yellow dress, such a great picture.
You’ve communicated your frustration and despair well; I hope you find a way through it. Two ideas to consider: 1) Research has shown that when a person writes about themselves and their situation in the third person, they often learn to be kinder and more objectively minded concerning their issues. As a writer, you might give it a try (I’m a scientist and all for experimenting). 2) If you liked weight lifting in the past, you might see if you like it now; muscle burns a whole lot more calories than fat at rest. Good luck! You are lovely.
I relate to most of your story except for the period during which weight mysteriously went away. 8-) I have tried to go with a sumo theory of health which is, if you exercise and your cardiovascular system is healthy then the extra weight is relevant… but I don’t like exercise. The only time I’ve exercised consistently is when I hired a personal trainer.
A decade ago, my sweetie and I tried a modified South Beach diet (picky eater swapping out stuff like seafood and kale for stuff I’ll tolerate) and it worked for a year… except they trailed off and then I fell off the wagon and it all came back.
Most recently, we decided to do a medically supervised weight loss program offered by Kaiser. It worked so well, the dark side of weight loss when you’re older reared its ugly head, excess skin. I don’t know if my resulting ambivalence had anything to do with it, but then pandemic lockdown happened (we were in lifestyle/maintenence at that point anyways) and the world was ending so I gained a lot back.
Coincidentally, I created a new program for myself that essentially boils down to small breakfast, small lunch, semi-reasonable dinner (had pizza last night), try to snack on fruit. It’s been working surprisingly well (down 2 lbs in one week).
So, if you want to get help and a head start on the weight loss, there are programs out there that are basically guaranteed to do the job.
More sustainably and independently, enlist your family as co-conspirators. Remove temptations from the house, plan healthy meals together, backstop each other on the willpower, hold each other to account for food/exercise goals, etc.
I think you should focus on being fit, rather than on not being fat.
So measure how fast you can walk a mile, or how comfortable you are after walking 3 miles.
As far as dieting goes, what has worked for me, and works less well when you’re living with other people, is waiting to eat until you’re really hungry. This requires being able to distinguish hungry from bored. It also requires eating less at one meal so that you are hungry by the time it’s time for the next meal.
But obsessing about how many pounds you should weigh is definitely the wrong answer.
I’m scrawny and have been since I was 3 or so (genetics, hummingbird metabolism, and now a bonus chronic illness that provides nausea All The Time), and your prom pictures looked drop-dead gorgeous. Just to be clear: you could have done an advertising shoot for that dress.
I’ll second the book Atomic Habits for anything you want to add in to your life (journaling, drinking more water, moving more, whatever); I was already doing a bunch of the Sneaky Tricks, but it was useful to have a name for them and also to learn more. :-)
And finding a form of exercise that is decently enjoyable is a Very Good Thing; whether you make it decently enjoyable via “I can only listen to Favorite Podcast while on the exercise bike” means (I don’t enjoy the biking that partially helps keep my chronic illness from getting worse, but combining it with other things so it’s at least not deathly boring is Good), or whether you go for dance, or puppy runs, or…? Having some form of accountability (online something, star charts, or gamification apps) or pattern is also key (I do my tiny slot of exercise every single day after my first bathroom trip of the day – this way, it just happens and I am never making a decision, which really helps me out a lot since I rarely want to do it – in Atomic Habits, this is called “habit chaining” – linking up Thing You Want To Add to Thing You Already Reliably Do).
Having healthy snacks pre-portioned and extremely available, and not-healthy snacks harder to get at has been key for some friend’s diet changes (whether that’s weight loss or “gluten makes me feel horrible and yet it is so TASTY”). It takes a while to crunch your way through a single-serving-in-a-tupperware of, say, cheerios, which are good munching (providing the hand-to-lips satisfaction of snacking and of cigarettes) and also good for your colon (soluble fiber!). Baby carrots! Grapes! Things-and-hummus! Radishes! Bananas! Baked sweet potatoes!
And yeah, some people find it easier to let off or excuse other people than themselves (hi! I also have this problem), and that is a Thing To Work On in itself, because it’s probably also affecting other areas of your life and is probably doing you zero favors (shame is usually more paralyzing than motivating, and even when it motivates action, it’s usually really screwed up).
I also agree heartily with all the “pay more attention to your body being strong and healthy than to scale numbers” because YES healthy weights are different for different people. (also note that waif-thin people have higher mortality than moderately-obese people, although this is not something you’d learn from our culture or most doctors, sigh)(incidentally, it may not be relevant, have you tried probiotics? You don’t need wacky ones, just off the shelf ones; try a few OTC ones out; if they make you feel cruddy or negatively affect your GI process, then try a different one. Gut microbiome can massively affect cravings and how food is processed within your gut, as well as messing with your mood and energy.)(when I have GI candida overpopulation, sometimes accompanied by oral thrush, I crave sugar like crazy – but only then; I also have increased fatigue and everything looks more hopeless than it does otherwise; it’s a real trip and I do not recommend it.)
Anyway, you’ve gotten started on a path to lose weight you want to lose (drinking water! not eating candy!) and you can figure out what steps you want to take from here. It’s hard, but also you have done hard things and you can do hard things. Your progress doesn’t have to be fully linear to still be progress, especially as you experiment to figure out what lastingly works for you.
We’re cheering for you to thrive (at whatever size ends up being a good one for you), and hopefully you can join the cheering section soon. :-)
The dirty secret of the diet industry is that diets don’t work. The vast majority of them fail, and the ones that don’t are because the dieter basically makes that their job.
You’d think the First Law of Thermodynamics would rule here, and it does, but applying calories in/calories out is based on an invalid assumption. Most of the calories you expend during the day are spent maintaining your basal metabolic rate. When your body perceives you not consuming as many calories as it would like, it lowers your basal metabolic rate. In other words, it has a weight it wants you to be and will adjust your calorie expenditures accordingly.
This is worth reading:
Eat well, most of the time, get a reasonable amount of exercise, and be happy about yourself, most of the time. Don’t worry about the rest.
Pretty awesome of you to be so vulnerable there. As you mentioned, the topic is certainly a fraught one. But since you have expressed that you, personally, want to lose weight, I’ll offer a couple tips that might work with your situation.
A few years ago I also found myself way more overweight than I’d wanted to be and it’d snuck up on me. Here are some things that worked for me (tweak if necessary to work in your life):
For me getting on a scale each morning and entering the data into Garmin (which I use to track other activities) prevents it from sneaking up on me again. When the pandemic closed the gym and saw things creeping up again, I was able to take steps to halt the rise.
take a look at your portion size. Most diets fail in the long term because if you like cake (or ice cream or whatever) you can’t keep denying yourself forever and eventually you’ll lose out to human psychology. So eat whatever you want to eat – healthy and “unhealthy” just keep rational portions. Telling myself I’m limiting myself to what I get in one serving has helped me A LOT.
eat earlier. You know what sumos do to gain weight? They eat and then take a nap. Most of us eat too close to bed time. I pushed up my dining time by a couple hours and that helped a lot. Also helped with some reflux issues I’d developed.
studies of folks who live in the jungles have shown that the human condition is to be constantly interrupted from sitting. In other words, it’s fine to sit on the couch or in front of the computer. But you can’t stay there forever. Have a watch or other alarm force you to get up and take some steps ever hour or so. Then you can go back to your sedentary task.
As far as exercise – the key is to find something that’s fun for you. Don’t run if you don’t like running. Find something – swimming, basketball, tennis, etc that you like and do that. You’ll be more likely to do it that way. Be careful about doing something that needs others (unless it’s a club team) because it allows for more excuses if your schedules don’t line up. If you like it – do weight lifting. Muscles are expensive and that’s why they always want to waste away (see bedridden people). If you have muscles you will burn more calories just sitting there than if you don’t.
Finally, know that everyone has different body types. My wife, even when she was the most active (and before the changes that happen to a woman who has children) was never going to be as skinny as her sister. Your body has a default level and going beyond that is going to take a LOT of work and probably won’t be fun. (see interviews of Henry Cavil about how he hates maintaining superman-bod).
Anyway, good luck.
First of all, thank you for this extremely well-written and honest post. I admire your courage.
Weight, in itself, is a pretty inaccurate measure of overall health and fitness. As others have pointed out, muscle weighs more than fat. The dread BMI (Body Mass Index) is a number that was defined entirely arbitrarily in a single paper published in 1972. and its definitions of “overweight” and “obese” vary–equally arbitrarily!–from one country to another.
FWIW, I’ve weighed (as an adult) as little as <103, that being the magic number for my height that kept me out of the Army during Vietnam. To achieve that, starting from around 145, I simply eliminated one item–food–from my diet for a month, which was a fascinating experience in its own right. Unfortunately, what went away as muscle returned largely as flab, which I've been (sometimes half-heartedly) battling every since. In 1980, when I met my wife while trekking in Nepal, we were both in the 130s, largely because we were hiking up- and downhill about eight hours a day. (Although the fastest way to lose weight in Nepal is simply to drink one glass of un-boiled water and watch those pounds–and everything else south of your esophagus–melt away). In the 40 years since then, we've both crept up into the 180s.
That said, and while we'd both like to shed, say, 30 lbs, we're both in decent shape for our age, and can do pretty much whatever we like–maybe no more treks up to Everest Base Camp at 18,000 feet, but we're certainly not hampered in day-to-day activities*.
For me, at least, dieting alone has never worked. What has worked, and continues to work (and will work even better as Covid restrictions are lifted–and we've both been vaccinated) is exercise. And I can add that exercise–ideally, out in nature–has so many benefits for physical and mental health beyond mere weight and/or size loss.
Others in this thread have suggested walking, and I agree that in Charlie you now have a full-time fitness coach. You might also consider cycling; we spend our summers in the mountains, at almost 10,000 feet, and last year I splurged on an electric-assist fat-tire mountain bike. The thing weighs close to 80 lbs, but has proved so much fun to ride that I brought it back to the lowlands, equipped it with a cargo rack, and it's become my "daily driver" for local errands and shopping, as well as extremely enjoyable recreational riding. Some recent studies have shown that riding e-bikes burns up just about as many calories as unassisted ones, since one tends to go out more often and ride longer distances and over more hilly terrain–the latter perhaps a bit harder to find where you live, but you might consider "international" rides to, say, Versailles or Russia. Not only would you be getting exercise, but you could be contributing, in a small way, to a reduction in global warming. (Depending, of course, on what kind of power plant is at the other end of the plug from which you recharge the bike.)
As far as diet is concerned, I've yet to find anything better or more concise than Michael Pollan's three-point recommendation: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
I wish you–and confidently expect you will have–every success.
*If you ever decide you want to marry someone, just wait to pop the question until they've been trying to blow up an air mattress at 18,000 feet. Results guaranteed.
So, I’m old, and some years ago my doctor told me I had osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis). I started walking, and started taking calcium. I found that, if I walked briskly for over an hour, I could lose a pound every week or two. It came back in the winter.
But the entire covid-year, my husband and I have been walking. It’s not as fast or as far as I would like, but we keep doing more, he’s never felt healthier, and we’re starting to lose a little weight.
Then my doctor said I had to lose more weight (blood pressure, this time), and try limiting carbs. Then I read the phrase, The Tyranny Of Now. (It refers to the very human desire for instant gratification.) I decided to fight this tyranny. I now look at our array of snacks, and ask, “Am I hungry?” Almost always, the answer is “No,” and I just drink some water.
It seems to be working.
You aren’t alone, and thanks for sharing so honestly.
One thing that helped me was to be radically honest with myself. How do I like to eat? How do I like to cook? How do I like to move? Sometimes the answers aren’t flattering (I’d prefer a large volume of mediocre food to a small plate of fantastic food). Then I figured out how to make my existing preferences a little healthier. I could add some veggies to add volume. I found an activity that fit my personality, and over time, my body adapted. Start where you are.
I also oscillate between eating too much and eating too little. It helps to set a range for each meal instead of a range for the day. Instead of budgeting 1,800 calories for the day, you can budget 300-500 for breakfast, 300-500 for lunch, 300-500 for dinner, and 300 for snacks. Choose numbers that work for you. Over time, you’ll learn what works and you can adjust. If you go over, no harm, no foul.
I repeat: Members of the plus-sized community don’t have to let judgmental randos scare them with visions of life-threatening disorders, particularly if said randos aren’t folks’ doctors and know fuck all about someone’s probability of developing one.
Much like “beating you down to build you up,” pulling the “don’t let this happen to you” card and slamming it down in front of someone who is struggling is likely to accomplish little more than making that person’s journey exponentially more difficult than it needs to be.
Fear and pain aren’t always the best motivators, just like “good” drug laws and the legal consequences of breaking them aren’t always the best ways to nudge someone into sobriety.
Sometimes the drug laws are just bad.
Sometimes the ignorant, and often privileged, people wagging their fingers (whether they do so at addicts or the overweight) are equally bad.
In general, putting over-eating under the same heading as indulging in illegal drugs doesn’t seem like a good look.
More importantly, implying that critics of “well-meaning” fat shamers are making a straw-man argument for obesity is a worse look.
I have been most successful at changing my behavior when I did two things.
1. I told someone else what I was trying to do (usually my spouse), because that helps keep it accountable and in my mind.
2. Start over every day. I check in about that goal at the end of day, but (try) not to beat myself up or feel guilty about how little I did, and setting a new goal for the next day.
Small steps, and I have made very little progress on some of these goals, but I have made progress. Things are better, and I can see that if I keep this up, they will keep getting better. The important thing is that I keep going.
Good luck and stay in the game!
So well written, it grabs me as a reader by the throat and hurts the heart a little bit.
I really found this part to be worth to consider:
“The future is never guaranteed, so I’d rather enjoy every moment of the present and not think about the consequences that will come around eventually.”
Because I actually think this in the nihilistic mindset can cause complete and lasting unhappiness and numb you to a degree where life instead passes one by.
And maybe, just maybe it makes for better quality of life to live life as if you are aiming for 90 with as few regrets as possible. Might not succeed but it might lead to a better journey for however long one have.
My husband Jeff is a regular contributor and has already commented.
Just wanted to add my two cents. Your story so far brings back lots of painful memories from age 10. I too was the fat friend. Weight Watchers has been my thing since I was 16. Of course, I am so old I started with the original diet which was based on the NYC health department diet circa 1962. The big treat in those days was a daily malted made with powdered milk, sweet & low and strawberries mixed in a blender. It worked but through the years I yo yo’d up and down 50 pounds. My goal weight was always 174 since that is the maximum healthy weight for a woman who is 5’10”. Finally in 2009, weight watchers came up with plan that incorporated fiber. Now I was 60 and realized I had to get healthy or face a pathetic old age or no old age at all. I finally discovered that I could lose weight slowly but continually if I wrote everything I ate down every day. Also, there is no food that is off limits. Just portion control and balancing the points. Jeff and I have found 2 meals a day works best plus snacks. We do breakfast and late lunch. We don’t eat anything after 7pm and we drink 8 glasses of water a day. They have made it very easy to join online as they are reaching out to younger people with the new name WW. I stick with my 2009 diet as I works for me. I have taken off 40 pounds with a couple of slips (too much dessert, not writing things dow) and still heading for 20 more. (NO WEIGHT GAIN DURING COVID!) Don’t do what I did and wait so many years to keep that healthy weight. Sign up or let me know and I’ll send you a copy of that great 2009 plan. It was during the years that Lynn Redgrave was spokesperson and had toast with peanut butter every day. Good luck.
It’s a way of eating for a lifetime, not a diet.
Athena, honestly, over all these years and all the pictures of you I’ve always thought you look amazing. You’ve always had amazing hair, a face that says you really know who you are, but also just objectively you’ve always looked lovely.
On the weight thing, my partner’s had the same issues as you for a long time. He has been heavy for pretty much his entire life. Not excessively obese, but enough to know it matters. Food makes him happy, he was always encouraged to finish his plate, he’s been on loads of diets and nothing’s stuck… It’s a hard, hard road.
We have started to turn a corner recently, but the key has really and truly been a change of perspective. He is going down, gradually (around 5kgs in the last year). But that isn’t the point. I’ve made a point of doing two things:
1) Emphasising that I love his body for what it is (so comfy! Thin guys are like wooden planks to hug)
2) Taking the focus off appearance. Losing weight or staying level for health reasons? Sure. But there is no pressure to lose the weight. It doesn’t matter whether he does or doesn’t. He’s defined by who he is, not by his weight.
Key points have included:
– Flexible system. It isn’t about a fixed calorie limit each day and indulgences can always be compensated for later. Nothing’s off limits and it’s never a lost cause – he just has to have a lighter dinner or day tomorrow.
– Regular scales check-ins. Scary, but necessary to stay honest. We combine this by thinking about sleep, food, stress, exercise that week. Also recognising challenges and remembering what would have happened. Weight NOT gained is just as much of a win as weight lost.
– Genetics really do play a big role. People make it sound like we can control our weight and we play by the same rules, but we really don’t. My partner takes in twice the calories as I do from the same food. Exercise also doesn’t have much effect. Some people just have a higher default weight and it’s important to recognise what’s achievable for you. Celebrate the small wins.
– It has to be a lifestyle change, not temporary. Nothing’s off limits, but you need to commit to thinking about food differently. A balanced diet goes a long way.
– Find food role models for you. The Hairy Dieters were that for my partner – he’s a hairy dieter, too! But these people will also promote recipes which suit your body and preferred food. E.g. the HD recipes which are really filling for my partner don’t fill me up at all.
In the end, remember that everyone’s food and body truly do work differently. You can’t set too much store by what works for other people. Find what works for you and make that your lifestyle. Then set realistic goals, celebrate the small wins and don’t worry too much about it. If you learn to take the pressure off, you’ll find it becomes much easier to make the progress you want to see.
I wish you luck figuring out what works for you.
For me, I had not had weight issues when I was younger, because I was really into gymnastics, but then after I stopped gymnastics I never really became active in anything else, and I have always had a sweet tooth. In college I got enough exercise from all the walking, and my metabolism was still good enough that the weight didn’t really sneak up on me too badly, but after college I started driving everywhere and was busier and got almost no exercise, and a few years later I realized that I’d gotten to the point where I was about 60 lbs overweight.
My mom was always dieting when I was a kid and I never wanted to live my life that way, always on one diet or another, so I’d resolved to be ok with myself whatever my weight, but when I realized it had gotten that high I started worrying about diabetes, which does run in my family. So I started thinking about how to improve the situation in ways that didn’t involve constant dieting.
For me what worked was changing my relationship with food very gradually, and coming up with some kind of exercise I could do on a regular basis that worked for me.
For exercise, I have bad knees from my gymnastics days, so that somewhat limits my options, but I found a recumbent exercise bike that was easy on my knees, and I made a regular habit of using it while watching TV. I knew if I had to leave the house to exercise it would never happen, but making a habit of it in a way that didn’t feel like too much of an imposition on my time (because I could combine it with another activity) made it a lot more sustainable. I worked my way up slowly to a reasonable exercise duration and frequency and I’ve been able to maintain it for about 20 years now.
For food, I knew the only thing sustainable would be to change habits in a permanent way. I started small by figuring out little things I could change and keep going. The first thing I did was cut out soda. Oddly I never missed it- although I had always loved soda I also like the taste of water, and it was strangely easy to adjust to- I would rather get my calories from food than drink if I have to pick. It was also the biggest impact to my weight of anything I did.
I ended up losing about 25-30 lbs from dropping soda and a few smaller changes within a few years, at which point the easy weight loss was over, and I maintained at that level for about 10 years before I lost more- as I started getting older I decided to lose a bit more and focused on other optimizations I could do, which led to losing another 25 or so over a few years and got me to a much healthier weight which I’ve kept now for about 6 years.
After dropping soda, I tried to pay attention to the kind of snacks I would eat, and figured out what the purpose of the snacks were- whether they were filling a sweet need, a salty need, etc., then I would figure out what somewhat healthier options I could replace those with. A lot of times I just wanted the taste of something sweet and there were alternatives that worked better and over time I grew to crave those items instead. For example I used to love to have ice cream before bed- now I find it’s just something sweet I like, so I go for applesauce or fresh fruit, and I save ice cream for times that I’m super craving it specifically.
I didn’t explicitly go in for calorie counting, but I do hear that works well for some people, because it can really help you identify the actual cost of individual foods, so you can make better tradeoffs. You don’t need to do it permanently, but doing it for awhile just to get in your brain what the things you’re eating represent in calories can help you optimize food choices better.
I do use calories for a guide when I am eating a snack- for example if I am looking at a box of girl scout cookies, and trying to figure out how many is a reasonable amount for a snack, I’ll look at the calories and serving size to determine roughly what feels appropriate, then take just that many cookies out, put the rest back in the box and not eat them. This takes some willpower, but part of the risk in snacks really is just having them too convenient and not giving your brain cues in advance as to what serving amount is appropriate, because you will end up just eating more and more.
Another thing to pay attention to, is sometimes when you think you want food, you may really just need to drink. I find a lot of times if I drink first, then check back in with my body a little bit later, I didn’t need the snack after all.
There are other tricks to being efficient with how you eat. One of mine is always putting a bit less on the plate than I intend to eat, then taking a 5 minute break before I get more. My body takes some time for hunger level to adjust to food, so this often will prevent me from overeating, and I still feel reassured knowing I have the option to get more if I need to. Eating slower in general is also a good idea. When I eat at a restaurant I will sometimes ask for a spare plate to split half my meal onto- this helps constrain what my body thinks is the actual serving, even though I know there’s more right there next to me. Turns out most of the time half of what they serve me is enough and I can have the rest for leftovers later.
The other major change I made many years ago that helped my 2nd batch of weight loss, was making sure that roughly half of my meals are veggie. I am a very picky eater, and I only eat about 5 veggies, so this is harder than it sounds. But I do like the ones I eat, so the trick was really just making time and effort to have them with the meal. Then I alternate veggie and rest of the meal bites. Now I feel weird if I forget my veggies and have to eat without them. For me I found baby carrots are a great stick in a bag and bring with you to restaurants option, and I tend to have raw red pepper with lunch at home, and steamed broccoli with lemon juice with dinner, but of course if you are more flexible about what you eat there are a lot of good options. For most people this one might not be as big a change, as they probably get a lot of veggies mixed in with the food they eat, but I historically got almost no veggies in my diet. Just making sure a large proportion of the meal is veggie in general does help reduce how much else you’re eating.
I do think the most important part of weight loss for everyone is making sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and that you’re doing it in a sustainable, healthy way. You also want to avoid triggering a feeling of deprivation whenever possible, and focus more on making sure you feel like you’re still getting what you need/want, but just re-evaluating what it is you actually need/want out of your food.
I feel this. (I did have an eating disorder in high school, and I still have dysmorphia.) I reluctantly became athletic in HS/college because, in part, I wanted to be able to do what my RPG characters did. I took up running for the same reason (boy, did that suck). I walked my dog for miles (she loved it). Eventually I found a few lifestyle changes that actually worked, and finally, finally, I like where I am. (Mostly. Maybe a couple pounds lighter. Always, always that specter.)
You are going to look back on those pictures decades from now and wonder how you ever thought they looked bad! Trust me on this. (Especially that prom picture! Gorgeous!)
Not because you are going to look worse 20 years from now, but because you’ll have the time separation to not be pouring your current insecurities into those innocent pictures.
What sucks is science says once you make a fat cell it never goes away, it turns into a zombie. So you bust your ass for 3-4 months to lose 20 lbs, spend 1 night celebrating, and all those zombie fat cells come to life.
I was 6’2 and about 170 lb until my early 30s. I could eat anything and not gain a pound. And trust me, I took that to the limit, referring to myself as the human garbage disposal. Then, bam. In about 1-2 years I was suddenly 250. Nothing changed, except I got older.
Busted my ass riding a bike for 200-300 miles a week and got down to 225. Could not get below that, I’m guessing those zombie fat cells had weight. Much like undetectable neutrinos.
Fast forward 30 years, my knees went 20 years ago and the bike riding with it. I struggle to stay at 280, give or take a decade. I currently walk 20-40 minutes a day (depending on the trail) 3-5 times a week.
There is something about weight loss science still does not understand. Calories in/out does not explain it.
Me too. Yup. What you just said. All of it.
What I’ve found is that I have to flick a switch in my head (much easier said than done) from “wanting” to “doing”.
A mental state of trying to lose weight or wanting to lose weight doesn’t work (for me).
The only thing that works (for me) is a decision that you’re doing it.
Once the mental switch is in the “doing” position – it still takes a lot of determination and hard work – making the right choice every time is hard work – but it becomes a virtuous circle – good choices lead to good results – which makes good choices easier.
That’s my technique anyhow – I used it in my early 30s and lost 84lbs. I’m late 40s now, and 8 weeks ago I flipped the mental switch and I’m down 16lbs so far – lots more still to go, and I frequently have to ram that mental switch back across to the “doing” position.
As for diets and exercise options – there are as many as there are days in the year. I’ve had the best success with Keto – which has the added benefit of reducing appetite if you stick with it (another virtuous circle).
But anyway – I just wanted to say – your article really resonated with me.
The most helpful advice I can give is the most helpful advice I received when I hovered around 280 and hated doing all the stuff people were trying to “help” me do:
“Pick an exercise you like to do, because then you will do it. Pick healthy food you like, because then you will want to eat it. Treat yourself once a week to something bad.”
That sorta worked. Holding at 225 and hoping to keep doing things I like and drop 10 more. (Note: I’m old so losing weight is harder.)
You’ll be happier and maybe achieve whatever you think you can be happier with.
Really impressed with your candor. You are an impressive young woman.
as someone who has been obese most of his life (I am in your Dad’s age bracket) this piece talked to me a lot and I want to commend you for sharing it with us.
the difficulty is so real. I know for me it started when I was in my teens. (I was small for my age and that bothered me a lot) My physician recommended an appetite stimulant and if there is one decision in life I would redo it is saying yes to that
oh it did what it was supposed to (made me want to eat more) Sadly I ate things that out on weight faster than I could grow or take it off
the one and only one thing I will say was it was just over a couple of years ago that I found a nutritionist who rather than suggesting diets or meal plans or cutting back on x,y or z asked me “why do you eat?”
It was a lightning bolt because it made me look at my behavioral patterns (I stress eat for one)
she worked with me to pay more attention to proteins (I am type 2 diabetic) instead of carbohydrates and for the first time in my life I see progress.
So I wish you progress and success in your path, wherever it takes you
While physical activity/exercise is a necessary component of maintaining weight and fitness for health, attempting to undertake it by yourself ends up like playing foosball or air hockey alone. The numbr of people who are able to sustain an exercise program of any kind, unless they truly enjoy the activity, is extremely low.
Either you find something you enjoy for the sake of the activity itself (anything from rock climbing to hiking), you participate as part of competition (lots of runners and cyclists fall into this category), or you have a group of people you like that you participate with (everything from a neighborhood runner/cyclist group to HITT/Pilates/Zumba classes to a group of gym buddies that typically show up around the same time on the same days to liftt). But attempting to exercise in your basement solo is almost doomed to failure, as many found out over the past year.
So your Zumba classes are right in the sweet spot.
Losing weight is simple, but not easy!
I feel you. I’m much the same, I completely panic at the thought of eating somewhere before dinner when counting calories. Luckily, I did enjoy intermittent fasting a lot!
I used to be the somewhat fat kid, did manage to become only the chubby kid (at this point pretty much all of my friends were fairly fit which didn’t help much).
Then I moved out for college. My mental health went downhill while my weight shot up, which caused me to be frustrated and I eat when I’m frustrated, and so on. I felt uncomfortable enough to buy a scale which made me even more uncomfortable. Managed to lose enough weight to be at a healthy weight and then…
Well I’m a short dude. I was also severely undertrained. So getting to a point where I’d actually look and feel good enough I’d have to lose more weight than what would’ve been healthy.
After slowly gaining a bit of muscle (which was scary, because seeing the number on my scale go up again wasn’t particularly what I wanted) I was at a place where I was, well, alright. Not as lean, not as fit as I‘d prefer, but good enough.
Oh boy, my brain did not like that. Good enough meant that I didn’t have to work so hard any more, so I gained weight again. Not a lot, but still noticeable. And then Corona hit me. No gym, no biking to work (working from home!), and constantly near the fridge. My snacking habit came back, luckily mostly cucumbers and bell peppers instead of chocolate (mostly!). All in all, I managed to gain a surprisingly low 6 pounds during 2020, but I was already creeping my way up during 2019, so…
As of two weeks ago, I’m back on track!
One of my favorite ever post’s on this site, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve struggled with many of the same things over the years, though I doubt I would have had the courage to post about it so openly.
I found that I’m not able to do things that feel miserable just because I know they’re good for me. I tried running many different times over many years and I could never keep it up because I just hated it so much. The same with just trying to eat less.
Over the past few years I’ve found some things that have seemed to work though, because I actually get some sense of enjoyment or satisfaction out of them. HIIT workouts (the 7 minute workout is my base) are much more doable for me than pure cardio it turns out. Recently, to my absolute shock, I’ve found I somewhat enjoy running when it’s just a small and low intensity supplement to my HIIT rather than my main “do this because it’s good for you” exercise. Intermittent Fasting has changed my relationship with eating and huger in a way that I like and feels sustainable.
In the past few months I’ve also started walking a ton, because I keep reading about how good it is for you and I actually enjoy walking and listening to a podcast or audiobook. Since that change I’ve dropped pounds that have been hanging on for many many years.
Which is to say that maybe there are people for who can just start running and counting calories and cutting out bad foods and keep it up forever, because “the only thing stopping me is myself” and “I should.” But I’m not one of them and I’m not sure there actually are many people like that, and I don’t think you should necessarily assume you are or should be. There are lots and lots and lots of ways to go about being healthier, and it seems likely that some of them won’t feel as hard or miserable to you as the ones you’ve tried so far.
I lost 45 lbs in 2020, getting for the first time in 20 years from obese to just below the upper edge of overweight. In my case what started the progress was what your father put on the blog at the start of 2020: count calories, it may be boring, but, life. Also increase exercise. I put the calorie counter myfittnesspal on my iPhone, set the goal of losing one pound a week and getting additional eating calories for walking calories. It worked, along with lots of little tricks that clearly depend on who you are. For me, I always stop eating about an hour after dinner, weigh myself almost every day, forget each day after it is over, so that if I have 500 calories too much or 500 calories below the goal they both are gone the next day. I also decided I like feeling full at least once a day much more than eating anything in particular, so I usually have a large breakfast and just snack a bit till dinner. For me that comfortable feeling of being full once a day with whatever I feel like eating removes the urge to binge eat. Also walking 4 miles almost every day listening to music and books for some reason is helpful. Coming out of the pandemic may require all sorts of new behaviors, but if you know about how many calories you are eating day after day over a few months, you can see the result on your scale. I am pretty constant for the last few months, so I am going to have to reset my daily calorie goal down 200 calories, or a large glass of milk.
Right there with you. It’s very hard, but it gets harder as you get older, so finding what works for you is essential.
Reading a book now on how the food industry formulates food to encourage us to buy more, eat more, eat without thinking – all the things that increase profits and make eating healthy harder. I’m doing my best to avoid convenience foods and we eat mostly vegetarian, but I’m still addicted to the bad stuff, I just try not to buy it. The pandemic made that a bit easier.
Zumba is a great start – whatever gets you moving without being horribly boring is good. Muscle weighs more than fat, so a bit of weight training, even body weight exercises, will change your clothing size. Focus on that, rather than the scale.
I wish I had the answer. All we can do is make small changes, start new habits, and be kind to ourselves.
Oh– important PS. I don’t like to think about weight too much, but sometimes weight can be an indicator of underlying problems. If you’re having trouble losing weight even though you’re doing the “right” things, make sure you get a … I’m not sure what it’s called if you’re not trying to get pregnant, but if you were it would be called a “fertility workup” which is basically a set of tests to make sure your thyroid and other hormones are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. For me it turned out I had PCOS which meant I was eating exactly wrong for my body– I should be embracing fat and eschewing sugar. It’s crazy how many people don’t find out about these underlying conditions until they try and fail to get pregnant!
I mentally started this comment near the beginning of your post, but you have made part of my comment obsolete already. Nevertheless, having expended the brain energy to think it up, I’ll write it.
Much distilled from a l-o-n-g period of therapy: if you think you need a change but you don’t make it, the status quo is probably serving some purpose. You don’t necessarily know what that purpose is. If the underlying something no longer needs your status quo, you will be able to make the change.
I’m speaking as a 5’3″ woman who spent several years at 190+.
I hope your current small changes blossom.
There’s lots of advice to consider in this comment thread. One has to judge for oneself which eating and exercise habits seem appealing as a long-term lifestyle, and then test them to find out whether they work for one’s own body.
There’s something that I wish was taught more often. Our body and metabolism is always changing throughout our life, and so we have to adjust our habits every few years to keep healthy. I think that’s why so many middle-age and older folks have difficulty finding a satisfactory eating and exercise routine. It’s not a set-and-forget condition. And experimenting with new routines gets harder as one gets older.
Oh, love. This resonates: “Like when your friend that’s only 120 insists they’re so fat and you think how you’d kill to look like her.”
I had one of those friends in high school. One day we were being driven to the library by her Mom to study (yeah, I’m oooold) and she said “I am SOOOOO fat!”. From the back seat, I said, “I wish I were as fat as you!” Her Mom nearly drove off the road laughing. It WAS funny, but also, kinda not, y’know? Anyway HUGS and best wishes on your journey.
Do you ever wonder what older people think when they look back at their lives, say, to the age you are now?
I ask because I was very tempted to say “I predict when you’re about 35 you’re going to look at these pictures and smile, and wonder why you were so hard on yourself and where you got the idea that there was ANYTHING “wrong” with you. EVER.”
When I was younger I liked that kind of remark from people older than I was. It was encouraging. But everyone’s different.
My completely unsolicited opinion is that eating better and getting some exercise is great for nearly everyone, but trying to “lose weight” can be counterproductive.
Losing weight isn’t simple or easy, it’s impossible. Those people who you see “accomplishing it everyday” are going to gain all the weight back over the next few years. That’s why every diet company ad says “results not typical”.
I’m honestly disturbed by the amount of weight loss advice in these comments.
My advice is to try to learn to accept your body as it is. You don’t have to love your body; that’s not a useful goal for me, so I work instead on accepting mine.
Things that I do to further that goal: regularly look at pictures and videos of people of lots of different sizes, especially larger sizes. Avoid saying negative things about anybody’s bodies, clothes, appearance (including, especially, mine). Avoid participating in or listening to diet/weight loss talk (including parents, friends, etc).
Finding some kind of exercise you enjoy is good. Doing it with the expectation that you’ll lose weight will suck the fun out of it when that doesn’t happen.
It’s not easy. It won’t happen overnight. I’m almost 40 and it’s still a work in progress. But I’m a lot happier with myself now than I was when I thought I needed to lose weight to be happy.
If you’re interested in reading more about the science of dieting and weight loss, you can check out the blog junkfoodscience, the buzzfeed article “13 Experts Explain Why Diets Don’t Work”, the HuffPo article “Everything you know about obesity is wrong”, Your Fat Friend on Medium, and books by authors like Virginia Sole-Smith, Paul Campos, Marilyn Wann, and Kate Harding.
Start small! You’re on the right track. Pick one or two things to change and just work on those.
Weight loss is not simple for a lot of people, so give yourself some grace.
You ROCKED that prom dress! I hope you will be able to look at that picture in the future and give that girl some love.
Hi Athena. First, hugs.
Second, I commend you for recognizing that you may have “disordered eating.” You’re at least very conscious and thoughtful about the fact that sometimes, you just don’t eat v. healthy. And acknowledge and confirm that you don’t eat healthy, for extended periods of time.
And now for some real talk as one female to another:
As we age and esp for women, our metabolism will slow down. What I’m trying to say here is – it only gets worse, if you don’t have healthy eating habits established. After 30, it will get worse and after pregnancy, even worse. You’re only 22 now, you actually have a good chance here to set yourself on a healthy path.
I think it’s very “dangerous” to think of yourself as wanting to be “thin” or a certain number. Don’t be tempted by “I want to be X number of pounds.” Don’t focus on the number for your weight or what size clothes.
Focus on being healthy FOR YOU, for your height and body type. I am a taller woman and I eat more than most simply because I’m bigger and require more calories. You’re v. tall too, right? I’m not going to expect myself to be the same size X as my shorter friends, it’s just not going to happen.
It’s dangerous to think of “dieting.” Healthy eating IS NOT dieting. It’s a lifetime commitment to mostly healthy eating…MOST of the time. You don’t need to exercise every single day either.
People DO need to drink lots of water and cut down on processed food, alcohol and sugar. But I would say – eat healthy 80% of the time and the other 20%, eat whatever you want. No counting calories.
You have to intend to be mindful of what you’re putting into your body.
All that to say, focus on HEALTH, not your muffintop (I have one too) and not trying to be a size X.
Have you ever had a full workup done? Fasting cholesterol, iron, Vit D level, etc. If you haven’t yet, I’d recommend getting bloodwork now. You’ll at least establish a baseline. And lots of hugs from me.
Kudos to you for taking charge of feeling better in your own skin.
Athena, I’m just about your dad’s age, so feel free to ignore the old guy if you want. I weighed as much as 365 pounds until I had to have stents put in my heart. I’m down to 230 and still hate the way I look, and still need to lose about 40 pounds.
There have been many years I didn’t like having my picture taken, and didn’t much like what I see in the mirror. I exercise pretty regularly and what that does for me is to make me feel like I’m doing something, and I’m not powerless.
I don’t want to give you advice about what to do. I just want to tell you that there are a lot of people of all ages who feel the same way. It wouldn’t surprise me if you find your own highly effective method for dealing with this thing that disturbs you. In the meantime, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking about it. Good luck!
Adding some more to my comments above.
You’re only 22, so your youth is a GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY to set your body on the right path.
But we are not our bodies; we are temporarily taking care of these physical bodies that allows us to live, but our essence isn’t our bodies.
I’d think of your approach to food/exercise as what you should be most concerned with what’s INSIDE of your body. NOT the outside muffintop. Make sense?
Any future obesity can affect so many health issues. Diabetes, hardening of arteries, breast cancer, etc. Fat cells feed estrogen which can feed cancer cells.
Ignore BMI, that’s not going to be accurate as people have diff. body types.
I would commit to learning about healthy food and nutrition in a way that works for YOU. I still eat chocolate, ice cream, donuts, chips, whatever, I just don’t eat them every day. And if I pig out on my bday and holidays, I eat healthier the following week.
Your mom’s family is Greek. The Mediterranean “diet” – or the Med. lifestyle, which is just their daily way of life and eating, is great, if you like the food of your heritage.
I would get your glucose checked too, if you haven’t.
Many hugs and good luck!
I didn’t read all of the comments so someone may have already mentioned this.
I feel that one of the first things you should consider doing is to forgive yourself. When I read the passage where you said you’d never forgive yourself for getting fat, my heart hurt for you.
We tend to be more hurtful toward ourselves than we would be toward others. Please do your best to treat yourself better. Sit down with your “self” who is hurting and have a conversation, as you would with a friend. Help this other part of you to heal, just as you’d help a hurting friend heal.
On a more mundane level, please don’t try to change your lifestyle all at once. It’s tempting because you want to see progress RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW!! but that’s a sure way to fail because you won’t be able to keep up that new lifestyle.
Each day, endeavor to make a better choice. Have an apple rather than a cookie. Drink one more glass of water instead of a glass/can of pop. Get up during a TV commercial and do a few jumping jacks.
And don’t deny yourself a piece of cake every now and again. If you say, “I’ll never have another [fill in the blank],” you will immediately eat an entire bucket of [fill in the blank].
So much of life is about moderation – and it should never be about deprivation.
I wish you well on your journey, Athena. Thank you for being brave enough to share how you’re feeling with us.
Lots of comments with lots of good advice, but I want to make sure that you know this: as someone your dad’s age with a lot of old photos, someday you will look back on those old “cringe” pictures with more compassion for your younger self and with more recollection of the fond memories they represent. Your prom photo, for instance? My first thought was oh my God, it’s the dress from Beauty and the Beast and I LOVE IT. And I have a million jealousies that my prom photos/dress did not look nearly that cool. It was 1991 and short, poufy dresses were in. throws up hands
Everyone I know has gained weight during the “quarantimes” and everyone is trying to lose it. My husband has committed to walking 3-4 times per week. I have a group of friends where we set goals with each other and check in each week. Weirdly, I sometimes resent all of this because I think we got used to the garbage fire that was last year — as you pointed out, nothing matters when you’re all going to die! — and then Biden was inaugurated and with the return of the adults to the White House, it felt like the rest of us were supposed to go back to adulting too. Even though most of us are still reeling and angry, and low on resources to fix everything AND worried that this is a reprieve before the sh*t REALLY hits the fan. The only thing that is working for me in the middle of all of that is to set goals, then chip away at them. Having a team is helping, however much I may be grumpy about it. So maybe find your team, online if necessary, and let them help you?
My wife and I are much closer to your Dad’s age than yours, but she confided in me how very much she hated always being the heavy girl — and how cruel her mother was due to the shame of having a fat daughter. (Her mom had been thin throughout, and lived the cliche of considering her worth as what men she could attract to support her… so she was horrified that her daughter wasn’t set up for success the same way.)
Not to “1 weird trick”, but after a poor start during the pandemic (due to depression & indulgences), we got serious about exercise in VR. For us, VR did the trick because it feels like a game, even when it’s exercise. We got good at Beat Saber — she got better than me, due to a competitive streak and more discipline. But committing to 5 days of working out a half-hour did the trick for us both. I’d been “active” in terms of walks previously, but the extra intensity of exercise that VR games prompted helped reverse the weight gain, rather than just providing a plateau.
Depending on your system, there are lots of good options. Beat saber was the first, and we played it on PSVR, and bought it again for the Occulus. That was a gateway. From there Synthriders has a very different music and movements but gets you moving; Until You Fall distracts you by fighting skeletons and giants with the controllers a dagger and sword in your hands; Pistol Whip has a lot of crouching and shooting that feels like a John Wick fight scene and more.
It’s not victory in the “eat your spinach and like it” way — I still am not a fan of exercise — but it’s a fun game that incidentally gets me moving and keeps me distracted while breath comes more ragged and my arms go leaden as I dodge foes.
Athena, your honesty is welcome and compelling. You might have been channeling the contents of my own head — as someone who has been heavy all of my life (Mom asked if there were something to keep the kid quiet at night. My “pediatrician” suggested a bottle of sugar water every night. It did keep me quiet.) I so very much get where you’re coming from.
Lots of very good advice here. One diet does not fit all. I do best on low-carb, but you have to find what works for you. Focus on fitness over the size you are. And, as my therapist has finally got pounded into my pointy little head, “Guilt and shame are the ways back to the start”.
Also, about your prom pic? In Renaissance Italy, painters would be throwing themselves at your feet and begging for the opportunity to commit your beauty to canvas. Seriously. Best of luck to you in your journey forward.
That prom dress was lovely and you were gorgeous in it. Don’t let the voices in your head tell you any different.
Genetic tendencies toward obesity are beneficial in the same way that the gene resulting in sickle cell anemia is beneficial.
Sickle cell anemia is caused by a mutation in the gene for hemoglobin which substitutes a neutral amino acid for a charged one. T?his causes hemoglobin under low oxygen conditions to aggregate and form fibrous precipitates, which in turn causes sickle cells to form. If you have two of the abnormal genes, you get the disease. If you have one normal gene and one sickle gene, you become resistant to malaria. The malaria parasite has a complex lifecycle and spends part of it in red blood cells. In a carrier, the presence of the malaria parasite causes the red blood cells with defective hemoglobin to rupture prematurely, making the Plasmodium parasite unable to reproduce. This malaria resistance is why the gene is maintained in regions where malaria is endemic. Those heterozygous for the gene are malaria resistant.
Weight gain is far more complex genetically, but the tendency also has beneficial effects.
The following is a quote from an article in the New York Review of Books “Godot Comes to Sarajevo” (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1993/10/21/godot-comes-to-sarajevo/) by Susan Sontag. She went there to put on the play “Waiting for Godot” when Sarajevo was under daily bombardment–people wanted artistic diversion as much as they wanted food. The quote is an aside from the main topic.
“The only actor who seemed to have normal stamina was the oldest member of the cast. Ines Fancovic, who is 68. Still a stout woman, she has lost more than 60 pounds since the beginning of the siege, and this may have accounted for her remarkable energy. The other actors were visibly underweight and tired easily. Lucky must stand motionless through most of his long scene but never sets down the heavy bag he carries. Atko, who plays him (and now weighs no more than 100 pounds) asked me to excuse him if he occasionally rested his empty suitcase on the floor throughout the rehearsal period. Whenever I halted the run-through for a few minutes to change a movement or a line reading, all the actors, with the exception of Ines, would instantly lie down on the stage.
“Another symptom of fatigue: the actors were slower to memorize their lines than any I have ever worked with. Ten days before the opening they still needed to consult their scripts, and were not word-perfect until the day before the dress rehearsal.”
It seems obvious to me that Ines was energetic not because of weight loss, but because she had the weight to lose. Note that she is still fat after having endured famine conditions for a couple of years. It seems to have been much easier for her to tolerate going from 300# to 240# (my guess) than for Atko to go from, say, 160# to 100#.
This is a good illustration of why people are fat–more of their ancestors than usual had to withstand conditions like this. It pays to have at least a few people in every society who are still mentally alert and physically capable under high stress conditions that make every one else temporarily weak and stupid, even if they are disadvantaged when times are better. Not to mention the fact that at least some of the women would be able to give birth to normal weight as opposed to underweight babies. (With enough to eat, their babies tend to be oversized.)
If you have a metabolism like Ines, the only hope for coming close to “normal” weight is a lifetime commitment to recreating famine conditions in your personal life forever, and for a few people even that isn’t going to work. Society in general seems to think that fat people ought to be required to live under a lifelong state of siege, though most people would rather have a real life.
Insulin resistance is genetic, period. Therefore Type II diabetes, which results from insulin resistance, is a genetic disease, period. That lifestyle changes help in its management does not change that fact, any more than the fact that avoiding phenylalanine in one’s diet when young prevents brain damage in people with PKU proves that PKU is not a genetic disease. The correlations between weight and diabetes are better explained by postulating that weight gain in adulthood is a symptom and not a cause of Type II diabetes, just as weight loss is a symptom and not a cause of AIDS.
If fat (rather than the underlying genetic trait of insulin resistance) is such a problem, why are fat type II diabetics less insulin-dependent, less likely to develop the complications of diabetes, and less likely to die from it than type II diabetics of average weight? [Turkington, R.W. and Weidling, H.K., JAMA Vol 240, p. 833-836 (1987) https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/361005?redirect=true%5D. The reason for this is that Type II diabetics of normal weight are insulin-resistant, but unable to make the extra insulin to overcome resistance, and therefore have all the symptoms associated with constant high blood sugar levels. Producing necessary extra insulin promotes weight gain.
Why do diabetic Pima Indian women (the human population with the largest known genetic concentration of insulin resistance) experience the lowest levels of mortality when they weigh twice the actuarial ideal? [Pettitt, D.J., et al Am. J. Epidemiol. Vol 115, p. 359-366 (1982) http://www.jclinepi.com/article/0895-4356(94)00217-E/abstract%5D (Pima men with the longest life spans weigh 45% more.) The Pima used to raise crops in arid lands, and often had crop failures three or four out of every seven years. Needless to say, switching to casinos and 7-11s did not promote the lifestyle that they originally became genetically adapted to survive in.
Astrup et al [International Journal of Obesity Vol 11, p 51-66 (1987)https://research.regionh.dk/en/publications/id(45e0cf48-87ba-4c47-ac96-83da23f30380).html] have demonstrated that it is fat people who eat the least who have abnormal insulin response. He compared two groups of fat people, one of which ate less than 1500 calories a day, and the other of which ate more than 3000. Every one of the former group had abnormal insulin response, and none of the latter group. The people who are most at risk genetically for developing type II diabetes are therefore those who are least likely to lose weight, and the most likely to benefit from more exercise and improvements in diet composition, regardless of whether much (or any) weight loss occurs.
“I wouldn’t say I have an eating disorder, but I would say I have disordered eating. There’s a difference.”
You’re writing is really improving. And thanks to you I discovered kencko. Tastes like powdered butt, but I’m losing a bit of weight and have more energy. So your exploration into weight management is isn’t wasted, you’re helping others by sharing your experience. Thank you.
You are going to get a lot of advice, I will try to keep this brief.
I find loosing weight seems to stick better if you can get to the point of doing it because you love your body – that wonderful thing that carries you about no matter what you put into it or what it looks like; rather than hating it. Love is a more sustainable motivator.
Counting calories for me was more effective when I just ate normally and tracked what I ate, then added up the calories later. I got to know what the things I ate “cost”, and what I was eating that was calorifically too costly for me. I swapped those things for things that were better, like swapping corn chips for rice crackers. I also found that some days I didn’t eat barely anything, and that when you don’t give your body enough calories it stores everything for those “famines”. Realising that I was accidentally starving myself was an ephiany.
Also I dropped sugar for, I think a month or 6 weeks, then I added it back at a much lower dose (Because I have a biscuit/cookie binging problem.). I stopped stocking things in the house that I “just couldn’t resist” for that period of time (you might need your folks on board for that). Then I reintroduced with some pretty strict guidelines, and if I fall off the wagon and eat half a packet of cookies I have to do the restriction again. I also cut out artifical sugar at the same time. It honestly just made me feel more hungry ultimately.
Hopefully some of that helps.
Remember – “Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”- Mary Schmich, “Wear Sunscreen”
So use what works for you and discard the rest.
You might try checking to see if your health insurance company has any healthy living programs that could help you eat better & exercise with more confidence. Many do. I did & found a program that helped me a lot. I’ve lost almost 50 lbs since I started. Good luck!
Oh Athena I know your story because it is my own. Except that I am much older than you (67). I was a chubby adolescent, a fat kid in highschool, gained more weight in university, dieted and lost some weight in my 20s, gained it back and more in my 30s to the point of obesity, stayed about the same obese weight in my 40s and then started to experience the joint health effects of that weight in my 50s. I started tracking my food intake and walking at lunch time and in the evening. Managed to lose 40 pounds and then, due to the joint issues had two knee replacements and the weight started to creep up again. Except this time I had knees that would work for vigorous exercise and I discovered Zumba and I got a fitness tracker. The weight started to come back down but I was still obese. A year and half ago I got accepted into a free program designed to prevent people at high risk of developing Type II diabetes reduce that risk. It involved diet and exercise coaching from a registered dietitian as well as tips for changing habitual behaviour. Food and exercise tracking was encouraged. After a year of participating in the program I was down to a goal weight and I have managed to stay there for 4 months so far. It is the first time in my life I have weighed a normal weight. I really think the program I was on was what made the difference this time. Other friends of mine also lost weight following a similar program to the one I did which I believe was called Noom. Unlike the program I was lucky enough to be accepted into Noom is not free but from reading this blog it doesn’t seem like money would be a problem for you if you really want to make a change. I hope you will find a program that works for you because you eloquently express what negative emotions an overweight person experiences. Also, there are health consequences of being overweight which aren’t a big deal at your age but start to become a problem as you get older.
I’ve tried many diets, and few have stuck. The most success I’ve had is with a low sugar diet. If I stay under 25 g of sugar a day, I generally lose weight. This March, I restarted and am down 12 pounds.
For exercise, I’ve been pretty consistent with kettlebell training. In the past, I tried to do too much at once and quit quickly. The key this time was starting very easy and building up after each workout. I only do two or three exercises each day, and my early workouts were about 15 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down. I’m up to about 30 minutes after six weeks.
Mark Wildman’s YouTube is full of no-nonsense kettlebell training videos. He was raised on a horse farm in Ohio and has a background in engineering, so he is plain and to the point. He trains actors on movie sets, so he has good videos on getting the most out of a little bit of equipment. His videos aren’t the traditional “workout with me” videos. He just lays out the principles and you follow the program on your own. Once anyone goes through the “Nerd Math” playlist, they’ll have the basics.
I feel this essay so hard; this was pretty much exactly my relationship with my body from late elementary though age 30, right down to the magical weight loss that will surely last forever, right? (“Forever” turned out to be about 8-9 months, in my case.) I don’t think your essay sounds navel gazing or self pitying; I totally get what you mean when you say that you really, truly believe in body positivity — for everyone else. I feel the same way, and I also feel bad for feeling that way, and it’s all a huge mess that I’m still trying to properly sort out for myself. No advice here, just empathy; it really is hard.
I did eventually manage to lose enough weight to get from obese to normal, in BMI terms. After a lot (A LOT) of failed attempts starting from the age of 11, I finally decided that I needed to know more about how I naturally eat when I’m not trying to restrict myself at all before I could make meaningful changes. So I spent a month just writing down everything I ate, no restrictions or judgment about calories or nutrition or the number on the scale. Turns out, the act of journaling alone made me think more critically about what I was eating and whether I really needed to eat it (and if so, why) — enough to lose a noticeable amount of weight during a period when I was very specifically not dieting. So I kept doing it, and it kept working — there have been setbacks and plateaus, many of them, but eventually the trend always goes back to weight loss. Even several years after hitting a weight I’m comfortable with, I still keep the journal and my weight still fluctuates if I stop. I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing down everything I eat in tiny notebooks for the rest of my life. But if that’s what I need to do to avoid either restrictive dieting or being overweight, I’ll take it. (It does give me a good excuse to buy cute tiny notebooks, so it’s not all bad.)
The frustrating part of actually losing weight is that your body (by which I mean “my body”, to be clear) doesn’t just shrink back to how it would have been if you’d never gained the weight. I have some serious stretch marks and loose skin that doesn’t seem to yield to exercise, and it turns out I’m no happier in a bikini now that I was 70 pounds ago. On the other hand, I feel physically much better: I sleep better, indigestion is now a rarity rather than a daily experience, my feet and joints don’t ache constantly, exercise is easier and more enjoyable, I literally breathe more easily. Losing weight also uncovered some other (very treatable!) health problems that doctors had been blaming on my weight, and which turned out not to be related to weight even a little bit. (Shockingly, anemia doesn’t care about your BMI.) So even if the body image issues haven’t gone away and possibly never will, it’s still absolutely been worth the effort just for how much better I feel physically now.
I really hope you find your own way to do this successfully. It’s frustrating to hear people tell you what worked for them, when it doesn’t work at all for you. Every body is so different in why and how it gains and loses weight that it makes most advice meaningless at best and harmful at worst. (Yes okay calories in calories out, but it actually isn’t that simple — there can be all kinds of complicating factors both physiological and psychological. It’s a piece of advice that manages to be both correct and also profoundly unhelpful. See also: “just listen to your body!” My body wants to eat a diet composed of 85% sugar and fat. It also enjoys lying about what it wants and how much. What has been helpful for me is learning when not to listen to my body.)
My totally unsolicited advice is to ignore all of the advice on this thread, including mine. No one else has ever done this with your body before, and no one else has the exact right answers for you. It’s all trial and error and hoping you eventually guess right.
… what have you done to « the internet »? How have you managed a thread of more than 100 comments with only supportive people???
Congratulations for this achievement, and thanks singlehandedly for restoring my faith in the human race :-)
& All the best for your endeavour. I wish you to achieve the body image you are striving for – and that, as someone said above, you will remain as gentle to yourself as you would to a friend.
Athena you are divine. I felt sad reading your negativity toward yourself, and then all the misery in the comments. Everyone is trying to be helpful and is kind and awesome, and I’m really heartened to see some people showing the alternative to diet culture. I would point you in the direction of “The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love” by Sonya Renee Taylor, and “More than a Body: Your Body is an Instrument, Not an Ornament” by Lindsay Kite and Lexie Kite, both Ph.D.s.
Joy is greater than misery. Everyone deserves joy without fat-phobia, misogyny or ableism. Keep on being awesome!
I had a pretty serious case of bulimia when I was a teen, and many of the things you describe factored in. Flash forward a few decades, and my relationships with my body and with food are still fraught. I say that to say – I understand, and I’m so sorry. Sending good thoughts and good energy that you find what works for you, that helps you feel healthy and good in your body.
One thing to bear in mind in all this is that muscle is heavier than fat so weighing X lbs doesn’t tell the whole story. So if/when you start exercising you may see dramatic drop-offs at first and then as your body’s (ahem..!) support infrastructure builds up that weight-loss may slow or stop.
Your post really hits home for just about everyone! And you already realize the main points of weight and health.
It really is about small steps and daily routine/motivation.
Today I will try to eat MORE of THIS and LESS of THAT and get in a little EXERCISE.
You are an intelligent, beautiful young lady. Life is short, enjoy it!
A thoughtful and touching post … like many, I was fat when young and have struggled with my weight all my life. You do have to find out what works (and doesn’t work) for you; what worked for me was no sugar and very little wheat (so no bread, pizza, pasta, pastry). I also found help at Overeater’s Anonymous (a good organisation IMV but can be culty). I make sure I walk every day, too. Right now, I’m 140lb which I’m okay with (though at 5’4″ I could do with being a stone lighter. Bt it’s no biggie).
Here’s the thing: There’s a lot more to weight than your own willpower. There’s genetics and medical issues to take into account. If you take medicines like SSRI’s, or the Pill, etc, one of the side effects of those is weight gain.
BMI itself is a bogus number. I’ve done research on it, and even the guy who invented it (Quetlet) said it wasn’t to be used as a diagnostic tool for individuals. It was based on cis white ment in Brussels, Belgium. The formula treats the body as a cylinder, and last I checked, bodies aren’t cylinders. Basically, insurance companies loved BMI because it’s a number, and a number that they can base their decisions on. When it came in, in the 80s, millions went from normal to obese overnight according to actuarial tables.
I get the struggle with how society and the medical establishment views body size. I’m right there with you, being a fat woman myself. But the thing you have to remember is that the way our society views fat people is abusive, and telling someone it’s a simple as “eat less, exercise more” is being overly simplistic, and setting you up for failure if that formula doesn’t work for your body.
Being overweight isn’t a crime. Having a cookie is not a federal offense. It’s not like you’re kicking puppies, mugging old ladies, or storming the Capitol. I know it’s easier said than done, but go easy on yourself. Do movement that makes you happy, eat what works with your body and makes you happy, and throw out the scales.
I am considerably older than you, and two years ago was diagnosed with Type II diabetes (after decades of being what they call “pre-diabetic”). I was told to drastically reduce the amount of refined carbs I eat. As someone who believes French Fries are one of humanity’s crowning culinary achievements, this was a very hard thing to hear!
Here’s the thing, though: once I established a daily carbohydrate “budget,” and largely kept to it, not only did I start losing weight (which wasn’t the main point, but a happy side effect), I also lost bloat. “Bloat” is the fluids and gases that accumulate in our bodies, and swell our outlines, above and beyond the fat.
I believe that even people who aren’t Type II diabetics eat way too many refined carbs, and not in the form of candy: Pasta, bread, and potatoes are big culprits. We know to avoid too many sweets. It’s the things nutritionists used to call “starches” and now call “refined carbs” that can ambush us.
Here’s a suggestion, offered with love and respect: focus less on calorie count, more on carbohydrate count. Pick a daily number to stay under (mine is 130 mg, but I’m a diabetic; you can be more generous with yourself). You can eat anything you want, as long as you stay under that number. Find low-carb versions of breads, desserts, etc. – you’d be amazed at what’s out there.
Not only may this help out with your current weight issues, it could help prevent middle age health issues. Like, um, Type II diabetes.
I like how you have once again written a piece that gets many responses.
Thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m closer to your dad’s age but can relate to so much of it. I do the same thing re: thinking body positive about others all the time, but not accepting it in myself. I did lose some weight on and off over the years, but man, food is amazing and I’m such a homebody that snuggling with the cats and watching movies while snacking on popcorn is a little slice of heaven every day. That said, I have older sisters who are all fit and active and that makes me “the fat one”, at least in my mind.
Earlier this month a (vaccinated) friend of the family visited whom we haven’t seen in ~5 years. She’s older and taller than me, and was always a little heavier. She had lost all the weight and was lean as heck. Everyone was so impressed, that I decided right then I wanted to be the one who impressed others with my results. I went online and read up again on Intermittent Fasting. Of all the lifestyles for food management, this was the best one suited to me. I’m giving myself a lonnnggg grace period of easing into it in phases. For the first month, I’m still eating whatever I want, just during the eating window. By not limiting what I eat, only when I eat it, I find that delayed gratification is much easier than denial altogether. When I feel adjusted to the shorter eating window (I’m doing 16:8) then I’ll start to tweak what I eat, still not caring at all as to how much. I’ll still eat until I’m satisfied/full, calories be damned. And only when I’m comfortable with that will I take a look at how much I eat. I’m giving myself at least 3 months to build this into a habit. So far, it’s been a success and knowing I can eat what I want when it’s time to eat is everything in making this long term doable. I’ve changed nothing else, and clothes are already feeling a tad roomier. I just remind myself that I didn’t put the pounds on in a few weeks, so I can’t expect for them to come off quickly. But they will come off.
Good luck to you! It will be a challenge no matter what course of action you take, but know that you are voicing what so many others are experiencing and it’s very appreciated.
There are so many other comments! Obviously this is a common issue.
Nobody else of any importance cares about your weight except for health considerations. Your worth is not decided by your BMI. You are thoughtful, insightful and amazingly candid. Small wonder that your father is proud of you.
I wish you could understand why you punish yourself when you feel overweight. Where do those feelings come from? Please forgive yourself for being human.
I feel if you could start small, such as just drinking water one time per day when you might have something not so good, you could build up your confidence and be able to congratulate yourself on making that one small change daily. Over time you can add things that you feel will help. You’re already doing Zumba so give yourself props for that. Try focusing on the positive things instead of your faults.
I found that gluten was a thing with my body. I dropped weight by removing gluten and sugar from my diet. You will find what works for you.
Thank you so much for writing this, Athena.
I have been watching Mister Rogers a lot lately, and I would like to say to you:
I like you just the way you are. I like you at 170 pounds and 190 pounds and 200 pounds, and I also like the part of you that wants to do things a little differently.
I am sending you all my best wishes and support in making whatever changes feel right to you, and offering this thought for your consideration:
Maybe the thing we’re all called on to do in this life is to be ourselves in this world, as completely ourselves as we can be. Choices to go running with your fantastic new dog, to do some Zumba with your fantastic mom, to sit and watch some anime, to cut out soda, to find some vegetables you really like a lot, to enjoy snack boxes with your fantastic dad, to embrace both yourself as you are now and yourself as you want to be – these can all be part of being fully yourself in the world.
I wish you happiness with you how you look, and how you feel, about yourself and the future you will be yourself in.
Judging from your story and your thoughts about your weight, I am wondering how much of your weight problem flows from a sense that your life and future are out of your control. What happened in your sophomore year? Did you choose a major, find friends, start feeling comfortable as a student, things that gave you a sense of control and a future?
Your control of the future will always be limited, and the future will always be unknowable. I agree that this is daunting, but it is unavoidable. It isn’t just about your weight. It’s more about your future. College was something you could do, and there was a well defined playbook and goal. Life is less well defined, but it might be time you chose something you wanted to do and worked towards it.
Think of your posting here on this blog. You’ve been writing a lot of good essays, but it’s more of a diary. Is there something you would like to be able to do or learn? Maybe you like cute robots. Consider learning how to make cute robots. Explore the nature of cuteness or of robots. What about Bronze Age history or non-linear knitting or studying the class and economics of your home town? Look outside of yourself. We’d love to see where you can go.
Once you realize that you can set goals and achieve things in a familiar context, you’ll find it easier to set goals regarding your diet and exercise habits. There are two reasons that poor people are fat. One is that modern mechanized, scientific agriculture has made calories incredibly cheap. The other is that poor people have little control of their lives or jobs or anything else. They have no choice but to go with flow.
P.S. You write good essays, but I’ve noticed problems with usage and grammar. e.g. Does “incredulous” mean what you think it means? Sorry, but my mother was an English teacher, so I inherited her eye. I can pick out a spelling error in a page of text without reading a word of it.
P.S. I’ve been thinking about your comments about nihilism. If the world ends tomorrow, why not eat the cake? I also worry. What helps me is to flip my thinking: If the world may end tomorrow, why not feel good in my body today? Getting enough sleep, getting activity I enjoy, and eating nourishing food do make my body feel better and help me enjoy today.
Of course, cake and chocolate can give real pleasure too. For me, the pleasure of these foods can last for hours or until the next day. It took a few days away from sugar before I could feel the pleasures of a healthier body.
Take good care.
I used to be involved in this issue politically. (Yup, the token, skinny, white guy!) It was quite an eye-opener. I learned a whole lot of scientifically-verifiable facts that the culture does its damnedest to keep you from hearing.
1) You are normal — at least 80% of the populace (it might be 90+%) think they are overweight and are unhappy with their size. It’s across the board, doesn’t depend on how fat or thin they actually are. It’s a consequence of living in an anorexia-fetishizing culture. Hell, I feel like I need to lose about 10% of my weight, and I’m in the lowest 20-percentile of the healthy weight range for my age/height/race/class.
(Anyone who thinks this isn’t a race and class issue has no idea!)
I can’t disabuse myself of that feeling. There’s a lifetime of conditioning. It doesn’t matter that I KNOW the standards of beauty are entirely arbitrary and temporal in nature.
Do a Google search for images of “French postcards,” — I’m talking about the genuine naked article, not the ones where they are corseted up the, ummm, wazoo. That was the epitome of “oh baby, oh baby” sexiness. I’ll bet a whole lot of them don’t look much different than you did under that prom dress in the photo you hate so much, measured on the zaftig scale.
A few decades later we were in the roaring 20s, where the epitome was to have a body like an adolescent boy. WTF?
None of which will change how you feel about your body, any more than I can change how I feel about mine.
But knowing that that neurotic, nonsensical dissatisfaction is entirely normal, that’s a win.
2) Up through the year 2000, 99% of all diet studies were sponsored by someone who had a financial interest in the diet industry (I don’t know about since then, but I bet it isn’t a whole lot better).
That doesn’t mean that the published results were false or even unscientific. What it does mean is that the sponsors (because this is normal practice) got to decide which studies got published and which it didn’t. So only the ones that made diets look efficacious came out.
Real facts (courtesy of Harvard Medical School’s meta-analysis): every healthy dietary regime works for somebody. No healthy dietary regimen works for the majority of people. There is a significant percentage of the population for whom there is no healthy dietary regimen at all that will cause them to lose weight.
All the folks here who are telling you about what worked for them? I’m sure it did. The odds are that it won’t work for you, not as a long-term, stable change.
Calorie-counting, everyone’s favorite go-to, turns out to be unworkable except in a highly managed environment (which is why Weight Watchers works well… for the fraction of people for whom it works). In an unstructured situation, it turns out to be impossible for diligent and highly intelligent, even scientifically-trained people to count calories with sufficient accuracy, to even get within 100 cal a day of the correct figure. For an assortment of reasons, the error is almost always on the low side. For reference, 100 cal a day equals 10 pounds of weight gain a year.
So, you hunt around until you find the dietary regimen that works for you, right? Not actually a good idea:
3) Yo-yoing is worse than being overweight. Overall, it produces more medical complications and more short and long-term damage. Kaiser Permanente, who invented the idea of preventive healthcare, delisted dieting 20 (?) years ago. They told their physicians to NOT recommend their overweight patients diet unless there was a direct and specific-to-that-patient medical reason for doing so (e.g., slipping into a prediabetic state, which is exacerbated by weight gain).
Being overweight has been heavily pathologized. Everyone, including doctors, have been told that if you are overweight, a whole list of horrible things WILL happen to you. No, they MIGHT. (Most people, for example, never become prediabetic.) The probability of those awful things happening because you’re overweight, even if you’re so-called “morbidly obese” is less than the probability of an awful thing happening because you yo-yoed.
I sincerely hope you find a way to live that makes you happier with yourself and your body and keeps you that way. But please understand that you are normal and fine and you are not living a bad life.
And please try not to flog yourself for failing to live up to an image of perfection that’s being fostered by an unhealthy society.
I know — believe me I know! — easier said than done.
Take care (and I mean that in all ways).
pax / Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
This is a very good piece of writing.
That’s not “easy”. That’s “simple”. You know what else is “simple”? Putting something on the Moon. All you have to do is get whatever-it-is moving fast enough, pointed in the right direction! Simple!
Except, of course, it’s not “simple”. At all.
Good luck with getting to a place where you’re okay with your body.
That is a very raw, emotional post. It must have been hard to do so it is part of making the changes you want to accomplish. Some simple thoughts: Reduce sugar in all forms (diet soda is still very bad at a cellular level. It is still stored as fat.) No late snacking. Read Body By Science by Dr. McGuff. It took years to put on, it will take months to remove. Remain positive, it’s all good.
Rarely post on here and first time not replying to your Dad, but that was your best piece yet. Very honest. Relatable too.
And “ I wouldn’t say I have an eating disorder, but I would say I have disordered eating. There’s a difference.” that’s some Erma Bombeck level of comedic writing.
I could tell you what I think of your appearance, but that does not actually matter at all. What you think is what matters, and if you want to make a change it is yours to choose.
I’m 71, and have the typical guy framing: I can look at myself when the mirror says “Jabba, No!” and cracks across the middle and think, “Ladies, watch out!”. This level of self deception is in some ways healthy, until it leads one to ignore actual health problems. You are certainly not making that error, and I don’t get the impression you are internalizing the very anti-female notions of desirable appearance in women.
My daughter is very close to your age and has similar difficulties. She has done punishing calorie restriction that I am certain I could not manage, and then seen it all come back in COVID time. She feels shame, anguish, and self-hatred. She, also, feels she cannot forgive herself.
She should NOT feel these things, and neither should you. Do forgive yourself; this is a problem, not a failure of character. Aiming your energy and imagination against yourself does not move you toward a solution but away from one.
You’ve mentioned your narcolepsy; have you been evaluated for sleep apnea? It can be tricky to detect in oneself, and is associated with a surprising number of things, including weight gain. And treatment is simple.
You reveal your character in every post. You are funny, bright, compassionate, and engaged in life. These are the things that endure. Sculpting the body you want is a worthy goal (you don’t seem to have a pathological endpoint in mind); treat it as one. Study, plan, execute, evaluate, adjust—and treat yourself as the worthy and deserving person you most assuredly are during that process.
Sending out support vibes and gratitude for your courage in sharing these difficult thoughts.
Identifying with all the feels.
When I was 25 (a long time ago), I had been dieting since I was 12 and had major body issues and overeating issues. It was driving me insane, and I knew I couldn’t spend the next 60 or so years living like that. I went to my favorite bookstore (The Tattered Cover in Denver), to the Eating Issues section, and was drawn to ‘Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating’ by Geneen Roth.
Roth had been a major dieter/binger, filled with shame and desperation about what she ate and how much she weighed, and then one day, she threw it all away and tried living with these simple guidelines (paraphrased):
Listen to your body (and not diet gurus).
Eat when you’re hungry.
Stop eating when you’re full.
Eat whatever your body craves: no forbidden foods.
Focus on your meals and don’t do distracted eating (i.e. while standing in front of the fridge or over the stove, while watching TV or in intense conversation.)
Throw away your scale and pay attention to how your body feels instead.
If you’re eating past being full, put your fork down and consider why. Stay with your feelings and don’t be afraid to feel them fully. (‘I’m angry, I’m lonely, I’m scared, I’m a pathetic fat loser, what if I keep getting fatter, who will ever love me?’ etc.) Continue eating if you need to, but make a commitment to return to those feelings and try to work them out.
Find the best way to deal with your feelings for you; journaling, art, therapy, support from friends or family, gardening, animals, etc.
If you’re about to binge, go ahead but stay with your body–don’t go into a fugue state. Comfort yourself as you would a friend.
Listening to your body around eating will lead to listening to your body around other issues–how it likes to move, how it feels about the pleasure of food, how it likes to be touched, how it likes to be respected, to get enough sleep, to do radical self-care.
For me, the whole concept of ‘eat when you’re hungry’ was totally mind-blowing. I don’t know if young women these days are pelted with all sorts of rules about when they can eat like my generation was. But it was always stuff like, ‘put off eating as long as possible after you wake up so your stomach will shrink’, and ‘don’t eat after 8pm’, and ‘don’t eat too much while on a date so the guy doesn’t think you’re a pig’, or other nonsense. I had no idea what it even meant to be hungry and to listen to that hunger and feed it over the din of someone else’s ridiculous rules.
But once I started trusting this body wisdom, it was incredible how my relationship with food–and with my body–changed. I found that I craved things like brussel sprouts and cantaloupe right along with ice cream and cake. Letting my body have what it needed–and then stopping even if I hadn’t cleaned my plate–was so liberating. I found I liked to move by working out and dancing, but didn’t care for running or yoga. I didn’t gain 100 pounds, but rather maintained a mostly steady weight without the yo-yo dieting.
Anyway, that’s what I found helpful, life-changing even. It sounds like you’re clear-headed and honest with where you’re at, and I believe you’re going to be just fine. All the best.
“Throw away your scale and pay attention to how your body feels instead.”
Sounds wonderful – but doesn’t work for me at all.
If you can make that work, more power to you.
What works for me personally (with some effort) is weighing daily at a fixed time and some things built around that.
No idea what will work for any other person. As far as I can see, everyone has to find their own way. Too many variables. But trying to be at some healthy and comfortable weight is a great investment in the future.
As I would like to tell my younger self, but he doesn’t seem to be around at the moment.
That was a powerful post. I cannot advise you, but I hear you. I think the historical techniques for maintaining a toned body were (1) pushing a plow across a field ten hours a day, and (2) starvation. Not recommending either. I hope you find something that works for you in these modern times. No matter what, be healthy.
It took courage to write this post & to share it. I hope doing so has been a good thing.
I have a few ideas to add to the mix of what has been presented. Feel free to consider or ignore.
When I find myself mired in a quandary I try to step back & look at it objectively. I break it down into the various issues & come up with what to do for each. Then I break down each To Do list per issue into small, manageable steps and work on them. I set up a future date for assessing my progress. If something hasn’t worked, I toss it out & try something else. I seek out professional advice & help if needed and I do research to better understand each issue I’m working on.
It seems to me that you have a few issues going on at the same time. They are: the weight issue, the nihilism, and possibly some magical thinking. (I mean no insult by the latter – you are human & all humans engage in magical thinking, even as adults.) This is what I would do:
The weight issue: set up an appt with a medical doctor and a gynecologist you trust to discuss this from a health prospective. Have bloodwork to test your basic numbers (called a chem panel) for a variety of things (lipids, thyroid, kidneys, liver, etc) and to test your hormone levels to specifically look for insulin resistance syndrome and/or PCOS. All of this information will be valuable in establishing a baseline for your health and in finding out if there is any health issue that needs attended to.
If something needs attended to, see what your doctors recommend, do research and attend to whatever needs done.
If your tests are all within a normal range, then you know that the weight issue is related to other factors such as what you are eating, how much exercise you get, your genetic makeup for weight, your gender, etc. Some of these can be worked with; the others must be accepted as is.
Keep a food journal for 1-2 weeks to get an idea of your eating patterns. Note the day, time, what was eaten & what prompted you to eat. Don’t try to evaluate it until the full time has gone by. Then look at it to discern what patterns there are – NOT to kick yourself for anything. This is research. Not an exercise in hating yourself.
Keep a similar journal – or use the same one – to note your activities. Everything counts – household chores, playing with the dog, walking around your yard. Note the time, duration & your mood prior & after. Again, after the gathering info period, look for patterns that can help you delete what doesn’t work & add in things to try that might increase your activity level.
After keeping track for 1-2 weeks, come up with 1-2 goals for each area (food, movement). Break those down into small attainable goals for each day. Re-evaluate your progress in 2-4 weeks. Changing a habit takes several weeks to initiate it and several months to help it become a regular thing to do. (The time is going to go by anyway. Might as well do something with it.)
Accept that you will not, in any way shape or form, decide on change and then make it happen 100% from the get-go. That is magical thinking. Change can be difficult, even change that results in positive outcomes. Humans tend to fall back into patterns, even unhealthy, negative ones because they are what we are used to and because we sometimes are gaining something from not changing. (Asking yourself “what am I gaining from not changing this?” can be helpful.) Accept that making positive changes will most always be a push-pull effort and just keep moving forward. One step at a time.
Considering the attitude of nihilism and the negativity you carry for yourself with regard to the weight, I recommend seeing a therapist. Being so negative about yourself to the point of saying you’ll never forgive yourself for gaining weight is incredibly sad and incredibly counterproductive to the goals you want to reach. Life is hard enough without us lambasting ourselves for our weight or looks. You have turned your unhappiness with the situation on yourself and it seems to have reached a point of despair that could use some outside help. Therapy is nothing more than a tool we can take advantage of to help us reach our goals in life. Seeing a therapist does not make one a loser. The right one can be quite helpful. I would look for one who specializes in working with women on self-acceptance & in setting goals. I realize you live in rural Ohio & finding one might be difficult (I live in IN in a similar environment) but it would be worth the effort.
Keep in mind it may take a few tries to find someone you are comfortable with. I recommend someone who does not reach for the prescription pad right away. It takes time to get to know each other & to sort what issues you want to work on. (I’m not against medicine to help with therapy. It can be helpful if appropriate to the situation. That would be up to you, your doctor & your therapist.)
The attitude that life could end tomorrow so why not eat that cake or not set goals can be a tough one to move out of. But, it can be done. Again, a therapist could help. Setting small, attainable goals that relate to what you want out of life will also help.
If you don’t know what you want, which is entirely normal in one’s early 20’s, then it is up to you to figure it out. Try out new things, learn new subjects that seem interesting. Keep what interests or intrigues you, toss what doesn’t. One step at a time is how everything happens – no matter what you want to accomplish.
Lastly, don’t forget to consider the year+ from hell that all of us have been through and that is still ongoing. (For purposes of this post I am referring solely to the pandemic, not to our political environment.) Living through a pandemic is no small thing – it affects everything. Absolutely everything. That is completely normal.
For example – some days I get up, can see that it will eventually even out (likely with yearly shots akin to flu shots) & I move through my day with only a little mental sludge as I accomplish the goals I’ve set for that day, which when added up will also help with long-term, post-pandemic goals. Others days, at least once or twice a week, the enormity of all the losses caused by the pandemic makes me want to stay in bed and do as little as possible. It feels impossible to surmount. I don’t kick myself for this. It’s a normal reaction to such an abnormal situation. Some times I do stay in bed for a few extra hours. Then I get up and attend to 1-3 things that I wanted to do that day.
We are still in the pandemic and it will affect what you can do with regard to the suggestions I’ve made. It is possible to see doctors now. Just make sure the office follows strict safety protocols from start to finish. Maybe you won’t be returning to college for a while yet (I don’t know your plans on this) or in getting a job outside the home yet, but you can research things that interest you. You can try out some things at home. It is possible to move forward on your goals even if doing so is slowed way down for the time being.
As your Dad wrote, the most difficult part can be in getting started. Try not to look at the whole picture all the time. Start small. Take one step. That step will help you take another. Remember, every bit of effort counts. I wish you well Athena.
hi Athena – It’s been mentioned a couple times already but I’ll put in a good word for trying Weight Watchers (I Think they are branding it as WW now). They assign you a number of points a day plus a number of points per week to play with for small splurges. Points are WAY easier to work with than calories and they have an app that does the point math for you. And there are many many delicious foods that are actually ZERO points – healthy foods that fill you. The way I look at the points is that when I run out of points for the day, that tells me to stop eating. And if I’ve kept points low during the day and have enough left I can have that dessert. I’m just a happy WW customer and it worked for me. All the best – j
Really good post Athena! I think everyone has struggled with not being happy with the way they look or feel, especially as you get older and things keep changing.
I wish I could give out “one neat trick” that actually fixes all this, but there isn’t anything. The best advice I’ve heard is to just stop punishing your body for doing what it does (which is storing up energy). Regular exercise is good. Regular mealtimes (“ordered eating” as you say), is also very good. Don’t try and count calories, just try and stop eating when you’re full and drink water or tea instead of snacking. If you have trouble doing that, then maybe you need to work out why food is really important to you (is it making up for something you’re missing?).
Being thin or fat isn’t what’s healthy, it’s having a body that you’re comfortable with that does what you need it to do that’s healthy. Bodies aren’t perfect though and you just need to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
Kudos for being so open and vulnerable here and in all your writings Athena! It takes real courage and is very endearing.
As a middle-aged woman, I look back on my photos from high school and my twenties and think, “I was so gorgeous! Why did I feel so ugly?” And I look at your pictures from prom, etc., and think, OMG, she’s stunning! YOU are stunning, Athena! It’s crazy how hard it is to love ourselves. The whole culture conspires to make us feel bad about ourselves. I’ve seen too many good friends–brilliant, talented women–suffer from eating disorders and/or disordered eating and/or just spending too much damn time thinking about food. If you’re exercising a couple times a week and not eating a lot of candy, that’s great! You did sports in high school, that’s great! (I was terrified of sports.) You’re drinking water, yay! (I lived off diet Coke and bagels in high school.) Be kind to yourself. If you’ve noticed that calorie counting stresses you out, you’re right to avoid it (and things like WW, which might be too similar). Find what works best for YOUR particular body and brain–it’s different for everyone. Check out Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon’s writings if you get a chance. She’s a coach with Precision Nutrition these days and her food and fitness advice is wrapped up with a lot of smart critique of the media images that make us feel bad about ourselves–even when we’re gorgeous. There are lots of ways to make peace with food and feel better about ourselves. Every American woman is together with you in this struggle, Athena!
My BMI is over 40 and has been for a long time. I suggest finding some activities and exercises you enjoy and go with those. The purpose of exercising isn’t to cause discomfort but rather to feel better at the end. I personally do some biking and some light weight lifting. Maybe you can get a elliptical stepper or an exercise bike?
Thanks for sharing, Athena!
One thing that I’ve found very helpful in my own weight loss journey was to focus on the process, and NOT the results. There is nothing more discouraging than eating salads for a week, working out every day, and stepping on the scale and seeing that you lost, a whopping 0.8 pounds.
So my suggestion is to not weigh yourself or measure yourself for a solid month. Instead, focus on making sure you do you the things you commit to every day around health and wellness. Don’t count calories per se, but say that you’re going to “eat this, and not that today” and that you’re going to “do this workout or walk/run X minutes”. That way, your success is entirely based on things you can control. And not based on what a cold (sometimes literally, in the morning) scale tells you how you are doing.
Best of luck!
Well-written piece, A. I’m rooting for you to accomplish whatever goals you choose.
I just wanted to say thanks for the post, Athena. It’s very personal, but also deeply insightful in a general sense. Some people wake up every morning wanting to skip the beers that day, but the evening finds them with a bottle in their hands. Others wake up deciding that’s it, they’ll stop smoking that very moment, but fail before noon.
I think it’s important to realize that NOT DOING something is as hard or – possibly – even harder than doing it.
You’ve already gotten a ton of advice. As someone who has a genetic predisposition NOT to get fat, I cannot possibly pretend to add any comments on the particular strategies for attacking this problem. But as someone who strugglede with some bad habits himself, I will say that changing our habits should be a very long-term goal.
This doesn’t mean a crushingly long period of discipline and frustration though. What is needed are small incremental improvements, over a long period, and that leads to amazing results. We should never stop striving to be better, but also be gentle eith ourselves when we fail as it is inevitably part of the journey. Best of luck.
hey, eating stuff is really hard. I’ve been in recovery for an eating disorder for 22 years and I still hear echoes, especially when things get stressful. Eating is something you’re confronted with at least 3 times a day, forever.
That’s all. It’s hard. You’re putting in the work. That is awesome.
And this was a really fantastic, brave post – thank you.
Thank you for this moving and a beautifully written piece. For the record I think you hit the exact tone you were looking for in your introduction.
I am fatter than I have ever been today because I went on a diet about a decade ago. It was a very mild diet and I lost about 15 pounds in 8 months. After that it stopped working and sometime later I gave up because what was the point? Then I discovered that my body had adapted to the diet and when I returned to eating normally I gained 25 pounds in a year. This happened while I was exercising at the gym with a personal trainer; I had to quit because I was getting too fat to do the exercises.
Dieting to my mind is one of the most destructive things we can do to ourselves.
Best wishes to you for your future. I hope you find the balance you seek.
I once attended a free (they pass around a hat) meeting of the 12-step Overeaters Anonymous. They were very nice nurturing people.
My university chaplain noted that the problem with we educated types is that we want to know why a 12-step program works before we try it. Better to try first, analyze later.
Athena, I have no advice to offer. I do have an observation: no one I have ever known wanted to be the height or weight they were. Ever. Body positivity is wonderful, and I can be positive about roughly 7 billion other people’s bodies, but never my own.
It is a lovely piece of writing. Your contribution to Whatever is significant and it’s been a pleasure reading your work.
Athena, no offense to your dad, but I always read your posts. I sometimes read his. You’re a wonderful writer and I want to reach through the screen and hug you. (Lordy, pre-pandemic notions.)
Anyway, here’s the perspective of a naturally thin person, which I’m sure you’re waiting for :P . It’s at least 80% genetics. At least. The remaining 20%? Concentrate on exercise. The zumba class, anything you enjoy. The main thing is the enjoyment. If it’s not fun, at least a bit, it’s not sustainable.
And the same goes for eating. Enjoy food, savor it, take as long as possible over it. (The only difference between me and other people that I can see, besides thin parents, is that I’m the slowest eater in the world and I never grab food and go.) Don’t forbid yourself things. That’s not sustainable, at least for me it never has been. Just reduce the dense foods as much as you can without obsessing. I had to relearn when I was full a couple of times in my life, at middle age and then also closer to 60, because metabolism slows way down. I eat about a third of what I did as a growing girl :D . It takes about a year to readjust that thermostat before it takes no thought.
And as for looks, I know the opinion of some internet rando isn’t the point, but here it is anyway. You’re thoroughly lovely. You really are.
Different things work for different people. For me, counting calories and doing literally anything to plan my eating just didn’t work. Eventually it was discovering an exercise that I actually enjoyed and was something I’d look forward to rather than see as a chore that really worked.
So, for me, that was cycling. It took a while, but now I can jump on a bike and ride for 3+ hours when I’ve got a bit of spare time. 2000 calories vanished, and I can eat like a maniac at the end while still being negative. 50 pounds down so far, another 30 to go. :)
Still looking for something my wife can enjoy to drop the weight she wants to lift (I think she’s cute regardless, but she sees it differently). Walking was good for a while, but her knees/ankles got in the way. We’ll get there, I’m sure!
Seriously though, best of luck finding something that works for you. Maybe it’s exercise, maybe it’s diet, maybe it’s figuring out you’re ok with who you are anyway.
Thank you for sharing this.
For me, I can’t count calories, or weigh myself, both get fraught. (or journal). What has worked for me is actually relearning how to eat healthily for myself. I’m not a breakfast person, so I generally eat brunch and lunner. Maybe smaller meals more often is better for you, I don’t know. Find some fun veggie cookbooks, joining a CSA helped too… When you get new varieties, it helps. For me, what helped was also goals and rewards. I would buy a pair of pants that was a smidge too small… for example. And then when I fit into them, I had a piece of new clothing. Or a piece of jewelry… getting regular massage also really helped. And you can start small with exercise… even stretching on a balance ball while you watch tv… Just remember there are a lot of tools promoted by the weight loss industry that can encourage disordered eating, and its ok to pick and choose the tools you want and that work for you. And if you can find any episodes of a show called “Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen” (She also had two cookbooks), Kathleen Daelemans. She had the most common sense approach to real, long-lasting weight loss (Because she was a chef who had lost the weight). But one of the things she suggested was always to treat yourself kindly.
I recognize so much of what I’m reading, both in the blog and in the comments. So many people feel they have no control over food. It’s incredibly hard to restrict calories, and nearly impossible to lose weight with exercise because it saps all the willpower you need to control your food. If this resonates with anyone, great. If not, that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. I usually don’t push it. I just do it and tell my own story, just like my friend who inspired me to try it. This is what finally resonated with me, and I’ve found a lot of loving acceptance in the community.
Not putting the URL, but Google this:
Bright Line Eating and Susan Peirce Thompson
It is an addiction recovery based plan, with a lot of neuroscience to back it up, not a “diet”. I’ve lost almost half my body weight (160 pounds; I weigh 170 now). And I (mostly) have peace with food and my body after following the plan for 3 years. YMMV :)
Good luck with your quest!
I debated sharing my experience of losing weight since I don’t know how applicable or general it is, but perhaps someone reading through the comment thread may find it useful:
What I found growing up obese is that it’s very difficult to lose weight when you have no control over your environment. I needed to lose about fifty pounds, I couldn’t do it until I moved out and could buy all my groceries, stock my own pantry and cook for myself.
The part of me that craves candy is a different person from the one that wants to plan for the future. These two selves are usually active at different times, and what worked for me was to make sure the latter set up the environment that the former inhabited. This took willpower out of the equation. The sugar craving and compulsive eating tendency went away once I was settled in (it took a few weeks) an environment without the usual stimuli or immediate access to more-ish food choices.
I’ve been following your dad’s blog for a few years and yours by extension the last year or so. I have never commented before, but I wanted to mention that I think, in my humble opinion, this is the best post of yours I have read.
I had been a tall, skinny person most of my life. I hit 245 lb at 6’5″ a few years ago and it was NOT UFC heavyweight body composition. I’m a stress-eater who loves his carbs and sugar. (Known for eating an entire box of pre-Twitter fiasco cinnamon toast crunch in one day). Once my magical teenage man-boy metabolism settled down to realistic levels, I started piling on the weight.
I’d like to say that I got down to 220-225 on pure discipline, but it was mostly pre-pandemic stress and then having a child to take care of. It is a tough journey regardless. One thing that helped was my discovery of roasting butternut squash and using that as a low-calorie source of sweetness. Another thing that helped was doing as many chin ups as possible every day so that my lats would grow and make me look slimmer even though I had love handles and a beer gut. I’m still fighting my way down. My son will be walking any day now, though, which will do more for my weight loss than any program I could put together.
Obviously, lots of advice on offer. The good news is that you are at the age when it is easiest to become fit and reset your base point. That’s also the bad news. My son managed to go from chubby teenager to fine figure of a 30 year old by taking a physically demanding job. My rules (for me) go like this:
Love ME. As I am and as I will be. Not easy when the knees betrayed me 20 years ago and the fat Came And Stayed. But possible. I’m pretty damn remarkable. And not at all socially attractive, physically.
Eat healthy, always. Do not go hungry & deny yourself, that way lies yo-yo misery and bad metabolism. Occasional indulgences are okay, too, just not too many.
Find an activity you love and that does not tear up your body. Knees have a much shorter half-life than your heart, trust me. Bike. Swim. Yoga, tai-chi, anything not high-impact. I’m not one to push running, because of the wear & tear factor, unless it is the true passion of your life.
Fitness feels FAR better than slenderness. You’ve been strong, if you did powerlifting, so you know. You are working with a magnificent personality so you WILL be loved, if you learn to love yourself and give yourself the same pass as you give the rest of humanity. This might be a fruitful area in which to seek professional help. Body dysmorphia can kill every bit of joy in a person’s life.
Good luck, my dear. Everyone wants you to know how wonderful you are. Listen, love yourself, and find ways to get out and move your loveliness through the universe.
I love that you were able to do powerlifting in school! I picked it up a few years ago since I was looking for a more time-efficient workout than biking and I kind of liked the weights class I had in HS. It might be something to look into again if you can find a friendly gym, I think it improved my relationship with my body. I’m in the 84kg/185# weight class, and I would have been in the 52kg class in HS (thanks college, a year where I stopped biking and started being in NOLA for work, and generally aging). I’m one of the heaviest lifters at my gym but I’m also one of the strongest, which I love. It’s kind of a fucked up sport in that I actually have to know what I weigh if I’m going to do a meet and I’ve learned some insta-lose strategies that are ONLY for short term, but it’s also a freeing one in that it recognizes that eating is necessary to fuel you to be able to move around the weight. Also it’s fun to be able to lift heavy things by yourself.
On the unsolicited eating advice train: I’ve tried counting macros a couple times (for meet prep) and it’s worked way better than counting calories for me since it focuses on how much fat/protein/carbs you’re getting vs pure calories (which are not all created equal! since there can be a lot of calories in a small package). The RP (renaissance periodization) approach which considers all veggies “free” also appeals to me but it can be pretty strict otherwise so I haven’t tried the actual program.
Casey Johnston of Ask A Swole Woman writes compassionately about a lot in the lifting/exercise/body image & appearance/eating space as well as her own journey through a lot of dieting. General recommendation for anyone who made it this far down the comments!
I’ve yoyoed in weight for a long time. I know several ways that work for me, but the difficulty has always been in keeping it off. I don’t have any answers. Just know that you’ve got company on this journey!