*Trigger warning: Some discussion of past dieting/body-shame issues*
Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga recently published a fantastic blog post about some of her recent thoughts and experiences during her commitment to go scale-free for six months.
Her post inspired me to do some writing about my own scale-free experiences: why I chose to do it in the first place, why I continue to do it, and what I get out of it.
When I first decided to go scale-free, I think I was just tired. Not physically tired as much as emotionally tired. I had gotten into the habit of weighing myself at least twice a day, most days. It was a throwback from my old points-based dieting years. My fancy digital scale even shows me my weight to the tenth of a pound. After all, those dieting gurus always said that every little bit counts right? But, naturally, that means each little bit counts in each direction. And, given that heavier is supposedly "bad" and lighter is supposedly "good", the scale was my judge and jury and my punishment should the scale show my weight was higher than the last time was shame, a feeling of unworthiness or incapability, frustration, and self-reproach. The mental dialogue would begin: "If only I hadn't had that extra helping at dinner or that cream in my coffee". And so I would berate myself for every supposed mis-step because, every little bit counts don't ya know?
When I made the decision, with my wife's support and encouragement, to stop dieting - it was mostly because I realized that dieting had created a very unhealthy relationship with food. Food was about control. The points system that I used to sing the praises of was my downfall. I had an allotment of points to use each day and so the majority of my time was spent thinking and planning about how to get the "most" out of them. I became an expert on the foods that would give me the most "volume" of food for the least points so I wouldn't feel deprived. I did not think about hunger or fullness signals. I did not think about what my body was craving or why it might be craving it. No, what I thought about was things like - "I can have TWO baked potatoes with fat free cottage cheese or only one chocolate bar for the same amount of points!" I wasn't thinking about which my body wanted or needed or which would actually make me feel satisfied. It was all about volume. I was good at it. I felt in control. I could eat LOTS of food if I just ate the right things. I realized that this process was making me into a food-obsessor. It's all I thought about or talked about. That was when I realized I needed to take a break.
I had to accept that walking away from this lifestyle of food and points-budgeting was going to be hard if I was also obsessing over my weight. So when the points sytem went.... so did the scale.
First I cut back to weighing myself once a day. I noticed that was upsetting me because I was refusing to do the points system anymore so even the tiniest fluctuation on my fancy digital scale (that showed each tenth of a pound!) would send me into a panic.. So, I weaned myself to once a week. This went on for a while, but each trip to the scale would have me judging myself and my choices..
Then finally, about a year ago, I realized the scale had to go. I needed to trust myself and my body and just stop obsessing. So I put the scale away. In a cupboard and out of sight.
I think I have checked my weight exactly once since that day.
I can't even begin to describe the freedom this change gave me. When I first backed off the scale, I kept waiting to experience this massive weight-gain. My only way to really be aware of my body size was to notice how my clothes fit, and I kept expecting to balloon up in size. It never happened. I maybe went up one size from my lowest size ever.
But the most amazing thing is how my relationship with food changed. I think about my body more when I eat. I think about what my body is craving. I think about when I'm hungry and I notice, far more often, when I am full. I am not answering to anyone for my food choices - only how I feel. So, if I get a burger and fries and a shake and notice that my belly feels heavy and icky after, next time I crave that kind of food, I'll get a much smaller amount or split a burger and entree salad with my wife so I can have a little of what I crave without making my body feel abused in the process.
I came to a lot of these understandings about developing a healthy relationship with food - on my own. And then, I read Linda Bacon's Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. That book validated my experiences. Until then, I'd wondered, somewhere in the back of my mind if avoiding the scale was just my way of beign "lazy". After all, society tells us that if you're fat - it's okay only IF you're trying to stop being fat. Right? Reading that book reaffirmed all the reasons why I ditched the scale in the first place.
Armed with more information, I now have no problem standing tall, looking people in the eys and saying things like:
"I have no idea what I actually weigh"
"No, I'm not trying to lose weight"
"No, I don't diet anymore - period"
"Yes, I would like a piece of cake - thank you!".
In the beginning, ditching the scale had felt like my dirty little secret; the kind of thing I should never admit to anyone. But what I have come to realize is that it was really one of my greatest accomplishments and I am damn proud of it!
Nowadays, I don't miss the scale at all. I see it, every once in a while, flipped over on its side, shoved into the corner of the cupboard, covered in dust and I don't feel tempted to pull it out. I just don't feel like I need to know how much I weigh anymore. I know how my body feels. And that is what is important to me now.
Ditching the scale gave me the freedom to recognize that a number on a scale can never define me or inform people about the type of person I am. I have so much to offer this world. I am worthy of love and affection. I am worthy of respect. I deserve to feel great about my body. And no number can or will ever change that.
I wish more of us could. see that we are not a number. We never have been and we never will be. We are each unique spirits with incredible potential.
It is so important to care for the bodies we inhabit, but sometimes that care doesn't look like we think it will. I feel like the most important thing we can do to care for our body is to first, stop judging it. Embracing body positivity, body love, body acceptance begins with recognizing that there is nothing inherantly BAD about your body or your Self. Our bodies are NOT our burdens - they are the most precious things we will ever own - and the most sacred places we will ever inhabit. And we each only ever... ever get one of them.
Learning to love your body is a journey, and there aren't any rules or maps or directions on exactly how to make that journey. Each person's path to self-acceptance is their own and will come with its own unique challenges and rewards.
As with any good journey, though, it's not about where you end up, it's about having the courage to take the first few steps with a sense of curiousity and wonder and just see where they take you. You never know where the path will lead. But the experience of walking it will transform you.
Because... that's what I am, silly!
Obviously, that's not all I have to say on the matter, of course - otherwise, why a whole new post about it? But, that's really the bottom line, isn't it?
I was a very thin child, constantly underweight for my age even, until I hit puberty. From puberty onward, my body and me started getting curves! And maybe that wouldn't have been so bad - except that, at that age, it sure feels like everyone had an opinion about the shape of my body (including myself). What hurt me most was not the extra pounds I carried, but the way I felt shamed and ostracized because of it.
When I tried to participate in sports in PE, or on the track and field team - not because I wanted to lose weight, but because at that young age it didn't occur to me that people might think me incapable since I was fatter than them - I found that I was passed over again and again or picked last for teams. I was an unpopular girl in school. I wasn't noticed, and when I was - it wasn't positive. I was bullied, teased, and ridiculed. If I wasn't being picked on for being "fat" (looking back, I was a size 9 but felt/perceived as fat compared to my peers), I was being picked on for being smart. After all, reading wasn't cool at that age, rock bands, concerts, and dance were.
A natural introvert, I was never destined to be popular, but I'll never forget the way it felt to be bullied for being fat. As a teenager, to be called "fat" was gut-wrenchingly painful. It meant "not good enough", "ugly", "unworthy", "gross", "lazy" and dozens of other things... and those other things were often shouted with just as much vigor as "fat" in my direction.
My mother was a chronic dieter for most of my life. So, naturally, when my self-esteem drooped, I would try "dieting" too. I would make up my own diets by mimicking my mother. And, because she tried them all - I had access to most of it. From meal cards to replacement smoothie mixes to meal replacement bars and drinks that tasted like chocolate flavoured dirt. No matter which one I tried, I saw little results but when I did I would get compliments from family and friends for "trying to do something about it".
The message was clear. It was only okay to be fat if I was actively trying to make the fat go away.
When I wasn't actively trying to lose weight, friends and family would make comments trying to "encourage" me to see the error of my ways. My older sister was constantly trying to make me prettier according to her standards. She never understood my lack of interest in makeup or in spending hours in front of the mirror "playing" with my hair and she sure as heck didn't understand why being fat didn't freak me out the way it apparently did her. I'll never forget the day she pointed at a picture of the two of us, when I was around 10 and said "Look how skinny you are in that picture, you were so cute then!". She was quick to offer a follow-up "...not that you're not cute now" but I heard the "..." and I've never forgotten the way it made me feel.
Everyone in my life made it glaringly obvious to me that FAT = BAD.
I really have to wonder if, without all of these outside influences, I would have ever hated my body the way I learned to in my teenage years. I had no reason, otherwise, to think my body was bad. I had tons of energy, was not shy about playing outside, running, biking, skating, or playing in sports. I particularly loved softball and had aspirations to join a team. But the more people treated me as "less than" "incapable" "lazy" "ugly" and "unworthy", the more I started to feel all of those things about myself and my body. I spiraled into self-hatred and the more I hated my body, the more I mistreated it.
Until, finally, I reached my breaking point. I was just tired of hating myself. I decided I wouldn't be held back by fear and so I started trying new things. I trained for a 5k charity walk/jog. I started riding a bicycle, or skating. I played Dance Dance Revolution with my Playstation in my living room. And, I began practicing Yoga.
Now, fast forward to today. After many years of yoga, meditation, hard spiritual work, and learning to let go and PLAY, what do I know now?
Today, I know that I am a valuable person - in fact, I am just as valuable (no more, no less) than any other person on the planet.
Today, I know that health is a direct reflection on the way I treat my body.
Today, I know that I am far healthier now as a fat woman who loves her body, than I ever was as a chubby girl who hated herself.
Today, I no longer assume that my size determines my level of ability. If I want to learn to do something new and active and fun - I try it. If I like doing it, I keep doing it, no matter what anyone else thinks.
Today, I know just because society seems to be so desperately afraid of fatness , that they now describe it as if it were an infectious disease (read: epidemic), that does not mean I need to be afraid of my fatness.
Today, I know that FAT is just a word to describe the shape of my body and does not inform the actual state of my health or level of ability.
Today, I know that there are fat women out there doing things that some people might think we couldn't or shouldn't, because of our size. With one look at my twitter feed, I can see that there are fat dancers, activists, writers, nutrition professors and nutritionists, hoopers, derby girls, fashion models, successful actresses, body-positive artists, athletes, personal trainers, and of course Yoga Teachers out there challenging stereotypes and shaking things up.
Today, I'm proud of myself and what my body can do and fat is not a dirty word to me anymore. Quite the opposite, I am empowered by my fatness.
Yeah, that's right, I said I feel empowered by being fat!
If you're asking why, the answer is simple: going through the world as a fat woman has taught me that no one else can limit me. Their assumptions can't limit me. Their fears can't limit me. The only person with the power to limit me is me!
Sure, society has a long way to go. I might get passed up for promotions to thinner, more socially acceptable-looking women or treated disdainfully by a stranger, a colleague, family member, or friend. However, the same might happen to me for being queer, and I don't plan to divorce my wife just to make other people more comfortable, so why should I try to be thin just to make other people more comfortable?
The reality is that people are going to judge me. That's life - and a sign that the world still has a lot of growing up to do. But the the valuable lesson that I've learned is that, these experiences don't have to stop me - unless I let them. So I don't. And, more importantly, by not letting them stop me - I'm helping make the changes I want to see in the world.
So I call myself a fat yogini, because that's what I am. It is a mantra of sorts, a symbol of my choice to accept and love myself, embrace life with joy, and live with passion.
What do you choose?
Today is International No Diet Day. I wasn't sure what I wanted to say, here, about it just yet. And then I read this post by Medicinal Marzipan, which made me cry - and made me think. I can see so much of myself and my experiences in her words.
We are surrounded by a societal standard that makes it crystal clear that if we have bodies that are "different", that we are unacceptable and must change ourselves to fit the stereotype. It's the square peg, round hole problem on an international scale. We certainly don't expect that people to conform to a single eye colour (quick, get colour contacts, the societal 'norm' is brown eyes! not blue! brown!). We don't expect people to be the same height (how would you fix that anyway? stilts? surgery to remove pieces of bone to make you shorter?). We, as a society, accept that some people will have dark hair and some light - and we even (mostly) get radical hair (Pink, Purple, Mohawks - whatever - it's just a form of "self-expression") and tattoos. We are a society that is clearly perfectly capable of understanding and sometimes appreciating nonconformity. But this just doesn't seem to extend to body shape and fatness, or differently abled bodies.
Our society assumes that fat as a "problem" that must be fixed. Those of us who are fat are subject to either scorn and ridicule or, at best, people trying to "help" you "fix" your "problem". It is rarely assumed that we are healthy. It is rarely assumed that we could be content in our bodies or accept ourselves as we are. Yet, if we were simply blue eyed instead of brown, few people would feel it was appropriate or helpful (or anything but rude!) to give us their opiion on our eye colour or try to convince us that it was in our best interest to change it.
What it seems to come down to, in my opinion, is fear. If you haven't BEEN the fat kid being teased or bullied, you have SEEN a fat kid being teased or bullied. No one wants to be teased or bullied. From childhood, we carry this "fear". We want to escape our time "being" that outsider. Or we want to avoid "becoming" that outsider. And yet, it never seems to occur to us that if we, as a society, could shift our perceptions and accompanying behaviours - being fat wouldn't have to automatically mean being an outsider in the first place. And then we would have nothing to be afraid of. Because here's the problem: We're passing on this fear to our children. And they will pass it on to their children. And so on. We're breeding fear and there is not nearly enough awareness that this is the REAL problem.
Imagine how would the world, and your life, be different if...
~ No one had ever told you that you weren't good enough because something about your body was different?
~ You were taught as a child to eat when you were hungry, until you felt satisfied (regardless of the time of day or what was "planned" for meals) - instead of told to finish what was on your plate or eat "just one more bite" of mashed potatoes or told you must wait until dinner so you don't 'ruin your appetite'?
~ You had never experienced (or seen) someone being made fun of, or bullied for being fat?
~ You understood that when your body feels sluggish and slows down, it is conserving energy and what you need is to pay closer attention when you're hungry to what your body needs, and get more sleep - not beat yourself up for being "lazy"?
~ Your doctor had told you that being fat is not a death sentence, that being fat doesn't mean you will automatically get diabetes and develop high blood pressure - that fat people can actually live very long, healthy lives?
~ You knew that when you are hyper and have lots of energy, and can't seem to sit still, that your body is telling you to move more because it has more energy than it needs in that given moment?
~ Someone had told you, when you were very young, that what your body LOOKS like is not an indicator of what your body FEELS like, or how healthy you are or aren't, or how valuable you are as a human being?
~ You could look in a mirror and see and accept yourself exactly as you are, beause no one has ever told you that you're not good enough because you don't look like them?
~ You felt confident wearing clothes that fit properly because there's no reason to think that the curve of your belly, or the extra softness in your waist or hips were unattractive and must be hidden behind baggy clothes?
~ You felt just as valuable, loveable, and worthy as everyone else - and found that walking through the world with your head held high, ready to meet anyone's gaze - was the easiest and most natural thing in the world?
How would the world, and your life, be different if you knew - and had always known - that you are just as worthy of love, respect, kindness, consideration, and happiness as anyone else - no matter what you look like?
Take these questions into your day. Pay it forward. Give a little extra kindness to other people who aren't like you. And give a whole lot of extra kindness to yourself. You deserve it. You are worthy of it.
YOU are beautiful ... right now... in this moment... exactly as you are.