Even in the midst of all my writing: "Live your athletic dreams in the body you have now"; "Abandon self-consciousness"; "Be slow, be proud, have fun" and all the rest, I never truly, deep down, down in my deepest heart of hearts, was able to accept that I was a fat person. I always looked at myself as a person on the way to, well, if not thinness, then at least Not Real Fatness. Somehow I was going to find a way to balance my food intake with my caloric output and get back into the land of regular-person-clothing and "normal' weight.
Even though I wouldn't shy away from wearing triathlon clothes, bike shorts, or a one-piece swimsuit in public, I did believe deep down that my fat was disgusting - just like the vast majority of Americans do. I may not have thought it was as disgusting as they did, but I didn't embrace it. Even though my blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate are all well within "normal ranges," I worried that my fat body was more likely to be or become unhealthy than a thinner one. I wondered if my weight contributed to my chronic fatigue syndrome, even though I had shown the first signs of that syndrome when I was much, much thinner.
I don't remember the age I was when I went on my first of many, many diets. Maybe 11 or 12. I know that I dieted on and off all through high school, just when my growing body's metabolism was most vulnerable to that craziness. I did Atkins (the first time); cabbage soup; Weight Watchers with my mom; an endless procession of 10-day and 14-day diets from magazines; and finally in high school I fasted for up to three days at a time with nothing but diet soda and water to nourish me.
As a young adult, I went for longer between diets. Some kernel of my soul protested being forced into a template body that was clearly extremely difficult for me to attain and, based on evidence to date, impossible for me to maintain. I played rugby and ultimate frisbee and basketball, I went dancing, I went to the beach. I had dates and relationships. But ultimately I would get sucked back into the trap. NutriSystems - just eat all this food in little packets, and I'll be thin! Thin! And then - you know this drill? Raise your hand if you do. You lose the weight, people get excited and tell you how great you look (and you smush down the little voice in your head that says, oh, so you think I looked crappy before, huh?), you buy new clothes, and then... you "slip." You "backslide." You stop starving yourself and obsessing over each bite. I stopped starving myself. I felt hungry all the time. I craved bacon and cheeseburgers and fries and cookies. Crave them crave them crave them.
And I thought that that was my fault. That my lack of willpower and discipline, my weakness, my insufficient self-love and self-respect were causing me to eat that way in reaction to my dieting. Because I must have hated myself and wanted myself to look bad. Somehow.
As I became older still, it became clear to me that I actually had a lot of willpower and discipline, and even that I did love and respect myself. So how could I still be fat? It turned out that I could easily gain weight while training for a half-Ironman or a marathon, and not because I was stuffing my face with pure butter after every training session. My body is made that way.
- Life is too short for dieting. Dieting doesn't work for 95% of the people who engage in it, and it hasn't worked for me in any of its forms.
- My body is awesome. It does some extremely cool things. It has had its issues, too, but I'm no longer blaming my weight for them. If my thin friends can have back problems and chronic fatigue, then I can too. Some of my thin friends have had knee surgeries, stress fractures, overuse injuries, migraines, ulcers, pneumonia, annoying skin conditions, debilitating allergies, chronic internal organ pain that medical science has failed to identify or fix, fallen arches, weak ankles, and gum disease, none of which had anything to do with their weight.
- I am no longer accepting the cultural biases that thin = health, that thin = good, or that fat = bad, sick, unhealthy, ugly, lazy, dirty, smelly, sloppy, or undisciplined. Where I see these prejudices and stereotypes, I will fight them with devastating wit or nuclear sarcasm.
- I'm going to rebuild my activity level, strengthen my back, and regain the joy of physical activity while focusing on all the positives my body has to offer and caring for it like the finely-honed work of art that it is. I'm going to try new things - maybe even dance!
- I'm not going to judge other people's diets, exercise patterns, or weight-loss surgeries. I don't know what works for other people, just as they don't know what works for me. I have friends who have had the surgeries and have written and spoken about their journeys in inspiring ways. I know people who have beaten the odds and become Weight Watchers success stories. I know fantastic, talented, and dedicated athletes who are fat.
- I'm not perfect, and there is nothing wrong with me.
- I am out.
- I am a fat activist. That doesn't mean advocating that everyone become fat. It means that I don't think that people should judge others' intelligence/health/self-respect/discipline/productivity/right to live/beauty/athleticism/worth based on the size of their bodies.
(Photo: "Matisse Circle" - Leonard Nimoy)