Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Lure of Skinny

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, about weight and food and what it means to be healthy.  I read Body of Truth, which is a scientific look at obesity and how it affects health.  I've been doing some soul searching.  What I've discovered, through all of that searching and thinking and reading, is that our society and their longing for thinness is pretty messed up. 

It actually makes me pretty mad, if I had to be honest.  Mad at scientists, at doctors, at women's magazines, diet gurus, Hollywood, the weight loss community, and myself.  I've been trying for a couple weeks to get these feelings into words, but I've been struggling with it.  My emotions are so raw and tangled up.  It's almost the way I felt when I first watched Tom Naughton's Fathead documentary and found out that the low fat/high carb standard American diet was a sham that was making us all sick.  Only this time, it's somehow worse. 

Why am I mad, exactly?  I talked about it some in a previous post, but I didn't go into a bunch of detail there.  And since I wrote that, I've read Body of Truth, which is just fascinating.  I read it in two days, I think, which is very quickly for me, and I plan on reading it again soon with highlighters in hand.  It all goes back to weight and health, with one equaling the other in the collective mind of our society.  A skinny person is healthy, and a healthy person is skinny.  You're fat because you're unhealthy, and you're unhealthy because you're fat. 

When I joined the low carb scene back in 2012, I was totally revved up to get going on this plan.  I was a diehard believer, and I knew that in just a short while, the weight would start falling off of me.  So I buckled down, ate as low carb as I could manage as a vegetarian, and watched the scale.  However, aside from an initial 7 pound drop the first week, the scale never moved.  I started eating meat a few months later (because vegetarian low carb is really really hard), and waited for the scale to move.  Again, it never did.  I tricked myself into believing I was getting smaller, losing inches, but looking back at it now, I don't think I actually did.  I have a way of making myself believe something when I really want it. 

Then Chad and I started cutting out the junk and went more of a paleo bent.  Again, I waited for the pounds to drop.  I started lifting weights and I was running.  No change.  I gained a little while on vacation, and lost it again when I went back on the diet, but that was the extent of it for me.  Meanwhile, Chad was losing weight and it made me feel bad that he could do it but I couldn't.

That's not to say I don't think these ways of eating are bad.  While I was watching the scale, waiting for a miracle to happen, my health was improving tremendously.  I had more energy, I was feeling stronger and happier and more clear headed, my ice pick headaches went away, my menstrual cycle normalized, my fingernails started getting stronger, my moodiness went away (mostly; I am human, after all). 

But because the weight wasn't coming off, and everyone in the low carb/paleo crowd said it should be, I thought I was a failure.  I kept all of these feelings inside, though.  I didn't want anyone to know that I was feeling like that, or that I couldn't lose weight even though everyone else seemed to have no problems with it.  In my mind, I was clearly doing something wrong.  It felt like my dirty little secret.

Then, like I explained in another post, I gained 10 pounds over the 2013 holidays, and then another 5 pounds over the 2014 holidays, and no matter how hard I try, how many carbs I cut, how small my portions are, how much fat I eat, how much I exercise, how much I watch sugar and grain consumption, how much I cut calories, no matter how much I desperately I want it, I can't lose that weight.  I've literally tried everything I can think of to lose this weight, to the point where I got obsessed with it.  I would look at myself in the mirror and get so angry at myself and swear that I would do better the next day.  My binge eating got worse, and I felt so out of control.  I'd be so good for weeks, but nothing changed on the scale, so I would binge, and that would make me feel even worse about myself.  I cried because I feared that I would continue to gain the weight and there would be nothing I could do about it. 

(To be clear, a binge eating episode is different for everyone who has the problem; some people consume 5000 calories, while others only eat 100.  The real sign that it's a binge is that you can't stop yourself from starting, you feel like you have no control over yourself while you're doing it, and once you're done you feel absolutely terrible and guilt stricken.  For me personally, a typical binge is probably 400 calories, and since I don't drive, it's almost always food in the house which is all whole natural foods, usually of a fatty nature.  Not that I'm trying to justify what I binge on; I just want to make the picture clearer.) 

And then by chance, I found the book Women Afraid to Eat, read it through, then bought and read Body of Truth shortly after.  Weight isn't equal to health, these books said.  Weight loss is incredibly hard to maintain (yes, even for some low carb/paleo people).  Your body fights too much weight loss.  Dieting is bad for you!  The effects of dieting are far worse than the effects of being overweight as far as health goes.  Actually, being overweight (bmi of 25-29.9) is a pretty healthy place to be, as far as longevity goes.  And the terrible thing about this is, scientists have known all of this since the 60s.  More modern science only confirms what these earlier researchers found. 

I have totally cut out the schemes to lose weight.  For one blessed month now, I have had no get-skinny-quick plans.  I have eaten mostly very healthfully; lower carb paleo WAPF style foods; veggies, eggs, meat, dairy, raw milk, fruit, good oils and fats, resistant starches.  I have mostly tried to eat at meals (breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12pm and dinner at 5:30pm), and only until I'm satisfied.  However, I'm not being strict about it, either.  I've eaten cake and ice cream at a party, I've made peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, I munch on candy when I visit my mom's house, and Chad and I have gone out for ice cream a couple of times.  Thirty blessed days of no binging and no emotional eating.  Thirty days!  And I haven't felt guilty eating the junk, either.  I try to keep it low, because of course I know it's not good to eat sugar all the time, and I know that it will make me feel bad and be tired and moody. 

I'm trying not to think about weight at all.  I'm trying to eat for health and wholeness, and let the scale fall where it may.  I do check my weight occasionally, though, because of my intense fear that I'm going to start gaining a bunch of weight.  After a month (a month!) of eating whatever I wanted, and eating sugar and other junk whenever I wanted (within reason), I haven't gained any weight at all. 

I've read a lot about set points and how your body wants to be at a certain weight.  Not many people in the low carb/paleo community seem to like this idea (for that matter, I don't know any diet group that does, and why would you?  That's basically saying dieting is going to fail).  I have a bunch of reservations about it myself, but I can't help wondering if it's really true.  Is my set point 200 pounds?  When I weight 275 pounds, was it because I ate so much junk that I forced my body to gain all that weight against its will?  When I got down to 175, I was absolutely miserable and couldn't stay there for more than a few weeks.  I was happy at 185, but it's been five years since I  got to that weight, and that's the amount of time when a dieter starts creeping back up to their starting weight.  Am I going to get back up to 215, where I was before going on a low calorie diet?  I hope not.  I'm having trouble fully accepting these extra 15 pounds and loving my body with the extra roundness.  But if I do gain the other 15 pounds, it won't be because of my diet or lack of self control.  I know that now.  I also know that the extra 15 pounds won't make me unhealthy, either.  I bet I'm healthier than most thin people eating a SAD. 

The real reason I started writing tonight was because I wanted to talk about the lure of skinniness and what it can do to a person.  Since I've spent so much time rambling tonight about everything else, I think I'll save that post for another time.

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