I carry extra pounds. And I wish those pounds could talk, because they have a story to tell, and important things to teach.
If these pounds could talk, they would tell you that I started learning to love myself at my highest weight, not my lowest. I did not feel better about myself with less pounds or smaller jeans. Ironically, my lowest adult weight coincided with my lowest point in life.
If these pounds could talk, they would tell you that I regret ever dieting – and that I never will again. Not ever. They would tell you the impact it had on my metabolism, my cognitive function, my mood, and my spirit.
If these pounds could talk, they would tell you that I was hospitalized at one point with an eating disorder. They would tell you that diet talk/obsession/posts are not benign. That a lot of “healthy eating” talk is actually not healthy talk – or eating – at all. They would also tell you that recovering from an eating disorder is extraordinarily difficult, largely because you can’t abstain from food the way alcoholics can abstain from drinking and addicts can abstain from using. You have to eat to live.
They would tell you they wish that anyone peddling anything diet-related or going on any kind of diet would get together with a Registered Dietician/Nutritionist (I’m personally a big fan of those practicing Integrative and Functional Medicine) before ingesting, peddling, or posting.
* (And this is absolutely not directed at anyone in particular. This is a cultural issue/obsession, so it’s going on everywhere. No offense intended, just awareness.)*
These pounds would tell you they wish that anyone posting diet-based products, pictures, weight updates, etc., would first spend time interviewing some qualified therapists and a Registered Dietitians/Nutritionists, those who specialize in eating disorders, to talk about whatever you’re doing/using/selling and about the impact of diet culture, diet products and social media on eating disorder rates and recovery.
If these pounds could talk, they would tell you that food and food control issues are often a metaphor for something else, and that what looks like self-control can be more dangerous than extra weight. They would tell you that people praised me as my weight dropped, having no clue I was sticking my head in a toilet constantly and eating laxatives like Pez. That I was literally starving myself. That I was weak, exhausted, and very unwell. That my heart rhythm was getting weird. People just saw less of me and assumed less is best. They also assumed, because I wasn’t underweight or emaciated, that there couldn’t be a problem – that I even “needed” to lose weight. It didn’t matter what I was doing, how I was doing it, or WHY, only that I was getting smaller.
If these pounds could talk, they would implore moms (and dads, though moms seem to be overrepresented in this scenario) to immediately stop judging your bodies out loud (at all, really), stop appraising yourself in the mirror and weighing yourself in front of your young daughters. They’re absorbing and internalizing way more than you can imagine, and it’s not what you ultimately want for them, I assure you.
If these pounds could talk, they would beg you not to ever put your daughter on a scale. Honestly, I’d strongly encourage you to get rid of the scale in your house entirely, but that’s “another post for another day.” We marvel at how girls struggle so much from so young with self-worth issues, and yet the battleground is often (or begins) at home. And it’s so stealthy and insidious, we don’t even recognize it, nor that we are active participants.
Moms? Your daughters look up to you, period. Aunts/nieces. Babysitter/little fan. And if you are indicating you’re not good enough, you’re modeling for them (and, by extension, telling them) that they aren’t good enough. I highly recommend educating yourselves on eating disorders – even if (or maybe especially if) you think you will never be at risk, or that your child won’t be. I have so many stories – personal ones – that blow the lid right off of such myths and stereotypes. And for the record, I was not 14 when I was hospitalized; I was 32. Happily married and in love with being the mom of three. I was, however, put on a 1200 calorie diet when I was 14 (ask a qualified nutritionist – that’s starvation). So although it was almost twenty years later, the seeds planted at fourteen and before – about my value, my size, and food – did bloom, and into a highly poisonous weed, in adulthood.
If these pounds could talk, they would explain to you that issues like long-term, complex PTSD has a significant impact on one’s health and body. They would try to help you understand that many of the people you see walking down the street who’re overweight may have a complex set of physical issues going on that actually started in their brains, and that good ole’ “diet and exercise” is not the simple cure. I hear people judge other people’s outsides, when I know the judgees’ inside stories, and I helplessly (because the story is not mine to tell) sit there thinking, If you only knew ……
I have a friend who struggles with weight, and if their pounds could talk, they would tell you they have had a life riddled by trauma and tragedy, including but not limited to the suicide of a parent at a young age, rape, and the sudden loss of a loved one in a tragic car accident due to impairment by substance abuse.
I have a friend who struggles with weight, and if their pounds could talk, they would tell you they were the victim of rape, child abuse, and sometimes-debilitating mental illness.
I have friends who struggle with their weight, and if their pounds could talk, they would tell you about my friends’ valiant efforts to outrun childhood traumas by way of repression.
Collectively, our pounds would tell you that chemical and hormonal imbalances all or most of our lives due to trauma – due to the pituitary and adrenals and amygdala & Co. constantly firing or misfiring, secreting way too much of some things and/or not nearly enough of others – can and do have a significant impact on our current physical states. Chronically abnormal cortisone levels alone can play a significant part in things like additional belly fat, obesity, increased BP, food addiction, blood sugar imbalance, sluggish digestion, IBS, reflux, insomnia, etc. Depression, chemically speaking, contributes to a lot of physical issues including weight gain and obesity. Inflammation, which has strong links to prior trauma, contributes to a host of adult diseases and illnesses – including weight issues. And most of the medications needed to navigate at least the acute phases of issues like PTSD and depression come with weight gain. I was on one for nerve pain last fall for only one month and I packed on six pounds. In a month. From one med.
And for sure, food as medicine can help with many of the symptoms of these issues – perhaps not to cure, but to reduce – but, as a friend recently said, “If you only change the What, and don’t address the Why,” you’re likely to continue to struggle. And if you address the What (weight, in this case) with cookie cutter approaches (diets, fad diets, etc.), you may get temporary results – but that is not what’s needed most, which is healing. And for the record, while we’re here? If you have to restrict to get it off, you have to restrict to keep it off. Diets don’t work or they wouldn’t be part of a multi-billion dollar industry (click for more info). Educate yourselves on the diet racket, and what restricting etc. does to your body over time.
I am not a doctor, nor a registered dietician or psychologist. I am not writing an academic article here, as you have the academic world at your fingertips. I encourage you to delve into the Internet/library to explore any/all of this further from an academic standpoint. I am writing as an individual with a story, and one that has been buried many times over, by me, and by others, in my weight (or the loss of it). And I am not writing about or in defense of myself – I honestly couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about my weight now, because I know how HARD I have worked to get where I am in life at this point. My weight is low on the priority list at this point. I’m writing for the sake of everyone with hidden stories – stories you don’t see and can’t imagine, and because all people tend to see is their weight/size. I assure you, it’s the least interesting fact about a person – extra weight, or the lack of it.
Here are some things you wouldn’t know about me if you just saw me on the street (or even for many who know me): I have struggled with chronic pain for almost 31 years, and as recently as two years ago I tried PT and injections, and my discomfort was ultimately worse. Yes, I improved in basic strength, flexibility and balance, but I was in significantly more pain and spent a lot more time in bed. Due to the nature of my particular back issues, exercise – even walking or light swimming- increases the pain in my sacroiliac joints on both sides by a lot. I finally got to where I had to plug my ears to the world saying I have to exercise to get better and smaller and to get a better back, and listen to my own actual experience and body – which was saying “Which way do you have more quality of life? Not what others tell you will be true, but what IS true for you…..?” And so I stopped doing those strength-building exercises. And I have been in, relatively, less pain. But to the eye, I look like someone who just needs diet and exercise.
In terms of diet (nutrition), mine is by no means pristine, but it’s also not what you’d presume by looking at me. I’m actually a relatively healthy eater, I have worked with qualified people on what my personal dietary needs are – based on age, activity level, weight, inflammatory diseases, cognitive struggles, etc, and I try to keep moving as best I can. I eat a lot of whole foods – fresh veggies, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, berries, I don’t drink sugary or diet drinks – mainly just water, I take good supplements and use essential oils, I am under the care of some great specialists; I am taking pretty good care of me. And by the way, that’s evidence of some incredibly hard and painful emotional work – to be able to take good or decent care of myself. This is true of every trauma survivor I have personally known – and thousands more I’ve “met” reading; self-care is hard, if not impossible at points, and any form of it is a triumph.
You wouldn’t know just by looking at me that I kept sexual abuse a complete secret for almost ten years, and kept rape and other abuse a complete secret for decades. Didn’t tell a single soul. You need to understand that traumatic events and the intense emotions that come with them are energies that, if not properly processed and expressed, must be absorbed. *Side note but not unrelated – look into ACE’s and their direct connection to adult pain and disease. A favorite source for me is Donna Jackson Nazakawa. Her book, “>Childhood Interrupted, is on my Favorites list.* My point is that my pounds also represent scars, and secrets, and prolonged silence. People’s pounds (or lack of them) are often aftermath. Collateral damage. The Unsaid.
Most of us, universally, are not what we first seem.
If these pounds could talk, they would hope that this poorly-covered idea today will help you consider the way you judge everyday people – either by size or anything else. Homelessness, color, race or religion. On the inside, we are all the same. We all have a story that makes us who we are right now, we all know pain and we all strive for joy. We all want to love and to be loved. We none of us want to be judged by a single aspect – by our appearance or socioeconomic situation or education or religion or sexual orientation or country of origin. Everyone has a story. Sometimes, the more you see on the outside of a person (and I’m talking about way more than just size), the more there is to their story. If something makes you stare at or make a judgment about a person, take it to the next level and recognize that whatever it is about them that caught your attention is part of their greater story. Be aware that you don’t know their story, and be aware of what your automatic conclusions were if you had any. It’ll teach you something about yourself and, perhaps, your own story.
It’s never too late to learn empathy and practice compassion. If these pounds could talk, that is what they would most want you to know.