The false dichotomy of fit versus fat

Why I’m eager to get healthy but not eager to get thin

I’m on a juice fast for Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter in the Christian calendar). I’m on day three and it’s going pretty great. It’s been about a year since I did the first one, and this time has been much easier, if only because I’m less furtive and embarrassed about it.

I’m surrounded by people who are doing really exceptional work around staying healthy and reclaiming their bodies, and some of them have lost fifty pounds or more in the past year—-through rigorous commitment to healthy eating and exercise, mostly, although one through months of juicing (like the movie Fat, Sick and Out of Control). I’m really inspired by their dedication, and the results show.

A friend of mine very kindly took me out for juice last night, and we had conversation about food and relationship to food and addiction to food. (Most of our conversation was about saving the world, but we did talk food.) And I found myself thinking something about the path I’ve been on for the last year.

I’m about twenty pounds lighter than I was a year ago (I lost 25 and then gained five). I wouldn’t mind being another twenty pounds lighter at the end of this year. But there are two shifts going on in me that I feel markedly better about.

(1) My relationship to food is a little less about medicating and a little more about both nourishing my body and nourishing my relationships. Part of that has to do with leaving a profession that can be toxic even when no one intends it to be, but a larger part is that something finally broke through (maybe during that first juice cleanse) that my self-medicating cycle of sad-eat-fat-sad wasn’t helping me feel better in the long term (or even in the moment). Don’t get me wrong; I’ve still had a week of eating nothing but pizza somewhere in the mix, but I’m better at listening to my body when it wants to be nourished. And having friends over for a relatively healthy meal creates a whole different energy than going out for a not-so-healthy meal. It nourishes our relationship in different ways; it creates a different bond. Plus, any friends who can hang out in my dining room and not judge me (at least out loud) for not having been able to completely disassemble my Christmas tree are true friends.

(2) I’m beginning to think there are costs to thin that I’m not sure I want to take on. I’m not saying I’m going to try really hard to stay a size 22 for the rest of my life. I like feeling healthy, and weight may be a good indicator of that in some instances. But I find myself thinking about systemic fat bias and frankly being kind of proud that I have earned so much respect from people without it being about appearance (don’t get me wrong; I know I’m hot… it’s just that the world isn’t trained to see me that way). And I like the fact that I don’t have to worry whether a guy’s interest will wane due to my size. A friend of mine was recently helped getting a heavy purchase from her cart into her car, and she had to wonder if it was because she had lost so much weight recently that men were finally noticing her. (She has always been stunning, by the way; she just knows how stunning she is now.)

Admittedly, there have been numerous men over the years who clearly wanted to be with someone like me as long as she looked like Christina Aguilera, but I finally really feel like I’ve dodged a bullet on that front instead of wishing they could love me for what’s inside. (I’ve also avoided men who can capitalize on making me feel like who I am isn’t good enough.) And I do think my size has given me empathy (see #3 from the formerly fat fitness trainer) now that I’m not as anxious about running away from or feeling ashamed of my size.

None of this post is taking on the ways in which healthy eating and size are wrapped up in class in some messy and unjust ways in this country–food deserts and the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables are a real issue that foist unhealthy food on poor people and then blame them for being unhealthy, aka fat. For now, I’m leaving that conversation to the experts (although I nearly couldn’t do the juice cleanse this week due to income struggles; so I know this conundrum to be true from experience).

I suspect I will continue to lose weight because I’m slowly disconnecting food from the self-care/self-sabotage cycle, although I will not ditch the pounds as quickly as my many pounds-shedding, body-shredding friends, and I am really excited for them. And at the same time, here’s the issue I’m really thinking about for myself right now as I work on loving myself as part of my journey into health: Size and identity get wrapped up together in some complicated ways because of the messages we’ve internalized about healthy living and size. And there are generations of women (and men) who struggle to love themselves because of those messages, which actually have very little to do with health and a lot to do with thin. So I’m working hard at loving my big and beautiful, increasingly healthy self as a tiny little countercultural revolutionary act.

One of my friends (who has really taken ownership of her health and gone down about four dress sizes in the past year) posted a picture on facebook a few months ago proclaiming “skinny girls eat salads for lunch!” I saw it while eating a salad for lunch, exactly the same size she was a year ago and feeling pretty good about myself til I saw that post. Then I realized, she has the right to celebrate becoming what she wants to be. So I’m writing my own post here and now:

Fat girls eat salads for lunch, too, and we look awesome while doing it.

Comments (5)

  1. Allen

    Because of the way you introduced it, I wasn’t sure whether the person who posted “skinny girls eat salads for lunch!’ was skinny. I immediately heard it as a sort of playground taunt from a non-skinny person . I am not advocating oppression of the slender among us, but idolization of them for that quality alone is not right either. (And let me say, before you ask, some of my best friends are skinny.)

  2. Sandhya (Post author)

    You’re absolutely right, Allen. I added a qualifier. I think it was the sheer joy of being able to identify as “not fat” that was the reason for the post. But it’s something I want to watch out for myself–it’s part of why I’m a little nervous about losing my plus-size identity. 🙂

  3. Beckysue

    This is encouraging. I have been struggling with weight and identity, and the two are very intertwined. It’s frustrating to think that my unhealthy relationship with food and laziness are causing health problems. It’s even more frustrating to think I’m not beautiful. Which is totally not true, but I think it sometimes. But you bring up a good point. I remember what it’s like to be thin, and it really does come with disadvantages. I remember not being able to walk down the street without getting cat calls. And I don’t know about you, but I find that insulting and demeaning. I’m not sure I want that kind of insecurity being brought into my married life, but I’d love to bring confidence back into it. It’s a big toss-up, isn’t it?

  4. Sandhya (Post author)

    and that’s the cliche that’s a cliche because it’s so true, Beckysue. Our confidence is what makes us attractive, right? And a friend was sharing that she’s been working out a lot and hasn’t lost weight, and she’s working really hard to remind herself, pay attention to how awesome it is that she’s developing muscles and tone. I remember a friend of mine who would lotion herself every night, and as she lotioned each body part, she’d say a little prayer to God–thank you for my toes; thank you for my feet. I think we could toss in a “thank you for my AWESOME toes. Thank you for my sexy legs,” etc. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  5. Jhoei

    Thank you very much for this. Everyone should read this. It is very informative and will help people understand the difference between fit, fat, and healthy.

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