I sort of feel like a hypocrite.
I enjoy the podcast Maintenance Phase and love that discussions about body acceptance and diet culture are having a moment.
I HATE how much time and energy pursuing culturally-determined physical ideals takes away from women.
I also hate how women are judged by their appearance (highlighted in this recent No Stupid Questions episode, as one possible factor for why women are less happy than men).
I also want to feel good. And I want to look AND feel fit. I mean, that isn’t a secret — I did 80 Day Obsession, after all! Whether that’s because I grew up on this earth and bathed in patriarchal influences, who knows — but it’s reality.
So I have Kae’s recommended EmPowered Radio (about macros, fat loss, and strength training) on my podcast queue right next to Maintenance Phase. And I honestly see value in both AND the hypocrisy of it all.
I have been focusing on eating ‘cleaner’ for two weeks. I know that term is arbitrary, but to me it means putting intention into food choices and portion size, and cutting out extras that are more for fun than for fuel. I was not feeling great in my clothes (hate the limited wardrobe I end up with when I am just a few lbs up!), and 2 weeks in things are already much better. The distracting buzzing that I don’t look/feel my best is largely gone and I am happy about that and motivated to continue.
So, here we are. Feeling sheepish and guilty for succumbing to societal influences, and yet . . . happier.
(Also, it has been a nice distraction from the political insanity going on. I have been following and just trying not to get too stressed, but it’s hard.)
On that note, upper body strength workout time.
I think this is such a complex issue. Because yes — so many of us spend needless time and energy fixated on how we look, trying to become as physically small as possible. What else could we be doing with that time and energy?? But at the same time, it’s undeniable that taking the time and effort to eat well and move our bodies to build strength is an investment in ourselves. It’s easy to let the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction in reaction to that compulsion to constantly shrink, but I think that’s equally harmful and holds us back from exploring our true potential.
One thing that’s been helpful for me over the past few years is to change how I think about diet and exercise on a fundamental level (easier said than done, I know). Rather than thinking about calories or my weight, I think about nutrient density and building muscle. And rather than feeling imprisoned by societal expectations for how I’m supposed to look, building actual muscle and lifting actual weights and eating nutrient-dense food has been one of the most empowering things I have done. It does take discipline — not always easy in a culture constantly telling us that self-care equates to a Netflix binge — but the rewards have been great.
Of course, I do still fall prey to feeling bad about my body (I am 42 and have a 13 month old, so …) and I totally hear what you are saying. My take on it though is that eating right and moving my body isn’t capitulating to diet culture at all — it’s self-respect and self-care in its most basic form.
I agree with the focus on nutrient density and muscle building. I’ll also add in longevity (working to extend my health span to feel vital for as long as I can). When I switched to focusing on those, it took most of the pressure off of being any particular size and opened up a whole world of science I’ve really enjoyed learning about, like the importance of healthy mitochondria.
It can be challenging to navigate the pressures on both sides (“ignore diet culture!” on one hand and “you must have an eating disorder!” on the the other when we make changes). I’m glad you are feeling healthy and good in your skin again!
Longevity!! Yes!! Mobility is another big one for me too. When I turned 40 I realized now is the time to set myself up for healthy aging. I want to stay healthy, vibrant and independent for the rest of my life. I won’t get there if I don’t eat well and build real strength.
fully agree with this. I recently wrote about my motivation to exercise, from losing/maintaining weight in 20s, to have MIA in my 30s as a mom, to want to be strong to feel strong in 40s for health span.
Another good podcast related to maintenance and why it’s so dangerous to under eat is “Boost your metabolism after age 30”. Really good one!
I think about this a lot. A decent portion of my practice is assisting patients with healthy lifestyle changes that will improve their health (but also lead to weight loss). I have really been making an effort lately to reorient patients away from weight as the only metric and instead focus on how patients feel physically, are they able to do the things they want to do, do they need medications for blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar (not always avoidable of course). I think this broader focus helps us set more realistic, sustainable goals. This is why I was so frustrated in the coverage of the study on intermittent fasting where the media focused only on weight outcomes and not on other metabolic parameters that improved with IF.
However, I myself feel enormous pressure to set an example. Who wants nutrition and lifestyle advice from someone who doesn’t practice what they preach, so to speak. It is an ongoing challenge to balance all of these competing pressures.
Yes to all of this!! There’s SO much more to health and overall wellness than the number on the scale.
Yes, a separate “side” of this issue is not even the part about how people look, but the actual, true health component. I know in my field (transplant), at our center we literally WILL NOT, under any circumstance, transplant a patient if their BMI is over a certain level, because the transplant surgery just cannot be safely done, outcomes will be very poor, etc. Similarly, a person will not be approved to donate a kidney to their loved one if they are too overweight. Pretty difficult to swallow for some, but it’s just a fact. And the transplant committee will not budge on this, even if it might offend someone. These are serious, real concerns- it could be life or death for someone sitting on dialysis for years instead of getting transplanted. Fortunately, most people CAN, and do, lose the weight when push comes to shove, and not being able to be active on the transplant list due to their weight is a highly motivating situation. 😉
So, I do think that just focusing on looks or even just weight is very short sighted, as you say. Some people might say they “feel better” at a higher weight, but I’d be curious to know, well, how high are we talking? There’s a difference between not being shredded with abs vs being obese. And what’s the body fat/lean tissue percentage on that person? Because unfortunately, we do know that high body fat levels mean fat…everywhere, inside, too, around the organs, etc. That’s one reason I do struggle with the idea of sort of “normalizing” people being very overweight. Yes, we need to love and accept all people at all sizes- of course!!! That’s a no brainer. But encouraging someone to lose fat doesn’t mean we are judging them or dislike them in any way. There are real, unavoidable effects that do come with excess weight though.
I feel for your situation as a provider. I imagine you DO feel pressure to “look the part” if you’re doling out lots of advice. I have a friend who struggles with her weight/ is an NP, and she says patients actually appreciate when she shares her own difficulties with them as they discuss weight loss together.
@Kae I am an endocrinologist and in medical school that last thing I did before I went into labor with my first child (pertinent to yesterday’s BoBW ep) is scrub on a cadaveric kidney transplant in an obese women. It really made an impression. The surgery was very technically difficult and long.
The reason I focus on other health parameters with patients is that I think they are much more motivating (and reflective of overall health) for most people. I also use body composition, not BMI to guide treatment.
To be clear the pressure to maintain a healthy BMI etc. is self-imposed pressure. People often ask if I employ the changes I recommend or have ever taken some of the medications I prescribe. I am honest (yes I do and no I haven’t–I have never met the prescribing indications).
I recently stopped eating candy, ice cream, and soda, and largely stopped drinking alcohol and eating a big dinner most nights because I noticed I was consuming these foods because of a psychological need rather than hunger, and ALSO because my weight kept creeping up. Is that “eating clean?” Eh? Maybe? Is changing my food choices “problematic” because I am not already overweight? I’m sure someone thinks so. Who cares. What they think of my choices has more to do with their own insecurity with their own eating habits than reality — which is that soda is unhealthy, and eating 1000 calories for dinner is unnecessary. I can relate to the sentiment that I feel better in my own body when my clothes fit me and my tummy and thighs aren’t straining to break free from a pair of non sweatpants. So glad you’re back to where you want to be.
Totally agree with this. I also think, who are we rebelling against? when we act like overeating junk food is taking some kind of stand for feminism. Who does that benefit? Where does that lead over time — to greater freedom and personal fulfillment?
Ooh great take
Yes to all of this!
Agree with this too. I am certainly not overweight, but am generally always able to maintain my “normal-weight/ looks fine on the surface-but not shredded-have a little extra cellulite and squish” body while eating a lot of CRAP. Lucky, I guess- good genetics there. But that doesn’t mean I SHOULD eat like that, first of all, for big picture health. And second, maybe I like having decent abs. Who cares. It’s my body. If I’m eating a healthy, balanced diet, plenty of calories and feeling great, what would be wrong with that? I would agree extreme dieting/ true eating disorders are a whole other story- I’m not talking about that. The flip side of this whole weight loss argument often does imply that people who are at a normal weight but want to “tighten things up” are either “obsessed” with their bodies/vain/ what have you, or miserable/ sick/ tired/ suffering while on a lettuce diet. I don’t think that’s fair. That would be making a lot of false assumptions and generalizations. Fat loss can certainly be done in a healthy, moderate, not overly restrictive way, with the right knowledge of the topic. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation in the health/fitness world which can be very confusing to many people.
I think about this regularly and it is an ongoing battle for me. I am naturally on the heavier side and it is HARD work to eat healthfully and see any movement on the scale.
I’m also trying to accept that, for me, this is going to be a lifelong pursuit. I want to unlock the key to always eating well and/or feeling good about where I’m at. But given genetically high cholesterol, my body type, and my enjoyment of food …this regular need for balance and recalibration are just going to be my reality.
Some days I do better about this than others. Mostly, for me, it’s about how my clothes fit. If I feel comfortable in the clothes I own, I feel good about my body image.
This is a struggle for me, and for every woman. I think the key is prioritizing health over weight. I am currently 50 pounds heavier than I was in college. I’m also stronger, get sick less often, more mentally stable, eat a wider variety of vegetables, exercise more frequently. It is frustrating to me how hard it is to dress this new body, it feels like going through puberty again getting used to a new body size! And, I’m at a place where doctors and the public would assume I need to lose weight. It’s hard!
My mantra is healthy behaviors, healthy behaviors, healthy behaviors. I’m enough overweight, and have a certain body type that probably nothing I do will give me visible abs. The pursuit of weight loss has been very unhealthy for me, mentally and physically. Railing against diet culture and pursuing health are NOT in opposition. I’m just trying to put things in the right order. Health over a smaller weight. Every time.
I have this mental battle frequently as well. I’m a runner and am trying to qualify to run the Boston Marathon for the first time (this is a big accomplishment for amateur runners), and it seems like a daily battle to make peace with the fact that i’m much stronger and faster 10 lbs heavier than I would “like” to be. All the things I have to do to properly fuel my runs – fueling before and after, taking gels, drinking sports drinks – go directly against “diet” advice not to eat back your calories after exercise. When I get down about the number on the scale going up, I have to ask myself, “What do I want more – to be lighter or to succeed at this goal?”. For the record, I do not look like people’s normal mental picture of a runner. I would blend into a crowd of people who never exercise.
Maybe the same question could be useful for you? “Yes, I’m heaver, but do I really want to go back to being sick, tired, emotionally unstable, etc.?”
That is fascinating. I would have thought lower weight —> faster pace but I see what you are saying about carb consumption etc. and you are very fast from my perspective so I know you know what you’re talking about!
“Racing weight” is a dangerous myth, especially for female athletes. Studies showing correlation between lower weight and better performance were done with men as subjects and were very small. I’m 15-20 lbs above my lowest adult weight and a much stronger runner.
But I agree it’s difficult feeling like you don’t look like a typical runner. I also try to focus on how much better I feel when I eat plenty.
I think this topic actually fits in very well with your interview with Lisa and your reader question that aired on BOBW yesterday. On the one hand, Lisa was supposed to “advocate for herself” while being pregnant in medical school, but that was followed by advice to a job candidate to “not sound demanding” during an interview.
I think what drives women so crazy (me included!) where we’re told we are supposed to value (or not value) one thing but are then rewarded for the opposite. We’re supposed to “be healthy”, “take care of ourselves” and “not be shallow or too sexy” but actually society rewards being super hot.
Ooh interesting! I think pursuing a reasonable and healthy maternity leave is different than putting out a list of demands before you are hired, but I see what you are saying!
I think that that reasonable and healthy maternity leaves are (unfortunately) often perceived as a list of demands…
Ah very true. I guess it’s quite a catch 22 in that way. Which sucks!
I am also a distance runner. If I’m totally honest with myself I can admit that I use distance running and intense cardio as an excuse to overeat in a way that is not healthy for me While my weight has always been relatively stable, I eat a lot of crap. I recently read the book “Racing Weight” and found it pretty interesting on this topic. It’s definitely not for everyone because it has a strong focus on losing body fat and based on its recommendations my ideal racing weight seems pretty unattainable. But overall I’ve found the diet recommendations very helpful. You track your food intake by its “diet quality score.” Servings of veggies, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, etc. get certain numbers of points and your goal is to get a high score. Sweets, fried food, etc are negative points. I used to track my food on MFP and paying attention to my diet this way has been a great shift for me. I might be able to get away (at least for now) weight wise with eating chicken fingers, fries, a lb of gummy candy, and 4 beers on long run days, but seeing that eating that way results in a super low “score” representing almost no nutritional value for the day is pretty eye opening. The book also talks about times in the training cycle where you can realistically except to be able to lose weight if you want to and recognizes that during heavy training you won’t be able to do it without impacting your performance. I definitely recommend it for running or other endurance athletes trying to focus on eating better and performing well. There is also a simple app called DQS where you can track your servings of each food and your total score for the day.
Argh this was meant for comment above re marathon training.
This is timely for me.
My weight was very stable for a long time. I was on the very low end of a healthy weight. By the time I got pregnant with my youngest (now 10) I was actually underweight. I’m now 20 lbs heavier than that low number….which is about 5-10 lbs heavier than I think I “should” be which has absolutely nothing to do with any reality other than I got used to wearing a size 1 or 2 and now I (comfortably) wear a 4. I also have MUCH more muscle than I had when I was underweight. I’m also on the verge of 50 and post-menopausal by several years. I would probably lose a few pounds if I did something radical, like Whole 30, but not long term.
I eat generally well, though I have a “treat” of some kind (ice cream, maybe a cocktail) most days. I have mostly made peace with all of the above, and just need to buy some new clothes I like and continue to try to do some strength training for health.
I think the problematic thing is when women absorb the messaging that it’s virtuous to disregard hunger cues, and that slimmer is better — almost regardless of the mode of weight loss. It’s deeply messed up that there’s such a hunger for rapid weight loss strategies when rapid weight loss is objectively bad for you because it eats up muscle along with fat.
A year ago my son got me into weight-lifting, nine months ago I finished Intuitive Eating (after a loooong time trying to absorb the core message: your body’s hunger and fullness cues deserve your attention) and I am still ambivalent about the situation that has resulted.
On the one hand, it is super-cool to be able to do a chin-up, a thing I could never do before in all my life. On the other hand, part of my identity used to be “the slender one,” and I am struggling a bit with the current state of my body. I love what my nice new lats and delts and traps can do. I do not love that my fitted tops and jackets no longer fit.
I will turn 52 this summer and I had been worried for a long time, because of family history, about my risk of osteoporosis. The stats on older women and falls are so terrible — the morbidity/mortality numbers are shocking. Heavy compound lifts are a fantastic antidote to this worry. And I can know IN MY SOUL that it is objectively better for aging me to have glutes and quads that support healthy bone density, to be protecting myself from falls and fractures — and at the same time I can miss my old pants and still struggle to reject the voice that says I was “better” when I was an underweight size 2.
It’s a mess, isn’t it?
Also, I love Casey Johnston’s writing on this topic and I think every woman in this messed-up culture should know about her avocado graphic: https://www.caseyjohnston.net/ask-a-swole-woman-archive/2021/3/3/heres-the-big-secret-to-looking-more-like-your-instagram-fitness-crush
She has a lot of good things to say, and I love this graphic a lot — however she loses me when she advocates refueling from your workouts with junk food and soda “because patriarchy”. But yes this graphic is awesome.
I’ve lived in the south my whole life and health problems due to diabetes and high blood pressure are extremely common. I’m sure you see this all the time as a physician. An elderly neighbor recently recently had a leg amputated due to diabetes and he told me he wished he had taken better care of himself when he was younger. He said he thought he had plenty of time to lose weight and get healthy but it just never happened.
At 43, I feel like this is the time in my life to focus on good habits so I can be healthy in old age and weight maintenance is part of that. I listen to and enjoy the Maintenance Phase podcast but sometimes feel that the message is if you want to lose weight for any reason you hate your body and are fatphobic.
I love this post and I think this topic is really interesting . I already commented above on a different topic but I’m coming back to comment specifically on the Maintenance Phase. I listed to several episodes based on your recommendation a few weeks ago. I found it entertaining and interesting and there were some episodes where I LOL for sure. But I was really uncomfortable with how mean they are. It just felt really snarky and unkind. I understand that they are critiquing people whose views they disagree with and find hurtful but I don’t see the point in completely tearing someone apart in such an unkind way. I’m thinking mostly about the Rachel Hollis and the Jordan Peterson episodes. I am not a fan or supporter of either of those people but and I generally agreed with the podcast’s basic critiques but a lot of what they said just felt cruel and unnecessary and I found it pretty jarring. I don’t get out much on the internet so maybe that’s why.
You’re not alone. That bugged me, too. And no, not a fan of Hollis or Peterson.
I agree with you completely, Jenny!!
I have so many complicated feelings about this! Doing the Precision Nutrition program with a good coach helped me realize just how much diet culture (including less extreme and more mainstream acceptable types of diet culture like macro counting) have affected me over the years. I am 44 and still struggling to accept my postpartum body – which is an incredibly strong and capable one! I can deadlift nearly 300 pounds, do 10 pull-ups, jump into almost any sport I want to try, yet there is still always this background noise of dissatisfaction about the way my body looks which is probably largely driven by our cultures desire to “fix” postpartum bodies with surgery rather than just normalize them how they are. Yes I still fit into a size 4 clothes, but I also eat more food than I probably need to and am just having trouble connecting the dots and eat less food yet still find a way to nourish myself and my muscles. I know from experience what has taken for me to be lean in the past (macro counting) but I don’t have the bandwidth or desire to do that again. I think that intuitive eating and guideline-based eating is likely the solution, but know it’s going to be a long run to get there (i.e. many years of practice). I try to remind myself that as long as I feel healthy, I’m sleeping well, I’m recovering from my workouts at the gym, I’m still getting stronger and my blood sugars are in range that is ENOUGH!
It’s interesting to read through all of the comments on this post. It seems like no woman can go through life and not have a battle over their body image! I’ve gone through peaks and valleys of my feelings about my body but I do feel like I am more kind to myself and more focused on the right things as I get older. I want to eat well and be active for longevity reasons. I had kids late in life – at 37 and almost 40 – so I need to do what I can to live a longer life if I want to be around to meet my grandkids. Maybe that is a morose mindset, but it’s my reality! So that is what is motivating for me. Maybe I could get lucky and eat what I wanted and still live to 80-90 but that is rolling the dice and putting unnecessary stress on my body. But for me, the trick is finding a balance between being too restrictive and not being restrictive enough. As an upholder and abstainer, it’s hard for me to find the happy medium at times. I did love doing the weight watchers program as their approach nudges you in the direction of eating right but nothing is off limits. You are rewarded for drinking water, eating non-carb veggies, can eat unlimited amounts of fruit, can have lean proteins. So there is tracking, but a lot of what I ate didn’t need to be tracked. But I did that for 4 months and got very fatigued by it.
Overall, I am content with my size given this stage of life. I have a good level of energy which is important to keep up with my 2 young kids but I can still have the occasional bowl of ice cream, cookie, treat, etc. I don’t personally blame the patriarchy/society for my ideals for how I want to look and feel, though. I am fortunate to be on the taller side with a smaller bone structure, so my tendency is to look more lean, but I will never have abs like the woman in the picture above nor do I prioritize that. I have a ‘good for her, not for me’ mindset about having those kind of abs! Even at my lowest weight when I was running my first marathon, which is about 20 pounds less than I weigh now, I did not have toned abs so it would require SO much sacrifice and hard work and it’s just not worth it for me!
Thanks for writing this. I’ve always been muscular and heavier than and ideal weight for my height but never actually overweight until I had kids. And now I struggle so much with modeling this for my daughter. The exercise half is easy; every one should exercise and it should be a priority and I’m pretty good about something rather than nothing when I’m busy I. The past year or so. But food is so so tough. My kids are insanely picky eaters and have food restrictions and eat too many carbs. It’s such a struggle to make sure I still eat well and making time to fed myself well feels indulgent, even though it is not. I also 100 percent will get a migraine if I am too hungry so I really don’t do calories or anything restrictive but it’s hard to lose weight that way. I would really like to lose 15 pounds at least but I am wary of the trade offs of focusing on that too much and getting headaches or spending a ton Of effort eating really clean. It’s just really really hard.
It is hard to eat well-balanced meals with picky kids or kids who have food intolerances/allergies. As a parent of teens, I’ll say it does get easier. At some point, they start helping more with food prep, or it’s possible to declare a “do your own thing” night and they don’t need help to get their own dinners together (my tween/teens love this, and we do it about once a week). It’s also helpful to think about dinner as having components that overlap, in which no one needs to eat everything. So we might have grilled steak and veggies for a summer dinner, but I only have a few bites of steak and lots of veggies, and my kids tend to choose the opposite. We can enjoy dinner together and all be satisfied without either eating the same thing OR cooking multiple dinners.
The first part of this post is about how society treats humans in larger bodies which is SUPER shitty, and the 2nd (after BUT) is what you personally want/need to do to feel good in your own body and life. I think you can do that for yourself while also not judging or putting your own ideas of health and fitness onto other people. As a Physician you have opportunities for positive change in how you talk about weight with your patients and coworkers – I wish every doctor would listen to the Maintenance Phase Pod. There are also so many fitness influencers right now that don’t fit the societal standards of what that should look like – if the people/programs we follow make us feel icky, find a new one! Or reach out to them with feedback.
I think my point is that it can all exist together and be inclusive of everyone/size and there are tons of things we can all do to get closer to that.
The fact is that in western culture we generally move less and eat more than we should ,so maintaining the balance our body needs is hard for us. I don’t think trying to achieve that balance is a bad thing, but I do wish it were easier and that we didn’t have to think about is so much, but the reality for most of us is that it requires thought and active steps. If it’s any comfort I don’t think it’s unique to women, from what I see around me many men also try different diets and I think they talk about it more than women do (and I’m not referring to body builders or people who are obsessed with the gym who take it to a completely other level)
I would take that a step further and say that Western / modern culture in general actively sabotages one’s health and it takes concerted effort now to reclaim or maintain it. Just going by the default (desk job, driving everywhere, processed food, indoors unless commuting somewhere) leads to illness over time.
I think we should get rid of the “shoulds” in our lives. I had a long conversation about this exact topic with my health coach provided by work. I feel like I “should” love and accept my body at the size it is and reject judgements on the food i eat. I don’t hate my body, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy with its limitations either – heartburn when I bend down to tie shoes and my belly is compressed, thighs chaffing when walking in a skirt, and while this last one is more on stupid people than me, getting asked when I’m due *regularly* because of my bigger belly really hurts and is mentally tough when dealing with fertility challenges. There is a line somewhere – a cookie is fine, even an occassional eat the whole box for dinner is not “bad” but a whole box daily is not self love either. I think if your habits/thoughts, whatever they are, are not obsessive/interfering with living a joyful life, then you do you. It’s OK to take steps to be healthy, for whatever that looks like for an individual. Both diet culture and anti-diet culture try to tell us how to think and act. Take both in, take the parts that work for you, and stop worrying about what you “should” think/do (admittedly much easier said than done!)
Totally! I feel hypocritical too- But the stand I choose to take is to be gentle with myself while aiming for something better- I think thats what the body positive movements focus on- Not that you should be an unfit slob, but being kind to yourself if you find yourself as one- whether due to genetics or medication or whatever else it may be. And try to make small improvements
I think we can’t totally remove from the media, we are being influenced, no doubt about it. one day is intuitive eating, other days are IIFM (regimen, structured), the veganism or carnivore. it’s all very confusing. It’s good to try and experiment and realize that we need different styles to fit our life style and eating preferences (although changeable). After trying low carb for few month, I realized I can live without oatmeal or grain and still get satisfied and nourished. I was vegan for 3 years and felt great and then ready to move on. I am always seeking to feel better, stronger, looking better has declined its importance over the years but still present. It’s only natural we want to look confident and we can’t feel that if we feel disgusted and uncomfortable with our body. Neither extreme is good for mental health nor sustainable, trying to find the balance is key.
I almost never comment, but going to now! I started reading your blog when I was starting IVF for my first child (now 7!). I had to do IVF because I was too underweight after years of obsessive exercising and restricting. I think all the weight control goes on a scale. After a certain point, if it is truly just five or ten pounds here or there, does it become about control? Like, needing to be able to control our bodies – against age, against minor passing emotions (that might lead to an extra piece of chocolate), against any little deviance we don’t approve of? Sometimes, bodies are more complex than just calories in – calories out. I know for me, controlling my weight was definitely about dangerous control issues that were deeper psychological things. Just putting this one out there too. I’m still a healthy weight and enjoy exercising, so I know I’m coming from that particular perspective, but I constantly try to make sure I’m not trying to maintain absolute control over every smidge of my body as a way of dealing with loss of control in other place in my life.
This is so true and a really underrated point. Especially for us women who are now in our late 30s/40+, how much of this is fear of our bodies changing from youth? Wanting to control everything about our bodies because we *can’t* control everything about them — or, as you say, about other things in our lives. Like if we discipline our bodies enough, they’ll do what we want — and also, to take it a step further, like our minds/selves and bodies are separate things. Really good food for thought here.
I’m a big supporter of the Original Intuitive Eating Pros. You can address a lot of dietary struggles with this approach
I actually appreciate the fact that black women were never presented as the ideal beauty in magazines and tv shows when I was growing up. Not being represented meant that I didn’t grow up with warped expectations of what I was supposed to look like. It’s surprising that one of the downsides of increased representation is that I now see very thin black women being presented in the same manner as thin white women were, and it really does fuck with your head. I think about my weight and appearance more now than I ever have! And I can tell you, from having experienced not being caught up in image and (white) diet culture, it is far far preferable to exist outside it.
I do not want to spend any of my time and energy thinking about my body and what I eat to the degree that would be necessary to attain some imposed standard of beauty or “health.” I want food to be joyful and life giving. If I pay attention to what actually feels good in my body, and what my body tolerates well, I eat nutrient dense, primarily plant based, real foods. I don’t have to say no to all junk food, though the junk food that I like tends to also be real food, just fried (potato chips, french fries, fried chicken) rather than ultra-processed foods. I’m more into savory food than sugar, so I’ve never tended towards candy, ice cream, etc. As I’ve aged, the amount of junk food that I can eat and still feel good decreases, and I can only consume some foods like dairy and wheat as rare treats. But I don’t have to be perfect and never eat these things.
The same is true of exercise – I seek out movement because it makes my body feel good. And different movement feels good for different reasons. A short run (literally just 1-2 miles) feels great when I’m stressed and anxious. Yoga is great for stretching and moving my body’s nooks and crannys. Strength training makes me feel strong, which I love. I literally feel my energy flow through my body better after Qigong.
I have generally found that when I’m consistently eating the foods that feel good in the right amounts to feel good, and when I’m moving my body, I feel great regardless of what I weigh. As an adult, my weight has generally ranged from 110-160, though I have been at 150 with a lot of muscle mass, which is my sweet spot, and 150 with more fat than muscle mass, and I can tell you that 150 with a lot of muscle mass feels sooo much better than 150 with a lot of fat. Unfortunately, after two years of pandemic (because so many of my good eating and exercise habits were tied to my commute, interestingly), and emotional eating in response to the stress of the Trump administration, the pandemic, my daughter’s health issues and care, and work, I’m 160 with more fat than muscle, and it feels really blllleeeghghhhshhh.
(I can say, however, that the problem of clothing not feeling good is readily solved by buying clothing that fits. It’s a clothing problem, not a body problem. I can feel great physically and bleeghhh because my clothing is uncomfortable, and when I just get clothing that fits properly, the bleeegh feeling goes away. Likewise, when I’m feeling bleegh physically, and also bleeegghh because my clothing doesn’t fit, the bleeeghh feeling does decrease when I have clothing that fits properly.)
I love this phrase you used – “The distracting buzzing that I don’t look/feel my best.” YES. That sensation weighs (haha, sorry), on my mind 24/7 and it’s exhausting. Yet do I make better intake decisions? Not always. Do I find the opportunity to be active more often than not? Also not always. (I have excuses, of course. 🙂 )
Solidarity to all of you/us. Our bodies are amazing.
[…] gotten so twisted around on the subject of food that people have to apologize and blame the “patriarchy” if they modify their eating so as not to gain weight or not to feel a certain way. In a culture […]