I have avoided writing a post about weight loss since I started this job. Yet one of the most common things clients come to me wanting is, well, weight loss. They come with numbers or they come with a pair of pants they want to get back in. They come with diet plans, supplements, meal replacements and they come with Zumba dreams. People come with fat positive roots and a sense of feminist betrayal, they come with a desire to overthrow the patriarchy and a tug between the weight and the expectations of a misogynist culture. They come with diabetes and doctors orders and they come with menopause. People come from Europe, from Canada, from the Deep South. People arrive armed with fears and defense tools and shame and more shame. I say welcome to all of you as I am as much a member of this parade as I am a loving host to your desires.
I cannot speak to anyone’s experience but my own. I try not to talk about how I eat so much here because my work is not about me. I do find, sometimes, that a sharing of my experience has brought clients some ease and so after almost four years of this weight loss inquiry, and after dodging the direct questions from people all the time, I thought instead I’d just tell you a little bit of my story.
As you might know, I’m pudgy. Sometimes I’m more pudgy than others and over time, my weight has spent a bunch of time fluctuating. When I am at what I feel are my HEALTHIEST times: eating for my body’s needs, not obsessing, not logging or counting or berating myself over a donut. When I am happy, exercising regularly, relatively low in self-judgey bullshit and laughing easily. When I am cooking and my choices for food are in line with my body’s needs and not my emotional havoc or terror, I still look thick by conventional standards. And when I feel great and healthy, this shape looks great to me. I look at myself and feel powerful and competent and sexy and solid. The truth is, I go through 99% of my life not looking at myself. Maybe more. I BARELY KNOW WHAT I LOOK LIKE. So to place a value on the 1% of the time I look at myself over the 99% of the time when I discover how I feel in the world just doesn’t make good sense. Obviously, as we’ve learned through Republican fund raising dinners, the 1% is often given all the power in our country. But I say our bodies deserve a coup. Let the 99% win.
Because people ask me the most effective ways to lose weight all the time, I am going to tell you about the 3 times I have lost a SIGNIFICANT (20+ lbs) amount of weight in my life.
FAR AND AWAY, I have to say, the most effective way I have found to lose weight so far in my life was doing a ton of crystal meth. The pounds just fell right off me. I snorted it mostly but free based it as well. I can still remember the exact smell of the blue smoke that swirled in the bulb of the pipe. Sometimes during hot summers when people have their air conditioners cranked up so high you can smell the freon, the scent is so powerful, I get flashbacks to being tweeked out on meth. I kind of lucked out because when I first moved to San Francisco, there was a dealer that got a crush on me so I never paid for it either. I didn’t start doing it to lose weight. I did it because it felt incredible. I felt invincible and gorgeous and sexy and brilliant and charming and hilarious and productive and genius. Until I didn’t. Until my feet started going numb and my skin looked like I had mold inside me just under the surface snaking through my body and my brain fell into chaos and despair. That year I was consistently svelte and people loved to tell me how great I looked. WOW, they’d exclaim, YOU LOOK AMAZING! At first I’d smile and feel lit up like a pinball machine. The weight loss was some kind of side bonus I hadn’t even considered. I didn’t even think about food. I was too busy thinking about solving the crisis of the prison industrial complex and unhinging the oppression of queers dying from, essentially, hatred. Self or otherwise. I didn’t have time to fucking eat, and the thought of it freaked me out anyhow. Being free of food obsession for the first time ever was incredible. Better than being thin. BETTER THAN BEING THIN. As time went on and I found myself with hollowed out yellowish dead eyes and wearing blotches on my skin like embarrassing hickeys from ill advised dates, getting a size 4 pair of pants didn’t bring the thrill of victory I’d always imagined it might. One more person told me how “Great” I looked and I just said, “Well, I’m pretty strung out on speed so I’m glad I have that going for me.”
ANYHOW: I definitely lost a lot of weight and so I can attest to that method. However. I don’t recommend it. Side effects include loss of money, teeth, friends, lovers, jobs, housing, and life. I was lucky, but my dead friends were not, and every last one of them would rather be here than skinny.
A little less dire for effective weight loss is some really down home Emotional Devastation. Now for me, a general malaise, a protracted sadness, or a vague depression won’t work. Those have traditionally driven me to comfort eating and obsessively thinking about what to eat instead of feeling whatever feelings I may be avoiding. But true annihilation has brought me so low at times that I just don’t feel like eating at all or I can’t. Again, here, the pounds melted away as the Magical Misery Fairy tapped on my throat to make it feel like it was choking almost constantly. Anxiety, pain, and near constant crying jags banished those pesky pounds away like a dream. Again people, even ones knowing how much pain I was suffering, took great pleasure in telling me how wonderful I looked. What a compliment! Unlike my Game Show Hostess on Meth alter ego, this version of me wanted to kill people. In this state, I truly wanted to feel good and how I looked meant nothing, Just like Ranier Maria Rilke says. It really made me think a lot about beauty and what it could mean to be a beautiful person, like in a Prince song.
Then a few years ago during a pretty happy time of life, I decided to try Weight Watchers. I did it for 10 months and I lost a bunch of weight and felt pretty goddamned happy about it. I felt proud and so excited to go to a wedding and look a certain way. This method did not involve me filling my body with toxic drugs that would make my teeth rot out of my head, nor did I feel, at any time, devastated or bereft. I kept track of what I ate daily and meticulously and frankly, this process offered me some things I found helpful. I liked the structure of it and I liked having an understanding that if I changed the portions of some things, I still felt satisfied. (Note: The DubDubs has rules that lets a person be well within their program and still survive on Skittles, a bagel, and 2 light beers every day. You can get in with your points and still lose weight and have a victory on your hands. Hell, on weekends you can even add in a Skinny Fudgesicle and tequila shots. Again, weight loss over health.)
Over time, however, the constant tracking and monitoring felt increasingly creepy and horrible. I became my own vicious food prison warden, and this is on the kindest diet I have ever undertaken. Diets are inherently broken. They are the work of the devil, or misogyny. I know this because when I wanted a little freedom from any of it, when I decided to abandon the plan and stop babysitting my own food intake and carrying around weird scraps of paper to enter into the computer later, I went insane. Or sane. I mean first, insane, then sane.
The microculture of restriction and denial serve to starve our inner ideas of thriving. They sent me from feeling like I was a little bit in the weeds directly into the damn wilderness. My newly found self-esteem turned out to be a thin reflective mirror easily shattered by the truth of my real depth of self-loathing. Underneath all the desire to be thin or perfect or pretty or NORMAL was the monstrous truth that I was just not enough. Not successful enough or desirable enough or talented enough or … I’m sorry. Am I boring you to DEATH?! On top of that, to discover my utter edgeless lack of original despair, the desperately boring female trope lodged in me like a vestige of postmodernist Snoresville, the wholly disappointing discovery that at my core I was a delicate fucking flower that wanted to be a wisp…. Jesus. It was a true terror. Even my most private failures turned flaccid.
I not only had the original pain but the judgments of that pain as well. My inner 3rd wave feminist critic spit on my thrifted Doc Martens and my Body Positive crusader packed up the vintage slips and Sharpie body tattoos and deserted me. I had no politics to bring me comfort with a truth like this. That at my true core, I was, well, alone.
And turns out, that was the perfect place for me to start rebuilding. Because I live here in this body: ALONE. This is the place I think, dance, run, eat, snore, read, kiss, swim and ski. I experience everything in here. And finally having that agency to shut out the pressures of outside expectation let me slowly build some kind of new relationship to my own home here. I own this body and it’s my responsibility not to be a shitty landlord. Because no matter what I choose, that choice lives here.
This is when things really started to make a shift for from getting thin to getting comfortable. I don’t even want to say “healthy” exactly. Because to me, part of being healthy is being free and having agency for the first time in my life to say yes or no to things. To be able to have food and know when it’s a dessert and when it’s a coping mechanism disguised as a flourless chocolate tart.
So instead of weight loss, I found that developing a relationship to my body and to food that works to support my happiness and my actual physical needs will let my body exist in a space that’s comfortable for it. And now that this particular body is officially in menopause, and pretty early I might add, NOT TO BRAG, it’s got some new things it’d like to tell me. I need to really be a grown ass woman and decide what the cross section is of what do I want to do, what am I willing to do, and how do I want to feel when I do it. Eating and moving are the general crux to all of my experience here in this body, and therefor, the way I practice the sacred in this life. It is a work in progress and with any luck at all, it will last the rest of my days.
1. How I Eat is Just as Important as What I Eat: I don’t eat standing up anymore as a general rule. I don’t eat while driving. I try to take a few breaths before I begin to eat. Say a quiet thank you to the workers, the planet, the resources, the privilege and the sheer luck that brought me to this food. These breaths and that thanks usually lead me to a place where I am reminded to chew, promoting good digestion and more help for my digestive organs and gut health, and more sheer pleasure to enjoy the sensory fiesta of eating. Eating compulsively is always a sign that something emotional is up and it also robs me of the experience of enjoying the food. Which then often leads to eating AGAIN and therefor overeating when a body doesn’t need any more fuel.
2. Staying Hydrated is Key: I am so shitty at drinking water. TERRIBLE. Here’s the thing. Staying hydrated is one of the most important things we can do for our sense of well-being. It’s detoxifying, it helps with systemic inflammation and it keeps our conversations with our bodies honest. When we are dehydrated, our body will do anything it can to get water, including telling us we are hungry because obviously we are not giving it water. It’ll be like, “Okay then, girl. Get get yourself some food I can syphon the water out of it because if you keep trying to turn me into a damn raisin, I will die, and I’m not having any of that.” When we are hydrated (drinking someplace between 75-100 oz of water or herbal tea a day) our brains are much more clear in contact with what the body wants. The more water you drink, the more you want to drink it. Now there are tons of easy little apps on your phone that can remind you to have water that don’t require tons of obsessy logging and stuff.
3. DIGESTION!!! The Ayurvedic tradition suggests eating our largest meal closer to the middle of the day and letting dinner be lighter so that our bodies don’t have to work so hard as they are sleeping is the kindest to our digestive tracts. Ideally, the body has deeper cleaning to do while we sleep and if we let it do that work, our bodies are more efficient with our fuel. I try to keep 12 hours between when I finish dinner and start breakfast. I don’t always accomplish this, but I notice that when I do, my body feels, like, more ready to rumble. The lethargy quotient is so much lower.
4. Move. Start where you are. If you move a lot, bring in some variation and mix it up. If you don’t move at all, just start. Walk more. Take the stairs. Do a squat. Pick something you like. If you hate the gym, don’t go to the fucking gym. There is no such thing as a Gym Person. People tell me, “I’m not a Gym Person.” No one is a gym person. Going to the gym is a behavior. You go or you don’t. Who were people before gyms? Certainly still people. So. Maybe you find a gym you like. Maybe you start to hike. Or you dance at home between work breaks. Or maybe you go for walks or try running. Maybe you play tennis or you do the 7 minute workout a few times on your lunch break. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Don’t worry about what Bethany does because Bethany doesn’t have to live your life in your body. Do what you do. Bring a pal. Or if you’re very social, use movement to be alone. Leave your phone at home. Climb rocks and sightsee. Snowshoe. Ski. Swim. Lift weights. Shovel. Garden. Ice Skate. ANYTHING. Get a gang together. Just Keep on Moving.
5. Eat when You’re Hungry. Period.
6. Enjoy Eating. Really. It can be difficult, or impossible, to truly enjoy eating if you are also working or watching The Vampire Diaries or having an argument. So put pleasure first. How about that?
These are some things that have NOT helped me to lose weight. They have helped me to feel good about my life in this body, and over time, my weight has shifted. I cannot tell you that doing these things will help you to lose weight but I can tell you that if you do them, your relationship to your body will be so much happier. You might lose weight or change shape. You will learn what foods your body likes and which ones make it feel not so hot. You will sleep better. You’ll have more energy and zest for life. You will cook more and get better at it and you’ll be more attracted to vegetables. They’re pretty. And here’s a weird one: you’ll save money. First because you will get better at food shopping and you’ll cook more and second because you won’t spend so much money looking for happiness in ways that have nothing to do with happiness. All because of food and exercise, you ask?
And because you give a shit about where you live.