Early last month, my husband and I went to the Y to sign up for a new membership in our new town and state. I’d had one in Billings, but had barely used it all year. A few days later, we made our first visit and did a two-mile walk on the track. I was feeling accomplished and renewed to resuming an exercise routine— heck, downright looking forward to it—until I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the door when we walked back to the car.
I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been.
I didn’t need the reflection to tell me that. I’ve been feeling it in my clothes all summer. I’m down to one pair of jeans that fit. T-shirts that used to hang loosely now hug me tight. I’ve been avoiding photos.
In fact, since my wedding two years ago, I’ve gained twenty pounds. And I was already close to twenty pounds overweight back then.
I recoiled when I saw myself.
And then I called myself a load. Out loud.
My husband admonished me, albeit lovingly. He was right to do so, of course. From there he gently reminded me why we’d reinstated our membership, and that day by day, we’d get to where we both wanted to be: healthier. Fitter. More energetic. We’d try again and again. We’d do a little better and a little worse and a little better again. We’d succeed and fail and succeed again. And it would be OK. We were OK. He told me that he loved and desired me—and my body—regardless of its size or shape.
In short, he was kind to me, whereas I was not.
There’s no way I would ever be so mean as to call my husband—or anyone else—a load. I would be downright ashamed to be that person. I can’t stand when comedians resort to fat jokes when taking pot shots at a politician like Chris Christie, for example. I hate when sitcoms portray overweight people as having no self-control (I could go on and on about that alone), being too lazy to go to the gym, and/or equating girth with klutziness.
And yet, I didn’t think twice about speaking to and about myself in such a cruel manner. I thought nothing of judging myself with such contempt and shaming my body based solely on appearance. I cared little about self-condemnation until after I’d done it. I didn’t acknowledge that calling myself a load was as mean as calling someone else I loved, or even someone I didn’t know, a load. I didn’t even feel remorse. Not until later, when we came home.
How is it that we don’t even recognize the ways in which we undermine ourselves? How do we expect to be loving toward others, and to be receptive of love from others, when we so vehemently refuse to love ourselves?
And then, in that typical Catch-22 reaction, I ate to feed my wounded self, to comfort her, make her feel better. My cousin Meg, who openly shares her struggles with anorexia, has talked about the counterintuitive sense of well-being she feels from not eating. I suddenly wondered if the well-being I felt from eating more than I needed was similarly deceptive.
Until this morning, I hadn’t been back to the Y since. (OK, some of that is because it’s not air-conditioned and we’ve had a rather humid month. I also spent time in New York and Southern New England. But still.) I decided to set September 1 as the kickoff date to commit to better eating and exercise habits. But I knew I needed more than that.
Because just typing the words “commit to better eating and exercise habits” fills me with more negative thoughts and feelings: Here we go again. How many times have I tried this before? What makes me think it will work this time? What makes me think I’ll even lose the weight, much less keep it off? I dreaded thoughts of deprivation. I dreaded accountability. I dreaded the idea of keeping food journals and measuring every chicken breast and fruit serving and policing every craving. Why didn’t any weight loss plan or diet ever ask you to track and measure and count your feelings?
What was I feeling when I ate five Mint Milano cookies in one sitting? What was I feeling when I made a smoothie with spinach in it because it was “the right thing to do”? What was I feeling when I was jonesin’ for chocolate cake for breakfast and told myself I was not allowed to have it? What was I feeling every time I saw an ad that described a certain food as “guilt-free?” (I can tell you the answer to that one: anger. It makes me angry that we’ve been taught to feel guilty about anything we eat, regardless of what it is or how much.)
For me, weight loss (or gain) has almost always had less to do with food and more to do with thoughts and feelings.
Yes, I need to change some eating and exercise habits. I need more nutrients and more activity. But I also need, for starters, to apologize to myself for speaking so harshly. For being so mean and critical. For not being more supportive.
I’m sorry for not loving you in that moment. I’m sorry for not liking you just the way you are. I’m sorry for not being proud of you for completing a two-mile walk, for returning to the Y and doing something you enjoy doing. I’m sorry for shaming you and killing your buzz. I’m sorry for not encouraging you to go back regardless of how you think you look. I’m sorry for not paying attention to how you were feeling, and then being dismissive and judgmental when you told me.
I’m so deeply sorry for calling you a load. I’m so deeply sorry for hurting you like that.
If I’m going to measure and record anything, it’s going to be how many times I express kindness toward myself. Compassion. Friendship. Encouragement. In addition to laps around the track, I’m going to do reps of “I approve of myself”s. As I plan meals, I’ll also plan dates with my husband and daily gifts for us.
And if it’s the last thing I do, I’ll take guilt out of the mix. Especially when I want—and have—chocolate cake for breakfast.
I’ll try, and try again, and try again.
I love myself enough to try.
I love myself.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.