It’s the way we treat people based on their weight that’s the problem.
(Please enjoy this woman laughing alone eating lettuce while you continue reading)
At the heart of it, we women are always supposed to be either working to be smaller or working to maintain. There is never a break. The pressure never lets up. It exists, subtle but powerful, in the back of our minds.
In the supermarket aisles, women’s magazines proclaim chocolate recipes for “cheat days” next to ways to lose 10 lbs in a month just by walking! A cheat day, for those who may be uninitiated, is a day when you are able to eat whatever you want all day. A diet break, if you will. A good friend of mine who lost over 100 pounds said she could only have cheat meals, not days, because she’d eat too much over the course of a day.
Lent is another one, and always an interesting time of year…I’m the only nonreligious person I know who still gives things up for Lent. It’s been a tradition in my family my whole life and I still do it – a good reason to give up beer or sweets or whatever you’ve chosen.
The problem is, it makes NO SENSE to be on a lifelong diet. The way we use that word is totally skewed anyway; a diet is the things that you eat, period. It’s not a plan you go on, it’s just things you eat. So technically we’re all dieting because we’re all eating. The problem is, people reward you in a multitude of ways when you lose weight.
I had experience with this through the past few years, but most recently at a wake I attended for a family friend. My uncle and aunt have been focused mostly on a low carb diet (full disclosure: so have I mostly, protein is delicious) for the past few years, and every time I see my aunt she comments on my weight. It’s always in a way that’s meant to be complimentary, and I’m sure she sees it as a self-esteem boost, but when you get these kind of compliments the negative thought that inevitably follows is “what happens when/if it comes back?”
Weight loss is a long, drawn out process. If you read articles about set point, they posit your body gets used to being a certain weight and will make you hungry and crave food for between 1-7 YEARS until it gets used to the new one. Let that sink in for a second.
That means eventually most people put weight back on, and what does that do to their self-esteem when they are no longer getting compliments at family functions? Or, perhaps, start overhearing negative things said about them at functions?
Shame is a natural outgrowth of this process. We start to feel badly not only about breaking a “diet” but about losing all the social pleasure we had previously from our weight loss. Even maintaining becomes difficult – if part of the motivation was to gain social rewards, then we are no longer getting compliments because people are now used to the way we look, we can lose sight of the reasons we changed our lifestyle to begin with.
The problem, as it so often is, is the hyperfocus on our bodies at the expense of our health. I’ll talk more about the health at any size movement in a while, but our mental health suffers too as a result of the unpredictability and fickle support we receive socially.