I spend a lot of time thinking about and agonizing over how much I weigh. You probably wouldn’t believe how difficult it is for me to admit that. It’s as if I just copped to committing a crime. It feels like such a solitary struggle, but the older I get and the more I understand about the world, I realize that it’s not just me. A lot of people are thinking the same things, but it is very difficult to talk about it. So we don’t.
I have realized that there have been a lot of mixed-up signals that have contributed to my struggle. It took a long time for me to see that I believe I am what I weigh. My feelings of worth, of success, of importance as a person and as a woman are tied to how I look. I see people on the cover of magazines, and I think that I should look like them. And then I hate myself when I fail to meet the standard. It’s taken a lot of work and a lot of time for me to unravel my feelings of self-worth from the image I see in the mirror. I’m not there yet, but I’ve made some progress.
I used to think that skinny people had it easier. That they had figured out the secret that has escaped me my whole life. Now I realize that skinny, fat or somewhere in between, nearly all of us are suffering under the tyranny of our own body image. We try diets. We exercise. We do cleanses and all sorts of fads. And yet, very rarely do we move the numbers on the scale. Why is that?
It’s a pretty simple equation, really, to lose weight. Put out more energy through exercise than you’re putting in through eating. Sounds simple, but there must be a mysterious ‘x’ factor that makes that equation nearly impossible for many of us. And no matter what anyone tells you on the internet, the ‘x’ factor isn’t anything you can buy for 3 easy payments of $19.99.
I’ve come to believe that the ‘x’ factor is this: the voice in your head telling you who you are in relation to what you weigh. You have to listen to that voice and find out what lies it’s telling you. The one that speaks to you all of the time, but you never tell anyone what it’s saying. The one that says,
“You’ll be worthy when…”
“If you were more like…”
“You’ll never be good enough…”
Find out what your inner voice has been saying to you. Hold it to the same standard of truth that you would if your friend said it to you out loud. Say it out loud yourself. See if it rings true or if it is a lie you’ve believed for way too long.
I’ve also begun to think that we each use food in different ways. For those of us who struggle to lose weight, a lot of times it’s because we use our food as comfort. It’s a way to comfort ourselves when we’re sad, relax us when we’re stressed, reward us when we’ve worked hard. It makes us happy.
From time to time, I see interviews with celebrities who’ve had a dramatic weight loss. They blame it on stress or being too busy chasing their kids around. I always thought that was a load of crap. I’m sure it is, sometimes. But, I’ve realized there are other ways to use food. Some people use food as a way to control. Those that use food as control tend to lose weight during times of stress or in response to poor feelings about themselves whereas those of us who use food as comfort tend to gain weight during those times.
Somehow it was freeing to me to realize that being skinny didn’t solve all of the problems of the world. People who are thin are often struggling, too. Where I turn to comfort for relief, they turn to control. We all find ourselves somewhere along the same continuum, and the challenge is to work our way into the healthy middle. I think the healthy middle is using food for fuel, not comfort or control. I’m not there yet most days, but I’m working on it.
Comfort or control? Which are you using food for?