He looks like a gym sales guy. Crew cut, logo’d shirt, track pants, and a friendly smile. He tells me he’s a cancer survivor and my heart softens a bit, but not enough to let my guard down. I know what’s coming. I’ve been here a hundred times before.
Him: So, what are your fitness goals?
Me: I don’t have any. I just like exercising and I need a place to do it.
Him: Hmmm…...well, we do recommend our members have some kind of goal. It will keep you focused and motivated on the days you don’t want to come in.
I take a deep breath, look him in the eyes, and shake my head.
Me: Nope. No goals.
He looks down at his clipboard.
Him: Okay, I’ll just put down “Stress Management.” How’s that?
I know what he’s waiting for me to say, and I won’t say it. Not now. Not anymore.
I turned 39 last month, and only just discovered one of the most important, devastating, and impactful lies that I’ve been told my entire life.
You guys…...did you know it’s actually okay to be fat?
For as long as I can remember, I knew that it wasn’t. I knew that being fat was bad, and that it was something I needed to fix. I knew that fat people were lazy, and unhealthy, and gross. I knew that being fat was the absolute worst thing a woman could be, and that if I was fat my life would be terrible. I felt deeply sorry for fat people. I remember making a joke that on my bad days, I should watch Jerry Springer reruns with the obese people because hey, at least my life wasn’t as bad as theirs.
I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to lose weight. I have been on all of the diets and cleanses and workout programs. I can tell you the glycemic index of every fruit and vegetable from memory. I have bought clothes to flatter my figure, and hide my imperfections.
I have ridden the body positive train, and spent years and countless hours with a wellness coach shifting my perspective from “lose weight” to “be healthy,” thinking that was the answer. Nope. Same package, new bow.
I can’t tell you how much time and energy and attention I’ve given to this. For 39 fucking years.
It was only in the last few months that I started to get really curious about what I was doing. Prompted by a conversation with my Soul Dude about why I’m so hard on myself and what it would look like if I wasn’t, I got to work. I researched, and read, and studied, and followed people who seemed to have this body thing figured out, and here’s what I’ve learned so far.
1. Fat doesn’t mean unhealthy - I always believed (because I was always told) that if I’m fat it means I’m unhealthy. That’s a lie! Of course weight is one indicator of health, but just because someone is fat doesn’t mean we can assume they are unhealthy. When I really dug into it, I realized I’ve always been healthy AND I’ve always been fat. I have tons of energy. I sleep really well. I don’t smoke, or drink, or eat a lot of processed foods. I’m strong. My poops are great. I almost never get sick, and when I do my immune system is fast and precise. I’m incredibly healthy, and I’m angry about all the time I spent telling myself that I wasn’t.
2. Diets. Don’t. Work. - All this time I thought it was me. I thought I was a failure, or that I just didn’t have enough willpower to lose the weight and then keep it off. But what I know now (from many, many bodies of research) is that diets don’t work. 95% of people who lose weight through dieting will gain it back in 1-5 years. And worse yet, the effects of yo-yo dieting (losing weight then gaining it back, over and over again) are significantly more harmful to my body and well-being than staying at exactly the weight I am right now. So I’ve stopped. I’m never going on a diet ever again.
3. I don’t have to be healthy - Even if it were true that it was unhealthy to be fat (which we know it's not, see above), I don't have to be healthy if I don't want to. I don’t owe the world or anyone in it my health. Our culture currently celebrates health, and what it’s supposed to look like, as the ultimate success; and while it’s probably a good idea to be healthy (because potentially you’ll live longer and definitely you’ll have an easier life), the idea that everyone “must” be healthy is another lie.
I’ve been unpacking all of these messages for months now, making a mess in my psyche and my life, trying to figure out what to do now that I’ve uncovered all of this. When I get stuck in my old patterns (which happens all the time), I’ve been asking myself this question:
“What do I know is true?”
There is a part of me that knows. A part that has always known. It knows when I’ve been led astray by the overculture, when I’ve gotten caught up in the bullshit of diet culture, and when I need to be gently led back to doing what makes me feel like myself. This part is never wrong, and she has been quietly waiting for 39 years for me to hear her.
I’m listening now.
None of this may resonate with you. You may disagree, or think that I’m glorifying obesity. You may think that I’m just making excuses so I can stay fat and feel good about myself. And that’s fine - you are absolutely allowed to be where you are.
But if you’re reading this and feel that twinge of knowing, I recommend the following:
Read “Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls” by Jes Baker. This book is foundational learning, and Jes is amazing.
Start following plus-size women on Instagram - everything you know about fat women is being disrupted, and it’s beautiful to see. I’m about 2 months away from wearing a crop top, thanks to this practice.
Pay attention to all the ways you’re being brainwashed. Like that time I spent $400 at LA Weight Loss to lose the last 3 lbs. Or when my friend told me about her new diet and for a split second I wondered if it would work for me. Or just now when I realized I was sucking in my stomach again.
Start listening to your own Soul/intuition/whatever you want to call it. What do you love to eat? What do you want to wear? How do you actually love to take care of yourself?
Then, when you’re really ready, read “The Body Is Not An Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor. This is next level - for all of us who can see how being caught in the shallow trap of weight loss and health goals is keeping us from being human, and what it would look like if we gave our attention where it’s actually needed.
I left the gym that night, sweaty and tired, my head full of thoughts. None of them about the calories I had just burned, or what would be the perfect food to eat post workout, or when I would go next. I was thinking about how great it felt to exercise without the shame or pressure I used to feel. I was thinking how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to afford the gym, to have a partner who watches the kids while I go, and that I’m living this life in a body that moves without pain. I was thinking about all of the people who don’t have those luxuries, and what I can do to change the systems that contribute to that.
I was thinking about my children, and how I hope the work I’m doing now will ensure that they don’t go 39 years believing the lies we are told.