Our Complicated Relationships With Dieting and Weight.
A new “wellness” movement is calling us to accept bodies of all types and to reject dieting. Taffy Brodesser-Akner explores this new anti-diet age in this week’s cover article and discovers that “all this activism didn’t make the world more comfortable with fat people.” Her article lays bare the anguish overweight people continue to feel while living under perpetual scrutiny from others and from themselves.
Hundreds of New York Times Magazine readers responded to the request for them to share their own relationships with food and their bodies. Some confessed calorie counting since adolescence. Some described a lifetime of feeling uncomfortable in their own skin, even after weight loss. Others gave up dieting entirely and haven’t looked back. A selection of responses, edited for clarity and length, is below.
Self-Conscious From a Young Age
Readers could relate to Brodesser-Akner’s story of dieting as an adolescent.
My first insecurities about my body and subsequent “diet” started when I was around 10 years old. I noticed that when I sat down at the dinner table, my thighs looked bigger as the backs of my legs pressed against the chair. Ever since that moment, I have had a hard time feeding my body what it wants and feeling O.K. about that. I stopped seeing myself as someone who is capable of things and saw someone who wasn’t “beautiful.” I know what I just described is a result of a childhood in a society that objectifies women. But what I don’t know and what I need help with is how to let that go and just be healthy. Not healthy for someone else, but healthy for me. Katie, Alexandria, Va.
I have been on a “diet” since I was in the second grade. I remember the days of Ayds, Metrecal, Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast, the Zone and every iteration through the years. Food is and has been the center of my life, and like the author, I look at people who mindlessly eat a burger or a doughnut and wonder what that must be like. To not have to think, count and calculate everything that goes in my mouth. Acceptance? I’m not there and don’t think I can be in this hypocritical society. I will probably go to my grave with my Fitbit, Lose It app and 10th Weight Watchers membership, endlessly chasing normal. Dee Dee McGregor.
A Never-Ending Battle
Some readers shared that they will always be fighting their weight.
A few years ago, I lost 50 pounds. Every day of that journey was an effort, but looking back, that was nothing compared to the struggle of every day since then. It was like discovering that you could run a marathon, and then at the finish line realizing that every day for the rest of your life, you had to keep running that marathon pace. Every day I will have to keep managing a chronic situation and keep having to make choices. It can be draining. Larry, Palo Alto, Calif.
I counted every calorie, took up running, and then triathlons. Running as much as 13 miles at a stretch, hours of working out a day. But the weight kept rising. Leaving me feeling depressed, upset, angry, and heartbroken that no matter how hard I worked, no matter what I did, the weight kept creeping back up. So I ran more and added more weight training. When my body broke down, I switched to yoga and hiking. The weight kept creeping back, faster and faster. If I was going to work so hard and feel so bad, what was the point? I still don’t have answers, but I am still seeking them. But mostly I’m tired of: being made to feel bad about myself, or lazy, or undisciplined, when I know how hard I’ve worked. Robyn, Asheville, N.C.
Weight Loss Didn’t Bring Peace
Other readers said that even after losing weight, the stigma surrounding their bodies endures.
When you lose 100 pounds, people will comment, congratulate you. They will frequently tell you how much better you look because previously you looked “horrible,” “unprofessional,” “like you didn’t care” or memorable that you looked like a “cow.” These “compliments” reveal exactly what people thought of you before your weight loss. When the yo-yo goes back up, you don’t forget these comments because you now know exactly what people think of you. You think of all that you have achieved in your life, and you wonder why your weight loss is the thing that gathers the most comments. Janet, Bel Air, Md.
Years ago, I lost about 50 pounds. Even when I could shop in the normal-people stores, I couldn’t see the weight loss when I looked in the mirror. When you spend your whole life wishing, hoping and trying to become a different person, you sort of expect your heart and mind to change along with your body. And they don’t. At least they didn’t for me. I still saw a girl with tree-trunk legs and a flabby stomach who wanted to eat ice cream for breakfast. That was two or three Weight Watchers memberships ago. Emily, Salt Lake City
When I came home after weight loss, I was surrounded by food and by a culture that didn’t like someone who ate almost nothing and exercised constantly. My family and friends who pitied me for being fat were off-balanced somehow by my extreme weight loss. Thus, I lost friends, a boyfriend, and a job. To those around me, I was no longer the passive, helpful fat girl so used to accommodating everyone else’s need. Instead, I was the assertive, even demanding woman who wanted a new life. Jean Renfro Anspaugh, Fairfax, Va.
The Mental and Emotional Side
For many readers, the toughest battle has been mental rather than physical.
In 2008, my brother was killed in Iraq, and I ate it. I ate all of it. Coke Slurpees soothed my rage. I choked down lo mein as if I might digest the insatiable grief. In four months I gained 35 pounds and then I started Weight Watchers online. I was strict all week, eating cottage cheese and green peppers for lunch, then I’d binge on pizza all weekend. Sunday nights I’d write in my journal: “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” I’ve been high, clutching my protruding hip bones at 132, and I’ve been low, frantically stroking my double chin at 175. America promised my brother’s death was a great sacrifice: tragic, but productive. I ate until America could promise my own body was tragic, in unproductive ways. Samantha, Ohio
One night, I was trying to sleep but found myself going over my caloric intake of the day over and over in my head, planning my meals for the next day to balance out a cookie I had had that day. When I realized how problematic this was, I decided to quit calorie counting cold turkey. I stopped tracking my food altogether and deleted the MyFitnessPal app on my phone. Unfortunately, my mind was so well trained at that point that it only made my anxiety worse. Unable to see my calories on my iPhone screen, I would constantly be adding up the content of my meals. Thus leaving me unable to concentrate on school and found myself dazed when with my friends. Now I try and think about my disordered eating as something separate from me. I work hard every day to squash the monster. Sofie, San Francisco
I’m a registered dietitian, and weight loss is an area of my profession I avoid, to be honest. Because I don’t have answers. I strongly believe that cutting calories results in weight loss. But, I also recognize that this strategy is hard to act on and maintain. Creating unhealthy relationships with food and exercise can often cause more harm than good. For years I lost weight and then regained the weight hurting my metabolism. Currently, I feel more confident and I am working to fix my relationship with food. Katie, Durham, N.C.
Written by Alice Yin
Copyright: New York Times Magazine