For a while now I’ve been engaged in a small experiment.
I began by finding my maintenance calorie intake — that level at which I neither gain nor lose. For me that’s around 2300 calories a day, depending on activity. Typical activity includes eight hours a day of standing and moving about the kitchen, a Zumba-like dance program three times a week, strength-training twice a week, short dog walks most days, and occasional bouts of HIIT — a mild to moderate activity level.
After finding my maintenance energy needs, I begin to subtract. I start with 100 calories a day — one egg at breakfast instead of two, fewer spoonfuls of rice at dinner, more restraint around the chocolate. That isn’t too challenging so I bump it up to 200 fewer calories. Then 300, including a little more activity — staying around 2000 calories while adding a daily walk. By this time I’ve lost a little scale weight, maybe five to eight pounds.
The fatigue hits right around this point, and the brain fog. Exercise declines, irritability increases. Sleep is affected, and I feel a little depressed. I’m eating erratically and maybe starting to obsess a bit. I also feel hungry — not stabbing pains by any means, just a little more motivated. The pounds return, and so does my energy, mental clarity, willingness to work out, balanced moods and good sleep. My eating habits normalize, which is to say that I have an easy relationship with food. I consume mostly whole foods and don’t stress about occasional treats.
I feel great! But I’m still fat.
This has been an experiment in slow, sustainable weight loss. I’m patient, gentle, and conservative with my calorie reduction. I focus on consistency in small habits instead of making giant leaps of transformation. I’m not eating starvation-level calories while working out for two hours a day. I don’t eat fake diet substitutes and then binge on junk food. I’m not measuring my body obsessively or calculating everything I consume to the gram.
I’m not even aiming for a particularly unreasonable “goal weight” — I’d just like to return to the size I was before the recovery process. I stayed at that size for ten years, through so many disordered attempts to control my
life diet. I thought that if I set up the appropriate conditions, my body would naturally shed any excess beyond that number — the weight my body seemed to want to be. Now I’m beginning to think that unless you’re dangerously underweight, your body probably wants to be whatever weight it currently is. Homeostasis is God to the body.
Was my experiment a failure? Yeah, I guess it was. Over months of effort, I didn’t lose much weight nor did I maintain what I lost. And it seems like madness to keep pushing this process when it’s not functioning as expected. Weight-cycling is destructive. Dieting is destructive. I will stay at this weight forever before I will ever return to disordered eating. If I can’t lose weight through moderate & sustainable practices then I just won’t lose weight. Tough titty.
Maybe other things are going on, hormonal? Metabolic? But you know, I feel really good most of the time. I rarely get sick where I used to catch everything, I sleep well where I used to twitch all night or want to sleep all the time, I feel warm and happy and energetic, I have a respectful relationship to food and, if I allow it, a general sense of peace about my body. Do I really need to mess with these good things? Especially when weight loss efforts lead to an immediate decline in all of them…? This is confusing to me. The pervasive messages of WEIGHT LOSS AT ALL COSTS and WEIGHT LOSS CURES ALL PROBLEMS are just completely at odds with my experience.
Maybe someday I’ll return to this, this deliberate weight loss thing — I do try to avoid too much dogma in my life. But for now I have to think about the wider implications of moving on from it. What does it mean, after all, if I might never be smaller than I am now? Oh boy, I have to think about everything I’m postponing because I’m fat. What a drag.
This week I did a little thought experiment. I took some of those somatic experiencing tools and worked them into my meditation, and really tried to settle into my body and answer this question: if I were not surrounded on all sides by messages of hatred, blame, disdain, concern, fear, anxiety, loathing, and hysteria about weight — specifically the presence of fat on women’s bodies — would I feel that I needed to lose weight? Would I hate my body? Would I “feel fat”? Put succinctly, do I have an entirely independent sensation of wrongness in my physical presence?
When I’m just with myself — not trying to shrink next to thin friends, not in line at the grocery store with magazines screaming at me about cellulite and
cleanses crash diets, not reading articles blaming fat people for being poor while simultaneously taking food away from poor people, not skimming the comments after those articles, not consuming media images or absorbing any messages from the outside world — my body feels like a comfort, and not a burden. My physical self is a fact, devoid of inherent meaning. It just is.
What I want to do now is embrace and improve upon that homeostasis. I’d like to be stronger — a lot stronger. I hope for there to be much more intensive homesteading in our future and I want to be able to throw around feed bags and straw bales without a struggle. I’d like to drink more water and work more vegetables into my diet, and incorporate more yoga into my daily practice. I’d like to continue walking the dog up steep hills into my old age, and avoid broken bones. And all of these things are possible, even if weight loss is not.
P.S. In the vein of not waiting to lose weight… I chopped off my hair. Short hair is my happy place, but I worried that I’d feel too exposed, or be fulfilling some fat-girl stereotype. I also thought wildly colored hair could only be the province of the toned & golden under-30 girl, and maybe it is, but fuck it. I did it anyway.
P.P.S. Read this.