Thinking About Health, Weight, and Society’s Obsessions

Of late I’ve been paying quite a bit of attention to American society’s relationship to body weight, especially on women. I’ve read articles on body positivity. I’ve seen Whitney Way Thore’s “Fat Girl Dancing” videos, she’s amazing. I’ve seen “Fat Girl Yoga” with another woman who can do things that I’m not currently capable of doing despite my smaller size. I’ve also read some articles that express concerns about the effect that body positivity will have on national health. I skipped all the articles that wanted to teach me one cool trick to lose weight.

I’ll admit that some of my interest has been due to the fact that the last time I weighed as much as I do right now, I was nine months pregnant. Back then my body was carrying around a tiny human being and lots of extra water. Now all that weight is stored in fat cells. I’m still not obese. In fact many people would look at me and say I look fine. Yet I have more fat on my body than I have ever had before in my life. I look at myself in the mirror and work to think body positive thoughts, which is good. Bodies change as they age. I can’t expect my body at 42 to be shaped the same as it was at 22, or even 32. Things soften, years write their stories on my skin in scars, freckles, and wrinkles. I don’t mind the wrinkles, but the rapidity of the weight gain is of concern. It indicates that something is out of balance in my body and it is time for me to find a new balance.

This morning I came across yet another article talking about weight loss and gain. The writer had finally recognized the weight loss industry as a racket where companies who sell weight loss programs actually profit when their clients fail. People come back again and again. I read it and thought “Why is gaining weight a failure?” Weight fluctuations are the natural response to changes in lifestyle. If a person wants to be a particular weight, then they need to be willing to live the life that induces their body to be that weight. Of course all of that leaves out medical and genetic factors which play a huge role in how our bodies gain or lose weight. Some people can attain a weight that makes them happy with work. Others are not able to do so no matter how much willpower they apply to the problem. This is not fair. Life is not fair.

I am very aware that as a person who has spent most of her life in the socially acceptable weight range, I do not understand all of the nuances that factor in to how people feel about their bodies. Part of me feels like this might be an area where I should listen more than I speak. Yet this conversation belongs to everyone. We all have to come to terms with the bodies we have. I don’t think that naturally thin people have it all easy either. This topic is so complex and so emotionally charged that part of me wanted to file my thoughts away in my folder of things I don’t post to the internet.

It is a tricky balance between accepting my body as it is, and striving for better health, which requires making changes that will affect my body shape. In order to reconcile these, I’m approaching it all as an experiment. What happens if I eat mostly vegetarian for a month? What happens if I count calories and teach myself more about the caloric content of foods? Where does my weight stabilize? Do I feel different when I eat differently? How does exercise affect my mood? Do I notice a difference in my depression and anxiety? Is what I’m doing sustainable over a long period of time?

The goal is to find a combination that includes happy, healthy, and sustainable. Note that while being thinner is the likely result of my experiments, it is not my primary goal. I do feel cliché making changes to my eating and exercise at the beginning of January. Yet it feels like the right time for me to do this. My head is clearer than it has been for a long time. It is time to experiment.