What ‘Feeling Fat’ Means To Me

When I was 14 years old, I babysat for the family who lived across the street. They had two children; a toddler and a baby of seven months. The mom, Kari, was not happy with the extra weight she gained from having the baby. She constantly dieted and exercised. She and my mother often traded diet tips and weight loss stories while drinking black coffee at our kitchen table.
One time, a few days into one of her restrictive diets, Kari came over to our house and sat down. She stretched out her legs, pointed her feet like a ballerina and said, “I feel so thin today. I know I’m not thin, but I feel thin.”
Thinness, to Kari, (to all of us back then) equated with being better, happier, and more attractive. That day, I got the message seared into my brain that feeling thin was proof you had willpower and you stuck to your diet. Fatness and feeling fat was bad, even if it was proof you just had a baby.

From then on, I tried my hardest to follow a diet. I wanted that elusive ‘thin’ feeling. I thought it was the only feeling that would relieve the terrifying ‘fat’ feeling that was beginning to invade my consciousness. So, instead of trying to help myself feel happy or content or peaceful or loving, I chose to work on feeling thin to combat feeling fat.

The things that made me feel thin were -following a low-calorie diet for a few days, jogging every day, or fasting. All these things led to losing a few pounds and I felt thin for a short time. Looking back now, I don’t know how I got through college or managed to have friends. Everything in my life was less important than losing weight.

Throughout my life, I have painstakingly weighed and measured my food, counting every carb, calorie and fat gram. And I did manage, a few times, to get to a weight I was happy with…more truthfully, I got to a weight that I thought would make me happy.

The problem was, in trying to mold my body for the approval of others, I succeeded in learning how to hate my body imperfections. When you are thin, you still think about your thighs, your stomach, the skin under your arms and a hundred other perceived flaws.

So, even though I became petite, my self-esteem was artificial. I felt thin when I was actively losing weight, but felt fat if I ate too much. And inside, I had hole in the core of my being even bigger than before I lost the weight. My self-esteem was linked to the number on the scale, same as always.

Being thin did not guarantee people were going to like me and it did not give me a foundation to handle stress. In fact, it triggered more stress because I felt a more urgent need to stay slim; to not disappoint myself and others. This attitude gave birth to a full fledged eating disorder and years of unhealthy habits (which were even worse than my mom’s fad diets.)

How does this all relate to ‘feeling fat?

In the first ED program I attended, I was encouraged to express my feelings in a group therapy session after lunch each day. If I, or anyone in the group said they felt fat, we were told to find another word because ‘fat’ was not a feeling. This never helped me come to terms with the feeling of being fat, it just kept me trying to escape it. I kept  thinking I was wrong about my feelings. I felt invalidated. And even though I looked for other words on a printed out list of feelings, none of them expressed how I felt.

I agree that we need to stop equating thinness with happiness, and fatness with negativity. I spend a significant amount of my time reading and writing about this. I am on that bandwagon. But emotions and feelings are very complex subjects, and trying to explain that fat is not a feeling just complicates things even more. Only by embracing my experience of feeling fat could I learn to recognize other emotions and get some meaning back into my life.

We view feeling fat as a negative event because of our beliefs. Initially, we get our beliefs from how we are raised, what we learn from society, and the experiences we have in our lives. If we dismiss feeling fat as an erroneous emotion, we can never come to terms with it. It will forever have a negative connotation.  By not allowing ourselves to examine the feeling, it becomes this ominous thing we are afraid of.

If we are going to change the perception about fat and feeling fat, we have to face it head on; we have to study and re-define it.

Feelings and emotions serve us for survival, not to cause unnecessary suffering.  So, by allowing myself to explore my ‘fat’ feeling I can determine the cause. How I interpret that feeling is really what counts. If I keep trying to vanquish it, I will never get to what my body is really trying to tell me.

For me, feeling fat is an expression of a mild physical discomfort, it’s not a debilitating pain, its not a negative thought,  and it does not change my value as a person. It could be that I ate too much, or I feel bloated from a certain food, or my clothing is uncomfortable. Fat is the word I use to express these feelings. ‘Uncomfortable’ may be a more acceptable word, but fat fits my feeling more precisely.

Its not unlike having an itch or feeling sleepy or any other feeling you can name that requires you to attend to something about your body.  Once the itch is scratched or you take a nap, you can go on with your life.

The problem most of us have is that when we feel fat, we think it means we should lose weight.  We think it is a negative thing that cannot be alleviated by anything other than exercise, dieting and weight loss.  But if we study it carefully, we can make ourselves more comfortable in our own skin by making a few adjustments.

Sometimes these are physical adjustments like loosening our clothes or drinking water instead of soda. Sometimes they are mental adjustments, like remembering that feeling fat is not a negative event.  And like most other issues, when we acknowledge it and open ourselves up to it, we will have a clearer mind. With a clearer mind, we then have a choice to either accept it for what it is -a mild discomfort, or take reasonable measures to resolve it.

For more on trusting your body – Your Body Is Brilliant

For more on body image issues – Can I be Weightless?

 

“The breakthrough will come when we can embrace and examine feeling fat instead of trying to conquer it or run from it.”IMG_0048

 

Your Body Is Brilliant

I am an American, so when I say your body is ‘brilliant’, I don’t mean the British version, where it’s wonderful or even awesome.  I mean it’s ‘smart’ as in highest IQ ever.  Your body understands microbiology functions that PhD level microbiologists don’t understand.  It functions to keep you alive in ways that scientists are still trying to figure out.

Your body understands how to function down to the atomic level.  It does this everyday; breathing, digesting, keeping your heart beating, healing.  It tells you to cover up when you are cold and fan yourself when you are hot.  In other words, your body does a lot of stuff automatically to keep you alive, stuff you don’t even know how to explain.  So why do we feel we have to tell it what and how eat?  Isn’t hunger one of the basic functions of our body?

Do I need to know how many calories I should consume each day?

You think you know how many calories, fats and carbs you need, but on any given day, it could be different than the day before.  Your body knows exactly what it needs to function optimally.  It knows every fraction of a calorie you consume.  It knows, to the microgram, how many calories and how much protein is in that piece of chicken, and it knows exactly how to break it down and use it for your benefit.  It knows how to break down donuts and use them for your benefit too.  It is adept at using any food you put in it to keep you functioning. Why?  Because that’s it’s job.

I used to think I had to keep track of every gram of food that went into my mouth. Counting calories and carbs was a way of life.  But if my body knows how to process every scrap of food it eats, I thought, “it probably knows exactly how many calories are in that box of donuts I polished off this morning.”  I keep thinking I can tell my body what it needs to eat, but in reality, it tells me what it needs, I just don’t listen.

Its kind of like an emergency room, it doesn’t care what you look like or how you feel emotionally, it’s only job is to keep you alive and out of pain.  That’s what the body does all the time; whatever is required to keep you alive at a cellular level.  So, if  it thinks food will be restricted, it will go into emergency mode and compel you to eat now to keep you alive a little longer.

When you are in this mode and eating furiously, your anxiety may be high, but your body doesn’t fret. It uses what it needs and stores the rest for later. How smart is that? To know that it needs to store some for later because there may be a famine in the future is not just smart, it’s survival.  It evolved that way. Its coded to eat when the food is fresh, the harvest is in, the pig has been slaughtered. The trouble is, in our society, the harvest is always in, the meat is always freshly available, the garden is never brown.

My version of why we get cravings                                                                                      

When we tell ourselves we will diet tomorrow, skip a meal, work food off, or in some other way restrict food to make up for eating now, we give our body a message.  The message is, ‘Hey, I’m eating now, but I won’t be eating in the future.’ So, the body does what it does best, it keeps you alive by compelling you to eat more now.  It gets your dieting message loud and clear- “You are feeding me now, but you are thinking of restricting the amount of food I can have, there must not be a next meal coming, I better make you eat as much as you can right now so we can store some up for later when food will be restricted.”

This is what we anxiously call a craving.  And when you feel that craving, you panic because you think you will eat too much.  When you do eat too much, you feel guilty. Then you assuage that guilt with promises of being ‘good’ and staying on your diet the next day.   You have just fallen into the whirlpool of ‘binge-diet’ eating, trying to control your food intake until your body takes over, then feeling guilty for losing control, and  trying to take control again.  Your mantra becomes, “I will go back on my diet and stop eating sugar and junk food tomorrow.”

Then, the next day after you have been ‘good’ all day, you may come home and tell yourself you deserve a treat or a special meal.  You probably eat with entitlement, but not without guilt. You only feel justified in eating because you did not eat enough earlier.  You’ve already paid the price for being able to eat now, as if you can only eat after you restricted food for a time, or eat when you promise to limit food in the future.

This is where I was for years.  After seeking much help, going to treatments and counseling, reading books and blogs, it became clear to me that my body does not distinguish between my desire to eat less to lose weight and a scarcity of food. It treats them both the same. Whether I am thinking of restricting food or there is a real food shortage, my body reacts the same way. Why? Because it’s job is to keep me alive. And it does that job very well. So I knew I had to start trusting my body and letting it tell me what and when to eat.  It was not easy, but it was much easier than trying to control the uncontrollable urge of a craving.

How can you start trusting your body and stop cravings?

Tell yourself you can eat anytime you want, that you will never restrict food again. You will not skip meals, you will not eat low calorie versions of real food. You will not try to burn off calories just for the sake of burning off calories. Tell your body you will eat whatever it wants.

You will be surprised that it doesn’t want chocolate cake all the time. It doesn’t always want high fat, high sugar food. It only makes you crave that food when you try to restrict it.  At least this is how its works for me.

In my experience, cravings cannot exist when I allow myself to eat with no guilt, no remorse, no shame, and no thoughts of restriction in the future.  Its not that I will never overeat again, but overeating does not have a hold over me like it once did.

For tips and advice on how to take action to stop bingeing now. Click here.

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Everything is Okay.  This includes the appearance of my body and the appearance of everyone else’s body” MD

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