No one can make you feel inferior without your consent -Eleanor Roosevelt*
I wrote in my last article that I’m in a study about being fat, or more precisely a study about trying not to be fat anymore.
I joined the study for complicated reasons having to do with the desire for weight science to reflect more accurately the reality of the fat human body, or at least super-fat bodies like mine, and the fact that it was a study where fat people in relationships go to classes with their partners to see if that helps them lose weight more, or keep it off better, or probably just if it helps them stay in the study longer even if they’re (surprise!) not getting results. I thought my wife and I could go to these classes and laugh at how stupid and ineffective the advice could be. I thought it would be a point of connection, and maybe she could grok a little how ugly the world is to fat people. I got put in the control group, though, so that’s that out the window.
I had class this morning, and today I realized that another reason I joined the study is that I kind of hoped it would cause some sort of miracle and I would find out I was a unicorn all along.
I know the science, and god knows I know that I have had very little luck becoming a woman of less substance, despite nearly three decades of trying. I know also that of the millions of people who diet each year, 95% or more will gain back any weight they lose in 2–5 years, and at least a third of them will gain more than they started with, through some combination of a slower metabolism and the basic actions of getting older. I’m also aware that women approaching or in middle age — and I’m definitely in one of those two categories — have a sharp metabolic dropoff no matter how active they stay. But I hoped that somehow it would work this time.
Well, this morning was one of our bi-weekly weigh-ins, and spoiler alert: It is not working.
I may have gone down as much as one pound since my starting weigh-in back in March. It is almost June. They gave me a calorie goal that leaves me hungry, and I’m consistently eating less (but not too much less) than the goal. I get my 10–15 thousand steps every day. I don’t eat breakfast. And I go to the gym and lift very heavy things two or three times a week.
But it doesn’t make any difference, because that’s how my body works.
It feels very unfair.
I was looking at the nutritionist this morning, the brown-haired one who looks older than 20 and like she’s seen a sandwich before, and she was talking about how to modify recipes, which is actually very useful for real, non-weight-loss reasons, like allergies, veganism, or just being out of things. She told us how she changed her grandmother’s pumpkin bread so it would be better for you and have olive oil instead of butter. She talked about how that made it slightly more calorific, but that she just accounted for it in her calorie plan for the day.
This woman, with her presumably healthy BMI, who looked like she probably wears a size 8 pants on a ‘fat’ day, was sitting in front of a group of hungry fat people who’ve been dieting at this study’s behest since mid-March, and told them about her calorie plan. I tell you, kids, for a second I wanted to eat her.
And then I looked again.
And she had that same look in her eyes, that same desperation, that I feel when I have to decide if I’m going to take a doughnut out of the box at the office, or if I’m going to virtue signal and eat a piece of fruit instead, or just pass altogether. She had yoga pants on, and there were no bulges out of place, but she also was wearing a fitness tracker. She fits in an airline seat, or a theater seat, or a car seat, or a booth at a restaurant much more easily than I do, but she’s still obsessed. She’s a nutritionist, for chrissake. How could she not be obsessed? It’s her job to be obsessed. I felt a moment of compassion for her, and connection, but realizing that the thin dietician lives in fear of becoming gross, fat, billowing out into the world to take up space like her experimental subjects, that didn’t help very much.
I still spent the rest of the day feeling like garbage.
I’m pretty sure as of today that I am the heaviest person in the class, probably by at least 30 pounds. Yes, in case you thought of this, the class does have men. I know from looking around that I am the biggest one there; at the last class, one of the nutritionists told me that based on my history, a good goal for me might be maintaining my weight, or losing just a little tiny bit, and that that might be success. She said that maybe, someday, 10 years from now, if I lost weight little by little, maybe I could lose 30 or 40 pounds. Maybe I could even keep going past that, if I am careful. If I am incremental. If I do not give up because it is difficult and only grows harder with time.
Maybe with a miracle if I try for the rest of my life, I could someday get down into the merely “overweight” BMI category.
I know I talk a good game, especially here online in this highly exposed and totally obscure Medium account, but sometimes it is very hard to love this body, my body, a body that has propelled me into so many opportunities and held me back from so many others. Sometimes it is hard to push through a day when I am reminded that being strong and an excellent administrator and a good cook and an OK writer and an adequate mother and wife and musician does not matter — that all my good traits amount to nothing, if I cannot do this one thing. If I am not thin, my accomplishments are pointless. If I do not lose weight, I will not be human. I will just be fat.
Conversely, if I do lose weight, my other accomplishments will still be pointless. Raising a child to adulthood is nothing in comparison to getting back into your skinny jeans.
When that nutritionist told me that someday, with a lifetime of work and care, I could reach the higher end of the next lowest category of still-too-fat, I wondered how it could be that important. Please, don’t get me wrong: I would love to be able to walk through the world and not have people on the street stare at me. I would love to be able to sit on the bus without the person next to me sighing at every stoplight as my vast thigh impinges on their space. I would love to be some other person who had some other life where eating a meal in public wasn’t fraught with worries about other people’s assumptions.
But I don’t have capacity for another part-time job: I already work and have two side hustles, one of which might eventually make me some money and one that takes a lot of time and pays in joy and the occasional dinner. If I do have extra attention, I have a lot of neglected family, friends, hobbies, and skills I could be focusing on.
I really wonder: if even my study nutritionist thinks weight loss is impossible, why should I try?