Can a Person Be Considered Body Positive If They Want To Lose Weight?

“Can a person be considered body positive if they want to lose weight?”

This is a question I see a lot lately in the body positive and fat acceptance communities, in light of body positivity going mainstream, corporations who profit off body dissatisfaction co-opting the body positive message, and people who declare they are #bodypositivebut.

As with many questions, the answer depends on who you ask. And if you want to know what other people think, please ask them and/or read their articles, or read this pretty comprehensive summary of the movement from Buzzfeed. I’m gonna answer from my own perspective, while acknowledging that my opinion is not the only one out there.

And my opinion has many shades. I think differently than I did a year ago, and may think differently about it next year too. These are my thoughts at this particular moment in time. My thoughts here relate to individuals, not to for-profit entities.

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How Body Positivity and HAES Just May Have Saved My Marriage

I grew up as a believer in divorce.

I realize that is an odd thing to say, but it is the best way I can think of to describe it. My parents had a relationship that drained both of them.  I recall, at the age of seven or eight, asking my mother why she and my father didn’t get a divorce.

They did – almost two decades later. Why did they wait? Ambivalence. Fear of the unknown. Belief that they could provide a more comfortable life for their children together than apart.

Watching them, I vowed that I would not put myself nor my children through the same. If I ever felt so unhappy in a marriage, I would not stay for the sake of the children. I would leave. Better that the children see me in no relationship at all, than to see me staying in an unhappy relationship.

And then I grew up and realized that life is more complicated than I thought as a kid. (Turns out that my younger self was judgemental and sanctimonious about many things I knew nothing about….marriage, kids, health as a middle aged person…..)

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Silver Linings and Important Lessons

The other day I had a follow up appointment at the spine doctor, where I was cleared to ease back into lifting and see how my body tolerates it.

So, my plan is to continue swimming and ease back into lifting slowly. Possibly introduce one lift at a time and then if no nerve issues develop after a few weeks, then add the next lift. Starting with light deadlifts. No Olympic lifts yet. No back squats.

Even though it wasn’t easy or pleasant, I can now say that I am grateful for the time I spent injured because it taught me some lessons and perspective. Here are some of the things I learned:

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My Biggest CPAP Fear Came True

The first time a healthcare provider told me that I had symptoms of sleep apnea and I should ask my doctor about a sleep study, my first thought was “I don’t want my kid to see me using a breathing machine.” Back in the days I used to watch the Biggest Loser, I saw people with families crying because they had to use a breathing machine. You were supposed to feel sorry for / disgusted by the poor sad fatties who had medical conditions. I internalized the belief that using a breathing machine is shameful, and I didn’t want my kid to see that weakness.

And then I told myself “wait a minute. That is fucked up that I would actually consider not finding out if I have a medical condition so I don’t have to show my son that I am treating it. There is NO shame in getting medical help for a serious medical condition and I will gladly tell my son THAT. Fuck TBL.

Well, today, my son said something to me that made me skip a beat. We were about to take a nap and I said “okay, you lie down and I’ll get my machine ready.” He said, “okay, you get your machine ready.” And then he said “someday, I’ll have a machine too!”

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Better Late Than Never

Some self care I practiced this week, above and beyond regular daily habits:

I reached out to some understanding friends to vent about some big feelings I was having, and realized that I wanted to follow up on finding therapist who specializes in eating disorders. It feels like a bit of a strange time to do this, given that my relationship with food is currently better than I ever imagined it could be. Even so, while my behaviors around food currently feel healthy, balanced and comfortable, my body still plays a more prominent role in my thoughts than I would like. I recently realized that I had eating disorders as a child and young adult that went untreated. While I was able to overcome the disordered behaviors and fears around food with the help of some wonderful communities online, the continued preoccupation with my body over other things in life is starting to annoy me. I get very preoccupied with my body in order to avoid certain things that scare me in my life. And I also find that I am still dealing with some of the effects of being brought up in an environment where I was told that something was wrong with me by parents, doctors, and other children.  It caused depression, self esteem issues, vulnerability and productivity issues that I am still sorting out, well into adulthood. Keeping this blog and participating in online groups has been a great tool that has brought me very far….and I’m feeling like I am at the point where I would like some help. So I’m going to try out therapy. Better late than never, right? My first appointment will be next week.

In other “better late than never” news, I remembered that my physical therapist had noticed in the initial evaluation (back in June!) that my feet over-pronate when I walk, and mentioned that it could be a factor in my back aches. Remembered that I have had issues from my flat-ish feet off and on since childhood and in the past had used either prescription orthotic inserts or running shoes good for over-pronators with good results. Looked at my very worn out sneakers. Ordered some running shoes for overpronators (a similar model to a shoe I had used in the past). I’m crossing my fingers it will help with my back aches. The nerve tingling in my legs is completely gone, but my the back aches are still persisting with standing/walking.

I also figured out how to get around the resentment I was feeling around doing my physical therapy home exercises. I “shrunk the habit” by deciding that the goal was to just do one exercise. Usually once I start, I end up doing most of them. But I can mark the habit as successful even if I just do one exercise. I also sometimes switch up the order of exercises if I want to so I feel like I have some autonomy/choice in the matter.

Finally – I decided to try something a little bit outside of my comfort zone! I signed up for a Drills and Distance class at the Y! It’s a class that meets twice per week for 85 minutes to improve stroke technique and endurance. Since it meets on the days I already go to swim, it shouldn’t be too big a change. However, I’m nervous about being in over my head, and a little nervous about getting kiddo out the door in time. I’m doing it anyway though and I’m excited!

My face after signing up for Drills and Distance

My face after signing up for Drills and Distance

So, three things to look forward to next week…..a new swim class, new shoes, and meeting a new therapist.

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Body Acceptance….So What’s Next?

Lately, my self-talk has shifted from my body to other areas of my life. This makes me wonder whether my body was ever the issue to begin with.

I’ve been questioning a lot of things in my life.

Recently my high school graduating class has been having a “virtual reunion.” Seeing some people’s success makes me think “I was a good student. Why didn’t I choose a more lucrative professional career like some of my classmates?”

All the time I spent in life believing my body was a problem that had to be solved….how did it help anyone? As far as I can see, it hurt me and didn’t help anyone else.  And it may have hurt others, too, by limiting my contribution to the world.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” – Naomi Wolf

So now that I know better, I can move on and contribute more. Right?

Not so fast.

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Scale Anxiety: Distinguishing Between Vanity and Health

Last week a question was asked in an online group by Carolyn W. With her permission, I am posting her question here:

“For those of you that threw out (or had someone hide) your scale, what happened? What was your experience? Did you permanently get rid of it or did you bring it back at some point? How did you manage any anxiety that came up from not knowing your weight? I’m seriously considering having my husband hide our scale. I’ve been doing some great work with movement and changes to my nutrition, and while I feel SO much better and have noticed changes in my clothing, and inches lost when I measure, the scale has barely moved and I’m in tears every time I step on it. It’s clearly not helping me, so I think it needs to go, but I’m unexpectedly anxious/afraid. I’d love to hear what others’ experience has been with this. Thank you!”

I responded with my own experience and opinion:

I lost mine four years ago…I think it got left behind when we moved. I decided not to replace it.

I told myself that I could still weigh myself at the doctors office or at the gym if I wished….or even at a friend’s house. But [I acknowledged that] weighing regularly wasn’t contributing anything positive to my life.

Think about it….unless you have a medical condition, you probably don’t feel anxiety not knowing your blood pressure or blood sugar every day. So why [do we feel anxiety about] the weight? Because of fatphobia. This fear is a vanity issue and not a health issue. (Telling myself that helped). The solution is not to try to manipulate weight, but to declare a truce with my body and fight fatphobia.

Carolyn thanked me for sharing this perspective and said that reframing frequent weigh ins from a health issue to a vanity issue was very helpful to her. Indeed, articulating it was helpful to me as well, and so I want to share more about this point.

Realizing that feeling more anxiety over weight changes than other health markers was due to vanity concerns, not health concerns, was extremely freeing to me.

Currently, I am back to weighing myself somewhat regularly when I see the scale in the locker room. I have mixed feelings about this. I tell myself it’s okay to do this. In reality I don’t think its awesome, and it’s definitely not necessary. But I acknowledge that I have behavior changes I am working on that are currently having more of an effect on my health than whether or not I know my weight. So I find it helpful to view this behavior as neutral and not sweat it right now. It takes an extra 20 seconds of my time  when I do it. I make sure to tell myself that it is not going to affect how I take care of myself today. I expect to see fluctuations. I tell myself that it’s okay to weigh myself and then get on with my day.

In order to keep it in perspective, I remind myself that I don’t know my daily sugar numbers or cholesterol or blood pressure, though I have a rough idea of what they are because they are measured occasionally. Honestly, if there was a non-invasive way to find out, I probably would be tracking that (for curiosity purposes, not health purposes). And since I don’t have a medical need to track it more frequently, I’m sure that knowledge would not be helpful to me on a daily basis, so I am glad there currently isn’t a noninvasive way to track it. I think many people have love/hate relationships with their scales and activity trackers and heart rate monitors. They can give us data without drawing blood, which can be cool and sometimes useful, but can also detract from health when we get fixated on the data, which many of us do.

Anyway, several others gave Carolyn great input as well. I checked in with her a week later, and she was really enjoying life without daily weigh ins. She said she didn’t anticipate how much easier intuitive eating would be when she didn’t have the daily fear of the next day’s weigh in.

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You can follow via email (on the right side of the screen if you are viewing on a desktop, or closer to the bottom (after the comments) if you are mobile.

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