When the Fat Girl Cries
Do you mind if this post gets a little up close and personal? I hope not, because this is a subject that has been on my heart for the past few years and seems to be a trend that we're all having to give some serious consideration toward.
WHEN THE FAT GIRL CRIES
As a little girl I had no idea how to stop eating. Mom would serve the food and we'd get what we wanted, family style and maybe have seconds, then dessert. The trouble was I didn't know what felt full so I'd just keep going. Mom recognized the pattern at around 6-7 years old (probably she served the plate up until that time) and started pulling foods away from me after I'd consumed a good amount.
Lest you stand up in outrage and think I was underfed, there are plenty of photos at mom's house to prove the contrary Also, we kids weren't too fond of vegetables or fruits, so she wasn't pulling that away. It was the pizzas, the cakes, the mac 'n' cheese, and breads over which she was attempting to teach moderation.
I'd cry, and she'd say, "you'll thank me someday."
Sometime as a pre-teen we visited a house where a fat girl lived (actually obese, and not just chubby) and when we came home, I started thanking mom. It took a few more years to get the words out, but eventually, I did.
Due to depression and stress throughout my lower teen years my eating patterns went berserk again and this time, I was old enough to get the food without drawing attention. I would eat meals late at night, and large meals throughout the day; from 12-18 years old I gained at least 45 pounds. Because of a good amount of physical activity, it wasn't an inhibition unless a stray photo came my way and I'd glance away in disgust. At 12 I mourned the loss of collarbones.
When do we decide such things? What mental trigger suddenly wakes us up to realize that we are on an unhealthy trajectory? The current trend is all about being comfortable in one's skin and it's a needful message, but we've also got to admit that sometimes we use that as an excuse to avoid hard choices. At least so it was for me until something flipped.
I did what needed to happen: lost weight. I wasn't happy with myself, and knew it would be better to get a handle on weight matters while young and subsequently hunted up a diet and attacked it. I lost 40 pounds.
It was heady. It was wonderful. It was in fact a Very Good Thing and buying a new wardrobe sure didn't suck. But there was one thing that puzzled me.
The fat girl inside me still cried.
It was betrayal. The weight was physically gone but I still carried it mentally. What new sorcery was this? No one ever talked about the connection our brains and emotional health have with our weight. All I knew is that the old me was still very much there. Haunting my photographs and jabbing at my waistline. I experimented with plenty of silly diets until I realized those 40 pounds were ghosting me and it was up to me to make food a servant, instead of vice versa.
The whole process went pretty deep.
1. LETTING GO OF THE SCALE
Food ruled me. I was so paranoid about regaining weight that yo-yo dieting, following trends, and always being afraid that what I was eating was not good enough, I'd step on the scale once or twice a day and not eat that day if it didn't say what I wanted. On top of that, life was still pretty stressful for other factors, and emotionally and mentally my health wasn't so good. It played out into the physical as it always does.
The funny thing about these sorts of things is that you don't one day wake up and realize the scope of all that is wrong, but instead start to address the surface symptom. Eventually these things lead to a root, but symptoms are a handy way of figuring out some is wrong deeper down.
Surface symptom, could not eat without fear.
One winter, I let go; let go of the perfect weight on the scale, calorie counting, endless dieting and a certain wispy look I wanted. There were no earth-shattering results other than gaining a few pounds, which I was aware would probably be the collateral needed to reset my metabolism (why I don't recommend sustained dieting without breaks). It did what it needed to do though, and I resettled into a comfortable weight while learning a balance in how much, and what kind of food to eat.
Also, I reset my palate around/before that time by eating only vegetables, fruit, yogurt, and meat for 6 weeks. It worked. The first thing I ate off that fast was a raw almond, and the delicacy of the flavor nearly bowled me over. Simple food was what I craved now and it was pretty easy to pass up doughnuts and oreos. I'm sure that sounds nuts to some of you (pun intended) but rest assured, I still eat the occasional doughnut or oreo - they've just lost a lot of their daily attraction.
First step: put the scale back in the closet and kept it there. I wouldn’t weigh myself again for another 6 months and to my surprise, every time I’ve weighed myself since (which happens 1-2 times a year), the scale doesn’t budge. Aside from prioritizing good nutrition, I barely think about what I eat.
2. LETTING GO OF STRESS
Without getting too deep for this article, there was a significant lifestyle change for me at a certain point that revealed the stress of the previous 14 years. Getting out from under that freed up a good amount of space to start dealing with other shelved issues and toxic pockets of thought. One of the major ones uncovered was a subconscious understanding that the physical body was trash - we're all going to die someday anyway so why prioritize care of it now?
The short answer is because we are valuable. Our minds are so distorted by the effects of evil in the last 6,000 years that God wasn't joking when he said our minds would need to be renewed constantly. That process of choice mirrors the regeneration that happens on a cellular level in our bodies constantly. There are millions of cells in our body that speak to an incredible design by a master creator, and these millions of cells build into what we recognize as our bodies.
On a different scale, the hundreds of little choices we make almost every day build into our overall health and wellness.
When God created you he leaned back and said "It is good." Now, if you're not a Christian that won't mean much to you, but if you are it's everything. It gives you a reason to live, and live good. With that understanding we're not going to abuse our bodies anymore. Not when we understand that God adores us and the way he made us and he doesn’t make trash. It takes the burden of regeneration off us, while giving us the freedom to make wise choices to steward this incredible gift of our bodies.
Even as I write, I know this could be painful to readers who struggle with obesity, bad health, or a physical handicap. Don't be afraid. Life is not defined by what is going on in our bodies and the burden of regeneration is God's territory. What we can do is to allow the struggles to refine us and simply make the choices in front of us.
The timeline is tricky here, because things don't often happen just when we schedule for them to happen. We can only trust in God, correct the lies we believe, and make the physical choices that follow. Whether that be a cancer treatment, to start exercising as you know you should, or prioritizing sleep. Whatever you decide, it will now be because you know your body is worth it.
Second step: I am worth taking care of, not because I say so, but because God said, "it is GOOD."
3. FIGURING OUT BODY IMAGE
There were at least three major factors that went into a negative body image for me. The first and biggest was not realizing my worth based on God. The second was learning to set healthy expectations aside from culture. At some point, being super skinny stopped mattering and instead I began to really admire how strength and curves look on a woman. Not to shame people who are naturally thin because both looks are lovely, but to recognize that one ideal for beauty is a stupid impossibility. Forgive the choice of my words, but it is stupid. We are sometimes/often/pretty much always so narrow-minded about beauty.
There is no one standard or skin color or body shape of beauty. Not everyone is beautiful, sure. It’s a mistake to hand out the word beautiful as a participation in life award. It’s harder work than that. We have to put in the time and effort to bring out true beauty.
I’m comfortable in the fact that I’m not the general cultural idea of beauty, but this is actually thrilling to me. It means that my face and body and personality is a work of art. I’m going to take exactly what I’ve been given and sculpt it: through love, discipline, self-care routines, sacrifice, joy, improving my mind, adventure, and learning to express the beauty I see through clothes and style.
Which leads to #3:
The third factor is the trickiest, because it was found in my fear of being lusted after. Every good little Christian girl gasps and runs for the nearest mumu at the mere thought and I was certainly no different. Boy, was I going to do my part to protect men! Then I realized just how twisted this thinking is, and not because we respect one another with our clothing choices, but because it does three things:
Voids the power of God
Strips men of their unique masculine glory: their nature to protect.
Objectifies woman's body as sinful, or as inviting sin.
Rot. The lie plays out symbiotically between men and women and you can see it from conservative or Muslim cultures, to locker room and female objectivity talk. Neither believe that this is changeable. Some of these because they have no notion of redemption, and some because they don't really believe it works.
I understand this philosophy popping up in places with no understanding of God, but not Christian culture. There's no other topic we address quite like this one. Alcoholism we denounce. Immorality we all know to be wrong. Lying is a no-go. So why the excuses not to manage our sexuality? We are not animals, though if one continues that evolutionary bent one might become so.
Personally, losing the fear that my body was responsible for someone else's lust was a massive step forward for me to gain freedom and confidence. I didn't take it as carte blanche to try to seduce men by my actions or motives (clothes are a tool in this) because that would be sin, but simply that I was created beautiful, the female form is powerful, and I don't have to be ashamed of the way God made me anymore.
4. BE YOU, STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE
Learning to be comfortable in your own skin is a strange relationship between always learning, growing in strength and wisdom, and being happy and content where you are. There's room in humans for both growing and resting, but we don't often understand it that way so I think that's why it is really hard to balance these two opposite realities.
You don't have to change a thing to find self-worth and value, but when you figure out how much you are worth, it may lead you to make a few changes.
The point is not to measure against a scale or cultural ideal but to measure how well you are able to live your best life. Can you physically do what you need or want to do? Are you able to look in the mirror and like what you see? Are you healthy? Our lifestyle, mind, and health should be reaching a place of balance that doesn't require us to rely on diets or the opinions of culture.
Who we are inside, our worth and value, doesn't change with the outside. However, we are responsible to safeguard and care for the outside as well because it ties in so closely with the mind and spirit. Otherwise, people with chronic illness would not speak about how much this has affected their spiritual and mental well-being.
There are no shortcuts.
I believe this so deeply that I’ll say it twice: there are no shortcut diets or exercise plans that have any sticking value. The process for me happened over about an 8 year span and as I’ve walked through it, realized that nothing happens overnight: gaining weight doesn’t (barring medical complications) and losing weight won’t either. There is both grace and responsibility in that statement.
Remember me complaining about the extra inch around my waist? After six months of moderate-intense working out (the state troopers tried to recruit me at some point on basis of intensity) those two inches are gone. Six months for two inches! Eight years to find mental stability in my weight.
I don’t want to scare you, simply to get rid of the bogus marketing we all hear constantly we can exercise or eat our way to a bikini body in 6 weeks. Changes like that are possible depending on where you start, but it’s an awfully unhealthy mindset to think this way and for most of us, not healthy or sustainable.
True and lasting change is the change you make for the person you want to be 5 years down the road, while valuing who you are today.
These things don’t often payback in increments of six weeks, but as we make these choices we become well: happier. Healthier. Disciplined. Like the process of growth one day we wake up and realize the scenery is different, and realize it is we who have changed.
And then one last time for this chapter, the fat girl cries.