Is gaining weight the worst outcome for me during a global pandemic?
I have pondered this question repeatedly for the past few months. Sometimes it has kept me awake at night, because what if ‘it’ happens while I am not paying attention? What if the weight creeps in unannounced and I can’t do anything to stop it?
I panic. “I can’t let that happen to me”, I whisper, and I spend hours trying to find ‘the’ diet or ‘the’ at home workout routine that will work for once and for all because, “What if I can avoid the unavoidable, what if I can avoid gaining weight? What if I can be the exception to the rule?”
But after a while I stop, because I’m tired.
To be honest, I’ve been tired for years.
I know the drill: “Stick to this very arbitrary meal plan you found online, move around more so you can earn the food that will keep your stomach from grumbling too much, don’t stop, keep going…no, don’t be lazy, don’t be weak…”
But at the end of the day, I’m tired of forcing myself to go through this countless times.
I’m tired because I know diets don’t work.
I’m tired because I feel like I’m putting my life on hold until I lose enough weight to be worthy of having a life.
I’m tired of ignoring my body when it (sometimes not-so-gently) begs me to stop.
I am tired of pretending that I am not tired, while I try to lose a few more pounds.
I’ve learnt over time that I can’t shrink myself without shrinking my entire life in the process. When everything revolves around food, calories, macros, measurements, weight, the way my body looks, the way my clothes fit … all I can focus on throughout the day is that. I cannot be present with the people I love, I cannot fully engage in conversations nor enjoy activities that do not directly serve the purpose of helping me to become smaller. I don’t have the concentration required to study and commit to the career I’m passionate about. I cannot share family meals because the food choices ‘are okay for them, but not for me’. I need ‘something different’.
A huge problem with this food-weight focus is that I not only end up restricting calories, I also end up restricting many of the little things that make me me. Why? Because I simply don’t have the energy to do both, so I have to choose. Do I value avoiding weight gain or losing weight over being myself? Frequently, the answer is yes and I decide I can’t bother to be the nice, smart, funny, adventurous, kind, hardworking, polite, brave, shiny human that I know I am.
Considering this, a good question for me to ask is: What if the fear of gaining weight during a pandemic didn’t stop me from being my most authentic self? What if it didn’t have to stop me from doing what matters to me, and building the life I want for myself?
I used to believe that I could not possibly be the person I wanted to be. I believed that to avoid the guilt and the fear, and to get to a place where I could feel at ease, I had to strip my life of any hint of joy and freedom; I had to be constricted by rules, surrounded by the ‘right’ types of food, counting my steps, and my self-worth on any given day would be based on how much I weighed when I first woke up. Then one day I learnt that there was another option.
I was at a psychology class when my teacher said, “Would you guys be willing to close your eyes for a few minutes? Perfect, I want you to try and focus on your breath. It’s okay if your mind keeps talking, just do your best to let it chatter in the background for a little while and focus on the air coming in and out of your nostrils”. That was such a basic thing to do in a psychology class, so I was pleased but not surprised, until he said, “Okay, try to notice what’s happening with you right now … observe with the curiosity of a child, and if possible, be kind to yourself”. Just like that, I realized a lot was going on inside, and most of it made me feel uneasy, uncomfortable. I wanted to shake it off, to move on to something else.
Angry, I said, “I’m tired of this”, but what I really meant was, “I’m tired of living like this”. My teacher then said, “These thoughts and feelings probably visit you pretty regularly, am I right? Presumably several times a day… but what if, instead of trying to fight them, avoid them, or let them rule your actions, you choose to drop the struggle?”
Can I do that?!
That day my teacher taught me that when we get hooked and carried away by what we are thinking or feeling at any given moment, then inner experiences, being in the present moment and doing what matters to us becomes very difficult. So I started practicing acceptance, because I may not be able to choose whether or not I have those unpleasant thoughts and feelings, but I can choose how to respond to them.
Now, whenever I notice myself struggling with diet culture, I stop and try to notice the thoughts, feelings and sensations popping up for me at that moment, without judging them as good or bad.
“Do I feel guilty? Greedy? Gross? Do I think I shouldn’t be hungry? Do I think I shouldn’t be eating this because it may make me fat?” I usually think of such unpleasant thoughts as unexpected visitors. I may not like them, and I may not approve of them, but right now they are at my front door, and I can choose to hide behind the curtains and let them bang loudly on the door or… allow them to come in. Am I willing to sit with the these thoughts and feelings? Offer them a cup of coffee? Actively make room for them? Let them stay as long as they feel like staying?
Sometimes I am more willing than other times to feel my way through these thoughts. Sometimes I struggle more than others. Developing a new approach takes practice. But I’ve thrown my scale out, and I don’t know how much weight I’ve gained since the quarantine started, but I can tell you how much life I’ve gained since. With this freedom, a whole range of experiences have opened up for me.
Gaining weight during a global pandemic was not the worst thing that could happen to me. Rather, it was the other way around. I wasn’t letting myself go, I was letting myself be.