“Does my belly look bigger, like I’ve gained fat?”
“are you sure? I think it looks bigger”
“no it just doesnt look gross and cave inwards now”
“ah so you admit it looks different!”
“no, its probably just the cycling doing that and when you get on the scales you will whinge tht you havent actually gained”
OHMY! cycling makes my belly less flat?! how can…IEEEE. no that can’t be it. <jumps on scale> and….
oh. no change. what the….
The mind is a very perculiar thing when it comes to body perception. As a woman I think it is even more so. There are so many preoccupations with weight and size describing one’s ‘goodness’ or ‘acceptability’ or ‘beauty’.
Let’s face it – the human body works best when it has a certain range of tissue composition. It’s not some devious plan to make everyone fat or skinny, medical research shows that to live for longer, and have less health issues people as a general rule are best to keep within certain ranges of total mass, percentage fat and bone mass for example. It is clear that having good bone density means you are less likely to have broken bones etc, so why is is so psychologically difficult to believe that a certain amount of body fat is also a good thing.
In our society Fat is a dirty word. Women say ‘I feel fat’ when there is something overwhelming going on and we can’t pinpoint it, or don’t want to del with it. Its not a physical feeling its an emotinal response – you feel bad so you identify with something which society views as bad.
This is only one side of the weight gaining problem but Im getting ahead of myself. Why am I writing about this? Who cares? well, erm, I do. Actually. It weighs heavy on my mind, if you will excuse the pun. You see I have been significantly underweight since I was a teenager, and it was not until recently (two years gone) that I finally decided to make the changes to my life to make it happier and healthier. At that point it meant gaining some 20 pounds and about 8% body fat. What annoyed me about this was the lack of support I got from people I told about this process, I mean, people around me must have known about my problems even if I didnt talk about it then, but still friends and family alike have a special way of somehow transmitting the idea that actually I’m fine as i am and don’t need to change. When I broke down and spoke to my boss about the fact I was back in therapy and had to gain nearly two stone and didnt want people making me selfconscious about the gai, she kind of looked at me like I was talking some weird language, cos y’know I wasn’t THAT thin.
But regardless, I did it anyway. The therapy, the dietician stuff, well mostly all of it. I am now safely asymptomatic for eating disordered behaviour and my weight has been within the ‘sort of healthy-ish depending on which doctor you ask’ category ie BMI > 18.5. The goal is, of course BMI 20, nicely on the lower end of healthy but with some buffering between myself and the dangerous area. GREAT! you say, so you have the attitude to do it, the will, what’s the problem? well, the problem is that there are some practical issues with this process – It must be great to be able to eat whatever you want right? and not be afraid of gaining weight – well sure, it would be lovely to not have any misgivings about weight flutuations but eating whatever I like? come on – I am having to pack in a LOT of food, I mean like 2800-3000 calories every single day if I want to gain. Easy, you say, that’s just a few doughnuts…but actually you get quite sick of rich food, you get quite sick of everything you put in your mouth, and the whole day becomes one long snacking episode wihtout the chance to get hungry, or if you DO then its probably because you didn’t eat enough. Then there is the stomach discomfort from eatng so much, the distainful looks from people and / or their unwelcome comments about changes in eating habits or scrutiny when you just want to be left to get on with it. There is the discomfort of clothing being a bit tighter and the psychological scarring from having to throw out old beloved garments because your thighs dont fit in, or they wont do up anmore. Nothing makes you question your decision to gain weight more than saying goodbye to your favourite dress / shirt for this reason. The flipside of this is – you have a good excuse to buy NEW exciting clothing to feel good in 🙂
Then there is the scale issue – you know. All advertising tells you to be happy if the number goes down, your doctor tells you to be happy if it goes up, and you are left anxious incase either happens. Just don’t use a scale then right? Yeah, thats not the route for me. I start to envisage huge excessive mounds of flesh which are possibly not really there. Probably. Actually never.hmm suddenly my logic looks flawed. Alas!
So trying to balance this whole orchestra of practicalities across an emotional tightrope is no mean feat. I have heard people describing the recovery from anorexia as one of the most difficult experiences one can face. And it was tough but just this last few yards….the elusive 7 pounds which just dont want to go on (5 of which have never been there). It IS hard, physically and mentally even keeping this much on and I wouldnt tell anyone otherwise, infact I try not to talk about it because generally people are jealous that I can eat tons and they feel the need to watch what they eat etc. What they fail to see though is that I dont want to stuff myself silly every day, I dont do it for enjoyment, I do it because I want to challenge that snarling dragon which says if I go over x I will be fat or will die or everyone will hate me or will never be able to get smaller again, the roar that says I will not be able to buld muscle that I will be a big jelly blob – but that creature – she is curiously quiet these days, with every extra bite, every extra poind she fades away but sometimes I still hear her – and to keep her at bay I write all this crap about numbers and obsessions and memories and goals and everything inbetween to remind myself why I am doing this, what I am doing it for and how to keep going. Sorry about the tragic rambles and unecessary references to myself (as per usual) but this is something I feel strongly about.
People should be as healthy as they can be – by this I mean living moderately, actually healthy, not obsessive, and I mean within the range, not fixating on one value, and they should eat what their body needs, not what untrained passers by say. People should be proud of who they are and their ability to maintain their physical condition, Accepting of themselves inside and out. You can say you think I’m too fat or too thin but honestly, your opinion doesnt matter to me that much any more – I have read the research, I ahve seen so many specialists I cant even count htem any more, all i know is – I feel better, my brain works (better) and I can horse ride again so there is NO going back. EVER. That is what keeps me sane when I get frustrated or discouraged.
So if you see me on the street, dont you dare stop me or look at me as if to tell me I look too thin or too fat, but if you would like to tell me I look glowing, relaxed, or acknowledge the fact that I am a remarkable, individual creature, not just a failure to fit in some cookie-cutter mould, then ok. And you know what – so are you!
If faced with a woman asking if she looks fat / fatter. The correct answer is ‘What non-bodyfat related thing are you actually worrying about?’