Saturday, January 17, 2009

On Dieting

Even as a child, I didn't want to be thin. I have a specific memory of watching Boy Meets World with a friend in the early stages of puberty (our puberty, not the characters' - I think this was their first year of college) and thinking to myself, I wanna look like Topanga - i.e., curvy with a flair, rather than just stick thin like the rest of the girls.

Fast forward about a decade. I am happy with my body shape, and have never struggled with an eating disorder (unlike a good percentage of my peers). I haven't always had good nuitrition, but I've been trying to work on that in recent years, with some success. But I've never felt ashamed of my body (dissatisfied with parts, sure, but not stronger than that), even when I've had to shop in the Plus Sizes section.

Now that I'm working, I'm exposed to the outside world in a way I never was before, even in high school. Before the new year, my office had about two solid weeks of holiday parties and extra food brought in and culinary delights dearly enjoyed... That abruptly stopped after the new year. More than half of my co-workers, several of whom are thinner than I've been since childhood, have made recent comments about their dissatisfaction with their current weight. Our entire company is sponsoring a "Biggest Loser" contest, based on the tv show, in which the team of people who loses the greatest percent of total body weight wins a cash prize. My department had more people want to play than there was room for on one team. And I felt almost guilty for not piping up to join them.

Even still, it didn't really hit me how hung up people get on being thin until I overheard one girl at lunch mention looking through her photo album of this summer's vacation. "I wanted to be sick," she said with disgust. "I was so thin!" she longed regretfully.

Now segue back into my own life. A few months ago, I would have found this disgust completely incomprehensible. As I said before, I've never wanted to be thin, so it's hard for me to see the appeal. But this whole working out bit has opened up a can of worms....

When I went for my three-month check-in with my personal trainer a few weeks ago, we learned that I had not lost even half a pound. What I did lose was fat - 5% of my body fat, all replaced by muscle. For those who can picture it, that means half an inch off my hips and an inch and a half off my waist. This is a big deal - like, the jeans that fit perfectly in September I can now wiggle out of without unbuttoning. And it's a nice feeling, to be toned down and shrunk just a bit, without losing my general curviness.

And now the temptation hits. Now the fear of gaining fat, or of eventually losing the muscle mass I've developed. Now the desire to tone up for the summer so I'll look extra good in a bathing suit. It's like I've gotten a taste of that delightful Turkish Delight, and I just want more, and forever.

What happened to that peace about the fact that I weigh 170 lbs, and that's ok? Was it really such a fragile peace, that it could be shattered by mere muscle growth?

Last week I was reading a book called Jane Austen's Guide to Dating by Lauren Henderson (don't judge me, ok? I had a gift card, it was on the bargain bookshelf, and it looked enjoyable), and the following few sentences really stuck out at me:

My grandmother could never understand the modern fascination with incessant dieting: "In my day," she would say firmly, "you were fat or thin or middling and that was just the way you were. And there was always a man who preferred women who looked like you, so there was absolutely no reason in the world to be silly about dieting" (91-92).

What on earth happened to that? And I know I'm one of the lucky ones - neither my mom nor my grandmothers nor my aunt ever thinned themselves vicariously through me, and I've long been convinced of my own innate beauty. Today I was reminded again of the sad fact that an unfortunate majority of girls grow up extremely self-conscious about their weight, thanks principally to their mothers (aided, certainly, by celebrities and magazines and whatnot).

So what to do? My situation has become unfortunately like that of a platonic friendship between a man and a woman, when the point of innocence has been shattered and romantic tension has entered the picture on one side or the other: I must recognize the balancing act that's ahead of me, and charge ahead anyway. I will continue to try eating healthily, but will also allow myself to indulge from time to time (mmm, chocolate). And I'll keep working out, but won't allow myself to go crazy with it. And I will remind myself that I am beautiful, even with some fat on my bones - always have been, and always will be.

And I might stop fasting from junk food. Every time I do that, I think it's for God, but really, it's for my gut (in ever-futile hopes of its shrinkage). :)


  1. Anonymous9:55 PM

    Well, I've told you about my grandma's crazy, consistent messages since I hit puberty or so that the worst thing that could happen to a girl is getting fat. Always infuriated me. :o)

    I still think your new-found muscle-ness is awesome, by the way. I need to do that before the wedding. :o)


  2. What if you were able to carry me over the threshold?



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