Last month I celebrated an important anniversary. On Sept. 22, 2009, I quit dieting and started eating freely while letting my body-size be what it wanted to be. The size it wanted to be was fatter than I have been for most of my adult life, with the exception of my 2 pregnancies. I worked hard to accept my larger body, and mostly did, except when I didn't.
Also, last month my husband and I took a trip to Las Vegas, where we stayed at Harrah’s, one of the older casino hotels… most of the patrons were middle-aged and also fairly expansive around the middle. Walking the “Strip” you’d think that Vegas was the “city of love handles”… wandering hordes of fat people in sundresses, short-shorts, and tank tops, flesh spilling out of necklines and armholes of their, for the most part, too-tight clothing. And that was just the women. The men sported immense bellies, concealed by baggy t-shirts and shorts. Relatively speaking, I felt relatively sveldt.
Sveldt, that is, until we hit the rarified air-conditioning of the Wynn Hotel...
On our last night in Vegas we ate dinner at the Carnegie Deli at Mirage. Returning from a 3-day jaunt to San Francisco, we had been on the road all day. Breakfast had been a bagel, egg, cream cheese, and sausage patty sandwich at the Best Western in Fresno. At noon we lunched on McDonald’s cheeseburgers, Fritos, and sliced apples in Mojave. A mid-afternoon snack attack required another stop at the Golden Arches in Barstow, for dollar sundaes. So it was your typical road-kill day, with plenty of extraneous calories. Not very hungry by dinner time, we ordered a salmon salad at the Carnegie to split.
The food at the Carnegie Deli was huge. A corned-beef sandwich was beyond anything I have ever seen at the Department of Sandwiches... a 6” thick stack of shaved meat, piled high on fresh rye, served in a precisely balanced pyramid. The sandwich was easily enough for 4 people. A side of fries, heaped on a platter, was enough for 6. At the table closest to us, a Mom, a Dad, and their two kids, a boy and a girl, had ordered 4 such sandwiches. I watched the 12-year-old boy doing his best with his monstrous meal. He managed to eat about ½ of it, and then gave up, exhausted, pushing away his plate and putting his forehead down on the table.
His sister had merely nibbled the edges of her grilled cheese, an immense slab of marbled rye with gobs of orange cheese flowing out the sides... gross to look at and even grosser to eat. The waitress cleared away about ¾ of their unfinished food. (In Vegas, there’s enough food going to waste to feed a small country.)
The Vegas food and flesh parade left me feeling fat and disgusted. I didn’t help that our room had two full-length mirrors... there was no escaping the reality of my belly rolls. On the return flight home, somewhere over the Rockies, I decided that it was time for me to start paying closer attention to how much I am eating. I had a little sit-down with myself. “Self,” I said, “You really don’t want to get any bigger... right? But at the rate you’ve been tossing back the grub, you probably will.”
Mind you, I don’t have anything against fat people. People don’t necessarily choose their size. There’s a branch of my family tree that has inherited the Santa Claus Gene, and there’s a branch that stays skinny while eating like field hands. My genes dictate somewhere in-between those extremes, that is, if I don’t overeat I stay sort of medium-sized... but I have been overeating quite a bit lately. And not just on vacation.
So, for now, I’m embracing a somewhat flawed theory that nevertheless has always made sense to me. Calories-in vs. Calories-out. In other words, if I eat more than I burn, my body will store the excess as fat. I also know that if I put myself in starvation mode, my body will react by slowing down the metabolic fires, so I must keep the fire stoked by eating well and often.
And there’s no reason to change the “what” of what I’m eating. I will continue to enjoy all my favorite foods. I just need to slow down and really savor my food, paying attention and eating until satisfied. Then stop.
I have tried to accept my overweight body, but at this point I’m struggling. Fat acceptance is just fine for folks who actually like living in overweight/obese bodies, but lately, I don't.
Remember, I spent 25 years of my life as a dancer. Except for my two pregnancies, I was lean, fit, and able to leap with ease across a stage. It did require serious calorie restriction to stay that way, and I had a dangerous brush with anorexia in my teens, but I have to admit that part of me really misses my slender body... thin is still my default mode.
Still, when I see an uber-thin gal with dark circles under her eyes, dry skin, dry hair, brittle nails, hiding her waif-like body under a baggy sweatshirt or flaunting her bony figure on the runway, I'm reminded that is the face of anorexia. A place I don’t want to go back to.
When Crystal Renn, supermodel, role-model, and recovered anorexic, stopped starving herself and began eating freely she went from a size 00 to a size 16. She was like a kid in a candy store to which I can relate. When I stopped dieting, for the first time in a long time, I felt the head-rush of freedom. I too, got bigger. But it didn't really bother me, I was too busy enjoying life... every delicious minute of it.
Not only did Crystal eat with abandon, she also abandoned her compulsive, fat-burning, aerobic exercising in favor of hiking and yoga. I too began exercising, not for the purpose of burning calories and losing weight, but because it feels good and it’s good for me.
Ironically, as a plus-size model, Crystal was even more in demand than when she was a straight–size model. When her weight moderated a couple years later, her body stabilizing at a size 6-8, people criticized her for “dieting” as if she was somehow betraying plus-sized women. Some accused her of having slipped back into anorexia. To her critics, she simply responded that it would be equally disordered for her to keep eating the amounts she was eating at size 16. Now, she says, she is at her normal weight... it varies up and down a little, but at size 6-8 she feels like herself.
What Crystal has found, I hope I can find too. I deeply believe that I am entering the next phase of my evolution as a competent eater. I really am doing spectacularly well at choosing foods I like, allowing even “forbidden” foods like chips and chocolate, and accepting my body, even at my current size, most days. So we’ll see about all this, but for now, I have resolved to eat a little less and see if in the next several months there’s a little less of me. Relatively speaking.