Yesterday, I wrote about how difficult self care is especially when you struggle with lifelong codependency issues. I mentioned how another difficult aspect of learning self care is how intertwined it can get with the diet mentality.
This is also another great struggle of mine. Self care and the diet mentality are tangled worse in my head (and I would guess, many others’) than the Christmas lights we retrieve from the attic after we just ripped them off the tree, bundled them up, and threw them carelessly into the attic.
The media often tells us being thin is self care because fat equals high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and a slew of other things that, in reality, can happen to anyone of any size, age, weight, and etc.
We are told to eat a “clean diet” consisting of things like organic produce, whole grains, cage free eggs, pasture fed beef, and more. We are also told to exercise daily, drink water, take vitamins, and wear sunscreen.
There is nothing wrong with eating those foods, exercising, or any of the other on their own. They are good things to do if you are physically and emotionally able and have the financial means to do so.
But weight loss is not self-care. Or it is not the main focus. It can’t be. If it is, there will always be this unnecessary pressure we put on ourselves to have a body we may not be meant to have, and that in itself is not self-care. That can lead to self-loathing, low self-esteem, low self-compassion, and can severely affect our relationships with ourselves and those closest to us.
I am a lifelong member of the “When I’m thin…” club. I’ve been trying to cancel that membership for years, but it is worse than those emails you never subscribed to that still come to your inbox regardless of how many times you request to unsubscribe and report as spam.
Because of this, it is so hard for me not to connect taking care of myself with weight loss and dieting. This is especially so right now as I am close to my highest weight ever and being horribly triggered by it because of memories of how I was treated when I weighed this much 14 years ago. My impatience with my body to drop this weight runs hot and fast through my veins. I feel myself getting desperate and wanting to throw myself back in the world of dieting even though at the same time, that small voice I mentioned a couple of entries back is asking me, Why is it really bothering you so much to be this size? Why can’t you sit with those feelings for a few minutes instead of trying so hard to ignore your body and treat it pretty much how you fear others will treat it – like it’s temporary, with disgust and harsh criticism?
I am back here for a reason. Yes, I’m sure part of it is getting older, being more sedentary, having several hormonal imbalance issues, emotional eating, and allowing myself the foods I have told myself were bad for so long and restricted myself from having. But I think there is more to it. I believe we keep going through things until we really sit down and learn from them. The more we squirm and avoid what is really going on, the longer the issue will last.
And for me, it is that belief that started generations before me that I cannot be feminine, beautiful, sexy, desirable, and have the life I want in this body unless it is smaller. Where I am proud to have my mom’s soft round cheeks (facial cheeks here, haha) and my father’s strength and sturdy build, I am still struggling with the shame of also inheriting my dad’s big round belly and thick calves and my mom’s small breasts and flat butt even though I don’t feel ashamed of them for having them. Why am I ashamed? Because I’ve been told they’re wrong, gross, and ugly on my body, sometimes from the people I inherited them from.
Self-care, to me, has always been something that the thin version of me gets. She gets bubble baths in a tub she fits nicely in, nice soft clothes, beach trips, good sex, dance classes, and more. She deserves them. She worked hard for them. She is beautiful, lean, fit, strong, and sexy.
On the other side, I get calorie counting, zero sugar or bread, exercise that damn near kills me and that I dread, and disappointment with myself and my body every morning when I step on the scale and see it hasn’t budged, I’m still fat.
This doesn’t mean I’ve always treated myself like this. I eat ice cream and pizza. I have taken belly dance and Zumba classes and even performed in front of a crowd (though I’m scared to dance alone in front of John). I’ve even had some pretty good sex with a man who wants to leave the lights on and see and touch every part of me. But there’s still this part of me that feels wrong, like how do I get any of these things? It tells me sure, I guess you can have them but don’t enjoy them too much because the fat version of you doesn’t deserve any of these things. Or it tells me that John is picturing someone else or the thinner version of me and tells me I can’t speak up for myself because how dare I try to derive any pleasure from my fat body.
This sounds so awful, right? It feels awful too, and I have carried this feeling with me for most of my life. Being told not to enjoy the foods I love. Being told I have to exercise to make up for how I eat and there’s no enjoyment in it. Being belittled and having all of my insecurities being brought out in comments about how I walk and carry myself and told no “normal” man could ever love me unless I’m thin and that I could never truly be happy unless I am thin.
So how do I break up this connection in my mind? How do I stop connecting self-care to dieting and weight loss? How can I allow myself to be feeling loved and desired in my body as it is?
I think part of it is seeing everything I’ve recognized here as self-care. I am paying attention to my body and all of the pressure, resentment, disappointment, disgust, and fear I feel. I think it is actually noticing myself. Maybe not yet loving myself or even accepting my body as it is, but saying, “Hey, I see you.”
It is actually sitting with the discomfort I feel in my heavier body. Telling John what is going on when I start shutting down. Not dissociating during sex but actually allowing myself to feel him touching and connecting with me and the intimacy that is strengthened between us during that time. Moving my body when I want to. Catching myself when I start thinking about how much I’ve eaten that day and just acknowledging that I was hungry (or maybe I wasn’t, but something in me wanted whatever it was I ate).
It is definitely not being so critical of myself.
One of the things I think about a lot is how I don’t want to get to 80 years old and be like, Damn, I really spent my whole life worrying so much about my body and size that I didn’t really get to do or enjoy all of the things I wanted to do.
It is being present in my body.
It is going to an exercise class after a year-long sedentary period and seeing how tight my muscles are and how much my endurance has decreased and thinking, Okay, this is where I’m at right now. That’s okay. I can regain that flexibility and endurance. I can also, like I did, enjoy the class otherwise. I did my best last night and feel better for it.
I can’t pretend I will ever fully sever that well-worn neural pathway in my brain that equates self-care with thinness or as something I only deserve when dieting, but I can always acknowledge those thoughts and try to redirect them.
How do you define self-care? What are your favorite self-care things to do? How do you disconnect self care from the dieting mentality?