I Hate Dieting: A Response to “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age”

I said it: I hate dieting. I really do. From the compulsiveness it creates in myself and others to the sanctimoniousness of ex-fat people who can’t seem to talk about anything except how terrible it was to be fat and who consistently find new, innovative ways to throw currently-fat people under the bus, to it’s pervasiveness in modern culture – I hate it. I hate going to parties and talking to women who I know are perfectly intelligent and getting caught in a discussion about weight loss, because suddenly we are no longer saying anything particularly smart or useful. We just repeat a conversation we have had with dozens of other women a hundred times before.

I’ve written a bit here about body image and how fat positivity has changed my life (and, quite frankly, probably saved it in many ways), but I honestly feel like that post was too tame considering my relatively radical beliefs about fat bodies and diet culture. One of those beliefs is that dieting is ugly. It warps people’s brains and twists cultural concepts of what it means to be a worthwhile human being. I know because I’ve been on diets and been given all kinds of weird and terrible diet advice over the years. I will honestly never get over being told by my pediatrician when I was 12 (and pretty normal-sized – I was already at my adult height but I was at an average weight for that height) that I should avoid eating fruit if I was going to be eating lots of sugary things because the extra sugar from the fruit would make me fat. I was shocked. My doctor was telling me to eat less fruit? When she didn’t even know what I ate every day? We barely ever even had juice in the house because of my parents’ concerns about sugar.

That same doctor told me that I needed to try Weight Watchers or maybe go to a support group for fat teens a few years later. I was ashamed and angry at the time, even though a small part of me agreed with her. I was 15 and hated my body, like most 15 year olds. I wouldn’t attempt to take up her advice until I was almost 17 and my father was moving to a small Mediterranean country famous for its limestone beaches. Horrified by the thought of being in a swimsuit in public at my size (which, admittedly, was not small, but  I was certainly not the beast I thought I was), I started Weight Watchers several months before I left. I spent a good portion of my junior year of high school counting points and doing my best not to cheat. I ended up losing about 40 pounds, but I honestly could barely tell the difference. I still felt just as bad about myself as I ever had. I swam that summer and loved it, but eventually quit the program because I just couldn’t keep up the motivation to continue and actually get down to my goal weight of 125 pounds.

Fast forward to a few years later. I had started college and found the fat acceptance movement. (Also, a note here: I believe that while the body positivity movement and the fat acceptance movement have some of the same goals, body positivity has been watered down so much by corporations that it has become meaningless. The body positivity that helped me love myself is not the same body positivity I see everywhere today selling tea cleanses and telling people they need to “get fit.” To be frank, every good thing that body positivity is giving to people now is ground that the fat acceptance movement paved the way for, and did better.) Over the course of the intervening four years since finding the movement, I am a completely different person. Bigger, yes, but also happier. I still have body image issues and really bad days, but my good and neutral days far outweigh my bad ones. I still worry about how other people perceive my body, but that’s a consequence of being fat in a world that is constantly telling me I shouldn’t be. I am more unapologetic about my size than I have ever been.

But stories like “Losing It” still hit me hard. This is one of the passages that really got to me:

 I told Foster that Obesity Week made me sad. First, it was the profusion of educated people in the room studying me and my people as if we were problems to solve. But second, it was because if you have this many hundreds of smart and educated people trying to figure this out, and nobody has anything for me but superfood and behavior modification and an insertable balloon and the removal of an organ, it must be that there is no way to solve fatness.

I felt a twinge in my heart when I first I read that. Because, yes, there’s a tiny part of my brain that has been programmed for 22 years to think that I should be as small as possible who wants a “solution” to my problem. The de-programmed part of me has realized that the solution is loving myself and trying to help others do the same, but being reminded that there are people out there doing their best to find a “fix” for the problem of fatness.

A few paragraphs later, when Brodesser-Akner describes her experience with intuitive eating classes, I almost cried:

I went to an intuitive-eating class — intuitive eating is where you learn to feed yourself based only on internal signals and not external ones like mealtimes or diet plans. Meaning it’s just eating what you want when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. There were six of us in there, educated, desperate fat women, doing mindful-eating exercises and discussing their pitfalls and challenges. We were given food. We would smell the food, put the food on our lips, think about the food, taste the food, roll the food around in our mouths, swallow the food. Are you still hungry? Are you sure? The first week it was a raisin. It progressed to cheese and crackers, then to cake, then to Easter candy. We sat there silently, as if we were aliens who had just arrived on Earth and were learning what this thing called food was and why and how you would eat it. Each time we did the eating exercise, I would cry. ‘‘What is going on for you?’’ the leader would ask. But it was the same answer every time: I am 41, I would say. I am 41 and accomplished and a beloved wife and a good mother and a hard worker and a contributor to society and I am learning how to eat a goddamned raisin. How did this all go so wrong for me?

It was hard for me to read because I’ve been there, and some days I still am there. Our culture has such strange ideas about food and how it’s supposed to be consumed and who is allowed to consume food and how much of it is socially acceptable for them to consume that it seems impossible that there are people in this world that do not have a fraught relationship with the food they consume. I am still working on intuitive eating, especially when I am in a group setting. Intuitive eating is so much easier when there isn’t a potential audience. But I’ve gotten a lot better. Still, though, the idea that eating a raisin is hard is something that I felt deep inside myself. Eating is complicated and difficult.

But this was the moment where the author lost me:

Weight isn’t neutral. A woman’s body isn’t neutral. A woman’s body is everyone’s business but her own. Even in our attempts to free one another, we were still trying to tell one another what to want and what to do. It is terrible to tell people to try to be thinner; it is also terrible to tell them that wanting to lose weight is hopeless and wrong.

I don’t know if diets can work in the short term or the long term. For the first time, I began to think that this was something worth being made crazy over. Our bodies deserve our thoughts and our kindness, our acceptance and our striving. Our bodies are what carry our thoughts and our kindness and our acceptance and striving.

I agree with her first few statements. Women’s bodies aren’t neutral, and it is terrible to try to tell people to be thinner, especially as we are learning more and more that dieting doesn’t work in the long-term except for a very small number of people and that weight cycling like that caused by dieting can be very harmful.

But deciding that dieting is “something worth being made crazy over” and that dieting involves “thoughts and… kindness [and] acceptance and… striving” is honestly appalling to me. Dieting is quite literally the exact opposite of acceptance of one’s body and self. I completely understand where Brodesser-Akner is coming from, but I feel like deciding to give in to something as harmful as the weight loss industry because it allows one to perpetually strive for a “better” self is self-destructive. Accepting disordered eating because it feels like the only option can only end in disaster.

So I want to propose something to anyone who is struggling with being fat or with disordered eating or both: try to be kind to yourself. Self-acceptance comes slowly. And sometimes self-acceptance means that you have to accept that you do not look exactly how you want yourself to. Self-acceptance means changing your expectations of yourself and your goals for who you want to be. It means thinking about what you want for yourself beyond being smaller. It means realizing that you’ve put a lot of time and energy and brain space into thinking about your weight and trying to “fix” it that could probably be better spent thinking about and doing other things. Some examples of small ways that you can be kind to yourself:

  • Push back against negative thoughts. If the part of your brain that likes to say cruel things tells you, “God, that outfit looks terrible on you,” respond back with something like, “It looks fine and I like the color.”
  • Every year, one of my favorite podcasts, The Sporkful does a New Year’s Food Resolution episode. Here’s a link to the 2017 episode. The host, Dan Pashman, encourages listeners to pick a food they want to eat more of each year. This year, my resolution was to eat more fruits and veggies that I hadn’t tried before, and eat them in ways I had not tried them before. It may already be August, but I still think this is something worth trying.
  • Do things that are good for your body just because you like them. I discovered that I really like running, so I do that sometimes. Maybe there are healthy things that you haven’t tried that you really like, like swimming or dancing or roasted brussels sprouts with olive oil and a delicious blend of spices. Maybe there’s a thing you love to do that you’ve been putting off because you think you’re too fat to do it anymore. You should do it anyway. Life is short, and waiting until you’re thin enough to do something might mean you wait forever.
  • Eat some good things just because they taste good and you want them. I mean, sure, moderation in all things, but sometimes you just have to eat a bunch of ice cream. Sometimes you want to buy a whole cake just for yourself. Sometimes you want to make homemade tempura and enjoy the taste. It’s okay. You can give yourself permission to do that sometimes.
  • Take a look at pictures of fat people, and not just ones that are inspiration porn. I recommend blogs like Fat Girls Doing Things or going through hashtags on Instagram like #plussize, #plussizefashion, #fatspo, or #fatpositive. It can make a huge difference to see people who look like you on a regular basis. And, if you’re not fat, this is still something you should do, because we should all be trying to normalize fat bodies.

I know it feels like it, but weight loss isn’t the only answer out there. You can unlearn the vicious things people have taught you to believe about your body. You can have a completely fulfilling life while being fat. There’s another way to do things, and it’s worth trying.

I've been neglecting this space. Luckily, it was for good reason. I just started working full-time for a company I really enjoy working for. I'm still trying to find a rhythm with non-work stuff, but I feel like I'm starting to make some headway.

Even though I haven't been posting much here, I haven't neglected writing completely. I recently wrote a post called "5 Tips That Will Make You A Better Writer" for work that I'm pretty proud of.

I also just recently read "Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age" by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which I found really compelling. I appreciated the personal touch Taffy brought to the story as a person who has tried many different diets, but I also found the dissection of how diet companies and a thinness-obsessed culture have coopted parts of the fat positive movement and started using "body positivity" to sell the same products they've always sold. I have a whole heck of a lot to say about that, so I'll likely be getting up a post about it in the next few weeks.

It’s been a week since I graduated now. I’m only just now starting to feel like I’m coming up for air. I’m still trying to catch up on sleep, still trying to work out a routine for myself. It doesn’t quite feel like freedom yet, but I know it will soon.

I’m trying to figure out my work situation and finances right now and try to put myself in a position where Future Me is comfortable. I’m also trying to give Present Me a break, because Present Me seems permanently exhausted and always just on the verge of a cold. (Dear God, please don’t let it really be a cold.)

On the positive side, I’ve had a lot more time to do things I feel like doing. I’m already halfway through the latest season of House of Cards (it’s killing me, y’all) and I finally got to do some of the main quests in Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I have been playing for 2+ years now! It feels really good to get home and actually relax. No worries about assignment deadlines or applications or papers or projects. My Me Time feels like real Me Time and not time stolen away from me doing productive things. It’s incredible. I spent my Saturday playing Don’t Starve Together and getting my teeth cleaned, which is an ideal Saturday.

Oh, I also started reading Farm City by Novella Carpenter. It’s my latest public transit read and I’m really enjoying it. Definitely an light, easy read that’s right up my alley. Urban gardening? Squat gardening on land that wouldn’t be used otherwise? Creating community with gardening?? Wonderful. I have some issues with some of the implications in the novel re: gentrification, but there’s a lot of stuff that makes it a worthwhile read for me. Definitely check it out.

Also, speaking of reading: I haven’t finished it yet, but I read most of The Abyss Surrounds Us for work and absolutely loved it. It’s a combination of a future and futuristic world that isn’t necessarily any more dystopic than the present world, but still extremely different, kaiju, futuristic pirates, and lesbians. I wish it had come out when I was younger, but I was really glad I got the pleasure of reading it now.

All of this to say: things are not perfect, but they are good, and they feel like they are going to get better.

I made sushi!

And it didn’t turn out half bad!

I used Alton Brown’s sushi rice recipe (x). As I made it, I was really worried it was going to be way too salty and wouldn’t have enough vinegar flavor. I was kind of right – by itself the rice tasted way too salty – but once it had cooled and I had put it into rolls and combined it with all the other ingredients, it didn’t taste bad at all. I definitely still want to tweak the recipe and figure how to get it exactly the way I prefer my sushi rice, but this recipe is a great base.

I ended up putting thinly sliced cucumbers and carrots, imitation crab, and canned tuna into the rolls and they turned out really wonderful considering how quickly I was able to put them together. Honestly, slicing the veggies probably took the longest. (I’m really bad at uniformly slicing anything.) The actual process of rolling everything together was surprisingly easy. I’m planning on making more this week and definitely want to take photos and share the process. I had always been really daunted by the idea of making sushi rolls and I want to show that it’s a lot easier than you’d think.

But for now I need to try and study for my last two sit-down finals and try not to panic. (I just keep telling myself I’m gonna be okay. I have my cap and gown and honors cord already. Even if I do miserably I’m gonna walk across that stage and have my degree. It’s all okay.)

 

Just gonna put this here…

Mostly just so that when I get out of Finals Hell in a few weeks I have a little road map for myself and how I wanna spend my summer. Freedom from academia is so close, y’all, and I’m dying to taste it.

I’ve really been wrestling with whether or not I want to go to grad school right away. There’s a part of me that feels like I should–particularly the part that has already applied and been accepted to two different programs, the part of me that listens to my mom, the part of me that has been excitedly telling family and friends about the possibility of going to school in Ireland in the fall–but there’s a much bigger part of me that is just… tired. I really don’t feel like I could give grad school my all right now. I am academically exhausted. Grad school is definitely something I want to do. I really want to get my Masters and maybe someday even my PhD. I absolutely love school and I don’t think I’ll be able to just have my BA and be done with it. There’s a lot of people telling me “if you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it” but they’re all people who don’t really get pleasure out of school and got a degree to have one. I went to college mostly just because where else was I going to be able to spend four years talking about literature and honing my writing, my research skills, and my ability to read and think critically?

It’s a lot to think about.

But regardless of whether I go back this fall or not, I do want to have some stuff for myself to do and look forward to. I want to spend more time at the library this summer. I have a lot of books on hand that I would like to read/finish, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s come out over the last four years that I’ve missed because I’ve been too busy reading books for class. It’ll be really good to just walk through the stacks and find some cool stuff this summer. I wanna catch up on Walking Dead comics and read more Thomas Harris books.

I also want to spend more time outside. I haven’t been to the beach in years, and the last time I went it was because I was an emotional wreck and seeking solace from sunshine and ocean sounds. I’m ready to go when I’m having a good day. I definitely want to take advantage of Falling Fruit and see what I can find in the parks and slightly more nature-(re)claimed areas of the city. I wanna learn a lot more about plants (yay, more library time!), particularly wild plants. If I end up staying, I might even see if they’ll give me my old garden plot back at Brooks. That spot was amazing and gave me so much space to work with and I’d love to get to use it again, especially since I’d have more time on my hands.

I also want to try and get the apartment in better order. I reorganized the kitchen a while back, but it’s time to do it again, and also scrub the insides of the cabinets, which have this gross film of honey all over them. I wanna get organizers for the spices (we have SO MANY SPICES and we use them all on a pretty regular basis, but it’s so hard to find stuff because it’s all jumbled together) and some can racks.

Also want to prepare an emergency kit/bug-out bag. This is San Francisco and earthquakes happen. I’ve only experienced one while I’ve been here–which I slept through completely–but we are long overdue for a big one and I want to be ready for it when it comes.

And, of course, I want to start looking for work. What that work ends up being depends a lot on whether or not I’ll be staying here or not, but I am looking forward to finding something that suits me. I’ve worked through college so it’ll be a weird experience to be able to walk into places and ask for a little more because I have a degree. I’m so used to having to accept whatever they give me, but now I feel like I have a teeny bit more leverage for negotiation.

I’m excited and tired and really ready to get my life started.

Senioritis

By the end of this month, bar some unforeseen disaster, I’m going to be a college graduate. I’m excited and terrified and not totally certain what the future holds. I’m really leaning toward getting my master’s in Literature right away, but I also want to take a breather.

I’m trying to let my excitement and worry fuel me. I’ve been crippled by senioritis this year, which I didn’t expect because I have always been the type of person who loves school. But for some reason, it has been so much harder to achieve my academic goals. I think it’s just exhaustion after this four-year academic sprint combined with working way too much during the last two school years. I want another 4.0 GPA, but I’m also dying for a really long nap.

Fingers crossed that my desire to achieve wins out, at least for the next couple weeks. Especially when we’re getting beautiful 75-degree weather that has me actually wanting to go outside and play in the rare San Francisco sunshine…


(proof that we actually do sometimes get sun like the rest of California)

Foraging in San Francisco (and Anywhere!)

Summer makes me super nostalgic. I start remembering things like picking blackberries with my cousins by the side of the dirt road leading to my grandma’s house in the Santa Cruz mountains and start wanting to go to the beach. This summer I gave in to my nostalgia more than I usually do and started looking up places to pick blackberries in San Francisco. Which, to someone who has not lived in San Francisco, might seem like a pointless question to ask – why would there be blackberries, or any kind of wild produce, anywhere in the city?

It’s true that the kind of foraging that is easier in more suburban and rural areas is a little bit harder in San Francisco. We don’t have nearly as many “wild” areas that are more natural than man-made. A quick stroll through some of the more wooded areas of Golden Gate Park, though, and it’s clear that San Francisco has all kinds of produce growing wild. The hardest part is knowing exactly where to look for what you want.

This is where sites like FallingFruit.org come in. Falling Fruit is a crowd-sourced project where people can post the locations of foods that they have found growing wild and share them with the rest of the world. (They also have an app for both iPhones and Androids! I’m not sure how much it is on the Android, but it’s $3.99 in the App Store.) And people have posted nearly two thousand different kinds of foods – mostly edible plants, but also things like crawdads and abalone – and their locations all over the world.

Screenshot (1)

(Most of) San Francisco on the Falling Fruit map

This is a super useful tool for novice foragers like me, especially ones who live in urban areas and don’t really know where to start. I now know that there are three specific locations where I can find blackberries within San Francisco’s city limits just based on a really easy search, and I know that if I ever find wild produce elsewhere, I can post the location to Falling Fruit so that others are easily able to locate it. Gotta pay it forward.

In my research, I also found another really neat site that I’m hoping to make some use of in the future: RipeNear.me.

Screenshot (2)

The RipeNear.me homepage

This site seems to be a bit more in its infancy (my editor-self had to give it a chance despite some typos throughout the site), but is still a really useful tool if you’re interested in trying to find food (often free, very cheap, or up for barter) grown by your neighbors. I’m about to post some pineapple sage that we have growing in our plot that produces way more than we could ever consume ourselves. I’m hoping to eventually put up some tomatoes this summer, and maybe other produce in future years. The thing I’m most excited about is the one beekeeper in the city who has put her hive’s products up for barter. I’m crossing fingers that I can get some local beeswax from her in exchange for some of the beeswax-based perfumes and bath products I’ve made.

My Body Is A Good Body

Working out has never been my favorite thing. I have a whole lot of baggage surrounding exercise and dieting and have dealt with a lot of emotional pain as a result of being a fat person in a family obsessed with discussing their latest diets and workouts.

But I feel like I’m over a kind of self-loathing hump. 

I’ve been fat for a long time, and felt fat and been worried about becoming fat for even longer. I’ve had a lot of days where I’ve absolutely loathed my body. I remember doing some clothes shopping (online, because trendy stores like to try and keep us fat girls out) just last year and sobbing because I felt so ugly and worthless and was so hyperaware of how much the fashion industry and the world hated my body.

The last few months, though, I’ve come to a greater place of self-acceptance. I can look at myself and not freak out over my chubby cheeks or my double chin or fat belly. I’m starting to see myself as I am in the mirror again. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and I… don’t really have feelings about it. I just am. And it feels really freeing.

I’ve been following the body positive and fat positive communities for a few years. This is the first time where I’ve really felt like the rhetoric of those spaces applies to me. I feel like my body is a good body worth putting time and effort into. Seeing photos on instagram of the folks lifting at Lacy J. Davis and her partner’s gym, Liberation Barbell, has been a huge source of inspiration. Seeing photos of fat women doing yoga, dancing, running, swimming, and hiking over the years has made me capable of being curious about what my body might be able to accomplish without added negative junk. 

So for the past several weeks, I’ve been making an effort to work out. I’ve only pulled off two workouts so far – I set myself back with an unrelated sprained ankle – but I’m excited to keep going. I love my body and have thought for a long time about how cool it would be to be stronger, so I’m trying to act on that. It feels really amazing and freeing and positive to not have my exercise routine tainted with thoughts of “toning” my chunky arms or “burning fat away.” I have literally never engaged in a fitness activity purely for internal benefits or for something like strength rather than with an expectation (even if I won’t admit it out loud) of weight loss, and of my life becoming better because I take up less space.

I deserve to take up space, even in a gym where people think my fat ass doesn’t belong. 

Beer Trap: The Latest Weapon in the Snail War

Finally got back to the garden after a week of heavy rain. We just planted some new plant babies recently (dragon carrots, tomatoes, a few different kinds of lettuces, and kale) and I was really excited to see how they were doing. More specifically, I was excited to see whether the beer trap we’d set before the rain started had worked and actually captured some slugs.

It did.

And it was freakin gross.

If you’ve never heard of a beer trap but are curious about how they work, I’d recommend looking here (x). It’s a WikiHow article, but it’s pretty informative. Basically, you stick a shallow, smooth container filled with cheap beer into a snail- and slug-infested garden. The slimeballs can’t resist the scent of the yeast and crawl into the container and drown themselves in cheap, yeasty alcohol.

I’ll spare you photos (I couldn’t bring myself to take any to be honest), but it was… nasty. But! The beer trap worked! Some plant babies still got nommed on, but as far as I could tell that was caterpillars or other pests rather than the snails we usually deal with. I’m going to have to research other forms of pest control since we do our best to keep our garden organic and free of pesticides and other contaminants. I’m happy with the trap for the moment. I’m still trying out other natural alternatives to pesticides, like spreading crushed eggshells all over the surface of the garden (snails hate that) or lining the edge of the raised bed with copper, but since the beer trap is a pretty cheap, simple solution, I’m not about to try and fix what isn’t broken.