Mirror, Mirror: The Weight Loss Lies We Tell Ourselves
I blinked a couple times in disbelief, jiggling the sliding weight marker on the old school scale in the corner of the YMCA. An inch to the right or left, and it would clank down, but the weight it was balanced on couldn’t be right, could it? If I was doing the math correctly, I’d lost 13 pounds since the last time I weighed myself, two months ago.
I hadn’t been trying to lose weight, exactly. I had tried more consciously to lose a few pounds last year, getting up at 5:30 every morning to work out for an hour, but I hadn’t changed my diet much, so, to my disappointment and frustration, the scale never budged. A few months ago I decided to ditch the goal of weight loss and just start eating intuitively. I still exercised because it made me feel good, but I didn’t go crazy about it.
And now here I was, staring at proof that I was shedding pounds, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I was surprised, happy, but more confused than anything: how could I have lost more than 10 pounds without really noticing? And why didn’t it feel like a more momentous occasion?
In all my life, I’ve never really lost weight. While I maintained my weight (or gained), the seemingly unattainable goal of weight loss always hovered just out of reach, bringing with it a bevy of big promises. “Lose 10 pounds and your life will be perfect!” was a message on repeat in the back of my mind, an internal broken record. “Lose 10 pounds and everyone will like you!” “Lose 10 pounds and you’ll be happy!” Even in the face of major life accomplishments — writing a book, moving across the country — my inability to lose weight lingered as proof that I wasn’t good enough. “Sure, you can write a book,” the record said, “but you still can’t lose 10 measly pounds.”
With all this buildup, I always figured that if I ever did lose weight, it would be a HUGE deal. My first pound would be carried away by magical birds, like the ones who dressed Cinderella, and every ounce lost after that would be just as meaningful. I’d spent so much of my life believing that I was always 10 pounds away from happiness — how could that milestone be anything less than life changing?
Staring at the new number on the scale, the number that should have ushered in my long-anticipated perfect life, I realized that all my deeply held beliefs about losing weight were bullshit. Did I feel better? Yes, but only because I was eating healthier and listening to my body. The weight I lost was just a side effect of my new eating habits; it was just … weight. Thirteen pounds of flesh. Nothing more, nothing less.
I’m always struck by how stark and meaningless fat looks when it’s removed from the body. When a medical talk show opens a curtain to reveal 20 pounds of fat, jiggling slightly on a meat scale, I stare at it, transfixed. The host uses the visual aid as an opportunity to admonish the audience for bearing such an unsightly burden. “THIS is what you’re carrying around with you every day,” they say, as the camera zooms in on a single tear rolling down a chubby cheek. “Imagine how great your life would be if you let it go!” This is the only time, however, that the “lose weight and your life will be perfect” message doesn’t rattle me. Instead, these tacky talk show scenes let me see fat for what it is: fat. When it’s removed from all the fucked up cultural messages we have surrounding weight, when it’s removed from all the fucked up narratives in my head, it’s wholly unremarkable. Uncomplicated. Meaningless. There’s nothing about 20 pounds of fat, sitting there on a scale, that will make or break your life; nothing about it that can instantly make you happy or rob you of the ability to love yourself. We’re the ones who assign it that meaning. And we’re the ones who can take that meaning away.
Besides the fact that my jeans are a bit looser in the waist, my life is exactly the same now as it had been 13 pounds heavier. It’s exactly the same as it would be 30 pounds heavier, or 50 pounds lighter. My body is a tiny bit smaller, but I am still me. Standing on the scale in the corner of the YMCA, clad in sweaty spandex, every expectation I’d ever had about losing weight fell away, until only the truth remained: whatever the scale says, whatever the size of body, I will always be me.
For 28 years, I’ve lived with a broken record in my brain, reminding me that I’m always 10 pounds away from a perfect life. It took losing those 10 pounds for me to realize how much that belief — that lie — was weighing me down. It’s time to smash that record, gather up the scattered shards, and pile them on a scale.
“THIS is what I’ve been carrying around with me every day,” I’d like to tell one of those smug talk show hosts, “this fucked up idea that I’m not allowed to be happy until I lose weight.”
Imagine how great all our lives would be if we just let it go.
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