Content Note: This piece discusses a lot of weight loss & body issues, which may be sensitive for some people. It’s also just, like, p depressing and a major downer.
Is healthy drinking a glass of sparkling water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar?
Is healthy fasting intermittently, sometimes for 16, 18, 20, or 36 hours? Or one time, for four days?
Is healthy weighing yourself everyday, or not weighing yourself everyday?
Is healthy giving up carbs or eating whole grains?
Is healthy tracking your intake or eating intuitively?
Is healthy accepting that you’re always going to be a little overweight?
Is healthy always striving to fix yourself?
Is healthy taking supplements?
Is healthy waking up with an alarm or just saying fuck it and sleeping in because you don’t have a 9am meeting?
Is healthy crying about your body and your weight?
Is healthy owning a scale and a cloth tape measure and a full-length mirror?
Is healthy eating dinner with your friends or saying you already ate?
Is healthy drinking 8 cups of water a day?
Is healthy taking a break from social media and news?
Is healthy eating brown rice?
Is it healthy to be alive, really, when there are so many different ways you can mess it up?
The only time I really ever felt healthy in my entire life is when I was waking up most weekday mornings around 5am to go to a hot yoga class. I know, it sounds gross and impossible, even to me right now writing this, but believe it or not I fell in love with that practice for a year. I appreciated that yoga instructors would challenge people not to be hard on themselves, sometimes almost aggressively so, challenge people to listen to their bodies and dump negative thoughts from their heads and just do the child’s pose instead of being angry at yourself for being unable to hold some severe twist. I am aware that yoga, a South-Asian tradition, has a myriad of ways that it has been appropriated and capitalized on and marketed in the U.S., and embroiled in no small number of scandals such as inappropriate touching from instructors. And yet in spite of all of that I found yoga to be an important practice to me, something that I craved in spite of the membership price tag or the waking up early or whatever else it was. Despite all the jokes people might tell about young urban professionals or young women in yoga, despite even the legitimate criticisms about cultural appropriation, whatever my studio was doing was working for me, and that was something sacred that I did not want taken away (though of course those critical conversations are necessary). Despite people who might call it “basic” or friends who might make lighthearted fun of how often I would encourage it and invite them to my studio, it had become a pillar in my life.
That was the first and the last time that I might have approximated something like comfort in my own body, despite the fact that my weight and my clothing sizes mostly stayed the same. It was cut off suddenly by the pandemic, of course. I tried for a while to do online classes from home but it just didn’t feel the same. There was something important about the togetherness for me, the human energy even when I didn’t really talk to the other attendees and only chatted lightly with the instructors. There was something about being there with people, seeing the regulars and greeting the instructor. I couldn’t find motivation from virtual connection — I just couldn’t. The thing that was powerful about in-person yoga was that I never really had to force myself to go. I was never not motivated, where I’ve fallen out of motivation so many other times in my life when I’ve pursued other diet and exercise practices.
And pursue other practices I have. I have tried the gym and team sports and crash diets and keto. I have tried taking long walks and drinking water and counting calories. I have tried giving up sugar and intermittent fasting and extended fasting and HITT workouts. I have tried ‘aggressive’ and ‘slow and steady’.
The time I had felt most successful in the pursuit of weight loss was in 2016 when I was under the cloud of a deep depression. I lost about 20 pounds over the course of one summer, but it didn’t last. I gained it back the following school semester. It involved a lot of drinking green juice and coffee for breakfast and using the elliptical at the gym for an hour every day at lunch time. I restricted calories, but I did nothing close to anything truly dangerous and for more hardcore people it could hardly have been labeled much more than a basic diet. But it took up a lot of mental space, and mentally I was in a very bad place. I have never had truly dangerous thoughts, but at that time I certainly wanted to stop existing, if I could have simply willed myself into nonexistence. I was trying to will a significant physical change so that people might see me for how I felt on the inside, wretched and awful instead of cheerful and normal and well-adjusted, which is all that people not looking too closely might see in anyone. And sometimes it felt like my body fat somehow obscured my emotional state, as though that was responsible for distorting my facial expressions and the way I talked and how I presented myself. Needless to say I did not lose enough weight and so my family and community congratulated me on how great I looked afterward.
At some point later on I had the epiphany that I had actually never associated being skinny with being healthy. Instead if I had wanted to be skinny, I had wanted everyone to see me skinny and sick, to see that everything they said (‘they’ being family members, mean kids from grade school, society) about needing to lose weight to be healthy was wrong. Because if I lost a lot of weight and looked great, looked healthy, ‘they’ would never learn. In a strangely positive twist, I associated looking pretty close to the way I normally do with being healthy, and what I really wished was that other people would just let me be — although I also recognize much of this has been internalized to the point that “other people” is now mostly me in my head yelling at myself. I also know that much of this internalized body-hatred is borne of growing up in a mostly white area where my body type, my face, my person, was seen as abnormal and extremely unattractive, and no amount of people telling me that I am beautiful or desirable, even now, is able to undo the trauma of being an ugly duckling.
It is possible to be self-aware and still have no idea how to fix your mindset.
This pandemic has been a very difficult time to keep feelings of self-hatred and body-hatred in check. I am trapped inside and unable to move. In 2020 when I was still trying at life, I performed several rigorous online workout programs in my living room, and, at the same time, reached my highest weight ever. I stopped the exercise at the same time that I tried to get my diet in check. I lost more weight after ceasing daily exercise.
After losing the “quarantine weight” — which, again, was gained concurrently with a rigorous HITT exercise regimen — I reached my typical weight range and plateau’d. For some reason that sent me into a mental spiral worse than the initial weight problem in the first place. I came back from the holidays with weight gain and fasted for four days to return to my normal weight range. And it wasn’t enough — I still just felt shitty and stagnant and like I wasn’t making progress, even though what had happened was simply numbers going up and then, successfully, down again; I should have been proud of that.
I don’t know, it was really probably multiple things. It was probably pandemic winter and February and the death of my friend. It is probably the current feeling of stagnation in life, and the fact that this is one of few things I can currently fixate on improving. I asked myself the other day if I would trade five years of my life for the perfect body, for the ability to edit myself like a Bitmoji. Some days the answer is a definite yes.
I read the book This is Big by Marisa Meltzer early on in 2020. It is a sort of dual memoir-biography of both the author and Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers. It addresses how impossible it feels to lose enough weight to reach an ideal body type next to how impossible it is to suddenly love and embrace your body after a lifetime of being programmed to hate it — and in the face of a society that still programs you to hate it. Most prominent is that tension of you, yourself wanting to lose weight, and yet you, yourself, also wanting society to change, to fix itself, for people saying rude things to fat people to be more socially unacceptable and for models and fashion to be more representative of the general public.
I woke up one day this month after drinking half a bottle of wine the night before to desperately, impulsively purchase a 6-month subscription to Noom, an online weight loss app and coach, something I have never done before in my life. I keep spreadsheets tracking my weight and eating habits; February has been a disaster and I felt defeated. Losing weight is very simple, maintaining motivation right now feels impossible, and allegedly this app is supposed to help you do that.
It is not so much that any of my patterns of behavior, at face value, are particularly unhealthy in any direction. It is really that the mental space they take up feels enormous, and that feels unhealthy. And yet I am so reluctant to let go of the cycle of trying and failing because part of me feels certain that were I to stop, I would wake up one day weighing 600lbs. Consistently practicing yoga was simultaneously good for my mental health and also felt like a sort of insurance, that at least if I was this active on a regular basis I could take some time to think about nutrition in a slow, sane manner without as much anxiety about what eating could do to me.
To some of you it might come as a surprise that women actually don’t talk about this with each other. We may speak generally and distantly about weight loss and health goals, but we guard our inner thoughts about it to private or anonymous spaces. My female friends have not really vented to me about how defeated they feel by their weight, and I have never really vented to them about it either. There have been moments here or there, but never in the raw, visceral way that has happened with other topics, where I’ve comforted people in tears about issues of family, academics or career struggles, life. I am certain it is not just me who feels this way, who feels just as badly about this as any other issue that I have cried over with some of my friends. But I know it is probably less of an issue for some women and more so for others.
At a desperate attempt to motivate myself in my February habit-tracking spreadsheet, I wrote sarcastically that “all i want for my birthday is weight loss”, and after a couple weeks it became apparent that a birthday miracle was not going to happen. Between the stress and confinement of February winter, the worst month of the year, a month that was full of weekly snowstorms — with long enough gaps so that it gets gross and disgusting in the city and just as the snow is starting to finally disappear it snows again — I had ceased to be able to think positively about the future. What exactly was I looking forward to anyway — looking better in my sweatpants? I am skeptical that this will ever really end. How long until everyone is vaccinated? Even after that, how long until we can really return to normal? Even after that, how long until the next pandemic? After this, isn’t it going to just keep getting worse, pandemics and wildfires and snowstorms, given the ongoing climate crisis that we’ve been warned about for the last 50 years? What exactly is there to be improving oneself for?
The thing that keeps me sane is that I know the passage of time will fix some things. I know, deep down, that something as simple as warmer weather in March will improve my mood pretty drastically — I don’t normally suffer from seasonal depression, but obviously, with social activity right now so tied to outdoor weather conditions, this year is different. And I will be able to go outside more often and be more physically active, and that will probably have a minor impact on my weight, and then maybe I won’t feel so lost and pointless and hopeless. A gift I have been granted in this life is the ability to just grit my teeth and turn off my brain so I can make it through, and I can be in this state of emotional hibernation for a long time. It’s just that it requires writing, and wine, and chocolate, and cooking, and naps, and crying on my period, and none of these have been great for the numbers on the scale. I assume, for right now, that as badly as I feel about my body, general survival takes precedence. I impulsively purchase a subscription to a weight loss app and drink water and go back to my life, whatever that is, the daily waiting for all this to end.
(everyone says this, but im forreal gonna delete this later)