Hi lovely readers,
Happy Thursday! The weekend is almost here! Today I’m going to discuss an part of life that we all encounter, and that I’ve had experience with recently: weight gain/fluctuation. TMI, but I take a birth control pill that’s seasonal, so I only get my period once every 3 months. It is my least favourite part of every season, as I experience dramatic mood swings and constant and extreme hunger. Usually I try to fight it by eating as often as I need to but eating healthy foods, but this past month my cravings were so bad and I felt so emotionally exhausted, I just caved in. Over the span of 2 weeks, I gained 12 pounds. I was actually legitimately outside of the healthy range for my height (not that that is actually technically an accurate measure of what one’s ideal weight is- your BMI is just a guideline).
Rationally, I knew that once I started my period my appetite would decrease, my energy would increase, the cramps would cease and I could walk everywhere again, and I’d lose the weight. But every time I was getting dressed in the morning, and it took a lot of effort to get the clothes that usually fit me perfectly on, I felt like crying. I avoided mirrors when I had to strip to shower, and even looking at my face while doing my makeup brought up thoughts like “I’m ugly” “I’m so bloated” and “I don’t even look like myself”. I didn’t feel pretty for even a moment for about a week, and though I’m not someone who ordinarily has exceptionally high self-esteem, I don’t worry excessively about my appearance most of the time.
I have PMS for about 2.5 weeks as the hormone levels in my body decrease with lower dosages of my birth control pill, and by week 2 I was simply fed up with feeling so poorly about myself. I started googling how other people come to terms with their ever-changing bodies, and I found some interesting tips/concepts to share with my readers.
The first thing I found helpful, which seems obvious and yet truly impacted me, was the notion that who we are is entirely separate from the weight we carry. In our lives, we take on many roles, and none of them have anything to do with the number the scale shows us. I am a daughter, a student, a sister, a friend, an employee, a pet owner, etc. When people meet me, do I really care about getting to know them if their only impression of me is “she is thin and attractive”? No. But prior to really contemplating what I’d read, I felt like one of those roles was to be a “thin woman”.
And there is some validity to that. In our society people, unfortunately, have been programmed to believe that carrying extra weight implies negative things about you. It means you’re lazy, it means you’re indulgent and careless, it means you’re not hygienic, it means you can’t manage your life and you don’t take care of yourself. These prejudice is utterly unfounded; people carry extra weight for a number of reasons. It can be genetic, in my case, hormonal, it can be for a lack of time to dedicate to self-care, and what the hell is wrong with the possibility that someone simply doesn’t care to cater to beauty standards and enjoys indulging in the foods they truly enjoy?
I have heard the argument made many times that this judgement comes from the notion that if you are overweight, you are consuming too much food or unhealthy food, and as health is the key to living a long and productive and happy life, we view people who are heavier as harmful to themselves, and, as I’ve heard argued by some people, to their children who might adopt the same ‘unhealthy’ habits and to the public, who, upon seeing a plus size model on a billboard, might decide it’s okay to eat whatever they want. I call bullshit. When I was younger, primarily in high school and the beginning of university, I had a very fast metabolism. It was hard to gain weight. And yet I was treating my body absolutely horribly – I binge drank most days, I was doing drugs, and most mornings I’d wake up hungover and eat poutine or McDonald’s. I was underweight for a period of time, and then eventually at the lowest end of my BMI. By society’s weight standards, I looked ‘healthy’. But I was sick all the time, had a terrible iron deficiency, fainted constantly, and had absolutely no energy.
I went for a full physical check up at the start of my PMS, and I walked into the doctor’s office feeling bloated and incredibly down on myself. I wore my baggiest workout clothes and when it was time to be weighed, I insisted I at least take off my shoes to hopefully save myself from reading any extra pounds on the scale. They asked me to run on the treadmill for as long as I could at an incline, and carrying the extra weight instantly made my brain assume I couldn’t do it. They asked me to hold a side plank for as long as possible, and I went into it thinking I’d last a few seconds and then collapse with exhaustion.
My results shocked me. I was, in fact, the healthiest I’d been in my entire adult life. My organs all functioned perfectly, I was above average for the cardio activity, and actually several levels higher than above average when it came to the results for the side plank. My blood tests all came back normal with the exception of my iron, which is something I’m predisposed to, and now taking supplements for. The doctor told me I was one of the healthiest people that had come through the office.
So what does weight really have to do with health? If anything, dramatic weight gain can be a good reason to go to see the doctor, to find out if it’s indicative of perhaps your thyroid no longer functioning possible, or chronic fatigue, or a number of other things. But often, it isn’t like that at all. Sometimes our bodies ask us to provide them with more calories and nutrients than they used to. During PMS, your cortisol levels are raised which stimulates your appetite, and you produce less serotonin, which always increases your appetite. Your body is telling you what you need.
So, finding out I was entirely healthy and realizing my body is simply trying to communicate what it needs with me was also a catalyst in my body acceptance. If society’s judgement of weight was really about health, then there wouldn’t be severely underweight models in every magazine and advertisement. We’d see people with muscle tone, women with weight around their stomachs (because that is actually a sign of feminine health and fertility), and we’d see people who look happy. Health and weight are not synonymous.
The next piece of advice I have to offer should you experience weight gain, is to shop blindly. When I put on weight, shopping was torture at first. I didn’t feel like I could choose clothes that made me happy to look at or that I thought were stylish and cool anymore; I had to shop for things that would cover my curves and make me look like the version of myself I used to see in the mirror. And every time I found something I wanted to try on, I would pick it up in size small, realize that wasn’t going to fit me before even trying it on, and as I reached for mediums I felt nauseated and tearful.
If I knew how to eliminate that kind of thinking from your brain entirely, I would happily share it and potentially provide the solution to eating disorders for everyone. But I don’t, and I’m not sure anyone has a solution that both solves this disordered thinking, and feels genuine for the person who is suffering. I’ve been given a lot of advice like “just tell yourself you’re beautiful”, “size doesn’t matter – remember that!”, etc. and my immediate internal response is anger at how little that person must understand of the overwhelmingness and pervasiveness of ED thoughts and beliefs. What actually helped me was pretending I was shopping for someone else. Someone I really like, who has my style, and who I want to see look their best. Clothes that fit properly are comfortable and flattering, but if I was shopping for my best friend and we had the same taste I would still want them to stand out, feel pretty, and confident. So I basically dissociate from myself when I’m looking for the right size on the tag, and I pretend I don’t even remember what size I picked up when I’m trying new outfits on. Because I’ve chosen the right size, instead of something too small that makes me feel defeated and angry, or something completely oversized that hides my figure and makes me feel bland and invisible, I look good in what I’ve chosen, and I walk out with my new purchases feeling a sense of excitement to wear them in public.
There are other obvious things, such as working out (not to lose the weight, but to give your body a sense of purpose and strength and to alleviate anxiety around consuming calories), saying affirmations in the mirror, and putting extra effort into other aspects of your appearance so you still feel pretty, but we’ve all heard them before in our own individual battles with weight. But I work best with logical rationalization. I remember where weight ideals came from, I remember that I’m actually very healthy, I remember that there will always be fluctuations, so this isn’t permanent, and neither will my thin periods last forever, and I do like to think about the fact that anyone who decides anything about me based on what my scale reads probably isn’t someone whose opinions in general I really give a fuck about.
Thinking these ways, I feel, may have changed my life permanently. Since starting my period, I’ve lost most of the weight I gained. But I don’t feel any better about myself than I did that second week of PMS when I was ordering a pizza at 11pm and eating it in bed. Honestly, I feel proud of myself for listening to my body, and watching stand up comedy with 6 pieces of mozarella and pepperoni pizza on my lap in the middle of the night was really damn fun.
I also realized, from interactions with other people during this period of weight gain, that I need to do my part more often of practicing awareness around how I approach my friends and really anyone I meet and their weight. In my house, there is a rule that you don’t comment on someone’s body. Ever. For any reason. Not even to say that they have an awesome one. And that is a wonderful rule to stick by. We also don’t make comments about how someone should eat, what’s ‘healthy’ and ‘acceptable’ food, dieting, etc. Since living by these rules I have found myself so much more at peace and I like to think the people around me appreciate it too.
I received a message about a week ago on my Tumblr saying I needed to stop being ashamed of posting pictures of my body at what was then my new weight because “everyone is at a different stage”. It was phrased as though it was meant to be out of love and even used the term “body dysmorphia” as though to indicate there was an understanding of EDs. But in actuality, the message was incredibly triggering, whether it was meant to be or not. Your body is no one else’s business or focus, and neither is how someone chooses to display or hide their figures. Keep it to yourself, because negative body image and eating disordered thoughts are battles many people fight daily. Just like my sex life isn’t your business, neither is what I’ve been eating lately or whether I ‘like myself enough’ to take photos where I feel exposed. Don’t express your own insecurities via input on someone else’s personal experiences.
That’s all for today’s post! I hope for anyone who’s had any difficulty in their lives or just as of late with body acceptance, this post has come at a good time and gives you places to start in terms of seeing more to life, and to yourself, and in others, than the size of your body. Life is too short to suffer with the pressure and pain that comes with diets, negative self talk, and any ED behaviour. I know it’s easier said than done, but aim for progress, not perfection, and I promise you’ll see growth.
I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day and thank you for stopping by. Feel free to leave any comments sharing how you overcome difficulties in this area.
Lots of love,