Exercise is not punishment, and eating is not a punishable offense
This week I saw a picture of myself at our son’s wedding that sent me down a shame spiral. Despite my $200 worth of hair and make-up (which looked fabulous) and the amazing blue dress (with cold shoulders and in the perfect shade of blue for my complexion) I was mortified. All I saw was my bulging belly, protruding butt, and omg was that the outline of my thigh? Then a funny thing happened.
After the tears and some time, I saw my own softness. I saw myself strong in a new way - not in a “I can beat the crap out of you if you come near me” way, which, honestly I had been striving for most of my life, but in a “I’ve got this” way. I see confidence in my eyes and in my body that I wasn’t feeling when I first looked at the picture, but it’s real, and the shame is just so much old news.
Nina Tames is right. My body is bloody poetry.
I just want to say: thank you for this writing! I've only been subscribed for a few months, but between this newsletter and Heather Havrilesky's newsletters I feel so much better this year about the holidays. I didn't realize how soothing it would be to read writing (and user comments!) that simply *acknowledged* that the holidays aren't comforting for everyone, and that some people actually need MORE support during this time---not less.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and News Years are consistently the most difficult time of year for me, and the newsletter has made me feel calmer this time around.
Anne: i hope you have a lovely and restful holiday season, and thanks for your work!
My grandma would tell me as a very young child how fat I was at Thanksgiving. While my brother was encouraged to have seconds or thirds -- I was asked if I really needed to eat all of that on my plate. I was seven. That's when I learned how to be ashamed of my body and that's stuck with me for the whole of my life. I try hard to say like fuck it - and I live in a fat body and work hard to not apologize for taking up space. But it's super hard. and I still hear my grandma telling me I shouldn't eat so much at thanksgiving because I was already fat. I remember hearing that and the the mashed potatoes turning into ashes in my mouth.
I get on the HAES soapbox at family gatherings because I'm fat, disabled, and a loudmouth. Holiday meals were not fun growing up bigger than most of my family. I tried to shrink myself for so long and spent waaaay too much time and effort in the attempt (spoiler alert: it didn't work and I suspect I'm fatter than I would have been if I hadn't weight cycled for 15+ years).
I'm so tired of diet culture sapping precious time with relatives I don't get to see very often. I remember meeting family by marriage and listening to two people spend half an hour talking about butter and butter alternatives. There are more entertaining, less alienating things to talk about. Tell me about your hobbies, your pets, there is so much more to a person than their diet and exercise regimens.
Food is culture in my family, so to hate it would be to deny who we are. I love who we are. I also love to begin the day with a run outside because the air out there makes me feel alive, and a deep breath is the best way to start anything. I hope we can do all the things that are good for our bodies and souls, whether they be movements or meals.
I know this wasn’t a piece that really delved into the science of dieting and weight loss but the thing that gets me is that the body is keeping score - restricting calories is basically a straight line to a fucked up metabolism and survival strategies to keep as many calories as possible. Temporarily people may be able to drop some weight by underfueling but at some point it all adjusts and comes rushing back.
And that’s the thing! In science classes you learn: a calorie is a unit of energy. It’s energy! It’s science!
Thank you so much for writing this. There is no weight low enough to stop the criticism. When I was in middle school my grandfather criticized me for eating “too much” ice cream. I was 5’8” and weighed 105 pounds at the time. (It wasn’t an eating disorder—I had just had a growth spurt.) When I was a college freshman, a boyfriend monitored my eating because he didn’t want me to get “too fat.” I was 5’10” and weighed 130 pounds at the time.
People who criticize us for what we eat and for how our bodies look will never be satisfied, no matter what we do. It’s time to tell them to knock it off and leave us alone.
I am just lucky that my mom brought me up to enjoy eating healthy food and not to worry about weight. I don’t know how she managed to escape the toxic voices she grew up hearing, but she gave me a tremendous gift in not passing them down to me. Let’s all do the same! Let’s enjoy our food, and our bodies, with gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanks for this! When I was introduced to HAES at WisCon about 5 years ago, it was a revelation: You mean I don't have to be ashamed of my body because it's not ready to appear on the cover of Men's Health? I can buy clothes that I like and that are comfortable *now* rather than waiting until I'm "my proper size" (as my grandfather-in-law always put it)? It was amazing! But diet culture is so prevalent that I *still* need periodic reminders of this. So thanks for this post! I've got 3 pies ready to go for tomorrow and I plan to have a piece of each - and to do my damnedest not to feel bad about it!
I am running a turkey trot in the morning because I love running and eating two slices of pumpkin pie later (along with all of the other yummy foods) because I love pumpkin pie. Do they cancel each other out? Who knows and who cares!
I am NOT looking forward to all of the attention and comments I will get tomorrow about my 2021 weight loss, my run, my eating two slices of pumpkin pie, because they will come at it from every direction. The approach that I think I will take is to kindly explain that my "weight loss secret" has been a five year process of listening to my body and adjusting accordingly with the help of my doctors. Yes, there were periods where I went fully abstinent on some foods, and I am strategic about when I eat certain things and exercise, but that's because of my chronic health issues and me using food and exercise also as medicine, so your mileage may vary because all bodies are different.
(I realize I don't have to give an explanation, but I think that for my family, this one gives enough information with grace.)
This is a great post. Interesting how often people are so ready to pass judgement on other people's bodies, minds, souls, and clothes. Whatever. Glass houses and motes in the eye.
I wish to extend the subject of earning a meal, though. Do you think god requires poor, homeless, desperate people in places run by religious organizations to pray and/or listen to sermons in return for food, shelter, or clothing? I think god would be delighted that people just reached out to fellow humans BECAUSE they are fellow humans. At this time of year I get endless requests for money to feed the poor; I never send to such groups. No one has to earn food for survival at any time of year.
Thanks for sharing the Nina Tames. Our disable, flawed body as poetry what an idea!
About food and guilt..
Four years ago I moved to the Netherlands (from Central Illinois). Even though there are lots of racial and social issues here, I love how people relate to food. They snack a lot, eat lots of fried snacks, bread and sweets. They even allow chocolate for breakfast (https://www.bustle.com/p/what-is-hagelslag-putting-sprinkles-on-toast-is-the-dutch-breakfast-thatll-bring-joy-to-your-life-13235315). But there's no guilt. They are in a way very Calvinist about it -- moderation and appreciation. Even a small cookie next to a cup of coffee appreciated as if it was a chocolate covered with caramel dipped with honey. There's a Dutch word for this sort of enjoyment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gezelligheid.
Thanks again for writing!
Thank you so much for this. I cried reading it. I'm still getting used to my bigger body while my female family members are obsessed (in very unhealthy ways) with making theirs smaller, and it's really difficult to be with them sometimes. I'm just really grateful to be reminded that I don't need to apologize for the space that I take up.
Taking the time to step back and recognize and label shitty thoughts is one of the only useful things I got out of AA. They call it "stinkin thinkin" and it works for any negative thoughts, not just booze- or food- or body-related ones. Stop, recognize and banish where possible.
Thanks for this! I’m finally digging into all of the wasted time I’ve spent worrying about my size and wishing to change so many things about my body and this year I came across two things that have really been helping me. The first was seeing a Betty Rocker post that said ‘Even if we all ate the same food and did the same exercise we would all have different bodies’ and holy shit, duh. Why had I never seen it that simply before? Also, a Lena Dunham post that said ‘it’s ok to live in your present body without treating it as transitional’. Adding to those your thoughts about your body being your home and taking it all with me into a Thanksgiving that will be spent with kind, generous, stimulating friends who fill me up in all the nourishing ways, not just with food.
Love this so much and now's a good time to thank you for regularly sharing Virginia's newsletter. I subscribed a couple weeks ago, read every post in her archive, and found myself a changed person. Healing my relationship to food, eating, and my body has been the hardest and best work I've ever done.
“ There’s a whole essay to be written the tendency, when faced with a character limit, to reduce identity to your relationship to the young children in your life (there’s also a whole lot of Grams/Granny/GMa tags).”
I feel like this would go hand in hand with looking at why so many people put only their kids as their Facebook profile picture.
On a sort of related note, is it worth it to just get the Peloton app only for the exercise classes?