A little over a week ago, when talking about my feelings around having gained weight recently, I said to my wonderful therapist that what I’m trying to do is “love myself even harder” as I go through this familiar cycle. The idea, and the intensity with which I said it, made us both laugh.
I’ve talked about it before, and for me, there’s this range of sizes I’ve been in my adult life, from 16-26, to put it in a concrete way, and mostly for the past 10 or so years, I’ve been hovering between 18-24, and even more of the time, between 20-22. I’m short, and for me, smallish changes in fatness translate into relatively large changes in clothing size. So, I’m now at the higher end of sizes in my closet, and again finding myself grateful that I’ve functioned like my own thrift shop, hanging onto clothes that were too big or too small, not because those smaller sizes “might fit someday” and not ridding myself of the larger sizes because “I don’t want to be that size again” but because I realize that for me, “normal” consists of these fluctuations, depending on what I have happening in my life.
In an odd way — “doing better” for me often seems to correspond to being on that larger end, at least temporarily. What the cycle seems to be for me is that depression causes me to lose interest in things and energy for things I love to do. Usually, over time, this means I grow smaller, and while that is sort of nice, it’s also not at all nice to be in that depressed place. Grief, too, tends to cause me to abandon good eating habits, which leads to growing smaller.
As I come out of depression and low energy (regardless of the reason) — I almost always grow fatter. Food tastes good again. I find myself feeling hungrier and doing more, in terms of physical activity. I am busy and want to take on more and more — I sometimes find the surge of energy makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning, sometimes before I’ve really had enough sleep — and I find myself worn out by the end of the day, in good and not so good ways.
Reading that, it sounds like I must be bipolar. But I know bipolar, and, at worst, this might be a mild, sub-clinical bipolar, I guess. But mostly I think it’s just my own particular rhythm. The kind of mania I tend to have is relatively benign, and I’ve learned how to not drive the others in my life crazy by adding more and more to my plate when I’m “up” and then letting things go when I’m “down” — more I try not to take on more when I’m energized than I think I can handle when I’m not.
But it’s interesting to me that the “up” part of the cycle — the smile rather than the frown, so to speak — is associated initially with weight gain. And in the past, this weight gain would bring me back down, sometimes to a middle place, and sometimes down into depression. And, with growing older, and deliberate work, I have noticed that the added fatness isn’t “bringing me down” so much as I’m curious about it, and wondering what’s driving it*, and wondering if for me in particular, the behaviors that lead me to eat more are connected to this cycle in ways I might want to change.
For me, being in that “middle place” when it comes to weight/size/fatness feels best, but I don’t feel as though I can control whether I’m there or not, or not entirely. I know that being on the lowest end of my fatness range is sometimes sort of fun, like being on vacation, but I don’t stay there for long, and most of the time, it’s the result of a prolonged grieving process. So, getting back to the middle is a healthy thing for me, and that means getting a bit fatter. But the top end of my fatness range isn’t a place I’m so comfortable in for long, either.
This is where “loving myself harder” comes in. I don’t know if it’s really possible to do, to consciously “love harder,” in the sense of self-love,** but I suppose what I can do is to appreciate myself while I’m here in this present spot. I do love that I’ve held onto clothes that I love and not had them “taken in” when I was less fat, so that I get to wear them and feel good in them now. I do love that I do feel pretty, and while I might overall prefer how I look when I’m in the middle place, I do still look pretty damn good. I love that I’ve gotten to this place where I feel safe, loved, appreciated and even admired where I am, size-wise. Compliments on how I dress haven’t stopped.
But, there are some downsides to me of being in this bigger home of my range. And those things are real. Are they a reason to try to lose weight? I don’t think so. Are those downsides a reason to look at what I’m doing in my life and see if there’s anything I can do to sleep better, get the amount of physical activity that leaves me feeling relaxed, strong and good, eat better, stress less? Sure, with the idea that even in doing all of those things, my weight might not change. My size might not change. But hopefully, I’ll sleep better, feel better and keep loving myself through it all.
It has been interesting to notice how much fatness and attractiveness have been disentangled for me at this point. Again, it is likely a combination of growing older and also deliberate work***, but it’s a nice place to be, for now. Having these things disentangled, and no longer reinforcing internalized fat hatred****, makes it easier for me to pinpoint what I might want to change, and to identify why I want to change it. Changing what, when or how much I eat, when, where and how much I move, reducing stress, whether I meditate or not — all of these things are not being done to lose weight, but rather because they are good things to do in and of themselves, if I want to and find they help in the short- or long-term. They come from loving myself more, not less.
* I try not to focus too much on the “what’s causing it” other than to do so from a place of kindness and compassion.
** Why is it so hard for me to write about this without it sounding like I’m talking about a different kind of “self-love” and giggling to myself?
*** and this blog, and the Fatosphere, and avoiding fashion magazines and television commercials, and living where I do…
**** To the greatest degree possible, meaning, doing this the best I can.