I’m a feminist and I want to lose weight.
I wrote about this subject one month ago and received positive responses from friends and readers. A few people offered some good advice on how to approach weight loss. They told me that diets don’t work and looking at making a lifestyle change is the right way to go. They told me that it’s not anti-feminist to want to take care of my body and eat healthy food. They told me that they related to my story and appreciated my honesty, and that there are ways to adopt a healthier lifestyle and still treat myself to Shake Shack once a month.
I appreciated the comments, I responded to some of them, and I was grateful for the positive reactions, but I took every compliment with a grain of salt because none of them addressed a key part of my story.
Not that I blame anyone for that. They didn’t address a key part of my story because I didn’t talk about it in my original post.
I didn’t talk about my depression.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression in September 2014 after a mental and emotional breakdown. Since then, I have been in therapy and on medication to treat it. Since then, I have had many positive breakthroughs and made serious headway into becoming a happier, better me.
The biggest breakthrough I made was understanding that depression did not define me as a human being. It’s a part of me, and it’s something I will have to deal with for the rest of my life, but it’s not the most important thing about me.
But it’s still a beast lurking inside me, a dragon pacing in a den, ready to strike whenever it notices vulnerability. It breathes fire when it smells fear.
Sometimes that fear is panic about weight gain and a number on a scale – an admission that should surprise no one. Women are trained to be sensitive and obsessive about our weight from a early age, to the point where Reductress can publish “8 Adorable Swimsuits for Any Body Type But Yours” and it barely feels like satire.
It’s actually very good satire – no disrespect to the writer. But the humor is momentarily lost when you realize you’ve said almost those exact same things to yourself when trying on clothes or swimsuits in a store and seeing all the fat rolls and imperfections that you can only see in fluorescent lighting.
Body insecurity is not unusual for women, and depression makes it worse. Typical insecurities are magnified, enlarged, embiggened to the point where failing at your diet makes you feel entirely worthless and that gluttony is the deadliest of the 7 sins.
But there’s another aspect of my weight loss goals and my depression, and the intersection of the two, that has only recently become clear to me.
Depression is a mental illness that makes me feel hate myself. Liking myself, even for a small amount of time before the dragon wakes from her sleep and sends me into another cycle of crippling self-doubt, is a major accomplishment.
Why would I want to sabotage that accomplishment by thinking about my weight?
Thinking about my weight doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t make me feel good about myself. It makes me feel frustrated and guilty when I don’t see the results I want in the time that I want them.
The depression exacerbates these feelings, and while the logical part of my brain tells me, “Well, you’ve eaten healthy food for a week and indulged in only small snacks, and you’re not supposed to lose more than a pound a week because it’s just water weight, so you’re on the right track! Just keep it up!” the depression drowns it out by shouting, “YOU HAVE NO WILLPOWER! YOU SUCK FOR SO MANY REASONS, AND THIS IS JUST ONE EXAMPLE OF HOW MUCH YOU SUCK!”
And sometimes I don’t want to deal with those feelings. I don’t want to go out of my way to eat extremely healthy foods when I know I’ll be tempted by something less nutritious later that day, and then feel guilty about indulging in a large serving of pasta. Instead, I’ll eat something that’s less healthy but not complete junk, something that won’t make me gain or lose much weight.
Exercising is easier for me than keeping to a healthy diet. I can move my body when I need to. I get more immediate satisfaction from exercising than from eating well. I feel the difference in my body. I feel stronger and faster and my muscles feel tighter. But I’ll still skip a session if I have the opportunity to spend time with friends or if I win tickets to Hamilton via the digital lottery (not yet, but keeping fingers crossed) because those things will bring me more instant happiness.
Immediate happiness and gratification is considered to be shallow and less meaningful than long-term happiness, but when I have a mental illness that makes happiness a challenge and self-loathing a default state, shouldn’t I grab every opportunity I can for any kind of happiness?
(Even now, I wonder if writing this blog post is the best use of my time, because I’ve had a solid week of feeling good about myself and I’m worried about sabotaging it by writing about my depression. At the same time, I promised that I would update my blog every week and it’s been a month since my last post, and if I delay writing any more, I know I will feel worse in the long run.)
So I put the weight loss goal in the back of my mind. I try to focus on eating until I’m full and not overeating just because food tastes good. I try to eat small portions and drink a lot of water. I try to exercise to make myself stronger and faster and more capable. And I enjoy a girls’ night out with close friends as we indulge in cocktails and nachos, saying we’re not that hungry and will just pick at the chips and cheese, but turning ourselves into liars and devouring the whole platter in five minutes.
And for a moment, I think about how weight management is overrated, and how, after years of feeling friendless, I wouldn’t trade this night of nacho and cocktail indulgence for anything in the world, much less a loss of 15 pounds.
And then I remember how some moments of our female bonding were inspired by the presence of the nachos – how we exclaimed that we weren’t that hungry, how we inhaled the cheese and chips and jalapenos, how we commented on how quickly we ate that cheese and chips and jalapenos, and how funny it was when we ate so much despite claiming not to be hungry.
Eating the food wasn’t enough. We had to comment on how we ate the food and how much we ate on a night of celebrating a friend’s birthday.
And the cycle begins again.