I’m a feminist and I want to lose weight.
That shouldn’t be a loaded statement. Those two concepts (being a feminist and having a weight loss goal) shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. But I feel conflicted, resentful, and a little dirty for typing those words.
Because feminism is supposed to be about “loving yourself” and “appreciating my body” and “rejecting beauty standards imposed on us by the media.” I’m supposed to be okay with the fact that my metabolism slows down after turning thirty, and take it in stride that I’m not going to weigh the same at thirty-one as I did at twenty-five, and that gaining five to ten or even fifteen pounds over six years is not gaining that much weight.
But then it became impossible to ignore the fact that, no matter the reason for gaining weight, I had a few pairs of perfectly good pants that didn’t fit me anymore.
And that’s when I decided that I needed to try to drop some of those pounds, because losing a little weight and making a few lifestyle changes in my dieting habits was more practical than buying black pants and pencil skirts one size larger.
So I became another woman trying to lose weight. Sort of.
I took the advice of a good friend and downloaded an app that would let me track my calories, and I made a promise to myself that I would continue to eat the foods I enjoyed most, just in moderation.
I was so proud of myself. Not just proud, but smug. I wasn’t going to be one of those people who went from scarfing down burgers and processed foods every day to munching on carrot sticks and dreaming about the junk food I really wanted to eat. I was smarter than that, and I never ate that much processed food to begin with. Making the transition to healthier eating would be a piece of cake – a small but satisfying piece of cake eaten in moderation while I filled the rest of my diet with more healthful options.
One of my strategies towards healthier eating worked quite well. I took the “5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day” recommendation to heart and planned my daily meals around plants. Then I worked backwards and made sure that I planned for enough protein and grains for the day. It was surprisingly easy to fit those daily recommended amounts into my diet. I found the fruits and vegetables I liked best and looked forward to my daily side dish of garlicky kale. (I live in Queens now, not Brooklyn, but I’m pretty sure I’m still allowed to like kale.)
The rest of my Plan for Healthy Living (I won’t call it a diet) has met with mixed success.
The app I use to track my caloric intake is a good one. It works, for the few days a week I choose to follow it. But it only takes a few days for me to feel angry and annoyed that I’m tracking my calories in the first place. I grew up with a father who cooks like an Italian grandma, and while he believed in healthy eating, he also emphasized that food is culture, food is life, and food is meant to be enjoyed.
Nothing sucks the joy out of eating like the numbers on a calorie-tracking app letting me know that even though you ate all your vegetables and had a high-fiber breakfast, 10% of your daily fat intake came from saturated fat when it should have been 7% or less, and maybe you should’ve had a third of a cup of ice cream instead of a half.
But then I think of those pants that no longer fit, that are juuuust too tight for me to wear comfortably, hanging in the closet unused when they go with every single top I own. I remember that the 7% saturated fat rule comes from the American Heart Association, and that cutting back fat is about long-term health, not vanity.
And then I start over again, thinking that this time, I’m really going to follow this weight loss plan until I’m at my goal. After a few days, I notice that I feel full and satiated after eating smaller portions of food more slowly, and I no longer have that bloated feeling I get when I eat to excess because it tastes good.
That lasts for another week. Then a co-worker buys Shake Shack for lunch, and then I can think about nothing but having my own Shake Shack meal for lunch, even though I have perfectly tasty, nutritious, homemade leftovers sitting in the fridge.
Then I feel guilty for “cheating” on my diet, like having a burger and fries with a milkshake for lunch one day is a moral failing, akin to cheating on an exam or a partner.
Then I either a) resolve to be extra “good” with my Plan for Healthy Eating the next week or b) give up completely and eat an entire pint of ice cream, because what does it matter, I’m going to fail anyway.
And then I take a minute to reflect on the ridiculousness of the situation that I’ve put myself in, where the simple act of eating food – something we all need to do to survive – is fraught with expectations, guilt, and a dichotomy of accomplishment vs. failure. I think about the number of people putting themselves through the same situation. I wonder how much more we could all accomplish, individually and collectively, if we stopped obsessing over weight.
But then I think about those perfectly good pants, how I want to cry when I squeeze into them and feel that they’re tighter than they were two years ago, how my sense of worth is momentarily stripped away because I can’t fit into them anymore. My character and accomplishments become meaningless because my pants don’t fit and my face is a little fuller than it used to be.
Then I tell myself that I’m really doing this for my heart. And I begin the cycle again.