Archive for self-compassion

(Fat)al: a story of growing up fat in America
… a guest post by J.C.

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Shame. It’s a heavy word.

When people ask for my story, they assume I have been hurt because of prejudice about my sexual orientation. That’s the narrative they want. The you-came-out-as-gay-in-the-South-let-me-praise-you-for-getting-through-this-hardship story. That is not the narrative I feel obligated to write.

Yes, I was ashamed of my sexual orientation when I became conscious of it at fourteen. But that shame no longer exists. Sure, the word “faggot” still gets fired at me, but that isn’t the problem anymore. My “story” is about my anxiety as a fat man, especially a fat gay man. I’ve been ashamed of my fat ever since I can remember. “Fat” is the word that has plagued my entire existence. “Fat” is the hurricane that dilutes my humanity.

My mother provided me with my earliest memory of shame. She didn’t just tell me I was fat: she showed me. Pushed into countless fitting rooms, I was unable to find clothes my size at a young age. Still, she refused to buy me jeans that fit. For three torturous years, I wore pants that would attach by Velcro, not buttons. I wanted to be vapor. I wanted my fat to instantly vanish into thin air because I felt like a burden to her. After all, what would the other parents think of her fat first-born?

Imagine a child as young as eight telling his grandparents he wasn’t hungry because he was fat. That’s what I did. Their solution was to bribe me with one dollar for every meal I attempted to eat.

At age twelve, I was too embarrassed to change my clothes for gym in front of the other boys. Refusing to do so, I received a C in the class. It was worth it.

When I started a food diary, I convinced myself SlimFast was the salve that would weaken the poison fat on my body. I drowned my stomach with that faux chocolate to the point of nausea. It replaced my breakfast and lunch. Every. Single. Day.

I got thin. But I also got weak. And I didn’t lose enough to satisfy myself despite my family complimenting my weight loss. There was a sense of Armageddon within my fat cells. My goal was a BMI of 18: I wanted to be underweight.

When one of my friends got her driver’s license, we went to Walmart, so I could buy Lipozene for the first time. The words “lose pure body fat” coaxed my brain into submission. I took my precious miracle to self-checkout only for an automated voice to say, “Please wait for assistance.” The employee told me I was too young to buy weight loss supplements and sent me home. My friend suggested eating only five hundred calories a day, and we became each other’s food coaches.

A year later, I came out as gay to my mother for the third time. Her response was to “cure” my “queer-washed mind” with anxiety medication. I launched the pill into my stomach every morning, and, as a result, my mouth got sore and eventually bled. I could only ingest a small portion, but I savored the metallic liquid, hoping it would sustain my body for one more day despite the excruciating pain.

In college, I had a health professor who wondered how fat people had sex because “their parts don’t fit.” I felt like the other students were staring at me as if I were the only overweight person in the course, as if I was the target of her words. I felt even more ashamed and thus began a diet of SlimFast and Special K. My roommate and I would run at the gym until I felt like I would collapse. Once, when I ate a cookie, he posted unsolicited advice to my Twitter page: “Go throw up.”

I could have died from that shame.

The treatment I got because of my fat made me feel as wretched as Frankenstein’s monster and as twisted as Mr. Hyde. That’s when I realized I needed to change before I ended up eradicating myself with diet rituals. What I learned is that fat people don’t need to feel shame. I’ve ended up gaining eighty pounds back in college, but I feel healthy and positive now. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and surround myself with people who encourage me to love my body. I have the right to exist and won’t let anyone water me down. I am not a problem, nor am I a before and after dichotomy.

I am a credible, intelligible fat human.

—J.C.

A message for my younger self

Middle school graduation, 2004

Last August, I decided to go through my family photos. It had been almost a year after my mother’s death, and I finally felt ready to look through the twenty-two years of precious memories I was fortunate to share with her. My favorites were placed in a pile to be taken to my new apartment.

For most of my life, my parents were quite diligent about taking photos.  The major events were all recorded: birthdays, holidays, vacations. I poured through boxes and envelopes full of pictures, admiring images of a simpler time. There was newborn Lauren, a thicket of dark hair covering her head. There was Lauren on the first day of school, eager and clad in brand new clothes.

Then I came upon a picture that surprised me. I immediately recognized the photo—my dad had taken it on the day of my middle school graduation. My mom was next to me, arm draped across my shoulder.  She smiled largely while I had a hint of a grin on my face. My brown hair came down past my shoulders. I wore an orange sundress and my face was riddled with a handful of red pimples.

It was astonishing to see this moment that had been housed in the fuzzy corners of my mind. I didn’t remember looking like that. The most pervasive memories of my pre-teen years are stained with anger and frustration.  I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I felt like my body was out of my control.  I didn’t fit in and was teased constantly.

As a result, the feelings that picture brought up were completely unexpected. I felt regret, but not for the reasons I might have thought. I felt regret because I had been so very hard on myself.

Clutching that picture in my hand, I wished I had been kinder to myself back then. The girl in the photo was not a monster. She was not the massive waste of space she thought she was. She was an awkward, gawky, chubby, normal girl. And she was lovely.

I have two ongoing goals that I would like to work on this semester during my internship with I Will Not Diet. One, I want to encourage women and girls everywhere to be nicer to themselves. The problems we have with our bodies aren’t going to be solved with anger and self-flagellation. I truly believe that when you feel good about yourself, personal health follows. If we can stop beating ourselves up and try to love ourselves, we’ll all feel so much better.

With that in mind, my second goal is to be kinder to myself. I want to be able to love myself no matter what shape my body is. This is obviously easier said than done, but I am committed. I hope that other women and girls will join me as I learn to love what I see in the mirror.

by Lauren Bunch

The Real You Project is now looking for photos and videos

Visibility is a key part of the body-revolution.

Putting yourself out there and claiming that your body type—along with the body types of endless others—is beautiful and should not be ignored. Many body types have been kept out of the media for years, and the best way to change that is to put ourselves into the media.

We here at I Will Not Diet created an online project a while ago called The Real You Project. Before the project, we asked people to submit pictures of themselves that they liked, but also were not filtered or altered in any way.

This year we’re changing that structure of The Real You Project a little bit by adding videos and self-love photos.

The videos The Real You is now featuring are ones in which people discuss their personal stories about how they have learned to love the way they look. The story can be told just by talking to the screen or in a more creative way such as a poem or song. These videos are designed to encourage you to find your voice and share it with us. And then we’ll give you a place to be heard in the hopes that your story will make someone out there feel less alone.

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The self-love photos are simply photos in which the person pictured holds up an index card or whiteboard that explains what they love about their body. This will hopefully become a tool in which readers and patrons can show positivity about themselves and embrace all types of love for their bodies.

Ideally The Real You Project will include as wide a variety of people as possible. Your submission of a photo or video can help make visible the various types of people that exist in this world and allow you all to share your very different stories.

We would like to encourage you to be a part of The Real You Project, and help keep the body-positive revolution strong.

To do so, please email your photo or video to realyouproject@gmail.com.

Pain = gain: why being hard on yourself doesn’t work

Art by Stuart Bradford for The New York Times

 

New research supports the theory that dieting—and being hard on yourself—leads to more weight gain and health problems.

Psychological researchers have been looking into self-compassion—meaning how compassionate we are with ourselves—and how that affects both our mental and physical health.

What they have found is incredibly insightful:

“The hypothesis is that the women who felt bad about [eating junk food] ended up engaging in ’emotional’ eating. The women who gave themselves permission to enjoy the sweets didn’t overeat.”

We already know that dieting leads to long-term weight gain for 95% of dieters, and this new information demonstrates another reason why diets are bad for us—because denying ourselves foods or telling ourselves they are bad for us makes us eat more of them.

But as wellness expert and New York Times reporter Tara Poker-Pope points out in her article “Go Easy on Yourself,” “This idea does seem at odds with the advice dispensed by many doctors and self-help books, which suggest that willpower and self-discipline are the keys to better health.”

It’s true that not dieting and not being hard on yourself is counter to what we’ve been taught for years… that pushing yourself is good for you. The no-pain-no-gain narrative is so rooted in our collective psyche that it’s hard to comprehend that the opposite might be true: lots of pain, lots of gain.

“’Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan,’ said Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School” and author of The Self-Compassion Diet, a book which—despite the use of the word “diet” in its title—appears to embrace everything this blog is about.

As Fain explains, most diets “revolve around self-discipline, deprivation and neglect,” which is the opposite of what researchers are now starting to believe is at the center of a healthy lifestyle.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t all try to eat healthy food and exercise regularly, but rather the point is that being kind to ourselves when we don’t do that is the key to success in these areas. After all, if one of our friends skipped a day of exercise or ate a high-calorie meal, we wouldn’t be hard on her about it. We would be supportive, reminding her that it’s okay to slack or indulge from time to time. But, for some reason, we beat ourselves up when we do the same, which hurts us much more than it helps.

As Poker Pope says, “The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic.”

It’s something we all need to seriously consider.

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