If you search this blog for “The Weight of It” you’ll find my past entries on my body weight, how it relates to what I’ve been going through in my life, my theories on energy and weight gain / loss, how stored memories can come up again as we lose weight, and how weight is one of the mechanisms our body has to help us survive painful times.
I have been writing about this since I started putting on weight after my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I have been gentle with myself, most of the time. I tried to stay gentle, but it wasn’t easy. I have cared for myself as much as I could through the very surreal weight gain, and the frustrating past two years as I have tried to release / lose the weight.
I have learned a lot, and I have changed my mind about a few things surrounding my weight and my body, and since it’s January, the official month of weight resolutions, I’d like to share something radical with you:
I’m never going to diet again.
This includes “lifestyle changes” that involve restricting food. I’ll explain why:
After my mother passed away, and we moved into our wonderful, quiet, nurturing new home, I really believed that at some point the weight I had gained during the traumatic time of my mother’s decline, and all the stress surrounding that, combined with the stress of living in a house where our need for sleep and privacy were not respected – that the weight would resolve itself.
In the past, I’ve been able to “fix” my weight by restricting food types, by counting calories, or both. (I have never lost weight through exercise. I get stronger and healthier, but I naturally eat more to make up the calories burned – which is what bodies are designed to do.)
It has been curious, and then frustrating to me, to employ the methods I have used to trigger weight loss in my body and to hear my body say “NOPE!” right back.
My body has absolutely refused to get smaller.
I worked with a nutritionist for a year and a half. For the first six months I continued to gain weight, even though I was restricting myself to the diet she prescribed for me (which was very good, balanced, all those things. Not a crash diet at all.)
My body refused to respond. Eventually, we hit on the right combination of protein and fat, and I lost 10 lbs… then I gained it back in the months following.
My body just refuses to get smaller.
I have never been through this before. The worst part was, after over a year of trying to get my body to lose weight, I started to feel like a failure every time I ate something like ice cream.
It’s kind of painful to write about or to admit, but you guys, I’ve developed an eating disorder. Restricting my intake for so long, and despite my efforts to be kind to myself, evaluating my weight as “wrong” for nearly two years has done damage to my psyche and my self-love.
It is funny how grief and trauma morph into different things. I have two wonderful friends who have eating disorders that became physically dangerous for them, and who talked about it quite openly, and so I was able to see myself in what they described. I knew this was a road I did not want to continue to go down. I had to tread carefully, and I had to stop dieting the way I was trying to diet.
I read “Intuitive Eating” years ago, and I liked it. In fact, I’ve been employing the tactics in my weight loss strategies for years. I am mindful and aware of what I eat, when I eat it. This is actually why I did not stick with veganism – my body needed meat. Not everyone’s does, but mine does. I honour it, and I eat meat with appreciation, and I do my best to source it responsibly.
I already have a lot of the tools to combat this eating disorder, this weird new illness that was struggling to assert itself even as I have been healing myself in other ways.
That’s why it was so tough for me. I have thought of myself as “healthy” only when my body is at a certain size. If I’m “overweight” I’m “unhealthy” physically and probably emotionally.
Except, that isn’t true. That’s a message I internalized from my environment. I work in health care, and there’s a generally accepted idea that overweight = sick.
I have been sick, too. I’ve been in a lot of pain, and since my surgery (hurrah!) I’ve been marvelling at how HEALTHY I suddenly feel! Life without chronic pain is MARVELLOUS!
I feel so great right now, in part, because of the choices I have made for my body leading up to the surgery.
When I saw the surgeon and booked the surgery last March, she told me I should lose weight before surgery. She told me again on a subsequent phone appointment. I wasn’t offended, I was *already* trying to lose weight. I had been for over a year at that point.
I started to do some research about my surgery, as I like to be an educated patient. I watched youtube videos of my surgery. I read medical student texts on the explanation and the procedure. I watched videos of how the unconscious patient’s body was prepared for surgery. I did all of this to help talk to my body about what it was going to experience, because even though I would be anesthetized, my body would still be experiencing the trauma of surgery. I have learned through somatic experiencing therapy that surgery *is* a type of trauma, and there are all sorts of things you can do to minimize the trauma you retain from the surgery, which can reduce your experience of pain and improve your healing and recovery.
By reading texts, watching videos, and learning everything I could about the surgery and the potential risks, I was talking to my body, preparing it for the surgical experience, so the trauma to my body would be lessened – it wouldn’t be such a shock to it, and it would hopefully not retain new traumatic memories from the experience.
One of the things I came across in my research was a study that charted 500 women who had the surgery at this hospital, and the incidence of surgical complications as it related to their BMI (their weight.)
Let’s talk about BMI.
There are numerous articles and studies for you to discover, but just for fun I’ll link one from everyday feminism here.
For me, the BMI BS thing goes back to the first time I lost a LOT of weight. I am going to talk real numbers here.
When I was 23, I was unhappy. I decided to lose weight and fix my life. I no support. My boyfriend at the time actively discouraged me from dieting because he “didn’t want to support you when you fail.”
It took me another six months to dump him, (we were living together and it was complicated) but I eventually kicked him to the curb AFTER dropping from 180 lbs to 130 lbs and looking HOT af.
The validation I received after losing 50 lbs was actually completely disillusioning. I started to get promoted, I would get comments like “wow, you can really see it in your face!”, I started to receive much more unwanted sexual attention from men, both known and strangers on the street, and despite all the positive reinforcement and compliments, I also started to get “skinny bitch” comments from colleagues at work.
That’s when I learned that women are really screwed no matter what their size. No one gets complete acceptance. Replacing the judgment aimed at “overweight” people (slow, lazy, stupid, undeserving of respect or space) was a barrage of new judgement which was equally untrue (drug addict, sexually available, stuck up / bitch).
I maintained that weight loss through restrictive eating for two years. Those two years did quite a bit of damage to my body and my psyche, so after a scary incident where my kidneys protested by threatening to shut down, I was forced to modify my then very strict diet.
I moved to veganism, and in hindsight, veganism wasn’t just convenient from an ethical / animal lover point of view, it was exchanging one restriction for another. promptly gained 20 lbs after the switch to veganism because I was consuming less protein and more fat. The kidney thing had scared me though, and it was during this time that I really absorbed intuitive eating. I learned to listen to what my body actually wanted, and if I wanted something to eat, I allowed myself to eat it.
I reintroduced meat, and immediately felt better.
I realized that I am much happier at 160 lbs than at 130 lbs. At my skinniest, I was cold all the time. I rarely allowed myself to enjoy food. I put an enormous amount of energy into planning meals, preparing them and eating ONLY what I had planned to eat.
I wasn’t revelling in life. And I like to revel. I think revelling is part of the POINT of life.
So I reintroduced ice cream.
I settled at 160lbs for a few years. We moved out here, we started our coffee roastery, and we let it go after a two year upstart (no regrets, and it is now thriving as Foggy Bean Coffee under it’s new owners, our friends.) During that time though, I went back up to 180lbs.
And I became a very typical statistic. Diets don’t work. 95% of people who have lost weight for any reason in their life, be it diet, change in locale, illness – any reason, will gain it back. Most gain it back in 2 years, and the rest within 5 years. It took me nearly 10 years to return to 180, but return I did.
And like everyone who has lost weight and gained it back, I took on a little extra on the up-swing.
It hasn’t been a straight line. In fact, I’ve been up to 160, down to 150, up to 170, back to 160, gentle “corrective” changes for 15 years now. Those “corrections” didn’t feel bad at all. They felt good, and kind. It wasn’t hard, giving up dairy, sugar and flour for a while. Well, it was hard for the first couple of weeks, but once the weight started to drop off, it was easier.
But this time, the weight didn’t come off. It refused. My body said, “NO.”
I hated to argue with my body, but argue I did. I brought the nutritionist on board. I bought a subscription to a tracking program that would help me calculate my macronutrients (so I could decide if I could have a piece of toast or if I should choke down another egg.)
I started to be a little bit mean to my body, quite frankly. Not a lot, but a little. I was angry with it. I was doing everything I did before, why wasn’t it working?
To top it off, nearly a year into my struggle, here comes my surgeon telling me I need to lose weight before the surgery.
I was getting panicky.
Then I made a decision.
Maybe my body knows what’s good for it. Maybe there’s a reason I’m not losing weight right now. Maybe, losing weight is *not* something I should do right before surgery.
I did more research, and I found out the reason weight loss is recommended is because of BMI, and the “increased incidence of complications” as related to BMI. Before, I had accepted that at face value, but now, I wanted to know more. Exactly what were these complications?
And what risks, if any, was I incurring by severely restricting food in the months before surgery, out of fear of “complications”?
Surprisingly, quite a few. By kicking my diet into a new gear of restriction just to lose weight before a specific date, I was battering my immune system. I was kicking my metabolism in the crotch, and I was stressing my major organs.
And I was kicking my brain in the crotch too, every time my increased restriction failed with a “binge”. It’s not a binge the way one might classify it, with thousands of calories consumed in a sitting, but blowing my calorie allowance for the day certainly made me feel like a failure.
I was forming an eating disorder, and I am so grateful I recognized it.
I started to research some more, because it seemed the risks of me forcing myself to lose weight before surgery were actually higher than I think my surgeon appreciated. After all, although my BMI indicates I am “overweight” at 151 lbs and “obese” at 180 lbs, which is ridiculous, my body has never felt strong at less than 160 lbs. Years ago I decided the ideal weight of 150 lbs as prescribed to me by a BMI chart was just wrong, so I was really halfway to this conclusion anyway.
I researched the ACTUAL risks associated with higher BMI and hysterectomy. The big risk was, with endometriosis, the more fat on the abdomen, the more difficult it was to find all of the endo and excise it. It’s easier for surgeons to work with thinner bodies.
Fair enough, for the surgeon. But was the surgeon really taking all the risk factors of weight loss into her recommendation, and weighing them against the benefits? Was worsening an eating disorder worth it? Was it worth the hit to my metabolism, and the assured CERTAINTY that this mean-to-my-body weight loss would trigger a regain PLUS even more weight afterwards?
You know what the other big risk was? Complications of wound healing.
And I did have that.
I made a conscious decision to not lose weight before the surgery. Instead, I focused on being as physically strong, and as mentally prepared, as I could be. I called the surgeon’s nurse and explained that I had, in fact, been trying to lose weight for over a year, and it just wasn’t happening for me. Was this going to affect the surgery? “Well, they prefer you to lose weight, but most people don’t.”
Good enough. I wasn’t going to either, then.
So I had my surgery, and I went in calm. I focused on breathing and relaxing to minimize the chances of my body taking on trauma, which might come back to bite me later as PTSD. I’ve been making so much wonderful progress in somatic experiencing therapy, and I’ve learned a lot about preventing trauma. There are some simple, easy things that can be done, to keep the blood pressure down, to prevent the brain and the body from imprinting “TRAUMA! HORROR!”
I think if I had just spent the past months being mean to my body and bullying it into losing weight, that my body would have felt abused GOING INTO a surgery. That’s not a good start!
I wanted my body to feel loved and cared-for, going into surgery.
Which brings me to the anesthetic experience. I did ask my guide Aries to help me remember what happened spiritually, during the surgery, as long as I did not become conscious of the surgery. I did not want to have an out-of-body experience, or do anything that might compromise my physical body. I didn’t want to go far from my body during surgery, because my body needs the support of my spirit.
So what I experienced was very similar to other health crises in my life. I saw my loved ones, my great aunt Ruth, my mother, my grandmother and grandfather, my Oma, my many animals, and several spirit friends. We had a sort of spirit tea party while my surgery went on. There was socialization, hugs, praise – it felt like a graduation party, actually.
And then, after what seemed like only 5 minutes, I was awake in recovery. I checked in with my body, I used breathing and pelvic floor relaxation techniques to calm my bladder spasms and to take the edge off some of the discomfort. My pain was well-controlled and my body was calm.
The surgical ward where I spent the next 24 hours was not awesome, but I had Sweetie there most of the time to help me. She advocated for me when one of the nurses screwed up my medication (she didn’t read the whole chart) thank GOODNESS Sweetie sorted that out, because we had brought my bladder medication with me to the hospital, and the hospital pharmacy did not stock it. The worst part about the whole surgery was the bladder pain I experienced when the bladder drugs wore off and my next dose was delayed by this rather scattered nurse, and I felt SO MUCH better when the catheter finally came out. The catheter also was not draining my bladder, and Sweetie had to stay on top of that too, until we finally convinced the staff to just leave the drain bag on the floor. Ugh! That was not fun at all.
The weight-related complication happened right as I was to be discharged. One of my lap sites started bleeding again. I had to wait six hours until there was a doctor free to suture it.
It occurred to me that even though I had a higher than “ideal” BMI, they still used the same closure techniques that they do for thinner people. They just taped it over with steri strips.
When you have some fat on your belly, that fat is going to shift and bulge with movements like getting up from bed, or sitting on the toilet. These movements had caused one of the lap sites to shift under the steri strips and re-open.
For heaven’s sake! Why didn’t they just suture my wounds closed in the first place? Wound healing complications are a known and common occurrence with higher BMI women!
When the very wonderful internist arrived to put a single stitch in me, I decided to speak plainly.
“I think this popped open because I’m a bit fat, and this bulges when I sit. Could you please suture it up very strongly, because this particular spot moves around no matter what I do.”
“Sure! How about I put three in?”
I actually needed those sutures. The other three lap sites closed up quickly, but that site that just happens to move a lot every time I do, naturally remained tender and took an extra week and a half to heal. It’s fine now, though.
I later had a conversation with a friend of mine who is classified as “super-obese” and had been terrified by a previous obgyn about giving birth by c-section, as the wound healing complications can cause years of suffering. She was panicked when, after two days of labour, she *had to* have a c-section. Fortunately, the OBGYN on call knew much more about wound-healing in large women, and he assured her he would set her up with a wound vacuum, and she would heal as quickly and completely as any other woman.
A wound vac is really an incredible piece of equipment. It’s a sponge you place over the wound, and then you cover it with a saran-wrap-like dressing that connects to a tube, which connects to a small canister vacuum the size of a lunch box.
The vacuum creates a mild pressure drawing blood to the wound allowing it to heal quickly, and any interstitial fluid, or anything else that needs to drain off, is gently pulled away by the vacuum, so an infection never has a chance to happen. In some cases, the sponge used has silver in it, so if there in an infection, the anti-bacterial silver quickly resolves it.
My friend healed up quickly and told me to DEMAND a wound vac if I experienced any healing complications!
This whole experience has validated a niggling thought I’ve had in the back of my mind, ever since my body said NO to weight loss even though my surgeon and my nutritionist and my GP and even ME said “PLEASE lose weight!”
I backed away from war on my body, and my body has really come through for me. I have NO PAIN, you guys!
So I’m not going to go into this new year being mean to my body with diets. And I’m not going to be mean to my brain anymore, by thinking, every day, my body should be smaller.
If I force my body to lose weight through restriction, there is an eating disorder waiting for me. The more I read about eating disorders, I realize how close I came to making myself really sick. I feel like I dodged a bullet.
I wanted to understand why I am 180+ lbs now, and why my body really, REALLY wants to stay here, at least for now, and maybe forever (because I want to be okay with that.) According to my research, part of the reason is probably because I have restricted food and therefore calories in the past. My basal metabolic rate is lower.
That’s what a lot of people have a hard time understanding. When people see someone who is fat, they imagine this person must be gorging on a regular basis to maintain that weight. In fact, it is far likelier that this person has a history of restricting food, and has cycled up and down before landing at this larger state. Or this person had asthma as a child and the lifelong exposure to prednisone from a young age caused weight gain. Or the person’s body is helping them to bear trauma, just as I wrote about in a previous “The Weight of It” post. Or maybe all of it! And other reasons!
The really important point is that a fat person does not owe anyone an explanation as to WHY s/he is fat. It’s personal. But all of us in our “overweight” states deserve respect.
I say “overweight” because guess what – I don’t think I’m actually overweight for my genetics. I have thought about this quite a bit, about how my genetics play into my diet, and therefore my body.
I did not do well as a vegan. When I would restrict dairy, flour and sugar to trigger weight loss in the past, when I would reintroduce them, my body would REJOICE! In fact, sometimes I just don’t eat ice cream for a few months until I *really* want it, just to experience that food euphoria again.
In my research, and search for guidance, I had several conversations with Aries about my body. Every time, he would tell me my body is physically healthy. My surgery would go well, and it was best for me to maintain my weight before and after surgery. He has showed me images of many other women with Bavarian / Eastern European origins, and we are not a delicate lot. We are rounder, heavier, firmer. In fact, in my current state, were I a woman of pre-1900s Germany, I’d be downright average. (In Hitler’s time, the beauty ideal of the Nazis was a slender figure.)
Aries has frequently popped some old-school German women’s clothing styles into my head, to draw attention to how the make and cut of modern-day clothing is not as useful to my body as a more traditional chemise with utilitarian support / corset worn OVER the shirt would be. Under-the-clothing bras will just never be as comfortable as an over-the-shirt support corset (not the fashionable restricting ones, the utilitarian working ones.)
I looked it up, it’s called a Dundl. I would love to wear something like this every single day, but I don’t feel like I can pull it off outside of a Renaissance faire right now. The ones Aries shows to me covers much more chest than the modern versions of which I can find photos, but I’ve found a close approximation below.
Maybe with age, I will ripen into eccentricity.
So I am not going to fight my body, in fact, I’m going to love it, just as it is. If my body decides to lose a bit of weight, that’s okay. It will just shift in it’d dietary desires, and I will listen to it. I find that, just as prescribed to counter binge-eating, if you never restrict food in the first place, you end up eating less of it overall.
I will keep my scale, and I will step on it once in a while, but I am not going to set a goal weight ever again.
Because I have a body that, for the first time in years, is free from pain.
And that is more than enough!