The hardest decision I’ve ever made

Trigger Warnings: Eating disorders, WLS (weight loss surgery), Poor Medical Care

Sharing this is hard. Which is weird, since I am, by nature, an oversharer. I share because writing things out helps me process my feelings. I share because I remember when I was 15 and in a eating disorder unit and realized during group therapy, for the first time in my life, that I was not alone in some of the “crazy” thought processes I had. That feeling of someone understanding where I was coming from was priceless. If I can give that back to someone who is struggling, I very, very much want to try.

I hope people will not knee-jerk react to this and will read through my thoughts because I feel there are always many sides to a story and it’s easy to get caught up in our own feelings about someone else’s story, without giving them their safe space and chance to share. It’s a lesson I’ve learned slowly over the past decade or so, but a valuable one. No one is responsible for my feelings but me, and people are allowed to share whatever they want in their own spaces, even when I disagree. If they are respectful I will even try to put aside my personal feelings and not just listen, but hear the other person’s point of view. That is easier said than done, and I am stubborn and thorough in my decision making process. That means my beliefs and opinions are not easily swayed. Which is why, in part, what I’m about to share will shock so many people.

On Tuesday, March 6th 2018 I did something that seems to, on the surface, contradict all I stand for and believe in. I had a procedure called vertical sleeve gastrectomy. During this surgery about 80% of my stomach was amputated. Yes, I said amputated. This is a word that people who have WLS will likely find offensive but it’s also accurate. My stomach was a healthy organ and I chose to have most of it sliced away and removed from small holes in my body (the surgery was laparoscopic).

Why would I do this? I said for years that WLS was off the table for me. My body doesn’t have a great history with surgery. I’ve had complications from all three past surgeries I’ve had. I’ve spent over a decade as a non-dieter, happier and – in many respects – healthier than I’ve ever been. I’ve been working at body positivity, at promoting body acceptance, fat acceptance, body diversity… so why would I join the “dark side” and undergo a risky, possibly deadly and definitely life-altering procedure? The simple answer would be “to be thinner,” but few things in my life are ever simple.

In October 2016 I fell while on vacation. I was leaving a crowded little cafe in Minnesota. There was a rather high step down to the sidewalk I had somehow not really noticed on the way in. A large crowd had gathered by the door and crowds make me anxious for two reasons. First, I just hate people and I get claustrophobic. Secondly, when you’re my size getting through a crowded space is not easy. So given my anxious state I was definitely not paying attention and before I knew it I was on the sidewalk. My poor instinct to try to hold on to the door led to a massive injury to my right bicep. It was suspected I tore it, but there was no way for me to know for sure.

Why? Because in our fucked up culture, despite fat bodies existing (and based on the media hysteria, taking over the planet like some kind of zombie apocalypse), medical accommodations are not made for them. I could not get an MRI to see the extent of the damage. There are those who will say, good. People like you shouldn’t be accomodated, as a response to this statement. To those I say, fuck off. No, seriously. You don’t have the right to tell a fat person they don’t deserve proper medical care because you find their body size whatever negative thing you find it. And you can’t turn it around and say it’s about concern for health when you start from a place that wants to deny fat people the very healthcare they need, the same healthcare given to a thin patient, so don’t even try spinning it into that old “it’s about their health” yarn.

I won’t get into the details of what my life became after that injury, but suffice it to say that it has been a brutal and often humiliating 18 months. I lost so much mobility. It was impossible to treat my injury properly when they could not diagnose it properly. It made me realize that if I ever got cancer (which there is quite a lot of in my family history), or if I was ever in a much more serious accident, I’d be screwed. I would probably die and then, because of how twisted this world is, I’d be blamed for my own death… it would be my fault for being too fat to get proper treatment, and not the fault of a medical community that has failed fat people.

I had already researched WLS for many, many years. First when I was dieting, as another option – the “quick” option. The “easy way out,” is how it was often perceived by myself and fellow Weight Watchers forum members. Let me just tell you, as someone who has since had 3 surgeries (unrelated and not counting this one), surgery is never an “easy” option. I had already come to that conclusion before my gallbladder surgery (which was the first) in 2010 and I certainly didn’t look down on people who had WLS the way I did when I was dieting and doing it the “hard” or “right” way.

If you think WLS (or any surgery) is easy you need a massive reality check. Doubly so if you’re considering doing it yourself.

I’ve been very outspoken against WLS in the past. Some of you reading this will probably think I’ve now become pro-surgery. Nope. But I’m pro-choice, and I think people have the right to make their own decisions for themselves. As far as WLS is concerned, I think it is pushed very quickly on people that don’t have a real need for it. I think a lot of surgeons prey on a marginalized group and offer them false promises and hope of a shiny, thin, healthy life post-surgery. I think the risks are often downplayed and that the benefits are overhyped, especially for a person who isn’t really that big. I think the surgery is often given to people who are not even remotely ready for it psychologically speaking. I think self-pay patients – the ones who don’t need insurance approval – are those at greatest risk of not getting thorough psych evals beforehand, and also the most at risk of being pushed to do something that maybe isn’t such a great idea for them. When you consider these self-pay patients are shelling out anywhere from $8k – 25k, however, it’s hardly surprising doctors will try anything to get them to sign up.

Just like the diet industry, weight loss surgery is a highly profitable industry. It’s business, and business and medicine often make for messy bedfellows. The funny (not in a haha way) part is that weight loss surgeons are often the only doctors willing to be honest about how dieting fails the vast majority of people. Go to any surgeon’s website and you’ll likely see the statistics, often even with citations posted, on the decades of research that have demonstrated this fact. There’s also no denying that WLS works better than conventional dieting… but long term results are still not necessarily stellar, so it’s a huge decision to make and if you go into it expecting or hoping to be thin or to have a “normal” BMI weight there’s a good chance you’ll wind up disappointed.

When I went to the surgeon’s office last summer I was about 517 pounds. My body used to settle around 350 – 375 when I’d diet (this was the point at which I’d “plateau” and stop losing weight). I’m the ideal “candidate” these surgeries were originally intended for, before the obesity epidemic bullshit made people panic and it became evident that doctors could push much, much smaller people than myself into a surgical “solution” for their “obesity” problems. My surgeon has done over 6,000 surgeries. That’s a lot of fucking money, and while I trusted him as a surgeon I disagree with a lot of his viewpoints. I made that very known to him during my consult, and to his credit, he accepted my criticisms and feelings with grace. He was also willing to accept my caveats (like no, I’m never sharing a before or after pic with the office and at some point I may stop viewing my weight, if it becomes problematic for me). When he said a goal of 240 pounds was “reasonable” for me I quite literally laughed in his face. I’ve been over 300 pounds since I was 15. I’m not viewing this through rose colored glasses.

So here are the things you need to know about how I feel about WLS, and specifically my having had it.

1. I don’t think having had WLS will neccessarily make me healthier. In fact, it may very well cause health problems I didn’t have before, so it could maybe help some issues but replace them with new ones. I’m diabetic, but between PCOS and genetics, I likely always will be, and even if WLS seems to “cure” it, that is going to be temporary. I have multiple genetic risks for diabetes (and I can say that with absolute certainty since I’ve done DNA testing) and long term studies have shown that many people who are “cured” of diabetes post-op redevelop it later on in life – and this has been true even in people who maintain their weight loss. My blood pressure is always good, my cholesterol is normal and so there was no need to “fix” any of that going into this.

2. I don’t expect to be thin, nor is that my goal. In fact, even if I got to the weight I gave the surgeon as the weight I’d like to be after having done this, I will still be “morbidly obese” if you use the BMI charts (which, btw, you shouldn’t).

3. You will never hear me talk about how much weight I’ve lost, at least not in a celebratory context. There may be a factual context where I mention it, so I won’t say it will NEVER come up but it won’t be an “omgilostsomanypounds” sort of way. This doesn’t mean that I expect YOU not to share your own weight loss in your own space, whether you’re dieting or have had surgery. But I am not going to comment on it or congratulate it, either for reasons I’ve previously discussed on this blog.

4. You will also never see me post an unflattering “before” picture next to a flattering “after” picture. Just as I won’t give them to my doctor’s office, I won’t share them in my personal space. Any pictures of myself I share I do because I’m having fun in said pictures, whether they be silly selfies, makeup selfies, vacation pics… etc.

5. I really, really don’t want to hear your “compliments” on my weight loss, no matter how well intended they may be. That’s not my goal and I don’t intend to let myself be sidetracked into, what is for me, a negative headspace where I let it become my goal.

6. I still don’t want your diet “tips” or “tricks” or “suggestions.” If I think you have information that might be beneficial to me, I will ask you directly. Otherwise, please consider it unsolicted and unwanted advice and just don’t. I have never deleted someone simply because they had WLS surgery or they are dieting or eating in a certain restrictive way, but I have removed/unfollowed people who cannot seem to talk about ANYTHING else because that’s too much for me to deal with personally, given my ED history. I’ve been that person and I don’t want to go back to that place. It was deeply unhealthy for me and I have to do what’s best for me. You get to control your content in your space, so I’d never, ever ask someone to change what they talk about… but I reserve the right to remove someone from my life if what they talk about is simply too harmful for me – and I respect your need to do the same.

7. I will NEVER tell you that YOU should do this. I won’t ever push anyone towards this surgery. I won’t push anyone towards dieting. I’m more likely to tell you the reasons not to do it, in fact. But only if you asked, of course. Otherwise, it’s just not something I’d ever bring up.

8. I most definitely will not speak of this in safe spaces that have been created for fat people to be themselves without pressure from the outside world.

So what are my goals? Why did I do this? I know people will wonder, and while I don’t owe anyone explanations, I like talking things out. So I’ll share on my terms, in my way.

I’ve already explained the medical shit. Sort of. I explained the logistics of it. What I haven’t really explained are the emotional feelings that came with that injury. Not being able to do some very basic things because of that injury really robbed me of my pride and fueled a sense of helplessness. But it wasn’t just from that fall. In the past 7 1/2 years I’ve had 3 surgeries, two broken bones that kept me off my feet for 8 weeks each time and a number of other minor injuries that, when combined with the others, add up. All of these things resulted in decreased mobility, which resulted in weight gain despite the fact that my eating habits remained the same (and my weight had previously been stable for several years), which then further reduced my mobility.

You never know what your “breaking point” will be, or if you’ll have one. But I did. It came about 18 weeks after my accident, when I realized my bicep was as good as it would get. That was the time my doctor gave me to heal, while I (yet again) restricted my movement. I felt a lot like I did when I stopped dieting in 2007… I was desperate for another way, whatever it was. I took my years of research and began investigating sleeve surgery because it has (so far, at least) demonstrated the lowest complication rates of any of these surgeries. I also picked it because it was (ultimately, after I heal) going to be most compatible with Intuitive Eating. In theory, I eventually will be able to eat pretty much anything I could before, just in amounts that work with my altered physiology. With my history with binge eating disorder this was absolutely critical to me. Deprivation/restriction and I don’t mix well together.

Ironically, had I gone into this process from my dieting days I’d have been in an absolutely horrible place for the consequences of this surgery. Psychologically speaking, it would’ve been devastating for me. It was the 10+ years of eating disorder therapy, working on mindful eating, learning to recognize when I was eating for emotional reasons or boredom that led me to a place where this was an option that wasn’t potentially life threatening from an ED standpoint.

I’m still me. I still stand by all of the statements I’ve made in the past about WLS, or at least the ones I’ve made since I stopped being an asshole and stopped claiming surgery was “an easy way out.” I was not superior to anyone for losing 25 pounds through Weight Watchers, trust me. I may have wanted to believe I was at the time, but I definitely was not. Nor would I have been in any way morally superior because of following X (insert keto, paleo, raw food, vegan, Whole30, Jenny Craig, etc here) diet (or “lifestyle”) plan. I look back at the person I was when I was dieting and I cringe. I was a person who told a dying friend that at least losing 100 pounds because she had scleroderma was a “silver lining,” and I did not understand how she could possibly mean it when she said, trust me, Jess. No one wants to lose weight this way. Because I sure thought I did. I’d have done anything to lose weight and, more importantly, be thin. “Healthy” never entered the equation, though I certainly claimed it did.

When I stopped dieting, people said, but your health! You’re going to die young because of your fat! My response to that? Even IF that’s true (and that’s questionable, as there is much contradictory research/evidence on the matter), I’ll die happier and mentally healthier. That matters more to me.

Well, that still matters more to me. Maybe the surgery means I’m less healthy and maybe not. Only time will tell, and frankly even then I likely won’t really know for sure what has made me healthier (or less healthy). But if it gives me a chance to do more of the things that the extra weight I gained because of health shit over the past 8 years has robbed me of, it will be worth it. If it means the next time I fall I can get an MRI and not have permanent damage and lifelong pain because of an injury I couldn’t get proper treatment for, it will be worth it. If it means I can get treatment should I develop cancer, it’s worth it.

I plan to continue to be a warrior for fat acceptance and for changing the world in which we live so no one feels they are backed into a corner with no other options than surgery. That’s just not a fun place to be, and I know that from experience. No one should have to resort to something so drastic to get adequate healthcare. It’s one thing to make a choice for yourself because you want to for whatever reasons, and quite another to do it because you feel it’s your last resort. So I’ll keep fighting for a world where one doesn’t have to feel that way, but in the meantime I live in this world. This was hardly the only thing that factored into my decision, but it was definitely a major reason I went through with the surgery.

And there you have it… the hardest decision I’ve ever made. Hopefully, in the long run, I don’t regret it, but just as it is for everyone else, it was my decision to make. It’s my body and I get to choose how to take care of it. You don’t have to agree with it. You can try to use it as “proof” a fat person can’t be happy, if you want. But I have been and will continue to be a happy fat person, so I have to burst your bubble there. If you feel it’s a betrayal of what I’ve said I stand for, I’m not sorry because you don’t get to decide for me and because I still stand for all of the same things I have over the past decade. I understand the feeling of betrayal because I’ve been there myself, any time a body positive actress or celeb suddenly has had WLS or signs on with WW or Jenny Craig. But what I’ve realized is that I have no right to that thought process. No one owes me their fat body, anymore than they should expect to be in some way obligated to try to make their bodies thin for the sake of societal beauty standards and ideals. It is just as wrong of me to expect a person to decide to stay fat for me for X reason as it is to want them to become thin for X reason. It’s just as fucked up. Yes, it’s disappointing to hear someone formerly body positive start trashing their bodies or start pimping diet products, but it’s not my choice to make. And we very often don’t know what led them to that decision, either. Regardless, body autonomy is something very precious to me. I respect a person’s right to make decisions for themselves, even when I don’t personally agree with said decisions. Your life, your choices.

It’s honestly really that simple, if only we let it be.

~JK

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Why I don’t comment on your weight loss posts

I wrote this as a facebook post, but decided to turn it into a blog post because it got very long. It’s been a long time, as I don’t tend to write here until I really have something to say… and tonight, I did.

Two of the hardest things about being in eating disorder recovery (for me) are reading/hearing about dieting and negative body talk. Eating disorder recovery is an ongoing process. I think for many of us who have experienced the hell of an ED, it never completely goes away and often requires, to quote Mad Eye Moody, “constant vigilance.” I know for me this is true.

Now, just to clarify up front, you have every right to do with your body whatever you feel you need to do for it… whether or not that is pursuing intentional weight loss. And while I wish you wouldn’t, because it makes me sad for you (it really makes my heart hurt), you also have the right to talk badly about your bodies. That’s true whether or not you are currently dieting, btw. I don’t think self-hatred is conducive to being healthy. I know from personal experience that it’s not for me.

I don’t tend to comment on weight loss or dieting posts, beyond maybe saying something along the lines of “you’ve always been beautiful.” Because that’s true. Beauty isn’t about a number on a scale or the size of your jeans. It’s about who you are as a person. And I’m really sorry if you felt ugly today, or if you feel it every day… and I understand that struggle and that heartbreak. But you’re not ugly. I’m not friends with ugly people. And I don’t comment because I don’t want your sense self-worth to be tied up in how much you weigh, or how you look. It’s not because I don’t care; quite the contrary, it’s because I do.

However, I recognize that my extreme aversion to seeing you talk about your diet is my problem and not yours. So I stay silent. Your body belongs to you, even if you choose to talk about it publicly, even if you’re sharing intimate details about it. You get to decide what to feed it, how to dress it and how to treat it in general. Just as I do with my own body, even when I share intimate details about it publicly.

My journey from a practically life-long diet to a mindful eating or Intuitive Eating approach is an ongoing one. What I put myself through, what my family members (NOT my mom, FYI) put me through… that is something that I will always struggle with because there are some wounds that cut so deep they never quite heal over all the way. For me, this is one of them. Being in a world with a constant obsession about weight and appearances and dieting does not help with that struggle.

Despite the struggle, I am so much happier now. I’m much more mentally healthy, and I believe 100% that without my mental health I have nothing. My physical health is irrelevant if I am as mentally unwell as I was in the throes of my eating disorder. I know some of you will read this and go “but – but – but… your health,” even if you don’t say it… and please don’t, by the way. If you’re truly interested I can point you in the direction of plenty of research that will explain my position on this, but otherwise I am not looking for a debate on the topic with this post. Believe me when I say that as a fat person living in today’s world, there’s rarely a single day without some OMG BUT YOUR HEALTH message, whether personally aimed at me or just aimed at fat people in general. In fact, I get these messages so often I’m fearful of one of the medications that helps me function daily, because in people with cardiac issues, it can cause problems. But I don’t have cardiac issues. I’ve been checked out. My cholesterol is normal. In fact, my triglycerides were always high (common in women with PCOS) and they normalized when I began IE, and stopped being fearful of the calories in healthy fats. So why am I so scared when I have no known medical reasons to be afraid? Because I cannot tell you how many times in an average month I hear that I (or people who look like I do) am going to “drop dead” at any moment of a heart attack. It’s simply not true, but the message is out there for all of us fatties to absorb. And my anxious brain grabs onto things like this in a way that the brain of a person without an anxiety disorder does not. So believe me when I tell you there is absolutely nothing you can tell me about how my fat will supposedly affect my health that I do not already know, that I have not already heard literally thousands of times in the past 31 years. And I’m 39. So yeah. Since I was a little girl. I know. I’ve researched. I’ve formed my own opinions. But it doesn’t mean I am immune to the constant bombardment of OMG FAT IS DEATH messages, either.

Here’s the bottom line… even IF everything bad we’re sold about being fat were true – and it’s so very much not – I’d honestly rather be mentally healthy than struggle to accomplish something I never did in literally decades of trying. The only thing I got for all my years of effort in dieting was fatter and more unhappy. I was so unhealthy and so unhappy, and life is just too fucking short for that degree of unhappiness. That’s my story and my choice, and that’s my right… just as you have the right to your stories and your choices about your bodies.

So if I don’t comment on your weight loss or your diet posts, it’s not because I don’t care about you. It’s because I know I have nothing to say that you want to hear. It’s because it’s too painful for me, and I need to quietly walk away. It’s because, since I care for you, it makes me very sad when you say negative things about yourself. It’s because it triggers a lot of unhappy memories for me. It’s because even now, despite being so much happier, I struggle myself, and I don’t need to see or hear those messages. It’s because of a lot of reasons, but it’s not because of you, and it’s definitely not because I don’t care or because I think you don’t have the right to make those choices for yourself. In fact, it’s because I think you do have that right that I stay silent, and it’s because I do care that I tell you you’ve always been beautiful.

It’s also very much because of me, of what I need. And all I can do is hope you respect my right to make these choices the way I respect your right to make yours.

~JK

Fat shamed by medical professionals

(sadly, the service I recorded this with has a limited lifespan for files, so the audio blog is no longer available.)

 

I have an experience this week, and it took me back to the first time I remember being fat shamed by a “medical professional.” Maybe it had happened before, but if so I don’t recall it. I did this as a voice blog, and you can listen to the recording using the link below.

WARNING: I curse some and I talk about uhm… feminine stuff at the very end. So this is really NSFW and likely contains TMI.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: I talk very bluntly, openly and candidly about a variety of eating disorders, and of course, obviously fat shaming.

Listen here.

~JK

It’s not a “lifestyle” choice

So today, I saw this:

Blah

It’s possible, though probably unlikely, that it was directed at me. I say possible because a lot of people misunderstand what it means to promote fat acceptance, or Health At Every Size or Intuitive Eating. I say unlikely because anyone who thinks this about me has a fundamental misunderstanding of who I am and what I stand for, yet I know that my message is one that is easily misunderstood or misconstrued, too. Some people assume that promoting “fat acceptance” means I am anti-thin people. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m for body acceptance in general. That being said, there is a reality in our society that thin bodies are considered healthy, desirable bodies and that fat bodies are considered ugly, unhealthy bodies. This is just a simple fact. So, it is absolutely true that I tend to be more proactive about promoting images, articles, websites, etc. that focus on viewing fat bodies in a more positive light.

I am the proud owner of a body that happens to be fat. I’m not proud of my body because its fat. I’m proud of my body because it’s my body. It’s the only one I have. It’s broken, in many ways that have nothing to do with it being fat, but it’s still the only body I have. Like your body, or anyone else’s body, my body is amazing. It does all the remarkable, incredible things bodies do. Admittedly, mine has some… quirks (like an autoimmune disease). But, still. I’m here because of my body. Like your body, my body is beautiful.

But I’ve been told my entire life my body is ugly. I’ve been force fed the message repeatedly that my fat body isn’t good enough, isn’t worthy of love, isn’t amazing and isn’t sexy. I’ve been given the same message millions of girls all over the world have been given. Thin bodies are the only acceptable bodies. Thin bodies are the only healthy bodies. Thin bodies are the only attractive bodies. For years and years, like so many other girls, teens and women, I fed into that myth. I believed my body to be ugly and unacceptable. I did everything in my power to try to make it not be what it was… to make it not be a fat body. Each attempt at being thinner made me a bit thinner, for a little while. Ultimately, though, even when I did everything “right,” the weight would come back. Sometimes it would bring friends with it, which was just salt poured into the wound that was failure. Except this is actually a studied phenomenon and it doesn’t even relate to genetics. Dieting is probably partly to blame for the so-called obesity epidemic. Worse, dieting contributes to the development of eating disorders, and that was very much the case for me. I was put on my first diet at the age of 8. I spent the next 2+ decades yo-yo dieting.

My fat body is not a lifestyle choice. I didn’t choose to be fat anymore than the thin person chooses to be thin. Some of us are able to manipulate our bodies into being what they aren’t, from a weight perspective. If not long term, at least short term, many of us can either lose or gain weight to try to be the size we want to be, or the size we’re told we should be, but for the vast majority of us, this change is not permanent. Have you ever wondered why celebrities who gain weight for movie roles are able to lose it so easily? Or if they lose weight (and muscle mass), they’re back to their more typical weight/body type quickly? It’s because these are generally people who are starting from somewhere near their body’s set point.

I couldn’t even begin to guess what my body’s set point actually is, and I’m not even sure my body knows at this time. I spent way too many years yo-yo dieting, losing 25 pounds, gaining 30… overexercising, restricting food intake, binge eating. On top of that, I have Hashimoto’s Disease, PCOS and fibromyalgia. I’ve had 3 surgeries in just over 3 years. My body has been through hell and back, and my ability to exercise was impacted by that. It’s sad, really. When I was able to exercise, and did so regularly, I hated it passionately. I hated it despite the fact that it made me feel good mentally, that it helped me sleep better, that I was proud of myself for being brave enough to exercise in a gym in notoriously fat-phobic NYC (in a very pretentious area, nonetheless). Why? I hated it because I was doing it to lose weight. It was supposed to make me thinner. It never did, but I kept doing it right up until the fibromyalgia caused my first exercise related injury and I was forced to stop. I wish I hadn’t wasted time making it about weight loss. I wish I’d realized then that, even without losing a single pound, exercise would make me healthier. I wish my focus had actually been on health, but despite what I’d have insisted to be the case at the time, it had little to nothing to do with being healthier, and nearly everything to do with being more socially acceptable. Which is sort of odd for me because I’ve always been a rebel and I’ve never much cared what people thought about me. However, where my weight was concerned, a lot of my issues came from my family. I know this is true for a lot of people who have struggled with their weight, or even with just their perceived body image. It’s sad that families don’t recognize the critical role they play in the building of our confidence, or that, even worse, in some cases, they simply don’t give a damn.

The point is this… my body size isn’t a “lifestyle choice.” Not dieting, and trying to adopt a Health At Every Size approach? Now, that IS a lifestyle choice. It’s one that has revolutionized my life, and one I don’t regret for even a minute. And if that message was directed at me, I have to laugh at the “get help,” because I did get help. I worked with an eating disorder therapist on adopting an Intuitive Eating based approach to life for eighteen months. I did a phone session with one of the co-authors of the book. Help is how I got here, and I am so incredibly grateful for it because to think of what I’d still be doing to myself otherwise? That’s horrible. It was hell. That endless roller coaster of dieting. The emotional turmoil. The self-hatred it so frequently inspired. The competition amongst other dieting friends, or for a while, even my husband. Not for me. No thanks.

Does that mean you shouldn’t diet? Of course not. You get to make your own choices, just as I have. You have to find your own path to happiness and inner peace.

As for thin-shaming, it’s never okay. It’s not anymore okay than fat-shaming. I do want to make a point, though. This may not be something easily understood, and I’m sure it will be controversial, but as a fat person who once bought into the whole “real women have curves” mentality, I want to try to explain why. When you grow up being told over and over your body type is ugly, you can become desperate to latch onto any seemingly positive message that is directed at your body type. When I used to like such things on facebook, or wherever, I didn’t realize the flip side of that message. I honestly didn’t realize that the message was one that put down a different body type. I only saw it from the “holy shit, that’s a fat chick in a bikini and she looks happy and awesome” perspective. It didn’t dawn on me, ironically until I began my IE journey with the eating disorder specialist, that by liking images like that I was actually implying women who didn’t look like me were somehow less than. I never meant to do that, and I ultimately realized I was guilty of doing what had been done to me. Someone who is new to the process of accepting their body may be in that same boat. They may not realize that something they think is body positive is really only promoting a positive message for one type of body, not an inclusive message. Of course, the alternative is also possible. It may be that the person actually feels that way. I’m not one to dictate how anyone should feel, or what another person should find appealing or attractive. We’re all entitled to our own feelings and opinions. However, we’re not entitled to be assholes about them. That’s when it crosses the line from a feeling, belief or opinion and becomes bullying, oppression or bigotry. That’s not okay.

So many of us have our own battles with how we look, or how we feel we are perceived by others. I have naturally petite relatives who are given stupid advice like “oh, you’re so thin… maybe you should eat more.” And of course, most of my life I’ve been asked, even by complete strangers, “do you really need to eat that?” My body is not yours to police, just as yours is not mine to police. You get to eat what you want. I get to eat what I want. End of story. But please, to those of you reading this who are thin, ask yourselves this question… have you ever heard a little girl say she wants to grow up to be fat? My guess is you haven’t. People have said they’d rather lose limbs than be fat, or give up their marriages or a year of their lives. The vast majority would rather give up $1,000 than gain 20 pounds. In fact, there have been studies to demonstrate that little girls as young as 3 years-old prefer thin over fat. So what is my point? My point is this… no one has the right to shame you for being thin. Ever. It’s wrong, it sucks and it’s just as bad as shaming a fat person. However, it’s very likely that the person thin-shaming is envious – maybe not even consciously – of a body she can’t have herself. Whereas, I am pretty damn sure that not one person who has every body shamed me wanted to be my size. This is part of why my focus tends to be on promoting body positive things related to fat people… but it doesn’t mean, for even one minute, that I think it’s okay to thin shame. It doesn’t mean I won’t call thin shaming out if I see it. I have and I will.

Why is this worth mentioning? Well, because I’d like to live in a world where no body is shamed, because we don’t look at each other and think, gee, I wish I looked like that instead of like this. I wish we lived in a world where it was as okay to have a thigh gap as it is not have one. Or vice versa. I want to live in a world where people wouldn’t dream, for even one minute, of giving up a marriage rather than being fat, or of choosing to be blind or lose limbs over having a body type that is that vilified and hated by so many. I’d like to live in a world where someone who loses weight isn’t automatically presumed to be sick, or a drug addict… or dieting. I’d like our world to be one where we don’t feel the need to say to someone, “oh hey, you look great… you’ve lost weight,” implying that the person didn’t look great to begin with, or assuming that the weight loss was intentional, and not the result of emotional trauma (like the death of a loved one, or a divorce) or a horrible illness (like cancer). We don’t live in that world, and I am not idealistic enough to believe it will ever be quite that perfect or simple, but I am a fighter and I will do all that I can to help make that world a reality. Some things, no matter how unlikely, are worth fighting for… and to me, this is one of those things.

~JK

Oh, Special K…

So, the people at Special K think you’re stupid. Or at least, they are hoping you are. They are running multiple campaigns to imply that they believe in body acceptance and not body shaming. I had wanted to believe, at first, that maybe they were changing their ways. But… they aren’t.

Here’s the first in a series of campaigns they’re doing.

Red flag in the video? “We believe it’s a barrier to managing their weight.” Ah. Okay. So, right off the bat, though they are saying “fat talk” is harmful, they are also clearly still stating we need to “manage” our weight.

Then there is this one.

“Not seeing the number is so freeing,” says one woman in that video. I agree with her, to be honest. But the problem is… Special K is very, very much still using these campaigns to promote weight loss and dieting. So, I guess it’s okay to not see the number on the scale or your pants, just so long as that number is also shrinking? Or being “managed?” What does “managed” even mean to Special K?

Then they, disappointingly, managed to recruit Tyra Banks. Tyra has admitted she doesn’t “believe in diets,” and has been very body positive. So, I’m not sure why she’s signing up with a campaign so full of shameless mixed messages and manipulation.

The final nail in the proverbial coffin is this New Year’s resolution inspired print ad, which I scanned after finding it in the January/February edition of Cooking Light (a magazine I will not be renewing my subscription to, but that’s a story for another post).

Scan0013

At first glance, I was like… whoa! That’s actually not a bad ad for them. But, then I began to digest the mixed messages, and realized. Not only is this the same old dieting BS I’ve come to expect from Special K, it’s manipulative, dishonest and probably more harmful than their usual run-of-the-mill ads for it. The concept that you can focus on a “word” and not a “number” seems great! The word “JOY” on the scale seems positive, but then I saw the lower left corner, and the “What will you gain when you lose?” tagline.

“Most anything is possible when you focus on the positive.” That sounds good, right? But here’s the problem. This entire campaign, while very cleverly conceived, is insidiously manipulative. You’re telling women to accept their bodies and not shame them but also clearly saying they need to “manage” them, and making it obvious that the goal here is still weight loss. It’s disappointing, but hardly surprising to me, given the history of this brand.

You are, of course, allowed to diet. If that’s what you want to do, if that’s what you feel is best for your body… by all means go for it. We get to make our own choices. I am personally anti-dieting because there is nothing to support that long term weight loss of any statistical significance is possible for the vast majority of people. I prefer to follow the Health At Every Size and Intuitive Eating approaches. I worked with an eating disorder therapist for over 18 months on IE specifically, and in the past few months I have been working to incorporate a more focused HAES approach, too.

I feel that even if everything the media and $60 billion dollar a year dieting industry want me to believe about the “dangers” of being fat are true, there’s nothing to suggest I can be anything other than fat. That includes over 20 years of dieting vigorously, during which I repeatedly lost and gained weight (always gaining more than I lost). For more information, check out Ragen Chastain’s excellent post on this subject. Scroll to the bottom if you’re only interested in links to various studies and articles that support these claims.

Special K wants you to believe they have your best interests at heart, but the reality is they have their best interests (and bank accounts) at heart. I personally find it disappointing because I actually love (some of) their products, but I just can’t support a company that is sending such horribly mixed messages to consumers. The ultimate goal with these campaigns is to get you to sign up for a “Special K plan” which recommends replacing two meals a day with 2 of their products a day to “lose up to 6 pounds in two weeks!” While the plans appear to be free to sign up for, obviously they still profit because you’re buying their cereals, snack bars, water, protein shakes, etc.

However, all of this is my perspective. Yours may differ, and that’s cool. If you want to do a Special K diet plan, I’ll respect your right to do just that (or any diet), as long as you grant me that same courtesy. FYI: Saying you’re “just concerned” about my “health” is not respecting my my right to not diet. I’m fully aware I am fat and that various medical professionals who don’t know me (and have never examined me), the dieting industry and the mass media would have me believe I am a ticking time bomb. I’m very much aware of the fact that I’m “morbidly obese” on the (ridiculously used) BMI charts (and I have been since I was probably 13). I likely know more about nutrition than most so-called “normal” people. For one thing, I spent seven weeks in an eating disorder hospital when I was 15, and worked extensively with dietitians, not only during that time, but later in my life. My personal physician – who has worked with me for 7+ years now – supports fully my efforts at IE and HAES. So, you’re just going to have to trust me to make my own decisions about my health, based on what I feel is best for me, not only physically but emotionally. There are a multitude of reasons why my weight loss attempts failed repeatedly, aside from the most obvious one of long-term weight loss fails for the vast majority of people. I have two medical conditions that make weight loss even harder for me than it is for the average person. On top of that, I have fibromyalgia and live with chronic, daily, constant pain. Exercise is not only excruciating, it’s actually harmed me. I’m currently working on finding a form of exercise I can do, because I miss being more active.

The bottom line is this… you get to decide how you want to pursue health, or IF you want to. You don’t have to, and neither do I. I actually do want to be healthier. But trying to force my body to be what it isn’t has never made it healthier, and it creates emotional unhealthiness for me. Regardless of whether or not you are pro-dieting, if the mixed messages in the Special K ads irritate you, let them know about it here.

~JK

Why I may cancel my graze box subscription

Updated to include the reply from graze

Subscription boxes have been a popular trend for a while now. There are a ton of beauty ones, among other types. When I had the opportunity to try graze boxes, though, I was really excited. For one thing, the snacks looked very unique. Here’s an example of a recent box I received. The food is fresh, and the flavors are good. I haven’t liked every snack, but many of them are really tasty. Plus, you can customize your preferences even before you get your first box, which is awesome. It’s also only $5 per box, and while it’s a little pricey for the size of the snack, I live in a rural area and getting a lot of the items in these boxes would be expensive, or even impossible. Additionally, you can get a box once a month, every week or every other week, and this flexibility appealed to me. Right now I’ve been doing every other week. Getting a graze subscription currently requires an invite code from another subscriber. Each new subscriber gets one invite, and occasionally they give you a way to earn an additional invite. This makes finding a graze invite challenging, and of course, the exclusivity has increased the appeal for many.

Every graze box includes a napkin, four individually packaged snacks and a booklet. The booklets have been fairly silly overall, but they are cute. However, this was part of my most recent booklet and it deeply troubled me (click the image to see it larger).

Graze

I was so frustrated and annoyed by this that I decided to write the people at graze an email. Here is what that email said.

I wanted to bring to your attention something that has me very troubled, and even has me considering canceling my subscription. I have battled an eating disorder most of my life. It’s taken me years to see food as something fun, enjoyable and that will fuel my body.

I subscribed to graze as a way to get some unique, fun snacks. I love getting packages, and it gives me something to look forward to, in addition to being a neat way to try new foods.

However, the attached file, from my latest graze box really troubled me. It took me years to not see foods as “good” vs. “bad.” I eat what I like. If I choose to eat a healthier snack, it’s because it’s what I want. But I refuse to be made to feel as though I’m being “bad” if I choose to eat a candy bar or chips.

Calling graze snacks “heroic” is a bit of a stretch at any rate, but to classify an entire range of snack foods as “villainous” is ridiculous and upsetting. I can guarantee you that this comparison is a trigger for thousands upon thousands of people like me, who have worked hard to battle eating disorders. Worse, it feeds the idea of “bad” foods for those who don’t yet realize that they are battling an eating disorder.

Obviously, as a company you’re entitled to market your graze boxes however you see fit. Graze is hardly the first company to attempt to alleviate our “guilt” about eating, and it won’t be the last. But it would be nice if you could consider that how you word things really can have a very negative impact on the people who pay for your product.

I’ll be basing my decision to cancel on the response to this email. There are so many people like me, and many of them may not be in as strong of a place as I am in terms of how influenced by this “villainous” vs. “heroic” campaign they are. Please consider focusing on the actual health benefits of your snacks, as opposed to marketing gimmicks that feed into unhealthy emotional judgments about food.

Sincerely,
Jessica

We’ll see what their response is, but I may very well be canceling the subscription after this. I refuse to participate in a campaign of food bashing, and by paying graze for my boxes, I feel like that’s what I’d be doing. Considering how elusive invitations are to join graze, and how many people would probably pay me for one, it saddens me to cancel but I am not going to be made to feel like I’m committing a crime if I choose to eat chips. And I’m sure as hell not going to PAY a company that vilifies food. I’ve learned to avoid things marketed this way in stores, as they are big time triggers for me. I’ll be sure to post a follow up, assuming they ever reply to my email.

*Update*

I got a quick response, so I’ll give them credit for being prompt. That said, I’m underwhelmed by the substance of the reply.

Dear Jessica,

Thanks so much for sending us your sincere thoughts, and for sharing with us your story of how you’ve worked incredibly hard to overcome an eating disorder.

We’re really sorry that our Super Swaps nutrition booklet wasn’t positive or helpful towards your graze experience. It’s really good to hear that you actually enjoyed your graze snacks so far and that it has provided some fun and excitement, but we can understand how the slogan might have some uncomfortable connotations. I can assure you that we do not intend to label any of our foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but that we just try to separate ourselves from other snack foods you can find in stores which are higher in calories, fat, or sugar. We completely agree that there are no good or bad foods and that it’s important to keep an open mind about what the different dietary needs of our grazers are.

For many of our grazers, our snacks are a lot healthier than the ones you’d find in the supermarket. We always have our grazers in mind when creating new snacks, and do seek out suppliers who aim for the highest quality nibbles.

Graze is all about healthy eating, so you can see that we were simply trying to break down any barriers some folks might have about including smaller portions of some foods traditionally seen as ‘bad,’ such as chocolate, in a healthy diet. For us, it’s all about variety and balance, with the odd treat thrown in once in a while. For some of our grazers, they want to be reminded that they’re making some smart ‘swaps’ as it reinforces the idea that they’re treating their bodies and minds well. We do go into the health benefits of our snacks here but we also like to have some fun with our snacks, which is why we include booklets like the Super Swaps one.

Once again we’re really sorry and hope that grazing can continue to still be a fun and positive experience for you. I’ve made sure to share your feedback with our marketing team to see how we can improve our messages.
Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.

All the best,

(name removed by me)

I kind of feel as though this reply says, “we know some of our members see these foods as being ‘bad’ choices, and we’re reinforcing that belief for them!'” Which is my entire point… there are people who DO see food as “bad” vs. “good.” and I am just not a fan of that mentality. I think it’s incredibly unhealthy. You can choose to focus on healthier foods, but once you begin to add emotional judgments to food, it gets complicated, and it can fuel disordered eating behaviors that no one should have to face. I’m feeling as though this reply is a mixed message, at best. I’m likely to cancel my subscription. For now, I’ve pushed back my next shipment to July and have changed to once a month, instead of every two weeks. This gives me time to consider whether or not graze is a company I want to continue to support.

~JK

Hi there.

Some years ago I blogged in my “real life,” but it’s been a while. I blogged as Maeander from The Pretty Face back in my Weight Watchers dieting days. Then later, when I first discovered Intuitive Eating I realized I needed an entirely fresh start with a more… positive blog url. Eating My Cake was born, where I blogged as Juliet. Now, with Weighing My Mind I am blogging as myself. Just me. Just Jessica. Oh, my real last name isn’t anywhere on this site, but the truth is I’m not hiding this blog. I’ll share it with people who really know me (or think they do), along with people who only know me online (and often better than those who know me in real life). Some people won’t like what I have to say. I can’t help that. I’m responsible for my feelings alone. I know I am opinionated. I’m also tired. Really, really tired… of what? Glad you asked, since it’s what this blog is all about, really.

I am tired of the feeling that being fat is some sort of crime against humanity. In 2007 I began to work with an eating disorder therapist. I’d battled my weight my entire life. I was put on my first diet at the oh-so-impressionable age of 8. My aunt, who was responsible for that diet, will tell you to this day that she never deprived me. I, as the person on the diet, have another take on that. But I’ll save that story for another time. I believe she meant well (which is progress for me, because for years and years I didn’t). She was misguided and her actions set me on a destructive path of disordered eating that would be a way of life for me for over two decades.

In 2006, I was doing Weight Watchers for probably the fourteenth time. This time, due to a recent move to a rural area, I was doing it entirely online. My body was tired. Years of yo-yo dieting had taken their toll. Add to that various medical issues that make weight gain easier and weight loss harder, and it was a recipe for disaster. I wasn’t losing much weight, even being “perfect.” And let’s face it, “perfection” in anything is fleeting, if even achievable at all. With dieting, “perfection” comes at a bitter price… you wind up crashing and burning, and in many cases – including mine – binges soon follow. Weight gain follows, often more than is lost in the first place. When I – yet again – failed at Weight Watchers I felt despondent. Why couldn’t I do it? I mean, Weight Watchers is the “non-diet” in the dieting industry. You can “eat anything” as long as you count your Points! I had WW leaders who would “tsk tsk” at me. Who didn’t believe I was truly trying, even when I was. Even when my feet ached from walking more miles than I should’ve been attempting. Even when my stomach rumbled because I denied it food when I was truly hungry. I told myself I didn’t know what “hungry” felt like. I told myself it was not true hunger. I failed to realize that my body believed itself to be starved. I failed to realize that it wasn’t my failure. Even WW, as wonderful as it declares itself to be, comes with the “results not typical” disclaimers. Even WW results in far more failures than success stories. So, really… who is failing? The dieters? Or the diet?

Frustrated, I talked to my doctor. She recommended I talk to the dietitian who worked in the same office. So, resolved to figure something new out and desperate for a new path, I went and talked to Kathleen. She put me on a diet. *facepalms* Oh, like most diets, it was masquerading as a “lifestyle choice.” In the end, however, the goal was weight loss. There were “exchanges” to track. There were “meal plans” to inspire me. It didn’t last long. Something inside of me, something deep within, was simply… broken.

In 2007, while researching symptoms my husband had, of what we’d ultimately discover were multiple sclerosis, I discovered a listing of fibromyalgia symptoms. I was stunned. I’d been living with nearly every symptom on the list since late 2001. Like most of the doctors I’d seen, I blamed my weight. I figured I was just “fat and lazy.” I’d heard it enough growing up, after all. Maybe it was true. I’d ignored the pain. The fatigue was harder to ignore, but in 2002 I’d been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (which turned out to be Hashimoto’s Disease). So, I had an explanation for the chronic exhaustion, but I was still ignoring the sleep disturbances. Why? Oh, because I’d been told by an ENT in New York City that I “likely” had sleep apnea. After all, I’m fat. I snore. Combine the two and it seems to be all many doctors require to assume it’s sleep apnea. Only a sleep study done in the summer of 2006 revealed that I had only ever-so-slightly more sleep apnea episodes than a “normal” person would have had. It wasn’t sleep apnea. They did notice some unusual activity in my sleep, though. I didn’t properly cycle in and out of the stages of sleep. This was barely mentioned, but I now believe it is alpha wave intrusion, which is quite common in patients with fibro. It explains why I dream nearly as soon as I fall asleep. It also explains why I’ve not had a single night of sleep where I don’t remember at least parts of my dreams in years. In fact, I usually remember my dreams in vivid, technicolor detail. I wake up feeling as though I’ve spent the night active. It’s a horrendous way to live. Sleep and I used to be good friends. Now we’re enemies.

I think that my diagnosis of fibromyalgia, along with my husband’s MS diagnosis, made me realize life is short and bittersweet. At the same time I was also undergoing fertility treatments in an attempt to live our dream of being parents. It would never happen. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which I knew when we began trying to conceive. What I wouldn’t figure out until nearly two years into the process is that I also have endometriosis. The combination pretty much damned me, and after over two years of heartbreak I couldn’t do it anymore. In the fall of 2007, desperate for some clarity and help coping with both the infertility, the fibro, my husband’s MS diagnosis and, maybe more than anything, my struggles with dieting, I found a therapist. Bonnie specialized in eating disorders. I was so nervous the day I went to meet her. I fully and completely expected her “treatment plan” to involve a weight loss program of some sort. I was wrong. She introduced me to Intuitive Eating instead.

Why am I here now? I had “retired” from my IE blogger days in 2009. I didn’t feel like I had anything more to say (ha, never trust a Jersey girl when she says that). Well, as it turns out, I do. I have a lot more to say.

This week I’ve been inspired by a telesummit hosted by Anne Cuthbert. In particular, Ragen Chastain’s talk really inspired me, as have the blog posts I’ve read from her since. It made me realize that I have more I need to work through, more to learn… and more to share.

I welcome you on my journey. I hope it helps you as you take your own journey. Just remember, each of us has to find our own path. My journey is not for you to take anymore than yours is for me to take. We can learn from each other along the way. We can share our stories and adventures. Ultimately, though, when the time comes to continue along the path… only we can take the next steps for ourselves.

~Jessica