Why I Gained 10 Pounds

I have sat down to draft this blog more times than I can count. I’ve started and stopped, thinking this is too much, too vulnerable, too exposed. People might think I’m a failure for gaining weight, others might think I’m a fraud for having these feelings, while others might think I’m ridiculous for worrying about a measly 10 pounds. 

 

My insecurity told me no one would want to read this.

This is not your classic before and after story. There isn’t an enticing photo of fat, old, sad me juxtaposed against the brand-new shiny happy 6 pack-laden me suggesting that all my life’s problems have simply vanished with some weight loss. Nope. This is me, with 10ish additional pounds on my frame, feeling physically phenomenal yet emotionally confused. Because weight gain and goodness are cultural mismatches.

 

My experience told me that people need to hear this.

This is one story in a sea of many stories. I could tell you about how early on I learned that thin = good, how I first lost weight at age 12, how my praise roared louder with each pound lost, how my shame blossomed with each pound gained, how I stopped eating at age 13, how I discovered bulimia at age 18. I could tell you about every diet I’ve ever been on, about how I lost and gained the same weight over and over again. I could tell you about how I recovered from 15 years of disordered eating, how having a child allowed me to embrace my body in new ways, how a disease diagnosis shook up my body confidence by suggesting my body had failed me yet again. 

But instead today I tell you about 10 pounds. This is my 10 pounds. But it could just as easily be your 50, or Sally’s baby weight, or Jane’s illness or Donna’s injury. This is a universal story. This is a story about falling victim to diet culture.

 

Diet culture dictates how we feel about our bodies.

It is built on the foundation of belief that weight loss is inherently good, thinness is superior, that once you lose weight, your life will be better, and if you deviate from the mean, you lose the game.

...And if this story doesn’t resonate with you? If you’ve managed to dodge this culture’s insidious effects? PLEASE share your experience. The world needs to hear more from you.

 

Here goes…

Sometime around fall or winter I decided to put on a few pounds (said nobody ever). I was about a year and a half out from my scleroderma diagnosis and while sometimes I felt really good, other times I did not. When I was at my sickest feeling my worst, I was also at my skinniest. The outside world looked in and saw success (because skinny = healthy and weight loss = successful), but inside I was sick and scared.

So I thought perhaps the opposite could be true. Maybe putting on a little extra weight could provide my body with some additional resources to continue to heal. At this point, I had done everything under the sun to restore my health, so was willing to give this a shot. I was comfortable enough in my own skin to do this. I cared more about how my body felt and less about how it looked. (Or so I thought.)

I didn’t do anything drastic, I just tempered my exercise and added a lot more nutrient dense foods. And I started feeling better. I can’t tell you for sure if was the additional weight, or the quality of nutrients, or the heavy emphasis of fats that made me feel well, but something worked. This spring marked the longest and most consistent time I felt well since getting sick. And so, since I was feeling well, I decided it was time to take the weight off and get back to baseline. 

But…the weight didn’t seem to want to go anywhere. All of my usual tools weren’t working. My diet? On point. Exercise? Often. I didn't understand what was going on.

 

At the risk of sounding melodramatic

(and this is the part I’m most embarrassed to admit),

a real identity crisis ensued. 

 

I’ve talked a lot about self care and self love. It’s been an integral part of my healing - both from an eating disorder and from an autoimmune disease. When I got sick, I had no choice but to put myself first. I thought taking care of my physical body was the epitome of self love. But when my body changed again, I was faced with questions: 

Was that love unconditional? Or was that love only for an Erin who looked a certain way? Could I extend that compassion toward 10 extra pounds of Erin? Toward a squishy belly? And newfound cellulite? What does it mean to feel well, but look differently? If I am not my body, who am I? If I am not my illness, who am I? If I am not a certain weight or size, who am I?

I began to worry what others would think. I work in the health field as a nutritionist. Would I be taken seriously if I had extra weight on me? Would people still want my services? Would people still trust me if I didn’t look a certain way?

Some old thought patterns resurfaced. Stuff I thought I had laid to bed so long ago. That’s how insidious diet culture is. It snuck up on me when my guard was down. The old message crept it: I am never enough as is. “I can’t believe I’m dealing with this shit again”, I thought to myself.

 

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” —Pema Chodron

 

Since Day 1 we’re taught that beauty and happiness and health come wrapped up in a very specific-looking package. When we deviate from that package, we feel shame. We tell ourselves we’ve “lost ourselves”. When we gain weight, we feel like failures, we feel like we’ve done something wrong.

I found myself spending a lot of time in the mirror, picking myself apart and wondering: What happened here? Where did I go wrong?

One day my 3 year old daughter walked in while I was inspecting myself in the mirror. And I thought:

This ends now.

This behavior was crazy, these thoughts were toxic. I had to put a stop to it all and break the cycle.

I needed to break the cycle for my daughter. Daughters emulate their moms. I have young girl clients who wade through their moms’ issues; girls are dramatically impacted by the way their moms talk about their bodies and treat themselves.

I want to be an ally and support system to help my daughter fend off diet culture, I don’t want to contribute to that programming. How I look at myself and talk to myself matters. She’s watching. 

I needed to break the cycle for my own wellbeing and health. My poor body has worked so hard to keep me well. And here it is, once again doing it’s job - I feel wonderful - and yet I’m still hung up on 10 pounds. My body knows this is a reprimand. It’s listening.

I needed to break the cycle for all the sets of eyes that land on my work. I pride myself on walking my talk, on being the change. I want to lead by example. I want people to do as I say AND as I do. How can I sit back and tell people to love themselves and love their bodies as they are if I’m struggling to do it myself?

 

At the crux of my identity struggle,

I asked myself the following questions:

 

Who do I want to be? An engaged and present mom. A supportive and fun wife. A funny and abetting friend. A compassionate and thorough nutritionist. A proficient writer & retentive researcher. A businesswoman who takes no shit. An advocate for change.

Is carrying around more weight affecting my ability to do any of these things? No.

Is it keeping me from being who I want to be? No.

Then why do I care? Honestly, WHY do I care about ten pounds?!

 

Because I am programmed to care.

This is diet culture, and even I am a victim of it.

 

When I gave my body carte blanche to do what it wanted to do, it gained weight. And I felt great. But my first reaction was to want to take the weight off, despite my body telling me otherwise.

This is diet culture. And it got me again.

 

While I recovered from an eating disorder

quite a few years ago,

I’m not convinced I ever truly healed

from diet culture.

 

So I committed to it. To fierce and loyal self love. To loving myself, to loving my body as it is RIGHT NOW without trying to change it. Simply accepting it.

This is the hard part. We’re so used to working on ourselves, we’re so conditioned to believe that we must do more, more, more. Always reaching toward a physical goal. Can’t we just ever coast? Can’t we just ever sit back and be proud of ourselves and be grateful for what our bodies do for us every single day? Can’t we just look in the mirror and say WOW - aren’t you something?

We need to stop the rhetoric that being skinny = being better. That being skinny = being happy. That being skinny = being healthy. It is simply not true. Weight loss is not the holy health grail.

Bodies are wonderfully dynamic things; they shift and change shape and respond and adapt. They’re ever changing. THIS IS NORMAL AND HEALTHY. 

When you identify yourself with looking a certain way & correlate your value with a certain weight, this puts you in a very precarious position. Because what happens when your body changes? What are you left with?

 

Weight gain is not a failure.

It is not something to be ashamed of. I’ve gained weight, but I haven’t been bad or undisciplined, I haven’t lacked willpower. I haven’t been lazy or irresponsible. I have simply honored my body. And if that is not a win, then I don’t know what is.

 

“A woman doesn’t need to be told, yet again, that she’s bad. She needs to be told that she’s good.” — Glennon Doyle Melton

 

I’m writing this to remind you  - and to remind myself - that we are perfect just the way we are. With all our lumps and bumps and feelings.

EVEN THOUGH every single message we hear tells us the contrary - that we’re not perfect, that we could be so much happier as someone else.

 

Diet culture appeals to all of our self-perceived inadequacies. It is not until we accept ourselves AS WE ARE NOW that we can truly heal from diet culture, and that we can truly heal our relationship to ourselves. 

 

I am heading into “swimsuit season” at the heaviest I’ve been in years. But I have a freedom and lightness about me that cannot be measured on a scale or put into a certain sized jeans. And something tells me that if I had rushed through this process in favor of losing the weight fast (at any cost), then I would not have this freedom right now.

I’ve been on a journey with my body all of my life, and I can honestly tell you that I have never - not one single time - learned to love myself through dieting or weight loss or fixing myself to look a certain way.

So if self love is what you’re after, then my suggestion is to table the weight loss expectations, table the ideal body, and instead love yourself with where you’re at. 

Love your body. Love your body when you see a new muscle, love your body when you’re sick. Love your body when you’re running a marathon, love your body in child’s pose. Love your body when you’re eating ice cream, love your body when you’re eating kale. Love your body at the top of a mountain, love your body while watching Netflix. Love your body through changes, love your body when it coasts, love your body when it struggles to get by, love your body when it thrives.

I have to admit that loving our bodies isn’t always easy. I’m 33 years old and have been working on it for a decade and I’m still dealing with this shit.

As it turns out, self love isn’t a destination. I was silly enough to think that it was. We will constantly receive messages that we are not good enough, that we need fixing. The real work is seeing these messages for what they are and then refusing to accept them as truth.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but you’ve gotta start with the first step. Self love is a journey, and we are all on it together. XO

 

 

‘as you are.’ says the universe.

‘after…’ you answer.

‘as you are.’ says the universe.

‘before…’ you answer.

‘as you are.’ says the universe.

‘when…’ you answer.

‘as you are.’ says the universe.

‘how…’ you answer.

‘as you are.’ says the universe.

‘why…’ you answer.

‘because

you are happening now.

right now.

right at this moment

and

your happening

is beautiful.

the thing that both keeps me alive

and

brings me to my knees.

you don’t even know how breathtaking you

are.

as you are.’ says the universe through tears.

 

— as you are | you are the prayer

by Nayyirah Waheed