Hello, I've gained weight

Warning: This piece contains discussions around weight, eating disorders, depression, and other mental health issues. 

Hey, hi, hello there. This has been a difficult piece for me to write, but also, I know, an important one. I've been putting it off. It would appear I've gained some weight.

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I would be lying if I said this hasn't been one of my bigger fears in the last few years. Death? Loneliness? Crushed hopes and dreams? Nothing, apparently, in comparison. After an almost year-long stint on an extreme low carb diet, perpetual cycles of low carb eating and calorie/macro-counting (in between bouts of binge eating, my restrictions set free and my hunger running rampant), gainful employment, and a newfound joy in moving my body, I had stayed within the same 15 pound range for the last four years or so. 

Find me in January of this year! I was riding high on social engagements (like the countess that I am), eating delicious food, and moving my body in new and fun ways most days of the week (hip hop classes, boxing, many blissful hours of yoga, you name it). I was continuing to find comfort and strength in my body, although I still struggled to not feel guilt and shame, compulsion and restriction, in many of my food choices.

At the same time, I started listening to intuitive eating podcasts and following more body positive bloggers, my Instagram filled with an endless stream of stunning plus-sized fashion and bodies of all shapes and sizes. I learned about the science behind Health at Every Size, and the intricacies of diet culture as a social justice issue. Gradually, over months, I took a hard look at my history with food and my cycles of binging and restriction, and gained solace in the idea that my body might stay this size forever.

And then I got sick. Nothing serious, but I had been running at full tilt for months and I found myself stuck in bed for a week, with symptoms lingering for weeks afterward. Max and I left immediately after for a two-week road trip, and my groove was thrown out of whack. When we got home, we went away the next weekend, and I found it harder and harder to get back into the swing of moving my body at the level I was before.

I gained some weight in that first month, but tried not to dive back into my usual patterns. I fed myself - sometimes too much, sometimes carelessly - and watched from afar, taking care and observing my feelings and interactions with food, for once not wracked with guilt. While my choices in food weren't always healthy in the nutritional sense, they were healthy in a new way. I certainly had some compulsions around eating, but my binge eating had subsided substantially. 

Unsurprisingly, I've continued to gain a little more weight. It seemed to happen overnight, as I'm sure it does to many people. My clothes started fitting poorly, my body moved a little differently. I'm not at my highest ever, but I'm high enough to feel uncomfortable in my body. When writing this, I had to stop myself from specifying I had only gained "a little weight" over and over again. (I only did it once, see?) I'm scared.

I feel increasingly self conscious, and a wave of depression has been following me around for a number of reasons (including, ya know... just having depression). I'm tired and sluggish, although whether from depression, my decreased exercise, or the weight gain, who can tell. In all likelihood, they're all tightly intertwined, with no discernible heads or tails.

In many intuitive eating journeys, gaining weight at first is actually a common occurrence. It's natural to find confusion in portion sizes, hunger cues, what a meal looks like, and what food will actually make you feel good, after years of ignoring these cues and following external "rules". My old response would be to heavily restrict and track my food choices, but I know now that's probably not a helpful next step.

This time, instead of trying to find a workaround, I'm going to work through this. But there's the rub - I'm not quite sure how. How do I eat healthily without restricting? If I don't feel good in this body, what can I do about that? What bullshit with food and emotional responses is still rattling around in my brain? What does body positivity look like when you're not feeling positive about your body? Where do I go from here? 

One thing I do know is, I can't do this on my own. My needs for a professional are veeery simple - a Toronto-based counsellor or therapist who is relatively reasonably priced, has a history with eating disorder recovery, works with intuitive eating principles, and operates from a Health at Every Size standpoint. See? So simple! Am I looking for a dietician? A counsellor with special certifications? A mini team of specialists? I'm not sure yet, but it's time to start digging. 

In the meantime, I'm trying to be gentle with myself and get back to moving my body in the ways I love. Some days may feel foggy and maybe I'm crying at a lot of doggo videos as of late, but I'm also wearing my best kimono, pumpin' iron, and singing Adele at the top of my lungs (all at the same time, obviously). Let's take this one day at a time. We can do this.

Let me eat in peace

Sipping tea...

Sipping tea...

Trigger warning: This post contains talk about diets, weight, and related topics.

As a fellow person who exists and operates within a society, I'm sure you realize that we all make assumptions about others based on their appearance. Implicit bias comes in all shapes and forms, from race to gender expression. This type of bias is at the crux of many social justice issues, so there is a lot to unpack here and I'm not about to do that at this very moment. 

As a fat woman, I'm well aware of how much of society sees me. Maybe I'm rude, for taking up space. Lazy, because I must never move. Ignorant, because if I only knew better I wouldn't have ended up this way. Impulsive, because I can't see past instant gratification. Sexless, gluttonous, unhealthy, selfish; the list goes on. 

I have a favourite as of late. It might seem obvious, but the more I look out for it the more I see it everywhere (isn't that how it always is?) 

Falling in love with a piece of Swiss chard in my friend Jen's incredible garden.

Falling in love with a piece of Swiss chard in my friend Jen's incredible garden.

I must be fat because I don't know what it means to eat healthily. 

As a fat, 27-year old woman in North America, I must not have been exposed to years of "helpful" advice from strangers, friends, family members, and the media. I must not have spoken with concerned doctors, tried countless diets, and obsessed over whether I'm eating "correctly" for the better part of my life. I just need to eat more vegetables. Control my portion sizes.

Welp, that's enough of that, because let me tell you where I'm at. Maybe I'll print this post out and keep it in my wallet to pass along for future "helpful" conversations. 

Like many fat women, I've heard it all, and I've tried it. When I hit puberty at ten years old, I started struggling with food. Now, almost two decades later, I wonder if I wasn't just growing, looking for an emotional outlet, and hungry? Plus those Eggos tasted really good. 

But so launched a many years-long battle between me, my food, and my body. After hitting puberty I covered myself in baggy boys' clothes because I was so uncomfortable in my skin. I grew curves, I got a little chubby, and I felt enormous next to my friends. Looking at old photos now, I feel so sad that I ever felt that way.

At 16, I gained a little more weight, and after researching the South Beach Diet for my health class, started going to Weight Watchers with my family. We all lost weight, and did learn quite a bit about incorporating more whole grains and veg into our lives, although we were pretty average eaters before then too. I got smaller, and became obsessed with being smaller. After a case of mono (heyoooo) I was at my lowest weight ever, but still found myself getting referred to as "voluptuous" and "curvy" - no matter what I was still bigger than my friends. I spent the rest of my high school years sometimes secretly eating, ashamed, and sometimes trying to eat less at school in the days that followed. 

Next came university, an extremely difficult time for me and also a classic time to gain the good ol' Freshman 15. On my own, I often ate in extremes. I ate whatever I wanted, binging at the cafeteria, only to then go on the Master Cleanse, drinking lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup until migraines and fatigue took me down. After leaving school, I drowned my depression in food, trying to find a pocket of happiness or comfort in a confusing and empty time. 

Over the next few years my weight went up, and I tried everything. I went back on Weight Watchers, I counted calories, I was vegetarian, I went to two doctor-referred weight loss clinics. I lost nearly 60 pounds on an extremely low carbohydrate, low fat, low sodium diet. I ate salads and burger patties, spent days forcing myself to eat chicken breasts. When I couldn't eliminate entire food groups anymore, I counted my macronutrients, joining Facebook groups of women measuring their daily intake of carbs, fat, and protein to the gram. 

Don't try to tell me I don't know how to eat. I have tried almost every way of eating. 

A few months ago I started listening to Christy Harrison's podcast Food Psych, and it has been a game changer for me. I found her at just the right time, when I was growing more comfortable in my own skin, finding more joy in my body, and feeling differently about what "healthy" might look like for me. I think I may now be leading a "healthier" life (a word which is very open to interpretation and also not a basis for which to judge or criticize others), obsessing less about food, keeping active, and passing medical tests with flying colours. My diet looks pretty similar to the thin people's around me, I walk a lot, and I push my body hard on a regular basis. And I'm still fat. 

I'm still on my journey, and still figuring out what a balanced life and intuitive eating look like for me. I still struggle with binge eating from time to time, and hope to start exploring that in a less punitive environment. But Christy Harrison blew my mind when she pointed out that restriction and binging are just two sides of the same coin. So here I am, finding balance and pleasure and health in food, and looking to my body and life for cues on how to do it. 

In the meantime, please, just let me eat in peace.