Mika Brzezinski did something very brave today. The MSNBC anchor took a picture of her scale and posted her weight – 135.9 – on Twitter. Caption: “My weight. One year ago today I was 118 and felt fat. I feel good about this actually ..#obsessed pic.twitter.com/fHx2mhM0BW” While I don’t normally advocate the sharing of weights in any forum other than a birthing room (and even then, only the baby’s!), this is a really big deal for her. For any of you who don’t know her story, she’s publicly battled eating disorders and has written extensively about her struggle with body dysmorphia, self image and depression – particularly poignant as she’s a public figure whose job arguably relies on her looks. In case you didn’t catch that, girlfriend gained 18 pounds and she feels better about herself now than when she was closer to the “ideal.” (Heavy on the air quotes, there.)
Well, Mika and I have something in common beyond the fact that we both wrote books about our struggles with exercise addiction that should be stocked in the “overshare” section of the bookstore. (What, that’s not a real classification? It should be!) I too have gained 18 pounds over the past year-ish.
I haven’t really talked about it on here for several reasons. First, because weight insecurity is as contagious as the stomach flu on cruise ships. Don’t believe me? Bring up weight gain in a group of women and watch all of them fall like dominoes into a pit of self-loathing and despair. And I love you guys way more than I love cruise ships. Or dominoes! The last thing I want to do is infect you with my own negative thoughts and send you into a shame spiral too. Second, I wanted to wait and make sure it was “for real” weight gain. Since I gave up weighing myself years ago (yay!) I don’t know the day-to-day fluctuations anymore and so I wanted to wait for a doctor’s appointment before worrying about it. But I just had that appointment and the weight gain is definitely legit. My friends – bless them – say they can’t see it but my new friends haven’t known me as anything other than this current shape and my old friends learned a long time ago not to indulge in weight talk with me. Lastly, because I’m trying to stay positive about myself regardless of what the dumb scale says. I’m awesome no matter what! Except that I don’t feel awesome about this. I kinda feel like I’m supposed to be the poster girl for Intuitive Eating and being body positive yet apparently I’m failing at both.
But am I?
Does gaining a significant amount of weight really mean I’ve failed at Intuitive Eating? Does it mean that Intuitive Eating doesn’t work? One of the e-mails I get most from this blog is from people asking me if IE is still working for me, four years later. During the first two years I was tirelessly (irritatingly?) celebratory about it, proclaiming my love for it at every opportunity. “Of course it works!” I’d declare. “Because I’ve been eating what my body needs for two years now and I haven’t gained a pound! It turns out that when you give your body what it really wants and needs, everything balances out effortlessly! No calorie counting, food journaling or 4-hour bouts of cardio required!” And people would write back and tell me how inspired they were by my example and they too wanted to live a life free of neurotic obsessions with numbers and scales. I’d feel fantastic. They’d feel fantastic. It was all glorious.
Well I stopped answering those e-mails a year ago. I didn’t know what to say anymore. The one thing people found so comforting – that I could let go of the crazy restrictions and still stay at my “happy weight – wasn’t true anymore. And it’s not like I was underweight to begin with and I was gaining back much needed pounds in recovery. I felt like I didn’t have a good reason for the weight gain. (And yeah, I’ve had every medical thing tested. I’m aces across the board.) It’s also not the fabled muscle gain. Not only has my body fat percentage increased but my clothes have gotten tighter and tighter – remember those expensive jeans I bought because they made my butt look aMAYzing? I can get them on but the seams look so tortured you can almost hear them cry for mercy. I’ve tried not to panic, all the while trying everything reasonable I could to halt the weight gain.
Limiting sugar. Increasing HIIT workouts. Not eating after dinner. Getting more sleep. Eating “cleaner.” Scary part: Nothing’s worked at all. Even scarier part: I’ve discovered I lack the willpower to do anything more. Restricting anything, even a little bit, now causes a major mental pushback. I will NOT be told I can’t eat candy ever again!
So here’s what I’ve decided:
1. Intuitive Eating does work and did work for me in the beginning because I was so careful to follow all the rules then – like sitting down every time I eat to help me pay attention to my hunger cues. This would mean that if I rededicated myself to the program then it would start working again and I’d return to my happy place on my own.
2. Intuitive Eating does work and my body, for whatever reason, has intuited that I need 18 more pounds of padding. (But I’ve moved from Minnesota, body! I no longer need the protective layer of blubber to keep warm!) This would mean that I should now focus on loving, accepting and cherishing my body the way it is and figure that my body knows best so it must be this way for a reason.
3. Intuitive Eating doesn’t work, at least not in the long term.
And of the three, I honestly don’t know what to tell you, dear letter writers who want to know. I wish I knew the answer. I wish I could tell you what you want to hear. I wish I were as evolved as I thought I was in not worrying about the scale number and focusing on my health and happiness. I wish I didn’t care. I wish I knew that this weight gain has an end point. I wish I had something funny and witty to say about this. I wish… well, I wish I were perfect at this whole IE thing.
But, as they say, perfection is the enemy of happiness.
So I’m trying to give myself a break on the guilt. We have basically spent the past four months under the kind of intense stress that puts “moving” with divorce and death of a loved one at the top of mental health intake forms. In transitional housing we ate out a ton. Thanks to having a long summer of all kids at home and being responsible for 100% of the childcare while still having to, you know, work, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, losing sleep and gaining stress.
I’ve got lots of excuses. I’ve also got 18 pounds. Yet I’ve also got the freedom and confidence IE instilled in me. I don’t wanna go backwards!
Now you tell me – have I failed at IE’? What do I do? Decree IE dead, go back to ‘traditional” methods and risk going cuckoo again? Learn to embrace my new weight? Try again to do IE but do it “right” this time? Am I doomed to become the cliched girl always trying to lose the “last ten pounds” and never succeeding? Have any of you ever been in this situation??
And what do you think of Mika’s media stunt? Would you ever post your weight on social media??
PS. To all of you who haate when I get down like this, I’m sorry. Truly.
PPS. HUGE shout-out to my girl Mandy who I met at back-to-school night tonight. She made my whole week by not only telling me she’s been reading my blog for years but even recognized me from it! That happens to me so rarely that every time it does it just makes me grin and grin. I know how busy y’all are and it means a great deal to me that you would chose to spend some of that precious time reading my stuff:) (Plus her son is in my son’s class and her little guy immediately welcomed mine – such a sweetheart!) Thank you Mandy!