Binge eating and body positivity

I am obese.

That means I live my life surrounded by people giving me side glances and snide remarks. The ‘helpful’  people give me constant diet advice: did you know that to lose weight you need to eat less and exercise more? What? Really?!

On public transport, people visibly bristle at the thought of sitting next to me. I wore yoga pants in a bar the other week (I was going to yoga after meeting my friend) and was subjected to barely concealed looks of disgust that I had showed my wobbly legs in public. On aeroplanes, cabin crew hand me a seatbelt extender, that I’ve openly asked for, like we’re conducting a drug deal. My body elicits shame, horror and disgust.

I’m not an idiot. I’m not obese because I am unaware of what I am putting into my body. I’ve always been someone who likes food and over-indulges, even as a little kid. But as a teenager, I turned to food to seek comfort when my home life was confusing and my brain was a mess. Some habits are really hard to break.

Ten years later, I am in a constant battle to do ‘something’ about my weight, to break my bad habits. I see a personal trainer, who is the most patient woman in the world. I’ve seen psychologists, dieticians and psychiatrists. I went on medication for my binge eating and was unable to move for weeks from the arthritic side effects.

Progress seems painfully slow. On the scales, it doesn’t even count as progress. I have not lost weight in a very long time. But I also haven’t put any on at the rate I used to in a very long time. That, for me, is progress. Most times I want to binge, I can avoid it now. I still eat too much and not particularly healthily, but I don’t do it in binges as much as I used to.

As a confident, fat, feminist woman, I am told I should believe in the ‘body positivity’ movement. The idea that my body should be loved and respected, regardless of my size. But I can’t.

I rarely see people like me reflected in the body positivity movement. Firstly, that’s because the most prominent advocates are ‘Lane Bryant fat‘ (all hail goddess, Roxane Gay).

But more importantly, I feel like they are rarely open about the struggles of being a fat person like me. I’m not talking about the shit that other people give you, but my own internal struggle. I can’t celebrate my body, because it is a direct result of my mental illness. I might feel more able to manage it now, but even as I manage my illness, I am still fat, and reversing that process will take a long time. I am not comfortable being like this: I look in the mirror and see my past traumas. (Also I’m rarely literally comfortable…seriously, the world is not ergonomic for fat people.)

So I’m all for the body positivity movement in the sense that people shouldn’t be dicks to one another. No one should ever make me feel less valuable as a person, even as they try to ‘help me’. But I am uncomfortable with a movement that tries to get me to accept something that is fundamentally unhealthy for me, both physically and mentally.

Image credit – The Awkward Yeti

2 thoughts on “Binge eating and body positivity”

  1. We are Facebook acquaintances and I admire your courage to speak so openly about your personal mental health issues. I am also in a journey of both weight loss and healthier (emotional) eating habits with the help of CBT, which for me has worked well. I have also given this topic a lot of thought and wanted to share my views.

    1. I think the best way for us or the society to think about being overweight or fat is that a person has a problem with food/ eating. I think it best sums it up– it is an addiction problem often tied to emotional issues, people have different levels of skills working with this topic and they might have particular weaknesses (be it toxic habits from the past, a challenging lifestyle etc). And this in a very similar way, just as people have problems with… healthy relationships, smoking, alcoholism.

    The reason I find this mindset useful is that it sums it up, but contains no judgment. And it is an easy way for oneself to accept one’s journey— this issue is just a problem for me. A serious one, but still a problem like people have in other areas of their lives.

    The challenge with prejudice about weight loss is that it is thought to be somehow especially horrific– that overeating etc is a sign of character weakness, literally being weak and thus all the bad things. As we know though, people are never fully weak or strong, there is no such trait, we have challenges in specific areas of our lives and might be “weak” with one issue and “strong” with another. This is also sth that maybe needs more public awareness (this psychological fact). As I read laypeople’s (here i mean non social scientists) blogs about weight loss daily, I often meet this misconception– the thought that if I cannot stop myself from binging, then I am a weak person. An idea that is not true.

    So if we talked more about being overweight as just a problem like smoking, I think it maybe would help. We don’t go around thinking smokers are super weak and disgusting in their life.

    2. I think the body positivity movement does have a point, maybe it just gets lost in all the prejudice (by the society).
    For me, the positivity movement is about acceptance– while I may wish to change my body, I can also accept it the way it is now. This sounds not logical, but I think it is very hard to work with your body, if you hate it. The movement says– we should think about all bodies as beautiful and worthy and work our way up from there. I think the point is similar to unconditional self esteem– we are worthy people in ourselves.
    This sense of unconditional worthiness may help to remove some negativity from our mind and thus help us to work towards our goal. For example, with the help of some food related CBT, I have really focused on being positive (daily exercises), also about my body. While I have come quite far, I think in the past I would have just not made it, because I could not stand the thought of an imperfect body.

    The 2nd thing I think body positivity movement represents is an idea about being healthy in any weight. While being overweight is about being less healthy in general, there is a huge difference if you still live an otherwise healthy lifestyle. For example: work out a lot, sleep well, keep a maintenance regime and eat healthy, just not cutting. This also may sound counterproductive, but if one can accept the idea that they can be healthier even if they don’t lose weight– I think it is easier to start with things. That one can be better then yesterday, compared to noone else, but oneself.
    This will play much bigger role during weight loss– there will be times, when your weight won’t drop. You need to then keep on going and focusing on non-scale victories help. But the idea behind them is that there is more to being healthy than just weight.

    And for me it took some years to get started with real weight loss, but I started by being more healthy. I think this idea helped to progress.

    I don’t know if my thoughts make full sense, but I hope they spark some thoughts in you.

    • Thanks for your thoughts!

      Totally agree about thinking of over-eating as an addiction – I have been thinking of mine, and treating it appropriately, like that for some years (though certainly I think there is still a lot of stigma around addiction so it might be just replacing one negative perception with another! Who knows?!)

      I do believe there is some merit in the idea of healthy at any size, but I think only up to a point. I am relatively healthy for someone of my size – I go to the gym, I’m strong, I’m flexible, my blood pressure and glucose levels are within normal ranges. But I do struggle with several activities in my life purely because of my size and I think it is hard to say I am objectively healthy.

      But thanks so much for your comment. It’s encouraging to know people are reading! And as you point out, many people hold a lot of misconceptions about mental health, weight, physical health etc and the more people constructively engage on the topic the more change we might see in people being less prejudiced to one another!


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