What do you do when you stop dieting?
You eat. The answer is simple.
But, because eating stopped being easy for you so long ago, it will not be simple for you. You are the special breed who has forgotten how to eat. All the messages about body and size and value got the better of you, and the tiny part of you that knew how to feed yourself once upon a time, got drowned out.
Maybe you were shamed about your 12-year-old body, maybe you read your mom’s diet magazines before your brain (never mind breasts) fully developed, maybe you had ears and eyes and absorbed the messages the world told you about women, food, weight, bodies, size, and value.
The reasons don’t matter. What does matter, is that after a decade of eating less than you wanted and foods other than you wanted, you’re ready to stop. And, as difficult as stopping is, what you have to do next is even harder.
What you have to do now is the part that no one will believe you don’t know how to do, the part that you’ll feel silly and scared and panicked about—you’ll have to eat.
What should be the simplest thing in the world, feeding your body, will not be simple for you. At first it will feel like crawling out of your skin only to discover that your body is underground; so even once you’ve escaped yourself, you’ll still have to claw through six feet of damp, cold earth to reach the surface.
You’ll rush through it and you’ll ache. You’ll be afraid to go slow and you’ll hurt from the effort of it. You’ll believe you’re failing and you’ll believe you’re weak, and when you find yourself in the darkest of places, your resolve to quit dieting will falter because of the effort of it all.
You’ll replay your old way of thinking, that surely if you are just stronger, smarter, better you won’t have to feel like this anymore. Surely there is some way for you to stay small that doesn’t involve driving yourself crazy every single day with thoughts of food. With the thoughts of what you did eat, what you didn’t eat, what you should have done, what you shouldn’t have done.
Surely there must be a way to live that doesn’t mean the first thing you feel in the morning are your fingers pinching the flesh in front of your hip bones to see if yesterday was a good day or a bad day. Surely there is an easier answer that you have missed.
So, you’ll call in sick to work because you are, and you’ll walk to a park bench, and you’ll lean your head over your crossed legs with your palms covering your eyes and you’ll cry and cry, because you know you can’t do what you’ve been doing any longer. You know that another 10 years of this would not be a life, and yet you cannot fathom the alternative. So, for that entire day you stay in limbo, not moving in either direction. Not feeling, not thinking, not even sure what you’re crying about anymore. But you do know something has to change.
So you eat the wrong things in the wrong amounts because once upon a time food was the only thing that stopped the hurting. And then when you learned to stop feeling, you realized you no longer needed food. And then when you no longer needed food your body started to shrink. And when your body shrank you were able to wear nicer, smaller clothes. And then people thought you were really impressive. And it turned out that the trick all along was to just not feel.
And it worked super well.
Until it didn’t.
There had always been bad days. The days you’d tell yourself were one-offs and anomalies. The days when you’d crack, break down, have a weak moment, and fall off the wagon. When you couldn’t not feel for another second, so you’d find food—lots and lots of food—and that would calm you down, that would ease all of those feelings.
But then the guilt came, and the shame, and you’d wake up hungover-like from the weight of it all. So you’d make vows and you’d do penances and you’d atone for your mistakes and you’d feel certain that it wouldn’t—that it couldn’t—happen again. That, that was the last time and you were now fixed and better and all weakness was behind you.
And it would be.
Until it wasn’t.
You’d be cured until you weren’t, strong until you couldn’t be anymore. And then eventually, you couldn’t separate the good days from the bad ones because every day just felt like minutes between binges. And despite all of your penances and atonements and vows, you couldn’t make them stop. The days when you couldn’t stop eating, couldn’t stop filling yourself to avoid feeling anything but full, because full was better than empty, and shame was better than nothing.
And one day after years of this, on your hands and knees, you finally had to consider that maybe more willpower wasn’t the answer. Maybe the problem wasn’t you or your lack of strength, maybe it was something else entirely. This moment is when you will figure out what your tipping point is.
Your tipping point is the moment when you realize that you have been having the same fight with your body for __ years, thinking that by repeating what you’ve always done will somehow elicit different results. However long it takes you to get to this point is exactly how long you needed to arrive. You did not concoct the lie alone. You did not create out of thin air the idea that your body is wrong, what it is telling you it wants is wrong, or that it cannot be trusted.
All this time you believed that you and your lack of strength was the problem. You were taught/mislead/brainwashed into believing these things.
Let yourself be desperately afraid of eating while you eat.
Let yourself eat far too much at one sitting because your body is afraid it will be deprived again.
But let yourself eat.
You will have a hunger so deep you’ll fear it could not possibly be sated, that restriction and diets are the only way. Remember the park bench. Remember the moment your head was in your hands and you knew you could no longer keep going the way you’d been going. Remember how painful that alternative was.
You’ll crave foods that you would never have let yourself eat, in the quantities you never would have previously allowed. You’ll crave your childhood favorites: cereal, clubhouse sandwiches, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, ice cream, frozen cakes. And it will be baffling to see how many days in a row you can eat cornflakes with cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Go with it. Do not panic. Do not eject yourself from the moment: breathe. Keep eating.
This could go on for months and your instinct will be to take control of the situation by assuming your body can’t possibly know what’s best for it. But your body is learning to walk after years of being told it couldn’t, so let it stumble. Let it flail around a little bit. Let it rebel like an adolescent who doesn’t truly know what it wants, but just what it was told it couldn’t have.
And by eating, you will gain weight. And you will be very, very scared. More scared than you’ve been in a long time. And it will be very, very hard to not react out of fear, rip those peanut butter cups out of your hands and go to the gym at five in the morning.
Be still. Let yourself feel afraid. Identify what it is you’re most afraid of and where those fears came from—because you were not born with them, but you were born into a world that believes them and has no problem if you suffer trying to uphold them—women have died doing just that.
You are afraid of being big, of taking up too much space. And as you start to take up more space, you’ll feel it your duty to apologize for the space you take up. You are afraid of what people are going to think when they look at you. For so long you have been looked at and now, for the first time, you are afraid you may actually be seen.
You are going to feel like you have to apologize, explain, or “fix” it. It will be so difficult not to explain how hard you’re trying to lose weight, but I beg of you: don’t. You do not owe the world conviction that you are wrong, that your body is wrong, that the space you take up is wrong. You couldn’t know that, because everything you’ve ever heard and seen about women’s bodies suggests the opposite, but hear me now: you do not owe the world smallness, attempts at smallness, or shame.
And if you can get to a place where you recognize the absence of shame, that lack may be confusing, like you didn’t know it was possible—to not feel ashamed of the shape of your body. Your brain after gaining weight will naturally think, “Of course I need to lose it, of course I’m embarrassed, of course I owe people an explanation and attempts at rectification.”
You don’t. It’s a lie. It’s always been a lie. The world believing it, upholding it, espousing it as fact does not make it true.
So now what you need to do is stupidly simple: you need to buy bigger clothes.
Don’t think for a second you are practicing self-love and acceptance if you are wearing clothes that pinch and restrict. Don’t think for a second you can do your job or participate fully in your relationships if you aren’t breathing naturally or able to sit and stand comfortably. Buy some clothes that fit, the more stretch the better. It’s nearly winter: wear cozy sweaters that feel like hugs, take baths, don’t avoid looking at yourself in the mirror before you get in the tub. Take deep breaths with your hands on your belly. Tell yourself that the days of pretending your body doesn’t exist are over.
Do not explain yourself.
Do not give apologetic looks when friends see you for the first time in a while. Do not talk to people about what you’re eating or how much you’re exercising. Write across the mirror in the new lipstick you just bought: “I do not owe you thinness. When I am not thin, I do not owe you guilt. I no longer offer you my shame to make you feel comfortable with my compliance.”
And if that doesn’t fit, simply draw a heart, shade it in. Get more acquainted with the way your body feels—-both inside and to your own touch. Stop looking at yourself if you can’t look at your whole self. Stop only seeing the spots—the ones you believe are wrong and that should look different than they do, the places your eyes go first when you pass any mirror.
People are not looking at your best angles nor your worst. Remember that. Your angles are irrelevant. You just couldn’t have known that because you were led to believe the opposite: that they were all that mattered.
Start eating. Go slow, be gentle, but first, eat.