Many years ago, a woman approached me in a public space and called me a Glutton and basically told me that I should be ashamed of myself because God certainly was. While the rational part of my brain was thinking, “What an odious thing to say! Who asked you!,” another part of me internalized the message and added it to the huge store of shame I had already been carrying for many years.
As a very little girl I learned to use food as a way to hide from the yelling. My mother did not possess the emotional bandwidth or stability to navigate her marriage, much less provide for the emotional needs of three frightened little girls. Food always soothed, it never criticized, and it was one thing I could count on to make me feel better.
Decades later, and after 40+ years of dieting on and off, I have decided that I’m tired of the message that I should be ashamed of my body. Do I often eat too much? Yes. Do I still struggle to eat mindfully? Yes. Is my bodyweight in excess of a healthy norm? Yes. But while unfortunate, none of those are reasons to devalue me as a person. Obviously, aiming for a healthy bodyweight is important for our cardiovascular health, our joints, and other markers of general health, and I am not excusing poor health habits. Still, people are much more than their worst habits and are worthy of being valued based on more than these few measures.
I suddenly came to realize that this is one of the last remaining areas of my life in which I have been treating myself as badly as others have treated me. The idea that individuals should not be allowed to respect themselves or to be treated with dignity and respect by others if they self-soothe with food, or are overweight for other reasons, is reinforced in every conceivable dimension of life. There are few experiences in life that are not made more challenging if one is overweight or large. Regardless, the shame which individuals are expected by society to heap on themselves is utterly incompatible with committing to a healthy lifestyle or making the many healthy choices one must make throughout the day, if one has any hope of achieving a health body size.
Speaking only for myself, I am choosing to respect myself and learn to accept the body I have, while also attempting gentle and gradual changes that are kind to my body and spirit. I am entitled to treat myself with the same kindness that I offer to others.