Ah, the loaded question, “have you lost weight?” If I only had a slice of cheesecake for every time someone asked me that. I’d have a lot of freaking cheesecake. I like New York traditional, by the way, and then chocolate, because a girl can get bored, and we are talking a lot of cheesecake. The question implies that I needed to lose weight, that something about me needed to change; and that now I am better.
When I am asked this question, even today, my first feeling is joy. I can’t help it, I don’t want to feel it, I don’t like that I feel it, but that’s what happens. That is what needs to change. That is my promise.
I grew up thinking there was something wrong with my body. I was chubby. Wait, I was told I was chubby and I was put on diets. Food was restricted. There was “good” food and “bad” food. As was the norm for girls of my generation, I developed an eating disorder. I struggled for decades. I am doing well, but I sometimes fall into negative self-talk. I don’t diet now. Ever. That is a victory. But, I still work to accept who I am, to be in my bones and my skin the way I was born to be.
And, here’s the thing: I’ll bet you all that cheesecake that, if left to my own devices as a kid, I’d have developed a healthy body image. But, instead, I was body shamed. My eating was watched and monitored. And, I developed an eating disorder. I became a binge eater and a chronic exerciser. And, I became a chronic dieter. I tried every diet known to man. I did the Scarsdale diet, Weight Watchers, run-of-the-mill-restricting-until-you-feel-faint, Atkins, Cabbage Soup, Green Smoothie. I could go on and on. The one consistency with these diets was not only that I lost weight; it was that when I stopped, and I always did, I binged. I made up for lost time.
Diets don’t work. They do not work. Finally, in my college years, and with only minor relapses since then, I started doing what I needed to do all along. I listened to my body’s own hunger cues. I ate what felt good and what fueled me.
Today, I enjoy indulgences in moderation and, fortunately, I love healthy food, so it’s easy to eat salads, whole grains, chicken and fish. I also love steak and potatoes, and pasta. So, I eat them. And I love desserts, but in small doses. Too much sugar makes me sick. Too much anything makes me sick; like it does most people. But I do love a slice of cheesecake once in awhile. And, if I have one, I don’t need several.
Asking “have you lost weight?” is typically followed by a compliment like “you look great,” or “good for you.” But, at that point, it’s too late. The question itself is not a proper compliment. It’s backhanded at best, and an insult at worst. It says: “You looked fat—and therefore bad—before.” Or, “You needed to change, so, phew, thank goodness you have.” Or, “I’ve been watching your body size, and will continue to do so. Be on alert.”
All of these have troubling undercurrents. Let’s start with the fat one. Get that out of the way, once and for all. That word: fat. Shudder. Let’s not use that word. How about, my body doesn’t look like the bodies of other women you see, i.e., models, actresses, or any other people who are not me?
Unless I brought it up, or you are my physician—and it’s a health issue, the size of my body is not your concern.
I have finally learned to like my body. It has made two babies. It has lived in several countries. It has done amazing things, this body. I’m on a medication that causes weight gain. Without it, I’d be so depressed I couldn’t function, so that extra ten pounds, while not welcome, is my life raft. I have a thyroid disorder making it hard for me to lose weight, but sometimes I do. Ultimately, my weight is none of your business and that question could easily be a flat out insult. It implies that I looked bad before and now I’m better, and more visually appealing. Just, better.
So, here’s my commitment to myself. The next time someone asks me “have you lost weight?” I will respond with a shrug and change the narrative. “It’s great to see you,” I will say. I will redirect the conversation away from how my body looks to how I feel, to who I am in that moment, to how I want to relate to them.
And, now, when you see someone you’ve missed, or haven’t seen in awhile, maybe something is different, you can just say “Hey, good to see you, you look great.” But, leave it at that, even if you’re thinking, wow, she’s lost ten pounds! Re-train your brain. Think instead about how happy he looks, or about how much you missed him. Think. If the response is “Thanks, I’ve lost ten pounds, I feel great,” you can say, “I’m glad you’re feeling good about yourself. Good for you.”
OK, no more asking that question. Be thoughtful.
Photo by A m o r e Caterina