I got sick last week. Not sniffles sick, or sore throat sick … I’m talking an off-to-bed-with-you hurricane of nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and exhaustion that struck out of nowhere. I could do little more than cling to my bed for dear life, watching the light change outside, just waiting and waiting and waiting for it to be over.
To complicate matters, my husband quickly became sick, too, though thankfully to a less traumatizing degree. Parenting doesn’t come with sick days, as they say, so our mornings started with Spencer and I playing “Who Feels Worst?” The “winner” had to take the kids to school—a 6-minute drive that might as well have been a transcontinental voyage.
Worse still, this lasted for four solid days. I’m used to the terrible 24-hour stomach bugs that, while awful, quickly release their grip. This? Days in the fetal position, delirious with pain and nausea. Save childbirth, I can’t remember another time in my adult life that I was so incapacitated.
I missed days of work, guzzling up the last dregs of my paid time off, but did manage to crush two seasons of “Emily in Paris.” I knew I was eventually feeling better when Gabriel’s lavish French fare went from stomach-churning to lip-licking. There was no particular moment—I just suddenly felt hungry, and like a veil had been pulled back from my pallid face. I stood up. I took a shower. I ate some soup. And just like that, I returned to the land of the living.
And what’s the first thing everyone asked as I emerged from my puke-hell?
Ooh, that’s awful.
But how much weight did you lose?
Family, friends, coworkers. Many people. Were they just making conversation? Empathizing? Sure, of course. Self-criticism and the desire for weight loss does seem to be the great equalizer, doesn’t it?
This isn’t a slight against anyone, trust me. In the depths of my misery, eating nothing, drinking little, I thought it, too.
My throat is burning with acid, but at least I’ll be thinner.
I can’t do more than wave at my worried children, but at least I’ll be thinner.
Daily life has stopped as I know it, but at least I’ll be thinner.
Those thoughts are troublesome enough, but there was another layer. I’ve worked hard to leave diet culture behind after years of mental work following extreme weight loss. I’ve made tremendous progress, but this showed me firsthand how easy to it was to slip on that old skin as soon as my defenses were down.
There’s a reason being “one stomach flu away from my goal weight” is a part of the zeitgeist. Our cultural obsession with weight loss, thinness, and anti-fatness has been discussed by far wiser minds than mine. All I know is that, in the years since having my children, receiving special needs diagnoses, getting through a pandemic, aging, grieving and so much more, my body has changed.
And I love it still. More, even.
Being curled up on my back for days, unable to do more than listen to Emily Cooper wooing French clients and eating pain au chocolat, I am acutely aware of how much I need my body … and how little the extra roll around my stomach matters to my happiness.
So how much weight did you lose? isn’t even a question I can answer. I haven’t stood on a home scale in years. As soon as I realized the toll those numbers had on my mental health, I stepped away—literally. I reframed my pursuit of feeling better by giving up the numbers game all together.
Once I stopped counting calories (or “points”) and assigning moral value to foods, something crazy happened: I could actually pick up on and listen to my body’s needs. I haven’t reverted to wild binge behavior, consuming nothing but carbonara and pies; mindful eating is all about balance. When I got rid of the restrictive rules and focused on eating for satisfaction and fullness, physically and emotionally? Well, I was free.
Since then, I’ve lost my appetite. For many, many things, actually! Such as:
- Caring about VBO.
- Wasting precious time discussing ways to shave calories off otherwise-satisfying foods.
- Worrying if I look heavy, or fretting when called fat. It’s not a four-letter word.
- Bonding sessions over the endless pursuit of a smaller body.
- Denial of simple pleasures, such as sweet cream in my morning coffee. Life is short, my friends.
I’m not afraid to gain weight. I am afraid to be too tired, weak, or unwell to care for my family. So instead of numbers, I focus on physical movement: walking, getting up and about. I eat in a way that makes me feel nourished and focused. And I work daily on my mental health and resilience, building myself up so I can be stable and leaned on by others.
It’s all a work in progress (clearly). But I make small strides all the time. I recently bought new jeans, for example, and y’all—these are dream pants. Seriously. I feel so good in them. Comfortable. Confident. Put-together.
They’re also the biggest size I’ve worn since … well, maternity wear. Or ever.
Upon realizing her “normal” size no longer worked, previous me would have rejected buying anything else to comfortably clothe her body. I would have tried to use that as fuel to shrink, because that’s what women are expected to do. When I inevitably failed to lose pounds, never again coming close to that mythical 40-pound weight loss back when deprivation was my full-time job, I would have started a blame cycle all over again.
Now? Now I know better. I know they’re just pants. Adorable, well-fitting, nonjudgmental pants.
And I deserve to wear them.
So do you. We all do.