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I was recently talking with a friend, G, about how all-consuming thoughts about weight loss and food can be, and I was struck by how many of her honest thoughts echoed my own. G offered to write a post, and (for me at least) this essay had me nodding my head so much. Huge thanks to G!

Some questions to consider:

How much do you think about your weight? How is your body image? How has your perspective on your body changed over the years, e.g., after pregnancy? Have you embraced body positivity, or body neutrality? How much is being preoccupied with your weight a “women’s issue”? (If this essay ISN’T ringing bells for you, please share your secrets or resources!)

Take it away, G…

I’ve been preoccupied with my weight for a long time. A very long time. If you can relate, do you ever wonder about the total hours, days, years you’ve spent focusing on yours? What portion of my time on this Earth have I devoted to wanting to be thinner, finding out how to get thinner, working to get thinner, or beating myself up about not trying hard enough.

Where else could I have directed this wasted this brain power and time to? Hobbies? Reading? Chatting with friends? Learning something OTHER than weight loss strategies? Aiming for goals OTHER than getting smaller? I’ll never know.

To me, body positivity or even body neutrality seem unattainable. I envy those who can embrace those philosophies — while simultaneously not wanting to “let myself go.” Apparently, my feminist ideals are not strong enough to counteract the effects of being bombarded with images of thin, beautiful models and celebrities for decades.

{related: how to shop for clothes while losing weight}

I wrote this post because I know some readers will relate to the outsized portion of my “wild and precious life” that I’ve wasted on the following:

Weighing myself. Several years ago, around age 40, after continually gaining and losing weight for a long time, I somehow attained my high school weight. My high school weight! I was thrilled and, I admit, a bit smug. I somehow maintained it through part of the pandemic, but the number has been creeping up. I’m frustrated with myself, and I have to get back. I am simply unable to tell myself, “It’s not even that much weight, who cares?” (For one, I can’t ignore the too-tight waistline of my favorite jeans.)

I must weigh myself every morning; I must write it down. (I save these logs for years.) And when the number goes in the wrong direction, I can adjust my eating — or try to, and then feel bad when I fail. Weigh-ins must be sans clothes and before eating. Occasionally, when I’m not certain I can trust the number on the scale, I grab a five-pound weight to double-check its calibration.

Getting weighed at doctors’ offices always bothers me, because clothing artificially boosts the number. At summertime appointments, it grosses me out to step on the scale barefoot, but I’m definitely not leaving my shoes on. I have a physical scheduled in a couple of months and among other reasons, I’m trying to lose weight for it.

By the way, the Cleveland Clinic recommends weighing yourself only twice a week because it’s normal to fluctuate from day to day. To the Cleveland Clinic, I say, “Whatever.”

{related: what to know about binge eating disorder}

Continually body checking. Staring at my reflection in our full-length mirror: Ugh, I look pregnant — is that fat or just bloating? How much of my calves and thighs is muscle, and how much is fat? What would I look like with a breast lift? Does this (minor!) loose skin from pregnancy qualify for a mini tummy tuck? I can’t wear this shirt — the back shows the fat bulging alongside my bra.

Outside my bedroom, I check my reflection in the glass doors of the grocery store frozen section, in storefront windows, at the gym as I work out beside my willowy-thin trainer. And wow, those dressing room mirrors are a harsh wakeup call. When I stay in a hotel room without a full-length mirror, it irks me that I can’t examine what I look like after getting dressed for the day.

It doesn’t help that my teenage years took place during the “heroin chic,” ultra-low-rise jeans era. Even our brows were supposed to be skinny.

On the flip side, when I AM at my goal weight, the mirror is my validation as it reflects a (modest) thigh gap, slim arms, small waist, flat-ish stomach, prominent collarbones. (When I got headshots taken, the photographer complimented them.) I became a mom in my early 30s, and after losing the baby weight (thanks, breastfeeding) I’d occasionally lift up my shirt in the restroom at work and gaze into the mirror to admire my small waist. Fortunately, my coworkers never caught me doing that.

Unsurprisingly, I always examine photos of myself with a super-critical eye. When I see social media images I’ve been tagged in, my stomach and thighs look too big, my legs look weird, and so on. You get the picture (no pun intended).

{related: how to keep a working wardrobe while losing weight}

Becoming a veteran of food-tracking and weight-loss apps: On and off for about 20 years (20 YEARS, god that’s depressing), I’ve used WeightWatchers (now euphemistically named “WW”), SparkPeople, MyFitnessPal, HealthyWage, HappyScale, and more.

No one loves counting calories (or WW points), but for me, it eventually turns into an obsession. It also backfires by inadvertently encouraging me to eat convenience foods and avoid cooking from scratch. The nutritional info is right on the label — no annoying recipe calculations required. (Fruit is easy, though. I’ll never forget that a banana is about 110 calories and an apple is about 90.)

Reading about losing weight: I’ve read about intuitive eating, bought books about beating binge eating, and absorbed numerous weight-loss facts from sources like the women’s magazines I read in my teens and early 20s — Seventeen, Cosmo, Glamour. The Beauty Myth, which I devoured as a teenager, wasn’t a sufficient foil.

The adages and cliches I’ve absorbed — accurate or not — are etched into my brain. An extra 3,500 calories a week makes you gain a pound; an equal reduction means an equal loss (apparently a myth). “If you bite it, write it,” courtesy of WW devotees. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Drink water before a meal so you’ll eat less. You can’t outrun a bad diet. Losing weight makes you look good in clothes; exercising makes you look good naked. Muscle weighs more than fat (technically, no; it’s more dense).

{related: women, drinking, and overachieving}

Being super conscious about my outfits. When I’ve deemed my weight “too much,” how much time have I wasted on the days I’ve cycled through two or three outfits until landing on one that doesn’t make me look “fat.” A complicating factor: I’ve been a 34D/34DD, and as anyone with a large chest knows, that causes some tops to stand out from your body, making your whole torso look bigger. So, I avoid those.

When I used to wear belts, I only wore ones with a flat buckle that wouldn’t make my stomach look bigger. At my heaviest, I shunned shorts in the summer, no matter the temperature, and instead donned capri jeans (um, unflattering). I do wear shorts now.

Back to women’s magazines: Their ubiquitous tips for dressing in a flattering way are ingrained in my mind, just like those weight loss tips. Horizontal stripes make you look bigger, as do larger prints. Jeans with widely-spaced back pockets make your butt look big. A monochrome outfit, especially black, makes you look slimmer. Ankle straps on shoes make your legs look shorter. You can get a tailor to sew your pants pockets closed to reduce bulk.

{related: cupcakes and the office: how to say no to food pushers at the office}

Being unable to resist compare my body to others’. You know those classic, reassuring sayings meant to combat self-consciousness, such as “People aren’t paying as much attention to you as you think!” or “People aren’t thinking about you the way that you’re thinking about you” (via Alexis on Schitt’s Creek)? They don’t help at all.

Contradicting them is my own judgmental nature. When I see another woman, I often check to see whether her thighs are larger than mine, whether her stomach is bigger than mine. I even do this while driving, mind you. I also notice when one of my Facebook friends has gained or lost weight, noticeably aged recently, or is consciously posing in photos to make herself look thinner.

Now that I’ve bared my soul, you may be thinking, “Wow, that’s no way to live.” Or maybe you recognize yourself in my words. I’ve been like this for so long that I can’t imagine how I would change — how I would ever stop fixating on my weight or what my body looks like.

The health aspect is also a factor I can’t ignore; heart disease is all over my family tree, and several years ago when I weighed significantly more, my heart rate and blood pressure were too high. (My then-doctor prescribed me a blood pressure med instead of, y’know, encouraging me to exercise and lose weight, which I did, and it worked.)

Would it be a good idea to discuss these thoughts and behavior with a therapist? Yes. Do I talk to my therapist about it? No. With all the other challenging stuff I’m dealing with in my life right now, there’s simply no time left in my weekly sessions. And here’s the real issue regarding being obsessed with my weight: I worry what will happen if I stop.

{related: how to give less f*cks}

Readers, please share your thoughts and experiences! How much do you think about your weight? How is your body image? How has your perspective on your body changed over the years, e.g., after pregnancy? Have you embraced body positivity, or body neutrality? How much is being preoccupied with your weight a “women’s issue”?

Want to gain some perspective on your body by seeing bodies (and body parts) of “real” women? Here are some image sources (very NSFW):

Stock photo via Pexels / SHVETS production.

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