Content Note: this essay includes discussion of unintentional weight loss with numbers as well as exercise and food choices.
I learned of a nature trail ten minutes from my house this summer. I’ve been in my current home two years and I’ve missed my old walking trails; this new-to-me path has been a gift. Three mornings a week, I walk a one mile loop through the woods. As I round the pond and duck off to the side to take the path that leads under the canopy of oaks and pines and dogwoods, I whisper to myself, “Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” A popular quote online that is often mis-attributed to John Muir.* It is a wide path with some small inclines, an easy path (though not fully accessible). The birds sing bright, chirpy tunes at 7 a.m. And so far, even the sticky, heavy air of a Georgia July can’t dampen my joy at being surrounded by trees or my delight at the small trickling brook I cross over a couple times on my route.
This past winter, I shifted some of my patterns around food and movement to address diabetes; my body shifted size. I lost 40 pounds in the first six weeks and, for now, my body seems content with maintaining that size. I am still fat.
Losing weight when you are a fat acceptance advocate is a bit of a mental roller coaster. Add in a culture panicking about gaining the “pandemic 15,” and I have had to constantly remind myself that the bagginess of my clothes is not a moral victory.
They say you “lose” weight. I am prompted to wonder where I lost it, what part of this world it dropped into when it left my body. What else left with it?
Sometimes, when I reach the exit of the trail loop, my soul satisfied with my time in nature, I wonder if I should push forward for one more round. I wonder not because I want more time with the trees, but because I ask myself if one more loop will help me lose more than just my mind. If I could lose some more parts of me: drop pounds on the forest floor, let them wash away in the brook. After the one satisfying loop that centers me I force myself to exit the trail. Something deep inside of my soul knows from experience that if I try to lose my body, I’ll lose my soul too. That I would lose the forest and the peace it offers. That it would take more from me than my weight.
I went in recently for my annual gynecologist appointment. I knew they would weigh me. I knew they would congratulate me on the weight loss. I didn’t ask not to be weighed. I wanted them to see me as “good” rather than as a “bad” fat. I wanted them to be happy for me, to assume positive things about who I am and how I live. When they asked, “how did you do it?” I told them I follow intuitive eating principles and Health At Every Size. They didn’t pry further and seemed content with the answer. But, I felt guilty. Like I had betrayed my values by enjoying the praise and ease. The last time I had seen my gynecologist, when I was a brand new patient, she admonished me in a grave tone I am familiar with about my weight and health. This time we laughed and had an easy banter. I know if I had shown up as a new patient at my current weight — with no evidence that my body had shifted downward — I would have gotten the admonishment this year, not the light and joyful praise. I am frustrated at a medical world that treats me differently when they think I’ve acted in ways that are worthy of praise.
I feel better. I didn’t know I felt bad before. I wonder what it means to admit that. I didn’t know my fatigue was from diabetes and not from just being in my late 30s. I didn’t realize how often I used the restroom at 2 a.m. until I didn’t anymore. I never thought that the “must be hungry” slight dizziness was actually a sign that my blood sugars were too high or that it was possible for me to wake up in the morning and not be immediately signaling ravenous hunger.
Did I ignore the signs? Or is this just part of my strong identification with the Enneagram 5 description that we ignore our bodies in favor of our minds? I’m an embodiment theologian who spends a lot of time thinking about my body and how my body is connected to my work and family and friends. I ask myself and others questions about how my body and other fat bodies impact social circles and activities. I want to know how fat bodies influence and impede our ability to love our neighbors, especially our fat neighbors. I can become so busy thinking about my body that I forget to pay attention to her.
I’m learning to lose my mind so I can find my soul and trying not to lose my body at the same time.
Last year, I got rid of all my too-small dress pants and purchased pants in the correct size for the few times a year I travel for business. A couple weeks ago I pulled all the new pants out during a closet clean and realized they’re several sizes too big now. I imagine I could use the ones I got rid of last year, but it is 2020 so who knows when I’ll next board a plane or attend a business meeting so I don’t really need them right now. I’m trying to sell my too-big dress pants, but it doesn’t seem anyone else is wearing them this year either. I lost clothing options and some money as my body shifted
I bought new shorts. I bought cheap shorts. I bought shorts from Target. I bought shorts a few sizes below the top of the size range available from Target. None of this has been possible for me in more than a decade, if ever. Target didn’t expand to be more inclusive. My body shifted into a size that has more opportunities. I am a mixed bag of gratitude for the ease and outrage at the injustice.
I think my knees hurt less. Or am I just imagining that because I’ve been told my knees would hurt less? I remember that I finally bought a knee brace in January, after much searching for one to fit my fat leg. It sits mostly unused in my room.. My knees rarely aching in a way that used to be familiar.. My feet definitely swell less. I only recall wearing my compression socks once this year.
I pay attention to the sound of the stairs creaking as I walk down them to breakfast each morning, long before my housemate is awake. Is the creaking quieter than last year?
These shifts don’t make my body better than it was before. They seem to make my day better. I think about how to be grateful for an easier day without letting it fuel a part of my mind that beckons me to “keep going” and see what else can get easier too if I just try a little something more to change. If I push forward and walk one more loop under the trees. History tells me that is a victory-less pursuit. But the way the days are better is enticing, it seems like a well that couldn’t possibly run dry.
Becoming smaller when you are a fat activist feels a bit like you’re losing your voice–your right to be heard. I agree with a version of that: we should center and elevate the voices of those most marginalized. My marginalization changes as my body shifts. It still feels like a loss of a part of me, some part of my identity. Am I now less qualified to speak about fat acceptance and liberation?
For now, I’ll keep returning to the woods and asking the questions. Allowing the peace of morning light through green leaves to remind me to center myself on the ideas that our bodies are good, just as they are. That loving our neighbors includes working to end body shame. That caring for our bodies means we accept all the shifts they make, including loss.
I return home from the woods and put my phone away. I light candles, set a news magazine on the table, brew coffee. I prepare a hearty breakfast from a rotation of favorites: Oatmeal warm with apples and cardamom. A plate full of pears and crackers and cheese. An omelette. Yogurt and granola. Toast and eggs (with or without avocado). I am anchoring myself to this slow morning routine, nourishing my body, clearing my mind.
I rest my elbows on the edge of my drop leaf kitchen table, leaning in to read the magazine and sip my cup of coffee. I feel the hinges give under the weight of my upper body. I am still a force.
*The Sierra Club attributes a version of this quote to Mariah Danu, not John Muir.