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I step off the scale, the back of my neck burning, my chest irritated by an invisible internal scratching, and my throat compressed from closing.
I feel the hallmarks of shame.
How much does self-hatred weigh?
Many of us gained weight during COVID-19 closures.
We may currently be wearing yoga clothes 24/7, not feeling good about our bodies, and self-conscious during social activities. We might feel shame around fully embracing social activities and absent from experiencing the unfettered joy of life.
We’re likely trying to shift the experience of weight gain but may find that our tactics are not effective. If we are doing things such as tracking our calories, eliminating carbs, or doing extra workouts, we may not only find that no weight loss is happening, but also that the experience serves to increase our frustration because it does not yield the results we want.
When it comes to weight loss, we often approach that with a trained managerial mind. We see lack of results as a personal failure: we did not diet or exercise “well enough” or “hard enough,” and we internalize the failure to get a result as a shameful lack of work ethic.
What if we could take a different approach?
If we could ask the extra weight on our bodies what it wants, what would it say?
Mine would say: I need help. And I’m tired.
During the last 16 months, I had a business to “pivot,” and the government gaslit the public with claims of “supporting” small businesses. I was given less than 100 dollars a month, even though public health orders mandated my bricks and mortar be closed for nearly 50 percent of those calendar months. I struggle to call that f*cking support.
I had to educate my child at home the entire time, cope with the weight of replacing friends, activities, and teachers, and become those community pillars, alone.
I fought with all my might to make an impact: launching programs, publicly speaking, writing, and rallying. There was no beneficial impact to anything I did, and no support came, no matter what I tried or how hard I worked.
I did my very best—until I had nothing more to give.
At which point, I gained weight.
Many of us found ourselves living similar versions of different stories.
Yet, we are now all expected to simply set it all behind us.
In other words: our bodies are demanding something different from us than what society is. Our bodies are surviving, and our culture is saying, “There’s nothing to see here.”
Our bodies are bearing the weight of carrying heaps of extra responsibilities and from social isolation, overwork, stress, financial pressure, family burdens, and professional changes.
And the remnants of the emotional weight of bringing our very best to the situation, with no measurable results or impact.
We have an internalized sense of “failure” if we have gained weight, remain tired, or require a recovery period.
We feel invisible, like we don’t matter, or that we are making too much of nothing when asked to return to our daily lives, but we find our bodies waging a war that we cannot win.
Our bodies are keeping the score that our culture refuses to.
As a child, it was quite clear to me that I had to be mindful of my weight by age eight or nine.
I didn’t have anyone to talk to about this.
It would have been ideal to express the burning in the back of my neck, the irritation in my chest, or the closure in my throat with a parent. But neither my mom, nor my dad, had the time, the skills, or the capacity to walk me through my bodily sensations and help me make sense of them.
In those years, almost nobody’s parents did. We learned to become fiercely emotionally independent, shutting out the sensation, and doing what we were told was needed: solving problems using tactics rather than emotions.
We were to work hard, get good grades, and keep our emotions in check.
I learned that the “answer” to losing weight was to control my food, exert discipline, work out, and “do the work.”
It didn’t occur to me to investigate the emotional reasons for the weight gain in the first place.
It never struck me to ask myself what the weight on my body was trying to say.
I didn’t know back then to ask myself why I felt shame and isolation or to think about what I was making weight gain mean. I didn’t have the self-awareness to see that I internalized the idea that, to me, it meant I “hadn’t worked hard enough” and was, therefore, a “bad” person in the eyes of a culture that praises work ethic as much as thinness.
Our cultivated emotional independence is being activated within us now.
We default to doing a carb-free plan or signing up for a 30-day challenge that we see posted outside a gym.
Our brains remember what we learned as children, “We know how to take care of business, and we’re going to do it,” fiercely applying our work ethic and ignoring the reasons our bodies are screaming at us.
We need help.
We need to recover.
If we imagine a child who said, “Mom, I don’t like my body. I want to change my body,” would we put that child on a calorie-counting program or hustle her off to the gym?
Or would we tell her that we love her and her body is part of her, but it isn’t her essence? Would we say that we love her humor, soft heart, kindness, creativity, and thoughtfulness toward others, regardless of her body? Would we tell her, “There’s nothing wrong with you?”
If we had received that message when we were little, how do we think we might feel about ourselves right now?
We wouldn’t worry about our weight, and we would instead focus on removing the residuals of the pandemic: the fatigue, the languishing, the stress, the trauma. We could focus on recovery and trust that when our body doesn’t need to retain the weight anymore, it will go away.
What are some ways we could nurture the part of us inside that needs something at this time?
>> We can be aware that when somebody is critical, and somebody says we need to change, that somebody is us.
>> We can recognize that going on plans and programs indicates that we are not okay with the way we are, which is not supportive and nurturing—at all.
>> We can ask our body weight what it is trying to say. And then attend to that.
>> We can inquire inside and look at the messages we received as a child about our emotional calls for help.
>> We can take care of the independent young child inside us who didn’t get enough support as a child and didn’t get enough support during the pandemic. And care for that part of us.
>> And we can take care of ourselves the way we took care of other people during the last 16 months.
We need a body solution and not a brain one.
And we can determine how much that self-hatred actually weighs.
I am trusting my body in the coming months—as I find my thoughts shifting from the rutted narrative of judgment to one of a softer maternal voice.
I need help myself, and I need to gently recover.