Elle: I could have just as easily titled this “Let’s Talk About…Misconceptions,” but I’m not going to lie: there’s a tiny bit of vindication in calling some people ignorant (<- Horrible person alert.) “Ignorance” is defined as “lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned; uninformed; unaware.” If you think that I, the overweight person, am ignorant of the proper way to diet or exercise – and that’s the sole cause of my struggle – then you are “lacking in knowledge” and highly “unaware.” (And probably not a little self-righteous.) (Warning: Slight ranting may follow.)
Naomi: I know, right? Why is it that people think I want their help on how to manage my diet or exercise? I have PLENTY of background in dieting and exercise. I used to work for Jenny Craig for 2 ½ years; I’ve researched or tried nearly every diet. So when someone tells me what I should or shouldn’t eat something, it drives me completely bonkers. Yes, I am overweight, but there are many factors into being overweight. Like ,I don’t know off the top my head… OVER INDULGENCE. Seriously, what is it with people saying, “You know you should try…walking 30 minutes a day.” COME ON!!
Elle: And don’t assume that I don’t work out. No, I’m not in the gym four hours every day…but there have been days when I have spent that much time working out. But I have a full-time job, a commute, a social life, a blog to maintain; these things are important and necessary to me, too. Nevertheless, I wake up at 5 or 5:30am nearly every day to run (yes, multiple miles) or work out at classes like “Boot Camp.” Don’t you dare assume that I’m not trying.
Naomi: When I told people I went running and how far I ran, they were like “I can’t even do that.” Hold up; are you the picture of health? There is such a thing called “skinny fat” where you’re just skinny but are completely soft because you never step foot in the gym. And although I am not a runner (nor would I pretend to be), I am athletic and I always have been. I played softball, cheered, played basketball, and I was the star of the girls rugby team. So never judge a book by its cover, right?
Elle: Unless that book cover has me kicking ass on it.
Naomi: Haha. Yes!!
Elle: Back to food for a minute, though. Honestly, that’s my biggest struggle; I have a pretty good exercise regimen (that is, I exercise – and often). Let me give you a picture of me in the grocery store on a good day: I look at nutrition labels. I choose items that are multi-grain, organic, low-cal, high protein, low sugar and sodium, etc. when I can. I fill my basket with fruits, with vegetables, with good dips like hummus, with ingredients for healthy dinners and salad lunches and fiber-full breakfasts. I know to look at serving sizes because those can be tricky devils (seriously, nutrition facts are for three chips or something?! Like anybody’s only going to eat that much.) Even if my selections don’t pertain to a specific diet, I understand how to make good choices on a basic level, so please don’t give me any speeches about healthy ingredients or what foods are bad for you.
(Side note, I heard on NPR the other day that egg yolks are bad for you again – as bad as smoking a cigarette. Ay carumba.)
Naomi: I heard the egg yolk news, too! Do ever feel like you are drowning in diet news?? Then those around you start to bring it up like you weren’t the first to hear about it. P.S. I am fat and I know everything that is supposed to make me fat. Yes, I know fried foods are bad for me. Yes, carbs are the devil. Next topic, please!
Elle: I know that most of the people who say these things to me don’t actually think I’m ignorant on the whole, which leaves three options:
1) They think I’m ignorant when it comes to weight loss and dieting. Well, that just doesn’t make sense. If I can an intellectual conversation on everything from the sexual politics of M. Butterfly to the political and theological debates regarding control of Jerusalem and Palestine to the cultural capital of JNCOs and mom jeans, then how does it make sense that healthy eating and America’s obesity issues have been off my radar? That’s foolish thinking.
2) They don’t know what else to say. Most people I associate with are generous and caring (or else I probably would not associate with them) and want to help, even if I have never vocalized my issues or desire to lose weight. Perhaps they assume that I just need to hear the “diet rules” from a different perspective in order to enact them, which possibly leads into the third option.
3) They don’t understand. I think that many people who don’t share these struggles give obvious (and, therefore, unintentionally insulting) advice because they either assume that putting nutritional rules into practice is easy. For them, it’s a direct connection between mind and body, between will and action. They don’t understand how intensely emotional and psychological it is on the mental end or how many barriers of genetics, biological habits, or chemical malfunctions there are on the physical end.
Naomi: How do you respond to people without being condescending, too? People don’t seem to understand that I struggle not because I know nothing about being healthy but because I have commitment issues, or because I am chemically drawn to foods that are bad for me, or because I just have a psychological lack of self-control. After all, I can eat things that are great for me, but if I eat those foods in excess, I can still gain weight. I want people to know that I love their support and I welcome it, but the reality is this: encouragement and understanding is what I need, not a lesson on the steps to lose weight.
Elle: When it comes down to it, my negative feelings toward “prescriptive” comments or clichéd “stay strong” statements are mostly defensive, the projections of my negative feelings toward myself. Hearing these comments, even though I know they’re intended as encouragement, reminds me of how simple they are, how manageable it seems to limit my food intake, to “just say no,” to exercise a little every day. I turn the comments in on myself and yell, “Why can’t I just do it? Why do I keep failing at these easy steps everyday?” Do I want people to stop with these comments? I’m not sure; obviously I appreciate their intent but the execution and consequences are obviously complex. Do I want people to understand how complex this “simple” exchange really is? Absolutely; that’s why we’re having this conversation and keeping this blog. Do I want people to stop trying to encourage me? Hell no; I need all the help I can get.