One night around that time my mother and I were sitting on the couch and I asked her if she was going to die. I meant, are you going to die immediately from this heart disease, but that isn’t what I said. She said, “Someday” and laughed. It was probably the first time I really thought about the fact that my parents would die someday, that my mother would die someday. The fact that she thought it would be a long way off was not at all comforting, particularly in the face of her recent diagnosis.
Since the time of my mother’s diagnosis, I have been terrified of my own heart. I have felt it racing, skipping, beating and been worried – worried, literally sick, into panic attacks – that my heart was killing me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more and more concerned that I would be diagnosed, like my mother and my brother were, with the same type of heart disease.
Like everyone else in our culture I have always bought into the nearly-religious belief our mainstream medical community has in thinness being a cure-all for any ailment. If you are thin, everything is better. If you are thin, your heart is healthy and protected, right? This belief coupled with my tremendous fear of heart disease grossly contributed to the development of my eating disorder.
My mother died of a heart attack when she was 70 years old. My father died just two years later of a heart attack as well. In between their deaths, I turned, once again, to dieting and sunk into my eating disorder like a religious zealot. I would save my life by becoming thin. I would save my heart. I would not go out like that.
I did get thin… and the crowd went wild. OBVIOUSLY, I had figured it out. I was finally and forever HEALTHY! Yay! Every person I encountered – including every doctor, friend, family member, colleague, etc… if they mentioned my weight loss at all (which most of them did), mentioned it with beaming pride and acceptance. They took my weight loss as proof that unhealthy people could get healthy. Fat girls could get skinny. Yay! We can all be safe from illness and death as long as we are willing to deprive and restrict ourselves and develop eating disorders to prove our allegiance to the church of thinness.
Here’s what really happened folks: I weight cycled. Like MANY MANY MANY larger people in our culture, I “lost the weight” only to “regain the weight” for the THIRD time in my adult life. THREE TIMES I have lost 30 or more pounds only to regain it all, plus some. Twice I regained it all, with interest, quickly. This last time, because I had also thrown in a MASSIVE obsession with exercise for good measure, I was able to hold on to the loss for about two and a half years (that’s NOT a diet tip, my fellow strugglers – it’s a cautionary tale!).
Here’s the kicker: Weight Cycling is one of the worst things people can do for their hearts. Weight Cycling in women is a predictor of future heart disease. Weight Cycling puts additional strain on a heart. People who weight cycle have LESS HEALTHIER HEARTS than their non-dieting, non-weight-losing counterparts. Go ahead and look that shit up.
I first read an article about this years ago, before my last big loss. I remember it was a small article and it didn’t get much attention. I thought, this just CAN’T be true. If it were true, more people would be talking about it. If it were true, doctors and “health” magazines and fitness professionals would not be pushing DIETS so damn hard, would they? Nah! Impossible! If this were true, people would not be so fucking ecstatic to see you when you were able to lose thirty pounds in three months. They wouldn’t congratulate you and light up when you walked by and call you a “bitch” for getting so “skinny” and pull you aside and tell you that you were “beautiful” and “smokin’ hot” or express their deep heartfelt happiness that you were “finally healthy.” This was LITERALLY my experience after my last weight loss. This is what people do to one another. This is the fucked up society we live in. But would we keep doing this if we accepted the fucking scientific truth that dieting (and the consequent development of eating disorders) actually does MORE damage to our health than just being the damn weight we were simply meant to be? Maybe. Maybe we WOULD still want people to obsessively chase after thinness even if we knew it would make them unhealthy (ALL current evidence points to this being the case) because dammit we are just THAT afraid of fat in our culture. We would rather die than be fat.
If I sound angry, it’s because I am. By the time I was 10 years old, some studies already demonstrated this truth about weight cycling. By the time I was 15 years old, books were already being written and published that were screaming at us to wake the fuck up to the truth about dieting! By the time I finally developed a full-blown eating disorder in my early 20s, the scientifically proven link between dieting and LACK of health existed. But doctors wouldn’t change their belief systems. “Health” magazines knew they’d lose their advertising if they embraced this truth. The 70 Billion Dollar Diet industry couldn’t afford to stop preying on little girls and young women – EVEN after they knew. No single person ever told me – until it was already way too late – that one of the worst things I could do for my heart was LOSE WEIGHT by dieting. No, on the contrary, EVERY SINGLE THING AND PERSON IN OUR ENTIRE CULTURE TOLD ME ONE UNANIMOUS TRUTH: YOU. MUST. DIET.
My mother dieted up until the day she died. My mother weight cycled many times throughout her adult life. Despite all of the doctors and the medications they prescribed and the fucking pacemaker that was eventually implanted in her body, the truth is NO ONE ever really gave a shit about my mother’s heart. All they ever wanted from her was thinness. All the world ever told her was: be thin. All the instruction she ever got about how to take care of her body was: Diet. And this clear and resounding instruction only hurt her heart more, only made her heart MORE unhealthy.
NEVER. AGAIN. Not for me. In honor and memory of my mother, I sincerely declare the fucking buck stops here. No more dieting. None. Ever. Praise glory hallelujah. There is a better way – and every day I’m getting closer and closer to finding it.
Stop Dieting, Teamies. Find a better way, with Love.