Some Thoughts on Weight Loss

Over the past 8 months, I’ve been on a slow but steady weight loss plan and, in the New Year, wrote those goals down for the sake of reflecting on them externally. While I don’t exactly want to share what weight range I’m shooting for and what losses I’ve had, I do think losing weight has made me think about bodies, the pain one experiences as a body, and the effects of the changing shape of one’s body.

My weight loss goals were primarily assented to because of a sense of loss. All growing up and in college I was extremely active and played sports. I loved playing football especially, and continued that play in college and graduate school on intramural flag football teams. In the last year of my masters program, I learned I had arthritis in my hip (and had it for a while, apparently) because of a no longer ignorable level of pain when I would walk.

Beginning to see myself as a person with disability has had several levels. The reasons I took so long to see a doctor are manifold. One is that I have a (what I consider healthy) level of fear around doctors and the kinds of power differences that exist between doctors and patients (especially women and patients of color). My experiences of the medical field were colored by childhood and adult experiences of doctors (dentists too!) shaming me (or my parents) for failure to meet the norms of health in various fields. The judgement that doctors would frequently make explicit as though we were simply too stupid to be healthy (rather than perhaps too poor to afford regular dental checkups or doctors visits which would prevent more serious issues) made me extremely skeptical of most advice doctors had to offer as it was premised on ignoring the conditions that lead one (whether a poor/lower middle class child or a poor graduate student) to illness or pain in a capitalistic and oppressive economy.

Another reason I waited so long (I had the pain in my hip since my teenage years–albeit much much less pain than I now experience) was that I really valued being the tough girl and so was very invested in sucking up the pain and playing through it. I aspired to be seen as the tough girl so much so that, when my arthritis would flare up in my youth, I just adjusted my body in all kinds of ways to walk without pain. This bodily contortion to walk without pain mirrors in some way the psychic contortions that characterized my girlhood, attempting to perform the toughness equated with masculinity both as a way of aspiring to be included as one of the boys and because as a baby dyke, I simply liked physicality and experiencing certain levels of pain that occurred in the pleasure of play. That is, there were some personal desires woven into patriarchally imposed desires for toughness. It is intriguing to think about the ways my bodily failure to move in certain ways without pain always reminds me of my own girlhood failures of hiding pain. I was a very sensitive girl even as I tried to be tough, and I would often burst into tears during heated arguments because I felt so passionately (this is something I sometimes still do). In some way, then, experiencing both bodily and psychic pain points to the kinds of adaptation to failure that we perform. Both in aspiration to dominant norms (whether ability or patriarchy) and in ways that troubles those norms.

Following the loss of a certain level of ability was a loss of access to healthcare. Because I’d waited so long to see a doctor about my hip pain, my healthcare expired and we moved without real resolution of next steps in treating my arthritis. This lack of healthcare was compounded by the lack of any real social or economic support system in the place my partner and I moved to. It was a small rural town in Pennsylvania. I was the only black person in the town and we were the only out queer folk. We were both extremely depressed during those two years. I was unemployed for 8 months and my partner worked multiple part time jobs. Being in a much better social and economic situation now, it’s so clear to me how much my ability to commit to a weight loss plan is the product of both my partner and I having healthcare, having financial security, and having social support systems in place.

Is it possible that I could have lost weight while in an isolated and depressing place? Perhaps. I know people respond differently to isolation and depression. Some people might become more invested in intentionally shaping their bodies. For me, this is the complete opposite of how I cope. Working an exploitative entry-level job I hated, living in a social environment I hated where my primary valuable social interactions occurred online (thank god for WIT and Twitter) was such a mental and emotional drain that I was not capable of thinking about why I was eating 6 slices of pizza even though I was full. Indeed, the pleasure of eating and tasting food was one of the ways I made it through that isolating and depressing place. To me, then, it didn’t make sense in that context to lose weight and restrict how or what I was eating because it was one of the few pleasures I had in a very trying time for me.

The ways people moralize one’s weight have thus become even more clearly problematic to me. My ability to lose weight has come with my access to food security, housing stability, employment security, and healthcare security. Additionally, my social world has become something that can give me energy rather than draining it from me. All this to say, there are a multiplicity of reasons why one might not be able to lose weight or might not want to lose weight. Part of the thing food and economic security give me is the knowledge that there will be more good food in my future so I don’t need to eat as much of it as I can. This was certainly not my mindset when I was unemployed for 8 months or when I was a grad student barely able to cover my bills. Funnily enough, the only time I lost weight in graduate school was the summer I qualified for SNAP benefits and knew my food was secure and wasn’t burdening my finances so I didn’t need to eat as many of the sandwiches the divinity school was giving away. That is, painting intentional eating as something one simply wills into existence devoid of larger structural options is part of why we portray fat people as lacking self control rather than understanding eating habits as negotiations of the pleasure of eating within a certain set of (economic, social, psychic, etc) constraints.

Finally, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to go from being more fat to less fat. It’s easy to get interpolated into the moralizing games people play with women’s bodies around weight. If you’re fat, you’re a failure. Too skinny, you fail at being shapely. If you don’t care about being fat, you’re lazy and immoral. If you do care, you’re letting men’s desires for women to look a certain way shape your perception of yourself. If you like to eat, you’re disgusting. If you don’t eat, you’re disgusting. If you have rolls and a muffin top, you’re not sexy. Too many muscles, also not sexy and you look like a man. Get plastic surgery, you’re a terrible and sad spectacle. Dare to age, and you look old and disposable. All along my weight loss journey these are the kinds of thoughts I’ve had to navigate. What does it mean that I desire a different body than the one I’ve had in the most recent past? What aesthetics form my weight loss goals and the aspiration to a particular weight and shape? How do I refuse the opposition women get placed in by virtue of their bodily shape? How do I affirm and love my (still fat) body while also being committed to it looking a different way? What structural obstacles come to bear on my body and its shape?

I can’t say I have answers for these questions but what I try to do is pay attention to the compounded structures and forces that bring my body and desires into being as well as the personal desires I’ve discerned for myself. I tried to use a weight loss plan that wasn’t about eating good food vs. bad food or organic/local vs. processed, but helped me be more discerning about how I ate any of these things. I try to eat what I most enjoy eating which ranges from pizza and french fries to falafel and kale. This helps me sidestep the moralizing around food. I can affirm fried chicken and biscuits as equally pleasurable (and thus healthy) as food like quinoa salad. Rather than accepting the (implicitly racist) devaluation that occurs around food, I try to see the food I eat and whether it is healthy or not as tied to the sensory and social pleasure it fosters. My intentional desires for the amount of weight I want to lose is thus primarily out of my health issues (wanting to lose enough weight to ease the stress on my hip), my desire to play certain sports at a certain level, and the pleasure I get from strength training and muscles. I don’t think any of these desires exist in a pure space untainted by the culture or economics or patriarchy or whatever. And different bodies are able to exist at different weights without sacrificing the kinds of personal, social, and psychic pleasures that help them live healthy lives.

The main thing I’ve learned, then, is that bodies are both extremely susceptible and extremely resistant to norms around health. When the discourse around health becomes all about managing and forestalling risk–and the ways risk names a constellation of social anxiety around fat, poor, poc, women–it seems it loses the ability to discern precisely why we want to be “healthy” in the first place. By trying to consider what it means to me to be healthy in relation to structural issues of power, fat shaming, other definitions of health from medicine to society, I think I’ve been able to reach a satisfying weight loss plan and goals for myself. But this blog is a part of trying to remember that these goals aren’t achievable, in my world at least, without the larger kinds of structural changes I’ve experienced in my personal situation. Without the current level of security I enjoy, my definition of health would look much different because it would be characterized by economic and social survival whereas those things are a given in my current condition.

Teaching Note: On Confronting Violence Against Women in the Christian Tradition

When I teach theology to undergraduates, I make sure to spend some time on Augustine, typically his Confessions. I don’t think this is a necessary practice for all theology instructors, but I personally find Augustine to be a useful entry point for broader, complex theological and hermeneutical questions.

Specifically, I have noticed that studying Augustine is like holding up a mirror to ourselves. More specifically, how we as contemporary readers weigh in on Augustine’s views of women is greatly telling about our views of women. Continue reading

A Feminist New Year’s Resolution: Lose Weight-Shaming

**POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE AND BODY SHAME**

We’ve ushered in a new year. I’m sure you’ve seen some articles, commercials, and news segments emphasizing good practices for abiding by new year’s resolutions, especially around the issue of fighting fat. Apparently about 45% of people in the United States make new year’s resolutions, and, statistically, the top resolution is losing weight. Continue reading

Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: Julie’s Story

This is the sixth in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  To read previous posts in this series, click here.  To read the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.

Julie’s Story

This issue has been one that I too have struggled with for years, as I desire to follow church teaching and yet have a chronic disease, Type 1 diabetes, that makes pregnancy a much more serious condition than it would otherwise be. After being blessed with the birth of my daughter (she is 4), I know I have not had the time and energy to pour into my health to make another pregnancy a healthy possibility. Therefore, I am one of those that ‘quietly don’t follow the magisterium” as Jonathan Post said.

As much as I try to have faith in our church leaders, the longer that I am married and experience what that relationship is all about, the more convicted I am that an unmarried man with no experience of a marriage relationship has any possible ability to truly understand the challenges faced in the marriage relationship and in raising children.

Because of this, I have sincerely changed my own tendency to judge priests, because I feel that I can only expect out of them what I wish they would expect out of me – a willingness to try and understand the other, without judgment, when both have the goal of growing closer to Christ and bringing others along with them.

But I grow weary from those who judge my choices without really understanding why I have had to make them.  We cannot walk in someone else shoes.  Those who are employing artificial means or birth control may be doing so for selfish reasons, but they also might not be. 

Continue reading

Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: GS’s Story

This is the fifth in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  The previous four can be read here, here, here, and here.  For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and rules for this project, click here.

GS’s Story

What a relief it is to discover that there is a place that Catholics can come and share their real-life experiences with NFP without fear of getting a public internet pounding, conservative-Catholic style.

Brief history: I grew up in a very orthodox, very authoritarian Catholic home.  My husband’s family was also ultra-orthodox (particularly his mother), but not quite so authoritarian about it.  We both went to one of those small, very orthodox Catholic colleges dedicated to the study of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, etc.  We fell in love and married in our early/mid twenties (both virgins in every sense of the word) and just figured we would accept children as they came, because that is what we had been raised to believe was our duty as Catholics.

We did try an early method of symptothermal NFP (it wasn’t CCL–I honestly can’t remember the name of the method) in the early months of our marriage, not to delay pregnancy, but just to learn about my body.  We quickly tossed the thermometer because I am a bad sleeper at best, and being woken up every morning at the same time to check my temp was really disrupting my sleep.

I became pregnant when we had been married nearly 11 months.  The baby was born, I was depressed and stressed out in ways I never thought possible (let’s just say the ole natural maternal instincts that were supposed to magically kick in pretty much never did—even decades later! but that’s another story), but also certain I would not get pregnant right away because it had taken me nearly a year to get pregnant without using anything, and now I had a baby nursing on me constantly.

How naive.

#1 was six months old when I became pregnant with #2.  After #2, even more depressed and stressed out, I decided it was time for real NFP.  We signed up for Couple-to-Couple classes.  The couple teaching it was odd, to put it charitably.  And it felt beyond odd to discuss my cervical mucus with a man that was so socially off-kilter in the first place. But I was determined to make it work.  I woke up every day to check my temp (becoming more exhausted by the day), checked mucus just as I was supposed to, and my chart was a mess because I always had fertile mucus.

After several meetings, the CCL husband looked at my jagged-tooth chart, looked back up at me and said, “There have been times when my wife and I have had to go 6 months or more without making love due to confusing signs”.

Continue reading

Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: Tell Us Your Stories

As some of you probably remember, about a year ago, we at WIT published a post entitled “Women Speak About Natural Family Planning.”  When I wrote the post, I was expecting it to be controversial and indeed it remains among our most commented-on posts.

But something happened that I was not expecting.   Women started writing in, sharing not their opinions but their stories.  They spoke of the toll adhering to the church’s teaching on contraception took on their physical and mental health as well as their marriages.

I found these stories to be incredibly moving and incredibly important.  And I realized that there really is nowhere that Catholic women (and men!) can share their stories about things like this with each other.  Catholic couples struggling with this issue typically have to deal with it privately without the guidance and support of their communities.  Just when these couples are most in need of their communities is when they find themselves most alienated from them. Continue reading

Obama, Birth Control, and the Body of Christ: Thoughts on the HHS Ruling

As many of you know, a few weeks ago, President Obama mandated that Catholic hospitals would have to begin providing birth control inclusive health care coverage for their employees.

Opponents of this decision claim that, in making the Catholic church provide birth control-inclusive health coverage to those who work in their hospitals, the federal government is forcing the Catholic church to do something that violates its religious beliefs.  The Catholic Church is being persecuted, they cry.   Catholics should not simply oppose this decision; they should be outraged about it.  Indeed, many Catholics are acting as though this is the worst thing a U.S. President has done in a really, really, really long time.

But, I don’t want to tell these outraged Catholics that they’re wrong; I want only to figure out if they’re making any sense. Continue reading