Just because someone is a therapist doesn’t mean they’re always right. In fact, they can be downright wrong, especially when it comes to weight issues. Therapists are ordinary human beings, and they can be just as brainwashed by popular theories as the next person.
Popular theories about weight that are widely accepted as truth include:
– The way to lose weight permanently is to go on a diet .
– The best way to get healthier is to lose weight.
– All fat people have poor self-esteem .
– All fat people hate the way they look.
– All fat people are in poor health.
– All people who refuse to diet have a “thing” against weight loss .
I’ve been seeing a particular therapist for three months now. I’ve tried to explain to her that I’m not interested in dieting. I just wrote a book about dieting and weight and body image , so when I speak about this stuff, I know what the heck I’m saying. I don’t “mis-speak”.
Yesterday, Dr. Whom stated to me, “I remember very explicitly when you first came here in August, you were dead set against losing weight.”
“Not true,” I replied quickly. “I said I wasn’t interested in dieting. If I happen to lose weight as a result of healthy behaviors, that’s great.”
The fact that I told Dr. Whom “I don’t believe in dieting ” but that she heard “I’m dead set against losing weight” goes to show how deeply hypnotized and unthinking she is when it comes to weight loss.
Despite multiple attempts on my part to explain why I don’t believe in dieting, still, what Dr. Whom heard was that I didn’t want to lose weight — because the idea that someone wouldn’t be willing to diet didn’t compute. Because she inhabits a world where weight loss must always, necessarily be achieved through dieting.
98% of the time, dieting does not result in permanent weight loss. For many, many people, a string of failed diets results in an incremental creep up the scale, well beyond one’s starting weight. This happened to me.
For many people, dieting also leads to an eating disorder. Food restrictions and the many head games we play with ourselves while dieting often lead to an unwholesome relationship with food. This happened to me, and I became obsessed with food, plagued by it, prone to binge eating.
However, I wouldn’t throw a tantrum if I lost weight — that is, if I happened to notice, because I don’t even own a scale. If I weighed less, my knees and feet wouldn’t hurt as often. I could probably do more laps around the roller rink without needing to sit and rest. All good things.
Often, weight loss happens when people make changes in the way they eat, or change or increase their physical activity. Not always, but often.
There are changes I’d like to make in the way I eat. I’d also like to find more physical activities that I enjoy , and be able to pursue them more regularly.
So if I’m successful in implementing some of those changes, I might lose weight.
But I’m not going to diet to make it happen — because that never works.
“Here,” said Dr. Whom, placing two sheets of paper and a tub of crayons before me. “I want you to draw two self-portraits. One of you the way you look now, and another of the way you want to look.”
“You don’t understand, I’m beyond this…” I tried to say. Then I sighed deeply, took a peach-colored crayon and shook my head. Sure, I could’ve tried to explain why I thought this was an inappropriate exercise, but I decided to demonstrate instead.
Why an inappropriate exercise? Because asking me to draw before-and-after pictures of myself assumes that I’m unhappy with my appearance — and I’m not. It also suggests that appearance should be a key, motivating factor for wanting to lose weight, which is terribly shallow.
I’m not particularly unhappy with the way I look. I got comfortable with my parts , their size, their shape, their texture, some time ago. The only beef I still have is that the fashion industry doesn’t supply clothes in my size that accurately reflect my personality. Thank goodness I can design and sew, because I’m able to provide for myself somewhat.
Also, this therapist, whose business is supposed to be helping people work on themselves from the inside-out — thoughts, emotions — wasn’t approaching this exercise with her brain. She was encouraging me to focus on my looks. She was expecting me to get fired up to lose weight because I was afraid to be ugly.
I’m made of much more substantive stuff than that.
I went ahead and drew two “me”s.
I noticed that the “after” me did appear slightly leaner than the “now” me. I didn’t freak out about that. Sure, some people will be lined up to yank my Fat Acceptance card out of my hands for that admission, but if it indicates anything, I think my subconcious was considering the reduced burden on my joints if I was lighter. I wasn’t significantly thinner in the “after” — and most of the difference was in the face, bust and shoulders.
The biggest difference was that I was dressed better in the “after” — a dead giveaway that I desperately need new clothes .
Dr. Whom didn’t have much to say, because there wasn’t enough disparity between the two drawings. She wasn’t able to point a finger and say, “A-ha! You’re fat and you’re not happy about it! Just as I thought.”
Instead, she latched onto the one little gem that served her “lose weight” agenda. “You say you’d like your knees not to hurt. You also said you’d like to take up fencing, but that the lessons are too expensive. Well what if you gave yourself a goal? What if you gave yourself one fencing lesson after losing, say…ten pounds.”
I gave her a steely stare.
“I am not going to measure my progress in pounds.” I repeated for the hundredth time. “What’s on the scale is no indicator of strength or endurance. Those are the things that matter to me.”
“But if your body weight is what’s causing your knee pain, that’s what you should be looking to change.”
“Nooo,” I stressed like an impatient teenager. “I should be looking to make myself stronger. I should be moving my body and strengthening my joints.”
She gave me a too-sweet smile. As if she was humoring the poor fat girl in denial.
“Look,” I said in a rush. “If I make the lifestyle changes I want to make, chances are, I’ll probably lose weight. OK? I probably will. But I can’t make the weight loss the goal. Don’t you understand? Trying to reach a certain number would fuck with my head, and anything I lost would come right back on again. I’d only end up even fatter than this. Don’t you get it?”
She threw up her hands. “Well then how do you propose to set goals for yourself?”
I decided on a goal of time. Time spent walking. I said I would walk three times within a seven-day period, allowing for some flexibility. I know myself well enough — if I committed to seven walks in seven days and missed just one, I’d feel like a woman who strangled her own kids while sleepwalking. I’d be very hard on myself. And no doubt I’d punish myself with some sticky, toothache-inducing food I don’t normally eat, even when I’m PMSing.
Dr. Whom seemed happy enough with my plan.
As I drove home, though, I began reflecting on a lot of Dr. Whom’s annoying little habits I’d noticed over the past weeks.
For example, she always seems to think my self-esteem is in the shitter. I get the feeling she thinks I don’t live up to my own possibilities. Why is she always looking at me through a filter of poor-downtrodden-girl? Could it be because I’m….fat?
After I finished drawing the two “me”s, she bellowed like an adoring grandmother (at a three-year-old), “Ohhhh, my! But you are a talented young lady, aren’t you?” (The drawings were nothing special. Believe me, I wasn’t trying very hard.) “Do you carry around a sketch pad?”
“You don’t? Well, why don’t you?”
“I don’t want to.” (And here’s where I sensed she took “I don’t want to” to mean, “I hate myself and don’t believe in my own artistic abilities, and furthermore, am completely undeserving of the pleasure of a casual on-the-spot pencil study of a bag lady.”)
“Ohhh, why don’t you? Why don’t you carry a sketch book?”
I was trying hard not to be sarcastic or nasty. So I answered quietly and simply: “Bcause I have no desire to sketch.”
She does this sort of thing at least once a session. And I resent having to take my time to justify the perfectly good reasons why I’ve decided not to do something.
“You sew? You sew your own clothes? *Gasp!* You made that?! Well, why aren’t you going to school to become a fashion designer then?!”
“I already did that.”
“Well, why didn’t you finish? You could’ve had your own line!” She stops and turns to face me, leaning forward and peering into my eyes. “You can do en-nee-thing you put your mind to. You are a very bright young woman. You know that, don’t you? Do you know that, Kim?”
“Yes,” I nod, aggravated. “I did have my own line. I started my own plus size line in the late 90s, OK?”
“Well why didn’t you continue?” Note she’s saying this as if it’s such a shame.
I garbled quickly, “Because I found I was doing too much business and not enough of the creative stuff that I really like to do and I wasn’t enjoying it so I’d rather just sew for myself one-off pieces I can wear and do it for pleasure and keep it fun and not have it be a chore, all right?”
She doesn’t seem to think I know myself.
She seems to think I’m too self-pitying to pursue my passions.
And geez, doesn’t writing a friggin’ book count for something?
I’m not the kind of fat person who needs to be coaxed out of her cave of self-hate and stink and persuaded to amble down to the mailbox and back, blinking all the while for fear of being oinked at by some jerk-faced eight-year-old on a skateboard. We’re talking me, here. That kid would be the one going home crying, trust me.
I mean, yes, I go to a therapist to discuss my weaknesses. Things about which I’m dissatisfied. Things that trouble me.
Still, after all the things we’ve discussed the three months, I’m baffled by her approach. I’m not an incapable person. She knows this. She knows the facts of who I am and what I do with my time. So why is she treating me like a gurgling lump?
In three months, Dr. Whom doesn’t seem to have caught on. Like so many other people, she’s living a form of short-hand. Rather than opening and stretching and expanding her mind, she’s running on the same set of beliefs she’s always had about fat people, and about body weight. It’s convenient. It doesn’t require additional effort, and she’s certainly got lots of company in those beliefs. She doesn’t have to fight to be heard correctly. She can say things once and others will nod their deep, slow nods of understanding. No need to speak a whole new language. No need for a mess.