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Fierce 40s

November 21, 2012

Trigger warning: Discussion of previous weight loss attempts.

I turned 41 years old on October 28.

I have known for nearly half my life that my 40s would be strange. My mother died of breast cancer when she was 48 and I was 24. Her death instantly changed my point of view on age and what constitutes old. I knew at 24 that 48 was almost painfully young. And I knew at 24 that I would not spend my life waiting for life to begin because, like my mother was at my age, I could already be half done. There would be no “when my kids grow up …” for me. And in particular, my 40s would be spectacular because I knew at 24 that I had no real proof that I would live to see 50.

If my bright and vibrant mother, who was not a saint but was fundamentally a good person, could die at 48 then I knew in my bones that every year I got past 48 would be a bonus.

Intellectually, I know it’s silly. My father is still alive, and also a cancer survivor, in his mid-60s. My mother’s mother lived to be 80. Her grandmother lived to be 96. But still, that was the way my mother’s death affected me. Now I’m in my 40s, and I feel even more strongly that 48 is insanely young and that the next seven years will be the best I’ve ever had no matter what I have to do to achieve that. Not only that, but every year I get past 48 will be treated like the gift I’ll truly believe it is.

For a long time, I was sure that (no matter how much my own healthy body might argue to the contrary) I could not be healthy and live a long life if I wasn’t thin. I tortured myself through my 20s and most of my 30s, trying every single possible way, short of surgery that I would have had if I could have afforded it, to shrink. I read hundreds of books. I tried dozens of diets. I joined a good-sized handful of gyms that were sometimes fun, but eventually became torture because I could not accept that exercise that didn’t make me lose weight was worth anything.

Even though every doctor I went to told me that my cholesterol was low and my blood pressure was normal and that I did not have diabetes or hypertension or any of the other “fat diseases,” I was positive that I would die young because I could not lose weight.

About five years ago, I had an epiphany. This weight loss stuff was holding me back. I’ve worked since then to come to terms with my body. It’s pretty simple, really: I’m fat. I’m fat because of the damage I did to my body with those diets. I’m fat because I inherited my mother’s slow metabolism and my father’s low blood sugar. I’m fat because when my life was falling apart in my early 20s, my eating became disordered. I’m fat, because some people are.

I am not fat because I eat too much. I don’t eat significantly more or less than the average American — even though I weigh about twice as much as the average American woman.

I am not fat because I don’t exercise enough to burn off enough of what I eat. True fact. I’m an active person.

I am not fat because I don’t care about what I weigh. If caring was all it took, I wouldn’t be fat. I cared for a very, very long time.

It hasn’t been easy. I am still prone to sudden moments of certainty that Weight Watchers would work for me this time, if I really put my mind to it. Or thoughts of my old, familiar New Year’s resolution: lose 100 pounds. Or sudden, usually very short, bursts of self-hatred.

But recently it has occurred to me that I cannot waste one more moment of my 40s on this bullshit. I cannot honor my mother by repeating her mistakes. She was so ashamed of her body. She felt like a failure so much of the time, when the truth was she was beautiful exactly the way she was.

So, I’ll eat what makes me feel good, and enough of it to keep myself healthy and satisfied. I’ll stop eating when I’m full, most of the time. I’ll exercise because my body likes it, and not in a misguided attempt to disappear. I’ll forgive myself for the slips into self-hatred that are certain to come. Those are the basics of Health at Every Size® — sweet and simple and the only thing that makes sense.

Pretty soon, I’m going to be faced with putting my picture on the back of my book, meeting people in connection with my book, and just generally being more in the public eye than I am accustomed to. It’s one thing to come here and speak out, knowing that for the most part I’m preaching to the choir and to friends who already accept me. It’s a whole other can of worms to be face strangers.

Not long ago, right here on this very blog, one of my heroes came to this blog and wrote in a comment that I am punk rock. Here’s the truth: no one, not me or you or anyone, can fully be who we are meant to be if we are giving our energy to self-hatred. I have devoted my 40s to being punk rock, and I’m not going to waste another minute living in any other way.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2012 11:38 pm


  2. November 22, 2012 9:45 am

    What a wonderful post to be reading first thing on Thanksgiving. So much to be thankful for and reading your words of inspiration top of the list!! My mom died when she was 52, the year I turned 52 I was poised for disaster…it’s almost like I believed there was a secret genetic time bomb living in my DNA that would go off when turned 52. It didn’t and my arrangement with myself shifted also re: how I would live my life whatever there was left of it, taking the best of my mom’s influence and sayin’ No Thanks to the parts of her that just didn’t fit who I am or who I wanted to be. I can not wait to read your book!!!! And have a snuggly and yummy Thanksgiving!
    Dr. Deah

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