I gained weight (and the world didn't end)
TW: Internalized fat-phobia, mentions of weight gain and loss
Recently, there's been a lot of talk about weight gain on my social media feeds because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Most of it is memes and jokes about how fat everyone is going to be after quarantine, but I feel like there's a more serious undertone to the discussion. Many people – regardless of their current weight, gender, age or any other factor – are terrified of becoming fat. Or fatter, if they are already fat. I understand this fear very well, because I have that same fear. In fact, in my case, this fear has already become reality. I have gained weight. So, I thought I would talk a little bit why and how it happened and how it has affected my life.
I have always been big, and most of my adult life I have been what can be classified as "fat" – in medical terms, I'm obese. However, I used to be smaller than I currently am. You can clearly see this if you look at some of the older posts on this blog (the photos in this post are recent, because a "before and after" comparison is not really my goal here). In the past five years, I have gained about 15 kg. Before that, I was roughly the same weight for several years. So, what happened? I'm going to go into a bit more detail about my life in these past five years next. This is not me "making excuses" (because it's my body and I don't need to), or about making generalizations about specific life events automatically resulting in gaining weight. I'm just sharing my experience and feelings, simple as that.
1. Big life changes
The changes that have happened in my life have been, for the most part, positive (marriage, buying a house, cutting off toxic friendships, completing a doctoral degree). However, change is always stressful and when I'm under a lot of stress, I gain weight. I'm not a doctor – well, I am, but not a medical doctor – so it's difficult to pinpoint why it happens. Probably for various reasons: I eat more, I find it more difficult to sleep, and because I'm tired, I'm not as active. Stress is also a big part of the next item on my list.
2. Constant insecurity about the future
Getting my PhD was undoubtedly the biggest personal achievement of my life so far. I started my PhD journey in late 2014 and got my degree in April this year. As it happens, my weight gain also fits neatly within this time period. Now, I'm not saying that writing a PhD thesis makes you fat (or in this case, fatter). However, it does take its toll on your mental – and sometimes also physical – well-being. The academic career path is notorious for its competitiveness. At least here in Finland, it is challenging to get funding for the whole duration of your doctoral studies, especially in the humanities. I was lucky enough to have funding, but it was in bits and pieces: a grant from a foundation, a grant from another foundation, some hourly paid teaching, another grant... As a result, I faced the same fear every year: what if I don't get the funding to continue my research? What if I don't find a job? I'm sure many people who work in creative fields or do freelance work are very familiar with this feeling. I love what I do and I have no regrets, but I do find this aspect of my career challenging and, at times, extremely stressful. Which, again, sometimes leads to gaining weight.
3. Anxiety and depression
Most of my weight gain has happened since I was diagnosed with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and depression in 2017. Weight gain is a common side effect of my medication (escitalopram), but to be honest, I don't give a flying fuck about this one. I prefer being fatter to feeling horribly anxious 24/7.
4. Physical injury
Last summer, I sprained by ankle badly, resulting in several torn ligaments and not being able to walk without support for about two months. Any guesses what happens when you don't move as much as you used to, but continue to eat the same way? Yup, you gain weight.
Now, while the experiences I have described above are just that – my experiences – I hope people who are afraid of gaining weight or perhaps feel prejudice towards fat people can get some new insights into why a person might gain weight from this post. There is SO MUCH we don't know about other people and what goes on in their lives, and so many factors that affect a person's weight. Are some of them self-inflected? Yes. Are they any of our fucking business? No. And the same goes for people who have LOST weight. It's not always a result of actively trying to lose weight, which is why I don't congratulate people for losing weight, or comment on it at all, unless they bring it up themselves.
So, big question time. How do I feel about my weight now? To be honest, I have days when I feel really shitty about it. I look at old photos and compare myself to them, wishing I hadn't worried about my weight back then, when 'clearly' I didn't need to! I feel down about needing to shop clothing in a bigger size than before, even though I'm very aware that I'm still privileged because I CAN find anything I want in my size.
Do I want to lose weight? Yes. Because my body does not feel good at my current weight. Well, that's not exactly true. It's more like I know from experience that my body feels BETTER to me when I'm at a certain weight. I don't have a specific weight-related health issue, or a goal to have a 'normal' BMI (that's never going to happen, haha). It's merely an issue of me feeling good in my body.
Was I happier when I weighed less? No. More agile? Sure. Able to walk more flights of stairs without losing my breath? Yes. But happier, no. If anything, I am happier now. I've successfully completed my PhD. I have a great marriage, a lovely home and a toxic-free circle of friends. I've been on quite the journey for the past five years. I've picked up a few scars (both physical and emotional), some memories I will always cherish, and 15 kilos.
Based on my experiences, here's a short checklist for you if you start to worry about gaining weight, whether it's because of quarantine or not:
1. Try to keep in mind that your weight does not define your worth. The fact that you gained weight simply means that you are heavier now. It does not make you ugly, lazy, a bad person or a failure.
2. If the 'we will all get fat during this pandemic, lol' memes get a bit too much, block the people who share them. They don't need to know. And definitely don't share that stuff yourself just to feel included!
3. The reasons behind both weight loss and weight gain can be complicated and a combination of many things. Don't judge others OR yourself for changes in weight. Practice kindness.
4. If you are really bothered by the fact that you have gained weight and feel uncomfortable at your current weight, you can always try to lose some of it. Trying to actively lose weight does not make you any less body positive, and weight loss doesn't have to come from a place of self-hatred. Just be mindful with diet talk when interacting with people who might feel triggered by it. Use trigger warnings if you post about sensitive topics such as eating disorders or internalized fat-phobia on social media. And again, have patience and be kind to yourself. If you like to set goals, be realistic. For example, since I gained 15 kg in the course of five years, I don't expect to lose it in five weeks.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading my ramblings! I hope this was helpful to someone. I also hope that you are all doing well and finding some positives in your daily life, even though there are so many horrible things going on in the world right now.