I’m staring at myself in the mirror…
Did my face get fatter?
I turn slightly to the left.
Then slightly to the right.
Then I draw my cheeks down like I’m trying to pull off a mask.
Then I remember that my cheeks are attached to my face.
Then I remember that I’m a guy and I’m not supposed to care about my weight.
Then I remember that it’s 2018, and it’s OK for guys to be girly.
Which brings me back to the mirror.
I still can’t tell.
So I move on to my belly.
I suck it in, then protrude it out.
Suck in, protrude out.
Suck. Protrude. Repeat.
What am I doing?
I’m essentially telling myself:
“Take heed and observe!
This is what you should look like.
And this is what you do look like.
Shame on you!”
But then I account for the water, and the dinner, and the 35 Laffy Taffies.
Maybe this is just a bunch of temporary, soon-to-be unloaded cargo.
So I consult with my best friend, and worst enemy: the scale.
I brace myself.
Because the scale has a devilish tendency to shock me.
Sometimes with a pleasant surprise, but usually with a crushing blow.
As I wait for the scale to announce its results, I manage my expectations with an imaginary number, significantly higher than anticipated. But when that very number pops onto the screen, my heart drops and a slew of expletives instantly bulge out. W. T. F. This must be a joke. I feel like I may as well join the Japanese Association of Sumo Wrestlers (is that even a thing?) because this number is just not OK, and I need to find the culprit (was it the heavy weightlifting? Or, perhaps, the 35 Laffy Taffies?).
My final hope is the bathroom which I can only pray will shed some digits off the evil scale’s unacceptable verdict. But when the ensuing performance is underwhelming, I‘m left with no other choice than to brutally berate myself for expanding when I’m supposed to be contracting.
This is how I start my day, and this is not normal.
But I’m guessing (= hoping) I’m not alone.
Everyone I know is dieting.
This diet. That diet.
Three day cleanse.
Seven day detox.
Thirty day starve-yourself-to-death.
Weight consciousness has gone viral.
And it’s hard to draw the line between a healthy lifestyle shift, and an obsessive compulsive habit of belly pinching and calorie counting. But the alternative is the dreaded yo-yo effect, where I end up throwing in the towel, only to curse the scale and proceed to raid the pantry, stealing every last morsel of candy from my innocent, sleeping, unsuspecting children.
And here’s the kicker: I’m not even fat.
(I know that’s annoying to hear, but at least it’s not as annoying as a skinny stick-figure complaining that she IS fat.)
By any normal measure, I’m relatively thin.
But, so what?
Normal measures have long been out of vogue.
In Diet Land, if you’re not losing weight, you’re losing – period.
I may be thin, but I still notice what (I hope) nobody else notices.
Nothing feels better than tight pants becoming looser, and nothing feels worse than loose pants becoming tighter. It’s not about becoming less fat so much as becoming more fit. As a pathological perfectionist, I can’t tolerate a glitch in my image, and if I notice myself loosening my belt, it’s a sign that I need to tighten the whip. Self loathing is a dubious motivator, but it’s a language that comes most naturally to me.
Evenings are my kryptonite. I can easily pull off eight solid innings, only to completely unravel in the final stretch. A great day full of dedication and restraint culminates in the oh-so-predictable butchering of a resolve that seemed so invincibly bulletproof just ten minutes prior. My so-called willpower completely flakes out on me, and I soon find myself on a relentless hunt for the very donuts I spent all day avoiding. Once I cave (and I always do), all hell breaks loose.
When the dust finally settles and the damage is officially done, I whip out the remorse card, and the self-loathing card, and the WTF just happened card. Like, how, exactly, did I just undo 12 healthy hours in 12 nauseating seconds?!? Can we, um, rewind the tape and reshoot that scene? Pretty please?
This is how I end my day, and this is not normal.
But I’m guessing (= hoping) I’m not alone.
So here’s the question:
Why do diets have to be so dramatic?
Is it possible to lose weight without losing my mind?
Why do I let the scale manipulate my moods, granting an arbitrary number so much unjustified psychological sway?
I believe it boils down to my motives.
Why am I dieting?
Is it because I’m health conscious, or because I’m image conscious?
If my goal is physical and emotional wellbeing, then It doesn’t matter what the bipolar scale says. It doesn’t matter what the mirror says. As far as my health is concerned, nutritional input is far more important than aesthetic output. Eat right, and the rest will follow. Simple.
But I have more than my primary care physician to impress.
I have “the world” to impress.
If image is my only motivator (and, let’s be honest, it usually is) then I’m vulnerable to the unavoidable swings of elation and demoralization. Because my public image is only as solid as my internal self-image. Which, in my case, is as volatile as it is fragile.
The flip-side of emotional eating, is emotional dieting.
Emotional eaters use food to fill an inner void, and emotional dieters refuse food to fill an inner void.
Two different sides of a very similar coin.
But the underlying force is one and the same.
Don’t get me wrong.
Image consciousness is totally normal (to an extent). We all have our own subconscious PR departments to monitor and optimize our public images. But the slope is super slippery, as the subjective world of perception is easily morphed by the distortions of our own deep seated insecurities.
Slippery slope. Indeed.
The diet drama is just a symptom.
The real drama is much deeper than Ding-Dongs and donuts.
The real drama is buried deep, deep, deep down.
Somewhere beneath the calorie counting and the belly pinching.
Somewhere beneath the food swings and the mood swings.
Somewhere beneath the late night binging and the early morning cringing.
Somewhere beneath it all.
There’s a voice that says: nope.
Not good enough.
And it’s this incessant sense of “not-good-enough” that drives the most desperately doomed, drama-fueled chase down the dubious rabbit hole.
One more push-up.
One more pound-down.