Tuesday, July 27, 2010


My goal since starting to change my weight has always been about "normalizing" rather than "radicalizing" my life. This is actually a risky thing to assert, because there will always be people who take issue with the use of the word "normal". They will ask "what is normal?" They will question your right to define "normal" for others, or even yourself.

I will grant that it is one of those words that is loaded with difficulty and some may even consider its usage pejorative. They may feel that we define "normal" only to allow ourselves to have the luxury of identifying what is "abnormal". There are also problems because "normal" is not only culturally specific, but geographically relevant. What are considered "normal" manners in New York City aren't going to be "normal" for Peoria, Illinois.

All of that being said, I think that most of us would understand and recognize what is "normal" in terms of a relationship with our bodies and food. Essentially, normal relationships are devoid of disordered thinking and acting. Eating should be linked to hunger or a need for energy in the body. One can even say that it "should" be related to stress, though only to the extent that some extra food helps supply the energy necessary to escape that stress, not to the point where the eating itself creates a new and more debilitating source of stress.

"Normal" can also be associated with "average". Of course, averages are statistically derived and current averages are quite skewed. The average American eats somewhere in the vicinity of 3600 calories per day. That doesn't make that number one which we should consider "normal". For my purposes, I define "normal" as the amount of food required to maintain a body weight at which I am physically healthy and comfortable, and at which I suffer no punishment or mobility issues in the greater world based on body size.

It's important to recognize that my "normal" isn't everyone else's normal. There is often an effort made on the part of bodily acceptance advocates to chuck out any notion of "normality" in order to help people feel better about themselves. Personally, I think that you can't fool people by pretending that weighing 400 lbs. is "normal" by saying that the term cannot and should not be defined. I think it's more valuable to accept your abnormality as something you personally are completely comfortable with than to try and say, "my body is normal."

Acceptance isn't about normality, though it does come more easily for those who are considered normal. In fact, for many people, they have no desire to be "normal", and that's their prerogative. It just isn't mine. I've suffered all my life because I'm not "normal" and I'd like to at least spend a little time at normal so that I could see if there's less suffering going on from that vantage point. It may change nothing, but at least I'd like to have that experience as a point of comparison.

Since I started very near 400 lbs., and knew I was very far from normal, I've been endeavoring to adjust all aspects of my life slowly to reach what I think may be "normal". Part of my problem was that I didn't know what "normal" was for much of my life, but I could see around me that it wasn't how I was living. A big part of that was how I was raised. If you're not taught something in your own home about daily living, where are you going to learn it? It's not like you can up and move into another person's house and observe everything they do.

One of the tiny little things that I noticed about "normal" people came to me when my husband and I were house-sitting for my in-laws. My sister-in-law and her husband resided in an attached house with my father-in-law and mother-in-law, and we needed something or other and I checked their refrigerator for it. I noticed that there was one tiny little Reese's peanut butter cup miniature in the freezer. It sat there all alone and uneaten. I thought about how it could just be left there. How could anyone resist eating up that last peanut butter cup?

Normal people didn't eat when they weren't hungry just because tasty treats were on hand. Normal people didn't eat until they couldn't support their body weight and develop terrible back pain. Normal people didn't gain so much weight that they couldn't go to movie theaters, ride amusement park rides, or eat in restaurants for fear that the seating wouldn't accommodate their girth. Normal people didn't have to worry about buying two tickets for a plane ride or that chairs might have arms on them. Normal people weren't slaves to their relationship with food.

The aforementioned types of things were a big part of the sort of "normal" I wanted to achieve. I wanted to be the sort of person who could blithely walk away from or leave behind morsels of candy, just as I can walk away from something I want to buy but don't really need. I wanted to be the sort of person who didn't have to eat a whole candy bar, or bag of cookies once I'd torn open the pack. I wanted to be so blasé and blithe about food when hunger was not in play that I could simply leave it sit there until I really wanted it, or throw it out if it wasn't that good. I wanted food to have that little meaning to me. Of course, I had no idea how to get from who I was to "normal". I only knew I wanted to get there, desperately.

It has taken most of my life to reach a point where I could deal with myself so that I could be close to this point of self-defined normality. It's not about denying urges or the siren call of tasty food. It's about not having the urges or hearing the calls. I didn't want to be the sort of person who fought impulses to eat and triumphantly won and patted myself on the back for every pizza slice I passed on or every bit of cake I turned down. I wanted to be the sort who simply didn't have such strong, frequent or out of control impulses at all. I don't think I could live the rest of my life at a lower weight if I had to keep fighting such urges several times a day, everyday, forever. It'd drive me around the bend.

I think that not fighting this fight and winning (or losing) is what I consider "normal". It's probably as much or more about me seeing food in a normal manner than about me being "normal". I feel closer to "normal" now than I have ever felt in my life, and it's important to note that it has absolutely nothing to do with numbers on a scale or my body size.


RedPanda said...

Heh - I liked the bit about the peanut butter cup in the freezer! For those of us who grew up with a disordered relationship with food, it's instructive to study those who are "normal".

An example: back when I was fat and attended, say, a morning tea at work and decided to have a cookie, if the cookie was disappointing, I'd feel justified in eating something else to "make up for" the disappointing cookie. It was only after I lost weight that it occured to me that "normal" people don't do this - if their first choice is disappointing, they forget about it.

Similarly, if they buy something to eat and it's disappointing, they don't feel the need to finish eating it anyway. After studying "normal" people, I started copying some of their eating habits. I used to feel like David Attenborough studying an exotic species!

screaming fatgirl said...

I used to do the same thing with food that I didn't enjoy - if it wasn't good, I felt I deserved a second round of something which I did enjoy.

It's an interesting mindset because it betrays some sense of entitlement about the pleasures of food and linking food entirely to emotional concerns rather than physical ones. Personally, I think it is linked to both, but those of us with disordered eating link mainly to emotional factors (pleasure, eating in response to emotions).

Thanks for commenting!

One of these days, I hope to be able to make statements like "when I was fat." ;-)