Listen along to a playlist curated by the author, Olivia Hrko, while reading her article by clicking the button above.
I don’t need a strawberry Fanta. But I want it. I don’t need pepperoni and sausage pizza. But I want it. I don’t need a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked. But I want it. This echoes in my head at least once a day; like it’s required, like flossing you can’t actually ignore. A twisted daily interaction between my ‘good’ self and my ‘bad’ self. I don’t need it; but I want it. So why can’t I have it?
This interaction spoiled many-a-weight loss plan since I was in fifth grade. Lately, the wants have escalated from a momentary prick, to a stab, to a burning, throbbing ache that never stops. I don’t need any of the unhealthy things I think of eating. BUT I WANT IT.
When I moved back with my family, it was evident to them I was out of shape and unhealthy in almost every physical aspect. Me? I hardly noticed. The greatest perk of new adulthood is its greatest detriment. It’s a double-edged sword of independence and responsibility. The only person paying for the consequences of their actions is the person themselves. The immediate consequences of strawberry Fanta, pepperoni and sausage pizza, and pints of Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked are that they taste really, really good. There may be a carb coma, but that’s usually the least of the problems until new adulthood is gone. That’s still twenty or thirty years down the line. I didn’t care that I was heavier. As of last year, that was the least of my problems. My tight pants and lack of any real understanding of what I was eating weren’t even blips on the radar. I was out of shape, but my life had just fallen apart. So the ‘But I want it’s’ were still answered.
Along with this, I had decided to take an interest not necessarily in my physical health but my mental health and my self-esteem. I was enraptured with the idea, and still am, that loving one’s self in a fat body is radical against societal beauty standards. The body positivity movement was invented by women of color, specifically Black women, so they could feel powerful, valid, and sexy at any size. That’s what I needed for the longest time. I don’t need any sort of alteration. I’m quick-witted, observant, hard working, creative, and you know what? I’m even beautiful the way I look. I enjoyed being fat and fabulous. I enjoyed showing the world I saw myself as worthy; even if I didn’t shrink down to an impossible idea of what women are supposed to look like. Did I struggle with this? Absolutely, but I tried. I tried hard, and I made progress most would be proud of. But what happens when you mix that “accept me as I am” philosophy with loved ones being concerned for your health?
It was evident what exactly my family was thinking whenever I got up for more food at dinner, or when I came home with snacks, or grazed on too many appetizers at my mother’s book club meetings. I would see a similar twisted interaction on my mom's and dad’s faces. She’s eating too much. She’s gained so much weight. She’s unhealthy. But she’s an adult, I can’t tell her what to do anymore. It was a painful truth; especially to my doctor-dad. Painful to the point he couldn’t take it anymore, because I apparently bent over to tie my shoes in an unhealthy way, and he snapped at me for just ‘really letting myself go.’ This was followed by telling me how much he loved me. How he just wanted me to be healthy. He didn’t really care about what I looked like, I just had to do something. He was concerned; not as my father, but as a physician. He and I had had this conversation before. This wasn’t the first time I’d gained a lot of weight. Only, it hurt a lot more because I’d made an appointment to see a weight loss specialist that was covered through our insurance. He knew that; and he still had to tell me this two days before my appointment.
At my first appointment, I didn’t flinch at the number on the scale. I was heavy but it wasn’t anything I was worried about. I’m a young adult. Making unhealthy nutritional choices for the sake of convenience, or comfort was still par for the course. Everything I had based my life on, my life in New York, my friendships, my search for a career, had just crashed around my ears over something completely beyond my control. So what if I found comfort in something I could handle, like what I fed myself? When there’s something wrong in my life I only have a few things that make me happy without fail. That included food for a very long time. I ate when I wanted to celebrate; I ate when I needed some self care. I ate when I had nothing to do. I ate to take a break from multitasking.
So, when I decided to lose weight (I need this to be abundantly clear, I didn’t just do it because my parents told me to or were worried about me, I wanted to lose weight to feel better, not to be skinny), I struggled with feeling deprived. I enjoyed the food I was eating; and while me and the physician’s assistant I’m seeing have made sure I have ways to scratch the itches I feel for things like soda, or pizza, or Ben and Jerry’s, it’s hard not feeling some sort of lack, like I’m doing all of this for naught. As I mentioned, I’ve tried to lose weight since fifth grade on diets similar to the one I’m currently on; so at first, this felt like just another way to bide time. To make my parents feel comfortable. To shake me out of my funk. I’m also not going to lie and say I don’t feel some of those benefits of weight loss. My face looks thinner in the mirror. My pants don’t cut into my waist and give me constantly itchy and occasionally painful red marks. My chin isn’t covered in cystic acne from the metric fuck ton of sugar I used to consume. These are nice perks; but feeling better? That hasn’t happened.
When the young are young, they are told to suck the marrow out of life; to enjoy every new experience and decadent moment, to gather ye rosebuds while ye may. I’m presently being told that it’s more important for me to lose weight now. To prepare for a part of my life I wasn’t thinking about because I was just trying to survive and retrieve the part I lost. Now, I don’t get to take part in the things I used to enjoy. I’m constantly saying ‘No. I can’t eat that,’ when anyone, including my parents, offer me something not color coded green on my “good-to-go foods” sheet. How is that not deprivation? I’m anxious that I’m letting the time I’m supposed to be sucking the marrow out of life waste away in order to lose weight, be “healthy”. When that shouldn’t have the definition of meaning being skinny anymore.
According to the monthly weight loss appointments I keep for logging my progress, my heart sounds good, my blood pressure is down. By medical metrics I’m now within healthy ranges in everything except my weight and BMI. So when can I stop? Everything has consequences. Why does the consequence of time feel more palpable when you give it up in the present moment instead of giving it up twenty or thirty years down the line?
This frustration came to a head when I made a joke to my mom. I teased her about me getting a donut at Dunkin Donuts instead of my usual large unsweet black tea after taking the dog on his afternoon walk. She proceeded to look at me funny and ask “Why would you want that? Why do you want these foods you know are bad for you? Why do you not want to follow your diet? Why are you constantly talking about food now?” and I replied, “Because I see all my friends who get to do whatever they want to with their bodies because they’re young and they can lose control every now and again without guilt, without feeling like they’re losers, and I can’t have donuts or anything like that when I’m forty, so shouldn’t I have it now?” And when she said “Well if you lose the weight now, you can do those things sometimes when you’re forty.” All I could think was, “But I want it.”
I didn’t get the donut. I’ve gotten to the point where I can say no and maintain some self control. It’s another benefit of the nutrition kick I suppose. I still paid for it by being rude and angry and miserable; by taking it out on my mom. I’m not proud of that. Is this complaint and line of questioning about self worth infantile and petulant? Probably. Is this a champagne problem in the middle of a pandemic when I had a place to go, a family who cared enough to take me in, and then tell me I had a problem with food, and had the means to help me fix it? Absolutely. I’m reckoning with that as well. However, if I’m losing weight (26 pounds and counting at the time of writing this) but I’m unhappy, what is the point? The benefits, the perks haven’t made ignoring the ‘“But I want it” worth it yet. Though as I keep up the consistency of self control, I’m starting to think that ‘worth it’ moment will never happen. So what’s the point? Especially if I feel I’m betraying the body positivity movement that made me, not necessarily happy, but neutral about my weight fluctuation? These questions are heavy and hard to carry, and they all pile up on the side of me that wants to make unhealthy choices. I don’t know if I’ll find the answers to these questions at any weight. I don’t know a person considered healthy or unhealthy who knows the answers either. All I know is I’m being weighed and measured and found wanting all over.
About the Author
Olivia is a writer based in North Carolina. She graduated from The New School College of Performing Arts with a bachelor’s degree in Dramatic Arts and enjoys viewing and analyzing media from plays (actual or virtual) to film and television. Her favorite writers tend to be playwrights like Lanford Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry and Tony Kushner, but her favorite books include The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. When she isn’t watching or reading new work, she listens to Bruce Springsteen, knits, and watches book reviews and costuming/sewing videos on YouTube.
Head over to our Masthead to learn how to connect with her.