So in the last six or so months, I had been gaining weight. Now, if you have known me since childhood, your eyebrows would be understandably elevated. I have always been one of those skinny girls who eats whatever, whenever; one of those skinny girls forever standing before her mirror holding up and pushing up assorted body parts, imagining what she would look like when she finally grew some curves. I always thought weight gain would bring me some contentment- if I got a little more busty, or a little more hippy, I was sure I would finally be happy with my body.
Sidebar: When I was growing up, they had not yet invented the thigh gap. Smh.
When I got the chance to study abroad, I knew this would be my body breakthrough. No one lives in the UK for a year and comes back skinny, right? So, thrilled was I when finally, I could not wear size 10 trousers without a struggle; and thrilled I stayed when my shirts stretched out a little tighter upfront. I was still blissfully eating whatever, whenever; but doing a lot of walking (for budgetary rather than exercise purposes, mind). By the time I came back home, my newly filled-out bod and my lack-of-sun lightened skin gave me a zing of confidence.
Then I got a job.
Nobody told me that when my body gets used to walking at least thirty-or so minutes each day; I can’t just up and tell it to sit put about 9 hours a day without it freaking out a bit. Oh, and that in my mid- to late twenties, my metabolism would start taking things easy. So ironically, it was after I came back home that I really started to gain weight; but it was so slow and subtle, I didn’t really notice at first. Earlier last year, I took up exercising- treadmill, aerobics, flexibility exercises or Zumba (about 2-3 times in a good week); in fulfilment of a promise I made to myself at 23 that I would get fit at 26 (please hold your applause- the only reason I made that promise is I didn’t realise how quickly three years would go by. Sigh). It was all well and dandy and I was about three inches closer to achieving a full split when tragedy hit: I took on a professional course; and suddenly, I had no time for anything. Worse, I was getting home late each night- very late and very hungry- so I would eat: banku, kenkey, rice, whatever. You guessed it- I had forgotten I was no longer in the prime of my metabolism.
Then people started to talk.
You know, I think one thing that would have helped a girl with body image issues is if observers could get organised. Like, form a union or something- have one meeting and decide once and for all, by majority rule, veto power or something:
a) Has she gained weight or lost weight?
b) Does it really “look nice on…” her or must she lose it?
Wishes, horses- I know. But people can really send mixed signals, charle; from the ones who say, “Ei, Nana Yaa, way3 k3se o… but 3fata wo” to the one aunt who compared me to my formerly overweight sister and suggested that she had probably passed on her weight to me (true story)… if you’re uncertain about how to address sudden weight gain in someone you know, here are a few suggestions:
IF you have that kind of rapport with them:
a) Find out how they feel about it. If they are unwilling to talk about it, leave it alone. If they express some negative feeling about their bodies, share your experience if you have had your own weight/body issues. Solidarity helps.
b) If you have not had your own weight/body issues, try to do more listening than talking, for it’s hard to understand what being in that position is like.
IF you do not have that kind of rapport with the person:
a) Try to keep off the topic of weight gain, for you know not how damaging your teasing/comments/advice may be.
b) Talk to a tactful person who is close to that someone about your concerns.
In both cases, pray for the person. Yes, pray.
In my experience, I was already confused by what my body was doing- I didn’t know if I liked the way I looked or not. On one hand, I had always wanted to have these… ahem… assets- I felt like I finally looked like a woman- and yet I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that. I guess it was the fear that being a size bigger and growing, was just a first step down a slippery slope- that one day soon, I would wake up and realise I couldn’t see my toes anymore. Exaggerated, I know, but this is the sort of roller coaster ride I went/go through on this issue. Not to mention the panic point when I realised I was quickly going beyond being more endowed to taking on a distinctly puffy appearance. When you’re already dealing with all this, it’s not at all useful to have every Tom, Dick and Harry point out that you’re gaining weight.
So I finally got to my “This nansins must stop” point at the end of last year. Among the goals I set for myself this year, I added this: to lose 5kg and maintain that weight, by the end of this year. Easily doable, right? Right- because within 1 month I have already lost 3 of those 5kg- and I’m not on a diet.
What changed? Some attitudes and habits.
First, I started eating breakfast. A few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing one of the nicest ‘important’ men I have ever met. He is the CEO of a thriving business in Ghana and he was so approachable that somehow, the conversation got to eating habits; and he explained to me that he currently has a pacemaker installed in his heart due to combined pressures of work and bad habits such as not eating breakfast. I was stunned. Not eating breakfast could be that dangerous? I knew it was bad but that dangerous?!? On my way home from work, I bought some sugar bread against the next morning, wai. Nobody had to tell me twice. I read some more on it, and found a popular saying which I loosely live by: eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and supper like a pauper.
I also faced the fact that I love eating- it’s not necessarily the food itself; but the act of eating. By Freud’s estimation, I probably got orally fixated or something (should explain why I couldn’t quit sucking my thumb for years and subsequently missed out on having perfect teeth- but that’s another article). Eating. I realised I find comfort in putting food in my mouth- so my cure was not in eating more or necessarily less, it was in eating slowly. The rationale here was this: if I could savour putting the food in my mouth, take the time to enjoy the sensations and flavours of the food, even pause in between chewing sessions to drink water or do something else- to prolong my enjoyment of the very ritual that is eating, I would be able to lay down the fork when my stomach got full, regardless of how much food was still on the plate because I would bear witness to myself that I had had a good run.
I divorced late suppers. I realised my romance with full meals in the evenings wouldn’t get along with my health and fitness aspirations; so I set yet another easy policy for myself: no cooked meals after 7:00pm. Guess what- in the last few weeks, I have hardly eaten after6pm. Basically, being able to separate my desire to eat from actual hunger, in itself, cut down my compulsion to eat quite a lot. It’s as if it’s now dawned on me that I can feel like eating and yet, not eat; and not die 🙂 Plus, if some particularly tempting food is available that late, I’ll rationalise that it will taste just as good in the morning and psych up myself to have a very kingly breakfast the following morning. If I’m truly hungry after 7pm, I have a beverage (usually hot chocolate), juice, fruit, veg or basically anything that does not require cooking (e.g. rice) and isn’t too sweet (e.g. ice cream) and that I like (e.g. hot chocolate :). My resolve has not been tested yet, but I have very slyly crafted the policy to exclude the occasional dining out at night; especially if a Chinese restaurant is involved 😉
On the exercise front, I realised a few things at my fed-up point last year: exercise and I would probably never become extremely fond of each other- so for now, I won’t aim to be one of those chiselled-out Zumba instructors- I’ll just aim to be fit. Fit enough that I won’t get so out of breath when I climb the two floors to my office; that I can occasionally sweat through at least 20 minutes of Jane Fonda’s beginner’s workout without quitting after 5 minutes and just watching the video. Before you judge me, please note it was barely 2 months ago that the closest I would get to exercising was putting on the work-out clothes and watching the entire video, telling myself I was mentally mastering the moves. Progress is progress, my friends.
I have decided, rather than obsess over looking a particular way, to focus on developing healthy habits with regards to food and fitness; and allow my body, however long it takes, to grow into those good habits and reflect the benefits thereof. I find that what works for me is not making sudden, extreme shot-term changes; but gradual, sustainable, little lifestyle alterations. And sometimes, I have to psych up myself mentally for weeks before I actually do it (e.g. getting all dressed up only to watch exercise videos for weeks, before actually starting to move). I hope I don’t fall back into the unhealthy habits I had before; but if I do, I pray God gives me strength to rally and press on. I don’t know how many people out there are like me- but the morale of my story is-
a) Be patient with yourself- DON’T give up
b) Make your goals achievable and review them when the need arises
Perhaps, most importantly, I am teaching myself to be happy with my body, just the way it is, at each point in time. I still stand in front of the mirror quite a lot, but these days, I make a conscious effort to resist holding up certain parts, fantasizing; but rather look full on at everything, just the way it is, and smile at how beautiful it is. Paul was no woman, but he sure knew what he was talking about when he told Timothy: Godliness with contentment, is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).
I know that many of my heavier sisters would scoff at my experience and say, as many have, look at this girl talking about being fat; but the point is, it’s not really about what size a person is. The struggle in the mind to accept one’s body as beautiful, regardless of popular culture’s standards, is the issue. I may be nowhere near as big as you, but my struggle may be every bit as real as yours. The battle, as I have learnt, is mostly in the mind. For me, victory has begun with claiming for my body the pronouncement that God makes on all of His creation: “It is good!”