We need — I need — to have the same little talk we have every year at this time: I know you might be starting a New Year’s diet. I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, “Oh, that’s great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?”
I got rid of her. No one talks to me that way.
Well, OK, maybe it was 10 years later, after she had helped lead me back home, to myself, to radical self-care, to friendship with my own heart, to a glade that had always existed deep inside me, to mostly healthy eating, but that I’d avoided all those years by achieving, dieting, binging, people-pleasing and so on.
Now when I decide to go on a diet, I say it to myself: “Great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?” Here is what’s true: Diets make you fat, 95 percent of the time. We gain it back, plus five pounds.
I may have mentioned several hundred times that I have had the tiniest, tiniest struggle with food and body image for the last — well, lifetime. Hardly worth mentioning. It is a long story, having to do with childhood injuries to my sense of self, terrible anxiety, and the inability of my parents to nurture my soul, so starving and chastising myself cannot possibly heal this.
I hate to say it, but only profound self-love will work, union with that scared breath-holding self, and not a diet that forbids apples or avocado. Horribly, but as usual, only kindness and grace — spiritual WD-40 — can save us.
Can you put the scale away for a week? Okay, then how about four days? I have been addicted to the scale, too, which is like needing former Vice President Dick Cheney to weigh in every morning on my value as a human being.
Can you put away your tight pants, that don’t actually hurt you? Wear forgiving pants! The world is too hard as it is, without letting your pants have an opinion on how you are doing. I struggle with enough esteem issues without letting my jeans get in on the act, with random thoughts about my butt.
By the same token, it feels great to be healthy. Some of you need to be under a doctor’s care. None of you need to join Jenny Craig. It won’t work. You will lose tons of weight quickly, and gain it all back, plus five.
Some of you need to get outside and walk for half an hour a day. I do love walking, so that is not a problem for me, but I have a serious problem with sugar: If I start eating it, I sometimes can’t stop. I don’t have an off switch, any more than I do with alcohol. Given a choice, I will eat Raisinets until the cows come home — and then those cows will be tense, and bitter, because I will have gotten lipstick on the straps of their feed bags.
But you crave what you eat, so if I go for three or four days with very little sugar, the craving is gone. That is not dieting. If you are allergic to peanuts, don’t eat peanuts. Have an apple. Have some avocado.
It’s really OK, though, to have (or pray for) an awakening around your body. It’s OK to stop hitting the snooze button, and to pay attention to what makes you feel great about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it’s yet another inside job. If you are not OK with yourself at 185 pounds, you will not be OK at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not out there. It’s within. I hate that. I resent that more than I can say. But it’s true.
Maybe some of us can try to eat a bit less, and walk a bit more, and make sure to wear pants that do not hurt our thighs or our feelings. Drinking more water is the solution to all problems. Doing a three-minute meditation every day will change your life. Naps are nice.
I’ll leave you with this: I’ve helped some of the sturdier women at my church get healthy, by suggesting they prepare each meal as if they had asked our beloved pastor to lunch or dinner. They wouldn’t say, “Here Pastor, let’s eat standing up in the kitchen. This tube of barbecue Pringles is all for you. I have my own,” and then stand there gobbling from their own tubular container. No, they’d get out pretty dishes, and arrange wonderful foods on the plates, and set one plate before Veronica at the table, a plate filled with love, pride and connection. That’s what we have longed for, our whole lives, and get to create. Wow.
Join me in not starting a diet this year.
And God bless you all real good, as my pastor always says.
Anne Lamott is an author. Her most recent book is “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy.”