I stopped dieting at around age 40. Since I started dieting at age six, this means that I dieted for a total of nearly 34 years of my life. The reasons I stopped were complicated, and very, very simple. First of all, the more I succeed at dieting, the more I failed. Each time I lost weight (and numerous times it was a large amount of it), I gained it back, plus more. Dieting progressively made me fatter and fatter. So I stopped dieting in part because I was terrified of being even fatter than I am now, and if I followed the lifelong pattern, I would end up home-bound if I kept going on diets.
But it was more than that. Each time I was a dieting success story, and felt better about myself for my weight loss, I felt exponentially more like a failure each time the weight came back on.
There were other reasons, too. For one, I just couldn't do it anymore. Something broke in me. The capacity to diet for even one more day seemed like an impossibility. I tried a few times, but it was as if I was unable to enter the torture chamber for another second.
In the process of quitting dieting I did quite a bit of therapy, which included therapy for both trauma and eating disorders. It helped, but it did not fix me.
I also got to know people in the size acceptance movement. I've had many conversations with activists and although I am not as radical as some, I do believe much of what I have heard. (I lived it, so it rings pretty true). I also am staunchly opposed to weight loss surgery, but primarily because the horror stories I have been told petrify me. I completely understand why people want to go that route, but I never will. The risks are simply too high for me.
Since quitting dieting I have started writing a lot about weight. Among other things, writing is another form of therapy. A year ago I published the book Fat Sex: The Naked Truth, and I am currently working on Fat Kids: Truth and Consequences. I have several hundred hours of interviews on tape with people about their lives, and their fat. Their stories are in my books.
What you don't hear in the written word in my books, however, is all the crying. It's mostly the people I interview who cry, but sometimes I do too. These tapes are locked in a safe. I hold their secrets, and they mine. The experience of interviewing and writing these books is very intense. It also has helped, but didn't fix me.
None of this is really my point in this article, though -- it is just the introduction. What I want to talk about here is what it has been like for me, as a fat person who dieted for 34 years and quit, to watch the entire season of The Biggest Loser. I haven't watched the show since the first season (and that was before I stopped dieting). I don't watch for all the reasons people don't watch -- the bullying and shame, the unhealthy tactics used to lose large amounts of weight very quickly, the way weight is portrayed as the single element in life that has any real relevance to success and happiness, and all the other irritants, like the incessant product placement. I watched this season, because I anticipate discussing it in my book Fat Kids, and to discuss it I had to watch it.
There is a lot written about why people take issue with The Biggest Loser, and also why others find it so motivating. I'm not going to get into that here. What I want to bring up is the emotional conflict I have felt watching these people "succeed" at weight loss, and the cognitive dissonance I feel processing the idea of that "success." By cognitive dissonance, I mean the pain, envy, shame, disgust, fear, empathy, pity, jealousy, sadness, and just about any other emotion that both draws me to, and repels me from, this show.
I recall watching the very first episode and having to turn it off several times. It was very traumatic to me to watch these fat people being yelled at. They were being told that they were failures, lazy, ill, shameful, and that without question (at least as the show is edited) they all agreed. They had to be "broken down before they could be built back up." The breaking down part was very effective.
As the season went on, people started to drop so much weight they were practically unrecognizable. They were full of energy and spirit, and all was right with the world. At this point, I admit I began to feel some envy. If only I could be on The Ranch, everything bad in my life would melt away with the pounds, too. In my logical mind, I knew better. But they really know how to keep the fantasy alive.
What I felt toward this show was something akin to an addiction. I hated it, and I wanted more.
Finally, the last week came, and everyone was in designer clothing, professional makeup, and was, almost magically, thin.
As I watched the finale and saw the massive amounts of weight that has been lost by every single person on the show, two thoughts were foremost in my mind: First, I felt the unbearable pain most of them will feel when they gain the weight back. (Past contestants who have been willing to speak openly say that more than 80 percent of everyone on the show eventually gains all their weight back).
Second, I thought how much I wished I was one of them. In a totally irrational way that comes from deep down inside, where that six-year-old on a diet still resides, I was able to completely ignore the reality of my entire life. As I watched, I wanted to be one of them -- half my body size with the world cheering for me -- because if you lose weight all your dreams come true, you can finally really live your life, be a person of value, and most of all, be happy. Right?
And since I'm fat, and don't diet, obviously, I'm just lying to myself.
So who is the biggest liar? The Biggest Loser, or me? Ask me tomorrow when I start my next diet. (Not really, I'm fat enough already, and I'm learning to like myself the way I am). I'm not fixed yet, but I'm getting there, and when I am fixed it won't be a reflection of my weight, it will be a reflection of knowing that my body size does not reflect my success or failure as a person. I am not the biggest loser.