Reflections of a Shrinking Man: the existential implications of weight loss
Every day, there is a little less of me. I literally do not exist now as much as one year ago. I have lost an average of a pound every five days for months and thrown out two wardrobes because they have grown too large.
Losing weight presents a number of challenges, existentially speaking. The first is the challenge between food as defense and size as defense.
For years, I worked in a dangerous place where being large gave me a feeling of security. Being bigger than most people let me feel physically superior to most people. I didn’t just take up a lot of space, I commanded a lot of space. Size equated to safety, and allowed me to deny my fragility, my physical vulnerability.
But size was also killing me slowly. I was close to developing diabetes, my heart was under undue strain, and I could not climb a flight of stairs without getting tired. Attending to my size issue would have put me too in touch with my death issue, which leads us to food.
In my household, food is love. My policy was to never say “no” when offered food, because that would mean saying “no” to love. At the same time, looking at the content of the food – fat, calories, and implications – would mean looking a little too closely again at death. Limiting intake means acknowledging limitations. It means saying, “I’m not 19 anymore,” and “I’m too old to eat whatever I want.”
So the road to health has been a hard one. It has meant looking closely at death while not waiting to be at death’s door. And it has meant a new relationship with food and love: it is not that I don’t deserve the extra helping, it is that I deserve better than an extra helping. I deserve to be thinner – I’ve worked very hard at the gym to deserve that. I am hungry, maybe, but hunger is part of the human experience, like anxiety or sadness (and is often borne of those feelings rather than a genuine need to eat). Learning to live with that feeling, to not treat it as an emergency, has been the outcome of learning to tolerate feelings in general.
This is not easy in America. We are bombarded with advertisements for pain relief, for anxiety relief, for depression relief, for snacks and foods and refreshments. We are told to snack extreme, to snack like we mean it, and junk from the fast food place is cheaper than anything good for your body.
We are conditioned to treat every feeling as an emergency, not just hunger. And with no ability to tolerate discomfort – indeed, no desire to tolerate it – who can say “no” to another slice of pizza?
I eat half as much as I used to, and work out every day. Too much health consciousness might be a denial of death, but no health consciousness certainly is a denial of death. I try to slim down in full knowledge of death, not denying it but not rushing towards it, either. I deny some of the pleasure of eating to more fully embrace some of life’s other pleasures, like feeling strong and fit, like embodiment in a body that can not just climb stairs but run up them.
And yet, every time I step on the scale and see a lower number, every time I catch a reflection of me in some surface and see how I have dwindled, I still feel that little rush of fear. I am disappearing even as I emerge, becoming both more and less, admitting to and thus experiencing my vulnerability.
-- Jason Dias