Shame, Part Deux 16

It is one thing to acknowledge that we have issues with our bodies and our diets. We can agree with a meaningful nod that, “Oh, yes, I hate that, too,” and feel warmth and comfort in the bosom of our other fat (or thin)-shamed friends.

Things get a little dicey when we start talking about the sources. Shame comes from any number of places, and if I could guess, most of it, as it relates to food, is an unnecessary weight to carry.

credit: Fybrid

credit: Fybrid


I used to keep a stash in my house. It was a sugary bouquet for those times when I feel like if I don’t get a quick shot of sugar, I might run off in the minivan to Aruba. Or at least to the bookstore down the street, where I would consume a calorie-laden coffee concoction and, for good measure, a giant rice krispie treat. I would, in public, resist the temptation to pour a packet of sugar over the sugary treat. Just to get my fix into my system as soon as physically possible. It used to make me really edgy if the stash was low, or not there at all. Even if I didn’t want anything RIGHT NOW, I wanted the safety of its presence in my house. Yes. I had a sugar safety blanket.

But did you notice that little phrase, “in public.” Of course, I would not eat a package of cream horns with a chaser of Chili Cheese Fritos in public. Because that’s just untoward. It simply isn’t done. It is our private, and sometimes thrilling, shame, to stuff our faces with exactly the flavors of shame we think we want.

Apparently, there’s even a name for it: food of shame.

I suspect, however, that my issues with cream horns aren’t really about the cream horns and more about a learned coping technique. We might refer to this with a tongue in the cheek, as eating our feelings. And I believe it is a very real thing. There are others who take a different route. They are so stressed out, or sad, or depressed or whatever that food becomes one more obstacle for which they do not have time.

And here’s the real kicker: if you happen to be one of those stress fasters, you will be the locus of jealously. I have a friend whose marriage was crumbling, who was mired deep in the pit of a dangerous depression. To call her skinny was understating the case. Her friends, who knew of her pain, said, “Yeah. We’re still jealous.”

Because skinny is everything. Everything.

So, maybe we feel like a crappy day deserves a Ding Dong or six or eight. Maybe that startling phone call made us order ourselves a large pizza, and one for the rest of the family. Maybe visiting our parents makes us itch for every calorie we see. And we hate it. And we want to change. But it’s just so hard. And it means peeling back layers and layers of crap. And that’s just not any fun. Really. At all.

Our Bodies:

Our bodies bear the brunt of this. Our skin stretches, or shrinks, and the more it does, the more we want to cover that physically obvious shame. If people can see that we are bigger than we were before (or smaller) then they will know we are weak and will-less. They will know our private shame, and we will be discovered as frauds, or worse—fat.*

At a certain point, we can no longer hide the muffin top. We cannot squeeze into the jeans. We start leaving our shirts untucked before we make the move to elastic waisted pants. And we know they know. We hide ourselves from candid photog friends. When they do catch us, we put ourselves in the back of the group, and we lift our heads so our chins don’t show.

We are shamed. By what we eat. By how we eat And by how we look.

The Thing Is:

I am convinced that for most of us, weight and shame are brutal marriage. For most of us, this is why weight loss “success” is so difficult. We measure the success the way we measure worth: small is good. If we lose, we are successful. If we don’t, well, then we are our same sorry selves as when we were secretly hoarding Snickers bars.

I am just as convinced that peeling back the layers is what will lead to “success.” That when we have the courage to admit it’s not really about the stupid Twinkies, but about XYZ, then, maybe, just maybe, we’ll enter the place where success is measured differently. Where happiness does not come from a binge. Where we can laugh and smile and stand for photos regardless of our appearance.

*I want to make clear here that while I might perceive myself this way, I do not hold others to any of these strange standards. And what makes me so special anyway? Well, nothing.

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16 thoughts on “Shame, Part Deux

  • Angie

    I think the key is finding the distinction between shame and guilt. Guilt being “I screwed up” and shame being “I’m screwed up”. This battle permeates every aspect of life.

  • Jess Miller

    Jen, you are made of so much eloquence and win.

    This: “If people can see that we are bigger than we were before (or smaller) then they will know we are weak and will-less. They will know our private shame, and we will be discovered as frauds.” is so true.

    I lost a significant amount of weight over 18 months in 2005-2006. Over the last year, I’ve gained enough back that I’ve had to buy some new clothes. Have I been having serious issues with mindless grazing and boredom eating? Definitely. Have I still been training for triathlons, working out like a beast, and maintaining totally healthy yearly physical bloodwork numbers? Yes, yes, and yes. Do I still have a loving family, wonderful boyfriend, great friends, and a job I love? Sure do.

    I let my weight loss become so much a part of how I defined myself that I got obsessive, grumpy, sad, and embarrassed. I finally decided a few weeks ago that I needed an attitude adjustment. It’s difficult, but I’ve been trying to focus on the healthy choices I usually make (while still trying to fix what needs fixing) without obsessing over calories and numbers on the scale. Next stop: rediscovering (and paying attention to!) hunger and fullness signals, and maybe starting to peel back some layers.

    • Jennifer Post author

      Jess, what an interesting story. My pounds are stuck and I work out like a crazy person, too. I’ve been up and down the scale. I’ve done almost everything. But, the really valuable part is to take myself for how I am in this one moment and know that I am not a number on a scale or a list of measurements, that I deserve human respect simply because I exist. Oh, but this is a tough thing. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Jess. This is so powerful. We have really lost so much sight of loving ourselves and fueling our bodies that we don’t know what hunger feels like! And I am so right there with you. If I’m not obsessing about food, I’m obsessing about loss, and really I don’t want to be obsessing about anything.

  • BrennaDA

    This made me tear up. I am just about done with a two week detox as part of this whole 90 challenge at my gym to give me some structure. And I didn’t realize how much of an emotional eater I was until things got stressful and I started digging through the cabinets, trying to find something to eat, but when you can’t have gluten, sugar, salt, caffeine, bananas, dairy, or anything processed……there isn’t much. And I was going crazy trying to find something to calm me down. Then I realized that I wanted food to calm me down……then the shame that I didn’t realize that I had made an appearance.

    Jen, this series is so timely for me. Thank you.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      @BrennaDA:disqus I have been there, literally in a panic that I don’t have what I think I desperately need to put in my mouth. Usually, at those times, if I can think for two seconds, I realize how ridiculous I look. And I also know that food won’t fill that hole, not for long. It can numb my need, but it won’t stave it off. It’s so so hard, and so sort of embarrassing. And it seems so much easier to just eat the chocolate than to deal with the hurt, or whatever. But it costs us so much, including our dignity and our health.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Oh, it’s the worst. We can blame our moods on so much, but often I find the same is true. When I’m crabby it’s probably because I am finding fault with myself that really isn’t there, or that isn’t as big a deal as I think it is. (We do this with our food and our bodies. We can be devastating to ourselves.)

  • Jamie Bagley

    “Because skinny is everything. Everything.” Oh my goodness, this just nearly stopped my heart. It’s so true and yet such an epiphany. And I wonder why? Why is it everything? Why could it possibly make someone jealous of the results of a person’s pain? And more importantly than “why” is how do we change it? It takes such a conscious effort.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      @jamieYes, it does! And it can feel so fake and forced. If I tell myself a thousand times a day, “I’m not a number on a scale, and I look and feel great,” I only sort of believe it maybe one of those times. But man, we have so many instances culturally of what happens to the slender or skinny person: take the recent Sports Illustrated swim suit issue. Kate Upton was featured on the cover. The fact that she’s a SWIM SUIT model tells you something about her physique, and yet, she was criticized for being “chubby.” CHUBBY? UM? Am I missing something here. (I read an article interviewing her training, which was great, until he said something like, “Kate’s got a little extra meat on her.” Again….huh?? She does? The message is this: “If she does, then surely, I must be disgusting”