I’m Still Fat: But Here’s What I’ve Won By Ditching Diets

Shannon Ashley
Mar 30 · 15 min read
Author. today. Just a friendly reminder that pandemic hair, stray facial hairs, and skin imperfections like big pores and pimples are just facts of life. Not moral failings. The same thing goes for the size of this body.

On Tuesdays, I often eat breakfast in my car, which means grabbing a bite from a restaurant with curbside pickup. My anxieties with driving keep my options limited to McDonald’s or Panera.

If I go to McDonald’s, I typically get a Sausage Egg McMuffin sandwich with a hash brown and unsweetened macchiato. Sometimes a white milk instead, because their coffee is often pretty bad and tastes burnt. Sigh.

If I go to Panera, I typically grab half a Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken, but I’m pretty particular about customizing that one with extra dressing, lots of cucumbers, no tomatoes, and I’ll sometimes sub the smoked chicken for the regular, or get raw red onions instead of the pickled ones because they can be overly sweet. I’ll usually get their vanilla cold brew and depending upon my hunger and mood I’ll go ahead and have that piece of baguette or do the upcharge for a fruit cup. I know, I know — salad for breakfast? To be honest, I’d probably order their soup if they served it at 8AM.

Savory foods in the morning don’t bother me; I typically prefer them.

The interesting thing about all of this is how good I feel about either one of these breakfasts. To be honest, I’m more keen on the salad lately, but there are certainly some Tuesdays where that Egg McMuffin really can’t be beat. But today was a salad day.

By diet culture standards, I am doing these mornings all wrong.

Of course, for most dieters, that salad I enjoyed this morning wasn’t much better than McDonald’s. I was “bad” to order the extra little cup of dressing, and I should have dipped my fork, right? I also should have requested no bacon. And that vanilla cold brew? It’s sweetened! That bread? Come on! This is why I’m fat, right? Lol.

I’m just waiting for someone to drop by and tell me that. To inform me that my choices are wholly inappropriate for someone with a body like mine. Like the very helpful not obese person who was so damn worried because my daughter ate heart-shaped pizza and donuts on Valentine’s Day. I guess I probably shouldn’t tell her about my kid’s upcoming tea party-themed pandemic birthday next week… uhh. Because there’s going to be… food. *Whispers* And not just fruit.

Her head might even explode if I tell her about the registered dieticians and eating disorder recovery experts who call pizza healthy. Oh boy.

At any rate, I love my Tuesday breakfasts in my car, though not because the food is so damn exciting. Incredibly, food is no longer the highlight of my day. Still, I love the weekly little bit of “me time” — even though I’m usually working — and the fact that these meals are “non-scale victories.”

It wasn’t too long ago that I couldn’t even get a restaurant meal without extreme guilt or fear. I used to consistently overeat or even binge eat just because I felt so shitty about eating “bad food.”

These days, though, I’m able to order a reasonable-sized breakfast from a restaurant once a week and move with my day. It’s amazing because in the past, I could have eaten 2 or 3 sandwiches from McDonald’s, plus hash browns, and I would have hated myself for “fucking up” again! Or I could have gorged on Panera bakery items until I felt sluggish and sick.

I did those things, not because I was a bad person but because I felt like a bad person. You know? It was so… humiliating to feel such a strong compulsion to binge, and yet at the same time, it was really just an attempt at self-care. A lot of people overlook just how powerful the mind and body are when it comes to meeting our unspoken needs. If we’re not giving our bodies proper fuel and attention, it’s not unusual to experience such unwanted compulsions that make us feel out of control.

Non-scale victories are not just for fat people, of course. Anyone who wishes to repair their relationship with food will want to be mindful of the benefits they experience that have nothing to do with “earning” a smaller body. These are sorely overlooked by diet culture enthusiasts.

No, I know that the people who scream about “lifestyle changes” and deny insist that intentional weight loss is not a diet, may also struggle to notice most victories beyond the size of their clothing, the numbers on their tape measure, or their sense of moral superiority.

If you’ve ever lost a lot of weight as I have, you probably know what I mean. No one means to feel superior — or at least, most folks don’t. But you work so damn hard to make the scale move and to get your body to shrink… and then you discover issues like a slower metabolism or painful plateaus. To get through them and to maintain your new body, you might have to be more stringent and disordered than ever before. One of the ways you do that is by taking in all of the shit that diet culture preaches to heart.

Stuff like, “fat people are lazy and unwilling to work for a better body.”

But not you…

Do you see what I mean?

Diet culture is junk for so many reasons, but one of the worst things is the way it tries to discredit health as a journey. Because diet culture is all about fighting fat, you can’t truly be considered successful until you’re… not fat.

So, it’s this perpetual circle jerk for the folks who’ve achieved a certain picture of health. And if you haven’t done that, and you’re not being a good overweight person by actively fighting your fat, diet culture devotees will judge your refusal to adopt their own disordered habits.

The whole thing is sad, though not unexpected because once you see the extent of diet culture and just how deeply folks love to stick to the narrative that fat people simply don’t want to do the work that thin people have done, it’s hard to un-see all of that.

So, these are just some of the victories I’ve been having that the deeply devoted diet culture fans would like to take away from folks like me.

I’m not binge eating.

Now, get this: I also wasn’t beating myself up about any of it. So, I was able to recognize when I’d gone too far, and rather than feeling like a bad person, I accepted it and moved on.

People who’ve never dealt with binge eating don’t understand what a big win that is. Compulsive overeating and binge eating are so hard to stop because of that compulsive nature that nags and picks at your brain until you oblige.

I understand that getting treatment for my ADHD has made a huge difference here, but sadly, lots and lots of people with issues such issues aren’t diagnosed early in life. Since diet culture and fatphobia are so deeply enmeshed within the medical community, doctors often only look at the fat on a patient. They don’t see the possible trauma or underlying comorbidities. Let’s be honest — they don’t even look.

This means I’ve been troubleshooting my own issues.

Obese people often suffer from a very poor standard of care because of the prevalent fat bias in medicine. It’s one of the things that keeps us from going to the doctor — because too many of them attribute all of our problems to being fat.

Look, when I was a child, my family was on Medical Assistance and I was one of the first kids in the 80s to take Lupron injections for central precocious puberty. My endocrinologist kept me on Lupron or Lupron Depot for about 7 years. Then, I was diagnosed with PCOS and monitored with that until I was 18. In high school, I attended a free consultation with a plastic surgeon to ask about my enormous legs that first became obvious when I was 12.

None of these experts knew anything about lipedema. They just called me fat and told me to eat less and move more, right? What happens when a person does all of that but continues to pack on weight due to an underlying disease?

Hello, disordered eating.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I figured out I had obvious lipedema. I had to go out and get the diagnosis which should have been easy decades ago. And I had to go out and get the diagnosis for ADHD. I’m fortunate that these things eventually got on my radar.

And it’s one helluva win that I’ve had the wherewithal to do something about these things. That I’m getting help or at least trying to figure out exactly what kind of help I need.

Hmm. Maybe I’m not so lazy or stubborn after all.

I’ve become much more in-tune with my body about eating.

It’s also cool how I now like to eat more variety. I’m not just learning about which foods taste good to me without fear or guilt, but I’m learning which foods make me feel my best. I’ve found that I like balance — imagine that. Veggies, fruits, carbs, protein, fats, and sure, even some treats.

I’m learning how to take up space and stand up for myself as a person recovering from her ED.

Could we just… put that into perspective for a minute? Imagine that I’m getting treatment for cancer. And I find these doctors whom I really trust, who are at the top of their field, and all their patients adore them. And they’re very successful at what they do, but they’re treating me for a very aggressive cancer that’s known for coming back.

Okay, so let’s imagine that they’re doing everything they can to help get me into remission, right? Nobody controls cancer, but they’re giving it everything they’ve got, and I’m giving it everything I’ve got. And they’re very specific about the things that I must do to give myself a better chance of recovery.

But these random people pop up, and they want you to know that you’re not supposed to be doing whatever you’ve been doing under your doctors' advisement. They want you to follow their advice, and frankly, they think you’re very annoying for turning them away. They have zero experience with this illness. Perhaps they feel they had an illness that was, uh, similar. Even though, in all reality, it wasn’t.

So, they talk about you and complain about you. They decide that you’re stubborn, ungrateful, and they don’t like that you talk about the bad days with your illness, because they think you wouldn’t even have those bad days if you quit listening to your experts and began following them.

Except that their advice would literally make you sicker.

While I know it isn’t a perfect analogy by any means, I think it gets the point across. Diet culture is so damn rampant that people believe they’re bonafide experts in “fighting fat,” even though fatness isn’t the underlying issue.

Lately, because I’ve been writing about my journey a lot more, I’ve had to hold my own against people who would rather see me go back to my disordered eating because they think that would either make my body more acceptable, or at least my habits.

Diet culture is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s fine if we stay fat but keep paying for more “help.” Of course, even then, we’re expected to prove ourselves as good fat people. That’s because diet culture sells the myth that thinness and a “healthy” weight is really just a habit that responsible people do.

It’s stupid and damaging, but people who’ve opted into diet culture are invested in it. It’s like another religion. Or cult. I know it’s a big win for me to push back against all of that noise and assert myself. It’s fucking uncomfortable. Especially when it means writing so much about it. At the same time, I know it’s necessary. I’m not the only person who has to deal with this stuff and ditch diet culture.

There are people of all shapes, weights, and sizes who may be reading this and need to ditch diets too.

I’ve decided to work with an inclusive personal trainer online to work on my fitness.

The hardest part of the day for me is probably waking up and getting dressed. That’s when I really have to look at my legs. That’s I really feel the challenge of taking a shower or getting dressed. Lifting my legs over the tub. Putting on socks. Lipedema fat tends to be tender to the touch, and it’s made getting down onto the floor impossible for me.

Evenings are hard too, mostly because my legs are more tired by then. Undressing and redressing for bed can be another painful reminder of the mobility issues I’m dealing with.

One thing that’s really important to me is taking my daughter to Disney World after the pandemic. We almost went last summer and canceled the trip because of the virus, but honestly, I never would have been able to handle that much walking. Not with my legs like this.

These are the main things that trigger me to think about intentional weight loss. I think about how much I want to move more freely. But I also know all about the downsides of intentional weight loss from losing over 100 pounds more than once.

However, since I have been doing really well about repairing my relationship with food lately and seeing so much success there… it occurred to me that I’d probably benefit from exercising with somebody online who’s doing it from a whole “anti-diet,” Health At Every Size perspective. I mean, working with somebody is what’s been helping me get organized because if I’m left to my own devices my mind just wanders or I wind up doing more writing and ignoring the laundry. Dealing with ADHD has made me realize it’s not weird if I need help with supposedly simple things.

I thought of this recently and it sort of stumped me for a minute because I didn’t know if trainers like that exist, right? Are there people out there who will work with you on your fitness without a hint of diet culture nonsense? If you’ve seen The Biggest Loser, you know what fitness training for fat people usually sounds like. I do not respond well to that attitude at all. If people try to shame me about exercise and not pushing myself hard enough when I’m in the middle of physically struggling, I shut down.

The cool news is that trainers who don’t hate fat people and who don’t give a damn about weight loss really do exist. There are people like Fit Ragamuffin on Instagram:

fitragamuffin on Instagram

There’s also Amy Snelling PT:

amysnellingpt on Instagram

I’m learning that there’s a whole community of personal trainers and fat activists on Instagram who represent all sorts of bodies. The fat trainers I’ve found don’t have lipedema, so they spend more time doing floor workouts, but now, I have some solid leads for finding a trainer who will work with me to help me reach my fitness goals, like having an easier time walking long distances at Disney World after the pandemic.

It’s one more thing I’m determined to make happen. And the fact that I actually want to begin a fitness journey despite my limitations right now? It’s another win.

I’m learning how to accept the things I can’t change and work with the improvements I can make.

Three years ago, when I first began blogging for a living, people would tell me that if I didn’t want to be judged for my fat or known as the fat writer, I should shut up about being fat.

I understand that I’ve been the butt of many jokes among fellow, very well-known writers, because I’ve seen the jokes. Experiences like that, along with everyday battles to find decent clothing or venture outside with others have a way of making me feel like, “Uh oh, I’d better get my shit together fast.” And then I’m tempted to do something absurd. Like 10 bites of food a day or fasting for an entire week.

Over the years I’ve learned that I hold onto more weight when I fast than when I eat… something. Still, that desire to suffer and prove myself is something I never thought I’d be able to shake.

Until now.

This is such a hard-fought win. To be able to step back and recognize that I am better off fixing my relationships with food and my body instead of chasing weight loss because intentional weight loss has never made my life better in the long-run? That’s priceless. Diets simply don’t give you that sort of peace.

From the outside, some people think I’m a failure because I’m “still fat.” There’s a certain expectation that intuitive eating isn’t working for you if you’re body isn’t shrinking. People might think you’re doing it wrong, or they’ll doubt that intuitive eating can benefit fat people at all.

I suppose that’s proof that most people don’t consider health a journey. If they can’t recognize these wins as valid and valuable and an integral piece of recovering from disordered eating, then the only thing they care about is making you smaller.

Yet, in the past 6 weeks I’ve finally:

  • Quit binge eating
  • Learned how to honor my hunger and fullness
  • Stuck to regular meals
  • Stopped obsessing over food and eating
  • Quit feeling shame or guilt about food
  • Learned how to push back against pushy armchair experts
  • Taken responsibility to change my own life

And, as you’ve been reading, the shifts in my perspective go on and on and on. Ultimately, I’m learning how to deal with an enormous challenge and — let’s face it — deformity, without giving up.

It doesn’t matter that those wins aren’t big enough for the people who are still plugged into diet culture. They matter to me, and I’m the one who has to live in this body.

I hope that makes sense for some of you. I hope that you too can learn to embrace the sort of wins that aren’t rooted in your body’s look, shape, or size.

And I hope you never stop fighting for those victories, because you deserve a life where you aren’t forced to “earn” your body’s basic needs (like food).

Honestly Yours

Essays with heart

Shannon Ashley

Written by

It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. 🍵 https://ko-fi.com/shannonashley 📧shannon.ashley.medium@gmail.com

Honestly Yours

No topic is off-limits, and nothing human is unmentionable. Read on.

Shannon Ashley

Written by

It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. 🍵 https://ko-fi.com/shannonashley 📧shannon.ashley.medium@gmail.com

Honestly Yours

No topic is off-limits, and nothing human is unmentionable. Read on.

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