Ever had a “fat and ugly attack”? It’s like being on one of those makeover TV shows where everyone who you thought loved you shows up to tell you that you dress like a 50-year-old Amish hooker. From the 80s. And then giggles while they go through your stretched out sweat pants and you try not to cry on camera. Except that instead of being attacked by your family and friends (seriously what is up with those shows?) you’re attacked by your own mind.
A pile of discarded clothes on my closet floor: this is where it usually begins for me. No matter what I try on, everything makes me feel fat. Jeans make my thighs look like sausages. Dresses make me look pregnant. And every t-shirt I own hits at exactly the widest part of my hips making me feel like Tweedle Dee. Gah! I’m so fat and ugly!! I wail. And as the day continues I see everything through that lens. Grocery checker doesn’t make small talk? It’s because she thinks I’m hideous. Guy compliments my shoes? It’s because he thinks the rest of me is fug. Friends aren’t as chatty as usual? It’s because they know I’ve gained weight and are too embarrassed to tell me. Kids have a bad day at school? It’s because they have a crazy mom so what else can be expected of them? You see where this is going, I think. It sucks. And it makes everything else suck.
Back when I was deep in my eating disorder(s), I used to have fat and ugly attacks all the time. Every day. I was super skinny and yet every time I went out I was sure everyone was thinking about how huge I was. It’s so weird now looking back at pictures – I honestly can’t believe that girl was ever me because what I looked like on the outside never ever matched how I felt on the inside. But as I’ve continued with my recovery I’ve had fewer and fewer of these attacks. While I’m still not 100% immune (is anyone, ever?) where I am now feels like a gift. So when my sister, who is doing this month’s Great Mindful Eating Experiment with me, posted this on Facebook, my heart broke a little for her:
“Big ol’ fat-and-ugly attack tonight. Geneen Roth says that just calling it out for what it is and naming it is supposed to stop it. Not really. What do you people do when you are tired, frustrated, and disappointed with yourself? Charlotte Hilton Andersen I’m tagging you here because, seriously, what do I do? And also because I’m blaming this can of worms on you! ”
First I have to say that I love Facebook for always having everyone’s full names on there. Now when I talk to my friends in my head (what – you don’t do that?) I automatically insert their maiden names. I can’t tell you all 50 state capitals – as I discovered helping my 4th grader with his homework recently – but I sure can recite all the married and maiden names of my college roommates from junior year! It reminds me of when we actually had to memorize people’s phone numbers if we wanted to call them without looking at the list taped to the wall. I’m old. ANYHOW.
I’m going to share what I’ve learned about combating a fat and ugly attack and I hope you will help my sister too! Because sometimes the best thing is just knowing that a) you’re not alone and b) you are loved. (I love you more than cheese Laura!!)
Charlotte’s Tips for Combating a Fat and Ugly Attack
- It’s not about the fat. It’s also not about your clothes, your hair, your zits, your back rolls or any other physical feature you are feeling self conscious about. For me it’s about feeling overwhelmed and helpless and frustrated and sad and having nowhere else to put those feelings except in my too-tight jeans. It’s about having uncomfortable feelings not knowing where to put them. So instead we manifest all our woes onto something we can control: our bodies.
- It’s a learned skill. I don’t want to speak for her but I’m not sure Geneen Roth meant to make it sound that simple. Naming and recognizing a fat and ugly attack for what it is is a very powerful first step. Sometimes just saying “Oh look I’m having a FU moment (Love that acronym? Thanks Kelly!), let’s figure out what’s really bugging me” is enough to derail that train but getting to this point took work. It was immensely hard at first but it does get easier.
- Fake it till you make it. Even if saying the right things doesn’t make you feel better right away, we are what we (obsessively) think and eventually you will believe it. Have you ever tried looking yourself in the eyes, in a mirror and saying out loud “I love you. Thank you for all of this, for everything you do for me. You’re beautiful.”? It is way harder than it sounds. I bawled my eyes out the first time I actually got the words out of my mouth. But it sends a very powerful message to yourself that you are not beautiful because of your body or in spite of your body, that you are just simply beautiful. Period.
- Meditate. It’s cliche but it helps. Even something as simple as sitting down – I’m already on the floor in my closet anyhow, right? – and breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth while you count your breaths will make you feel better. Yes it will! Don’t look at me like that. I swear it helps.
- It’s worth it. All of this work? This blood, sweat and tears? This rewiring of our brains? It’s worth the effort. Because you are worth the effort.
At this point, I usually get asked “But what if I really am fat/gained weight? Shouldn’t I feel fat about that?” No. Seriously. “Feeling fat” is not the same as being fat or gaining weight. The latter terms, when stripped of all their societal implications, are just clinical terms. But feeling fat, well, that is a slurry of shame and you don’t have to drink it.
Here’s my confession: I’ve recently gained some weight. No I don’t know how much and no I’m not weighing myself again (see there are modern-day miracles) but I can tell because my pants and skirts are all too tight and – TMI alert! – my underwear is cutting into my skin where it didn’t used to. So yeah, I’ve put on some pounds. In the past this would have sent me into full-on diet craziness but this time I’ve tried to be gentler with myself. I know the weight gain is from all the problems with my medications over the past couple of months. As the depression settled back over me, I took comfort in jelly beans. And ice cream. And chocolate. And… anyhow, the point is: I’m okay with it.
Life is hard sometimes and I’m doing the best I can to take care of myself and that is something to be proud of. In the past when my jeans got uncomfortably tight I’d force myself to wear them to remind me every time I got pinched when I sat down that I was “too fat.” But last week? I put the jeans that won’t button in the back of my closet and got out the ones with 10% lycra in the next size up. And I didn’t cry about it. And it didn’t ruin my day. Yeah I wish the extra pounds were gone and I’m hoping that once I get the anti-depressant crap figured out my weight will return to its happy place but in the meantime I’m not going to let it send me into a fat-and-ugly shame spiral.
I’m super proud of that.
Do you ever have fat and ugly attacks? How do you combat them? What advice/sympathy do you have for my sis??