The Social Currency of Weight Loss

“I bought some Pringles because they were on sale, and I told Chris he could take them in his lunch,” said Mom A as she pulled out a can to share with the kids attending the play date.

“I thought you weren’t allowed to have processed foods in your lunches?” asks Mom B.

“Wait- your kid’s school tells you what you can and can’t put in their lunch?” inquires Mom C.

“They encourage you to put non-processed foods in the lunch, and you can’t put any desserts in- like cookies or anything,” replies Mom A.  “They also don’t want anything prepackaged.  I can put a container or yogurt in his lunch, but I can’t put a Go-gurt in his lunch.”

“But Go-Gurts are yogurt.  Isn’t that healthy?” asks Mom C.

“They have a lot of sugar in them,” replies Mom B.  Mom A and B exchange knowledgeable glances.

“But, they also have protein and calcium.  It’s not just empty sugar calories, like juice.”  This time Mom B and C exchange the knowing glance- protein, that’s good.

“Well, at home, we buy the plain yogurt and put honey on the top.”  Mom A is upping her health game.  Noticing the really? glances of Moms B and C, she quickly adds “but they also eat the Go-gurts.  Don’t get me wrong.”  She doesn’t want to get labeled the health nut.

No wonder we can’t get this eating thing figured out.  This was an actual conversation I had a few days ago.  I hope the ladies I shared it with don’t mind my recapture.  I just think it perfectly encapsulates our modern confusion with “health”.  We have all heard the sound bites and read the snippets, but do any of us really understand what we are talking about?  Are we going for low sugar? Or added protein?  Or less processed? Or vegan? Or moderation? Or one of the thousand other labels we’ve heard of but don’t truly have a grasp of?

If you are like me, you read this conversation and within an instant began processing judgments in your mind.  Food is not about nutrition or fuel or health or any of the things we tell ourselves.  It is about what kind of person you are.  Are you the perfect angel who eats the plain yogurt, or the horrible monster who consumes the Pringles?  While we like to tell ourselves we are somewhere in between and that we are perfectly fine with that, most of our actions tell a different story.

I recently had a conversation with an old friend who I had not spoken to in many years.  I asked what he had been up to.  He advised how his career was going, said he had his heart broken by a girl, and then said how he had started working out and eating better and had lost 25 lbs- all within the one paragraph.  It is not an unfamiliar scenario, but really thinking on it, I found it a bit odd.  He told me about his career, his love life and his weight.

Perhaps it isn’t odd.  Weight is an accomplishment- at least that’s how we see it.  A friend posted some pictures of her weight loss via Facebook recently.  A flood of “congratulations” comments followed.  From experience, I know how time consuming and all encompassing following a diet and workout regimen can be.  Does his weight loss speak to the person he is or the quality of his life and experience?  Does her post show her growth as a human being?  Some would argue yes. But then what does it mean if they gain the weight back?  Is he not a good person?  Is she a weak-willed human being?

The weight thing is weird.  In the past, I have tried not to engage in weight loss as a good/bad thing.  But weight discussion is social currency.  I remember a few years ago writing about how I wanted to learn to love my body as it is, to see it as a tool.  Most of the responses I received were along the lines of “I know exactly what you mean.  I totally need to lose some weight, but I can’t get motivated.”  Which is not at all the same thing, but I can understand how it gets confused.  To not engage in the weight conversation is social suicide. I reverted to my old ways.  People like you better when you complain about the size of your thighs- at least until you have the meltdown.  Then no one wants to talk about it.

I’d love to see conversations discussing if we are happy, if we are living our dreams, if we are getting the most out of lives.  But for most of us, that too is a conversation about weight.  It isn’t just about looking a certain way.  Weight is tied to being the person you want to be.

What if you could like your body just as it is?  I’m not talking about accepting flaws.  I’m talking about not seeing it as flawed.  What if that were an actual possibility?

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