For the last year or so, I’ve really struggled with food and body image issues, yet I couldn’t quite articulate why. Then right around the time, I turned 40 in April, I had an epiphany. My brain and my heart have been at war, and my body is the casualty. The issue? I want to lose weight, but I absolutely do not want to go on a diet.
Why I want to lose weight
First and foremost, I am conscious of my weight as a breast cancer survivor because there’s a correlation between weight and cancer recurrence, especially for hormone-positive cancers like mine. I’m no medical expert, but basically, more fat cells = more estrogen in the body = more food for any cancer cells to grow. So science has shown that maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of recurrence. And, trust me, I want to do everything in my power to avoid a recurrence. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but cancer wasn’t any fun the first time, and it’s one party I hope I’m never invited back to.
But there’s also another reason I’d like to lose weight. I want to feel more comfortable in my own skin. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of this body. I’m a former student-athlete. I’m a cancer survivor. I grew a human when multiple doctors told me it was impossible. This body has been through some stuff yet kept fighting and moving forward. I am so grateful for it. But I often look in the mirror and don’t recognize it. And that’s really hard for me.
For example, from my cancer treatments and surgeries, my breasts don’t exactly match and I have too many scars to count. This includes one that travels hip to hip across my stomach and can only be described as Frankenstein-ish. I then added to the total scar count when I had an emergency c-section during my daughter’s birth in 2019. While my c-section scar is tiny (comparatively), it means I have two parallel scars running across different parts of my abdomen that leave the skin numb, weirdly shaped, and often uncomfortable.
I know losing weight won’t necessarily change any of that. I also know my complex feelings about my shape-shifting body have more to do with my mind than my stomach. But I do believe getting rid of some of the extra pounds I’ve accumulated during the trials and tribulations of the last five years would help me feel better about my post-cancer, post-baby body overall.
So there it is. My logical brain is telling me I should try to lose weight.
Why I don’t want to go on a diet
I grew up in a family where everyone was always on a diet. Usually, the latest fad touted as a “lifestyle change.” But the thing about being on a diet means you go off a diet. You stop drinking the smoothies, eating the prepackaged foods, and counting the points. You start eating carbs and having more “cheat” days. That is, of course, until you’re back on the wagon because this new diet you heard about will definitely be the one that sticks.
I’ve been on this same weight loss roller coaster for as long as I can remember and, as I enter my 40s, I want to get off. I don’t want to talk about diets. I don’t want to log what I ate. I don’t want to feel so guilty about indulging one day that I vow to eat nothing but lightly seasoned air the next day to make up for it. No matter what I’ve tried, I always end up feeling like a failure (which isn’t a surprise since about 80% of people who lose weight gain it back). It’s exhausting and takes up more mental space and energy than I have to give.
Plus, as a cancer survivor, I know firsthand that life is short. I don’t want to be thinking about the macros I counted, dinners I skipped, or steamed vegetables I ate on my deathbed. I want to remember the delicious cacio e pepe I devoured while sitting with my husband next to a roaring fire in a tiny restaurant within the stone walls of Siena, Italy. I want to hear the laughter of my girlfriends as we sat around my kitchen island with a huge spread of charcuterie, desserts, and wine. I want to feel the excitement of my daughter as we pull out my Italian grandmother’s recipe box to make mostaccioli, chocolate zucchini cake, bagna calda, or “Grandma Onie Cookies.”
I don’t want food to feel like a burden to bear or an item to check on my to-do list. I want food to feel like love. Love for my body, love for my family and friends, and love for this life I get to live.
So there it is. My emotional heart telling me to eat what feels good.
Where I am now
Over the last two months, I’ve started getting back in touch with food on my own terms, ignoring the rules and restrictions I and society have placed around it. I’m learning more about intuitive eating. I correct myself when thoughts of “I shouldn’t eat that” creep in. I continue to regularly exercise for my mental health. I honor what sounds good to eat, which sometimes is a salad and sometimes is pizza. I try to recreate how we dine when we’ve traveled to Europe, which is eating whole foods that are lovingly made and intentionally savored over good conversation and even better wine.
More than anything, though, I am trying to openly acknowledge and address my complicated relationship with food and body image in hopes I don’t pass the same struggles on to my daughter. I want her to understand that food is just that … food. Sometimes you eat what you need to fuel your body, and sometimes you eat what you need to fuel your soul. And there is no moral value associated with either choice. Her brain and her heart do not have to battle it out. They can live in peace and moderation within her one perfectly created body that someday may also bear the scars of a life well-lived, full of great love and delicious food.