A brief selection of my stories about my body

On the one side there’s the issue of no pain no gain, and on the other is the Taoist notion of effortlessness – do without doing. For much of my life, my awkward body has meant that any kind of activity courted pain and I’m used to thinking in terms of having to push. Recently I’ve started questioning this.

The assumption that I needed to push through the pain has been with me for a long time, unquestioned. But, there are stories in my family about laziness and pushing, about not getting comfortable and not letting yourself off the hook. Or at least I’ve understood it that way.

How much pain for how much gain? And at what cost?

My fear is that if I don’t push myself hard all the time, I will be lazy and crap, and still fat. The relationship between fatness and assumed laziness has been an ongoing issue for me. The desire to prove that my body shape is not a consequence of lack of effort or lack of discipline on my part, has been with me since my teens.

Faced with the impression that there’s a crisis, my body stores fat. I am fantastically efficient in this regard. The impression of crisis can be created by missing meals, and otherwise reducing calorie intake. It can be created by sudden bouts of intense exercise, fuelled by shame and not sustained. Ironically it turns out that on a higher calorie diet, I am more likely to lose weight. No pain, no gain around the middle.

Do without doing suggests a state where how you are gets the job done. Getting more sleep has encouraged my body to think there isn’t some kind of emergency going on and to stop stocking up. There’s reason to think that stress caused by what happens when you’re fat can help keep you fat – again it’s about the feeling of emergency and what a body does with that. My physical survival method is clearly not to be able to run away easily, it is to be able to sit out the problem and have another go when things calm down. Doing without doing.

I’ve never really listened to my body. I’ve internalised the idea that expressing discomfort was just making a fuss, so when my body complains of pain or weariness, I have tended to over-ride that for as long as I can. Whatever gain there is seeming more important than the pain. Only in the last few years have I started listening to my body about what it might like to eat. Extra toast, and more protein have featured heavily. And yet I am not gaining flab. It’s almost as if my body knows what it needs to be a healthy size, and what it needs is not what I had been told it needs.

Trusting my body and going with it looks a lot like do without doing, to me. Not a big, sweaty push for change, but a softer acceptance of what actually works. Letting my soft animal body get on with things rather than trying to flog every last ounce of effort out of it. It’s possible that all the things I have done to try and overcome pain and fatness, have in fact been making the pain and fatness worse for me because it results in my body feeling threatened and under pressure all the time. But as a culture this is what we do to fat people, layering on the blame and shame and the pressure to force change and not asking why a specific body reacts as it does.

Fat, I am inclined to think, is really a symptom of other issues, and the key thing is to find out what the other issues are and deal with those. Comfort eating has emotional reasons driving it. Storing can be driven by all sorts of physical pressures. Body chemistry, malnutrition, stress… there are many reasons a person may store fat that have nothing to do with discipline and effort. Try to solve that by adding to the strain, and for some of us, there can be no winning.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “A brief selection of my stories about my body

  • Genealogy Jen

    “Fat, I am inclined to think, is really a symptom of other issues, and the key thing is to find out what the other issues are and deal with those.”
    This. This is what I have realized for myself with my weight over the past year, and has helped me become kinder and more gentle to my body.

  • Haloquin

    Thank you for this. I’m yet to learn how to be kind to my body, how to do without doing, how to take rest… I’m learning, but writing like this is really helpful to think about.

  • Tracy Kruse

    Stress. Malnutrition. Pushing. Odd how we all have very different animal bodies, but the ‘accepted’ normal way to treat them is the same. I met a woman at the grocery once who said that she called her body The Beast, as though it was totally separate, unmanageable and a stranger. I thought about that a Lot afterward, and realized that I do much the same, bewildered why my body does not respond to the ‘rules’ of care laid out over the years. In fact, my body does other things, and slowly I am learning to listen to it. There are times I go long periods with nothing but water and then times when I want a steak, nearly raw. I am trying to work with it, rather than beat it into submission. I have become the elephant trainer, learning that my ‘beast’ has it’s own natural instincts. I hope you continue to find yours as well and acceptance and kindness in this as everything seems to be prized.

    • Nimue Brown

      thank you for this. I very much believe that in sharing stories, we can do something about the wretched, dominant one size fits all narrative.

      • Tracy Kruse

        yes! And I wonder too, how it is we all be-lie-ved the narrative that there is only one way to do this, generally the eat right and exercise riff that is also founded on an inaccurate model for foods. Now, we may have some of the same ancestors and have similar genetic needs for types of foods to consume; others may have very different ones. One of the things that most astounded me was when I really began to focus on the possibility that malnutrition was a part of my issue and that is a profound statement. A few changes and I am feeling much better and eat less as I think my body has stopped trying to eat everything!

      • Nimue Brown

        Very glad to hear you are winning! And yes, i thunk when you’re missing things, the urge to eat anything, everything to try and get to the missing thing, is huge. (I’ve been there)

  • Robin Wildheart/WildheartSpeaks

    Good article. Doctors have been saying for some time now that as much of 80% of all illness is at least partially stress related. When we get too stressed out about our body composition it only fuels the problem and increases bodily malfunctioning. I think your on the right track in considering the Taoists notion of wu-wei, doing without doing. As you said, I think we need to listen to our bodies instead of tormenting them. Excellent, practical, and sensible. Thank you.

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