Our bodies understand a thing that we no longer do: weight represents wealth. And while the current opinion is that fashionable thinness is aligned with wealth, that’s just not true. On a long enough timeline of scarcity, weight becomes thinness, and thinness becomes starvation and death.
That’s definitely not wealth.
That’s not power.
That’s not future-proof.
And that’s why your body fights to maintain ENOUGH, even when you are providing way too much for it to manage. The “excess” weight you see in many people you encounter is often the manifestation of humanity’s greatest blessing – being a mammal with a slow enough metabolism to survive extended famine and provide a lot of fuel for healthy brain & nervous system function to improve your chances to make it through. Herman Pontzer, PhD, points this out in his recent book, “Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy”, which I highly recommend.
When you think about it, at the center of all of our lives is food – getting it, preparing it, sharing it. It’s literally one of the few true necessities of life. It’s no wonder we position it so critically in our feelings about luxury, greed, goodness/badness, success – food is incredibly important.
As a former anorexic, I could look at my fellow teens back then, and know the length of their struggle by the density of their arm hair – having a thick, fine down often indicated that their body had broken into calorie reserves to grow that hair in the hopes that food would come back soon. And if it wasn’t soon, the hair would help conserve future calories by providing a bit more warmth. It’s a stunning combination of survival and love, concocted for us by our bodies at a time when our brains are deceived into thinking that thinness is more important.
I broke away early – the worst portion lasted only a few months, because I dove into starvation like an Olympian dives into their training. My body didn’t have time to muster responses like body hair – instead, I got muscle cramps and dry heaves and eventually, was just lying on the floor in the middle of the night, too tired to even call out to my parents for help.
Right then, my brain’s survival instinct overruled the bits that wanted to try living on air and water.
It said, “ENOUGH”.
And so I decided: yes, it was enough.
And I learned how to hold food in its role as life-giver again, and also learned how resilient we humans are, because I was mostly recovered from that in under a year.
Years of illness and thinness followed, and the world treated me like a person of the “correct” size who was apparently just super lazy, because kidney disease and IBS don’t really have a look, so to speak. I passed the judgement about my size but – since I looked like the “correct” size, what could possibly be wrong with me? I must be lazy, faking, mentally ill, lazily faking mental illness, all of the above, etc. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
What point was there for anyone without all the facts to judge me?
But that’s what we do.
We use our unbelievable, beautiful, efficiently-evolved brains to render judgements, because our brains like having things to do, and one thing they really like is “In-Group Or Out-Group?”- it’s like a game show (except it often ends in everyone losing).
People looked at me and saw a white female in her 20s and designated that ‘In-Group’, but she’s “sick” a lot of the time, so: ‘Out-Group’. Nobody wins. It’s just mammals jostling for a position in society, ranking everything around them because the actual, dangerous, moment-to-moment peril of our ancient lives is long gone, but our brains want to stay in practice.
When you look at anyone who is thin, remember you don’t actually know their story.
Just because someone matches currently popular physical dimensions doesn’t mean that’s their story, for better or for worse.
You don’t know them – until they let you in.
Obviously, this is the same for people of any weight/height – you don’t know them, so how can you expect to be right in judging them one way or another? How is this a good use of your time?
How Non-Judgement Fuels a Mindfulness Practice
A key aspect of mindfulness practice is non-judgement. The next time you see a person, try not to have feelings about their weight…because they’re not there for that. Nobody presents themselves before you to get your judgement. And if you find it easy to stop judging others, try doing it with yourself – walk up to your reflection and don’t have a positive or negative judgement about it. Just note that this is your body that has sustained you this far in life, and self-criticism is certainly a thing you can do, but what would it give you to do that? Think about that instead. If this is easy, step on a scale and try not to let the resulting number define you.
The language and engine of a consumer-focused society is need/want. You don’t have need/want feelings unless you feel that you have a problem to solve. This is why ads often pose a problem to you, and then offer a product as the solution. The more time you spend thinking about problems, the more you want simple, immediate fixes. The actual issue with that is that if your “problem” is mostly your disconnection from yourself, products may give you a springboard TOWARDS a solution, but they rarely solve anything. And you become conditioned to match yourself to new products by supplying new problems to be solved. It’s not your fault – this is how our brains work, they’re reward-seeking learning systems. The less mindfulness you currently have, the less able you are to recognize when your reward system has started reinforcing things that are maybe not that good for you.
Mindfulness is a super power. You have access to it. The only thing you will lose is your illusion of control. And what you will gain is actual control. The question is….do you want it? Or do you stop yourself from getting there?