You should feel content with yourself

Science and Health

There’s that terrifying moment. You prepared for it the entire week. And now it’s your time to show that you are not just another slob, lazing around and not controlling yourself. Discipline, hard work, and self-control are a part of you. And you know those ancient words by heart:

“Who is the hero of heroes? The one who can restrain himself….” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan).

The moment arrives, and no time for a quick toilet visit because you have to get on the weight scale, that silvery-gloomy instrument that holds all your shame, fears, and hopes.

While you are staring at the worn-out food pyramid poster, the dietitian is standing across the scale, pressing her thin lips saying “Come on, get on it. Nothing’s going to change if you just keep staring at it.”

After a week of your thinking about every little piece of food that you put in your mouth, she moves around the plastic handle (and you never understood why the scale isn’t just a digital one like at home), squinting her eyes and saying, “600 grams up, not good”.


Oh damn, you think to yourself. Not again.

I WAS 11 when my mother first suggested I go to a dietitian. She came over to my room, sat on my bed, and tapped twice on the gray covers, her way of implying that a serious conversation was about to occur.

“Mikmik, I can tell that you’ve gained some weight lately.” She paused, exhaling. “I’m sure you don’t want to get to middle school feeling like that.”

Heartbeats. Silence. If my mom thinks I can’t go to middle school looking like this, what do other people think of me? Are things looking that bad? I knew I was a little bit chubby, a few pounds over the average, but I was never consumed by it.

When I was 12, I went to Weight Watchers for the first time. Then, another three rounds at the ages of 15, 17, and 23. I went to seven different dietitians throughout my life. On one diet I restrained myself from eating gluten and sugar, and on another from eating anything a caveman wouldn’t eat. There was one during which I restrained myself from eating anything at all, except broccoli and brown rice five times a day.

I tried restraining myself to eating purely cabbage or cucumbers or chicken breasts or lemon Popsicles. I tried eating three, six, one, and two meals a day. I also tried not eating at all, but that never worked for me.

Watching caloric intake became an obsession

I wrote hundreds of food diaries. I counted calories or points or portions and knew the worth of every single thing that I put in my mouth. I’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, of weigh-ins. I tried so hard getting addicted to sports, like my friends promised would happen eventually. I went to TRX, hip-hop dance classes, swimming, Zumba lessons with an overly enthusiastic instructor.

Of course, I had a gym membership since the age of 14 and have an on-again, off-again relationship with it even today, at 32. I signed up for a running group and ran four times a week on the steep, cold roads of Jerusalem. I tried everything I could.

And never, not even once, did I feel lean enough. Every single program that I tried resembled the other. I would start out following the instructions perfectly. The pounds would drop off me in a dazzling, exciting rate. Then, a month or so later, I would start slacking off. Usually, still losing weight but at a slower rate. And then, after around 15 pounds lost, and a plateau, I would get fed up and quit. And those pounds? They would slide back to my body so unbelievably quickly that I suspect they just hung around my room, under my bed, waiting for our exciting reunion.

THE ADULT women who surrounded me growing up were never content with their appearance. The mere act of looking at their photos seemed agonizing. “My arms are hideous!” “I look like a whale!” and “Did you see my double chin here? It’s gross,” would be common reactions for a majority of my female family members looking at their own two-dimensional, printed representation.

Studies show that negative talks about dieting among family members, and especially mothers, have a strong relation to body image concerns and eating disorder behaviors in adolescent girls.

And my brilliant, kind, and beautiful professor of a mom was always bothered by her appearance. Perhaps she wanted to keep this suffering from me, believing that dieting properly as an adolescent would prevent me from being an overweight adult.

So, I learned a simple truth: being content with myself is not an option. We are doomed to cringe at the sights of our images reflecting in the mirrors.

FINDING LOVE was another major concern of mine. The idea that only one body type is capable and even worthy of being loved was rooted deep in me. And why wouldn’t it? Consider the role models presented to teenage girls. In the movies and TV, the male lead could be a funny, chubby, charming guy (I never liked the thin ones anyway). But the female lead – whether the sweet girl-next-door type, or the nerdy type, hiding her beauty beneath bracelets and curly hair, or the deep and sophisticated rebel – had to be thin. They will find love by the subtitles, don’t worry.

So, I had a deep, clear notion that I would end up alone. Why would anyone settle for me? And surprisingly, when I finally found my love, I wasn’t at all in one of my skinny periods. As it turns out, I didn’t need to change a single part of me to be loved. And neither do you.

“WHO IS the hero of heroes? The one who can restrain himself” is a well-known phrase in Israel. This idea, that being a hero is about having self-control and not caving in to desires, is a part of our ethos. But recently I learned that this phrase has an ending most people, including me up until recently, are not aware of. It goes like this: “Who is the hero of heroes? The one who can restrain himself… and some said: the one who makes his hater to his lover.” When I think of my journey, this sentence seems pretty ironic.

While trying to be a “hero” and being restrained, I hurt myself so much. It’s true, I wanted to be skinny like the others. But more than that, I believed that thinness itself is a virtue. Accepting the fact that obsessing over food just made everything worse, and that I have to learn to love myself now, and not one day when I’m thin and perfect, changed me.

So, excuse me for being cheesy, but I think that I am a heroine, for making myself from my hater to a lover. It’s been almost three years since I last went to a dietitian, a diet group, or a tough personal trainer. During that time, I bought clothes in colors other than black, considering new factors instead of “Does this make me look fat?”

I got married to the love of my life and didn’t lose a pound before the wedding, feeling beautiful in white. I became a mother to a beautiful boy. I got the courage to tell the people around me that I don’t want to hear any more comments about my weight or my eating habits, and that I don’t want to feel under inspection anymore.

The writer is a communications consultant at Debby Group and a Harvard Graduate School of Education alumna.