Kate Moss’s truth

If one more person approaches me about my weight loss in the hushed whisper of a confidante seeking a dangerous voodoo secret, I may look them straight in the eye and in the same hushed tones, say, “Pain and misery you dumb fucker. Can’t you do simple math?”

Not too long ago, Kate Moss took a public slamming for revealing that one of her personal mottos was “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” But Ms. Moss’s comment came after she had already lost a number of modeling contracts for being caught on video doing lines of cocaine. People reacted more violently to what was an opinion—a personal motto, than her documented drug use. To me it seemed like a completely valid motto, especially coming from a woman whose career is based on her appearance. Public denial that what we put into our bodies, and the amount of it, affects how we look, seems to be at an all-time high despite the continuing popularity of fad diets and quick fixes. And if you dare point this out in a way that lauds your own thinness in the faces of others, you had best be prepared for the backlash.

Over the past year and a half, I have lost just over 30 lbs. And more than 16 inches from my figure if you add up all of the various places I measure: waist, hips, bust, arms, thighs. It has been a long process, but one that is more difficult now that I am at a point where the results are undeniable and easy to notice. There is a new component to battle at this stage: peer pressure and public scrutiny. I’m not done with my journey. And suddenly it’s become everyone else’s journey, too. One they feel like they should have a say in directing or mediating.

In the break room a coworker told me that my legs looked a mile long. Then she told me that I was practically melting. At Easter a distant relative asked me if I had lost weight, and when I said “Yes, thank you!” she replied, “You were already beautiful. We don’t want you to waste away!” The negative connotations here do not express concern so much as they express criticism. This reaction is stronger when you refuse to apologize for the fact that you look and feel better about yourself, and happily accept a compliment rather than offering the standard self-deprecating joke or sheepish justification. It makes people visibly uncomfortable, and sometimes you can see them stammering to hold back the reassuring follow-up they already had prepared to coyly counter your readily volunteered self-criticism.

Making me uncomfortable about my new shape and size—pointing it out and commenting on it freely and publicly seems to fall into the realm of perfectly acceptable. Telling me that I already have a long face and that I run the risk of looking gaunt if I lose another pound is also fine. Telling someone that their face has morphed into their neck in one fantastic moon shape of excess fat is something you could not, however, get away with. Saying that you are worried about their heart or their cholesterol or the risk they run for diabetes by being overweight is also unacceptable. It is OK to shame someone for making healthy lifestyle changes, but when unhealthy habits are reflected by a person’s physique, mum’s the word in a culture hypersensitive to accepting everyone and not hurting anyone’s feeling. We are supposed to believe for the sake of social interactions that our weight is not something that we can control. If a woman is overweight, she is cursed with unfortunate genetics. Yet if a woman is thin, more often it is assumed that she has inflicted upon herself the joyless torment of a Nazi-esque diet and deprivation regiment than that she is blessed with impeccable genes. With the over-abundance of food and easy access to junk that we have, it may be true that resisting temptation has become a full-time job for those interested in being thing. Yet clearly none of these stereotypes are absolutes. It is equally as ignorant to assume that an overweight person who may have a medical condition is lazy as it is to mistake a thin person’s hard-earned svelteness for luck. Either way, Kate Moss got it a little wrong: nothing tastes as good as healthy feels. I never felt unattractive, or even fat. I’ve been blessed with a frame that carries weight evenly and dispenses it as curves. But I did feel uncomfortable in my own skin because I was completely out of shape, and because the behaviors that had led me to be carrying extra weight in the first place had negatively impacted my health.

Health isn’t about a quick-fix. It’s about sustainability. Health is part of your lifestyle if you’re serious about it. Few people want to address an all-encompassing lifestyle overhaul. And that is exactly what experience has shown me that it takes. Lifestyle isn’t just a personal change, either. It plays a huge part in your social choices and the people you choose to be around, as well as how they interact with you. It usually means you have to reconfigure your home environment, too.

I’ve been a serious athlete, a social binge drinker, a vegetarian, and an on-again, off-again chain smoker. I struggle terribly with emotional and stress-related bingeing and have since adolescence. Consequently, I have been a size 12 to a size 2 and everything in between, all since high school; well past the age of developing your lady bits. These inconsistencies not only showed in my waistline, they took a toll on my overall well-being. And none of these phases were sustainable. Realizing the latter is what finally broke the vicious cycle of indulgence and shameful repentance I had entered.

My biggest lifestyle change came when I decided to view food as fuel and sustenance. Losing weight might boost your confidence initially, but it is never a solution to any sort of personal issue. If you are an emotional or stress eater, you still have to find ways to deal with the feelings at the root of these impulses. Your body might change but you are still the same person. No dietary discipline is going to alter that—they are separate issues entirely. And I have a host of said “separate issues,” but I finally made a decision to leave my health and my body out of those battles.

It was a huge and liberating decision. Surprisingly easy and obvious to make mentally, and surprisingly difficult to enact physically. My kitchen cupboards had to be ransacked. I had to actually start doing dishes so that I wasn’t deterred from cooking. There was a tremendous amount of planning involved. Regular trips to the grocery store to make sure produce and meat were fresh and appetizing. Getting ingredients that could actually be combined into recipes and turned into meals, looking up new recipes to ensure variety and satisfaction. Along with it, I did an incredible amount of research to make sure that I was getting the proper nutrients and nourishing my body, not depriving myself. Quite frankly, it was a lot of work. And it took a lot of time for it to become a habit. But this was just the dietary component. The exercise and fitness half of the battle required a lot of scheduling accommodations to make it a priority, and an enjoyable one, too.

My faith in not only figuring this part of the balanced lifestyle out, but sustaining it, lies in the success of others that I know. One of those people, Angela Vasquez-Giroux, is a mother and wife—a woman with much more personal responsibility than I, the petless, childless, date-avoiding young professional. She has been a sounding board to me throughout this lifestyle improvement process, and I thought sharing some of her insights here would be a great way to wrap up the article. She is, after all, a role model, and as you will see, a much more difficult one to brush off than Ms. Kate Moss.

TAS: You’ve expressed that after making significant lifestyle changes for the sake of your health and general well-being, you have found yourself having to defend them to close friends and acquaintances alike. Can you describe such a situation and give me your thoughts on why this happens?

AVG: I know we’ve talked a lot about people insinuating that there’s something wrong with losing weight – or that my size is shrinking because there’s something wrong with me, not because I am eating better and exercising, so I’ll let you cover that. Eating and exercise weren’t the only big changes I made.

In November, I stopped drinking. It was partly motivated by necessity – I take a daily medication that doesn’t interact well with booze. But the further away I’ve gotten from alcohol, and the entire associated culture – bars, binge drinking, hangovers, embarrassing behavior, hazy feelings of regret – the less I’ve missed it.

Now, when I am out and about with friends and alcohol is part of the evening, I have to decline – politely, of course. After reminding them that no, I am not pregnant, I’m just unable to drink, the standard response it, “That sucks.”

Perhaps I can avoid that by owning it a little more – because the truth is, I really don’t want to drink. I don’t miss it, and I especially don’t miss the way even one drink can derail healthy living – by blowing your calorie count on drinks (and then drunk food), by interfering with your workout routine, etc.

My life is less complicated and happier without booze, because I’m able to focus on eating and living clean. And my body shows it.

TAS: Describe an average day for you: what would your food journal look like and what kind of exercise might you get?

AVG: My goal every day is to eat a net 1250 calories—so, if I burn 300 calories running, my goal is then 1550, etc.

It cracks me up when people ask me if I am starving myself – because I am constantly eating! For dinner I will have a Larabar because I’m working late, and then I’ll have another snack when I get home after hitting the Y and my softball lesson. I always leave room for dessert, too, like pudding or ice cream.

I try to work out 5 or 6 days a week – either running 3 miles or hitting the cardio machines at the Y. I’m pretty busy, so I like shorter, intense sessions. I run on the elliptical for around 30 minutes – but I work hard, keeping my pace above 180 strides/min. Ditto with running. I want to be efficient with my workouts, because I don’t always have an hour to spend.

TAS: As a mother, what is the example you want to set for your daughter in terms of both health and fitness? How much do you think your example will impact choices she makes as an adolescent, and later in life?

AVG: I want to show my daughter that you can enjoy food, but that food is not meant to replace love—and for many people, it does, hence our obese nation. My husband and I try to set a positive example with our daughter by encouraging her to be active, and by being active ourselves. She knows that exercise is a priority for me, and she’ll accompany me on runs on her bike. She is also an athlete – in season, she swims a few nights a week, takes gymnastics, and is now playing soccer.

My hope is that she learns to take care of her body because she values what she can do with it, whether it’s a relaxing run to clear her mind or winning a swim meet. I try to emphasize health first: I measure my food and count calories to maintain my health, not to reach a goal dress size, and it’s my hope that she constructs her own relationship to food and exercise the same way.

TAS: Did the attitude and behavior of your own mother toward food and exercise impact your views toward either?

AVG: My mom has struggled with her weight her entire life, and she came from a family where food was synonymous with love. What I mean is that her family is very loving, but when every celebration or occasion is marked by a ritual of consuming mass quantities of unhealthy food, it teaches you to do the same in your own life, and I think that has made it harder for her. She and my dad are now losing weight and exercising, and it’s wonderful to see them take charge of their health.

TAS: What do you think are some of the most common/biggest misconceptions about losing weight harbored by people? Why do you think they hold onto these beliefs when research is often readily accessible to dispel these myths?

AVG: I often hear people say, “That’s not so bad for you.” As in, I’m ordering this dinner, and I am going to call it healthy even though it isn’t. Once you start tracking what is IN your food, and HOW MUCH of it you should be having, it’s appalling. I think so many people are in overt denial about what they’re eating, and how much, and why they’re getting heavier. What you eat makes you fat more than genetics. You do need to exercise. And you do need to be diligent about what, and how much, you’re eating. If you don’t want to do those things, then you don’t want to be healthy. Plain and simple.

There’s also a lot of denial about what it takes to lose weight. It doesn’t take the Atkins diet, or home-delivered food. It takes discipline and a lifestyle change. I will eat this way for the rest of my life to maintain my weight loss—as opposed to these other diets, where the assumption is that after you drop 10 pounds you can go back to doing what you did before and you’ll be fine.

You won’t. You have to change your life, and you have to commit to doing it forever. It’s the ONLY way.

TAS: What motivates you on a daily basis to sustain your chosen lifestyle changes?

AVG: I’m in the best shape of my life, and it shows. I don’t feel self-conscious about the way I look, or the way clothing fits. I can run and push myself and do things I never thought I was capable of. And it keeps me sane: the time when I am alone on the machines or running the trails, no one can bother me. For a mother, that’s golden time. For a human, you need it.

TAS: What are the biggest benefits?

AVG: I just feel great. I’m happier. I’m more motivated. I just feel great.

TAS: What have been the biggest challenges? Initially? Ongoing?

AVG: Initially, it was difficult to adjust—just getting used to the whole system of counting calories and logging them, and exercising even if I was tired, etc. It’s a whole new world, but you learn quickly, and you learn more each day. The continuing challenge is the way people react—”oh, you’re wasting away!”—and being made to feel guilty. As in, it sucks you don’t drink, or why don’t you want to get pizza with us, etc. So I’ve adjusted by making my social life not revolve around food, and reminding people that I am making healthy choices and I am healthy. I’m not thin because I am ill, thank God. I am thin because, like Gweynth Paltrow said, I work my ass off. And I’m not going to let other people’s food or body issues derail my health.

TAS: For anyone looking to initiate similar healthy lifestyle changes, what advice do you have to offer?

AVG: Just do it. For the first month, lay low. Believe it or not, people will sabotage—consciously or otherwise—your efforts. Humans suck that way. So establish your changes and your routine, and give them time to stick before you introduce elements of your old life again.

Be patient. It can be hard, frustrating, and sometimes you might not want to say no to ice cream or go to the gym. But if you WANT to be healthy, and you WANT to feel better, you will do it.

Forgive yourself. If you have a bad day and eat a whole pie, just get back on track the next day. Don’t go off the rails after one bad episode.

Stay on track. You’re the one who is in control, so put yourself first. Trust me, the kids and the dogs and the spouse will gladly have you done at the gym for an hour if it means you don’t hate yourself. Do it. Do it because you want to, and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or otherwise. You only get one life, and you might as well live it to enjoy it.

3 Responses to “Kate Moss’s truth”
  1. Nicole says:

    Society has such a bizarre view of eating, food, exercise, and health in general, and I feel like you have really captured it here. I’ve been thin my entire life, in part due to genetics, but to a greater extent due to attempts at maintaining healthy eating and exercise habits. I am continually surprised by the comments that people make on my eating and exercise habits: “Why do you exercise so often? You don’t need to lose any weight!” or “You’re skinny, so one more slice can’t hurt.” Keeping up with a healthy lifestyle is especially hard as a law student, when there is always free food (pizza, soda, and candy most often) and hardly enough time to do anything but go to class and study. Eating right (cooking for myself, rather than ordering take-out) and making the time to exercise have to be at, or near the top, of my priority list every day. And it pays off–I feel pretty great, considering my high-stress environment. I have energy when I need it and I sleep well at night. “Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels” — you’re definitely right on this. Fantastic post, Teal.

  2. Lauren R says:

    This is excellent! It inspires me to stay on track and acknowledges that it’s very hard. Thank you :)

  3. Chris Carpenter says:

    One of the reasons I swim regularly at the Y is so that I can fuck longer without getting tired.

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