It’s a frequent discussion within the intermittent fasting community – if and how to deal with criticism from friends and family about the fasting lifestyle and the inevitable comments about nutrition, weight loss and even body image. After a year and a half of fasting, I’ve dealt with my share of opinions.
Sometimes I’ve brought on the unwanted feedback myself, like the time I decided to comment on a Facebook post about eating breakfast. The poster was adamant that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day,” and that one should eat something, anything, for breakfast or suffer undesirable health consequences. I mentioned that I hadn’t eaten breakfast in over a year and I’d lost a lot of weight and my health markers had improved in every area. I added that, while eating breakfast may work great for many people, it’s clearly not necessary. That’s when the nutrition police stepped in to put me in my place. “Sure, but talk to me in a year when you’ve burned out your metabolism,” one of them scolded me. “You may have lost weight, but you’ve probably lost a lot of muscle too,” another chimed in.
Sometimes I’ve been blindsided by comments about my weight loss. I’ve been told I look “malnourished.” I’ve been told I look “emaciated,” (at 5’5” and 170 pounds, believe it or not). For many, the term “fasting” automatically conjures up images of famine, emaciation and malnutrition. Sometimes those of us who fast are unfairly categorized as “starving” ourselves – even when we’re eating a fair amount of healthy food on a daily basis – simply because we’re eating much less often than the average person.
I try to take those types of comments in stride realizing that they speak to the fact that in this country being overweight is so common and so accepted that the idea of fasting and being within (or working towards) a healthy weight range is actually out of the norm. What’s more, the possibility that there may exist a natural, free and simple way to arrive at a healthy weight may seem unlikely to many. It just can’t be that simple, right?
Even so, the majority of feedback I’ve received during my fasting journey has been positive. I’ve been told I should reconsider losing another pound because I look “amazing,” “younger” and “healthier.” The compliments are great, but I still feel a little awkward to have people comment about me in this way too. And, even when I feel encouraged by a compliment, it’s still a struggle to just say, “Thank you” without downplaying it with something like, “I’m getting there” or “Still a bit to go, but thanks.”
Whether the feedback has been in the form of compliments or criticisms, it surprises me that people feel comfortable offering their opinions. In contrast, no one commented about my weight, health choices or body when I was obese even when I brought up the topic of wanting to lose weight. For example, when I would say, “I really need to lose weight” no one responded with something like, “You’re absolutely right. You’ve gained a lot of weight.” Such feedback would have been considered inappropriate and downright mean. But now, it seems, all bets are off.
Of course, when you’re blogging about weight loss it shouldn’t be surprising that people assume you’re open to feedback. I get it. And, to a certain extent, it’s understandable. A woman who is touting the benefits of intermittent fasting, who is writing openly about her previous struggles with weight loss, who posts photos of her progress on just about every social media outlet and who is brave enough to put exactly what she weighs on public display hardly seems the type who would be sensitive to a comment about her body. Still, sometimes, not always, I am.
But this isn’t a post about sensitivity awareness and it’s certainly not about offering quick comebacks and spouting off studies siting the benefits of fasting in defense of the lifestyle. Offering either of those things doesn’t help matters much. What I’ve learned is that it’s useful to allow the feelings that the feedback musters up to serve as a point of self-reflection.
One starting point is asking, “Why do I care?” and before you say you don’t, answering that question honestly, digging deep for the answer. The exercise might go something like this:
“I can’t believe she said I shouldn’t lose any more weight. That’s none of her $%#! business! Wait a minute. Why do I care that she said that? Do I care because I feel self-conscious that she and others are noticing me that closely? Yeah, I really don’t like feeling noticed like that. It makes me uncomfortable. When I was fat, I was practically invisible. There’s a part of me that feels more comfortable going unnoticed.”
You get the idea.
Until fasting becomes as common place as the low-carb lifestyle, or Weight Watchers, those of us who practice fasting will inevitably face the unwanted feedback of the naysayers and critics. So, what do we do with that? We could ignore it, but perhaps it’s a good idea to put it to good use.
I’ve often said I’ve learned so much about myself from fasting and this type of self-reflection is one way I’ve been able to lose some of the mental baggage as well as the weight. The longer I fast the more I become my own health coach as well as my own psychologist. In the process, I’m becoming a whole new person, inside and out.