My Autistic Perspective on Weight and Body Image

Anybody and any body can spend a nice day at the beach. Donald and I both wish we had their body confidence.

"People have been frying foods since Jesus was on this planet, and there is always going to be greasy, fried, salty, sugary food. It is up to the individual to walk in and say, 'I don't want those fries today.'" - Richard Simmons

Just as Wile E. Coyote is always chasing the Road Runner without ever catching him, I, too, am always chasing my weight loss goal without ever reaching it. Both Wile E. Coyote and I have come close to our respective objectives more than once, but those objectives always manage to elude us in the end. In Wile E. Coyote's case, failure usually comes down to defective Acme products. In my case, failure usually stems from eating, drinking, and being merry.

Addictions manifest in many different forms: drinking, smoking, drugs, gambling, sex, etc. Those who successfully defeat their demons must avoid them at all costs or risk falling off the wagon. Food is one such substance that cannot be avoided, as we all must eat to live. In my case, junk food, sweets, and soft drinks are the main culprits of my addiction. Thankfully, these unhealthy morsels can be avoided with enough willpower, but that's easier said than done.

As with all other addictions, the body's dependency and craving for these substances becomes overwhelming and difficult to resist. My body is so accustomed to late-night snacks that the hunger pangs become unbearable if ignored, making it almost impossible to concentrate on activities or fall sleep. I've been advised to drink lots of water when these cravings strike, but that still doesn't entirely placate the hunger.

Another contributing factor is my limited exercise. I often find it difficult to motivate myself to workout, either due to burying myself in my hobbies, feeling lethargic, lacking interest in competitive sports, suffering from asthma, or being a night owl. I do experience fruitful periods of weight loss when I'm able to push myself into maintaining strict dietary and exercise regimens. Though, sooner or later, I hit a brick wall in which I neither gain nor lose weight.

This limbo I find myself stuck in for months tends to end with me gaining back all the weight I worked so hard to lose. These setbacks could result from losing faith in myself and relapsing or suffering a trauma that necessitates a long recovery period. Examples include getting sexually assaulted on the subway, requiring surgery to remove a severely ingrown toenail, or being prescribed psychiatric medication that causes weight gain.

Such medication is an additional roadblock on my weight loss journey. It's helpful in lessening the symptoms of my autism-related depression and anxiety, but also causes me to gain weight no matter what I eat or how much I exercise, which in turn leads me to suffer weight-related depression and anxiety. It's a brutal cycle. As I've been on and off psychiatric medication for years, my weight often fluctuates like a yo-yo.

The first time I was prescribed psychiatric medication was in early adolescence, immediately after I survived bullying and attempted suicide in middle school. In addition to gaining weight for the first time in my life, I also developed "boy boobs". This unwanted side effect was once observed by a mean girl in high school, who said to me, "ew, you should've been born a girl, you have bigger boobs than me." Being a teenager was already awkward enough before that unpleasant experience. Thus, my body image insecurities were born.

I became embarrassed by what I saw when looking in the mirror or standing on the scale. I found myself identifying with Sherman Klump from Eddie Murphy's 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor and wishing such a weight loss potion existed (minus the side effect of becoming an asshole). In response to my anxiety regarding my body, I changed my wardrobe from form-fitting golf shirts to baggier buttoned-down Hawaiian shirts that concealed my physique. I also began wearing track suit jackets over my fitness attire when exercising as well as pairing T-shirts with my swimming trunks at swimming pools or beaches (I still do all of the above).

Speaking of which, swimming pools and beaches are interesting locales when it comes to weight and body image. Along with water parks, these are among the few public spaces where partial nudity is socially acceptable. As such, the physically fit get to shed their clothes and show off their chiselled physiques and washboard abs, liberate their tattoos and piercings, and work on their tans and swimming techniques. The interesting part about these aquatic destinations is that having the body of a Greek god or goddess is not a prerequisite for enjoying these spots.

People of all shapes and sizes are just as welcome to strut their stuff alongside all the Aphrodites and Adonises. I see it all the time during my swimming lessons at the local aquatic centre. Sagging skin, love handles, stretchmarks, moles, acne, wrinkles, scars, etc., all on full display without any nasty body shaming from other swimmers. One could have Hercules' sixpack while another could have Santa's jelly belly, and both would be equally free to rock nothing but Speedos if they so desired. It takes guts to show your gut, and while I lack such body confidence myself (I still hate changing and showering in public locker rooms), I admire those comfortable enough in their own skin to show it off, regardless of how it looks.

In closing, like Wile E. Coyote's never-ending pursuit of the Road Runner, I stubbornly refuse to give up on my mission to eat healthier, become slimmer, and feel more comfortable with my body image. Failure simply motivates me to keep trying, even when I yo-yo, even when I cave to the cravings. I'm trying to practice intermittent fasting. I'm doing my best to avoid the bakery and snack aisles at the grocery store. I'm trying to resist the urge to order sugary soft drinks or upgrade my fries to poutine at restaurants.

As mentioned, I'm still taking swimming lessons. I'm pushing myself to exercise for 45 minutes a day, via walking, practicing tai chi, doing housework, or riding both stationary and real bicycles. I'm also planning to sign-up for golf lessons later this spring (fore!). If you're going through similar struggles, never lose hope and keep on fighting. Most importantly is to love yourself and be comfortable in your own skin. Only pursue goals for yourself, never to please others or meet society's definition of "beauty". Until next time, love, peace, and chicken grease...but not too much chicken grease, ha-ha-ha.

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