I allow myself to eat a little more — whether that be an extra scoop of ice cream or another slice of pizza — before debate tournaments because I know I’ll lose a pound or two during the weekend. It might be because tournaments are busy and there isn’t much time to eat or because we have to walk across giant college campuses, but I can always rest assured that along with losing a few debate rounds I’ll also lose weight.
This isn’t the only trick I use to make sure I’m right at the average (or even better, below) BMI for my age group. Sure I exercise and try to eat healthy, but more than this, it’s become evident to me that losing weight is more of a mental contest against my expectations rather than something rooted in reality. That is, I’ll find ways to convince myself I’m fit, such as weighing myself before and after I jog to feel good about the 0.7 pounds I lost.
It’s about convincing others as well. Whenever I go out to dinner with friends, I always start by suggesting the local salad bar or typical Silicon Valley vegan-cafe. And when my friends groan in response, I feel a sense of satisfaction because I really never did want to go eat salad or some gluten-free, fat-free, everything-free sandwich. I just wanted to show my friends that I did. More than just suggesting places to eat, I often express my frustration about not running for a few weeks or eating too much not because they reflect my true feelings — rather, they let me implicitly say that I’m just as healthy as anyone else.
Personally, however, this contest of perception swings both ways: I may try to convince myself that I’m not overweight, but often times the other side wins. I criticize myself for gaining even a fraction of a fraction of a pound. I religiously look at myself before I sleep not out of ego, but out of my brain’s constant desire to recognize where I may look unfit and find some way to hide or fix it. When my mom tells me, “You’ve lost too much weight,” I just tell myself she said that because she’s my mother and has to say that. And when my friends tell me, “You’re not fat,” it’s because they’re my friends and they have to say that.
These feelings may be rooted in being overweight throughout elementary and middle school, or because with increasing age comes increasing doubts and insecurities, but body image has become an increasingly perceptual competition.
And so, when one of my friends at a debate tournament said he was going to go workout, he unknowingly challenged me. Not only him, but my own mind as well dared me; the only way to convince my friends and myself that I was healthy was to accept.