Okay, did you know that the average adult’s weight can fluctuate between 2 to 6 pounds…every.single.day?! It’s an entirely normal occurrence to literally every body, so why can it be so hard to accept our body’s changes?
Within the queer community, this acceptance can be even harder, with LGBTQ+ groups reporting higher body dissatisfaction and being at a higher risk of developing eating disorders when compared to heterosexual and cisgender folks. With anti-fatness discussion circulating inside and outside the community, the pressure to have a small, society-approved body feels ever-present. It can cause distress when one’s body does experience changes.
For queer folk, who’ve experienced rejection, isolation and even discrimination through life, body changes can almost feel like another heavy reason to be pushed further outside society’s standards.
Why do the weight fluctuations happen?
Larger meals like Thanksgiving or a delicious dinner at a restaurant can impact your weight, but it doesn’t mean you’ve “gained” weight. Meals with more carbohydrates, while great for energy, retain more water than other foods. Fluid intake (and what type, for example, alcohol or soda can cause bloating) and the amount of salt, which also retains water, will impact your weight fluctuations.
When we experience high stress, our bodies release cortisol, a hormone created by our kidneys, which results in “fight or flight” mode. High levels of cortisol can put other functions on hold and slow down your natural metabolism. When this happens, it can increase appetite, and the cortisol craves foods with higher fat and salt rather than a more balanced meal.
When you have elevated cortisol, your body is signalling you to include more relaxation and breaks in your week to monitor and lower your stress levels.
Folks who get their period often experience weight fluctuations. First, there is an influx of estrogen at the start of the cycle, which can retain fluids and cause bloating. Towards the middle of a menstrual cycle, there is a progesterone spike, causing water retention, breast/chest pain and water weight. During this time, breasts/chests can go up an entire size.
Food cravings are also very real during periods, resulting in munching on foods higher in salt or carbohydrates.
Gender Affirming Hormone Therapy
Transgender folks have reported weight fluctuations after starting gender-affirming hormone therapy.
Feminizing hormones are intended to increase body fat and decrease lean body mass, as opposed to the masculinizing hormones, which reduce body fat and increase lean body mass.
A paper published in August 2021, where researchers worked with 470 transgender and gender-diverse adults for 4.5 years, determined that transmasculine respondents had greater rates of weight gain during gender-affirming hormone therapy due to the increased testosterone levels. Transfeminine respondents were less likely to gain weight due to the gender-affirming hormone therapy.
However, A 2020 research paper that included 275 transgender and gender diverse folks, who were taking hormonal therapy for many years, had opposite results. This paper highlighted that weight gain was more significant in transwomen following hormone therapy, with this weight fluctuation stabilizing between 3 – 6 years on the treatment. This research concluded that weight fluctuation is not substantial in transmen.
Further research is needed to better understand the varied reasons for weight fluctuation within transgender communities and nutrition suggestions.
Everybody should strive for varied meals. But with science and research lagging, it’s challenging for trans folk to understand which dietary choices are best given new changes in motivation, bodily composition and even cravings.
Some trans folk have suggested working with a trans-inclusive dietician or nutrition counsellor who can help you navigate choices that make you feel strong during your hormone therapy.
Some specific issues or medical conditions that can impact weight changes include:
- Thyroid disorder
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Metabolic syndrome
- Sleep apnoea
Above are just some of the reasons that our bodies can experience weight fluctuations. These can vary based on individual circumstances. Yet, the common denominator is that weight fluctuation is often a completely normal response to the pressures and circumstances that our bodies go through regularly.
If you notice an irregular change in your body’s composition, it is best to get support from a trusted medical doctor.
Go easy on me
When our bodies change, it can sometimes be hard to accept. The relationship with your body will be different for everyone, but for folks in queer and trans communities, it can be easy to internalize the need to have a “perfect” body - a popular narrative in a society that has been dismissive of queer folks for so long. It can be easy to think...if I look a certain way, I will finally be loved, accepted and wanted.
Regardless of your identity, we all hold biases, suggestions, and concepts around weight and bodies that have been bombarding us from many mediums from day one. Everywhere we turn, we are met with new “ideals” of what an “attractive” body is: often thin, petite, muscular, able-bodied, and white.
Unless we try to actively unlearn and face these complicated notions, it can be triggering and upsetting. “Self-love” isn’t a one-step change. It can be messy & cumbersome, so go easy on yourself as you learn to appreciate and respect your body.
Below are eight suggestions on how to care for yourself. This will look different to everyone, but give some a try until you find something that resonates with you.
1. Find your people
Even if one doesn’t call it “self-love,” queer and trans communities have been exercising “self-love” by prioritizing themselves and living their life authentically in a world designed for people that “fit in” despite the overwhelming expectations for cis-heterosexuality. Not to mention the daily ways queer folk adjust to fit in depending on their circumstances. For example, being vague in a workplace about relationships, being conscious about where you shop, and even adjusting the way you speak.
It can be exhausting. But by surrounding yourself with like-minded people every chance you can will help you to feel deeply seen and appreciated, which can genuinely revolutionize your relationship with yourself. So carve out your niche! Find a welcoming queer-centric space, join a queer-centric club, start or find a blog, Instagram page or YouTube channel for an online safe space.
2. Try mindfulness
Sure, it’s not for everyone, but it can do wonders for your relationship with yourself! There are different ways to try mindfulness:
- You can try daily affirmations, which you can repeat out loud while getting ready for your day, like, “my body deserves love and respect.” Or, “I am gifted, I am powerful, I am strong.” You can also write them down, allowing you to focus on positive traits and aspects of yourself. For example, “I allow myself to love my body while I continue to evolve.” Or, “I love my strong and resilient legs that allow me to experience my favourite neighbourhoods.”
- Meditation is a great exercise and can take 10 minutes of your day. Sit somewhere quiet and do a guided love appreciation or self-esteem podcast, or simply reflect on the wonderful things your body allows you to do without interruptions. Merely focusing on your breath and body can be a great place to start.
- Journaling is a thoughtful way to connect with yourself. If you can, take pen to paper for a break from screens. Focus your journal entries on positive experiences with your body and allow yourself to share your insecurities, fears, and worries.
- Adult colouring is a relaxing way to slow down. This free colouring book is a great starting place, as it celebrates diverse bodies and genders!
3. Dress for yourself
Clothing can do incredible things for your confidence! If you gain or lose a little weight, head to the shops and get clothing that fits the way you like and makes you glow! Take a risk! Find a new interesting pattern or colour you’ve always wanted to wear. Research local thrift shops for sustainable and wallet-friendly finds. If you don’t feel safe trying new clothes in public, try by yourself first.
4. Move for your mood
Moving is one of the best ways to improve your mood. Exercise can be whatever you want it to be! Go for a walk with your favourite album, try a pole dance class, even dance around your room. Many movements can be done from a seated position, including weight extensions or chair yoga for those with disabilities or people with injuries. There are some great free exercise classes online!
5. Find and use items that affirm your gender identity
Items like binders, stand to pee devices, shaping underwear, makeup, shoes, accessories, wigs, hair removal products, and packers can help you better understand your relationship with yourself and help you feel more at home in your body. Exploring your identity is so important, but it can be exhausting, so remember that while important, there are so many intersections of unique things that make you, you. There are so many brilliant traits that are far more interesting than what size you wear.
6. Create boundaries
Saying “NO,” to toxic people and media is a remarkable act of self-love and self-respect. If you find yourself dreading spending time with a specific person, say no and see how you feel – instantly relaxed? No need to spend time with people who constantly comment on our appearances. This extends to our social media pages, television and podcasts! It’s good to be mindful of what we consume daily and how this all - even subtly- impacts our mood and body image.
Instead, focus on the people that lift you, genuinely support you, and make you feel loved for things other than your appearance.
7. Nourish yourself
Like the comic Reza Farazmand popularized, “You’re basically a houseplant with more complicated emotions,” TRUE! Feed yourself adequate nutritious meals, try a cooking class online or with friends, give yourself enough water and ensure you get enough rest – every single day. Be compassionate and listen to what your body needs and wants. You are the most important thing!
8. Challenge the status quo
Weight stigma is real. The term refers to “the social disapproval of people who are overweight.” Our world tends to be obsessed with thinner bodies and diet culture while dismissing bigger bodies. These ideas are pushed from a very young age, but it’s never too late to start educating yourself on the issue, admit our complicity, biases, and work to unravel these stigmas through compassion, checking ourselves and further education.
Life won’t weight
Fatphobia is real - and sometimes it feels like we can’t escape the message around it. The world has been imposing the view that our worth is intrinsic to the way we appear, which continues to be thin, petite, muscular, able-bodied and white - from day one in advertisements, media, celebrities...the list goes on and on.
It makes complete sense then that our relationships to our bodies are complicated, exhausting, confusing, and wonderful. Your body is yours – respect it, get to know it, so you can celebrate all that is.
All bodies go through shifts and changes throughout time - for all sorts of reasons. Despite popular narratives, these do not have to be a bad thing, and it certainly doesn’t mean you don’t love and respect yourself. In fact, for some of us, it can be that we have finally started listening to what we need to live a healthy and authentic life.