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It Puts the Lotion on Its Skin September 8, 2014

Posted by J. in Genius.
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I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’d updated. Things are ambling right along; lots of stuff is pretty much the same, and it doesn’t make for very interesting blogging, I’m afraid. Autumn is coming up hard and fast here, it’s beautiful running weather, and all three kids are in school full day.

Ooh! But I’ve gone back to work! It’s only part time on the weekends, but it’s the first time I’ve worked outside the home in ten years and it’s been a bit of an adjustment, to say the least. And get this–I got a job at the gym. It’s funny to read back to my first posts about losing weight and to remember all the emotions that came with working out for the first time. I’ve been showing new people around and getting them started towards their fitness goals, and I’m a long way from forgetting how it felt to be in their shoes. I know how scary the gym can be the first time you walk in, and how aware you are of just how out of shape you are, especially compared to the other people working out. I certainly know what it’s like to feel like people are judging you, and it’s nice to be in the position to reassure people that it only feels that way because for most of us, we’ve recently taken a hard look at who we are and what we want to be, and we’re the ones doing the judging. And that all those other people working out are doing the same thing: they’re looking at who they are and what they want to be, and they’re in there working towards it. Nothing more. 

It’s a long way from being that insecure person who fought tears on the treadmill day after miserable day. The upside of it is that I’m at a point now where the road behind me is much longer than what’s in front of me, and that’s a good place to be. At least it’s much better than the days when the road ahead of me was so long and I had to keep looking back all the time. I don’t look back much anymore, but when I do, it’s like HOLY SHIT.

There’s still road ahead of me, but I see that differently too. Much like running on a road course, your view and perspective change with every step. I think most of the changes are so subtle and small that I don’t notice them much, like so many trees or rock walls going past. And like running on a road course, it’s not about the destination so much as the run itself and being in the moment. And my goals are similar too. I’m not looking to be the fastest runner, but I want to go farther. I want to go longer, and stronger. I don’t care if I finish first, but I will finish. Or maybe, I’ll just keep running.

The fact that running is a metaphor for the weight loss journey that I’m on is telling, I think. As is the fact that I think of the journey as a fitness quest and not as a weight loss journey anymore. 

The mile marker I’m at currently is between 190 and 195 pounds. I crossed the 200 pound mark in the way that things have been going for months and months, which is slowly and a fraction of a pound at a time. It was a milestone to cross my soft target off my list, and keep my eyes on the road ahead.

I’m realizing, though, that as it stands, reaching a healthy goal weight is going to be impossible with the skin suit that I’m wearing.

I hesitate to say that anything is impossible, because that’s building a wall for myself. “Impossible” gives me permission to throw my hands up and quit. If it can’t be done, why try, right? 

Researching skin reduction surgery following weight loss has yielded varying results. People who lost less than 150 pounds seemed to lose an average of 10 to 12 pounds in skin and fat after surgery, whereas when the total pounds lost moved up over 150 pounds, the amounts got higher by quite a bit, especially in the closer-to-200 pounds lost area. Some of the extreme weight loss patients reported losing more than 30 pounds in excess flesh post-surgery. I’ve lost almost 170 pounds, putting me in the upper ranges of those reporting in. Results obviously vary person to person, but if I had to guess, I might be carrying 20 to 30 pounds of excess skin. Not fat, just loose flesh that can’t be dieted or exercised off.

It’s a new point-of-view on where I’m at. 190 pounds minus twenty pounds of skin…that’s 170 pounds. Hell, if it’s closer to 30 pounds, that would put me in the 160 pound range. What that means, practically speaking, is that I’m much closer to my goal weight than the scale shows on any given day.

With weight loss, especially extreme amounts like mine, the loss slows as you have less fat to lose, and I expected it. I just never expected it to be when I was a good 50 or 60 pounds away from my goal. But when I consider that I might not actually be 50 or 60 pounds away and it could be more like 20 or 30 pounds away, that’s far more realistic an outcome. Anyone who’s ever had to lose “only” 20 or 30 pounds can attest that it comes off way slower than for someone with 200 to lose, especially at first.

It’s really the only advantage to having to lose a lot of weight versus a little: the rewards of seeing big number drops relatively quickly is intoxicating. 

Losing 3 pounds a month is far less heady. But it’s still losing.

And I’m not as bothered by it lately. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not thrilled about the skin. It’s an annoyance, for the most part. It’s part badge of honor at all I’ve accomplished so far, and at the same time, it’s a painful reminder of what I had allowed myself to become.

But when I start to dwell, I think of my sister’s response when I told her that: “It just is what it is.”

It’s just skin, and I want it to go. I plan on surgery, eventually.

The biggest thing I deal with is how it looks. My skin doesn’t fit anymore, and it’s like wearing clothes that are too big for you. It can be uncomfortable. Nothing fits in the right places. The extra material bunches and gets in the way of moving around. And it’s not attractive. Like a baggy pair of pants, it hides what I really look like. I can feel those muscles under the skin, and I know there’s a fit person in there, but I can’t see her. I’d like to!

And clothing itself is problematic. I am carrying my extra skin at the back of my upper arms, my belly (they call it an “apron”) and my thighs. So I have to wear larger sizes to accommodate it. Women’s/Plus sized pants are the only ones cut properly to have room in the thighs and hips while fitting in my relatively small waist. My torso is small…downright skinny in places, but I need a larger size to get my arms in. Knits are still my friend, bless their very forgiving construction.

But then again, show me someone who can put on any garment off the rack and look good in it. Everyone tries on clothes that look like crap on them, because not every outfit is made for every shape of body. We are human, after all, not coat hangers.

All that aside, it’s still a lot easier to dress a thinner body than it is to try to fit a much fatter one. Shopping is much more enjoyable than it used to be. 

Athletically is where the skin suit really sucks. Beyond the annoyances of things like not being able to run in anything other than compression tights that extend below my knee, and even that’s merely a help, not a complete solution. I like my tights, don’t get me wrong, but running on a hot day? Not as much fun. Seeing folks go past in the light little nylon shorts, bare legs staying cool as they run…I’m so jealous. With the flopping that my loose skin does, I can no more run without my compression tights that I could without a bra. Even now, the pairs I have are not compressing as much as they should and as I run, the jerking motion of skin going up and then slapping back down with each step slows me down and makes me heavier on my feet than usual. It’s surprising how much momentum that flab gets. Same with my upper arms. I don’t notice it at first, but after a few miles, I’m feeling soreness at the back of my shoulders from the constant up-and-down movement of the skin as I move. 

I guess how I’d describe it is if you were to put on a full backpack and go for a run. If the straps were tight and the weight was secure, you’d be running with extra weight, but it’s not moving around on you at all. You’d feel the effects, for sure. Now take the same weight in a bigger pack so that it moves around freely, and loosen the straps of the backpack. Still carrying the same amount of weight, but it’s free to move about the cabin. You’d feel chafing, and the constant up and down motion of the weight with each step would pull uncomfortably on your shoulders after awhile. Probably lower back too, as your body tries to compensate for the momentum.

It’s what I deal with every time I run.

But with good compression garments, I can take the edge off of it. It’s a hindrance, but not horrible enough to keep me off the course, yet.

My knees are where I have the biggest issue. Even as I write this, I’m babying my right knee (I call her “Tricky” because I never know what she’s going to do) because I did a nice, long 7.5 mile run last night on a whim. I pushed my legs past their comfort zone, and I was sore last night. My muscles are a bit stiff this morning, and Tricky is letting me know that I overdid it. Today will be a much easier, low-impact, cardio-heavy workout at the gym, even though it’s a beautiful morning for a run. I shall resist, because I have to.

My concern 170 pounds ago right up to this moment has always been taking care of my joints. It was awesome and wonderful to realize as the weight dropped off that Tricky was no longer a constant threat like she was at my heaviest. I’ve been (and will continue constantly) to build my leg muscles so that my knees get the best support they can, but I suspect damage has been done. I don’t know to what extent, though. And it’s not debilitating. Did I mention I ran 7.5 miles? 

But there are weight-bearing exercises I still can’t do because of my knees, specifically Tricky. They say that for every pound you lose, you lose five pounds of pressure off your knees. It’s the primary reason that for me, weight matters and always will. Every pound I carry counts, and I want them to be the best pounds–the pounds I need to be healthy and fit. If I don’t get rid of the skin, that is 20 or 30 extra pounds I’ll always have. I’ll always be that much overweight. If it’s 30 pounds, that 150 pounds of stress on my knees, and it means they’re going to go all to shit a lot faster than they would normally. 

At the end of the day, surgery will be necessary to excise upper arm, belly, and thigh skin. I have no idea how much more fat I have to lose before a plastic surgeon will consider operating, or how I’m going to pay for it, but the time for consulting one to make preliminary plans is drawing nigh.

As I re-read what I just wrote, it occurs to me how much I think in terms of fitness now. It’s one of those subtle shifts that you don’t notice as it happens, but one day it’s all BAM, right in your face. My goals are more physical now–I’m more concerned with what I can do as a measure of my overall health. The rest is rather secondary. I don’t know when it happened. I wasn’t really paying attention.

This summer I set myself a goal to run 10K, which is around six and a quarter miles. And I did it. Back in April, 3 miles was a long run. Now, that’s routine and over five is considered long. That’s a lot of improvement! The fact that I’ve only lost around 20 pounds in that time (when I used to do that in a month) doesn’t matter as much. Hardly at all, really.

I don’t know when I started thinking more in terms of fitness and less in terms of more concrete measurements like pounds and inches. Or what prompted it. I blame running. There’s something about it that has unleashed my inner athlete. Maybe it’s going from being someone who said “I can’t run” to proving myself wrong that did it. It could be that I’ve finally realized what it feels like to set a physical goal, meet it, and exceed it. 

It still feels weird to refer to myself as an athlete. I don’t consider myself “sporty” at all, but in reality, I work out every day. I eat like an athlete in that I eat to exercise instead of a dieter who exercises so she can eat more. I obsess more about getting my training in than about every calorie and meal and menu and pound. 

Not that I’m training for anything in particular. I have yet to run a race of any length, and I don’t have much interest in it, to be honest. Yet I’m working towards training for a half-marathon. Why? Well, why not? Maybe I will run one someday. Maybe I’ll run a marathon someday. Or maybe I’ll just run because I can. 

I don’t obsess as much over how I look, either. I guess when your body continues to stand up to the punishing workouts you put it through every single time, you start to see it as a pretty amazing machine. I’m still fatter than I’d like, but then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I stop and look. I still look at myself in the mirror and expect to see a 360 pound person, and when I see collarbones, I laugh. 

I know that this is the focus change I’ve been struggling so long to get to. And I imagine that as Fall turns to Winter, the new focus will change gradually as well. Maybe become more fine-tuned into something I can live with long term. The idea of living with obsession over the pounds, or the calories day in and day out was a tiresome one. To get to where the hierarchy of what’s important in this long-term quest has shuffled around a bit is a welcome bit of relief. 

I don’t quite know how I got here, though. Practice, I guess. Faking it when I didn’t feel it. Putting one foot in front of the other, and eating that elephant one bite at at time.

 

Things You Should Never Say May 30, 2014

Posted by J. in Genius.
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My friend Heather (the one with the exact right words at the exact right time) posted this article the other day, and it gave me thoughts to chew on. Heather has herself lost a significant amount of weight, so I’m sure she’s heard a lot of these comments, as have I. And I always read any article that starts with the words “Things you should never say…” with a grain of salt.

There are always articles similar to this full of what amounts to the pet peeves that come along with communicating with other humans. Things to never say to a dancer. Things to never say to a new mother. Things to never say to a Native American. Google it. There’s a bunch. I call those articles How to Not Offend 101.

Sometimes I read these articles if I think they might pertain to me, and think that while I’ve certainly heard people say some dumbass things, and know I’m not immune to foot-in-mouth disease mahself, some of the comments…well, you have to wonder what kind of ignorant asswipe would say such a thing. I mean, it’s the kind of comment that would make you look at them and ask “What the actual fuck is wrong with you?” They just had to have been invented for that article. Either that, or the writer needs to hang with a better class of people. Ones who aren’t complete boobs.

But the comments that make you nod in agreement if you’ve been on the receiving end, and should make you wonder if that’s ever come out of your mouth, are the subtle ones. The left-handed compliment. The things you say to encourage or support someone that can come off sounding judgmental.

Not that I’m judging you for being judgmental.

Okay, yeah, I am.

We all judge. We judge people all day long. If we’re smart, we keep our judgments to ourselves and manage to not say something based on said judgment that’s just plain offensive. It’s a delicate dance, and some folks are really good at it, and some people just suck at it. Hard. Such is life. But these “Things you should never say” articles have their place, because if it’s well-written, you can get a glimpse into what others are thinking before you open your mouth. And if you’re really lucky and find that your experience and theirs are wildly different, it can give you a great insight into yourself.

To that end, I read the article I mentioned called “It’s a Question of Weight” because the author, Kathleen Long, and I seemed to have similar experiences. I expected before reading it to agree with most, if not all, of what she was saying. I was surprised that I disagreed with her quite a bit, and it wasn’t until the end of the article that I realized why she and I didn’t see eye to eye on what you shouldn’t say to someone who has lost a lot of weight.

I’m also learning to appreciate and be (mostly) patient with the people who were in my life before I started losing weight as they adjust to the changes I’m making. I’m observing their reactions, asking questions and being curious about how they’re relating to me as a physical being. I’m recognizing when someone makes me uncomfortable and using that as a tool to examine hidden feelings of shame or inadequacy. It is a process for them as much as it is for me, and if nothing else, I think the plethora of diet book authors, doctors and nutritionists can all agree that losing weight is ultimately about being self-aware and present.

I think that bit right there is why a lot of the things people say don’t really bother me at all. I have an amazing little world that I inhabit. I have so much support, and so many people that mean well around me. It’s rare that I get offended by a question, or take a left-handed compliment as an insult, because I know that it’s genuinely from a place of love, friendship, pride, admiration, or a true sense of wonder and disbelief.

For what it’s worth, I feel compelled to give my two cents on the Things People Say When You Lose a Metric Fuckton of Weight.

“Wow, you look like a completely different person. I didn’t even recognize you.” This feels awkward. Is it a compliment? I usually respond with thank you, to which the person heartily replies “You’re welcome!”

This is ALWAYS a compliment to me. After 150 pounds, I really don’t look like the same person, and when people I’ve known for years have to hear my voice to recognize me, I’m sorry, that’s a transformation in appearance that can’t be denied. And I’ve worked wicked hard to look this way. Hell, there are times I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and I’m surprised at my own face. If I’m still getting used to how I look, I can hardly fault anyone for seeing in me someone that wasn’t there before. If it takes them by surprise, too, I totally get it.

It's the hair that throws people, I think...

It’s the hair that throws people, I think…

Of course, my assumption is that people are meaning to be complimentary, and they’re not saying they don’t recognize me because I look hideous. Yet. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

“You must be so happy now that you’ve lost all this weight.” Well, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t unhappy before I started losing weight.

There’s some truth to this one. I wasn’t unhappy at my fattest. All in all, I’m a fairly well-adjusted person, and if you ask me on any given day if I’m happy, the answer is likely yes. Things get me down and I have a bad day now and then, but overall, I’m happy. And I was at 360 pounds. I didn’t lose weight to find happiness. I already had it.

But am I happier now, specifically about how I feel and look? Oh, hell yes. And again, my assumption is that they’re asking if I’m pleased with and happy about my weight loss. Does this accomplishment make me happy? Yes, I’m pleased to report that it does. The journey comes with horrible stretches of time where I’m full of fear and anxiety, and days on end where I look at how far I still want to go and it seems uphill and discouraging and exhausting, but there are an awful lot of days that are absolutely elating. Am I happy now that I’ve lost all the weight? You fucking betcha I am.

“I really hope you’re not losing weight too fast; you look too skinny.” Not at all, I’m still 40 pounds overweight.

This one almost always comes from people I know well. I’m hovering in the 205-210 range right now, and would like to get to around 140 or so. That’s 65 to 70 pounds left to lose. I’m a size 18 in the ass and probably a 14 from the waist up, which is far from skinny. And if you’ve known me well at 360 pounds, it is a huge difference, and yeah, I do look skinny in places. It’s hard to imagine me at a healthy weight, because I’ve always been fat. I can’t imagine what I’ll look like when I’m into single digit clothing sizes, so I’m not surprised that no one else can either. And I appreciate the concern in your words, because that’s what I hear.

In truth, I share your concern. Maybe not at 70 pounds overweight, but I know me well enough to know that I could take it too far. As much as I whine about the fact that I can’t get my fat ass under 200 pounds fast enough to suit me, I know the day will come where I have to decide enough is enough. There is such a thing as being too thin, and the concern that I could go all crazy pants to the point of having so low a body fat percentage that I stop having periods and I look like a cadaver, just because I can, is a real one.

And honestly, what do you do when you really think you’re seeing someone who might be in danger of hurting themselves because they don’t have a realistic body image and have dieted themselves down to skin and bones? Or when someone you know has become obsessed with exercise and counting calories almost to the exclusion of everything else?

I’m not really sure.

I can only speak for my own situation. I know I am completely capable of getting to that level of obsession, and I have enlisted people very close to me to throw a flag on the play when they actually see self-destructive, bulimic/anorexic, or just plain obsessive behaviors. I also trust their objectivity when it comes to an overall assessment of my health and appearance, both physical and mental. And they are people who can say to me, “You have lost too much weight. You don’t look good,” and I won’t be offended, or insist that it’s not up to them. It’s a wicked short list, though. Like, three people. It’s my own safety line, having seen weight loss stories not end…well.

I want to tell people who tell me that 140 will be too skinny, or that I’m already too skinny (bless your hearts, really) that it’s okay. I understand that you can’t imagine me at a healthy weight because neither can I. But trust that I’m not insane, and even if I do find myself taking it too far, I have a fantastic support team who will let me know when I really start to look like I have The Cancer, or to tell me to stop being a nutjob.

But I keep in mind that their “too” comments come from concern for me, and I take them as such. I ignore it, but I’m not offended, either.

“I guess there is a difference between eating healthy and losing weight.” This comment often comes after my interlocutor discovers I’m not vegan/paleo/juicing/gluten free/etc. I’m under a doctor’s care and my health is being carefully monitored, and I say so, but usually, my reply is drowned out by the statistics of whatever diet it is that ensures optimal health.

“Well… what I do is…” Usually, someone will first ask how I am “doing it,” then will argue with my answer despite the obvious fact that what I am currently doing is working for me.

Okay, these two bug the shit out of me. This one I was all nodding and going OH YEAH.

I have no fucking idea what makes someone, upon hearing that you’ve lost 150 pounds, ask if you’ve tried {insert fad diet of the month} here. I suspect it’s because they want a chance to proselytize about their favorite diet and really aren’t interested in hearing how I did it. Or they want the chance to tell me that I’m risking my health somehow if I eat {insert forbidden food here} because they read it on the Internet. Or they want me to join them in selling powders, supplements, shakes, or {insert money-making weight loss product here}.

The truth is, I have spent a lot (some would argue an inordinate amount) of time studying up on food, and how it affects the body. I’m far from a fanatic about what I put in my mouth, because it’s been my experience that my body can handle just about anything with which I pollute it. It might not handle it particularly well, but it won’t kill me. Or cure me.

What I have found is that there are foods that make my body run like a well-oiled machine, and others that clog up the works a lot. I’ve come to realize that because bodies are so different, everyone likely has a different combination of foods that keep them feeling fantastic. And that there are things they don’t eat because of how a specific ingredient affects them. When you’re on a path like mine where your ultimate goal is good health, you tend to be more aware of what foods make you feel good and what ones don’t.

But boy, there is a lot of junk science out there. Beware of it. There are no magic foods that boost weight loss, and honestly, most of the current scapegoats of the modern diet (I’m looking at you, gluten) are entirely benign in 99% of the population. The good news is that there’s a lot of really good science out there, and because I’m always looking to improve, I swim around in it quite a lot. I’ve given consideration to going back to school to get a degree in nutrition; in part because I think some formal, intense study of it would benefit my own lifelong journey, but also because every day it seems like I encounter someone who has no idea about food, how it works, and what effect it has on the body. Not to mention the special, precious few who constantly share “THIS ONE FOOD CAN KILL YOU” articles on The Facebook. God help us all. The more I know, the more I want to know, and I’m considering boosting my ability to pass this information on to people who could use it. Maybe help other people who were and are in the same boat as me figure out the mind/body connection. I don’t know for sure, but it’s a thought.

“I guess you won’t be able to eat any of this.” This is something people generally say anytime I’m anywhere in the vicinity of a dessert.

My knee-jerk reaction is to agree with this one, and when I hear that, shove a cream puff in both cheeks like a sugar-crazed chipmunk. But when I’m confronted with the Food Police, I try to give the benefit of the doubt that they’re saying one of three things with that statement.

First, perhaps they’re concerned for my strength in the face of temptation. I get it. I imagine alcoholics hear that in a bar, too. Friends want to make sure that I’m going to be okay with this, that they’re not going to have to drag me home and dump me on the doorstep with creme anglaise drooling from my lips and cookie crumbs spilling out of my cleavage. I actually do appreciate the concern. It means someone is thinking of my comfort. That’s a nice thing.

Honestly, I’m fine, and I deal with temptations all day, every day. And sometimes I eat things that are bad for me. I usually enjoy the hell out of those moments, too. I respond with a short variation of “I ran 3 miles this morning and did some work with the free weights, and have about 600 extra calories banked up. I also had a light breakfast and lunch of mostly veggies and lean produce because I knew there would be margaritas and onion dip here.” (It sounds something like “It’s cool, I worked out today. Is there whipped cream for this torte?”)

It could be that they’re thinking I’m judging them for going back for thirds on the pie. Like I’m the Food Police. “Oh my God! She knows all about food and nutrition and how bad this is for me! She’s going to lecture me on the wickedness of my ways!”

Perish the thought. Eat all the pie, man. Pie is awesome.

The third intention I think is behind it is one of pity, either for myself, or more likely, for themselves. It’s that idea of mourning food that I’ve talked about. I wonder if they’re thinking about my discipline when I’m eyeing the desserts but not partaking, and wish they had it themselves. It’s when I get the “I wish I had your willpower” comment, and it’s so hard to turn that into party small talk. Willpower, and the lack thereof, is such a huge part of that mind/body connection that makes weight loss possible that I can’t even really skim the surface.

Especially while what I’m actually doing is trying to decide between a brownie or an eclair.

“You’ve lost like a whole person, if not more. How much weight is it at this point?” For many, weight is an uncomfortable subject, especially admitting the exact amount of “before” weight. It has been for me for many years.

This is something that doesn’t bother me personally, but she’s right: weight is a touchy subject and not a lot of people are comfortable disclosing what they weigh. I’m doing this so publicly that it’s become non-issue for me, and I’ll tell you what my before weight is, my current weight on any given day, and how much I’ve lost. But I can tell you that at first, admitting even to myself that I weighed 360 pounds was hard. And painful. I couldn’t admit it to anyone or say it out loud for a little while. As it became less something that I was currently dealing with and more a number that was firmly in my rear view, it got easier to admit to, and by this point, it’s a source of pride. I’m not proud that I got up to that weight, but I know what effect it has on people. That’s not being a little heavy, or even merely “fat.” That’s morbidly obese. That’s dangerously heavy. That’s far above the weight where a lot of well-meaning doctors start discussing cutting up your intestines to take care of it.

I know seeing me at my heaviest inspires people, and I don’t take that lightly. I want people as fat as I am, as fat as I was, and as fat as I know I could have eventually become to know that they have it in them to lose weight. They–you, if you’re reading this and doubting all the doubts that have ever been doubted–can transform. You can make your body into whatever you want it to be. I believe that with everything I am. I know you have things that stand in your way, but I also know that there is no obstacle that can’t be overcome, whether you have to go over it, under it, around it, through it, or just fucking outrun it every day. It can be done. I’m living proof of it, and I want to continue to be that proof and that example for the rest of my life. So I don’t ever want to get so comfortable as a thin, healthy person that I forget who I was. I have no problem with being reminded that I used to weigh 360 pounds.

But others might. So when in doubt, if you’re curious, know that not all questions require an answer. And you might be making someone really uncomfortable with your question.

And for the record, I’ve lost a whole person. A good-sized one at that.

“Well, good for you, but I’d rather live well. Life is short.” I’d understand the defensive response if I was proselytizing, but this is usually offered spontaneously, as if my mere presence is an argument for restrictive eating.

I wouldn’t put this in the category of “things to not say” exactly, but it’s one of those statements that does invite discussion, and usually argument. And like she says, it’s like my mere existence is a challenge to their own status quo.

Thing is, it’s not something I think even deserves an argument. If that’s how you feel about being fat, go nuts. I’m not telling you to lose weight. Only you can make that decision. And I have had people tell me “I’d rather eat and be fat and happy than hungry, skinny, and miserable.” What do you want me to say? Okay, then? I don’t need you to defend your decision to be fat, if that’s what makes you happy. And I’ll bite my tongue when you start listing the reasons why you could never do what I’ve done. It’s why I will usually make some non-committal response and extricate myself from the conversation. If we’re discussing weight and you’re pleading a case for obesity, we really don’t have anything to talk about.

I know where it comes from. When you’re fat, you’re on the defensive constantly about your weight, and you endure far more well-meaning but ultimately insulting and irritating comments than you do when you’re losing weight, or if you’re thin. And if you read the articles about “Things You Should Never Say to a Fat Girl” you can do the same thing I’ve done here. If you hear what’s behind the comments people make under the guise of being helpful, there’s usually a lot of subtext.

What she goes on to say at the end of her article is that ultimately, what we hear when people make comments that irritate or flatter us has as much to do with our own feelings about ourselves, our journeys, and our choices as it does about the person making the comment. It’s not news that sometimes perception and intention aren’t in sync. I argue, along with the original author, that what the comments should do is make us look at how we feel about ourselves and what’s going on with us, even if we react the way we do because the answer isn’t pretty, or neat, or pleasant to hear about. And that holds true about anything people comment about, whether it’s your weight, your choice of college major, or the car you drive.

Fielding comments about my weight loss and my appearance has been an interesting learning experience. There’s a school of thought that says that you should never comment on someone’s appearance because no matter what you say, it can be taken as an insult. Which is weird, because unless you’re blind, it’s the first thing you notice. And I wonder if we need more articles that teach us to listen with different ears than we do articles telling us what not to say in the first place. If you assume that people are saying things from a place of kindness, and it’s been my experience that they usually are, you will hear a compliment. If you assume they are criticizing you, you will feel attacked.

There are enough douchebags out there who work hard at being insulting that we don’t have to invent insults where none were intended, I think.

Oh, and the last one: “You’re disappearing.” Not true; you’re paying more attention to me than ever!

This is one of my favorites, right up with my sister’s remark, “Remember when you used to be fat?”

I know what she means! With the people that I know–we’re talking friends and family, people in my community, at church, my physicians–it seems like the smaller I get, the more notice I get. It’s the exact opposite of disappearing!

But when I think about it more closely, I realize that I no longer stand out in a crowd. When you’re morbidly obese, you do. While I’m still fat, I’m pretty close to our (pathetically fat) national average and if you saw me walking through an airport or standing in line at a checkout, I doubt you’d give me a second thought. For the first time in a long time, I blend. I disappear.

Or would, if my hair wasn’t such a vibrant shade of floozy red.

If I had to add my own little pet peeve to her list, I confess I look forward to the day when my weight isn’t the first thing people comment on. The other day after Mass I said “hello” to a group of friends and we had a quick little exchange of pleasantries, and not one of them said a thing about how I looked. And it wasn’t until I got to the car that I realized how good that felt. As nice as compliments are, and even though I don’t mind discussing my appearance, it was nice to just have a conversation that didn’t include it. I wasn’t singled out or the focus of attention, and I had forgotten what that was like.

It’s not that I don’t like talking about it, or that I don’t appreciate a “you look nice today” or anything, but to get to the point where my transformation isn’t noteworthy all the time will be nice. It’ll be part of who I am and maybe not feel so much like all of who I am.

Perhaps when the thin person has fully emerged and the fat girl is locked up inside me where I can keep a close and wary eye on her, I will really get to the point where I “disappear.”

That’s a weird-ass thing to look forward to.

 

What Doesn’t Kill You September 9, 2013

Posted by J. in Domesticity, Genius.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

I had another one of my epiphanies the other day, and because my occasional flashes of dubious brilliance seem to resonate with people I thought I’d share. So, as I sat here last night and started this, it’s poetic that on a chilly Sunday night, the smell of chocolate chip cookies was filling the kitchen. I’d worked out, I’d had my healthy, filling meals, but the smell of baking cookies was wiggling into my very soul and crying out my name.

“Pooooooops. Eeeeeeat meeeeeee. I’m deeeeeeeelicious! You know you want me!”

God, did I want you. I wanted you like no one has ever wanted a chocolate chip cookie in the history of ever. But I didn’t have you, you seductive demon. I resisted your siren song.

Now, lest you think I’m some sort of superhero (which is patently untrue, unless I’m wearing my Captain America thong, but that’s another post for another time), allow me to explain how this heroic act of strength happened.

It occurred to me that one of the things I did right from the start to help myself commit to this new, healthier way of eating is not having the things around that give me the kind of cravings that make me want to cut a bitch for just a single bite. I think it’s one of the first ways most people who are trying to lose weight cope with the constant cravings for shitty food. In my house, 10 months into my dietary overhaul, Larry still only buys snacks (like pretzels and Nutty Bars and Cool Ranch Doritos) that he knows I couldn’t care less about. He knows and appreciates what I’m trying to do, and he supports me by not doing things that will intentionally derail me. To his credit, he doesn’t bring home Girl Scout cookies (sorry, GSA) or Ben and Jerry’s because they’re so hard for me to walk away from.

But because a thing is hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

I was talking with a friend over the summer, at the height of ice cream season, and she said, “I don’t know how you do it. I’m powerless against ice cream. I just can’t say no.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time, to be honest. It’s the kind of thing people say when they want to lose weight but the food always seems to win, and I don’t think I really heard the words. Not to mention that ice cream isn’t one of my trigger foods. But later on, recounting the conversation to my sister, it hit us both at the same time. That attitude–I can’t say no, I’m powerless–that’s why I’ve always failed, and why so many other people do. So you banish the foods that cause you trouble. You know the ones. The ones that you can’t have just a bit of and put back. The ones that call your name from the cupboard. The ones that are so very bad for you that they’re a gateway drug to getting in the car and hitting the McDonald’s drive-thru like a sailor in a whorehouse.

I’m not knocking it as a strategy. It’s a good one, a solid one. But sometimes I think it does a disservice as well.

Like last night, there were fresh baked, homemade cookies staring me down. There they were, only a few feet from me, and Larry walked up with the broken off bit of a cookie in his hand, the chocolate melted and gooey, the little wisps of steam barely visible in the cool kitchen, and he offered me a single, small bite. “You worked hard today at the gym…”

And with a smile, I gently turned it down. I explained that I know myself well enough to appreciate that one bite will just make me want more bites. A cookie turns into three. Or five. And then I’m saying “fuck it” and looking for what else I can stuff in my head. That bite could well be a one-way ticket to Binge City. For me, because I’ve had a lot of time to think about this kind of thing, I know myself, and I know that I’m better off not even taking that first bite. Some people can take a bite and be happy with it, feel satisfied. And I can do that with some foods. I can take a bite of ice cream and walk away, but not fucking homemade chocolate chip cookies, man. Down that path leads a binge it’ll take two weeks to atone for. *shudders*

I’m not sure if I’ll ever eat another chocolate chip cookie still warm from the oven again. I know for the longest time that I just couldn’t bring myself to say, “I can’t ever have {insert tasty food item that makes life worth living} again.” The idea of a life without a slice of birthday cake, or a wedge of that first apple pie in fall, or my mother’s fudge on Christmas Day made me give up my will to live. Or more accurately, my will to diet.

But what do you do when saying “no more, ever” makes you want to kill yourself, but at the same time you know that there are foods that will send you spiraling out of control? When experience tells you that one cookie will lead to a whole batch, or a handful of potato chips will mean eventually grazing through the pantry and eating everything but the baking soda?

If I sound like an alcoholic talking about a drink, you aren’t far off. I’ve done a stint in Overeaters Anonymous, and I have friends who are in AA. I think about a lot of foods the way alcoholics talk about booze. I remember one friend in recovery who used to tend bar. We asked how she could stand to be surrounded by booze and she says it doesn’t usually bother her. The only thing that affected her was seeing unfinished drinks. If someone left a drink on the bar and there was some left in the glass, she said the urge to finish it was almost painful.

I feel that way when someone scrapes the frosting off a piece of birthday cake and says it’s too sweet, and then leaves the glob on the plate. Or eats half a piece of cheesecake and says they’re full. I look at the food on the plate and the urge to just finish that dessert kills me. It’s nearly crippling.

And like an alcoholic, I know I can’t eat the way I used to. Of course with food, you have to eat. You can put booze out of your life, but you do have to take nourishment. In OA, sobriety is measured by sticking to your diet plan. OA doesn’t promote or endorse any particular plan, and most people define their own sobriety in terms of that. For someone on Weight Watchers, sobriety might mean staying within their points range. For someone counting calories, it’s staying under their limit. For someone who has identified as a food addict, it might be completely abstaining from white flour and refined sugar, or staying under a carb limit per day, or whatever the individual food addiction is. 

That’s where OA helped me the most. I had to identify what my issues with food really were. I’ve had to figure out if I have trigger foods and what to do when I encounter them in the wild. (Or behind me on my kitchen counter, as the case may be.) I know my biggest issue is with bingeing, and I know there are foods that can bring one on. I need strategies to deal with those foods so that I can move forward towards my health and fitness goals. But I also know that I can’t avoid crap food forever. It’s there and part of life, and it’s a matter of figuring out where they fit in.

Avoidance only works for so long. Eventually you’re going to have to say no. If I was to move forward, I had to stand up and assert that I am NOT powerless over any food. So I changed saying “no” to saying “not right now. Not today. Maybe tomorrow, if I still want some.” There’s a world of difference between “never” and “later,” and I’ve discovered that when later comes, it’s not that hard to put it off again. Eventually, I don’t want them any more. I can have them, but–and here’s the difference–I choose not to. Saying “later” to something I reallyreallyreallyreallyreally want but know I shouldn’t have becomes easier every time I do it. It’s become a habit of mine.

Is it hard? Honestly? No, not much anymore. At first, yes. Hence the avoidance policy. But there’s something to be said for resisting what’s under your nose. When you have to turn down something that is always right there, you get good at saying no. The food loses its power over you. You practice, and eventually you get stronger.

Case in point: this is a picture I get sent to me on more than a few Fridays.

You should know that I would eat the fuck out of these. Seriously doubt I'd even taste the first three...

You should know that I would eat the fuck out of these. Seriously doubt I’d even taste the first three…

Every Friday is Krispy Kreme day at Bill’s job. He sends the pic for moral support. He curses the bastard unto seven generations that brings them in every. single. Friday.

And then he walks past them, and has been walking past them for almost a year now. I asked him if saying “no” to those donuts got easier as the weeks have stretched into months, and he said it has. It’s become easier to resist them because he’s practiced resisting them every week. He’s become stronger than the donuts.

There’s a school of thought when it comes to changing the way you eat that says that you should have some of what you crave so that you don’t obsess about it until you go on a mad binge. Advice to Bill would be to allot the calories so that he could have a donut on Friday.

Only here’s what Bill knows, and what I know. Friday Donut Day will become a weekly occurrence. That weekly donut is no longer a treat. It’s a habit. And a bad one. You know what donuts are? Fat and sugar. That’s it. They’re fucking delicious, but they’re useless for anything but building fat. And when what you’re trying to do is get rid of that last little bit of fat and build lean muscle, donuts are only counter-productive. They are a step backwards in every sense of the word.

I also think it’s horseshit that cravings don’t go away if you fail to indulge them. They most certainly do go away. Granted I’m still not in the habit of saying that I can never have chocolate chip cookies again, but I know for sure that I don’t need them. I can’t honestly say I’ll never have another donut in my life, but I can say with every ounce of certainty that I’ll never eat four of them for breakfast again and think nothing of it.

First of all, I’d puke. I can’t imagine what they’d do to my system now and how dreadful I’d feel.

But that aside, in the past, I’ve never been able to do that. I’ve never been able to stop mourning the loss of the foods I love that are just horrible for me. In the past, when I realized that things like cake and cookies and chips were eventually going to keep me from getting to my goal, I gave up on my goal. I chose the junk foods over my own health, over looking good, over everything, really. The idea of never again sitting in front of the TV with a bag of Cheese Doodles and eating the entire bag made me want to cry.

The morning I realized that I’ll never again eat four donuts for breakfast again and felt really good about it, that’s when I knew things had changed for me. I have changed my way of thinking. Practicing those new thought patterns has made them stronger, and they’ve replaced the old ones. I don’t know for sure if they’re gone entirely, but it’s been awhile since I’ve turned down something shitty-but-delicious and felt sad or angry about it.

That kind of denial hasn’t killed me. Putting crap food aside for later has been a good practice for me. It has made me stronger. Walking past those donuts every Friday has made Bill stronger. There comes a time when you just can’t avoid the things that tempt you the most. You have to say no. Or you say “later”. Or you just give twelve boxes of hot pizza the finger, grab your keys, and flee before you change your mind.

Seriously, Planet Fitness? What the fuck is up with Pizza Monday? You're a gorram GYM. Working out with the scent of Papa Gino's wafting through the air...NOT HELPFUL AT ALL. Assholes.

Seriously, Planet Fitness? What the fuck is up with Pizza Monday? You’re a gorram GYM. Working out with the scent of Papa Gino’s wafting through the air…NOT HELPFUL AT ALL. Assholes.

My point, and I do have one, is that turning down unhealthy food in favor of good, healthy, mindful choices has gotten easier because I’ve practiced it. I say no in a way I have to to make it right in my own mind; it won’t kill me, and it will make me stronger.

And that’s important. Turning down things like weekly donuts and pizza or even an ever present bag of potato chips in the cupboard or fresh cookies in the jar is a regular workout, only it’s not for my body, but for my mind. I am getting in the habit of turning down food that’s counter-productive to my goals. Those regular workouts are important for the times when Bad Food comes at me out of nowhere. Like going out to dinner and not knowing what’s going to be on the menu. Or going to a friend’s house for a party and there’s not a vegetable in sight, but there’s a fuckton of beer and chips. I don’t leave the restaurant. I don’t walk out of the party. It’s when all that practice of turning down crap food comes into play. It becomes easier to make a healthy choice because I’ve practiced doing it.

But being mindful also means knowing when food is part of a celebration and being able to control what you allow yourself to have, and how much of it. I’m not facing down a lifetime of never having a slice of my own birthday cake. But the days of bringing the leftover cake home and eating a quarter of a sheet cake for breakfast (no exaggeration) are over. My sobriety means staying in control of my choices and eating mindfully. If I eat something that has more calories in it than I can afford to spend, I make it my choice to do so. And sometimes I do make that choice. I had a cupcake at my cousin’s third birthday party because it was a celebration–a once in awhile thing. I stayed in control, and that, for me, is my sobriety.

And again, Captain America thong aside, this isn’t some mutant ability to resist food. It’s certainly not like those fuck it moments haven’t happened along the way. Did I tell you about the time I needed something sweet to eat so badly that I binged on pretzel rods dipped in an expired can of sugar free frosting? I’m not sure why that didn’t kill me, actually. Sometimes, when it comes to food, I take it on the chin. But getting back up and dusting myself off after a binge, writing down what I’ve eaten even when it looks like hell to see in print, owning up to my failures as well as rejoicing in my successes, that’s all part of getting healthier. Because in the end, long-term weight loss success starts from the neck up.

So…no. Just no. Maybe later, if I still want one.

You will not beat me. You will not win.

You will not beat me. You will not win.

 

Fat City–You Won’t Find It on Google Maps May 31, 2013

Posted by J. in Genius.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

This article by Karen Hitchcock called “Fat City” is currently making the rounds of my Facebook and is causing a huge uproar. I read it prepared to be outraged, but I am surprised to find that I’m not. Go on and give it a read if you haven’t already. I’ll wait.

As a fat person, I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be angry about it. I am, but not for the reasons and rebuttals I see posted. I think I read it differently because I have 66 pounds of weight loss under my shrinking belt. But first off, here’s the truth: I’m still morbidly obese. I’m not Rubenesque. I’m not plump, or chubby. I’m fat. Fucking fat. Not just obese, MORBIDLY obese. As in “so fat you could die from that shit.”

I believe that fat acceptance has kept me obese for most of my adult life. I’m not saying that if you’re fat you shouldn’t love yourself. I’m not saying that if you’re fat, you have no self-worth. You deserve to be accepted because you are awesome. You should love yourself because you are fearfully and wonderfully made. But you are not your fat, and I am not my fat. But I didn’t always feel that way.

And I don’t write this to take on the Fat Acceptance movement. I know there will be angry responses to this post, and I don’t even know if I’m ready to see them. I’m not an activist. I’m a fat woman trying to gain some sanity, to come to grips with why I’m fat, not to condemn anyone else for the way they look or what their own beliefs on the topic are. I can only write what I know, and I have to say, as much as it hurt to read it, I think Dr. Hitchcock was spot on in her article.

You see, one day in the not-so-distant past, it dawned on me that my fat was not an asset, but the byproduct of some very fundamentally flawed thinking on my own part. And if I continued to accept and love my flaws, what impetus would there be for change? I speak for myself, but when it comes to fat, I believe in a nation where obesity has become the norm, we’ve taken to using excuses to blur the line between what we cannot do and what we choose not to do. And therein lies the problem. Or at least, it’s my problem. Or was.

serenity (1)

I’m ready for change, and I’ve had to tear down every single thought process about my size, my appearance, my weight, and my health and rebuild from scratch, because when you strip away the excuses and the complacency, there’s not much left to work with. Learning the difference between that which I can change and that I can’t is really the hardest part, because sorting out the excuses from the obstacles and figuring out just how high the walls I have to scale are is the biggest challenge of all of it.

I make no excuses for my weight anymore. Hear me now: I’m fat, and what’s more, I’m fat by choice.

Let that sink in for a minute. I am fat by choice, because I am an intelligent woman and there are things about the human body that I know. These aren’t myths or lies. This is science, pure and simple. And some math, because behind every unpleasantness, there’s math waiting for me like a big old spidah.

First, I had to accept the simple truth that there is a limit to the amount of food any human’s body needs every day. Period. Every human. If you eat over that limit often enough, the extra fuel will turn to fat. It’s basic biology. It’s math. You can’t fucking argue with math, man. Believe me, I’ve tried. Math’s a right bitch, but it doesn’t lie.

The second simple truth that goes hand in hand with the first is that there are foods that are good for you and foods that aren’t, and like knowing the difference between the changeable and the immutable, knowing what every food does and measuring its benefit can be tricky. “But these are diet chips! And diet soda! I should be skinny as a rail!” They’re still CRAP, Poops! For Christ’s sake, just accept the fact that they are crap. Embrace the idea that they are crap, and that you’re feeding your body crap. It might be low-calorie, low-fat crap, but it’s still CRAP.

The third simple fact is that like a car, your body needs to be driven around. It’s full of moving, working parts that get no benefit from sitting in the garage. Muscles need to be worked to be healthy. Your heart needs to get revved up every single day to be strong and keep you circulating. You need to sweat. You need to breathe hard. You need to keep your joints oiled and your connective tissues flexible. Because if you don’t, well, it’s simple mechanics here. You’ll rust out and seize up. Oh, maybe not when you’re 20. Or 30. But 40? 50? Do you see many 300 pound women in their 80’s in anything other than wheelchairs or motorized scooters? I don’t. Not many, that’s for sure.

Can you be fat and healthy? Of course you can! Fat people exercise. I know because I do. I’m 292.4 pounds this morning and I workout like a bastard. I sweat like a whore in church. I do cardio and weight training at least 6 days a week. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in years. But as long as I’m lugging around the extra weight, I’m not truly healthy. It’s not like the fat is there for any healthy purpose.

Do all fat people eat nothing but candy and cake and pies and chips, bingeing and gorging themselves into oblivion with giant greasy pizzas constantly? Of course not. Not every fat person who is eating a salad is on a diet. Sometimes you just want a big bowl of something green and leafy. But you can eat too much good food just like you can eat too much crap. And you can eat bad food thinking it’s good.

The body is such a wickedly complex thing. Different people have different metabolic rates, and you can adjust your metabolism. No really, it’s science again. You can! You can eat foods that rev it up, and you can do things that slow it down. Fad diets and crash diets, if you do them often enough will screw you up. The type and duration of exercise you do vs the fuel you take in can affect it. Sleep patterns can affect it. Medications affect it. Age affects it. Allow me to reiterate that these aren’t myths. This isn’t stuff your doctor made up off the cuff. It’s science, and it’s really complicated. I do a lot of homework these days in an effort to figure my body out.

And man, that’s just the actual physical side of things. Knowing about food and how it works, learning all that…it’s a full-time job these days! What to eat, what not to eat, when to eat it–it’s like a master class in nutrition for me every single day. There’s homework, and a ton of it. Knowing how to work out–what exercises do what and how it affects all the parts of this very complicated machine that is my body is a full-time job. Again, more homework.

What’s been hardest for me is changing my feelings about it. It’s easy to be hopeless. “I can’t lose weight because I’m over 40 and menopausal and have PCOS and my medications and crash dieting in the past have screwed up my metabolism.” That’s a lot of hurdles to get over right there. And letting them be insurmountable challenges is not much of a stretch. It’s not much of a change to say, “My metabolism is fucked because I’m over 40 and menopausal and I have PCOS and have screwed the pooch by chugging Slim-Fast in my 20’s and injecting pregnant rat urine three times a week, but I can fix that” but it’s a damn sight harder, because that right there is where the change occurs.

And it’s when you realize, or at least I did, that I was using excuses to cover the fact that losing weight is hard, and it was not serving any good purpose in my life.

I can fix that. 

It’s 90% mental, and since it’s the hardest part, you can bet your ass it’s a lot of work. WORK. And the moment I heard myself admit out loud that the reason I really haven’t managed to ever get my ass into shape and maintain that health is that I just didn’t want to work that hard…I didn’t feel so good about myself. I made excuses because they hurt a lot less than admitting that I didn’t want to work out because I’m basically lazy and hate to exercise. It’s so much kinder to blame my weight on genetics or illness than it is to fight against those things. It’s easier to accept that this is the way I’m made. I’m a flawed person, and I love myself anyway. It’s harder to admit that I’m a flawed person, and be mindful of my flaws and work on fixing those flaws. Being aware of my own shortcomings as a person makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. But the feeling that comes when I fight against my own instincts–whether inbred or conditioned–is beyond description. That feeling of being better than I was. Stronger. More confident in my own abilities. Feeling freer, like the fears that kept me tied down are gone and where I can go…I don’t know. I feel like I have no limits anymore.

I can fix that!

But back to the article. The author is a bit of a cunt, if you want to know how I feel about it. Her tone can be snotty and condescending, and it rubs me the wrong way when someone who’s never walked a mile in my plus-sized pants tells me what’s wrong with me. Maybe she’s right, but she lacks empathy because she simply cannot know what it feels like to live with fat. But I’ll tell you this: I’ve now read every word of it three times and it’s absofuckinglutely true.

Last June, I’d have RAGED against this. How fucking DARE SHE? You don’t know my struggles!

But she does. It’s about how we accept fat, and in doing so, give approval to the things that make us fat, because we don’t want to address the mental and social issues that stand in the way of being not-fat. I won’t say “thin” because not all thin people are healthy and not all fat people are sick. But I don’t know a better word to use to describe the body at its optimal weight.

I know why I accepted my fat as a given. I know what was behind my own thinking. I can’t speak for every fat person in the world. I know I didn’t want to “diet” because I couldn’t stand the idea of a life without all the yummy things in it. I wanted the pleasure of eating, of laying about, and accepted fat as the consequence. I chose it, because wanting the food was a bigger priority than wanting to be not-fat.

Nothing tastes as good as thin feels. I wouldn’t fucking know, man. And this big ass slice of cake feels pretty damn good.

I guess what I’m getting at is that there was a time I’d have fought everything she said simply because of how she said it, but more deeply because she makes me see as a person how I’ve failed myself. She knows it’s hard and writes from the perspective of someone who wants to help, but is limited to what she can do. She has her own frustrations. I write from someone inside a fat suit I built myself, so my perspective is different than hers, but I’m seeing the same thing, just from another angle is all. I agree with her: this shit I’m doing is HARD. And anyone who says doing it is easy should be kicked in the crotch. If it was easy, there would be no obesity epidemic. No one would be reaping untold fortunes from diet pills and supplements, and eating plans that cut out whole food groups or make you inject weird shit into your body. No one would undergo surgery to alter their body just to gain that bit of control.

I say I’m fat by choice, but I also believe that today I’m less fat by choice, and will some day be at a healthy weight by choice as well. The notion that it’s all out of my hands for any reason is part of the excuses that kept me at 360 pounds. I reject all excuses I’ve ever made and have reworked them so that they are nothing more than challenges to be overcome. Period. And I will overcome them. There will be a day when I am not a fat person. It’s not today. But it’s coming, because I reject the idea that my fat is normal, healthy, or good in any way. The only thing about my own fat that I accept today is that it is temporary, and for my own well-being it has to go, because it serves no positive purpose in my life.

I can fix this.

Please Pass the Kale April 3, 2013

Posted by J. in Domesticity, FYI.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

I turn 44 in a week and I have finally realized that fruits and vegetables are good for me and I need to eat them to feel good.

I can’t believe I just admitted that in public.

Back in November, I offered some weight-loss advice to a friend. I felt qualified, because even though I’m fat as fuck, I’ve lost (without exaggeration) hundreds of pounds in my adult lifetime. Talking the talk is no problem for me. I know everything to do to get pounds off, I just chose not to do them.

But doling out the advice, hearing myself say “You need to…” and not doing it myself seemed hypocritical. I knew I was at the heaviest I’d ever been. The biggest clothes you could buy in any Fat Person Store were too snug. I ached all over. I was tired all the time. I knew I didn’t feel well, but such are the wages of sin. You want to top off half a pizza with three pieces of cake, it’s going to cost you.

“You need to…” rang in my ears every time I said it, though. Little things, mostly. You need to eat more produce. You need to drink more water. Stuff like that. I could eat more produce if I put a mind to it. I could drink more water if I put a mind to it. And so I put my mind to it. Maybe it was seeing someone else make that commitment and feeling like I couldn’t be very good support or guidance, or even a sympathetic ear when things got dicey, if I couldn’t even bring myself to walk the walk that got me started again.

dinner 030I dusted off my Weight Watchers materials, turned to a fresh page in my food journal, and started in. I guessed on my weight, having thrown out yet another bathroom scale after my last dieting attempt succeeded for awhile before being abandoned. It came back to me pretty easily, all things considered. And because I wasn’t really doing it on my own this time, there was a certain accountability to backing up my own advice with actions of my own.

It helps that I have a lot of support at home. All I have to say is “I’m trying to eat better” and Larry picks up healthier foods for me. He doesn’t bring crap into the house, and if he does, he chooses crap that’s not my favorite crap in the whole world. Some crap I can take or leave, but some crap…oh, it lies in wait, calling my name. Fucking Girl Scouts and their fucking cookies, man. Yeah, I’m looking at you bitches. But Larry doesn’t judge what I eat. He knows if I bite it, I write it. I account for it, and I know what I’m doing.

It’s more support than a lot of people get, I’ll tell you what.

About four weeks into my renewed efforts at losing some weight, I had no idea what I weighed. I was eating better, following my own “you need to” advice, and keeping careful track of how much I eat, and what kinds of foods I eat. And I happened to stop into the drugstore after a dentist appointment, and saw a scale way down on the bottom shelf for sale. I don’t even know how I noticed it. It’s selling point was that it weighed up to 450 pounds, and those tend to be a lot more pricey. I bought it.

I got home and found out that after four weeks of dieting, I weighed 358.7 pounds. The scale wasn’t wrong. I was THAT FAT.

And I had likely taken at least 8 or 10 pounds off already.

Jesus weight-watching Christ. That certainly got out of control, didn’t it?

I don’t know if you know what it’s like to step on a scale and realize you have to lose the weight equivalent of a whole, grown man. It’s…daunting. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to say “Oh, God. Why bother? It can’t be done. I’ll lose the weight, put it all back on again, plus 20 to 40 extra pounds just for good measure because that’s what I do. I suck, I’m a loser, and I’m going to always be fat. Oh, and it’s all about being healthy and fit at any size? FUCK YOU. I’m not healthy, I’m not fit. I weigh almost 360 pounds. NO ONE is healthy and fit at that size except Shaq and maybe some pro wrestlers. And power lifters. Not my fat ass, that’s for sure.”

That was a sobering, and then utterly depressing moment. I mean, the urge to say fuckitall and just fill my face was strong.

Name "Sisyphus" mean anything to you?

Name “Sisyphus” mean anything to you?

After I wrapped my head around the whole thing and decided to keep going the way I was, I came to grips with a few things. The first was knowing that setting my usual goal weight of 140 pounds was stupid. Yes, it’s what’s considered a healthy weight for someone my height. And it’s attainable…by someone, I’m sure. But in the past, I’ve made it down to around 200 and stalled. Plateaued. And I look good at that weight. I’m still fat, but I’m curvy, and I feel pretty good about myself and how I look and feel. But the mental issue of being stuck there, of not losing past that point no matter how hard I work and finally giving up because it’s too much effort to not be able to get where I want to go is where I lose it every single time. I let things slide until I give up entirely. I “take a little break” and the weight creeps back on, and I’m back into my fat clothes again.

This time I’ve set my goal weight at 200 pounds. It’s a soft target. I know I can do that. Mentally, I can cope with idea of losing 160 pounds better than I can losing 200 pounds. I don’t know why that 40 pounds matters, but it does. I figure, if I get to 200 and stall again, I will call it maintaining and focus on that. If, at that point, I can continue to lose weight and the numbers keep going down, I’ll let them. I won’t live or die by that magic number this time. At least I hope I won’t. There’s a lot goes on in my head when it comes to losing weight.

I have an eating disorder. I’ve known about it for awhile. For years I joked that I was half-bulimic. I binge like a motherfucker. I mean, true bingeing, but unlike a bulimic, I can’t purge. I have a lot of the same thought patterns as a bulimic, except where that disorder is marked by a psychological need for control, binge-eating is the opposite: it’s losing control. It’s more like an alcoholic on a bender. It’s not eating for fun or enjoyment, just as an alcoholic isn’t drinking herself to oblivion because it’s a party of one. “I started and I couldn’t stop” is the feeling.

In May, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is going to be added to the new DSM V as an “official” eating disorder along with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. I first read about it more than 20 years ago. Even back then, there was an understanding that binge-eating was more than just eating too much. And that when someone with BED is dieting, there are mental obstacles to succeeding long-term that need to be addressed. For someone like me, the advice “Just put the fork down and step away from the table” is not only useless advice, it’s hurtful. Being told “you just need a little willpower!” is like slapping me in the face.

I got a lot more insight into it when I joined Overeaters Anonymous. I don’t believe I’m a food addict. And I stood up at meetings and labeled myself as a “compulsive overeater” when that’s not entirely true, either. I have an eating disorder, and the way I think about food, the way I relate to it, and my power over it is not the same as either of those things. I can control over-eating by just paying attention to what I’m eating. That’s not the issue. That’s not even hard for me. I have that control when I choose to exercise it. Bingeing is another whole story.

I don’t think I ever got anything practical out of the 12 Steps as they relate to food. But it did make me take another look at why and how I over-eat. I did realize that I use food the way an alcoholic uses booze, just not all the time. And unlike alcohol, you can’t just not eat. I mean, I can take the crap food out of my house and I’ll still binge on good food. The actions are the same, even if the damage is minimized.

I’m not even remotely cured of my binge-eating, and I still binge. Again, it’s about minimizing impact and doing damage control after the fact, but it’s still there, though it’s a lot less frequent now, and the duration and intensity have decreased. I’ve rid myself of triggers that I know about, and as such, I spend a lot more of my time in control. But sometimes there’s a “just barely” tacked on, and that feeling of being on the edge of a binge, of hanging on by your fingertips is a dreadful feeling. It almost feels better after the binge when you can sweep up, write down what you ate, assess the damage and take steps to neutralize things. It’s about control, and that’s when the bulimic impulses take over.

I fight the scale. See, there are things that logically I know to be true. But there are things my head tells me that I don’t believe, but hearing them still affects my impulses and my actions. I know that if I’ve had a good week, worked out, stayed within my points range, drank all my water, made good food choices, and that scale doesn’t move, or goes up, that it’s probably water. Logically I know my body didn’t gain fat by doing everything right, but oh…those numbers. I NEED TO SEE THEM GO DOWN. When you’re staring down a 160 pound total, every little bit counts.

So I start thinking of how to trick the scale. I start doing things to make sure that every ounce is squeezed out. I play games with my points, sometimes under-eating in an attempt to jog the scale into moving, or taking water pills before my weigh-in to make sure I’m rid of as much water as I can. Logically, I know it’s stupid. You can’t fool the scale. It’s all going to come out in the wash. But it’s about control. Losing it, regaining it, trying to get a firm grip again when so often I feel like I’m flailing.

I know my body is getting smaller. My measurements have gone down. But that scale is what MATTERS in my head. I can’t seem to let that go. I advise others to, but I can’t do it myself. In that aspect, I’m a hypocrite. But I try. I keep talking the talk in hopes that like so many other things, it will fall into place eventually.

I’ve come to realize that just telling myself that it’s about being healthy, not losing weight, is a lie too. Not a complete one, but if there was no payoff to this–if I wasn’t going to look better as a result–I’d have a lot less reason to keep going.

Unfortunately, realizing I didn’t like the way I looked has brought up a whole new crop of issues for me.

When you are a Person of Great Size, if you want to be able to love yourself, you have to look in the mirror and accept what you see. You have to love the fat as part of who you are. I’ve been a big girl my entire sexual life, and have never let my weight get in the way of feeling sexy and beautiful. I have had a lot of practice in becoming confident, and confidence is sexy. It’s never been a problem.

I’ve come to realize that my own self-acceptance is what has kept me from keeping my weight off. I’ve become complacent in my acceptance, and have told myself for so long that “I look good” that I have believed it. When the truth is, my fat is not attractive to me. My confidence has made me appear more attractive than I am, but my body, objectively speaking, is a hot, blubbery mess.

And not long ago, I realized that, and I looked in the mirror for the first time in years and I felt disgusted. I looked hideous. And it was doing a number on me. I’d put on my shoes, happy to get out to the gym to work out. I’d trot across the parking lot feeling good about myself and then I’d catch a glimpse of myself reflected in the glass doors of the gym, and I wanted to die.

Fat. Fat fat fatty fat fat. Fat.

I had to make myself go in. I fought tears the whole time I was on the treadmill. I’d look around and see that I was the fattest person in the room. “You’re the only one thinking that.” Yes, but I’m the one that counts. I know what I know to be true. I am often the fattest person in the room in a country where morbid obesity is an epidemic. That does NOT make a girl feel good about herself.

My instinct? Skip the gym. Pop into Shaw’s and hit the baked good section hard. Sit in my car, eat until I literally can’t get another bite down, hide the evidence, and then go home and lie about how hard I worked out. If I came close to quitting, it was then. And it wasn’t once. It was every day. I’d get dressed and realize I’m nowhere near ready to abandon most of my fat clothes. Sure, a few shirts are fitting more loosely, but I’m a long way from needing new pants. And that sucks. What do I need? Bras. My tits are shrinking. How’s that for a cosmic kick in the crotch? The only good thing about being fat is having big boobs, for God’s sake!

I told myself that what was important was not that I was the fattest person in the room, but that I was in the room in the first place. I was in the gym, not in my car with a dozen Boston creme donuts and an iced coffee. God, that was hard to do, though. That little voice that was fighting back was so much quieter than the one yelling “FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT FATTY MC FATTERTON FAT FAT FATTY FAT FATASS FAT!!!” in my ear.

I had a really hard stretch there of feeling just wretched about myself because of it. Reject the fat, reject what I see every time I look at myself. I realized that I don’t want to be a fat person anymore. I don’t love the fat. I want it gone. And the fact that it’s still there bothers me. It’s hard enough to love yourself when you accept what you see. I have no clue how to do it when you actively reject it. I don’t know how I’ll feel when I’ve lost the weight. Will I still feel fat? I don’t reckon this journey is over by a long shot.

Just call me "Bubbles."

Just call me “Bubbles.”

I’ve come to peace with it for the moment through a bit of mental gymnastics. I told you so much of this is head games for me, and I’m not joking. I was looking in the mirror naked one morning, absolutely loathing what I saw. Pinching and pulling at big, nasty rolls of flesh, watching it do all the gross things fat does. Then later, quite out of nowhere I found myself thinking about it, and somehow in my mind, I pictured it as a fat suit. All of a sudden. It occurred to me that the real me is in there, and while she might not be skinny, she’s fit and healthy. She’s just wearing a fat suit!

I can’t go into wardrobe and take it all off at once, just one pound at a time. And when I went back and looked in the mirror again, I pictured a fat suit. I am a healthy, fit person wearing a fat suit. I just need to get it off to see the real me. I can stand to see my reflection again.

Now, I know what I’m supposed to be concentrating on is my health. I’m supposed to be doing this for health reasons. I’m supposed to be focused on making healthy changes so that my body will be greatly improved, and the weight loss and improved appearance will be a wonderful side effect.

Whatever, man. I want to buy clothes in human sizes. Vanity, thy name is Poops.

In my case, it’s more accurate to say that my health has been a wonderful side effect. I hate to even admit it out loud because honestly, I’ve always been pretty proud of the fact that my body runs as well as it does with the crap food I’ve put into it. The fact that I can move at all is damned amazing when you consider the junk with which I fueled it.

Vegetables are my Achilles heel. I loathe the fucking things. And it’s another thing to wrap my head around. My new mantra is “food is fuel.” At first, I’d tell myself that when I was eating produce and I’d rather have had pizza. Or when I was having salad because green leafies are absolutely wonderful for me, but the McDonald’s french fries smelled soooooo good. Food is fuel. At first, it was a way to dismiss the idea of food as a celebration, or an event, or merely as something designed to give me pleasure. Unfortunately, food is kind of like sex in that respect, really. You can do it to make a baby and get the job done, or you can do it RIGHT, and when you do…hnnnggghhhhh….

Which is how it is with food. You can make eating a drudgery, something you have to do, or you can eat all the things that make drool run right down your face. You can eat just to keep your body going, or you can do it RIGHT. And like sex, I’m starting to understand that crap food isn’t better than no food at all. I figured out the last time I embarked on this weight loss journey that I lose more weight per week if I don’t eat crap food. Now, the beauty of WW to me is that it’s flexible. You don’t have to cut anything out. You can eat anything you want as long as you have Points enough for it. If you need to have a Dairy Queen or a cocktail or a Cadbury egg because it’s not just Easter without it, then you can. And I always made sure I wasn’t “deprived.” I kept all kinds of low-Point snacks on hand and had some every day because it gave me a sense of normalcy, a “See, I can eat like regular not-fat people, too!” kind of feeling.

And on weeks where I did everything right, stayed in my points and exercised faithfully, I’d gain, or stay the same. For no reason. It should have worked, but it didn’t. Then I noticed on weeks where I pulled way back on the snacks, limiting myself to a treat after supper, I lost more. But I hated it. I hated that I had to deprive myself after all! NOT FAIR.

Well, life isn’t fair, and that’s a fact. If life was fair, vegetables would cause unsightly face boils and chocolate would cure cancer. I wish to God there was an easier way. I wish fad diets worked. I wish cutting out one food or one food group or one thing was the key, but it’s just not. There’s no magic pill. Just “eat less, move more.” Anyone trying to sell you something else is…well, selling something.

This time out, it’s been the same thing, only more so because now I’m older. I’m 44, almost, and menopausal. I’ve had three babies. I’m fatter. And did I mention I’m older? My poor metabolism is lying there, gasping, and giving me the finger. This time, right from the outset, I had to adopt the “food is fuel” way of thinking. I know crap slows me down, so I got rid of it. And the weight loss was STILL slow. So I looked for what I’ve come to think of as “hidden crap” and started weeding it out. High-fructose corn syrup–out. Artificial sweeteners–out. Packaged snacks–out. Potato chips–out. Fast food–out.

Bit by bit, week by week, I’ve been replacing shitty food with good food, and telling myself that food is fuel, lamenting with rent garments and a wailing and gnashing of teeth that I am doomed to a lifetime of eating like a monk. *dramatic sigh* Only as the weeks have stretched into months, I swear by all I hold holy, I feel better.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I. FEEL. BETTER.

I have been openly disdainful of anyone who extols the virtues of kale or adds flax seed to anything. Fucking hippies, man. GET OFF MY LAWN. The notion of “eating mindfully” was just a lot of dirty hippie lingo to me. Until I found myself actually doing it. When you eat, and then write what you eat in a food journal, you become mindful of your food choices. When you look at your patterns of eating in order to see how and where to make changes, you’re being mindful. When you sit down with a meal and find yourself saying “food is fuel” and you feel really good about that because the food you’ve prepared is not only good for your body and is going to give you energy through the day, but it’s also pretty damned delicious as well…holy shit, you have become a hippie! You’ve gone over to the dark side!

The day I said “food is fuel” not by way of encouraging myself to choke down something I didn’t want, but instead as an affirmation that my body was in for a treat, I stopped shaving my armpits and rubbed on some patchouli. In for a penny, in for a pound, baby!

dinner 029

It’s like apple crisp in a bowl. With bananas, because YUM.

I don’t think I’m ever going to truly love vegetables. But I have hope. I just ate my breakfast and it was amazing.

Oatmeal sweetened with brown sugar, seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla, and with an apple and a banana cooked in. It’s sweet, filling, full of fiber, hot, and so good. I have almond milk in my coffee–it has 50% more calcium than milk, and is full of fiber, too. I will eat that at 9 in the morning and not be hungry again until 1. The fact that I love this makes the person I was back in November want to punch me in the face. 

But back then I wouldn’t have believed that eating cleaner would make me feel so much better. I’m not hungry all the time. I don’t crave crap like I used to. I still have the urge to binge, and I still have the days where the control is so tentative that it makes me want to cry, but they’re fewer and farther between. I can sit in my kitchen all day and not have to get up all the time to see what else I can eat. I just don’t have the urge to.

I always hated the expression “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels” because I can’t relate. I’ve never been thin in my entire adult life. I have amended that to my own use and I’m pretty sure that nothing tastes as good as healthy feels. I like how I feel. There was a box of Cap’n Crunch on the stove this morning, and while the thought crossed my mind that a couple of bowls of that would be tasty, I knew I’d have a headache by noon and feel like shit. It just wasn’t worth it. 

Fueled by fresh fruit and Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey.

Fueled by fresh fruit and Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey.

My body is responding to being crap-free. The better I eat, the better I feel, and that’s the truth. I find out new things all the time. I’ve discovered that artificial sweeteners make me crave sugar, but pure cane sugar doesn’t. I might have either an allergy or a sensitivity to MSG. Processed foods make working out harder, where whole foods improve my performance.

And yes, I’m working out again. Right now I stick to the treadmill. I can control the calories I burn and my heart rate very easily and I feel I get maximum results from it. I didn’t like the 30-minute circuit thing at all–too much up and down, on and off the equipment. It felt jerky and disjointed and like I wasn’t getting a really good workout. My trainer is back at the gym after being away, and I’m going to start adding weights back to my cardio routine again. I always loved weight training and I’m looking forward to it. But to be honest, I hadn’t done it because I didn’t want that lean muscle to show up on the scale. How stupid is that? It’s that head game with the numbers again. I have to let it go, and cling to the reality that building lean muscle will help me burn fat more effectively, and faster, no matter what the stupid scale says.

And for now, the scale says the weight is coming off. I’m officially down 36 pounds, though there was a good month at the beginning where I didn’t weigh myself, and if history is any indication, I lost a fair deal of water weight in those first few weeks. Even if I averaged a modest 2 pounds a week at the beginning, I’m probably down another 8 or 10 on top of that, but it’s hard to say. I try to tell myself that the number doesn’t matter, but the eating disorder won’t really let me do that. It is important to me. It’s something measurable that I can hang onto when the non-scale victories are scarce.

I have a long way to go before I shed my fat suit, but I feel like this time it will come off for good. I’ve never done this much work on the mental aspect of losing weight. I could always say the words, “I’m making healthy lifestyle changes” but without really changing a damn thing. The thoughts have to change first. When you change your mind, changing the way you live becomes easier, and after that, changing your body practically just happens.

For the first time in my life, I don’t accept any excuses from myself. I know my limitations, and I work on pushing past them in whatever way I can. No, I can’t run, but I can walk. I can build the muscles that will eventually protect my knees so that I can run. I’m working towards it. No, I don’t like vegetables, but I can figure out what ones I tolerate and find better ways of preparing them, trying new ones, adding them bit by bit until I grow accustomed to them. I can learn to like them. I don’t let my eating disorder act as a license to lose control. I don’t win every binge-battle, but I don’t have to accept defeat, either.

Will this work in the long run? I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve been gung-ho before, and determined, only to get to that stupid plateau and let my mind decide for me that I was done. I’m hoping my advancing age and multiple experiences will help me put the pieces together. I feel like my thoughts have changed in a way they never have before, so we’ll see where this takes me, I guess.

"The journey of a million miles begins with a single step...and a new pair of running shoes."

“The journey of a million miles begins with a single step…and a new pair of running shoes.”