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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.

 

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Naptui, and Me February 5, 2014

Posted by J. in Domesticity, FYI, Genius.
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Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve no doubt heard that a few days ago, another celebrity lost his battle with addiction. Philip Seymour Hoffman was only 46 years old. A year older than me. He was found with a heroin needle still in his arm.

Today, I read a blog post in response to his death written by a recovering addict. By the end of it, I was in tears. Not just because of how beautifully written it is, but how big the problem is. It’s a very frank, very simply put view of what addiction really is. How it works. And why people like Hoffman, who had the world by the balls, succumb to it.

I urge you to read it now, especially if you don’t deal with the demons of addiction. It gives a new, painful perspective on things from someone who lives daily with those demons. If you are an addict, I urge you to read it now, too. As the friend of mine who posted it said, “It reminds me not to be complacent in my choice of sobriety.”

Addiction, Mental Health, and a Society That Fails to Understand Either by Debie Hive

The part that struck me is where she says this:

The only way to really deal with addiction is one that is multi-faceted, one that makes us uncomfortable. It is messy and complicated and takes a lifetime of effort. It involves relapses and second chances and third chances. It involves support, sometimes sponsors. It involves therapy and counseling until whatever the root cause is has been revealed and addressed. It involves consideration of not just the physical withdrawal, but the emotional withdrawal, the social withdrawal, the psychological withdrawal. It involves a mental health system with adequate resources. It requires support instead of judgement.

And sometimes, even when all those things exist, it fails. It fails because addiction can take people and swallow them whole. It can rob them of everything they value, everyone they love. It can strip them of everything they care about, rob them of reason and logic. It can convince them that they aren’t worthy, that they have failed not just themselves, but everyone else. It tells them that they are broken and irreparable. Then it shoves them back down and does it again.

As I read that post, and found myself tearing up at her words, I realized I wasn’t thinking about Hoffman, or drugs at all. But I understood completely what the demons are that she talks about. About having forces and compulsions inside you that rob you of reason and logic, that shove you down and swallow you whole.

I get that. I live with that, too. I would not DREAM of putting a needle in my arm because drugs aren’t my bag.

Food is. And it’s a long, painful, goddamn slow way of killing yourself.

Like addicts, fat people get looked at with pity. Scorn. Anger. Frustration. We are called weak. Losers. A waste.

We are fat for the same reasons addicts are high and alcoholics are drunk. We use food the same way they use drugs and booze. We eat instead of shooting up. We binge on donuts, not booze.

And I wonder if any other people like me who have had a lifelong battle with weight see the same parallels.

I think the reason this blog post resonated so loudly with me, even though I don’t deal with a drug or alcohol addiction is that a month or so ago, I saw part of a show on TLC called “My 600-Pound Life.” And the episode I saw followed a man on Guam named Ricky Naptui, who at his heaviest topped out at nearly 900 pounds.

900-Pound Man: The Race Against Time

Maybe it’s because I’ve been wrestling my own demons so hard over the past year that I was able to watch this show and see it from the point of view that I did. I didn’t look at Ricky with disgust. Or even pity, really. I did get mad at his doctors. What Ricky thought he wanted and needed was weight loss surgery that would make him lose weight. The problem with that is that in order to do the surgery, he had to lose hundreds of pounds, first.

If you eat yourself up to 900 pounds, it’s not like dropping a couple hundred is going to be a walk in the park. The doctors were approaching it from a purely physical and surgical standpoint. If you eat less, you will lose weight. If you lose weight, we will do a life-threatening procedure that has more complications than benefits to help you lose weight. Convoluted thinking at best.

NOT ONE PERSON ASKED RICKY WHY HE EATS.

Maybe they just assumed it was because he was a pig.

I’m sure it’s what they assume about me.

Doctor speak for "Bitch, you fat."

Doctor speak for “Bitch, you fat.”

I use the present tense because I’m fully aware that at 226 pounds, I’m still obese. People who don’t know how far I’ve come see a fat woman, and that’s not an unkind assessment or self-deprecation. I still have at least 80 pounds to lose. That’s pretty fat, any way you slice it. I am fully aware that people look at me and have the thought cross through their mind that I should put my fork down and step away from the table once in awhile. Jesus, have some self-control.

They’re the same people, no doubt, who look at Philip Seymour Hoffman and say, “Jesus. Just don’t use drugs. How fucking hard is that?”

Fuck Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

So I watched as Ricky’s doctors expressed concern with what he eats, and how much. He needs to eat good food. He needs to eat less food. He needs to get him to the point where he can at least stand up unaided, which he could not do. They couldn’t get an accurate weight because he could not stand unsupported.

And the whole time they were telling him that he needs to lose at least 150 pounds on his own before they can consider surgery, I could see the frustration and desperation building in Ricky. He kept trying to find the words to tell them, “If I could lose that weight on my own, I wouldn’t need you. I wouldn’t be stuck in this bed. I can’t stop eating, and I don’t know why.”

But they talked over him. They cut him off. They were so concerned with pointing out the path he was going to have to follow that not one person took the time to listen to why that path seemed utterly impossible for him to even attempt.

And I wanted to reach into that TV and hold his hand and ask him why he eats. And listen to him. Because I know that helpless feeling. I know feeling scared.  I know all about not understanding why you can’t seem to eat like normal people. And I know the pain of knowing how people look at you. The pity, the scorn, the disgust, the sadness. It’s demoralizing. And I know he just wanted someone to help, and the best way anyone could do that was by listening.

Only no one did.

Ricky died at the age of 36, and the cause of death listed was “morbid obesity.”

I didn’t immediately look at Philip Seymour Hoffman and think “There but by the grace of God go I.” But I looked at Ricky and I did. Ricky needed an angel. Someone to listen to him, to help him sort out his feelings. He needed someone to talk about food with him, and help him figure out what part it plays in his life and how he could work to change that.

But all they wanted to do was push him into a diet. They wanted to cut him up and hope for the best.

What Ricky needed was help with his addiction. He needed help with his demons. But as Ms. Hive pointed out in her blog post, our mental help resources are lacking. We want to be able to cure addiction with rehab or prison, and when those things don’t work, we are left with waiting for death to take them. In the same way, obesity isn’t solved with dieting or gym memberships or obsessively counting calories. It’s certainly not solved with surgery.

It’s solved with change, and that change happens inside your mind as much as inside your body. And it’s hard, and not everyone can do it alone. Hell, maybe no one can do it alone. I’m not doing it alone. I have an amazing support system who should get gold medals for getting me through this.

I have a best friend who listens to me without judging and only reminds me of the things I already know to be true. He offers me the reason and logic that my demons try to take away, putting back the bits that break apart from time to time when the battle leaves me damaged.

I have a husband who knows that he is the one person who can make me feel beautiful in this world at a time where my self-esteem is at an all-time low. He supports my efforts and puts up with me when the battle gets to be too much. He is my safe, soft place to fall.

I have a sister who knows what it feels like to have never been an athlete in her whole life, but has done the work to become one. She tells me that I am an athlete, too, reminds me that my daily workouts are training, and keeps me reined in when I get too far ahead of myself, and holds me up when I fear I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

My support system grounds me and keeps me tethered to sanity. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that my sanity, my own sobriety, is tenuous at best. I have people to talk to. I have people who support me.

Ricky didn’t have that. His wife didn’t know what to do to help him. Hive says in her post, “Until you’ve had to tease out where the line between believing in someone and enabling them is, you can’t know what it is like.” She wanted him to be happy, but the only thing that made him happy was the thing that was killing him.

People who turn to food for comfort, for happiness, for friendship–we have a lot in common with addicts. We want to feel better, if only for a little while. Food helps us cope. And sometimes, the food just calls to us and we can’t stop eating, even when we want to. We hate ourselves for bingeing for no reason at all. We hate that we just can’t stop.

We hate ourselves for it.

We hate ourselves.

Much like drug and alcohol addiction, people with food issues habitually need more help than what we get. We don’t really need another diet plan. We don’t need another 7-minute workout. We don’t need another app for our phone. We certainly don’t need surgery, and we don’t need a magic pill that makes the fat go away.

We need someone to listen. We need someone to talk to us. To talk with us, not to us. We need professionals, from doctors, psychologists, therapists, and nutritionists who understand that the problem with our fat is not in our bodies, but in our heads, and if we work on sorting through our issues and get guidance with battling our demons, we can and will find a way to lose our weight.

And even if we get that help, there are no guarantees. Addicts relapse. Hoffman had been clean for 23 years before he relapsed. He was considered a sort of guru in AA because he helped so many other people. You can’t cure addiction. The fight never ends.

I know as well that this battle of mine will never be over. I fear relapse. I know people are watching me and seeing my progress and many don’t know what it takes for me to do this. If I fail, if I put weight back on, they won’t understand why. Some will. Or maybe some will just shrug and say “What a waste.”

There is hope. There are addicts who make it. There are people like me, and even heavier, who make it. I don’t believe I’m doomed to failure, but I know the odds are not in my favor.

It’s my hope that this fight gets easier at some point, but I kind of doubt it ever will. I’m not expecting it, or counting on it. I suspect it’s more likely that it will be as it has been for the past year: some hard stretches, and some easy stretches. Sometimes the demons will beat the shit out of me, but I’ll get back up, bruised, but stronger for the fight.

That thought is exhausting, to be honest, and after 23 years of it, I can see why a talented actor who had everything to live for put a needle in his arm.

He was tired. He was bruised. He was battered. He just wanted the demons to leave him alone, just for a little while.

Ricky never had a chance against his demons, because “the system”–whatever that is–failed him. Food was all he had, and in the end, it killed him.

There, but by the grace of God, go I.

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.

Eat Right, Exercise, Get Hit by a Bus April 19, 2013

Posted by J. in Domesticity.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
7 comments

I’ve lost 45 pounds. I’ve taken most processed foods out of my diet and I’m continuing to weed them out every day. I eschew chemicals in my food. I eat vegetables and fruits at every meal. I drink lots of water. I exercise at least 6 days out of every seven. I feel better than I have in years. I have a spring in my step. I don’t gird my loins when faced with a staircase, nor do I seek out the closest parking spot to the door (unless it’s raining or snowing or some shit.) I don’t dread a “long walk” into a store, or get frustrated when I get to the dairy section of the grocery store and realize I forgot something in produce and have to walk allllll the way back over there.

Last week, when I had a touch of a particularly painful stomach bug, I called the doctor. And when I got to the clinic, I sat right down in a chair with arms on it. I fit. No moment of panic wondering if I’d fit. No seeking out the armless chairs. No standing rather than squeeze into a too-small seat and leaving bruises on my thighs.

That’s something those of us on the far side of morbidly obese have to think about. I don’t know if thinner people understand that–what it’s like to be scared of a chair. To wonder if you’ll fit, or be humiliated in some way by it. Chairs with arms have been the enemy for so long that it’s hard to get my head around the fact that I don’t have to fear them anymore. Granted, the way some are made is still not comfy. I’m not tiny. But I can stand up without holding the arms so that it doesn’t come off the floor with me.

Trust me--this is way funnier on TV than it is in real life.

Trust me–this is way funnier on TV than it is in real life.

But when I got in there and the nurse took my blood pressure….well now, there’s some cause for concern.

Not at first. A reading that high couldn’t be right. I don’t remember what it was exactly. I can only remember the systolic reading, ever. The bottom number always eludes me. Always. Even when I was in nursing. Couldn’t remember it from the reading to writing it down. Weird, huh?) But the top number was over 160. I’ve never had even elevated BP in my entire life. Even 9 months pregnant after walking up the stairs, it was only “slightly elevated.” 

So I was all, “This ain’t right.” But the nurse took it three damned times using a variety of cuffs. The doc, after telling me he thinks I had a stomach bug and not something more serious like diverticulitis, told me to keep an eye on that BP reading. Take it at home once a week and come back if it stays high. Technically, I wasn’t his patient. I haven’t selected a new PCP yet since my old one left, and I only see the doc when something is wrong.

For a few days I thought about it. About the high reading. About having a dad who is a heart patient. About how I have a strict policy of What I Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Me when it comes to doctor appointments. About not caring about having a PCP because I only need one when I’m sick and all they do is fling pills at me anyway.

But then, I really don’t want to be known as “the chick that had a stroke on the treadmill” either.

I really REALLY don’t want the words “my first heart attack” to be part of my vocabulary.

So I made an appointment and went back and set myself up formally as his patient. And told him I was concerned. He took my BP again and yep, it was still high. Lower than it was the week before, but still hypertensive.

Fuuuuuck.

So yesterday, this is the bus I was hit by:

I'm not happy about this, but it beats the hell out of having a heart attack on the elliptical.

I’m not happy about this, but it beats the hell out of having a heart attack on the elliptical.

I confess to taking the morning to mope about it. Really and truly. I’ve worked hard to treat my body well and get healthier. I confess to feeling a bit betrayed. I confess that my first impulse was to get in the car and treat myself to lunch at McDonald’s because FUCK YOU, BODY. I treat you well and this is the thanks I get. Bitch, PLEASE.

I mean, when the doctor told me to watch my sodium intake, I was all, “FUCK YOU. I count calories and fat grams and dietary fiber as it is. I read every cocksucking label on every product I even contemplate buying. I put stuff back for being not organic, over-processed, or just plain not good fuel for me. SALT IS THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES EATING LIKE A FUCKING MONK BEARABLE.” Well, not out loud. I’m not rude. But I was thinking it.

But instead of hitting the drive-thru hard, I came home with a fresh bottle of pills in hand and got out my food journal and started calculating my sodium intake over a random smattering of days. And since I’ve cut out so much processed food, my sodium levels hover right around the recommended levels anyway. Which is all he was asking. No dramatic cut-off of sodium, just keep it to “normal” levels. Holy shit. I’m doing something “normal” and not “extraordinary.” How weird is that?

I always tend to feel envious of people who don’t have to diet, whether they’ve accepted their fat and eat what they like, or because their bodies are super-human and aren’t affected by crap food. I still feel somewhat abnormal in my picking-and-choosing-carefully eating habits. I always bemoan the fact that I’ll never be able to eat “normally” ever again. I see someone diving into a greasy burger and fries or a big old meat-covered pizza and I miss it. It’s like mourning the loss of a loved one. Sitting in the pharmacy eyeing the Snickers bars and saying to myself, “You’re dead to me now,” I may have shed a tear. It’s hard to lose something that means so much to you. I don’t suppose normal people feel that way.

But now I see that I’m the one that eats “normally.” My sodium intake is for the most part quite normal. Most Americans eat two to three times the recommended amount and don’t even know it. I’m not doing anything freakish. Most people don’t actually eat half a dozen donuts at a sitting. Or sit down with a can of frosting and a spoon. Most people don’t drive through McDonald’s and order two meals, eat them in the car and throw away the evidence before they get home because they’re ashamed. If there’s no evidence, it didn’t happen.

“I eat like a bird! I don’t know how come I can’t lose weight! My body is broken!” Yeah. Denial’s not just a river in Egypt, Poops.

The hardest part has been changing how I think about food. Always in the past, the idea of a life without a slice of birthday cake was a dim one. Or knowing that my summer will go by without a clam roll or a dish of ice cream from Jordan’s. But it goes back to my perception of “normal” eating habits. Ice cream every night in the summer is not normal. That’s a lot of sugar and saturated fat for anyone. God on a wheel, when I think back to the amount of iced coffee I consumed with real cream in it last summer, I want to cry. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that there are things I can have once in awhile, I just don’t need them every day. Even yesterday, I found myself looking at a bag of pretzels and the amount of sodium in a serving and saying “I won’t be eating these anymore.” I’m not sure why I’m hard-wired to see things as all or nothing when it comes to food. I don’t do it in other areas of my life. I’m so much of a gray-area kind of thinker I’m practically a waffler. I’m as middle of the road as they come–except with food, it seems. It’s crazy.

I’m crazy.

So anyway, to make myself feel better, and because it’s the time of year to weed out winter clothes and rotate in the warm-weather stuff anyway, I threw out a bag of clothes.

I can't bring myself to call them "fat clothes". These are my "fattest" clothes, and they don't fit me anymore. Buh-bye!

I can’t bring myself to call them “fat clothes”. These are my “fattest” clothes, and they don’t fit me anymore. Buh-bye!

I realized awhile back that because I yo-yo diet, I always have an assortment of clothes that don’t fit. And I’m bad about getting rid of my fat clothes. I’m more likely to get rid of “thin” clothes because they make me feel bad about myself when I start packing the weight back on, but I keep the fat clothes because it’s good to have them around for when the weight inevitably comes back. It’s hard to trust myself after trying and failing as often as I have.

Back in November, I was wearing the biggest clothes I owned. Buying new clothes was nearly impossible because the biggest sizes they carry in plus-size stores were too tight. I bought three t-shirts at Lane Bryant a few years ago in the biggest size, got them home, and realized they were just too small. I was too humiliated to return them for being too small, so I tossed them aside. Well, they fit now. It’s still a bittersweet victory. Fitting into the largest size LB carries isn’t exactly a thrill. It’s not like having to cancel your credit card there because you no longer fit into their smallest size. That day is coming, but it’s still a long way off. I try not to dwell on it, but unless you’ve ever had to lose more than a hundred pounds, you can’t really know what staring down that long road feels like. Focusing on the path right in front of you is the only thing you can do, but sometimes you put your head up, and feel kind of tired. So it’s good to turn around and see how far you’ve come.

I kept one fat shirt. It’s staying in my wardrobe so that on days when I put my head up and see how far I have to go, I can put that on and remember to turn around and look at how far I’ve come.

As for ignoring how far I have to go...that's still very much a work in progress.

As for ignoring how far I have to go…that’s still very much a work in progress.

So, that’s enough navel-gazing for one morning, I think. I have to go make my oatmeal. I’m adding ground flax seed to it now, because my body deserves the best fuel I can give it. I took the supplements that keep my depression at bay and my lady bits working as well as possible considering my advancing age, and yes, I took my blood pressure medication. And unlike yesterday, today I feel really good about it. I feel like I’m in control of my own health. I think I won this round.