Monday, August 31, 2009

The Belly Apron

One day my husband and I were lying on the sofa together watching T.V. My husband's was in front of me and leaning back against me. He kept shifting around. I asked him what the problem was. He said that he was having trouble getting comfortable, but thought it would help if I moved the pillow that was behind him. That "pillow" was my belly fat.

If you're obese, you know about the "belly apron". This is the blob of flesh that hangs down in front of your genitals. When Roseanne (the comedienne from the television show) was still fairly fat, she was criticized for having plastic surgery on her stomach and breasts. She said that the reason she did it was that she'd lost about 75 lbs. and her stomach still hung down over her genitals and her then-husband Tom Arnold mocked and derided her for it. She had the surgery to get rid of the dreaded belly apron.

Since I've been very fat most of my life, my belly apron has been with me since junior high school. One of the crueler kids once asked me in the locker room after gym class if I had pubic hair because I was so fat that she couldn't see if I had any or not. If I hadn't been so humiliated, I might have asked her why such a thing was of interest to her, but I just wanted to run and hide.

One thing I can certainly attest to is the endurance of a belly apron even after one has shed considerable weight. Mine endured during my previous weight huge weight loss, and is currently the last thing to shrink during my current weight loss. I can lose inches on my chest, waist, legs, and arms, but that apron has always just hung there making me hate my body and making certain aspects of hygiene more cumbersome. It also, frankly, is a serious problem when having sex.

I have reconciled myself to the fact that, even if I lose all the weight I want, that skin is still going to be with me. When I lost weight before, the fact, that it was still there never allowed me to feel good about my body. It completely distorted my impressions of how I looked, even though it had gotten a lot smaller and less unattractive. I think the only way I'm ever going to escape it is with surgery, and I can't afford that. It's disheartening to know that, no matter how hard I try, that disgusting belly apron is going to be there one way or another.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


As I have mentioned previously, there was a time when I lost a tremendous amount of weight and kept it off for awhile only to gain it all and more back through time. The experiences that I had during that time taught me quite a few things about the way people think. One thing I learned is that people say they want you to lose weight, but become strangely unhelpful when you actually do.

During my most successful weight management period, I exercised regularly 5 days a week. I varied the types of exercise I did and often included some weightlifting with relatively lightweight (about 10-15 lbs.) dumbbells. My mother gave me a beautiful set of adjustable chrome-plated dumbbells that came in a nice carrying case so that I could take them when I traveled.

One day when I was sitting in the living room watching television, I was also doing reps with the bells. If you've ever lifted weights, you know that your muscles fatigue and it gets harder to do subsequent repetitions. As I was heading toward about 25 reps, my lifting would slow down. As I was taking advantage of the idle T.V.-watching time to get in some exercise, my father started remarking that I shouldn't be lifting weights because I was actually getting weaker (as evidenced by my slowing down). He also mocked the fact that I wasn't eating enough of the types of foods that would make me strong, particularly because I wasn't eating red meat (in favor of consuming only leaner meats like turkey and chicken). In essence, he was trying to dissuade me from continuing with the habits which had helped me lose weight. He also told me that, since losing weight, my nose looked a lot bigger.

I guess I could chalk his attitude up to not wanting me to become more sexually appealing as I naturally would as I lost weight. Fathers probably have a lot of ambivalence about their daughters' appearance because the idea that they're going to be with men is probably disturbing. However, he wasn't the only one who tried to sabotage my weight loss. My mother also made things harder for me by not preparing food in a manner which made it edible under my self-imposed restrictions. If I asked her not to put huge amounts of butter while preparing something like potatoes, noodles, etc. because then I couldn't eat it, she'd put the butter in anyway. I never asked her to change anything just for me or cook for me (I did much of my own food preparation). I only ever asked her to alter dishes which wouldn't suffer because of a requested change. All of the foods she heaped butter into could have had butter added by the individual after serving so no one's eating experience had to be diminished by my request, but she didn't do as I asked anyway.

My friends also exhibited curious behavior when dealing with me. I must state emphatically that I never was and never will be one of those dieting types who inflicts her opinions about calories, food, and nutrition on others. I know that there are a lot of obnoxious people who in the process of convincing themselves to avoid "bad" food can't help but try and spoil the party for everyone else. I was never like that. I kept my thoughts to myself unless asked.

Despite my limits, I still liked to socialize with friends in the types of places they liked to eat at. As I have previously mentioned, if I can't resist temptation when faced with food that is fattening, then I'm not ready to successfully deal with my problem. So, for example, if everyone wanted to go to a pizza place, I would go along and stick to the salad bar only. On more than one occasion, if I was denying myself the gooey pizza, someone would try to tell me I should have "just one piece".

One friend in particular tried to convince me to "live a little" and "just one piece won't hurt." To any friend of a person who is trying to lose weight, I would like to tell you that this is like insisting that one drink isn't going to hurt an alcoholic. Part of what makes resisting temptation easier through time is that you forget how appealing certain types of food are as the memory of their tastiness fades and is replaced by the memory of types of new, more nutritious foods that you frequently experience and enjoy. Reintroducing those foods back into your memory is just going to make it all the harder to avoid such things in the future.

I can't say why people tried to sabotage me with any certainty. I can speculate that they felt threatened in some fashion by my success or my exhibition of self-control. People are pretty narcissistic by nature and seeing someone lose weight or control their eating makes them reflect on their own perceived shortcomings in that regard. I also have wondered on occasion if a lot of people like having the "fat friend" who they can always feel superior to in terms of attractiveness. I can't tell you how many times I've read about the topic of weight and someone has said, "I'm fat, but nothing compared to how fat she is!" People like someone who is "worse" than themselves so they can feel better, and they're obviously willing to put their need to feel superior ahead of the health and well being of the people they (supposedly) care for.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bring on the "Fat Tax"

There's been a lot of talk as of late of taxing junk food as a form of "fat tax". The basic notion is that making empty calories more expensive will reduce the economic capacity for people to consume them. In particular, it is meant to discourage the overweight from consuming them with such frequency and in high volume.

There are a lot of good reasons to oppose such a move. One is that it is essentially a way of having the government manage lifestyle, but the truth is that we already do that by taxing cigarettes. It's not like there isn't precedent for the government making lifestyle choices that are tantamount to vice more expensive than those which are considered a virtue.

Another good reason to oppose such a tax is that it will have a negative impact on the sales of the companies which purvey such snacks. They will lose money and people will lose jobs in turn. Since many food products are produced domestically (unlike durable goods), this would essentially be taxes used to undermine American jobs and profits.

Personally, I don't think people are fat because of the presence of junk food. I do believe that people who are fat almost certainly eat too many things which are not good for them, but I don't believe that the core problem is related to the presence or absence of tasty, cheap empty calories. As I have said before, I believe the problem is a mixing of biological and psychological issues which are tied up in genetics, maternal eating habits during pregnancy, endocrinology, neurological chemistry, and issues related to comforting oneself with food. If you take away the capacity to eat garbage, people who have the inclination to be fat will simply "find a new drug". That is, they'll overeat in some other fashion.

That being said, since I don't believe junk food is the main cause of obesity, I say, "bring it on." While I don't believe the tax will solve the problem in any way, I think that there may be value in implementing such a tax so that it can be seen to fail to have results. At the very least, if revenue from such a tax were used to help get at the core issues which affect overweight people, it may have some benefit. With any luck though, a failure of such an initiative might spur further research into the deeper and less shallow roots of the problem.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Life As a Teen Movie Joke

If you've ever watching a juvenile comedy, especially some of the older ones, you often see kids pulling stupid pranks to embarrass each other. Most of the time, these jokes are physical in nature and not too personalized. As the fat kid in my class, the jokes on me were always personal, and directed at my weight.

One effort at humiliation in particular came when I was in ninth grade (freshman year of high school). I was sitting in math class not doing anything or bothering anyone. For some reason, the teacher was out of the room. I heard a scuffle behind me and some whispering. Being attuned to attempts on the parts of my classmates to treat me like crap, I whipped my head around to see one of the boys with a ruler attempting to measure the width of my ass.

I know a lot of people think "boys will be boys" and that young males are especially insensitive, but the truth is that this particular boy was acting at the behest of one of the girls in the class. This particular girl, whose name was Sheila, was one of the chief instigators of torment for me. She often egged others on to tease or humiliate me. The strange thing was that she wasn't some sort of alpha dog in the class. She was part of second tier popularity because she wasn't very attractive, but she did have her little group of people who she hung out with and they were mean to people as a means of amusing themselves. I wasn't the only target, but I was one of the favored ones.

At any rate, as an adult, I've learned that this is a common dynamic with girl bullying. Girls play power games with each other and selectively isolate and deride other girls. Even though I know that I was just collateral damage in whatever teenage esteem issues Sheila and her posse were playing through, I still hope her life is one big, unhappy failure. I know that sounds bitter and not forgiving, but the misery I was put through added to the layers of suffering in my life which in turn led me to be even fatter.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chair Fear

Being obese is fraught with fear. You're afraid that strangers and children will make fun of you. You're afraid people are silently judging you. You're afraid you're going to die earlier than everyone else. These are some of the "big fears", but there are also little ones that degrade your quality of life in small, but meaningful ways.

One of those fears is a fear of chairs with arms. That's right. If you've never been obese, it may not occur to you to even think of this, but very fat people are afraid chairs that they won't fit into are going to be the only seating option. I won't go to movie theaters, restaurants, etc. because of my chair fear. Unless I can predict that the seating will be sufficient to accommodate my expansive ass, I'm terrified of being put in an embarrassing situation. A famous opera singer who had bariatric surgery and lost a lot of weight commented that she no longer had to worry about chairs in addition to all of the other things she was no longer worried about. She was the first person to ever mention this point which has dogged me for much of my life.

Of course, the ultimate chair fear is reserved for airline seats which have now become a source of anxiety for fat people everywhere. The average width of an airline seat is 17 inches. The fact that I know that should tell you something about my fears. I've actually investigated the size. With new policies being implemented which require one to buy two seats if one is over a certain size, the stress is two-fold. You have to worry about fitting into the seat, but also about having to pay double for the same ride. In my case, the last time I was on a plane, I "shared" my husband's seat as needed so no one suffered for my increased size except him, and he was more than willing to offer up some of his arm rest space for me.

However, I've been reading more and more often that such an option ("sharing" space with my husband on a plane) will no longer be possible as many airlines are adopting strict guidelines about weight and asking people to try a test seat and forcing them to buy two seats if they need an extender or can't fit with the arm rest down. Even if I wouldn't be putting out a stranger, I'd still have to buy two seats. This is all the more motivation to succeed in my weight loss endeavors.

However, I honestly think that the airlines should adjust to the customers, particularly in America where the chances that people are going to change any time soon are so low. It's a sure sign that fat bias is fully supported by a culture when the customer can be bullied and humiliated instead of accommodated. I think that a better solution would be to create a new class of seating for 150% of the current price and to offer 150% size seating. In essence, make overweight people pay more in accord with increased need, but not double.

Thursday: August 27, 2009

I went into this Thursday expecting to have a little trouble because I planned a breakfast with 300 calories. I figured that front-loading the day would make it harder to get through the evening, but it was okay thanks to a well-timed snack of squash and having eggs for lunch. The eggs were more filling because of the protein and fat and the squash was just filling. The bottom line is that I just couldn't face yogurt again this Thursday morning (which keeps the total down to 200 or less).

Everything went okay though. My final tally for the day was 1232, and I'm pretty sure I overestimated a few things because of the inexactness of my kitchen scale.

One thing I realized while I was packing and prepping some food for lunch was how easy it is to just "sample" while you cook or prepare meals. That is, if you're slicing some cheese for a sandwich or laying on some ham, it's easy to just idly put some of that tasty food in your mouth for a taste. This is something which doesn't seem like such a big deal when you're not counting calories, but just a couple of bites and you could be in for an extra hundred calories (or more).

I've read that people often don't realize how many calories they are eating and that's one of the reasons they overeat. People who don't have weight problems almost certainly never think about it, but they don't need to. The truth is that most food, even fairly innocuous and unassuming food, has more calories than you might imagine. When you start researching the caloric values of things like meat, cheese, bread, and pasta, you can be in for a shock. If you're not eating what appear to be child-size portions, you're certainly not eating little enough to lose weight. It just goes to show how out of touch we are with how much we need to eat. Even when we avoid the "bad" foods, it's really easy to overdo it on the not so bad ones, but I think that my Thursday counting is helping me figure these things out bit by bit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Exercise, Good or Bad

Lately, there has been a lot of conflicting information about exercise and weight loss and control. For a few years, word was that walking for a half hour a day was good enough for you. Now, we're reading that it's not enough to actually lose weight, but it is good for your heart. Additionally, I've been reading lately that exercise simply is not useful at all when you want to lose weight because people who exercise just end up eating more.

The results of these studies are not only disheartening, but misleading. One of the problems with all surveys, studies, and tests is that they take a complex problem and oversimplify it so that they can get scientifically valid results. That is, they look at a limited number of factors and tend to watch behavior only over the short term (less than 2 years, in many cases). What is more, most researchers have a hypothesis before constructing their study and either consciously or unconsciously create conditions that will validate their theories.

If you scrutinize the information that is coming out carefully, you'll see that the interpretation is always spelled out in a particular way. One of the studies noted that certain types of exercise increased muscle mass and muscle burned about 40 more calories per day than fat and all it would take to mitigate any of the gains from having more muscle would be to eat one pat of butter more per day. While this is certainly so, the interpretation completely ignores the fact that you are burning more calories for the duration of the exercise (often around 100 calories or more) and that you are almost certainly suppressing your appetite for the time after exercising and possibly boosting your overall metabolism. In other words, exercising daily, even modestly, has the potential to burn around 150 calories a day or more from combined effects of aerobic activity and increased muscle mass. Even if you eat at a maintenance level (around 2000 calories for an average person), daily exercise should help you lose around a pound a month (possibly more).

Why do the study results focus only on increased muscle mass and calories burned at rest? Why do they assume that anyone who is trying to lose weight would simply decide to eat more just because their exercising happened to work up an appetite? My personal exercise habit is to get the exercise in a few hours after a meal and then rest and pretty much recover from the appetite suppression effects in about the right time for lunch or a planned snack. I don't eat more because I exercise even if I want to, and honestly, I don't find myself being greatly hungrier than usual because I exercise. I'm hungry and fighting it all of the time anyway so there's really not much of a difference.

I have to wonder what motivates this sort of reporting. Is it simply that the winds of information have been blowing one way for awhile so there's nothing new to say and they figure they might as well have them blow another way for a bit? Is it that they see the obesity problem getting worse so they assume they must create a reason?

I don't know why such discouraging news is being reported, and I do know that weight loss is actually more complex than "eat less, exercise more", but I do know that eating less and exercising more will eventually work for most people if they can hold the line against their biological and psychological impulses (which is no small task). My guess is that these studies are likely pointing to the fact that it is much harder to do these things than expected and that people who try to exercise to lose weight end up eating more without realizing it or believe their exercise is burning more calories so they can justify a little indulgence.

The answer would seem to be not to say that exercise doesn't help people lose weight, but rather to educate people about the effects such that they are more cautious about how much they are eating. Essentially, people need to know that exercise when you want to reduce your weight doesn't buy you much of anything in terms of being able to eat more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bariatric Surgery

For a lot of people with serious weight problems, bariatric surgery, that is, surgery where their digestive system is altered in some way to stop them from eating too much, is an answer. On a personal level, the idea of such surgery scares me greatly. I realize that for desperate people, it is almost certainly a good solution, particularly if they're at a do or die (literally) point. Perhaps I actually should be desperate, but I'm not, at least not yet.

The surgery scares me on multiple levels. I've had relatively minor surgery twice in my life, once in childhood and once as a young adult, and it's very painful and traumatic. What is more, I think that our bodies have a balance which we have to try to maintain and damaging myself intentionally to stop myself from overeating doesn't feel right for me. Please don't mistake my saying that as a criticism of people who have weight loss surgery. I have nothing but compassion for their situation (as it is pretty much where I am now) and absolutely do not have any issues with their having made such a choice. If anything, they are much braver than me and are reaping the benefits far more rapidly than my approach.

This may be some sort of complex I have, or part of a broader notion of the meaning of existence, but I think I'm fat for a reason. I think that there is a battle I'm meant to fight as a means of spiritual growth and having surgery would be doing an end-run around the way in which I'm supposed to develop control over my emphasis on a particular sensory pleasure. I'm not a religious person, but I do have a sense that we're all here to learn something and our bodies have been designed to provide opportunities to learn. I have a sense that if I take a "short cut" around the psychological adjustments, then I'm going to find myself back here in the next life (yes, I believe in reincarnation) having to start all over again.

I once had a conversation with my husband about weight loss surgery, and told him that, even if I decided to take that path, I was worried about the long term health effects. He said that, though he could understand that thinking, he felt that the effects of being greatly overweight would probably be worse. Of course, he was right, but it never really felt like the right option for me. I don't doubt at all that it is the right option for some people, and more power to them.

Monday, August 24, 2009


A lot of overweight people do not like the use of the word "fat" because it has become so pejorative. Many people have had it used against them as an insult throughout their lives and it is often part of name-calling ("fatty", "fatso", etc.). Of course, I also have had this reluctance throughout my life to use this word.

A while ago, however, I realized that "fat" is not a dirty word. If your intent is not to insult, it's just descriptive or a noun which is used to describe nutrition or the composition of something. Fat consumption is actually an essential part of people's diets and it is important for good health. It's also a generic word for things like olive oil, butter, etc. It's also a way of describing a body, but that doesn't make it a taboo word. Unlike "ugly", "fat" is not a subjective adjective. "Fat" is a word akin to "asymmetrical" in discussing appearance. Asymmetrical features are seen as unattractive, but that doesn't mean that saying someone's face is asymmetrical is the same as saying they are ugly. Saying you are "fat" does not mean you are ugly, though some people may subjectively reach such a conclusion.

I'm not looking to "take back" the word "fat" and turn it around or anything. I'm only trying to overcome the sting that the word has acquired due to its use as a weapon against people who are overweight. I'm not afraid to say I'm fat nor am I afraid to use the word when I talk. Yes, I'm fat. This is an objective reality, not a subjective observation. If people use this word to hurt me, it is quite another thing from the way in which I use it, and that is to be factual and direct rather than resort to comfortable euphemisms.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I may be conveying the notion that I've turned into some sort of food saint. If that is so, I've been misinforming you. While I'm not scarfing down fries, inhaling pies, or downing milkshakes, I do indulge. In fact, relatively speaking, I indulge regularly. This is part of my intended pattern for ultimate success.

The first few weeks that I decided to start working on my problem, I didn't touch anything bad so that I could break the blood-sugar-induced cravings. Once that was broken, I was able to add back in some little indulgences when I wanted them. I'll admit right now that I want them more days than not. One of the things I do to stop any sense of deprivation is to allow small portions of food that are purely for the sensory enjoyment. I realize that, for many people, such indulgence may represent a slippery slope. I'm not suggesting at all that other people should do what I do.

In the previous post, I talked about being psychologically "ready" to enter this state of change. The only reason I think I can manage to indulge a little is that I'm in this state of readiness. It's a little difficult to explain because its a personal mental process, but it relates to being in a head space where your motivation to lose weight is greater than your motivation to extract comfort and pleasure from eating. If you're like me, you get a lot of both of those things from food, whether you like it or not.

In this state, I find that I feel very satisfied with small, controlled portions of things like 100-calorie packs of sweets. One of my favorites is the York peppermint wafer bars. I am utterly in love with wafers because of the texture and these bring good texture, sweetness, chocolate, and mint (which actually helps curb appetite) to the mix. I have one of these when I want something sweet and feel that I've been careful enough to allow that extra 100 calories into the day's menu. I also drink sugar-free hot cocoa from a mix. That tends to be my fall-back at times when I know I shouldn't have something, but really want it. It's only 50 calories and it is more filling because it is a warm liquid. And frankly, I do indulge in other types of treats, but only in very small portions. Generally speaking, I check the calories and don't allow myself more than 100 calories on a given day.

A lot of people feel that the whole 100-calorie pack trend is pointless because people can't control themselves. I think this is definitely true for a lot of people and it was absolutely true for me up until 2 months ago when I made the mental change. The important thing is to know which foods are going to take away your control and avoid them. If you adore ice cream (and I do), but you know that one spoonful is likely to spur on the consumption of 20 more, you shouldn't have it in your house and you shouldn't keep it on hand as an indulgence. An indulgence should be satisfying, but not enough to wrestle control from you.

The thing is though that I don't want to live life now on some sort of highly rigid, spartan diet knowing that I will eventually reach a goal and then start to indulge again. Part of allowing some of these foods in now is training for having control over my consumption of them in the future. Part of it is also, frankly, not being driven out of my mind by what I can't have. I realize, of course, that everyone's mileage varies.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


One of the things people often talk about when they "diet" is that they have a lot of temptation and it's hard to resist eating unhealthy, sugary, or fatty food. One thing I've found is that the urge to be indulgent in the worst foods will start to pass after the first week. Your body is addicted to sugar and carbohydrates and will crave them hard at first, but the overwhelming nature of those urges will slowly erode the longer you are away from them, though they will never disappear.

The way I felt about controlling my eating the first time I lost a lot of weight and the way I still feel about it now is that, if you can't resist temptation or if you can't control yourself, you're probably not really psychologically ready to succeed. That's not to say you can't have some success and tough it out, but you're more likely to suffer setbacks and binge on things you shouldn't if you're having a lot of issues with temptation after the first few weeks. There's nothing wrong with this. It's hard to overcome the psychology and biology that drives indulgence, but it is important to recognize the patterns and try to understand them as part of the process of lifestyle change.

At the moment, there are at least 10 Reese's peanut butter cups in my refrigerator. The peanut butter cups are in the refrigerator for my husband's slow consumption. When I first told him that I was going to finally do something about my problem, he felt as if he shouldn't indulge or have anything "bad" on hand because it would seem like torture or encourage me to indulge. I told him that I wasn't going to succeed if I couldn't resist the presence of such things because it'd mean I wasn't really ready. The first time I succeeded, my family had all sorts of unhealthy junk food around, but I didn't want it.

Fortunately, I appear to be actually ready again. I've been working on improving my lifestyle in multiple ways and losing weight for about 2 months now and am not the least bit tempted by the candy in the house I pretty much forget they are there. The bigger problem for me is just not eating too many less "threatening" things like too much fruit, bread, potatoes, rice, or pasta. Keeping the portion sizes and the frequency of consumption of such things down to a level where I'm under the 2000 calorie mark really requires vigilance and restraint.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fat Myth #3 - fat people have (or will have) diabetes

These days, you hear a lot about diabetes, particularly type 2 which some people develop as they get older and their bodies change. This topic has been at the root of tasteless jokes about people having hands and feet chopped off due to continued sugar consumption in the face of diabetic problems. The Simpsons, for instance, created a character called "Diabetty".

Because weight does affect one's chances of developing type 2 diabetes, there's an assumption that any obese or overweight person is at serious risk of developing it. While it is certainly true that being overweight increases your risks of contracting a variety of diseases, it isn't a lock that you're going to be a diabetic if you are fat.

Every time I discuss health with a doctor or a thin person, they're absolutely shocked that I don't have diabetes because they believe fat = diabetic. If I've been fat most of my life, then of course I must have developed this problem. The truth is that there are a lot of people who are thin who develop it, too. In fact, I've known more moderately overweight to thin people with diabetes than very fat people.

My entire family is overweight and not one of them has diabetes. I'm not trying to undermine the seriousness of weight and type 2 diabetes, but it's wrong to think that every fat person will ultimately suffer from it. It's a myth that is perpetuated in large part to frighten fat people into losing weight. Trust me when I say if the daily humiliation, disgust and anger you experience as a fat person can't push you to lose weight, fear of developing diabetes isn't going to do the trick.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday: August 20, 2009

One of the problems with not counting calories everyday is that you can easily lose sight of how much you're eating. This past week, I've felt like I've been eating too much every day, though I honestly have not been indulging or eating a lot. I've just simply felt an acute lack of a feeling of taxing deprivation. Maybe I have adjusted, or maybe I've had a few too many experiences where I went for a (healthy) snack when I should have avoided having one. At any rate, I felt like Thursday would be a welcome "reset" point where I'd try to steer myself back to a point of a better sense of control.

One of the reasons I've felt a little more "indulgent" (for lack of a better word) this week is that I've been sick with a cold. In the past, I've often taken the misery I've felt while sick as an excuse to indulge, particularly with ice cream. I'd feel that feeling bad meant I had earned the right to dive in and enjoy things that made me feel much better. More often than not, eating too much of things like ice cream and chips tended to just make me feel worse. That wasn't so much because of guilt, but because too much junk food will have that effect on a person.

Since I have a history of surrendering all control when I'm sick because I really don't have the energy to resist, I think I've probably been less involved in consciously stopping myself from eating. Rather than ask "why am I going to eat this?", I ask, "why not?" In the end, I would tell myself that I could "afford" that extra snack as it wasn't too bad for me and I'd been pretty well-behaved on the food front all day. I'm guessing that, while this hasn't set me back any, it has retarded my progress.

Since I entered this Thursday with a strong motivation to get back on track, I planned it pretty carefully and forced myself to ride out some pretty intense hunger pangs. The good start to the day began with putting 5 hours between breakfast and lunch, and breakfast was yogurt and fruit again so this was a struggle. The 200 calories from breakfast were certainly not enough to satisfy my body for that many hours, but I soldiered through by distracting myself with work. I wanted to add in a bit of exercise, but still didn't feel very well and couldn't manage the energy to get to it.

From a resisting the urge to eat viewpoint, this was one mighty tough day. By dinner time, my mind and stomach were screaming in my ear and I was overwhelmed with hunger pangs, but I kept beating them back mentally. It was really rough, but today's total came in at 1192, so I can say that it was a complete success.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


When you can't control your eating and you're desperate to lose weight, there are a lot of imprudent things that you can do to try and deal with your situation. One is starting to smoke. Smoking increases metabolism and suppresses appetite. A lot of the ever so slightly voluptuous women in Hollywood who become thinner after they become more famous are helped along by picking up this nasty habit. They trade in one problem for another.

It's also possible to start throwing up after you eat (bulimia nervosa). I will admit that there have been times when the thought that the answer to my problems could be as simple as putting my finger down my throat or taking some ipecac after binging or eating too much. This "solution" is very dangerous, of course. It carries a lot of health issues, one of which is heart problems.

In the end, I just couldn't manage to do it, appealing as it was to have my cake and not get fat from it, too. The bottom line is that I'm just not the type of person who can force myself to vomit up the food I've just ingested. Perhaps it has to do with growing up poor and not feeling that it's okay to spend money on food then flush it down the toilet. I could also simply have been frightened of the consequences, but I don't recall that being a part of my thinking process at the time that I rolled the idea around in my head.

Just today, I had a revelation. I was watching an old re-run of the medical drama "House" and he was sitting in the clinic with a patient and said that her bad breath and gnarly-looking fingers indicated she's been regurgitating her food. I had known for quite some time that both of these were signs of bulimic behavior, but hearing it said aloud made something click in my mind about a client of mine.

I sometimes meet with a client in a small space and she often has very bad breath. In fact, the breath issue is so bad at times that it lingers in the air after she has left unless I specifically air out the meeting room. I'm sure that anyone who uses the room immediately afterward can smell it as some odd funk. I didn't think much of this because she's not the only client I encounter who has halitosis. However, she is the only one with deformed fingernails and chewed up fingertips.

I had noticed both the breath and fingers for quite some time, but I never put two and two together. This particular client is quite slender, though certainly not emaciated. I'm pretty sure that she is selectively purging her meals. I mainly think this because she is not engaged in any work or hobby that would explain the condition of her nails and fingers. The worst finger of all is the index finger on her right hand, a prime candidate for sticking down her throat.

I like this client and now I feel sorry for her as well. She's always been friendly to me and we've gotten along well. She doesn't appear to judge me by my weight despite being thin herself. I now wonder if she might have some hidden understanding and compassion for what I face.

Not About Excuses

Reading the article that I linked to in the previous post, one might conclude that researchers are trying to help people absolve themselves of responsibility for their weight problems by explaining that their problems are genetic, chemical, and neurological. Though certainly it would be heartening if the world at large could develop some compassion for the fat people who they currently despise, the point is not to provide excuses. The point is to provide answers.

If you're fighting a war and you keep losing, you don't simply keep charging into battle using exactly the same tactics which lead to failure. You reevaluate the situation and try another plan of attack. In the battle to solve the problems more and more people are having with their weight, it's important to understand why all of the "common sense" answers aren't helping. It's all well and good to say, "it's simple, eat less, exercise more," but clearly the problem is more complex than that. For some reason, people cannot do these thing or they are not sufficiently effective.

The point of research is to find a new path of treatment which has a higher chance of effectiveness. Treating everyone who gains weight as if they were the same doesn't work, particularly when you treat the person who is 100 lbs. overweight in the same manner as someone who is 10 lbs. overweight. I've known that for a long time. One reason I despise doctors is that every time I've visiting one for a problem, they say, "you should lose weight," as if it was as simple as that. They can offer meal plans and tell you to exercise, but treating the problem so simplistically has not worked for me. It's something that has failed more than just this blog author and it's failing more and more people all of the time.

Complex problems may require complex solutions, and increased insight into those factors is going to help people find better ways of dealing with their problems. Though I still have to battle my bodies sluggish response to leptin and failure to inform me that I'm full, at least knowing that this is an issue helps me formulate the proper mindset. If I'm still hungry after having eaten "enough", I may feel enslaved to my biological needs. If I know that this is a failure of my brain to recognize that I've eaten enough, I may be able to rationalize it rather than think I simply need more food than other people.

Though the research that indicates that we were born to be fat can seem discouraging, it doesn't have to be. It can be about finding answers through understanding the problem more thoroughly.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Am I Full Yet?

A recent study that has been covered in both the New York Times and Psychology Today (among other places) has been confirming something I recognized a long time ago about overweight people. That is, our bodies don't talk to us the same way about eating as people who are thin or of average weight, and there's not much we can do about it.

The information is complicated and I'm not going to regurgitate the contents of the articles when you can find them and read them for yourself. Also, frankly, I find people who blog about the contents of articles to be pretty lame. If you don't have something to say, then you shouldn't have a blog, not choose to re-purpose content from news sources.

At any rate, one of the points discussed in those articles is the fact that people who are overweight aren't told that they are full until they have already over-eaten. There is a chemical in your brain called leptin which signals satiety and cues you to put down the fork. People who are prone to be fat (something which is decided in your mother's womb, according to the studies) appear to need far higher levels of leptin for their brains to recognize that eating should stop.

This is something which I have noticed in myself for quite some time, but have had difficulty acting on. When my husband and I have a meal, I often still feel hungry at the end of the meal for as long as an hour afterward. In the past, this has often cued me to keep on eating while he has already stopped because he's full. The method I have started to use to try and stop this is to focus on how my stomach feels rather than on what my brain is telling me. That is, I think about the fact that there is food in my stomach now and it is enough. I can't say that is 100% successful as a technique, but it works coupled with other behavioral modification practices like immediately washing the dishes, putting away leftovers, or generally engaging in some activity which prohibits me from continuing to eat.

This method works adequately when I eat at home, but the situation is quite a bit more complicated if one eats out a lot. Eating out almost certainly is going to compel one to eat too much for a variety of reasons. First of all, the food is often better or at least more interesting than what you eat at home. Second, it's usually plentiful and there is the sense that whatever you don't eat will be wasted, and third, it's expensive so you don't want to let it go to waste. Finally, if you're in a restaurant, you don't have a way to distract yourself from the food or the capacity to simply walk away the instant you have eaten "enough". You're just sitting there with tasty food in front of you and your brain is saying, "I'm not full yet."

I also wonder if part of the reason we eat more now is the loss of the sit down family meal as a part of our culture. If you sit down to eat with other people, there are a variety of factors that can influence how much you eat. You are talking more between bites so it takes longer to finish the meal (which gives even those who need more leptin a chance for their brain to reach the point where it says, "I'm full."). Also, being around other people, even your family may cause people who are inclined to overeat to be more modest. As I've mentioned in a previous post, fat people don't like to be seen as eating a lot in front of others. There's also the fact that the food is more mundane and people eat less if they don't find the food greatly appealing. Part of one of the articles I referenced says something about mice overeating on a chocolate supplement they liked, but cutting way back once their routine diet was reintroduced.

The articles I'm referencing talk about the question of whether the obesity epidemic in America is linked to unhealthy food or not because the food has never been particularly healthy. If you look at the Gallery of Regrettable Food, which shows cooking information from the 50's and other eras, you can see that food certainly was not great even when people were thin. My sense is that a lot of the obesity epidemic is linked to the great increase in eating out or frozen and prepared foods as a result of women's roles changing from homemaker to working outside the house as well as the decrease in manual labor and increase in sedentary recreational activities like television watching and computer use.

At any rate, thin people take their ability to stop eating for granted and one of the reasons they judge fat people is that they have no idea that we live a very different life than they do. They effortlessly resist whereas we have to focus very hard and trick ourselves if we don't want to overeat all of the time. The effort is not inconsiderable, though I'm guessing it is possible since I've had some success with it so far.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Lack of Diet Tips

If you're stumbled across this blog, you'll note that I don't give diet tips. There are several reasons for this. One is that I don't think there is a magic formula for losing weight which can be administered to anyone with a high chance of success. Another is that I don't need to duplicate the efforts of literally thousands of sites in this regard. And finally, I believe that losing weight is not about following tips so much as a large number of slow changes and adjustments to lifestyle which will build up your capacity to live more healthily and maintain that lifestyle.

I know that all sounds really ambiguous, but the truth is that this is my second go at losing weight. A long time ago, about a year and a half before I graduated from college, I had great success with precisely that sort of change in my habits. I stopped eating anything with fat, exercised one and a half hours a day 4-5 days a week, ate only whole grains and lean meats, and completely gave up anything with sugar. At that time, I lost almost certainly over 100 lbs. Through the years, I've gained that back and more.

That transition in lifestyle was not instant, but it was a lot faster than my current one has been. Part of the reason for that is that I'm older now and cannot do the sort of exercise I once did. Another part is that working life interferes with a lot of the freedom I once had in terms of food preparation and exercising. It was easy to exercise on my college schedule.

A former alcoholic who I worked with once told me that she felt I couldn't sustain my weight loss in the fashion that I had been because there was no way I could lose weight and eat as I did then without keeping up the exercise schedule, and that schedule would surely be broken in the future by other responsibilities. She was partially correct, though the fact of the matter was that my destruction was linked more to changing back to bad habits and integrating even worse ones when my life got stressful. The truth was that the psychological changes that needed to take place to help me maintain my good habits hadn't even started. I had the energy and drive, and that propelled me, but I had no understanding of why I ate or had a weight problem. I did not have complete control over my eating by any stretch of the imagination.

When I say "even worse ones," I mean that I started to eat the sort of things that I never ate growing up like candy, ice cream, cakes, etc. Because I grew up poor, cheap food, not sweets, got me fat for the most part. After college, I maintained and kept losing for about two years, then stress related to various changes in my circumstances (including marriage and a disastrous relationship with my new in-laws) drove me to sugar for comfort. It didn't help that my relatively thin husband ate such things with almost no negative consequences. I started to think of myself as "normal" instead of a big fat person and normal people can eat such things, right?

The longer I stayed in my bad habits, the further I got away from who I was during about 4 or so years of successful healthy living and losing weight. After awhile, I couldn't find the place in me where I was able to muster up the right place psychologically to even start such a change. I completely lost touch with the young woman who almost effortlessly made that transition. I'm guessing she had it easier than me because she hadn't been gobbling down sweets for years as a stress release valve, not to mention the fact that she had less stress.

At any rate, the road back to that place in my life where I made better choices and was better for it has only just begun, and the early journey was quite difficult. The path is getting a lot less bumpy now, but it's an incredibly long road ahead.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Weighing Myself

You'd think that the first step for someone who has decided to lose weight would be to weigh herself. The truth is that I never weigh myself when I'm making the effort to change my lifestyle. You might think this has to do with the grim facts staring me in the face. After all, there is little more disheartening than being fat and seeing an indicator on a scale showing you with perfect clarity just how fat you are.

My reluctance is rooted in a desire not to be discouraged. One of the problems with scales is that they are almost too accurate an indicator of your weight. They can encourage, certainly, but they also discourage. If you are very overweight, they can be particularly disheartening because all of your efforts may result in such a small increment lost that you decide the sacrifice seems hardly worth it. What is worse, normal weight fluctuations due to water retention, bowel movement patterns, and simply weeks when your body is being stubborn about changing your condition can show that you may have gained or made no progress at all. You can't trust the scale to give you accurate feedback.

Rather than trust my progress to the scale, I trust it to my body and my clothes. I look at my body, especially my arms, and see if they are changing shape and size. Since you lose weight in your limbs first, this is where you can see it. Also, the hang of my clothes has been changing. Pants and dresses actually get longer as well as looser. That's because the flesh that used to prop them up has shrunk.

If you know your body's weight gain and loss patterns, you can also look at the areas which gain weight last and lose first for changes. For me, that is my mid-section. When my weight is lower, I have a pretty small waist to hip ratio so my breasts will seem bigger and my hips' curvature more pronounced as my waist shrinks. For the record, this is a pretty desirable way to lose weight for women, but it's not something that I can claim any effort in accomplishing. The potential for an hourglass figure with a bigger bottom is simply part of my genetic code. At any rate, I know where to look to see where things are changing.

I don't know if my method is one I'd recommend for just anyone since it took 2 weeks to see the earliest results in my arms and two months to see it in my waist, but it is rewarding. I find it a more satisfying way than fretting daily over the scale. At my current size, it's also less disheartening because I don't know just how far I have to go until I reach my goal weight. Perhaps knowing where I have started will just make me despair at how far I have to go. When I get closer to the end (something I expect to take more than a year, possibly as long as two), I'll probably start checking my weight on a scale because progress will be harder to see through clothes or visual inspection.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gym Class

If you were a fat kid, you can relate quite well to what I'm about to talk about. I'm going to discuss the agony of gym classes in school. Even if a fat kid happens to be not so terrible at some activities or sports, there's so much indignity involved in the classes that they'll learn to hate them sooner rather than later.

Being fat in gym class means being picked last when teams are chosen (unless one of your friends gets to make the choices and chooses you out of loyalty). There's nothing like always being treated as the least desirable person to help tear down any remaining self-esteem that is left after having to wear shorts in front of everyone and show off your fat legs. What is worse, of course, is community showering where people get to see your entire wobbly body in a manner which violates your privacy and puts you on display for others to laugh at.

Of course, being fat does usually mean you're slow and probably not the greatest at sports, and that's all the more reason why gym classes shouldn't be about competition as much as health. I never understood why my gym classes were centered around things like softball, kickball, dodge ball, etc. Those sports actually ensured that we spent less time being active because they were turn based. You spent a lot of time waiting for your turn, acted on your turn, and ran a bit then started the whole process all over again.

What was worse than the competitive sports though was the absurdity of doing gymnastics activities. I'm not sure how walking along a balance beam, jumping over a pummel horse, etc. was meant to make my young body fit, but it sure did make me feel inadequate and hate every gym class. Instead of encouraging fitness, they tested for it and it was a test I always failed. If anything, gym discouraged exercise.

I believe that, if schools were really interested in helping kids be active and healthy, they'd offer a variety of options for gym like constantly walking for 30-60 minutes a day. Can you imagine how much better it'd be for overweight kids to spend an hour walking around a track or the gymnasium each day than facing the humiliation of organized sports and fitness-testing activities? At the very least, the option to do this instead of a regular gym class should be offered. I know I would have been happy to spend an hour walking and talking to friends each day instead of taking gym class twice a week. Walking not only would be better for overall fitness, but it'd encourage daily movement and show how you can get helpful exercise without feeling or looking foolish in front of everyone.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wasting Food

Having grown up poor, I developed a bad habit which I find difficult to break to this day. That is, I will eat things that aren't healthy or tasty because I feel I must not waste food. I will give you an example of what I mean from a recent experience.

My husband was eating a store-bought chicken sandwich and the meat distribution wasn't perfect, as is so often the case. The end of the sandwich was nothing but bread so he left about a 1 inch stub of it on the plate for tossing in the trash. Though I had already eaten my lunch, I had to resist the urge to eat that remaining bread. I wasn't terribly hungry (nor really full as I'm eating small portions), but all I could think of was that there was nothing wrong with the bread and I shouldn't be throwing away good food.

Similarly, I was cutting up some watermelon and endeavoring to cut as closely to the rind as possible so as not to waste any of the edible portion. I do this despite the fact that the fruit closer to the rind isn't as sweet or tasty as the portion further from it. I do this because I find it hard to bear any sort of food waste.

I'm sure that this mindset was one my parents instilled in me both through role-modeling and admonishing me for not cleaning my plate. Given that my mother always prepared mountains of white carbohydrates at every meal, you can imagine how this mentality fueled my family's weight problems.

One might think that now that I am an adult and in control of my own food consumption and choices, that I could easily abandon the habit of finishing off my husband's unwanted morsels. Nonetheless, tossing edible food in the trash, even when I don't really want it, is a triumph of will for me. Though I'm getting much better at it, I still feel guilty about doing it. In the end, I think that there is an element of low self-esteem playing a part. It's as if I don't think I deserve to only eat food that I actively want or enjoy and that the unwanted leftovers are appropriate for someone like me.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday: August 13, 2009

One of the things about my 1200 calorie Thursdays that makes them easier to face and to manage is the certainty that tomorrow will be easier. Though I endeavor everyday to eat small portions, eat healthily, and eat less than 2000 calories so that I can continue to lose weight, the noose put around me by consuming such a low number of calories always feels tight. When Friday comes around, if I can eat 1500-1800 calories, it feels like a complete and incredible luxury by comparison.

My expectations for this Thursday were quite high because I had planned ahead by making sure I had plain non-fat yogurt on hand. Yogurt is the breakfast of choice on Thursdays because it is low in calories and it assists in the making of other food for the day by taking the place of other fattier things (like mayonnaise, sour cream, etc.). That being said, I really don't enjoy eating yogurt at all. The only thing that makes it palatable is the addition of fresh fruit and a packet of Splenda. If I concentrate on the tasty fruit, it helps me choke down the yogurt. On the bright side, this meal makes me feel like I'm eating a lot because I'm certainly eating more yogurt than I want to eat, even when the portion is moderate.

I made some "yogurt cheese" (yogurt which has been allowed to sit in a coffee filter such that a lot of the whey drips out and you're left with a thick, creamy paste) and used that in a tuna salad which I put in a tortilla in a roll-up. Doing a 50/50 mix of mayo to yogurt tends to be enough to keep the mayonnaise feeling without adding as many calories. Adding in pepper, garlic, celery salt, and some green onions makes for a nice flavor profile.

I chose tuna salad because it happened to be what I had on hand, but also because tuna tends to make me feel fuller for a longer period of time than other sources of protein. I really like tuna, but not too often. It's also relatively troublesome to prepare and I always crave cheese with it so there's a risk of adding back fat calories from cheese. I barely overcame the urge to stir grated cheese into my wrap, but did manage.

In the end, I had a good day with a total of 1287 calories. The "extra" calories were from a last minute add of about 10 baked tortilla chips to a very small dinner of refried beans. I was ravenous each of the 4 times that I ate a small meal though so it was a struggle to fight my desires throughout the day, but I'm happy to say I did quite well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fat Myth #2 - fat people eat constantly

On the T.V. show "Friends", the character of Monica Gellar used to be fat, but lost weight and kept it off in her late teens. Sometimes, the show does flashbacks where Courtney Cox puts on a fat suit and we see her as she supposedly was as a fat girl. They showed her eating all of the time and ordering food deliveries just for herself.

The idea that fat people eat all of the time is, at best, a half truth. The notion that they are eating a lot in front of other people is a complete lie. Most fat people are like alcoholics. They eat in secret and often in mindless binges which provide psychological comfort. The last thing a fat person wants to do is to be seen gorging because he or she will be seen as disgusting for having the audacity to eat while being fat.

In fact, when I was in high school, I wouldn't even eat lunch in front of the other students. In a move that I'm sure screwed me up good and proper on the metabolic front, I wouldn't eat all day and then binged from around 4:00 pm when I got home from school. To this day, I won't eat much in front of other people and I don't even want my husband to necessarily see how much I eat because it's humiliating to be seen as enjoying food. No matter how little or what I eat, I'm embarrassed about it because of the shame of being a fat person who actually eats.

So, the whole idea that fat people eat all of the time is just as wrong as the notion that an alcoholic keeps a flask of liquor in his pocket at all times for fortifying nips or a drug addict walks around with needles stuck in his arm. Of course, fat people eat too much, but they tend to do it all at once rather than in view of judging eyes or around the clock.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Can't Even Get the Fat Girl

David E. Kelley, who created such television shows as L.A. Law, The Practice, Chicago Hope, and Boston Legal, has addressed weight as an issue in his television shows on multiple occasions. Mr. Kelley is married to Michelle Pfeiffer and has one of the most famous possibly anorexic women of all time in one of his shows (Ally McBeal). I don't know if he's involved in casting his productions, but his shows focus a lot on pretty people and he has a very beautiful wife, so clearly he has an eye on this point.

One of the things which has been written into his shows at least twice is the notion of the fat girl's prospects for a love life. An almost identical line has been uttered by two different characters in The Practice and Boston Legal about men who "can't even get the fat girl". The attitude behind this is that men see fat girls as second rate, desperate pickings for men who aren't hot enough to attract the superior thin girls.

I'm not going to argue about fat being beautiful. I think that we all have more than enough self-loathing not to see ourselves as beautiful and if we're ever short on self-hatred, there are plenty of people out there who are happy to lend a hand and make us feel worthless should we work up a little self-esteem. However, I think that the notion that we're booby prizes in the romantic contests of life is not one we should be buying into, nor is it necessarily true.

The fact of the matter is that I am married. Not only am I married, but I married someone who is thin and adores me. He married me fat and loves me because of my character, not because of my body (though he is fine with my body). What is more, he's about the most emotionally well-adjusted person I've ever met. He didn't accept me as a consolation prize for not being able to do "better" or find a hotter girl. He wanted me and still wants me because we are compatible in nearly every way psychologically. He does worry about my health though, and fears that I may die long before him if I can't get my weight under control. This isn't a hope that I'll get thin and beautiful masquerading as health concern. It's a real concern, and I share it.

My point is that the notion that fat girls (or people) are seen as the love of last resort is not one that has to be true. I'm not going to start spewing any nonsense about loving yourself and therefore finding true love as a result. I am going to say that it does not serve you well at all to see yourself as third rate or to accept ideas like Mr. Kelley's that only men who can't do better will settle for the fat girl. There are men who have enough ego integrity to not view their mates as a reflection of their own desirability and to see them as people. Of course, that's provided that you also aren't judgmental and accept your mate for his or her character rather than more superficial aspects. If you're shallow, too, you will get what you deserve, and that's a lonely future.

Monday, August 10, 2009

No Comments

If I've found any readers, they'll notice that I don't allow comments on this blog. If you're fat, you already know why. If you're not, you may guess why. If you're clueless, I'll tell you why.

There is a lot of fat hate out there. In fact, you'd think the fact that obesity levels around the world are spiking would increase empathy for weight problems, but it seems as though it has only made it worse. Many people are disgusted by fat people and have no interest in understanding them or even tolerating them. Fat bias is quickly becoming one of the last acceptable forms of bigotry.

Given this, and the fact that I've had more than my share of abuse about weight my entire life, I'm not allowing comments. While I surely am shutting out potentially supportive voices, I don't need the people who are hateful tearing down what little self-esteem I have.

Also, I know that, in my efforts to express my struggles and problems, people will start in on me about everything I say being an excuse. These are the sorts of people who haven't lived with my upbringing or in my skin and are incapable of empathy. They're the sort of people who are so hopelessly self-centered that their world-view is the only one they can conceive of. Any one who has a problem they do not have is weak and they have only contempt for you.

So, my apologies to those who have something to say to me but can't say it, but I'm not far along enough in my mental and physical processes to take the ugliness that ultimately comes along with talking about being fat. If you have a weight problem, you know what I'm talking about.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mixed Messages

My mother liked to say, "it's what's inside that counts." She said this sometimes because she wanted me to feel better about myself and to focus on my character rather than on my physicality. I'm sure all parents who have children who are not considered beautiful by society console their despondent children with this "sage" advice.

At the same time that she said my personality was more meaningful than my body, she'd pick at me to lose weight, but often (but not always) pretend it was in the interest of something else. She'd say I should lose weight so I could move more easily when I really didn't have any problems moving. In fact, as a kid, despite my weight, I could do yoga-like twisting poses that other kids could not, stand on my head, and I was fairly active. When I told her I had no problems moving, she'd find other things like talking about how I'd be popular if I lost weight or that I'd be prettier if I didn't hide my beauty under all that weight.

By the time I reached high school, my mother started to resort to out and out humiliation to get her points across. Once while she was folding laundry in front of one of her visiting friends, she made it a point to hold up a pair of my oldest underpants with a stretched out waistband (as elastic tends to do when it gets old) and held it up to her friend and after making a derogatory comment about my weight said something like, 'look at these underpants!' The friend, who was more sensitive than my mother said, "they look like the waistband is old and stretched out."

The irony is that my mother weighed more than me during most of the time that she was trying to cajole, coerce and embarrass me into losing weight. She also seemed to completely fail to comprehend that she was responsible for my weight through her shopping and cooking habits. Finally, she didn't seem to see that she was sending me wildly mixed messages by telling me that it was what was on the inside that counted while focusing so frequently on what was on the outside.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Practicing Being Hungry

One of the things about having a messed up body from growing up overweight which happens is that you experience hunger differently. Your body tells you more often that you need to eat and you find it more uncomfortable to wait until your stomach is empty to eat. This has to do with psychology, of course, but it also has to do with biology. If you think hunger is only a matter of your brain's desire, then you need to learn about blood sugar ups and downs, insulin, and other aspects of endocrinology.

As I've been trying to lose weight (and succeeding, at least to some extent), I've been going through the uncomfortable process of fighting both my biological and psychological discomfort at not eating. My body isn't the same as a healthy, average weight or thin person's. Getting to the point of an empty stomach and then forcing myself to stay there is acutely uncomfortable. I get headaches and stomachaches. I feel very tense. My body is shouting for me to eat something because all of its systems are saying, "feed me!" It is used to being fed on a more regular and voluminous basis.

All of our bodies follow inertia. We have a point called "homeostasis" which is essentially a comfortable resting point. Bodies don't like to lose or gain weight. They don't like to be active when our normal state is to be at rest and they don't like to be at rest when we're usually active. The body likes its routines. Breaking the routines, from a physiological viewpoint, is very stressful for the body so it's going to fight you all the way.

If you don't believe me, consider the fact that it's common to catch a cold or get sick after losing a little weight. This happens because your body has been stressed by the changes you have forced upon it and your immune system is not as efficient. Your body has all sorts of changes to make and it's being overtaxed by them. It doesn't care that you may be healthier in the long run. It's just looking after its routines.

If you're fat, and you've been fat all of your life, you have a lot more inertia to overcome on the body changing front. Your body's systems have grown up being overfed and are very comfortable with that state. In fact, I don't know the biology, but I wouldn't be surprised if your bodily systems never fully adjusted to a state where you are comfortable being fed at an appropriate level. It's my hope that they will, but I'm pretty sure that my pancreas isn't open to logic and reason. It's just going to want to do what it has always done.

So, one of the things I've been doing as I struggle to lose weight is practice being hungry. It's very hard though because it's physically difficult and painful. I've been telling myself that the feeling that I'm starving and need to eat is an illusion my body is sending to me because it's afraid of change. I also am trying to form a connection between that feeling and a sense of accomplishment. That physical aching for food needs to be associated with success and accomplishment. If I endure it long enough and often enough, with any luck, I will train my body so that it reaches a new homeostatic point and it won't be so hard in the future to not eat.

Insensitive Teachers

You'd think that adults would display a certain amount of sensitivity with kids and try not to intentionally do anything to humiliate them. These days, I'm guessing that a teacher who did anything which had a pretty good chance of publicly embarrassing a kid might get in trouble, but it wasn't the case when I was a child. In fact, teachers did things which I find it hard to believe that they'd get away with now.

When I was in 4th or 5th grade, one of my teachers was talking about some topic or another and decided she would make every kid in the class announce his or her weight aloud so she could note it for whatever nonsense she was doing. In a class of about 20 kids, I was the only fat kid. I believe I weighed somewhere in the vicinity of 130 lbs. at that point in time in a class which was full of kids who weighed 70 lbs. or less.

I remember the teacher going down each row and each kid saying his or her weight while I was furiously thinking about how I could deal with this situation without utterly feeling humiliated. I figured that I would pick a weight which was higher than everyone else's but nowhere near the embarrassing truth. When the teacher reached me, she didn't hesitate, but you could tell every kid in the class was just waiting to hear what I said. Once more, I was the focus of negative attention because of my body size and this time every single person in the room was waiting to react to what I said. My lie was, "85 lbs." I didn't fool anyone and my reply elicited a bunch of stage whispers disbelieving my obvious lie.

In retrospect, I wonder if the teacher did this on purpose. Teachers are, after all, no more enlightened than others and I witnessed more than one occasion where a teacher went out of his or her way to be cruel to a kid for one reason or another. For example, one of my fellow students had a bad habit of talking out of turn and not raising his hand. If he wanted permission to do something, he'd just blurt it out and this annoyed the teacher. One day he blurted out a request to go to the bathroom and she chastised him and said he had to raise his hand and wait to be recognized. He then raised his hand to comply with her request and she ignored him for a long time. As he sat there, he started to squirm in discomfort. By the time she finally agreed to recognize his raised hand, he was practically dancing in his seat trying to hold it in and fighting tears. Teachers do not necessarily have to be advanced humanistic beings, even those who work with children and should be more patient and understanding.

In my case, I wonder if the teacher may have tried to embarrass me as a way of exacting more pressure on me to lose weight. It would have been very easy for her to simply ask everyone to write their weight on a piece of paper and then collect them in a hat. It would have served the same purpose as making each of us announce aloud what our weights were as she was simply marking them down in a notebook of some sort. If she was trying to "help" me, it didn't work. In fact, the suffering and isolation I felt only made it all the more likely that I'd turn to food for solace.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Growing up fat, you develop certain attitudes and habits that you may not have otherwise. One of the things you do is try to develop a radar for people who are going to mock or torment you openly and loudly. You become hyper-vigilant and sensitive to actions which might indicate an oncoming attack and respond in a paranoid fashion to comments or actions which may be covert attempts to refer to your weight.

For instance, if you go to a friend's house and everyone is served a piece of pie, but your piece is the smallest of all, you will probably conclude that your friend is trying to tell you that you really don't need that pie. The truth may be that your friend didn't pay any attention to how big the pieces were and you just happened to get the small one by random chance, but you'll be questioning the action regardless. Of course, some "well meaning" friends may actually mean what they appear to mean, but will deny it if you call them on it.

This sort of oversensitivity is the consequence of all of the prejudice and abuse that is heaped on fat people. They're filled with anxiety and easily get their defenses up because they're attacked so often that they see attacks where there may be none. This stress only serves to increase the chances that they will eat later for comfort in addition to undermining their ability to develop trusting relationships with people who might support them and help them gain the emotional equilibrium to embark on a healthier lifestyle. The next time a person of average weight thinks that mocking or belittling a fat person is a form of shocking them into dealing with the problem, they might do well to remember that they're only doing harm.

Thursday: August 6, 2009

I've been doing reduced calorie Thursdays for about a month now and the most recent one was the "worst" one so far. I actually ended up eating about 1600 calories instead of the target number of 1200. This happened because I didn't plan the meal timing very well. Lunch was timed such that I would have to wait 8 hours for dinner. This wasn't by choice, but based on work scheduling problems and how they affected meal timing. Around 6 hours after lunch, I was so famished that I had to eat something, and then I ate more than necessary because I was starving.

I know the basics of appetite control and part of it is that you should never wait until you are starved to eat or you'll eat too much. The lesson I learned from this is that I need to plan the meal timing better if I want to hit the target on low calorie Thursdays.

A Poorly Built House

It's all well and good to talk about having parents who didn't do well by me in a nutritional sense when I was a child, but I'm an adult now and responsible for my own choices, food purchases, preparation and eating habits. This is all true. Of course, it's not so simple. If things were as simple as fat bashers pretend they are, there wouldn't be an obesity problem

The problem for people who grew up as fat kids and are presently fat adults is that they can't simply put on the breaks of their lifestyle and biological condition up to this point and jam it into reverse. It's not only the psychological issues that are at play, but a lot of biological ones. Children who grow to adulthood overweight are essentially going to live their lives in a house with a poorly built foundation. No matter how many times they try to make improvements or patch things up, it'll never be as strong, resilient, or comfortable as a house which started out on a sound foundation.

For instance, the number of fat cells in your body cannot be changed once you reach a certain level of maturity. If you are thin upon maturing, you won't get more fat cells. If you're fat, you can't reduce the number unless you have surgery. The total number of fat cells affects how your body metabolizes and deals with food as well as affects hormone balances. Someone with more fat cells will have a propensity for storing fat more readily than someone with fewer. They also cannot change the disposition of their body's shape and size because the cells can only be shrunk or expanded, not eliminated (without lipsuction). This is why people have "problem areas" which they can exercise and exercise to improve but never get rid of. Those cells aren't going anywhere past a certain age.

What is more, estrogen, which is stored in fatty tissues has an effect on insulin and insulin resistance. More body fat will ultimately affect how you metabolize food and how fat is stored. Insulin resistance will ultimately affect appetite and how often you feel compelled to eat and what you want to eat.

I don't want to go into a bunch of biological mumbo jumbo as an "excuse" for fat people staying fat because I don't want to provide excuses. I want to talk about reasons. One of the reasons it's harder for a fat person to lose weight is that their body is different than a thin person's. They're fighting a much harder battle and that battle never ends because the "house" that their parents built for them isn't very sound and it's never going to be as sound as it could have been. Things that a thin person takes for granted, like the ability to resist an urge to eat a piece of cake, are a much harder task for a fat person. Imagine the difference between resisting an ice cold drink of water when you are parched and haven't had a drink for days as compared to doing so when you just have slightly dry mouth.

A fat person's body is always saying, "I'm parched", even when they're not. It is very hard not to give into the biological and psychological pressure to eat when that pressure is intense. Unless you grew up fat and are a fat adult, it's difficult to know just how tough it is to resist at times. Thin people aren't judging "willpower" from the same vantage point as a fat person. We've got a megaphone screaming "eat" at us and thin people just have a nagging whisper. One is a lot harder to brush aside than the other.

That isn't to say that megaphone can't be ignored, and one can condition oneself to do it (and it gets easier the more you do it), but just judging fat people and offering pat advice without considering the complexity of the problem is ignorant and pointless. Unless an enlightened attitude toward the problem starts to spread, it'll never get better. The solutions for a thin person who gains weight won't necessarily work for people with a lifetime of weight problems.

Fat Myth #1 - fat people eat junk food all the time

One of society's myths about fat people is that they got that way cramming their maws full of junk food. In particular, they think that we're sitting around eating McDonald's or donuts all day. The truth is that I didn't get fat from any such thing. In fact, even to this day, I rarely eat fast food of any kind and I definitely didn't grow from being a skinny kid to a fat one through such food.

My transition from skinny to fat kid came on the heels of a high refined carbohydrate diet and heavy consumption of full fat milk. We got milk cheaply directly from a local dairy. We took old milk jugs that we'd washed out and they'd fill them up from their vats. The milk was therefore completely unprocessed and so fresh that it was warm. There was no way my family could have purchased low fat milk, which would have to be processed, as cheaply as this full fat milk.

My mother used to make huge vats of mashed potatoes laced with margarine, homemade white bread, cheap store brand macaroni and cheese, noodles with biscuits, etc. We were far too poor to be eating out or having treats all of the time, so this is what got us all fat. In fact, one of the reasons poor people are often fat is that these refined carbs are cheaper than protein and whole grains. I know that's not what the judgmental sorts want to believe, but I have firsthand knowledge of what made me fat, and it wasn't fries, burgers, or Hostess cakes. My mother never bought any of those things.

The thing is that the more of those cheap, white carbs you eat, the hungrier you get. They screw with your blood sugar and insulin levels such that you just want to eat more and more. And my mother never met a meal which she wouldn't overcook for. Every meal for the 4 members of my family had enough carbs for 10 and enough cheap, overcooked meat for 6. That meant that when the blood sugar drop hit, there were plenty of leftovers in the refrigerator to re-carb up on for the rest of the evening. It didn't help that my mother thought that 5:00 pm was dinner time so you had the rest of the night to eat more as you went through waves of carb-induced lows and highs.

One of my favorite snacks as a kid was toasted white bread spread with mashed potatoes. Once when I was very hungry, I went for eating uncooked spaghetti over any type of food in the house. Such was the strength of my carbohydrate cravings that I'd crunch down a stick of spaghetti to feed my need.

So, I'd like to dispel the myth that people get fat on junk food. It often does not start out that way.

Calorie Counting One Day A Week

Calorie counting is the bane of the fat person's existence, and even the thin woman's for that matter. I particularly detest it and it's not because I have an issue with restricting what I eat. The main reason I hate it is that it is such a finicky affair.

You have to weigh the food you eat, inspect labels, and do searches for calorie counts. Even when you find values that appear to apply to the food you're going to eat, there's always some part of it that doesn't quite work. For instance, if you're looking for breast meat chicken values, they often include bones and skin when your chicken has one, the other or neither. That means you can't get a proper weight measurement since the calorie count of the amount of chicken they give is for chicken with bones.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that some food may not give nutrition information for a serving, but by weight. I've seen food that offers calories per x number of grams or ounces so you have to then multiply the total weight or the weight of a "serving" to figure it all out. All in all, calorie counting is a huge pain in the ass.

Since I hate it so much, I decided that the best way to deal with it for now is to put myself on one day of counting for starters. Most days, I just eat sensibly (small portions, healthy food), but Thursday is the day I put myself through the torture of doing a count of everything and marking it down in a notebook. The reason for this is three-fold. First of all, I want to have one day of fairly restricted calories (1200) so that I grow accustomed to the idea of "enduring" one day where I'm seriously cutting back. The other reason to do it is that the awareness I gain from that one day in terms of seeing how much you can eat "on a diet" is refreshed. It decreases the chances that I'll overeat the rest of the week because I have a good idea of where the sweet spot might be. And finally, I want to just get used to deprivation. In the future, when I reach my target weight, I want to be able to occasionally have an indulgence and know that I have a habit in place to make up for it the next day. That is, counting now and restriction now is practice for the future in order to maintain a goal weight.

If you hate counting calories, I recommend trying this once a week method. It won't seem as oppressive and will likely temper your eating habits for the rest of the week. Additionally, you can build some confidence in your ability to control your eating habits while telling yourself that it's just for one day and you can do whatever you want the next day. Even if you pig out the rest of the week, that one day of change will likely change your eating through time as it'll develop both your ability to resist temptation and your awareness of calorie counts.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

From Skinny to Fat Kid

When I was a child, I was thin up until about 4th grade. At that point in time, I'm guessing in part due to puberty heading down the path and preparing to start knocking on my door, I started to gain weight.

I can't remember which came first, but I also started to eat as comfort from the daily torment I received at school. This is one of those "chicken and the egg" questions. Did I get teased because I was fat or did I get fat because I was teased? I can say that the early content of the torment I received was based on my being an unsophisticated member of a poor family living in a remote area. The "townie" kids knew each other and didn't know me, but also word got around that my mother kept a lot of pets, many of which weren't housebroken and crapped all over the house. The irony is that the people who spread this information were likely my childhood "friends". They were the kids of my parents' friends who saw the house and spread the word.

At any rate, around age 10, I started to get fat. The strange thing is that getting fat correlated with marked academic improvement. In first grade, I barely passed and my report card was a series of C's, D's and a few F's. In second and third, I did a little better, but clearly recall struggling to deal with tests, especially in math. In 4th grade, I won contests for reading the most books and was one of the first kids to completely memorize the multiplication tables up to 12 x 12. My grades shot up to all A's.

The improvement in my grades is another of those "chicken and the egg" questions. Maybe I also got teased because I was smarter than I was. Maybe I dug into my studies because I was being ostracized and didn't have friends because I had gotten fat.

The point is that I didn't start off fat, but managed to get and stay there for quite some time. I barely remember the time before I was defined by my body size because it was such a relatively short part of my life. I do know that that was the beginning of not being treated as an equally worthy human being and that that lack of worth has stayed with me ever since.


There's a saying that, inside every fat woman is a thin one screaming to get out. I don't agree with this. I think that inside every thin woman is a fat woman screaming to get out. This is one of the reasons that women who aren't constantly exercising vigilance tend to gain weight. It takes a lot of effort to quell the hungry woman who keeps encouraging you to enjoy yourself and feed your hunger instead of prioritizing the longer term goals of being healthy and more attractive.