Monday, November 30, 2009

(Only Just) Full "Enough", But Not Full

In one of Stephen King’s series of “The Dark Tower” books, there is a section where a few of the characters are traveling through a cold, barren area with no means to create a fire or heat. Before they set off on the journey, one character warns another that they will be miserably and uncomfortably cold during the journey. The cold will not be enough to kill them, but it will fill them with despair and discomfort during every waking moment such that it will feel impossible to endure over the long duration of the trip.

Yesterday, I was having one of those days where hunger gnaws at me all day. It is one of those familiar situations for people trying to lose weight where you want to eat all of the time and never feel satisfied within the limits of your eating plan. By 4:30 of that day, I had eaten nearly 1300 calories of the 1500 I try to allot myself. In the end, I finished at around 1600 thanks to the good choice of hummus on whole wheat toast for dinner. The protein in the chickpeas, coupled with getting pretty busy and not being able to dwell on my hunger, saw me through.

The situation in the first paragraph came to mind yesterday when I was fighting off that desire to eat all of the time. Much of the time, I am not eating to a point of feeling full, but eating smallish amounts in an effort to keep my hunger at bay and to fool my body into thinking it’s not starving when it really would prefer more food. Just like the characters in the story are never cold enough to freeze to death, I’m never deprived enough of food to starve. And just as they are often miserable because they can’t get warm enough, I’m sometimes miserable because I never can quite eat “enough”. I’m often trying to balance myself on the point of being just full enough not to uncontrollably dive deeply into a pile of food and only come up for air when I’m uncomfortably full.

I think one of the reasons these days come around where I just want to eat and eat and eat is hormonal (possibly linked to ovulation), but another is that constantly eating below your body’s desired number of calories takes a bit of a toll and it will eventually rebel and try to bully a good solid meal (or two, or three) out of you.

Occasionally, I think it’s okay to give in to this urge with some limitation. Ideally for me, I’d like to do this about twice a month, but only up to the point of 2000 calories. I don’t want to overeat, but perhaps should just give my body a few more calories now and then. I have done this on occasion, but not in response to these days when I want to eat all of the time. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I’m more likely to eat more for emotional reasons than physical ones.

For now, I simply want to be aware of this pattern, and be prepared to manage it as best I can. I think that trying harder not to eat more calories on occasion for emotional reasons and to “save” those higher calorie days for when my body has a biological reason would be the first step.

Friday, November 27, 2009

So Creaky and Clumsy

I mentioned several posts ago that I had bought a DVD to try and do some more exercise. The disc I bought, incidentally, is "Moving Free Longevity Solution" by Mirabai Holland. I chose it because the reviews mention that it's good for people who have never taken a class in aerobics, and it mentions that it is good for older people. Though I'm 45, and not a boomer or senior, I feel like my mobility due to back and knee problems, as well as weight, is poor and I need something which won't tax me too much as a start.

I tossed the DVD in the player yesterday and gave it a try and I can't say that I was impressed with myself at all. Either because of poor coordination, lack of fitness, or weight-related issues, I couldn't keep up with the instructions. Ms. Holland is often a step or two ahead of me, even on the slow moves. I also have problems with my knees cracking like they're filled with broken glass on some of the positions so I'm going to have to modify things a bit.

The truth is that I got through only about 3-5 minutes of the dance before I stopped. I may be exceptionally clumsy, or just horrifically bad at free-flowing motions, but I just felt like I couldn't keep tabs on what I was supposed to be doing.

Despite what a big, lumbering ox I feel like, I'm going to keep at it slowly but surely. It seems that all of my exercise attempts have to be done by inches rather than by miles, or even feet. I feel like I'm crawling in terms of physical fitness improvement, and it can be discouraging. However, if I can walk up to 40 minutes when I couldn't walk even for 5 at first, I know that those inches will add up eventually and I'll get stronger.

In terms of this DVD, I'm guessing I'll have to repeat the first 3-5 minutes again and again before I catch on enough to do a few more minutes. Eventually, I'll be able to follow and keep up throughout the whole thing. That will be another milestone that I can note when the time comes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Complacency and the Food Compass

Lately, I've felt like I've been in a (productive) holding pattern. I eat on or close to target every day, get in a sufficient amount of exercise and wait for appreciable results. I think less about the struggle because I struggle less, though sometimes I feel like I had better focus and resistance to eating earlier in the process.

Sometimes I find myself slipping into emotional eating or compulsive eating without thinking too much and landing a bit higher than I'd like in calories or eating unhealthy food. I wonder if the success I've had to this point has brought on some mental complacency. It's as if I feel less vigilant because I now require less food policing.

This type of complacency is, I'm certain, the youthful sprouts of backsliding. I can see how not nipping this type of mindlessness about food in the bud could lead to regaining in the future when I let my guard down even more. I'm also guessing this is one of the many reasons why it is common for many people, particularly women, to do well initially on their diets and then halt their losses for awhile, or even gain back much of what they lost.

I have an acute sense of my food compass needing to be forcibly held in position such that it points at careful eating at all times. If I become inattentive to its position, it will gradual start making its way back toward less mindful, less healthy, and less portion-controlled eating. It can't be left to its own devices for long at all. I reckon that people who have never had an eating disorder don't give a second thought to their compasses for most of their lives, and are able to point them in the right direction without fear that they'll drift out of place the minute they turn their backs.

I'm hoping that I can snap my attention back when I first start perceiving this drift, but I do get tired of thinking about what I eat, measuring it, and writing it all down all of the time. The tediousness of tracking food, preparing it so carefully, and controlling my desires is immense. In fact, I'm realizing that getting healthy and staying there is unlikely to ever be something which won't drain my time and energy, and it's yet another thing I'm going to have to get comfortable with and accept.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sense Memory

Sense memory is very potent in all animals, including humans, of course. We all recognize this rather quickly when we smell a familiar scent from our childhood or a song reminds us of some experience. Strong sense memories very likely helped our ancestors survive since recalling it was yet another way of seeking food and safety or avoiding danger.

Food is also appealing to us based on sense memory. In fact, one of the reasons we crave foods that we favor is that we wish to repeat or reinforce the sense memory. The only thing that separates a carrot slice from a potato chip in desirability is the time it spends on the tongue. Once you swallow it, your stomach doesn't feel worse or better for being full of chips instead of carrots.

The interesting thing about taste as a sense memory though is that it is one of the least reliable. If you've ever revisited a childhood favorite after a long absence and found it unpalatable, you have had experience with this. The tongue seems to have a short sense memory and is more easily "trained" to appreciate different flavors than other senses are to accept variations. Your nose is unlikely to decide a bad scent eventually smells good through repeated exposure, but people do learn to love foods they used to hate and hate foods they used to love.

What's the point of all of this talk about sense memory? Well, I've been thinking about it and how it can be used to break cravings for certain foods and binging. If you're looking to reinforce a sense memory, how much food must be consumed to give satisfaction, and how best to maximize the experience where it is on the tongue such that consuming more is not necessary? Mindful eating is a part of this, but keeping in mind that your tongue and not your stomach is the part of your body that needs satisfaction might help one feel that less is enough.

I'm also thinking that absence from certain types of food can make the tongue grow far less fond of that food. In my case, I have experienced this rather profoundly with Burger King's original chicken burgers. I used to love them when I was in my early college years, but after not consuming them for a decade or more, find them quite unappetizing upon revisiting one recently.

The purpose of this process is not to "trick" myself into not wanting things I want, but rather in "training" myself to want less of things that are less healthy and eaten for entertainment and to more of those things which are nutritious. My tongue doesn't need to be fooled. It just needs to forget a few old things and gain new memories of better food.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Boss of Me

Several weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a work acquaintance about how she allowed her clients and coworkers to control her behavior. She was complaining that a coworker who belonged to a cult-like religion had cornered her on two separate occasions and spouted her cult's dogma at her. She didn't want to be impolite, so she wouldn't say something abrupt like, "I'm very sorry, but I'm not interested." The coworker could behave inappropriately toward her, but she could not bring herself to stop her.

While my acquaintance was quite troubled by all of this and was beginning to experience anxiety at the thought of going to work and being trapped by this colleague again, she simply could not take control of the situation. She said that she tried to avoid the coworker as much as possible, but sometimes couldn't escape such as when they both ended up in the elevator together. It was particularly troubling to her because this colleague only targeted her and no one else.

This situation and others like it made it clear that my acquaintance allowed other people to control her behavior by handing them power over her. Her cult-following-coworker targeted her because she had figured out that she was someone who could be manipulated into doing things she didn't want to do. While we discussed this, I explained the concept of an external locus of control to her. The short definition of this is that it refers to one's sense that the outcome of events is either in or out of their control. All people have varying degrees of external and internal loci of control.

I've been pondering the effect of locus of control and eating disorders. In my case, I have had a strong sense that whatever I do has no effect on the situations around me and that "fate", "luck", etc. have taken the wheel and driven my life to some pretty terrible places. I work hard, do my best, am kind to people, and still find that things do not go the way I would hope.

Part of the reason for this is that I grew up with parents who both had profound emotional problems and compulsive behaviors that resulted in a chaotic and stressful childhood. My mother in particular tried and failed many, many times to accomplish various goals. Additionally, she imprinted on me time and time again that I was responsible for the happiness of others (including her own, and she was never happy) and that the interests of others should come before mine at all costs. Combining the role modeling, life experiences, and verbal conditioning that I experienced, it is no small wonder that I place control of the outcome of events outside of myself. I give power to others just as my acquaintance does and have a strong sense that they should have that power.

In regards to how this relates to food, I have had a few thoughts. The primary one is that I have felt that food controls me rather than me controlling it. For the vast majority of my life, I have felt a sense of hopelessness about ever having control over my eating. I wonder now if my issues with food are tied to some extent to a life pattern of feeling helpless to affect things I desperately want to change.

Perhaps having an external locus of control increases the chance of overeating since one may feel outside factors are always going to push them to do things they don't want to do. Essentially, I don't want to eat that cake, but I am powerless to resist its influence over my sense of smell and taste. People don't notice that you allow them to coerce you into doing more work, watch the T.V. shows they want to watch when you prefer something else, or give them your time and attention, but they do notice that you're fat. In essence, the only place where they don't want you to surrender control is in your diet so they don't see it as a problem.

Taking control of your eating may require a huge mental shift from nice, helpful person to someone who is more self-interested and involved. This is a very hard shift to make because many overweight people have poor self-esteem and feel the only way others will like them is that if they accede to the wishes of those around them.

Another thought I had in regards to this issue is that eating could be a form of rebellion against attempts of others to control you. When you have everyone around you telling you you shouldn't eat so much and harassing you for your appearance, it's possible that overeating is the one thing that you decide you will do in defiance of others and their efforts to control you. It's a gratifyingly easy way of doing whatever you want and getting pleasure despite what others might want you to do.

I'm not sure that these thoughts relate to my issues with food, but I do think a piece of the picture is related to locus of control for me. Food has been the boss of me along with a great many other people around me. Shifting to a place where I'm the boss may be a step on the path to managing my eating for life.


I just want to crawl in a hole and hide from all of the torment I face every time I step outside my front door.

But, it's really not a whole lot safer here (on the internet).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Of Exercise

I don't write much about exercise because I don't do much of it. It's not that I hate it or don't want to do it, but rather that my body has been too hard to move and in too much pain during these initial phases of weight loss to do much. I want to exercise, but I really can't push myself too hard without being in pain or risking injury.

When I started out doing this in June or July of this year, I couldn't walk 5 minutes without sitting due to back pain and I also found I had to walk very slowly and felt like my heart was really pounding from the effort. My hips also ached rather badly within the first 10 minutes of walking. I've been walking at least 5 days a week and have now reached the point where I can walk 40 minutes without serious discomfort. I have almost reached the point where I walk out the door without fear of being in terrible pain if I can't find a place to sit and rest. If someone had told me 6 months ago that I'd be walking like I am now, I wouldn't have believed it. The progress hasn't been remarkable, but it has been a slow and steady improvement.

I have added in a little light weight lifting at this point to try and build strength and a little muscle mass. It's nothing too complex or sophisticated, but it really doesn't need to be. I bought a couple of plastic weights that can be filled with water at a dollar store. When full of water, they weigh about 2 lbs. each. I also have some wrist and ankle weights that I can add on later when I'm ready, but for now, I'm sticking with the 2 lb. weights which I do a range of motions with through about 20-25 reps in front of my computer. I have a friend who is a fitness instructor and he said less weight with more repetition is better for building strength.

I have a recumbent exercise bike and a treadmill at my disposal, but I can't really use either yet. The treadmill causes my back to hurt more than regular walking, and the bike is hard to use with my current body size. Last time I tried to use it several months ago, my hefty belly apron sat on my thighs such that I couldn't pedal for more than 3 minutes with that weight lying on my legs. I might be able to do it now that I've lost between 50-60 lbs., but I'm not sure yet. I'll probably give it another try sometime early next year when I want to step up my exercise. I'd like to try it again only when I'm more confidant that my gut isn't going to make it impossible. Failure is often worse than not trying when it comes to these things.

The next step for me is to try a DVD of dance-based aerobics designed for older people and people with arthritis. I don't know if it'll be possible, but I figure it'll be the next thing I can work slowly at accomplishing since the time when I can be outside simply walking is limited due to weather conditions.

The strange thing is that I'm actually wary of doing too much exercise for weight loss purposes because that was how I lost so much weight in college. I don't want to rely on burning up the calories to lose weight and prefer to focus on the food consumption control. If my life circumstances change, I may not be able to maintain an exercise routine, but I'll always be able to manage how much I eat.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Appetite Dogs

Many times during my 20 or so years of marriage, I have remarked to my husband that food addiction is so much harder than other addictions like alcohol or smoking. You can give up booze or cancer sticks and experience nothing but benefits, but you can't give up food. You have to have food to live. I used to feel that if I could just decide never to eat again, I would be able to control my weight. It was having to eat at all that often sent me into binges, cravings, and blood sugar yearnings.

I'm not sure that it is true that it is harder to deal with food addiction, but it is a fair bit more complicated. You can give up fast food, junk food, and sugar and still remain fat. I guess you can give up carbohydrates and dairy as well, but the problem then becomes that it is difficult to manage your diet in any circumstance where you do not have 100% control over your food choices. What is more, sometimes cutting out all of the food that might make you fat causes illnesses. Getting the mix right for nutrition and swearing off of multiple categories of food can be tricky.

At any rate, I know now that one of the reasons I struggled so hard when I tried to eat more healthily before is that the "all or nothing" approach is a hard one to maintain forever for a variety of reasons. If you swear off of certain foods, you are often going to feel left out or deprived during celebrations or special occasions. There's nothing more depressing than a birthday without a special treat or going to a restaurant to enjoy a special meal and writing off everything on the menu except the green salad and lean chicken. Food is fuel, but it is also social and cultural.

When "all or nothing" doesn't work, you have other options, but they are risky. Many people find that they can't go an inch without taking a mile when it comes to certain foods, but I think that's because they try to cut back too much too quickly. I think you need to first adjust your body slowly to the idea of less food and change the way you eat (tasting very consciously with every bite and eating more slowly) rather than shock it with drastic portion reduction and an abrupt change in your eating habits.

I've mentioned before throughout multiple posts that I've reached the state I'm at right now where I average 1500-1600 calories most days (sometimes bumping up to 1800-2000 and sometimes dropping down to 1400) by making slow changes. I ate smaller and smaller portions and didn't calorie count. I calorie counted one day a week, then two days, then three, and now all seven. The first month or so was really hard, but it has gotten much easier as I've gotten accustomed to it. There are days when I'm surprised at how easy it is to stay within my plan and feel that I ate plenty of food without being terribly hungry. On those days, I feel like I must have done something wrong and eaten too much. I'm supposed to suffer every day, aren't I?

What I've come to realize is that it doesn't have to be all or nothing and that in fact that just makes everything that much harder on your body and your mind. The main drawback is that the slow adjustment approach is less fulfilling initially because you don't see rapid weight loss. If you imagine your appetite as 30 unruly dogs on leashes struggling to pull you the way they want you to go rather than allowing you to direct and lead them, the gradual adjustment to diet and lifestyle approach is your taking control of one dog at a time by pulling in the leash an inch at a time. After you slowly pull it in, you train it so that it doesn't go wild when you allow it on the leash again.

The dramatic dietary change is like simply yanking them all in at once. The problem with pulling them all in at once is the difficulty of holding back 30 unruly mutts is considerable and the chances that you'll simply let go of all of the leads and let them run wild is pretty high. That is, if you just say "no chocolate, no chips, no fats, very few calories" one day and try to stick to it, the chances that you'll just give up and give in to your desires to eat those "bad" foods is higher.

I feel like I've slowly trained the dogs of my appetite one by one and have fairly decent control over each of them. Occasionally, one will act up and strain at the lead and I'll eat a little too much of something or other, but it never goes way over the line. Sometimes it's a struggle to stay in the range of calories and to eat what I should or what I want, but usually I feel pretty good about my ability to keep things where I want them to be.

I wish I had considered the systematic reduction and alteration plan before rather than feel that I was going to be controlled completely by "trigger" foods all of the time. While it is true that I suffered for a few months with losing control with some things (and expect to do so again), I find that putting the brakes on myself got easier and better as a result of the way in which I've slowly built up to this point. I can eat a square or two of a chocolate bar and leave the rest in the refrigerator for later. I can ignore cookies, cakes, or chips. Sometimes they go stale before I can eat them all.

I don't know if this method would work for anyone else, but I'm happy with how it has worked for me. I'm happy that I can eat a donut, some candy, or ice cream and not feel deprived or lose all control. I imagine that this is what people who have never had an eating disorder must feel like everyday of their lives. The only difference is that they don't struggle as much to get to this point and stay there.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How "Thin" Feels

One of the often-used catch-phrases, platitudes, sayings, or whatever you want to call it is that "nothing tastes as good as thin feels." I'll be right up front with my opinion that I don't believe this is true for overweight people, and the the statement isn't very helpful for people who are obese in particular.

The first issue I have with this statement is that it's like telling a child that he should study hard instead of playing so that he can get a good job and be happier as an adult. Embracing and fully internalizing the idea that a state you may (or may not) achieve in the distant future is going to be so much better than immediate gratification is not easy. Many very overweight people see "thin" as something which they are incapable, perhaps genetically, of ever being. The best many of us hope for is to be "less fat."

Second, many people with weight problems haven't been thin for a very long time, if ever. In my case, and the case of many obese people, I haven't been thin since childhood and it wasn't a state I fully appreciated at that time. I have no idea what "thin" feels like. Like the child who is told to sacrifice now for the future, I can't even begin to relate to the reward that I'm striving for. I can't assess the value of feeling thin since I've never felt it.

Third, it's simply impractical to weigh the value of being thin to a sensory delight. Being thin creates abstract rewards and food is a concrete one. It's comparing apples and oranges. One brings about esteem and image benefits and the other is setting off endorphins in your brain. One directly stimulates your pleasure centers and the other is indirect.

Finally, I don't personally believe that "being thin" is necessarily going to feel great. I think that the real issue is not suffering the bad aspects of being fat, not good aspects of being thin. Essentially, you're avoiding pain, not gaining pleasure.

I think the decision to lose weight among many people comes as a result of thoroughly being fed up with the suffering they endure from being fat, and one of the reasons they regain is that absence of psychological and physiological pain is a less potent motivator than the immediate pleasure and comfort one gets from food.

My point in bringing this up is not to discourage weight loss or to say that it isn't worth the sacrifice of the pleasure of food. It's more a recognition of the fact that, unless you lose weight and are attractive and young, the rewards for being thin are not a potent motivator. The motivation is no longer suffering the misery of being fat.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Teardrop

I'm starting to grow increasingly unhappy with my body shape. Because of the unequal distribution of my weight loss, and a belly apron that isn't retracting very quickly due to stretched out skin, I'm starting to feel like I resemble a teardrop in shape.

The belly is definitely the slow mover in my progress and continues to be the focal point of most of my self-loathing. When I catch glances of myself reflected in windows, it looks little different from how it did when I started because it hangs down nearly the same amount. It just doesn't stick out as much and feels softer. I'm thinking that a girdle of some sort is going to be in my future at the rate my skin is going to shrink in my lower body.

Of course, the view isn't helped by the previously posted issue of "clown pants". Seeing my disgusting gelatinous belly apron wobbling around freely in baggy pants really isn't doing much for my self-esteem. It looks like a tent has been pitched over some scary creature that wants to get out.

Friday, November 13, 2009

(Almost) Clown Pants

I'm not a "girly" girl. I think this is the result of having grown up overweight and poor and building a character that was not very feminine as a result. Of course, I'm not a tomboy either since that carries with it certain elements of athleticism. Mainly, I've just felt like this blob of something. I often don't even feel human.

I never felt "pretty", so I am not drawn to pretty things. Clothes have never been of interest to me, nor have manicures, make-up, etc. There is no reward for me in buying new outfits because I don't feel I look good in anything. A lot of women who are losing weight talk about "rewarding" themselves for their efforts by buying girly things, but I can't think of much more inappropriate for me. My reward is simply feeling better in many ways. It's what I want and need, and I'm getting it parceled out by the drop as time goes by.

If you couple my lack of interest in clothes with my lack of desire to spend and waste money, you have someone who is currently between 50-60 lbs. down in weight and still wearing the same clothes. I've got 7 or 8 pairs of pants that I could wear at my highest weight and three or 4 of them were snugger than the others. The tighter pants fit okay for now, though they're also starting to suffer from "long pants" syndrome and are in need of a hemming. The other pants are starting to look like clown pants. The waist is elastic, so they don't fall down, but the bagginess is starting to get a bit out of hand. I imagine that they will be completely unwearable by spring of next year. I wish now that I hadn't thrown out so many of my somewhat smaller clothes several years ago. I "gave up" on ever wearing them again at one point and only kept around one pair.

I'm very reluctant to buy new interim clothes because I know that I'll be in transition for the next few years. I want to get everything I can out of the clothes I currently have first, even if it means walking around looking a bit goofy on occasion. The truth is that, given that people point or stare at me because of my weight anyway, it's rather hard to care about how my current clothes are fitting anyway.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Tortoise and the Hare

Most of us remember the old story of the tortoise and the hare. As children, we rather viscerally reject the notion that the hare would be so dumb as to blow it in such a careless fashion. I’m not so sure that anyone accepts that slow and steady wins the race, at least not deep down.

Obviously, the story of the tortoise and the hare has popped into my head more than once as I proceed down the weight loss road. From visualizing a multitude of fat cells shrinking at an infinitesimal rate until they reach some sort of critical mass where I can see a change to repeating to myself that I didn’t get fat all at once and therefore can’t lose it all at once, I try to offer myself mantras to be patient. I’m trying to be the best tortoise I can be.

That being said, I realized a long time ago that this isn’t a race I slowly plod my way to victory in and then go on with my normal life. This must become my “normal life”. There’s no going back to the way I was with food unless I want to return to the way I am in weight and size. While a time will come when I can eat several hundred more calories per day than I do now, it will never be the case that I can “pig out” without significant risk to returning to my current state of obesity. This was the realization I didn’t make so many years ago in college when I initially lost weight.

I continue to feel slightly frustrated with the tortoise approach though. I occasionally read about obese people who have lost 30-50 lbs. and are unhappy that no one has noticed, or dissatisfied that they don’t look appreciably better. I empathize. I have likely lost about 50 lbs. at this point as well and do not feel I look any better. I feel better and move a bit more freely, and I look different, but not “better.”

That being said, what else am I going to do? This is how it’s going to be for life so I’m not chomping at the bit to do something else, such as pig out on food that is highly caloric. I try to view this as growing more and more accustomed to and comfortable with a normalized relationship with food with subsequent weight loss rather than a diet with only weight loss in mind. I can have my health and a better quality of life, or I can have an all you can eat buffet of food and hide from life as best I can. I’m tired of not having my health, and of hiding away.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Benefits of Being Fat

Recently, I was participating in a thread on a popular weight loss forum about motivation, and it got me thinking about the many reasons we fail to lose weight. This particular thread was from a woman asking how to get motivated in the face of multiple failures. One of the things I realized as I offered my opinion was that one reason we fail is that success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, at least for some people.

This is the kind of topic that is verboten when the topic of weight comes up in public forums. It’s a little like talking about smoking and the fact that many people who smoke are often thinner than those who do not and that many people feel smokers look “cool”. These are potential benefits of smoking. It’s not worth the damage to your body or the risk, but these are “benefits” for some nonetheless. We can suppress the notion that they exist, but they are there nonetheless.

By pretending that there is nothing beneficial in being fat, we ignore the roots of many failures. If those benefits are important enough to us, and we do not first make an effort to substitute some other healthier pursuit or source for those advantages, we greatly increase the chances of failure when we try to lose weight because we're layering multiple sources of stress on top of multiple layers of unmet needs.

The “good points” of being fat are highly personalized, though I can discuss some that tend to apply to me and to possibly others here. One benefit is absolutely undeniable, and that is unrestricted access to the pleasures of food. If you’ve ever endured a rumbling stomach, a low blood sugar headache, or the stress of resisting an overwhelming craving for chocolate, you know that just doing what you want when it comes to food is an experience in luxurious joy. Not having to censor and control what you put in your mouth is definitely better than having to do so.

Another good point is that you take yourself off the market in terms of many expectations that others have of you. If you’re overweight, you can take intimacy off the books if you like because you can tell yourself you’ll never attract someone. You don’t have to wonder what’s wrong with you when no one loves you because you’ve got the reason ready at hand. No one loves you because you’re fat. You’ll never find a mate because you’re fat. The injustices of life make a lot more sense when you’re overweight. In many ways, your life is simplified. Bad things happen because you are fat.

For me, I realize now that one of the motivations I had, besides anesthetizing myself with food, was that it gave me an excuse to isolate myself from the sometimes hostile, always rejecting environment that I live in. It made it easier to cut myself off from people who treated me like part of a freak show exhibit. The resulting health issues made it easy to justify doing even fewer things outside of my comfort zone.

As someone who was raised to always put others needs and wishes before my own, it was more comfortable to be too fat to do something than to refuse to do it because I simply did not want to. I was off the hook from the voice that said, “everyone will dislike you if you don’t do what they want,” because I could beg off for physical reasons. Depending on your character, there is almost certainly no end of reasons to be fat as a form of avoidance of certain experiences.

There is also rejection of the fashion rat race and looks competition. As long as you are fat, you’ve decided that you’ve lost the race before it has begun. You don’t even have to compete. Let’s face it, the race is quite daunting and tiring. If you grew up poor and couldn't buy much in the way of clothes or make-up, or don’t have features which society has deemed to be beautiful, you have all the more motivation to take yourself our of the running. Being fat allows you to be the hobbled horse who sits out the entire race.

One of reasons that I know I gained weight as a kid was for a sense of “armor”. As the child of an emotionally abusive mother and and alcoholic father, I was looking to put something between me and the pain. I also think that there is a desire to be “big” so that you feel stronger against the forces that cause you to suffer. If adults are harming you, you want to be one, too. If you can’t get there in years, you can get there in size.

More than one person has felt that being thinner will make them more vulnerable to attacks of a physical nature. Bigger means stronger. Weight adds power. Women who were molested or raped as children, or who fear such experiences, may remain fat because it gives them a sense of power.

One of the biggest benefits of being overweight is that it changes both your expectations of yourself and those others have of you. If you're someone who is a perfectionist or expects an unrealistic amount of effort or success from yourself, being fat allows you to put down many of the burdens you're placing on yourself. That is not to say that being fat is a good thing overall, but it is useful to ponder the ways in which it benefits you so you can deal with the loss of those benefits more effectively when you change your lifestyle.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Half a Dinner

On days when I can't eat dinner until after 10:00 pm due to work, I always have difficulties mapping out the day such that I don't eat too many snacks between lunch and dinner. Today, I was upset at myself for not waiting until dinner to eat, but really it's all about a failure to plan.

That being said, there is always the possibility of damage control. A few weeks ago, I skipped dinner altogether because I wasn't very hungry by the time it rolled around anyway. This evening, I'm going to eat half of what I planned to. Considering the fact that I don't eat big meals now anyway, that means dinner should have very few calories.

The strange thing is that the idea that I could eat half of what I'd planned to came more as a revelation than as a logical thought. I can't understand why such a notion came as such a novel notion rather than a reasonable consideration. I guess it is a reflection of rigidity about eating timing and meals which very likely has been playing into my overeating my entire life.

To be fair, it may also have to do with the fact that making dinner is a somewhat big production, and it feels strange to go through all of that trouble and end up eating about 3 bites of each food on the menu. That being said, I feel like this realization is going to be very helpful not only now but in the future. It means that I don't have to "save" a set amount of calories for dinner later in the day when I'm starving now. I can simply eat what I want, and eat a very tiny amount of dinner later. The important point is controlling the day's calories, not giving any particular meal an arbitrary chunk of the day's allotment.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

So Many Cells

In dealing with my hard-to-discern progress, I've been trying to conceptualize how the changes in my body occur. Since I likely still weigh over 300 lbs. (perhaps considerably more, it's hard to know), I've been mulling over the effect of the loss of just one pound on the entire mass of me.

My guess based on my calorie counting, exercise, and likely base level calorie number maintenance for a person of my current size, is that I'm under-eating by as much as 1500 calories a day, possibly a bit more or a bit less. That means I'm probably losing somewhere over 2 lb.s a week, and about 10 lbs. a month.

I can't recall if I've mentioned this fact before, but the number of fat cells in your body is set by a certain age (around your late teens). I will always have a lot of fat cells unless I have surgery, which I have no plans to do. Looking at my size, and considering the number of fat cells in my body, I'm thinking of just how little impact 1 lb. of cell shrinkage is going to have on such a vast number of fat cells. There is a lot of territory to cover and the distribution of 1 lb. is going to be infinitesimal and impossible to notice.

This may sound discouraging, but it is not. It actually encourages patience. I know that I can't see a difference in a week, but I will see a difference in a month or two. I have to give my body a chance to shrink in a leap because it's unrealistic to expect it to shrink in baby steps. I have to give it time because there's so much ground to cover. It's a little like tiling a vast space one tiny tile at a time. At first, you feel like you'll never get it all covered, but as the months go by, you have covered a wall, then another, and in a few years, the room is nearly done. Those inches become feet, and the feet become yards.

This conceptualization has helped me become a little more patient with the process during this period of "FWB" (fat without benefits). I'm hoping the sense can stick with me as time goes by.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


As I've mentioned before, in my last year and a half of college, I lost a lot of weight and became much more attractive. The rest of my family remained greatly overweight and continued to eat the pounds of potatoes, junk food, and fatty foods that they always ate. They also did not exercise.

I distinctly recall judging them for their behavior and thinking that they could change just like I did if they were strong enough or had the will. This memory of my attitude makes me cringe and I am very ashamed of myself for having had it. The arrogance I had at that time was not too dissimilar to that which many thin people display toward me and those like me now.

Years after I'd regained all the weight I'd lost and more, I wondered if there weren't some sort of just desserts for me in my "downfall". Though I never said anything to my family members about how they lived their lives or criticized them for their weight (and I still loved them all), I had the sense that regaining weight was a karmic payback for my lack of compassion and understanding at that time.

The interesting and very useful thing about what happened to me is that I also understand just how easy it is to lose weight easily or to suddenly stop struggling with food and then become judgmental. In a very real way, the fact that it was relatively easy for me the first time blinded me to the true hardship of overweight people and it took falling back into the difficulty of it all for me to really understand and have more compassion. It also helped me see how people who do not suffer a problem (or don't suffer it for long) can't develop empathy for those who do suffer.

I don't feel that being fat and suffering health issues as a result for the last 20 years has really been the best thing, but I do believe that something of value emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually has come of it. I can't be happy with the damage I've done to my body, or the pain I've suffered (and continue to suffer), but at least I can see that I've grown in some ways of value.

(A Little) Out of Control

I went from counting calories 3 days a week to doing it everyday rather spontaneously. The idea was to not limit myself to my goal number (1500) every single day, but simply to get some structure into each day so I knew how much I was eating. For 10 days, I ate just under 1500 every day and it was actually pretty easy.

I started to grow both confident and complacent about my control over my eating. Then, there was today. I still tracked my calories, but at the end of the day, I found myself craving salty food and giving in to the craving. I told myself that it was okay as long as I didn't go over 2000 calories because I never planned to eat at a low number every single day. I rationalized it further by saying that it was probably not a bad idea to mix up my numbers and eat a little more occasionally. The bottom line though was that I was eating compulsively because I had a harried, stressful, and painful day.

In the end, I finished at 1950 calories. This is by no means a disaster, particularly in light of all of the days behind it of very good control and strong numbers. There was no way I was going to go over 2000. However, when I found myself saying that it was okay to finish off the remains of a bag of Chee-tos (about an ounce) because I could have a day where I indulged every once in awhile, I knew that I'd lost control and was acting on emotional eating. I ate about 8 cheese curls and threw the rest in the trash. Most of the extra calories I ate ended up being from a few small handfuls of peanuts.

On the bright side, this is the closest I've come to a "binge" in a long time, and I truncated it. On the not so bright side, I came close to a binge. At the moment, this experience only improves my determination for the road ahead, and it gives me a good hard kick in my complacency. Unfortunately, it also puts a tiny dent in my food control confidence.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Monitoring Methods

Now that I'm heading deeper into the 6th month of my efforts to lose weight and be in control of my eating, I've decided that it is time to add in another form of monitoring my progress. I still have ambivalent feelings about the scale and will not be using it for the time being.

At this point, I still regard it as a "de-motivational" tool because of the way in which the readings cannot be trusted as a measure of progress. Weight values fluctuate greatly based on time of day, time of month, and increases in muscle mass. I don't want to find myself in despair because the readings haven't moved or have gone up when I know I've done everything right. I'll just keep doing everything right for the time being and let the chips fall where they may.

Previously, I've mentioned that my clothes have been my measure as well as observations of specific bodily changes. I'm also watching my interaction with my environment to see if things are changing. For example, I have a small half-bath bathroom which is little bigger than a small closet that I used to occasionally scrape my belly on when entering or exiting the room and I clear the door with more clearance than before. I also have a chair with arms which I barely squeezed into before which is a better fit, though this is probably one of the slower changing experiences since I'm losing weight so much more slowly in my lower body.

The next monitoring phase is coming photographically. I had my husband take a picture of me about a week ago and download it to his computer. I can't bear to look at it myself, but I am going to have him take regular pictures at 4-month intervals and ask him to check for visible progress. I'm guessing I'll have the courage to look at them myself about a year into this journey, or whenever he does a comparison and reports that progress is clearly visible.

I wish I had had him take a picture at the beginning, but I think that would have put pressure on me to succeed and I simply was not ready at that point. I can only chart my progress if I expect to make it, and I'm not sure I had the highest expectations at the beginning. It wasn't that I expected to fail necessarily, but rather that embarking on this trip was enough of a stretch for me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Brain, Blood, Stomach, and Psyche

I’ve been pondering the nature of hunger as of late, and where it comes from and how to tamp down its insistent cries for attention. This speculation was set off by a question I and others with weight problems have asked ourselves many times. That question is, what is “real” hunger?

My feeling is that all hunger is “real” in terms of the strength of insistence that you eat, but I think that what the question is meant to ask is “when does the body really need food as opposed to want it?” For many people, the most useful answer is “in the stomach”. When the stomach is empty and grumbling, you are likely experiencing true biological hunger.

Unfortunately, getting to the stage of a demanding stomach takes awhile and can be very uncomfortable for most people. Part of me wonders if metabolically speaking waiting for a grumbling gut is akin to waiting for a dry mouth to drink. That is, it may not necessarily be the best to wait that long to eat as there may be some slow down in your overall metabolism.

The place in which most people in developed countries feel hunger is in the blood. That is, their body responds to dips and spikes in their blood glucose levels and demands more when the levels drop. Because of processed food, we experience more blood sugar fluctuation than our ancestors likely did and our bodies have become accustomed to the roller coaster ride and attempted to deal with it. This can result in insulin resistance, which makes the hunger ride all the rougher.

One neglected area where hunger becomes an issue is the brain. An immense amount of energy is used by the brain and those who do a lot of work which requires concentration and thinking are going to find the brain signaling a desire for quick energy. The sugar fixes that people who do computer programming or desk work crave aren’t based on boredom, fatigue or the imagination. They are the result of the brain saying, “I’m running low on glucose to do my job. Please feed me.”

The most dismissed type of hunger, is that which comes from the psyche or that which is based on using food as a palliative for emotional distress. Somehow, the idea that taking drugs, drinking alcohol, having sex, exercising, etc. can be overdone to cope with stress is well understood, and those with addictive or compulsive behavior in regard to those emotional release valves are seen as diseases to be regarded with patience and compassion. Eating too much to cope is seen as nothing more than disgusting gluttony and character weakness.

My opinion has always been that food has turned into the addiction of choice for Americans because American culture has done a great deal to warn and educate people about the nature of other forms of addictions and the risks they carry. How many characters in movies, books, and television shows have been smokers, drinkers, or sex addicts who have lived out the destruction and consequences as warnings to us? Not only that, but treatment for these people is spelled out. For food addicts, the answer is very often, “eat less, exercise more, you fat pig!” “Just do it,” is not an answer to the psychological addiction to food that many people (including myself) have.

If you want to handle hunger more effectively, I think it is useful to consider all factors that drive it rather than to focus only on one. Most people are likely driven to overeating by one more than another, but to some extent, we are all driven by all of them.