Tuesday, September 14, 2010


When I started this blog, I named it "screaming fat girl" because I believed that that old saying about their being a "thin girl" inside of every fat girl screaming to get out was wrong. That is, I believed that inside every woman was a fat girl screaming to get out. I'd like to admit now that I was wrong.

While there isn't a "thin girl" inside me struggling to get out, there isn't a fat one anymore either. I realized in light of the somewhat stressful circumstances of late that most, if not all, of my food issues are psychologically cured. All of those things which caused me to struggle with food and feel despair are gone. I don't have the impulse to stress eat. I don't compulsively eat. I don't have to fight the urge to eat foods which I know have too many calories or that will create an imbalance in my diet. Food does not "draw" me to it like a hypnotic magnet. I don't feel anxiety, deprivation, or longing for food unless I'm actually hungry. I don't eat to amuse myself or out of boredom.

I realized that this state of psychological liberation means that this blog has run its course. My body is not finished doing the slow work of consuming the extra energy that is stored on it, but my mind is trained and my habits are in place. Yes, there are still days when I am hungry all of the time, but this is absolutely due to biology (hormones) and I have the mental tools to resist my body's push on those days. Most days though, food is something I both enjoy and nourish myself with. Every day, I eat at a caloric deficit and exercise moderately, and it's all very doable and almost easy. In essence, my disease is cured, but the ravages of it will take awhile to disappear.

My body will continue to do its work at whatever pace suits it, but the important thing is that my mind no longer gets in the way of my body restoring me to the healthiest possible state. Getting to a number on the scale pales in comparison to this. I can't rush that process, nor do I have any desire to as my average loss rate of 2-2.5 lbs. per week is much healthier than rapid or extreme loss. I'm happy to give my body the time it deserves and requires. If the rate slows further as my weight continues to go down, that's okay as well.

For the record, and this is the last number I will be giving here, my weight is 235 lbs. as of today. I started altering my eating habits very slowly in mid-June 2009 and it is now mid-September 2010. I didn't know my starting weight, but guessed some time ago that it was 380 or somewhat more. That's an average loss of 9.6 lbs. per month, and considering I didn't even calorie-count at all at the start and didn't do it everyday for months, I think that is something to be quite satisfied with.

I've read a lot of blogs about weight loss and people's opinions and struggles, and the reason I'm happier with what I've done and will continue to do what I have been doing is that a lot of the problems they detail are not troubling me:

  • My hair hasn't fallen out from nutritional deficiencies. I'm not pale, drawn, or fatigued. My skin looks great. Moles have even vanished from my neck and little red skin blemishes on my upper arms have gone away.
  • I don't binge or go into markets or bakeries and feel crazed to have all the tasty foods or tormented that I can't have them. I don't ruminate on food all of the time.
  • I don't harbor any resentment, anger or hostility that I have to eat less than thinner people in order to weigh more, nor do I feel panic or concern when I'm in food situations which are not in my absolute control. I don't resent others enjoying fatty food that I "can't" (actually, choose not to at the moment) indulge in.
  • Food which is sugary, fatty, or highly caloric doesn't have to be kept out of my house. I can eat the tiniest portions of "indulgent" foods and be satisfied with a taste. I don't have any "triggers".
  • My overall diet is very balanced and portion-controlled. I'm neither a paragon nor a junk food junkie. My habits are not extreme in any way. Though there is a much heavier focus on vegetables, lean protein, fruit, and whole grains than anything else, nothing is out of bounds for me as long as the portions are right for the type of food I'm eating. I do not define my value or judge others based on the trivial matter of food choices.

There's neither a fat nor thin girl inside of me. There's just me. To that end, I think it's time to spend more time working on my identity in directions which are unrelated to weight or food. It's not that I don't need to remain aware or make efforts, but I do believe that I am "cured" of all of the large problems. I've already accepted that my food intake gauge is broken and I have to count calories forever to avoid eating too much or too little. It takes but a few minutes a day to log food on FitDay anyway. I see it as no different than replacing toilet paper on an empty cylinder, putting away the clean dishes, or taking out the trash. It's a necessary task. I do it. It's done, and I give it no other thoughts.

I've come to a lot of realizations and one is that identity is something we build continuously and it is extremely important in weight loss, much more so than I ever realized when I started the process of "normalizing" my eating habits in June 2009. It's important for me to intentionally "grow" my identity in the directions I want to take it in order to continue to be more of the person I want to be. It won't happen without considerable effort mentally and emotionally.

Twice now I have purposefully revamped core elements of my personality. First I dealt with a bad temper and a tendency to react angrily and easily. Now, I've dealt with the food issues that have plagued me all of my life. The next steps will be to explore some other directions which I feel have been lacking. Those aspects relate to inner peace and calm as well as a return to a lifestyle in which I am more studious in a deep and meaningful fashion.

I wrote recently in a letter to someone that the way I change is by making an assertion about the type of person I want to be, and then slowly making more and more choices in line with making me that person. In a former post, I said that I didn't want to be the type of person who was defined by her body or food relationship. A lot of people, particularly in fat acceptance, believe that means you simply do not attend to how you eat and allow your body to be what it is. I think that's fine if you can be happy living that way. For me, I couldn't not be defined by my relationship with food or my body as long as it remained a focal point for anxiety due to my lack of control. I used to think it was about how fat I was, but I realize now that though the weight is an issue, it is a byproduct of the bigger issue and that is not being in control of a particular area of my life. Now that I have the control, I don't have to define myself in such a narrow fashion any longer.

I have said before that I didn't want to end up one of those people who loses weight or is losing weight and that becomes my entire focus in life. I wanted to come out at the end a whole and complete person with an identity which was not consumed by the issues of weight loss. This is one of the reasons why my focus is much more so on my relationship with food rather than on increasing exercise or having an aggressive focus on activity. Of course, the other reason is that I'm 46 with a congenital problem (a spinal defect) and cannot exercise vigorously even if I want to. By controlling food rather than increasing exercise, I will have the power to control my health no matter what my life circumstances end up being. I will not be at risk for gaining weight if I am put into a lifestyle situation which makes vigorous exercise difficult (or impossible).

One of the choices that I realized that I needed to make in order to become that non-weight and body-obsessed person was to step away from this blog. It has run its course for me, but it is not an easy thing to simply abandon. These things take on bigger and bigger meaning, especially when you encounter kind and like-minded people along the way who encourage you and reinforce that you have something of value to offer. While I do believe I have much of value to offer, I think that it is time to make such offerings apart from the focus on body, food, and weight. If I want to define myself otherwise, I must seek to make the choices that allow me to do that, so with some reluctance, I am "closing" this blog. It will remain if people are interested in the archives, but commenting will be disabled as I won't be coming back to reply to them or moderate them.

I know that a lot of wonderful people have followed me, and may have an interest in my life beyond this blog. Thank you to everyone who has been supportive of me, and my best wishes to all of those who wish to travel a path to becoming whole and self-actualized.

Update: As of January 1, 2011, I'm staying the course. I'm down to 215 lbs. and have an even stronger healthy relationship with food.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The center of all things

There's a syndicated sex advice columnist named Dan Savage who I know via his weekly column through The Onion's AV Club. He is known for talking in a straightforward manner and dealing frankly and often open-mindedly with sexuality in most of its forms.

Mr. Savage's advice often comes across as humorous and brutally honest. He'll call people "assholes" if he thinks they're jerks. He doesn't pull any punches and much of his advice is pretty spot-on. Sometimes though, his advice reveals his egocentric views and the limits of his experience. In essence, his thought processes operate as many people's do in that he believes that what he thinks, feels, and believes based on what he knows, has learned, and values is usually (if not always) correct.

Quite some time ago, there was a letter written by a woman to his "Savage Love" column and she said she was overweight, hairy, and lonely. She asked how she could find someone given her situation. Dan Savage's response was to go to the gym, lose weight, and undergo some sort of hair removal. As a man, and a gay one who has little experience in the physical health issues of women, he missed something that one of his readers caught the following week. A woman wrote in and said that the woman's description of herself had all of the symptoms of PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and that his advice may not help her since women who suffer from it have specialized needs in regards to weight loss and hirsutism.

This woman had problems which Mr. Savage didn't have the correct solution for because he didn't have the perspective or experience to recognize that she was not like him. For him, the answer to weight problems and hairiness were exercise, diet, and electrolysis. For her, they were likely medical treatment for a disease she didn't know she had.

I mention this case not because I wish to criticize Dan Savage. In fact, I liked the fact that he was willing to print the other woman's letter to help his reader in a way he may have failed to do so. I'm talking about it because there is often a myopia about how to lose weight when people dish out their advice. That myopia is induced by the glasses we each wear as a result of our own personal experiences and biased viewpoints. This topic came to mind after I followed a link on another person's blog to another blog in which a post appeared which asserted that there were some foods no one should ever eat until they'd lost all the weight they had to lose.

For some people, it is important to stay away from all of a certain category of food entirely if they want to lose weight. These people are addicts who can't trust themselves or condition themselves to eat in moderation. For others, the very act of that sort of rigidity induces despair at the possibility of long-term deprivation and makes it impossible for them to stick with a diet (and I use that word to mean "the food you eat", not a reducing plan) which is conducive to weight loss. To assert, unconditionally, that one has to do X, Y, or Z in order to lose weight is extremely self-centered and egocentric. It is essentially saying that there is one way to accomplish this task, and it is the way that works for you. Any other way is the road to failure.

I have issues with this sort of rigidity not because I care about all of the narcissism and steel-trap-closed minds in the world, but because the message being spread that there is naught but one road to success is a highly destructive one. If you spread the notion that you can't have a slice of pizza or a piece of chocolate until you have transformed into Slim Goodbody, then there will be a certain portion of the overweight population who will never even try because such rigid plans will not work for them. It wouldn't work for me, and I can say after 15 months in which my plan (which includes daily chocolate and often a salted snack in a small portion) has been working wonderfully for me.

In essence, the people who believe they know what is "right" based on what works for them are putting out a message that increases the chances of failure and a sense of futility when they offer such absolutism. They don't know every other person's issues (just as Dan Savage didn't know about PCOS), be they psychological or biological, yet they speak in absolute terms as if they know the one true path. I don't ask that people not feel that their way is right for them, but only that they at least crack their minds open enough to accept that it may not be the only "right" way for everyone rather than talk about what people should and shouldn't do to lose weight.

The worst (and best) times to start a "diet"

Some people say that they feel they could succeed if only everything in their lives were nearly perfect. They think that having a personal chef, access to a room full of an assortment of Lean Cuisine meals, not having to work, a full assortment of exercise gear and a personal trainer, and having no stress in their lives would lead to weight loss nirvana.

The truth is that having everything you want will not lead to you successfully controlling your weight. Oprah Winfrey is proof of that. She has all of the money and control/power that a person could conceivably need or want, and she still has weight problems. The answers lie inside of us, not outside. That's not me being folksy or spiritual. It's a cold, hard fact as reflected in the lives of countless wealthy and powerful people who have struggled with weight issues. Besides Oprah, there was also Christina Onassis, one of the richest women in the world. She was constantly miserable with her weight. Among current celebrities are Wynnona Judd, Kirstie Alley, and Rosie O'Donnell (among others). Wealth, power, access to every possible resource, and a strong motivation to lose for career reasons and to diminish public ridicule doesn't help these women lose weight or maintain it when they do lose. It really is in your head, not in your wallet.

That being said, your environment definitely has a profound impact on the potential for success. While "perfect" life conditions do not guarantee success, very imperfect ones and bad timing will greatly increase the chances of failure. It would certainly seem that failure is easier to influence or increase the chances of than success. I suspect that this also points to the internal battle, which is all the harder to win under adverse circumstances.

I'm on record in some ancient posts saying that I think sometimes failure is worse than not even trying when it comes to weight loss. The reason I think this is that undertaking any endeavor and repeatedly failing at it undermines your confidence in your ability to ever accomplish the goal. If you wanted to paint well, and painted dozens and dozens of pictures with little improvement, you'd likely give up and believe you would never be an artist. The same goes for weight loss. If you try again and again an fail, you're eventually going to believe you're incapable either biologically or psychologically.

I've been following a lot of blogs and have more than a little personal experience behind me, and I've reached some conclusions about circumstances and factors which will greatly decrease your chances of long-term success. That is not to say no one can succeed, but rather that you're bucking the odds if you do. I've come up with the following, and keep in mind I'm not saying "everyone will fail" under these conditions (and please, please do not make a comment as if that is what I'm saying - one of my pet peeves is people setting up a straw man to knock down based on not reading what I'm actually saying but some grossly inaccurate inference), but rather that it will be much harder to succeed with these circumstances or motivations.

The worst times or reasons to diet (in my opinion) are:

1. after a period of free and excessive eating or bingeing

The classic example of this is holiday binges followed by New Year's resolutions to lose weight. Statistics show that all hope is abandoned by the vast majority of people by May of the year in which they express their resolve.

The problem with making an effort to lose weight on the heels of a full stomach and a sated psyche when it comes to the food you love to taste is that it's easy to proclaim you'll do better when you have no real need for food-based pleasure or satisfaction and are full of the sense of having been indulged and gratified. It's like how you are so happy to be home after a vacation as compared by how sick of being in the house you are day-in and day-out. Strong contrasts bring about easy proclamations of change and short-term behavioral alterations that are harder to sustain as the memory of the satisfaction and related guilt become distant memories.

Though resolutions to do better after binges are almost inevitably undermined after a period of prolonged deprivation, if this sort of situation tends to motivate you, there is a way to use it. Essentially, see a day of excess once in awhile (like once every three or four weeks) as a pressure valve. Be in control and let loose on occasion until you find a better balance. If you have a cycle of feast followed by a proclamation that you will now experience famine, then perhaps you need to plan some feasting from time to time to keep up your momentum.

2. because of fear

Fear is a horrible motivator. It wrecks biological havoc on your body and is unsustainable mentally. Holding fear in your mind is no small trick, and it is really not a good thing to do to yourself.

Keep in mind that the chemical reason for fear is to help you survive. It feeds into multiple neurochemical and biochemical processes that tell you to "escape" one way or another (either eliminate what you fear by vanquishing it or run from it). Holding onto fear as a motivator, such as experiencing the death of a family member due to weight related illness, will place your body in a state of biochemical readiness which will not only create stress in the long term, but will fatigue you. Both of those factors make you want to eat more and more, not stop eating.

Additionally, fear over a particular event or experience is something which you will become increasingly psychologically desensitized to through time. Humans are not meant to face the same fear over a long period of time. They are meant to escape it, or stop fearing it. This makes sense because your body cannot tolerate the chemical upheaval fear puts it through for an extended time.

Since fear creates circumstances which make you want to eat, and is an unsustainable motivator, it's a bad reason to change your lifestyle to lose weight. It's one of the reasons why people who have health scares related to weight may not lose weight. It's not that they don't care, but rather that even fear of your own mortality won't spare you the biological and psychological truth about fear as a motivation. Eventually, most people go into denial and place the fear out of their conscious thinking. They don't do this because they want to. They do it because their bodies can't live in the rigors of fear everyday.

Fear can be used, however, as a kicking off point for a more reasoned approach to your life. It shouldn't be your core motivation, but it can help you find other motives. Fear can be a catalyst, but it should never be central to your thinking or reasons for losing.

3. self-hate or disgust

A lot of people start off losing weight because they hate themselves, and a lot talk about hating themselves even when they are losing successfully. I certainly have. Note that there is a difference between hating yourself and losing weight, and using self-hate as the fuel that continues to feed your weight loss mojo. You can lose weight and be self-hating, but it is unlikely to sustain you throughout the duration of the process.

As a central motivation, self-hate is ultimately self-defeating. If you feel you are weak, worthless, lazy, ugly, pathetic or lacking in character traits that will help you control food intake, you are in essence telling yourself that you aren't capable of succeeding on a deep, personal level. What is worse, you're conveying the unconscious idea that you're not worthy of effort and expense (in all sense of the word, not just money) that success will cost you.

Self-hate is one aspect of losing weight that I think people really need to work with as they go about losing weight. They need to change their self-image to a positive one, but not because of their improving body image. They need to love their fat self's psyche much as their thinner body so that they feel capable, worthwhile, and valuable aside from their bodies. A sustained sense of self-disgust to motivate you will only make you give up eventually (if not sooner) because you won't think you're worthy or capable of the effort.

4. to please somebody else

If you lose weight in the hopes that that guy you've had your eye on will start to see you romantically, think again. Losing weight for other people is fraught with complications, not the least of which is that you probably think they will value your thinness (or you) more as a result of your changed body far more than they will actually value you.

Many people aren't as shallow as we think they are and they don't discount others wholesale on body alone. It's one of the reasons that men who are friends with women who are fat and lose weight don't suddenly fall in love with them when they lose it. We like to believe this because it fulfills the "fat worldview" where all sorts of bad things happen to us only because we are fat. This is not exactly a complete fantasy, as it is true that fat people are mistreated, treated worse than others, and have trouble finding significant others based on their bodies, but it's not all that there is to the picture.

What happens when you lose weight so that men will take an interest in you and then they end up not being interested in you? Your motivation is gone. It's just a bad idea to place validation for your actions outside of yourself, particularly when you are uncertain of the reaction of the person you're hoping to please. Even if all of the men start flocking to your new thin self, the situation becomes immensely complicated when rejection or difficulty for other reasons come into play. Do you start eating again after the dream relationship ends in acrimony because your significant other cheated on you? Affirmation of the rightness of your choices needs to solely or at least greatly lie within yourself.


As far as "good" times and reasons to "diet" or change your lifestyle, there are actually probably more of them than there are bad ones. The main difference is that people don't tend to act on the "good" ones because acute negative motivation tends to be a more powerful taskmaster than long-term positive motivation.

1. long-term health improvement (often without an acute issue)

Mainly, I think that people who have chronic conditions which are not immediately life-threatening have a better chance of succeeding than those who operate out of fear of imminent death or dire consequences. They don't operate out of a sense of desperation or fear, but with long-term quality of life improvements. A solid motivation with the potential for actual life improvement (as opposed to a lack of further degradation or death) works more effectively, though it really does depend on how much pain you can tolerate and how bad the pain is.

2. the beginning of summer

When I talk about summer and weight loss, I don't mean losing to look good in a bathing suit. The start of summer is a good time to begin a diet because the heat will naturally suppress your appetite and make one turn to lighter food (especially watery fruit). You can start to pick up good habits during this time which you are more likely to carry on through time.

Also, moving in the heat will burn more energy than moving in the cold and summer is often the time when people pursue movement-oriented activities as part of their vacations. It's also a time which you can thoughtfully approach your eating as it normally is rather than make a change on the heels of a powerful holiday overeating jag. Changing your habits after weeks of your average eating will make you more thoughtful about changes than trying to do so after bingeing on Christmas goodies and New Year's party food.

Finally, if you start at the beginning of summer (around May or June), you'll have losses behind you by November that you will want to continue your progress. Having been rewarded with lost weight for your actions, you may not so easily decide to go on an all-out binge during the holidays for fear that your gains will be mitigated. Essentially, you are being rewarded long before the most profound temptation comes along, and may feel less deprived when passing on the goodies since you already have something you may feel is of greater value than immediate gratification with food.

3. for a long-term, concrete, meaningful goal

I've lost weight successfully and over a long period of time twice (including this time around) and that was because I knew I'd have to seek a job at both times. I knew the change was coming years before and I started acting to make the changes such that I'd be able to reach the goal by the deadline. Of course, I regained the first time, but I'm hoping this time to avoid that pitfall because of the psychological and behavioral changes I've made this time (last time, much of my success was based on unsustainable practices like 90 minutes of exercise 5 days a week).

Some of the other successful people who I have followed have had meaningful long-term goals. The type who don't tend to do so well have vague desires for improvements for the sake of looking better or feeling better in a generalized fashion. Others act out of a sense of urgency or immediacy and often choose rapid loss programs that cannot be sustained.

If you want to lose it and have an increased chance of keeping it off, it really is better to look at it as the dreaded "lifestyle change" and to take it slow. This allows your body to adjust as well as your mind. Focusing on expediency rarely results in lasting change in anything in life, let alone something which requires your biology to come around to a new way of living.

And, as before, I'm not saying everyone is guaranteed success under these conditions, but just that the odds are likely improved.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Invisible Restraints

Back when I was a kid riding the school bus, I always sat in the front seat behind the driver. I did this because it afforded me the greatest protection from the constant stream of torment directed my way from kids who wanted to bully me because of my weight. It's not that the bus driver did anything to control them, but rather that the mere proximity of an adult and the limited access to me from that location helped curtail such behavior.

One day, the driver was approaching a stretch of road in what would be the "heart" of the tiny rural town in which my high school was located. An older woman had taken it upon herself to cross this main street at a random spot with no street light or crosswalk, and the bus driver had to stop essentially in the middle of a stretch of road where stopping wasn't supposed to happen in order to accommodate her slow progress across the street. I remember scoffing at the old lady's poor choice of location to cross and saying she should have looked for oncoming traffic and chosen a more appropriate spot at which to cross. The bus driver, herself a rather mature woman, got angry at me and scolded me for judging the pedestrian. She said that she knew that lady and that she had infirmities which made it difficult for her to walk and that I should have compassion for her.

This situation illustrates something that occurs almost certainly every minute of the day somewhere in the developed world. A person with physical difficulties which the outside world cannot detect with the naked eye observes a person doing something, acting a particular way, or, in the case of fat people, looking a certain way, and they make a judgement. They make their conclusions divorced from the facts, and they always declare the other party lacking.

When I was younger, and yet unencumbered by any sort of serious physical difficulties, this was a mistake I made. Now that I'm older, and have a whole host of issues which are holding me back, I know that people can seem fine in their outward appearance, but that problems that limit their capacity to do whatever they want to do including pursue better health are hiding behind the surface.

Recently, NewMe did a post about her anger and frustration about her knee and other problems which hold her back from fully enjoying her life or doing the things which will increase her rate of weight loss. Her post was a very timely one for me because I have also been encountering the same road blocks. I've actually been encountering them for decades, but recently have been running up against them more often since I've been trying to expand the range of activities I'm attempting. My body is not repaying me with increased flexibility and strength, but with pain and troubling side effects.

Lately, I've been trying to do some beginner yoga and dance DVDs in addition to walking and light weight lifting. Note that I do everything gradually because I'm all too aware of my limits and frailty. When I started walking, I started at a mere 5 minutes and weight lifting started at 5 reps. Slowly adding from there has mitigated some of the "growing pains", but certainly not eliminated them. I still suffer muscle aches and pains all of the time. The pain is with me every single day, but it is getting slowly less acute.

Last night, I did about 20 minutes of the most modest and rudimentary yoga routine. This was the third time I'd added a little more to my attempts with this particular DVD (Lilias Yoga for beginners). I only ever do the stretches and moves to my limited capacity because I do not have the flexibility to do even the basic moves she shows, so I'm not pushing myself into pain territory (though I do have to push to stretch - there's a point where you tax the muscle a bit, but don't damage yourself). All went pretty well, until about a half hour after when my ring finger on my right hand started to go numb. All night, my right hand and finger experienced intermittent numbness from compression of a nerve in my back due to inflammation. This is not a new experience for me. It used to happen to me all of the time when I first started walking.

My back problems may seem to exist as a result of my weight, but the truth is that there is a congenital defect in my spine. I first had back issues at the age of 12, and then they eventually went away. When they recurred with a vengeance in my 30's, I had testing which showed a little crack on an X-Ray on one of my lower vertebrae. I was told that I should lose weight, but that there was nothing I did to create this problem nor anything I could do to stop it aside from reducing my weight and increasing my fitness level to take the pressure off of my bone structure. Of course, there is a "chicken and the egg" issue at play. My back problems make it hard to lose weight or be fit, and not being fit or at a lower weight make my back issues worse.

So, here I am doing everything I can to lose weight and be stronger, including adding to and mixing up my exercise routine so that I can develop muscles in various directions, but I'm like a runner at the gate who is being held back from starting because of some invisible restraint. All of the will and motivation in the world doesn't do me any good as long as the flesh and bones are weak. It's important to keep in mind that "everything I can do" isn't the same as "everything one can do" for a particular individual. Just as I didn't know that old lady couldn't walk well enough to choose a better crossing spot or cross faster and shouldn't have judged her, people shouldn't be judging me or anyone else by simply looking at them. We don't know what circumstances are holding other people back, and we can't tell by just looking at them. Even more than not judging them, it's important to have compassion for the fact that they suffer not only because of the immediate effects (pain, slowness) of their limits, but because there are productive and enjoyable things they might want to do very badly (including but not limited to losing weight) and can't do because of them.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Yesterday, I did something that I haven't done in a long time. I bought a piece of clothing from a local store in the "normal" section. The shirt is probably the biggest you can get at that shop. It's sold as a "3L". I bought the shirt because it said something goofy on it, and because it is actually rare to find a "3L". The truth is that most of the time there are only S, M, and L sizes at my local shops.

I didn't try the shirt on, but I was pretty sure it would fit, and it did. In fact, it is currently the only piece of clothing I own which "fits properly". It's neither too tight, nor too lose. This was another reason I bought it.

Today, I realized that this is supposed to be a milestone, and I should be excited to have this newfound "freedom" to buy something in a casual and easy way which I wouldn't have been able to manage before at a higher weight (I always used mail order before). I read all of the time about how excited people get because they can buy clothes in the "regular sizes" section instead of the "plus sizes" sections or stores. The truth is that I'm not excited at all. It gave me no pleasure to cross a threshold like this. This isn't some sort of sad, depressed indifference, but honestly not having an emotional response to a trivial experience that other fat people get pretty worked up about.

Lately, I've been reading a lot about weight and regret. There are women who have been succeeding for awhile with their diets and they talk about how "easy" it is and how hard they wish they'd made those changes before. Personally, I have no regrets about how I have lived much of my adult life over 300 lbs. It's not that I didn't spend every day wishing I was thinner for various reasons (health, mobility, lack of social censure), but rather that I don't look back on those years and think somehow it would have been lived significantly differently (or "better") had my weight been lower.

The truth is that I lived my life very well and in a manner which suited my nature regardless of weight then as I do now. I spent a lot of time with my husband, talked with old friends and made new ones, worked, enjoyed food, improved my character through psychological techniques, improved my mind through study, and did creative things. I didn't care then about where I bought my clothes or how big my panties were. I didn't care about whether or not random men found me sexy or appealing. I didn't even particularly care about sitting or fitting in a booth in a restaurant. I didn't care about going on amusement park rides. I didn't care about any of these sorts of things then, and I don't care now.

There is only one thing which I do now which I couldn't do then due to crippling back pain and poor mobility, and that's spend time walking around with my husband. I don't necessarily "regret" that I couldn't do that before because I don't see that time as representing much of our lives' total time, and we were together almost every minute otherwise. I do, however, enjoy doing this with him now. It's really the only truly meaningful threshold that I've walked over at this point. It's the only thing that my weight and my weight alone held me back from doing which I really like doing now but couldn't do before.

I wonder why I don't care about all of the things people get elated about as they lose weight like being able to paint you toenails without being a contortionist or going on airplanes. I've reached several conclusions. One is that having the nature of a highly sensitive person has made seclusion and avoiding external stimuli so much more appealing than going out and around that I don't feel I've missed anything I seriously wanted anyway. Another is that I have never been connected to my physicality in a strong manner and have been mind-centered all of my life. The mind can be cultivated regardless of weight.

The biggest reason, though, is probably that I am not caught up in the materialistic, surface-oriented lifestyle that many people are focused upon. I do not say that as a critical statement of those who derive pleasure from such things, but merely as an assertion of fact. I have zero interest in judging people's lifestyles and personal choices in order to elevate mine. In fact, sometimes I wish that buying a bauble or a widget would bring me the sort of pleasure others get. It's such a simple thing, and I used to experience it when I was younger. It asks for nothing more than a little money, and gives such joy, and I can see the value in such a focus. However, I no longer have that feeling 99.9% of the time, and I don't really desire to cultivate it or revive it in myself because it can bring pain as well as delight (particularly if you are poor or lose control of your spending).

I realized that the fact that my character is different in this regard does change how the little things which many people see as a thrilling side effect of weight loss are things which I regard with complete apathy. I'm a pragmatic and intellectual person. This is not something which weight has held me back on. It is possible that weight has helped shape such a focus or character, and if that's the case, I'm good with that. In fact, it could be said that this is something that being fat has done for me which could be regarded as positive, at least from my viewpoint. I'd rather be me than someone else because it doesn't require me to keep spending money to be happy or feel better about my life, and it requires far less in the way of external validation to make me continue to be satisfied with my life. I don't care if other people think I'm "fat and ugly" (though I don't think I'm ugly, nor do I think being fat means one is ugly), as long as they keep their opinions to themselves and don't feel it necessary to inflict them on me.

One of the things I've come to realize is that the whole process of losing weight so far for me is very unique because I'm only gratified with improved movement, accessibility, and health. I'm not particularly excited about my appearance, though I do track changes as a means of noting progress. I am, however, extremely gratified with the leaps ahead that have occurred psychologically for me and the control I have established over an area of my life which controlled me for so long.

It's one thing to be fat because being fat can occur for many reasons. You can be in control of your eating and still be fat if your genetics or medical condition create such an inevitability for you. It's another thing to have no control over your eating because you are psychologically compelled to turn to food. I'm immensely, tremendously, and joyously gratified to have a more balanced and productive relationship with food. This is the milestone that matters to me, not buying a shirt in a regular section of a regular store.

Friday, September 3, 2010

An Examplary Man

Ex"am*pla*ry\, a. [From Examplecf. Exemplary.] Serving forexample or pattern; exemplary."

Ricky Gervais is a British comedian known in America mainly as the creator of the British "The Office" series which has been adapted for American audiences in a version starring Steve Carell. He has also made a few movies, but they have not performed particularly well. For fans of British comedy, he is also known for a fairly brilliant, but esoteric comedy about actors and acting called, "Extras".

It was through "Extras" that I came to know Ricky Gervais's work, and the fact that he was capable as someone who was seen as "fat" of mocking his own physicality. In particular, there is an episode of that show guest starring David Bowie in which the iconic singer composes a song on the fly about Gervais's character being a "little fat man". As Bowie improvises a song, Gervais's character sits uncomfortably trying to take it with good humor but his face registers a range of conflicting emotions. The scene is not funny in a conventional way. It's more of a painful situation which people identify with and sympathize with the character's dilemma. It's exposing something real and extracting dark humor from it.

A lot of Gervais's writing and humor comes from exploring pain, failure, and the human side of characters. His characters expose bald character flaws and weaknesses and generally lack self-awareness. It is not easy humor to watch or enjoy at times, but it is intricate and subtle in a way that some may appreciate, and others may find boring or uncomfortable.

I think there has been a place for Gervais's craft and that it has been interesting to explore. That being said, his work as of late has taken another turn. Gervais lost quite a bit of weight and started to buff up some, supposedly in fear of dying from a heart attack. After he lost weight, he started to attack fat people at every turn. People argue whether or not he truly feels what he is saying or if this is a comedic persona that he has concocted like his other comedy characters as a next step in his "evolution" as a comedian.

To me, it is irrelevant whether this is real or fake, because the underlying reasons for his assault against overweight people would be the same regardless. The truth is that Gervais, like many fat people who have managed to become thin, has lost the weight, but not the self-hate. When he castigates and blames fat people, he's using them as representatives of his former physical self because mentally he remains full of fat person self-loathing. He may also feel the need to keep beating up fat people as a way of beating himself up so that he keeps enough disgust for his former self in place to stop him from regaining weight. If so, his capacity to control himself is being held in place by the weakest of resolve, and he deserves our pity rather than our anger that he abuses us so roundly.

Like many formerly fat people, he has found that losing weight hasn't resulted in self-love, but in continued self-loathing. Since the body in the mirror doesn't match that internal feeling, he has no option but look outside of himself for targets and to use other fat people as representative punching bags. The very sad reality is that when David Bowie sings about the "pathetic little fat man", it was really Gervais saying that to himself, and even though he's no longer fat, nothing has really changed for Gervais in terms of his attitude toward himself. He still hates himself and that is a state which he has grown so accustomed to that the anger has to go somewhere else. His inner voices must be raging critical demons, and they're attacking us in lieu of him.

I talk about Ricky Gervais not because he is famous, but because his life is a public one by choice. It is easy for others to follow my links and see who he is and what he says. I am talking about him because he is an example of something that happens to some fat people when they lose weight when they don't deal with the underlying emotions that they have had for years as abused and tormented people. These people are still around, and they tend to be the sharpest critics of fat people. They're the first to dish out "tough love", talk about "willpower", and point out how you are unwilling to "sacrifice" enough. They need to beat you up because inside they need to keep beating themselves up. They also need to elevate themselves at your expense because inside they still feel inadequate despite their trimmer physiques. Inside, they still are full of anger and self-hate, just like Ricky Gervais.

With incredibly hard work and difficulty, you can eventually whittle your way free of your fat exterior, but it's even harder to lose the fat person mentality. No one exemplifies that better than Ricky Gervais.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Resentment and Futility

In the previous post, the Fat Grump made a comment about us being accountable to ourselves that got me thinking about accountability and weight loss. It made me remember something which hadn't occurred to me for awhile because I'm not someone who dieted very much in my past relative to other people with my weight issues and of my age. I've probably made two successful, serious efforts and no more than 5 very half-hearted efforts that lasted mere weeks in the past 20 or so years.

One thing I do recall from the half-hearted efforts is that I always felt a sense of rebellion about the restrictions that I put on myself. I felt as if someone were forcing me to do something that I didn't really want to do. I resented it, and felt angry about what I had to give up. I would pine for the foods I couldn't have and make comments to my husband about what I was missing, particularly around special days or holidays. I was mad at "someone" for "making me" do this thing, even though no one was forcing me to do it.

If we are losing weight for our own benefit and are only accountable to ourselves, why would there be this sense of fighting the process or rebelling against some unknown entity? I haven't felt this way during the entire 15 or so months that I've been losing weight this time, and it is interesting to consider why I felt that way before, and why I don't feel this way now. The main reason that I've come up with is that my motivation this time is urgent and based on an imminent and major change. My sense that something qualitatively in my life absolutely must change in a meaningful way is far stronger.

In the past, my motivation was mainly to "look better" and "be healthier", but with no real directed purpose. The truth was though that I never had any true sense that anything I did would improve my health and I also didn't believe I could lose enough weight to matter. In fact, there were times when I felt that no matter what I did, I would not lose weight. I felt that my body betrayed me at every turn (and it certainly has seemed like it has been doing so since elementary school), and no matter what I did, it wouldn't improve. Since I had no faith in any sort of meaningful improvement, it was hard to surrender the pleasures and copious comforts of food.

Because I had no confidence in any actual improvement in my appearance or health, I think that I felt that I was going through the motions to lose weight in order to accommodate society's desire that I weigh less. The thing that I was rebelling against was the imposition of the values of others on my lifestyle. I wasn't not eating as I preferred for my benefit because I was sure I would not benefit, but for the vague all-encompassing desire of society that I fit in according to what it sanctioned. This was why I had resentment and rebelled against my own choices.

It's important to keep in mind that I sincerely did not believe that I could lose weight and that I would not experience health improvements. This was something which I felt because I saw people all around me eating more and worse than me, and not getting fat. It seemed like no matter how healthily I ate, I didn't lose weight, and every time I tried to do any meaningful structured exercise, I would get injured and be in even more pain than I was already in (and I have been in considerable pain for years, especially from my back). Since I lost a lot of weight in college mainly through exercise and healthy eating choices, I felt that failure to lose weight using that same pattern meant that I could not lose weight anymore.

It may seem odd that anyone would reach such conclusions, but the truth is that this was a reality that I fully inhabited, and, honestly, I was still living in it when I started trying to lose weight this time. The difference this time was that it was so important to me to succeed that I was willing to push ahead and try whether I truly believed it was going to work this time or not. When I first started making changes, I frequently expressed pessimism to my husband that my efforts would have any effect. He kept reassuring me that results would inevitably come (they "had to"), but I didn't believe it. You reach a point where you'll act on faith if your desire for a result is strong enough, and that's how I started out this time.

The interesting thing about weight loss is that it is one of the few endeavors in life outside of attending mandatory schooling that we feel forced to do and resent. Just like a child who has to get up early and get on the bus, we pout and sulk at having to do something that needs to be done and is ultimately beneficial, but we can't really see the value in it now. As adults who are trying to lose weight, it is as if we aren't fully cognizant of the idea that this is something we are choosing to do for our own benefit. We tell ourselves this, but we don't apply ourselves as if that were the case and do not react emotionally as if this were something being done of our own volition.

I've pondered why there is sometimes this sense of resentment and futility when we are only accountable to ourselves in regards to weight loss, and I have some thoughts:

1. Our bodies do not respond in accord with our actions.

This is something which resonates with me strongly, and it is a natural feeling for anyone. You can eat perfectly, exercise regularly and still get sick. There are people who are glowing examples of a perfect lifestyle who get cancer, and we all have caught colds, gotten stomachaches, headaches, and other minor illnesses despite our stellar efforts. If we feel that our actions are not going to be rewarded with an appropriate bodily response, we are less likely to make serious changes. It's one of the reasons people who plateau during their weight loss get discouraged. They apply effort, and get no result. This contributes to a sense of futility and makes it harder to remain motivated.

How many times have you read a fat acceptance blogger say that they feel that, short of extremely radical options, they will never lose weight? I can understand how they feel. Even though I have lost 140 lbs. so far, I still have days when I feel like my body will simply choose one day to stop responding to my efforts and I'll freeze at a weight which I am dissatisfied with. Even with a long track record of my body responding to my actions, I have somewhat shaky confidence that it will continue to happen.

2. We have an irrational relationship with food.

Food isn't just "fuel". I apologize to those who feel they need to minimize its impact on them in order to stick to their "food plans", but it is undeniable that we have an emotional, social, and cultural relationship with it and we are not machines that consume energy, but beings with minds and emotions. It's the same with our relationship with sex, which is not merely a biological compulsion that is used for purposes of procreation. You can try to bully, brainwash, or intellectually convince yourself that food is nothing more than fuel, but the broader reality is that it's much more than that. When you take away something which people have an emotional relationship with, particularly one in which they are offered simple and basic pleasure, there will be resentment and anger. Even if you are the one denying yourself, you are going to feel deprived.

3. We have a basic, primal need for food gratification.

What is one of the biggest reasons that babies start screaming for attention? They want food. Being denied food when you want it sets off a very strong negative primal response. This is something you were born to think and feel. It's part of a survival instinct. Such a basic urge, coupled with our emotional connection to food, is very hard to simply rationalize away. Just as celibacy or abstinence from all sexual gratification is hard to rationalize away, our screaming desire for food is hard to simply abandon.

4. Instant and concrete gratification vs. greatly delayed and abstract gratification.

The biggest sense of resentment that I felt about changing my eating in my past attempts to lose weight were based on the sense that I was surrendering something real that I needed now for something that was imaginary, elusive, and of dubious value to me personally in the future. There was a strong sense that I was giving up something important for nothing. This contributed both to a sense of futility and anger. It was like paying for car insurance when I didn't have a car. I just couldn't see the point.

I'm sure there are other reasons, and that they are personalized, but I think it's worth exploring these feelings because it is so common for people to feel anger about their diets. It's not only that they resent being penned up in the restrictions of their own voluntarily adhered-to food plans, but they get angry at others who are not in a similar state of self-denial. I think if we really understand the roots of these feelings, and accept that they are natural, we can start to dissipate some of the sense of resentment and futility that come along with "dieting".

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Therapy and Weight Loss

For quite some time, I've been following blogs and forums about weight loss, and occasionally the topic of therapy and the role of psychology come up. Most of the time, people who have lost or are losing weight say that counseling does not assist them in weight loss. Their general attitude is that their issues are biological in nature (e.g., sugar addiction, insulin resistance) or simply the result of poor self-control or discipline. The former can be treated with drugs and lifestyle changes. The latter has to be pushed through by "sheer force of will" until you have magically found the discipline (a notion I reject as I think "willpower" is a useless term which does nothing to assist people in making behavioral changes).

Setting aside the fact that bad habits are psychological issues, I've often wondered why people reject the idea that therapy will aid them in their efforts. I've reached various conclusions, but the primary one is that most weight loss therapy is likely too abstract in its reasoning. There need to be multiple stages to the process, and I think some counselors might be level jumping on the type of feedback they provide. For most people, the fact that their alcoholic father drowned his pain in booze and therefore role-modeled addictive behavior that the person undergoing treatment may be emulating but substituting food instead of alcohol is of limited value in dealing with the problem at hand.

If the information can't be directly applied to a change in lifestyle or at the moment when the impetus to behave destructively is motivated by that underlying psychology, it comes across as merely academic. If you stuff yourself with food to a point of physical discomfort because you create a new discomfort to blunt, mask, or distract yourself from painful emotional feelings, it means nothing as you sit in the therapist's office the day after a binge. The information has to be timely as well as accurate and relevant to be of value in the weight loss process.

In the sterile environment of the therapist's office, when the circumstances that may cause you to eat are far removed from that time and place, it is hard for the counselor to know what is driving you, and it's nearly as hard for you to know. What tends to happen is that it all boils down to "I eat because life is hard and food comforts me." This generic conclusion is of very limited value, particularly when no solution to the pain of your life is forthcoming via therapy.

In essence, knowing the cause doesn't really help with the solution for many people, particularly if the deeper knowledge doesn't come hand in hand with behavior modification therapy that teaches them new and concrete techniques for addressing stress in a fashion which does not involve food, but is adequate for alleviating your difficulties. Of course, for many food addicts, nothing soothes like food and they find all other options falling short in offering a palliative for their pain.

That being said, as someone who feels profoundly that analyzing the psychology of my problems and applying behavior modification techniques to myself have brought me to where I am today, I think that therapy can make the difference between being someone who loses weight and keeps it off and someone who starts to regain with the first forced lifestyle change or bad patch, or, perhaps worse, someone who is obsessed with food in a way which is conducive to physical health.

The process of weight loss is one thing, but living in a manner in which your relationship with food is psychologically as well as physiologically healthy is another. I believe that insights and understanding are something which should be made concurrent with changes in habits or routines, but they should not be expected to have an immediate effect or direct application. It is rather the case that they create a mass of self-knowledge that will reach a critical mass when your understanding of self comes together at later periods of time. This is something I figured out when I talked about my mental conditioning work. I didn't know how I one day stopped obsessing about food or using it destructively. It just seemed to happen, but it actually was the culmination of a great deal of therapeutic effort coming together after months and months of hard psychological work.

Many people believe that thin = cured. They think that as long as they lose weight, they have solved the problem and are effectively dealing with it. To me, this is a very narrow definition of "health" and focuses exclusively on appearances over a balanced existence in which your relationship with food is one in which your thoughts are not consumed by this issue. If you remain preoccupied with food, exercise, and weight throughout your day in a manner which consumes an inordinate amount of time or disrupts your ability to have relationships with others that do not revolve around body image, diet, or exercise, then you probably need some counseling to help you adjust your relationship with food regardless of what your weight is.

A lot of people have no idea what a mentally healthy relationship with food is, and they will fight and argue with you about what is and is not "healthy" based on the composition of their diet, their weight, and health status. Physical health as a result of lifestyle choices does not indicate mental health in regards to food. There are people who are at a healthy weight, eat nothing but healthy food, and still spend their days ruminating about eating. I'm not even talking about pining for a piece of cake or a slice of pizza, but rather people who think about their apple and yogurt snack for hours before they can eat it. They are honed in on food to the point of distraction in a manner which a person with a normal relationship with food does not think or feel.

The aforementioned types of people have all of the behavioral changes necessary in place for weight maintenance and physical health. However, they need counseling to adjust their thinking such that they spend less of their energy on diet and body image and can focus more productively, creatively, and, frankly, in a more fulfilling manner, on other aspects of their lives.

One of the many things I have learned through losing weight is that I was much more dysfunctional overall at the start of my changes in habits and choices than I was before them, and than I am now. The dysfunction was food obsession and there were times when I thought that I could simply not live the rest of my life like that. The preoccupation I had was oppressive, and I'm sure would have continued had I not labored to deal with the underlying psychological issues (particularly in regards to identity, but also all of the stuff I grew up with that caused me to become a food addict). Frankly, I'd rather remain fat than continue to live the sort of torment I experienced during the first 10 months of my weight loss process.

There are people out there who have successfully lost weight who do live in a constant state of preoccupation with food and their bodies, and they are okay with it because they are so deeply immersed in their neurotic obsession with food that they cannot see how dysfunctional they are. To the people around them, they seem to be almost manic and are clearly obsessed, but they cannot gauge themselves by anything other than their bodies. As long as they are thin, they think all is well, and they are some of the people who most frequently say that they feel counseling is not necessary if you want to lose weight. In a way, they are right. If you want to merely be thin, you don't need to have any sort of therapeutic process (be it self-reflection or with a professional), but if you want to live a life in which you are not mentally enslaved to food and preoccupied with your body, you probably need a little psychological work as well.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

where you came from, where you are

Just a few days after I posted about not being able to "see" continued weight loss, something in my head clicked over and I could see changes in my lower body. It wasn't a specific change, and I hadn't even lost more weight, but suddenly I recognized an alteration in overall shape which was reminiscent of how I looked after my large weight loss in college about 25 years ago. Since I was never thin, I never experienced a flat stomach (and don't expect that I ever will), but there was a difference in how my belly looked in terms of overall shape which I suddenly started to see emerge.

Body image is a curious thing because it is almost as if your brain is stuck on a certain look and tunes out the changes that are occurring for a certain period of time. This seems to make some sense for people who look at themselves in the mirror everyday and the changes come along gradually. In such cases, changes would be understandably imperceptible.

However, even someone like me, who has no full-size mirrors and does not inspect her body closely or often, cannot see the changes even when the appraisal is spaced out over weeks or even months. You'd think I'd see the changes more clearly because bigger changes might occur if one waits longer to look. The truth is that I have never known my body very well because I avoided getting to know it.

I think for a lot of overweight people, and especially those who become very, very fat like me, we disconnect as much as possible from our physical forms. It is more often than not the case that we "imagine" what we look like more than we might be aware. When you're avoiding having your picture taken, don't walk in front of reflective surfaces and wear clothes that stretch so that size changes are harder to detect, you don't really know how "big" you are. This means that you can't easily see how much smaller you are except by numbers on the scale (which I don't measure very often) or by rather large changes in form which take months, possibly up to a year, to come along.

There are other reasons why someone who is very big may find that they cannot see the changes well which make logical sense, such as the fact that the impact of 10 lbs. lost on a nearly 400 lb. body is not going to be as noticeable as that same amount lost on a 150 lb. body. However, I think many of us find our bodies so loathsome that we simply don't really "see" who we are when we begin to lose weight. If you don't have a really good idea of where you've started from, you have difficulty knowing how far you've come.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Without a trace

Awhile ago, I started following the blog of a young woman who set about losing weight. Her starting weight was very similar to mine (around 380 lbs.) and she talked about how she was making certain changes to her eating habits and planning a new way of living. I had a few brief exchanges with her as she had asked me some questions, and I offered some unsolicited advice. Of course, she had her own plan based on business principles and how she can modify those ideas to fit her weight loss goals and I stopped commenting rather quickly when it became clear that my advice was not of interest to her.

Clearly, this was an intelligent and successful young woman, and she was very gung-ho about getting her house in order when it came to her issues with her weight. She posted "before" pictures of herself, and talked about her daily routine changes. At one point, she tossed out the idea of whether or not posting weekly photos would be a good idea to track progress. This was an idea that most people were very positive about, but I cautioned that I felt that it might make the process of tracking more cumbersome if she posted them weekly (I advised no more often than monthly) as well as possibly discouraging because she may not see noticeable changes in photos from week to week.

Shortly after she talked about posting weekly photos, she talked about consultation with a bariatric surgeon, but not in a way which indicated that undergoing such surgery was imminent. In a very short span of time (June 23 - July 1), she stopped posting at all about weight loss and deleted her domain and blog. I was sad to see this, because usually people who stop posting have "given up" on their efforts. Mind you, if she has decided to simply accept her body as is and just abandon weight loss altogether, it's all good. I don't think anyone has to lose weight. They just have to be happy with who they are. However, the chances that she has embraced fat acceptance and vanished  are low. It is far more likely that she has simply decided to not try to accomplish a goal she continues to desire and has erased the "evidence" that she ever tried.

This is a pattern that I see time and again with people who write weight loss blogs, and one of the things that is of value to me as someone who wants to be involved in weight loss counseling in the future is why these people stop trying. The thing that I notice about such folks is that they often try to change everything in their lives all at once. They want to go from the equivalent of being a baby crawling on the floor to an adult marathon runner in days rather than to first learn to stand, walk with support, and totter about the room on uncertain legs until those legs are strong enough to carry them further. They are very motivated to get every change in as rapidly as possible, and ultimately, they don't have the mental or physical legs to stand on and find themselves stumbling and falling all too often and give up.

My single biggest piece of (unwanted) advice for people who want to make a lifestyle change, and this relates to everything, not just weight loss is to start with a small snowball and roll it carefully and deliberately to make it bigger. Don't try to rewrite your entire existence overnight. Don't make big goals that you are likely to fail at. Make the initial goals small with the idea of ramping up the difficulty through time. Don't decide you're going to "live right" every day and make a multitude of changes all at once, but rather simply make one small, but meaningful, change and make that change absolutely routine. Once it is natural and you're doing it with ease, increase the difficulty level and work at that level until it is routine and then push ahead again. Make it so you succeed every day, because the goal is within your grasp.

A lot of studies assert that small changes are not enough to lose weight, but that is because they are talking about small changes being made and things stop there. The small changes have to slowly grow to be bigger ones, and that will take one down a path to a long-term lifestyle change which has the ability to stick because you've made those changes part of your routine bit-by-bit. If you try to do too much too soon, you'll find that it's too much to manage and there will be so much stress on your body and your mind that you'll give up.

One thing that I am ever mindful of is that everything I have done is part of a long, slow slope. That slope for the past 15 months has been one of gradual reduction of calories and gradual increase of non-food-related activity (including thinking) and movement. Instead of trying to climb a steep mountain as fast as possible, I've been on a long and winding path with an angle that is usually moderately challenging (though sometimes with rough patches). Now, I'm pretty comfortable where I am, and am far from where I started, but I never could have scaled that distance at a sprint and succeeded.

There are two things I come away from this understanding with that are of value to me (and possibly to others). The first is that the changes stick much better when made slowly. The second is that the path up this slope was gradual, but I have to be ever mindful that slowly slipping back down is always possible. Just as I made small changes to get where I am today, making small changes in the other direction will lead back to where I was. I have to be vigilant about not allowing almost imperceptible changes toward eating more, moving less, and being inattentive to mental processes related to food to carry me back down. The slope isn't slippery, but it is still easier to travel down that hill than up.

In regards to the blogger I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I "warned" her in a soft fashion about going too fast. I cautioned her about making too many changes right at the start, especially at such a high weight when small changes and less Draconian measures would have brought results. I tried to tell her not to make the process more cumbersome than it had to be by creating a fussy tracking method, but like most people I offer my unsolicited advice to, she charged down another path. Maybe she's succeeding wildly and just stopped blogging. Maybe she is happy with who she is now. Chances are though that, like many people, she tried too hard to run before she could walk and gave up.

I hate to see people fail, which is why I bother to offer my opinion, but I'm beginning to think it probably would be best just to keep it to myself. People have to live their lives the way they choose, and they have to learn from their own mistakes. It's really not my place to direct them or tell them what to do. The part of me that lives in the mental and physical pain of being fat and doesn't want anyone else to suffer as I have (and still do, but to a lesser extent) finds it hard to keep quiet though. Perhaps my ego also directs me to believe that I have something of value to offer to others, but, perhaps, I only have something of value to me. Weight loss may just be one of those things which is too personalized for anyone to truly help you but yourself.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why other people care about your weight loss

Sometimes I feel quite fortunate to be losing weight in relative isolation. In fact, aside from my husband and those who read this blog, I never receive any unsolicited advice or input on what I'm doing. That's in no way some oblique way of saying I don't want commentary from those who are kind enough to read what I write, but rather that I often read from others how unwanted or unhelpful input often makes things that much harder for them and this got me thinking about how this hasn't been an issue for me.

For me, I live in a situation where people would not involve themselves in my business in this regard. I could talk about it with them if I chose to (though I don't), and they'd nod and smile and express that they were happy for me, but they would never comment on my progress or offer advice. It's just not what is done here. Luckily, I am insulated from even the busiest of bodies in this regard.

Lately, I've been pondering the forces that motivate people to involve themselves in the dietary habits and weight loss processes of others and think it is useful to keep such things in mind when receiving input from others. Here are the general (and broad) reasons I think people care about the weight loss of others:

1. genuine concern

This is the type of thing which is rare and comes from those who are close to you like your family members. They are emotionally invested in a deep and meaningful way in your life and health and want you to be well, fit and happy. However, such concern is not always unconditional.

2. empathy

Mainly this comes from those who also have struggled with weight and understand the difficulties that you are going through. They know your suffering because they have experienced similar feelings. Many people who read blogs and comment on them are motivated by empathy.

3. vested interest

These are people who have something to gain by your efforts. This is perhaps one of the more complex motivations because what a particular person has to gain is very personal, and can be highly abstract. This is the motivation I'll be discussing in greater detail later.

4. education

Some people simply want to know what others are doing and how effective or ineffective various approaches are considering the variables involved in a person's life.

No person who is interested in the weight loss of others fits discretely into any one category. Most people will belong to several, if not all of them. The main thing that tends to define whether their interest in your weight loss is a force for ill or good in terms of your life lies in their "vested interest". The truth is that most people are far less interested in you than in how your actions impact them. At all times, even when you seem to be the focus of their scrutiny, support, or attacks, it is not about you; it is about them.

When I talk about how your actions affect others, I don't mean merely the direct effects. One thing that is important to keep in mind is that people are just as troubled by that which challenges their thinking than that which directly changes their experiences or lives. This thought crystallized for me when I was pondering the oft-cited motivation for bitter responses to weight loss as being jealousy. I don't think people are jealous, but rather that they are threatened because your actions challenge their perspective about weight and lifestyle.

When I consider all of the facets of "vested interest", I come up with a lot of sub-categories of motivation for involving oneself in the outcome of another person's weight loss efforts:

1. schaudenfreude (shameful joy)

Some people like to watch others fail because it elevates them for their meager successes in life.

2. inspiration

People want you to succeed because it helps them feel that it is possible for them as well.

3. reflection

These are people who feel that your appearance reflects their value. More often than not, this is a spouse or partner who thinks other people will think they are a better catch because he or she has an attractive significant other. However, it can also be about someone who is thinner than you feeling that your change in appearance to one which is socially more acceptable will reflect on them by making them look less attractive by comparison. People want you to stay as you are so they're better by comparison.

4. validation

People who follow the same plan as you and want to see success so that they can feel they are on the right track and have a good chance of succeeding as well. Validation can also be about education or information gathering.

5. invalidation

People who are following different plans want to see you struggle or fail in order to make them feel their plan is a better choice. This is slightly different than schaudenfreude because this motivation is based in a somewhat different insecurity, though they are related. Invalidation, like validation, is sometimes about education or information gathering.

6. involvement/need for community

Some people, quite frankly, have too little going on in their real lives or lack a sufficient support network and add meaning by involving themselves in the lives of others. They want to help, and they believe that they are motivated by a desire to assist others, but the bottom line is that they need to talk about weight loss and fitness and are seeking an audience which is likely to appreciate their input. That is not to say that there is no genuine desire to be helpful, but rather that most people who get involved act first on their own need, and second to meet your needs.

I am by no means immune to acting on vested interests in this regard. I comment on other people's blogs for reasons "4", "5" and "6" on vested interest list as well as reasons "2", "3", and "4" on the general list.

I think that most negative responses to weight loss blogs are motivated by the need for validation/invalidation. That is, most people need to believe you will succeed or crash and burn in your efforts for various reasons. In regards to wanting to see your failure, often, that need is simply so that they can quiet their own cognitive dissonance about the status quo with their bodies. People believe they can't lose weight, and that you can't either. They think you're just fooling yourself and that you'll succeed for awhile and then regain, become dysfunctional, or live a very stressful and unbalanced life as a slave to your weight. The fact that, more often than not, they are correct, makes following the weight loss efforts of others a very good way of finding information to validate ones views and invalidate those of others.

"Jealousy" is not one of the reasons I think most people write scathing comments on weight loss blogs, though I think that there is an element of feeling like a failure while watching others succeed at something you desperately would like to succeed at, too. This element can often manifest in a what sounds like jealousy, but I think that it really is anger at ones own sense of "failure" turned outward. It really isn't about coveting your success. It's about their failure.

One thing I realize is that I'm very unfortunate to have to deal with a fairly oppressive climate which points out my weight and makes me feel like a freak at every turn. On the other hand, on a personal level, I don't have to deal with people involving themselves in my weight loss because none of them have a vested interest in the outcome either way. The only one who cares, and who I discuss it with in real life, is my husband and his interest is unconditionally about concern for my well-being and nothing more. He has no vested interests, aside from hoping I'll be healthier, stronger, and will spend more time with him.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A representative day

One thing I should have done a long time ago, but never got around to doing since the nature of this blog isn't really to talk about the precise details of what I do, is cover a "typical" day of what I do. Of course, part of the reason for that is that this has been in a slow state of change. However, since one of my kind commenters expressed concern for what I might be doing, I thought it might be a good idea to finally get around to providing a "representative day" of my eating at present to make the situation clearer. I really do appreciate the concern, but I think this will illustrate that I have room to safely cut calories more in the future.

The fastest way to show the food I eat is to take a screen shot of a FitDay calculation for one day. It'll show up here as a reduced size version, but if you click on the small picture below, the full size will load and the details can be seen. Here was today's food distribution:

While this tells you what I ate, it doesn't quite offer a rough schedule of the day so I'll offer that here:

  • 8:00 am: coffee, homemade whole grain peanut butter muffin ("baked item" on FitDay)*
  • 9:30 am: 25 minute walk
  • 10:00 am: 1/2 navel orange
  • 10:15 am: stomach holding exercises (35 reps), 2 kg. weight lifting (45 reps)
  • 1:15 pm: homemade veggie burger**, mayo, raw tomato and carrot, chocolate plus a Calcium supplement
  • 4:00 pm: pretzels ("salted snack" on FitDay) and cheese
  • 5:00 pm: 50 minute walk
  • 6:00 pm: fruit frappe with raspberries, banana, skim milk, ice
  • 6:30 pm: leg lifts (30 for each leg)
  • 8:00 pm: chicken breast, cabbage salad with Asian dressing, broccoli plus a multi-vitamin

*primary components are whole wheat flour, egg, peanut butter, applesauce, and skim milk
**primary components are kidney beans, egg, onion, walnuts, and oat flour

Note that the pretzels, chocolate and muffin's nutrients (only calories) are not in the FitDay listing so the nutrition numbers are incomplete. I'm too lazy to enter all of the data manually for every baked good or chocolate piece I consume. Mainly, I use FitDay for calorie tracking, but this is still pretty representative. There are more carbs, and a bit more protein than shown here.

I mentioned in the previous post that if my loss rate drops too slowly, I plan on dropping the calories a bit. It would be very, very easy for me to chop down the size of the afternoon snacks. In particular, I'd have half a serving of pretzels and half an ounce of cheese and that'd reduce calories by a little over 100 right there. I could also reduce chocolate consumption to 50 calories (or less). None of this would have much of an impact on nutrition for the day. These are areas which are more about pleasure than nutrition which can be let go of. Of course, I will continue to scale activity and hope that is sufficient because I'm pretty satisfied with what I eat now in terms of portion and content.

I'm sure this is imperfect, but I don't think it's lacking greatly. I'm sure a nutritionist would tell me to ditch the pretzels and chocolate and eat something with more nutrients, but this is what I can live with and, so far, it works well for me. Note that there is an
intentional pattern to how I eat carbohydrates. I start the day with a lot and end with a little. Part of the reason I've decided to start weighing myself once a month is that I want to be aware of whether or not it does stop working. I expect though, that it will continue to work just fine, although I expect a dramatic slow-down in loss rate after I reach 200 lbs.

In terms of the exercise, this is a bit more than "usual" because it's the weekend and a second walk isn't always possible on weekdays. I always walk for at least 20 minutes, usually walk for 40 and do the other exercises at least 6 days a week. I can get in this much walking at least twice a week, and try to do it more.

I'm sure this will change as time goes by, but only in small ways. I hope this was helpful in understanding what I do more clearly.