Monday, April 26, 2010


When I was growing up, one of my friends was rather obsessed about her weight. She wasn’t fat by any stretch of the imagination, but she wasn’t super thin. I’d say, in fact, that she was probably at a normal, healthy weight. She did, however, measure her waist and weigh herself frequently because she felt she could be trimmer. I think she looked at her mother’s slight middle-aged pudginess and feared that this was going to be her immediate fate, despite the fact that she was only about 14 years old.

My friend wanted to drop a few pounds, and she wanted to do it now. She would go out for a jog, come back home, and measure or weigh herself. She wanted immediate results and was willing to work harder to get them by exercising more. Her mother told her that weight loss "didn't work like that," meaning that you were never going to see immediate results for your hard work.

When many of us decide to do something about our unhappiness with our weight, we often become quite frantic about dealing with the problem as rapidly as possible. This leads to cutting calories back to painfully difficult to maintain levels and overdoing the exercise in the hopes of dropping more weight faster. Today, I had one of those hurried moments where I just wanted to push my body to drop weight faster (no doubt spurred on by my visual appraisal of myself a few days ago), and started to ponder what I could do to accomplish this goal.

One of the main issues for me when dealing with my problem has been my physical fragility. If I do too much exercise, I pay for it in pain. I want to get into lifting weights more, but I had incredible muscle pain from increasing reps "too quickly", which is to say anything beyond a glacial pace. I want to walk and move more, but I had incredible back pain from doing about 20 minutes more than I was accustomed to. There really can’t be much for me in the way of rushing this process beyond possibly cutting calories more.

And I've pondered the calorie cutting, and I don't think that anything less than 1500-1600 calories per day would be wise. Since I did 1200 a day early on in my "training" of myself to track my eating and learn delayed gratification, I know I can manage it, but it's very tough. I could probably do very low calorie eating for a short period of time, but not over the next few years of weight loss. I'm also dubious of the prospect of diminishing returns as the body can only metabolize so much fat per day. It's likely that 1200 wouldn't do enough for me relative to 1500, and it'd be a lot harder to live with.

In the end, I figured that what I need to deal with isn't increased exercise or more dramatically reduced calories. The thing I need to deal with is the psychology and the frantic sense of wanting to speed the process along by "trying harder". My progress is fine, and I doubt that making big changes would result in losses of any more than two or three pounds a month. The habits I've developed are good and my choices are ones that are sustainable for a prolonged period of time (forever, in fact). I have to internalize the fact that wanting to do the equivalent of going out for a jog and then measuring my waist to see if I've made progress isn't helpful, and is indeed harmful to my overall success.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Warning: Fat Ahead"

My husband had two girlfriends before he found me. In fact, I was well-acquainted with the first one ("GF1" from henceforth), and fairly decently acquainted with the second one ("GF2"). GF2 had ended her relationship with my future husband because she realized that there were some core incompatibilities in regards to needs for attention, time spent together, etc. that were never going to work out. Also, she found another guy closer to home who she was more attracted to and didn't want to string one man along while courting another.

I always had the impression that GF2 may have wanted to fob her ex-boyfriend off on someone else because the break-up was so painful for him and he needed a lot of interaction with her in order to recover. He needed to talk and understand what went wrong and she just wanted it all over with. This was one of their core incompatibilities. Whatever the case, she was relieved when he got involved with me (at least initially).

For those who may not have read or recall my earlier posts, I'll state that I got involved with my husband after losing a tremendous amount of weight. I probably weighed around 180 lbs. when we became acquainted and was on a fairly strict healthy lifestyle kick. Since I had known GF1 for quite awhile, she had known me during the time when I was greatly heavier and had seen pictures of me as a fat child and young teenager. She knew I had lifelong issues with weight.

While GF2 was happy for my future husband and I, GF1 was outwardly supportive, but inwardly unhappy at the notion. This may have had something to do with the fact that he ended their relationship after finding out she had lied about many things that had happened between the two of them to GF2. I should mention that GF1 was also friends with GF2. We were all one little group of friends passing around the same guy at that point.

GF1 put on a big show of saying how happy she was for us that we seemed to be hitting it off so well. She maintained this for awhile, but when my husband and I were traveling abroad together, she sent him correspondence beforehand saying, "You know (my name) used to weigh a lot more; I thought you should know."

There it was... a warning that he was dating a (well-proportioned) chubby girl who was a former very fat girl who might get fatter again. She was using my past to try and drive a wedge between us because she couldn't stand that we were succeeding where she and he had failed. All of her proclamations that she was happy for us rang false, and the way in which people can be malicious and evil with a smile and a sense of doing something morally "right" (he needed to know I used to be fatter, it was only right) was clearly demonstrated.

Her efforts to break us up probably would have worked better had I not exhaustively informed my future husband not only of every single character fault that I believed I held (and yes, I did this - I gave a laundry list with explanations of all of my flaws), but also of my past in glorious Kodak-worthy color pictures. He knew I used to be fatter, and had seen just how fat I used to be. He knew how long ago I'd lost weight and by what method. He also knew that I believed I was temperamental, neurotic, and prone to many unappealing behaviors. And he still loved me, wanted me, married me, and has been with me happily for over two decades.

My husband has told me on many occasions that what he loves about me is that I have a "spark" that you don't always encounter in other people. Fortunately, that spark can't be drowned out by layers of body fat so he has loved me unconditionally and without reservation through weight ups (mostly ups) and downs.

GF1, who was shallow, vain, and a compulsive liar, couldn't begin to conceptualize why he loved me if it wasn't related to my physical beauty, and thought that she could use my (then former) fat as a weapon against me. It's something which reflected badly on her, and for which she never apologized. I confronted her about it, and she defended her actions by asserting that she felt it was the right thing. He "needed" and "deserved" to know the truth as hitching his wagon to a former fat girl carried implications she felt he needed to be aware of, as if I had some infectious social disease that he deserved to know about before he got too seriously involved with me.

In perhaps a karmic backlash, years later GF1, who had always eaten abysmally (hot dogs and sugary Coke) and remained thin, went through a bad patch in her life and put on a lot of weight. She eventually lost it and went back to her trim self, but I hope she learned a few things about being fat and looks back with regret on her devious behavior. I don't know if she did though since my friendship with her, unsurprisingly, had long ago ended.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Evolution and Calories

Quite some time ago, I mentioned the fact that one of the reasons humans need about 2000 calories a day to maintain their bodies is because that is what evolution resulted in. Neanderthals, on the other hand, required 3000 calories per day and one of the reasons for that branch of humanity's perishing was the difficulty in acquiring so much energy on a regular basis. It was a lot harder to eat 3000 calories per day than 2000 when man was struggling to survive.

Lately, I've been reading blogs and comments by people who mention that even on relatively low-calorie diets that they lose little weight. A lot of people who are of average weight or who are losing weight cast a doubtful eye in the direction of such folks. They believe that there is something such people are doing "wrong". They aren't eating the correct foods. They aren't counting calories properly. They don't exercise enough. They have an undiagnosed metabolic issue like a thyroid condition, insulin resistance, etc. Doubters can't accept that it is possible for a person to eat fewer than 2000 calories and not lose weight.

A big part of the reason for this doubt is that people have a vested interest in believing in "personal responsibility." They want to believe in a "just world" where correct actions are rewarded. If you work hard to lose weight, justice would dictate that you will lose weight. To not embrace the notion of a just world would cause people to feel anxious about the consequences of their choices and actions. If they have to embrace the idea that people may work hard and do their best to lose weight yet still remain fat, they fear that they may some day put in the effort and similarly fail. The ultimate outcome of "just world" thinking is that victims are blamed so that those who sit in judgment of them can feel better about the way things work in the world.

Evolution would seem to suggest that it is unlikely that, when it comes to weight, that the world operates in a just manner. We can assume that we are all products of various mutations of humanity. Some of us have genes that may fall within the range of "normal". That means that we need about 2000 calories per day to maintain a relatively healthy weight. People who eat a lot and whatever they want may have "won" the genetic lottery from a modern viewpoint and can maintain weight on far larger calorie allotments.

Considering that we all have different genes and are descended from different lines with sometimes relatively little variation in genetic mixes, it is certainly possible that some people have "lost" the genetic lottery from a modern lifestyle viewpoint. These people could have had ancestors who could survive on substantially fewer calories than the average human. That is, they might be capable of sustaining their weight with as little as 1500 calories (or even less). The ancestors of such people would have been fortunate creatures indeed, and have had an even better chance for survival and passing on their genetic material than those with higher calorie needs.

This theory should not be so far-fetched. After all, it is a fact that larger, heavier human sub-species required more calories for their survival. There must be broad variations in basic calorie requirements based on genetic history that could operate relatively independent of bone structure and height. People who are vastly atypical in terms of calorie needs likely fall outside of the mean on the bell curve. They may be one or even two standard deviations from what is statistically "normal", but they surely do exist, and their claims about their struggles should not be dismissed by those who need to believe in a just world for their own selfish reasons.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Problem Isn’t Solved

This morning I woke up feeling listless and numb. I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but the feeling grew increasingly familiar. It was the sort of “going through the motions” feeling that I felt during my prolonged bout of clinical depression.

Last night was not a good night for my husband and I. We didn’t have a big fight or anything as we rarely have that kind of conflict. He had been caught up over the last 5 days or so in a drama related to the professional training he has been undergoing. The people he is working with are in a situation where they are privy to the most intimate thoughts of the people they are training. Supposedly, thoughts are shared frankly and in the utmost confidentiality, but the people conducting the training are being rather unprofessional about some of the negative comments made about them in the journals they have asked people to submit. While my husband’s journal hasn’t been at issue, some vindictiveness toward one of the other people in his training group has been alluded to, and he was sucked into the whole drama when he attempted to be supportive of the women who are being victimized by the unprofessional behavior and postures of the powers that be.

Since he has been so wrapped up in this drama, there really hasn’t been any room for me in his life. He goes to work and works long days, comes home and reads e-mail related to the drama, writes responses to the drama, and eats dinner. Then, we go to bed. Anything I say or do pales in comparison to this situation. Any need I may have, like having my husband inquire after my day’s diet progress as I asked him to do when I had my “cry for help” binge eight days ago, has fallen utterly by the wayside. For the last three days, he hasn’t asked me about my diet, despite my request that he simply ask one question to help me get a little more accountability. It would only take a moment of his time, but his brain is so crowded with helping everyone else that he can’t help me.

This morning after he headed off for this training, I sat on the bed and my morning numbness cleared as I reached the previously detailed realizations, and I started to cry because I feel so utterly isolated and alone. I feel as though my concerns don’t matter, and even if they do, he’s too stressed by the immediate situation to have me pile my issues on top of his. Last night, one of the problems he had was that he suddenly became acutely aware that his e-mail-based support of the women who were caught up in the drama could cause him serious problems if they were accidentally passed on to the wrong people. He had been preoccupied all day with this, and when I mentioned that he hadn’t done what very little I had been asking him to do in regards to asking about my day’s eating, he cried.

My husband rarely cries, so it is very devastating for me when I do something that upsets him this much. He then became very hard on himself about how good a husband he is in general (and he is a very good husband, the best I believe). This made me feel petty and terrible for heaping another concern onto him, and making him feel so bad about himself. I felt I should have waited to mention my feelings about his not asking me about my diet progress until this evening, after the last day of his training when any concern for his involvement in this drama blowing up in his face would have passed.

I’m a strong believer in communication with one’s spouse, even when there are difficult emotional accompaniments. That being said, I believe that it is important to use discretion about the timing of that communication. And, that being said, I think my sense of depression, isolation, and disconnection this morning was related to the fact that lately I feel there is no good time for my needs to be dealt with. What is more, I feel that the mundane nature of dealing with my issues and needs pale in comparison to the complex interactions and ensuing drama of the people that he is dealing with now. I can’t help but feel boring, unimportant, and superfluous. I’m also resentful that he’s spending so much time and energy supporting and helping other people while ignoring my request and needs. He tells me I’m more important than anyone or anything, and then goes on to help everyone but me. This disconnection between his asserted wishes and actions has been an issue for us before, and it is now again, but I don't know if he has the mental energy at present to even begin to deal with it at present.

I don’t mean to paint my husband in a negative light. It is difficult for him not to be involved with these people, and he cares about them and wants to build meaningful relationships with them. It’s all very exciting and fulfilling to be involved in this training and to get to know these new people on the deep level that he has. I have tried very hard to allow myself to be marginalized to some extent with grace throughout this process, but I’m starting to feel entirely pushed out of the picture. I don't want to be one of those women who needs some sort of proof that she's more important than anything else in her husband's life, nor do I want him to drop all other concerns for me. However, I'd like to feel that I'm in the mix at least, and I'm starting to feel that not asserting myself in the interests of not being a type of person I'd rather not be is harming me, my self-esteem, and ultimately my relationship with my husband. I don't want to insist on him putting me first, making me a priority or whatever one wants to call meeting my needs, but it is starting to look that there is no other way that I'll have my concerns dealt with or needs met.

I feel trapped. I feel alone. And I feel like there’s nothing I can do about it except cry and feel pain in my stomach and hope that writing about all of this will provide enough catharsis that I don't develop an ulcer or go on another mechanical binge in order to cry for help again.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today's Lunch

Today's lunch is one that I tend to eat when I want to allow for more flexibility in later meals. It's the type of thing I eat when I want to have a bigger dinner (burrito, pizza, etc.). Usually, I have some sort of soup with this, but I didn't have any on hand and wasn't in the mood to take the time to make some before lunch. On the plus side, soup has more calories than broccoli and strawberries, which I had today. The broccoli was a leftover from dinner. I prepare the broccoli with freshly squeezed lemon juice and just the tiniest amount of reduced calorie fat spread. If you're a bigger eater than me, a second egg should do the trick, and add relatively little to the total calorie count of the meal.

Most people think that you poach eggs to avoid the fat from frying them, but the truth is that very little fat sticks to fried eggs. Unless you're lovingly bathing the egg in butter, you're unlikely to add many calories through frying. The main reason to choose poaching rather than frying is that the result has a different texture and you have much better control over the yolk's thickness and liquidity. The white is also softer and less prone to be rubbery if you properly poach the egg.

To poach an egg effectively, you can follow these steps:
  1. Fill a small pan (I use a skillet as its easier to handle a shallow pan) with water and heat until bubbles start to form (a pre-boiling stage). Do not allow the water to actually boil or your egg will be rubbery.
  2. Break your egg into a small, shallow bowl (this is so you can handle placing it into the water more precisely).
  3. Add about 1 tbsp. vinegar to the water (this helps the white coagulate and stay together). Stir the vinegar around a bit.
  4. Set a timer or note the time on the clock and gently add your egg into the water. I usually try to get the yolk to fall in first and pour the white on top of that. I also use an egg ring which helps keep it together. You can use a tuna can, cookie cutter, or other metal form or simply not worry about the shape.
  5. Allow the egg to simmer in the near-boiling water (it's okay if it starts to boil after the egg has been put in the water). Depending on how cooked you want it to be, poach for 3-6 minutes. 
  6. Drain the egg on a paper towel, add salt and pepper as desired.
medium poached egg = 63 calories
broccoli = 22 calories
strawberries = 20 calories
whole wheat toast = 80 calories
margarine = 35 calories
total calories: 220 calories

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Another Number

Today, I caught a glimpse of my naked body reflected in a surface in our home, and I felt terribly discouraged. My lower body just looks so terrible despite all of the progress that I've made. My belly and behind are huge, and it seems like 90% of the weight I need to lose from this point on is concentrated in those areas.

I can't say that I felt "discouraged" because I had no thought of stopping what I'm doing and going back to the way I was. I think a better term would be "disheartened" or "disappointed" not to see more progress in my overall appearance. Mind you, this feeling isn't steeped in any desire to look good in general. It's mainly based on not wanting some parts of my body to look so massive that I continue to be gawked at and abused by strangers who feel it is their business to judge my body. If my weight loss had been more even, I think that I'd feel less self-conscious and attract a little less unwanted attention.

Because of this sense, I decided to weigh myself again, though I had planned not to get back on the scale until June. I think I had to gain some sense that progress was being made since it's hard these days for me to find it in other ways, and I guess I was seeking some reassurance that I was indeed still shrinking. I'm not so sure this was the best idea, but I can say that the results didn't trouble me. The scale was more inconsistent than usual and the numbers vacillated between 273-277. Last time I weighed myself, the number was 284 (on March 10), so this is not a bad result considering that I believe my period might be coming on in the near future and you never know where you are in the scheme of your body's rhythms. Also, I weighed myself early in the morning this time, and I did it late in the afternoon before. I tend to retain water and get swollen overnight (and I drink water through the night to moisten my mouth because I have allergies and get congested and can't breath through my nose). I'm sure some of this number is that water.

At any rate, the numbers didn't have too great an impact on me emotionally, though they provided some small reassurance that progress is being made even if I can't detect it visually at the moment. I'm starting to wonder if, because I don't buy new clothes or measure myself (too depressing and troublesome), I may have to start weighing myself once a month for progress checks because it's becoming more difficult to gauge my losses by so-called NSVs (non-scale victories). There is less of a contrast between "baggy" and "super baggy" clothes than "tight" and "loose". Right now, the greatest indicator of an NSV is the arms on my husbands office chair and the degree to which I fit into that chair.

I'm still wary of the potential emotional outcome of regular weigh-ins, but it's something I'll have to ponder at this stage if I don't want to go buying new clothes, measure myself, or find some other way of reassuring myself that progress is being made. Certainly I cannot trust that a visual appraisal of my bloated, sagging body is going to work. :-p Nonetheless, even a monthly weighing is something I will be wary of if in any way it creates an emotional issue.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fat Acceptance

In addition to reading a lot of personal blogs and weight loss forums, I also read what I call "fat subversive" blogs. These are written by people who are focusing not on changing themselves to conform to society's wishes, but talk about how society should accept fat people and focus on health rather than appearance. I'll be upfront and say that I don't often agree with about half of what is said, but I agree with the underlying goal of acceptance. People should be allowed to live their lives any way they like without censure, particularly in regards to something as personal as their weight or appearance.

I often find myself a bit torn between two viewpoints on the issue of the fat acceptance movement. No, those viewpoints are not to accept or not to accept. The viewpoints are whether or not most fat people (myself included) would be happier and healthier if people just minded their own business and left them alone. Personally, I think actually getting healthier and losing weight would be easier if I weren't constantly made to feel as if my weight defined my value as a human being. It's the self-loathing and censure that greatly assisted my nearly reaching 400 lbs., after all. However, that's not the issue at hand.

The issue at hand is whether or not I'd be just as happy remaining fat if the world stopped judging and punishing me. How much of our lack of happiness is externally inflicted, and how much is personal misery as a result of the difficulties we endure because of the size of our bodies? As I read fat-acceptance bloggers labor to justify their remaining at their size and proclaim their contentment, I ponder this question. At least two of the more prominent ones suffer from various health problems which may or may not be brought on by weight, but are certainly aggravated by it. (And both of them are charismatic writers and come across as very nice people.) One has a rapid heartbeat when exerting herself in strenuous situations like walking up steps. Another has joint pain issues. Both of them are relatively young, and I know all too well that these problems get worse with age as the strain on your body turns to damage of the overburdened parts. My pain, after all, has kept me close to house-bound (just going to work and doing what I had to do) for over a decade. Losing weight has alleviated a lot of that pain. At around 260-270 lbs. (my best guess of my current weight), I still suffer, but far, far less than around 380 lbs.

There are also issues of flexibility and mobility. At higher weights, it is harder to navigate around your own body parts. Your own flesh gets in your way. You can't move quickly or as easily. I tried doing yoga at my high weight, and it was impossible to achieve many of the positions even for my arms because my flesh was too voluminous to manage. I can also say with confidence that sex, which was very difficult before, is a lot better at my current weight because I can move more easily and my husband has to fight my obtrusive flesh a lot less.

Finally, there are issues with stamina. I have never been a lazy person. In fact, I move around a lot more than most thin people that I know. That being said, I was exhausted and tired nearly every day from all of the movement that I did, not to mention the ravages of the pain I felt. Now, I rarely reach that level of fatigue, and I move even more because it's easier to do so. Moving around a bigger body makes you tired much more rapidly than a smaller one. This is simple logic and is the reason why basal metabolic rates are higher for loftier weights. It takes more fuel to drive the bodily equivalent of an 18-wheeler than a compact car.

So, I do wonder if living in some perfect world of fat acceptance where all furniture were wide enough to accommodate our big behinds and all opportunity doors were equally open to us based on merit and not appearance would mean we'd live fat and contented, or not. I'm not a person who is disposed to vanity, as my handful of readers may have guessed based on my wearing the same clothes after losing somewhat over 100 lbs. I'm not looking to show off a better figure or admire myself in the mirror. I am looking to escape my health and mobility problems, have no difficulty navigating a world designed for thin people, and escape daily abuse based on weight. If you remove the last two, there is still the great incentive of living in less physical misery on a daily basis. That really has nothing to do with how accepting the world is, and it's more than enough to make me unhappy with remaining fat.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

(More Thoughts) On Weighing Oneself

One of the blogs I follow is justjuliebean's "Smoke Yourself Thin". Her approach is quite different than my current one, but not too dissimilar from the successful approach I took during my college days. You can read her blog to find out the details, but the general approach is to eat healthily, avoid overtly unhealthy treats, and to exercise with regularity and diligence. She doesn't count calories, as I did not when I was in college.

One point on which we differ is about weighing ourselves. I don't weigh myself now, and I actually did not back in college either. My sense is that weighing yourself, particularly everyday, carries a strong risk of placing yourself emotionally at the mercy of the scale. That being said, I realize that such a concern is not shared by all. Some people, like justjuliebean, are not emotionally enslaved to the read-out on their scales. It helps them feel in touch with their weight and remain aware and accountable.

Recently, after reading one of justjuliebeans recent posts, I realized one of the reasons why I don't feel I need to weigh myself and perhaps she and others do. I didn't reach this conclusion due to anything she said overtly, but mainly in her summary of her expected path for the immediate future. I don't need to weigh myself because I count calories. Counting calories is not too dissimilar from weighing oneself in that it provides concrete feedback. I have the utmost confidence that my behavior will yield results because I know precisely what my behavior is. If I weren't counting calories, I'd probably desire more concrete feedback about whether or not my actions were having the desired effect.

To me, this is an interesting situation because I think different approaches work for different people, and I'm always curious about why and how various features of a particular weight loss/lifestyle plan appeal to people based on their characters. I think calorie counting tends to be the equivalent of baking a cake and using precise measurements every time to yield exactly the same result and general lifestyle changes and exercise are more of a "toss it all together and hope it all turns out as you hope" style of preparing a cake. One approach almost guarantees the same result every time. The other approach is more creative, but may actually yield a more brilliant result or may simply be a more satisfying approach. In the latter approach, not weighing yourself is a bit like making the cake and never tasting it to see if what you did worked well.

Of course, many people both count calories and weigh themselves, and many of them drive themselves crazy with the scales ups and downs. In the end, I'm guessing it's all about control and whether or not you place it inside of yourself (which I believe I do and people like justjuliebean does) or outside of yourself (as people who compulsively weigh themselves and ride an emotional roller coaster based on scale results are doing).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back on Track

After yesterday's frightening experience, I was determined to get a day under my belt which restored my confidence in my control, and I'm happy to say that I did. I ate between 1400-1500 calories, which was a bit below my target of 1600 or so. I didn't eat less as compensation for the strange binge eating episode, but rather because I was very wary of acting on my hunger all day and delayed eating for every meal after breakfast. I probably ate lunch 90 minutes later than usual, and dinner about two and a half hours later than usual because I felt really weird about food in general all day.

I have asked my husband to inquire about my food progress every day until I ask him to stop. This is, in part, to help me feel more secure and accountable, but it will also engage him in my life to a larger extent. He said he will do as I ask (and he did so yesterday both at lunch time and when he got home from work), but he has confidence that I will be able to keep my control. He also told me that he feels bad about whatever part he played in the situation, but I reassured him that he was in no way responsible.

One of the interesting aspects of having one "bad day" (and I mean from the psychological point of view, not from the "I ate bad food viewpoint") is that generally all it takes to make you feel better is a "good day" (a day in control) to restore your faith in your ability to carry on. I feel much better today than yesterday, though I think I'll feel even better tomorrow with a few "good days" under my belt.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Disconnection

On some level, all people with eating-related issues have a disconnection between their actions and the consequences of their actions. Sometimes, that disconnection is a rationalization like saying that you’re already fat so it doesn’t matter if you eat more. Sometimes, it is telling yourself that you are stressed out and deserve to feel better and using food is no worse than a variety of other destructive coping mechanisms.

I’ve lived a life full of those disconnections, and up until the past 10 months, I didn’t truly internalize what it was like to have a full connection between my actions and the consequences when it comes to food. That being said, I was always aware on some level of the destructiveness of what I was doing. I ate mindlessly and happily at times, but the consequences were always something I was aware of deep in the back of my mind. The fact that those consequences existed became clear when I felt guilt or regret at what I was doing.

Last night, I had what has to be the most profound and disturbing disconnection between my eating and my thinking. Since I started this change in lifestyle, it has been the most terrifying moment I’ve experienced. I’ve had plenty of emotional responses, including a sense of free-falling without a net because my coping mechanism has vanished, a sense of emptiness, and a loss of identity. This was something quite different.

Yesterday evening, I had a pretty decent day calorie-wise up until about 9:30 pm. At that point in time, I wanted to eat a pretzel, just one pretzel. When I got the bag in hand, I just kept eating them, and then I went and found some chocolate-covered potato chips that have been sitting around for the last two and a half months and dug into them. I just ate and ate and I was completely disconnected from any sense of the consequences. I felt no guilt or remorse. I felt no concern about the damage I was doing to myself either physically or emotionally. I was so profoundly removed from any emotions related to my actions that I was almost in a state of dispassionate observation of my behavior. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, was craving things, was hungry or was comforting myself. I really felt nothing.

At some point, I threw away the rest of the chips, and terror set in. This profound fear was related to the fact that I was so removed from the consequences of what I did. This was the food equivalent of a “psychotic break” for me, and my first thought was that I needed to just get back on the horse I’ve been so successfully riding and do better tomorrow. I wasn’t even going to mention this binge to my husband because I figured it was an aberration, but as the clock ticked by, I knew this was not a mere blip in the continuum. This was something profound brought on by my life circumstances and it needed to be dealt with.

In the past three months, my husband has been involved in some professional training in addition to his heavy working schedule. I rely on him for a great deal of support in my life because most people don't treat me very well based on my weight and I have trust issues as a result. He's the only one I can confide in without fear of judgment or willful misunderstanding of what I'm saying. You'd be surprised at how hard some people try to come across as helpful while using your words to elevate their own esteem at your expense.

Since my husband has been so busy, we've had some problems. It has been nothing seriously bad. Mainly, I have told him that he needs to be more mentally there for me when we're together since he has a tendency to space out or to only pay half attention to me. That isn't a criticism. I think what he's doing is very draining and difficult. He has tried to be supportive and do better, and has improved, but I believe it has not been enough. What is more, I have been suppressing my needs all along in an attempt to not be so needy when he's so busy. It's not the sort of grudging, self-martyring suppression that some people (particularly women) tend to do. It is a very self-aware "I need to be a grown-up and not be so needy and selfish" form of suppression. In essence, I need to allow him to do what he needs to do and try and be more self-contained.

My husband and I have always been exceptionally close. In fact, the way in which we are so thoroughly intertwined intimidates and perplexes people at first. Our bond is exceptionally strong, and the last few months have made me feel as if that bond has gotten a little looser. It's no easy feat for me to back away and be more in my own head.

The conclusion that I reached, and my husband reached instantly as well when I told him about this binge, was that this was a cry for help. This was my acting out on my suppressed feelings in such a way as to force him to be more concerned about me and to engage more with me mentally and emotionally. It was something that I needed so deeply that I simply acted on it and removed myself from all of the logical connections that existed between my actions and the consequences.

The part about this that scares me is not related to calories or weight gain or fear of losing control. The part that scares me is that I can be so calmly out of control as I was. I'm sure that I have eaten as a psychological response before, but never in this fashion. I've always been a very self-aware person and this was a short period of time where I acted without any knowledge of why I was doing as I was. I didn't see it coming, and I had no desire to stop. I'm hoping that understanding the (likely) cause of this will derail any chances that it will happen again.

Today's Dinner

This is one of my favorite meals, though it does take some adjusting of the rest of the day's eating to have it. This is essentially a big burrito which I split into two and have both as dinner and as a big snack between lunch and dinner. Eating it all at once would be too much food, and eating just half of it without a substantial side (like a salad and soup) would be too little. I usually plan the day such that I have a small breakfast, snack, lunch, and then this burrito in two parts with a low calorie vegetable accompaniment. That being said, half of it would probably do if you have something else on the side, but I prefer to have the whole thing in the manner I've described.

Burrito filling:

1 tsp. oil (for frying) (40 calories)
1 small onion, diced (28 calories)
1 small green pepper (or any color pepper), diced (37 calories)
1 large tomato, diced (32 calories)
1 lb. ground turkey or chicken (1075 calories)
taco seasoning (either a packet or your own spices) (90 calories for whole packet)
total for all of the filling: 1302 calories

Heat a non-stick skillet and then add the oil. Swirl to coat or use a spatula to push it around. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until semi-translucent. Add the green pepper and cook until shiny and still crisp (about 5-10 minutes). Finally, add the tomato and cook the entire mixture over medium-low heat until the vegetables are about 50% of their original size. If they start to burn, lower the heat. When the vegetables have shrunk, add the ground meat and cook until very lightly browned and most of the residual juices have evaporated. Prepare the taco seasoning as directed. This amount of filling will make a great many burritos so you'll want to freeze the meat in small portions.

Burrito preparation:

1/4 can Rosarita refried beans (105 calories)
2 tbsp. salsa (10 calories)
2 oz. cheese (220 calories)
2 oz. burrito filling as prepared above (approx. 125 calories)*
1 large tortilla (180 calories)
chopped green onions (to taste) (negligible calories)
total: 640 calories

Place the refried beans, cheese, and burrito filling in a bowl and mix completely. Spread the filling onto the tortilla, sprinkle with salsa and green onions. Fold and seal the seam shut with a little warm water. Cut in half and wrap each half firmly in foil (this is essentially to keep the filling from spilling out of the cut end when you heat the burrito). Keep in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat. Place a foil wrapped burrito half in your toaster oven and heat for about 10 minutes.

half burrito: 320 calories
carrot sticks: 25 calories
total: 345 calories

I like having the ground meat and refried beans mixed together in this way for their respective textural properties. It's also nice to have both types of protein. On my 1600 calorie diet, it isn't too hard to fit the entire burrito into my day, but it does require some care in timing when I eat and how much I eat. Frankly though, I find that it is worth it because I'm actually less hungry when I eat half of this around 4:00 pm and the other half around 8:00 pm.

*Note that I have to guess the calories on the filling because it's impossible to measure exactly how much of 2 oz. of the filling is vegetable and how much is meat. I am making my best guess, but I doubt it is off by much more than 10 calories either way.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In Praise of Stretchy Pants

I haven't weighed myself lately, but I've definitely lost at least 1/3 of the weight I expect to need to lose, if not more. I'm also certain that I've lost over 100 lbs. at this point. The surprising thing is that I'm still wearing the same clothes.

There are several reasons why I think I can do this. One is that these clothes are stretchy and I think that they were stretching to accommodate me before. My pants were size 28W, but I think that I was bigger than that and the pants and shirts were forgiving me with their elastic nature. The other thing is that I have found that doing a poor job of "taking them in" by cinching the waist on the biggest pants by about 8-10 inches has made them more wearable even after losing so much weight. It probably "helps" with pants that I'm losing weight in the lower half of my body more slowly so the voluminous hip and thigh area isn't quite so absurd-looking. It's still pretty big, but it doesn't feel like I'm swimming in my pants now that I've taken them in.

My shirts are starting to creep down lower and lower, but that's okay because now they are long enough to flow down over most of my belly rather than just cover the waistband of my pants. They also are a bit stretchy so they were probably not a perfect fit before.

Unlike most women who look forward to buying  new clothes as they lose weight, I'm gratified that I don't have to. I don't think new clothes at my current weight are going to really flatter me much as my shape is still decidedly rotund, and I don't want to waste money on interim clothes. I figure that I will have to bite the bullet and buy new things at some point, but, for now, I am praising stretchy pants for their ability to see me through such a massive change in size and still be wearable.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Starvation Response

One of the hard parts about losing weight is that you are "starving" yourself just a little everyday if you are burning more calories than you are eating. There is mental fatigue associated with this, but there is also a physical response. Your body doesn't realize you want to be small for arbitrary reasons. It has other priorities.

People sometimes talk about the "starvation response" where your body plateaus on weight loss despite your following the same plan of exercise and diet. Some people doubt that this actually occurs, but it does make sense from a biological viewpoint. Your body values stored energy, and is alarmed by the continuous loss of that energy. It is in the best interest of your survival under adverse circumstances for your body to adjust your metabolic rate and stop burning calories at a high rate if its system perceive that you are consistently putting less energy into it.

The fact that the body responds badly to long-term reduced energy consumption is also reflected in the fact that your cells are damaged in their ability to deal with water when you diet for a long time. Water retention (and subsequent "whoosh" responses when one looses several pounds seemingly overnight) is related to this type of damage. When you undereat for a long time, the cells can't let the water out because of the damage they sustain. If you eat more, they return to their capacity to allow water to escape and you lose that water weight.

I don't know if there is absolute scientific evidence about starvation responses, but I do know what my body feels like and how it responds to long-term calorie reduction. Every once in awhile, I have to eat for real. That is, about once every two or three weeks, I have a strong physiological need to eat between 2000-2500 calories. The hunger I feel at those times is very base. It strikes at the very core of my body and my human existence and is nothing like the daily hunger pangs that come physically or emotionally as I diet. It's my body shouting, "I'm starving."

When I have these experiences, it is an order of magnitude harder to resist those urges than the normal daily urges. It's much harder to simply dismiss it and go to bed hungry or to say it's emotional or psychological hunger. When I get like that, I want meat, eggs, cheese, and nutrient dense foods. I'm not craving sugar, carbs, or enjoyable little treats.

On those occasions, I eat. In fact, I eat until I feel full rather than simply satisfied. I realize that these days could be an issue in my long-term progress if they happen too often, but they don't. To me, the most important point is that I can tell the difference between this strong biological response to prolonged calorie deprivation and other types of hunger (physiological or psychological). I don't feel guilty for "giving in" at those times, because I think my body knows what it needs and it's best sometimes to go with the strong signals that it gives me.

For the record, these periods of what I feel are a strong response to long-term "starving" are becoming less frequent, and I never overeat massively when this happens. I think it's actually better in the long run to act on these responses because I do believe in the starvation response, and I think effective long-term weight loss isn't as simple as continuously reducing calories and burning more energy without break or variation.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Marriage and My Weight

Sometimes I think about my relationship with my husband and how it has affected my weight. Before I get into this, I want to state unequivocally that this has nothing to do with "blame" or assigning responsibility to my husband. This post has to do with my responses to my relationship and the things that have happened which may have affected my weight. Just as I don't blame the existence of ice cream for my being overweight, I don't blame the existence of my relationship with my husband for my weight. Both may be factors in my problem because of how I acted on them (eating the ice cream, for instance), but that doesn't mean they are responsible. I'm merely looking at pieces of the puzzle in order to grasp the big picture, not playing some pointless blame game.

When I first got to know my husband, I was just out of college and on a very healthy living kick. I exercised 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week. I didn't eat sugar, white bread, pork, beef, butter, or fried foods. I was about two and a half years into some pretty serious weight loss and at my lowest weight in my adult life. This lifestyle melted away rapidly after I moved in with my husband. I had to change jobs (which didn't allow me to exercise because of a different schedule), lived in a situation which was highly stressful (and where I had little to no control over anything, let alone my eating), and became a part of his lifestyle choices. I also had to deal with the emotional aspects of our new relationship.

During our first year together, my husband and I fought nearly every day. That sounds awful, but we've been together now for 22 years and I can tell you that it's normal to have a lot of conflict early on and to have almost none as the years go by. Part of the process of getting to deeply know one another and learning to live together is conflict. There's a lot to learn, compromise on, and adapt to. Once you go through the process, it's all downhill. The important thing is that you grow to fit one another better and become better people, not that you are all sunshine and lollipops all of the time.

During that first year together, I gained at least 50 lbs., possibly more. My husband being the wonderful, loving person that he is never said a word, and he married me anyway. He also knew about my past weight and childhood obesity. He didn't care. He loved me anyway and always has. My husband has never been anything but accepting of my weight, even when he was frightened deep inside that I was digging my way to an early grave through a food-filled tunnel. His main concern, and he has very rarely voiced it because he knew that I would deal with my problem when and if I could, was that I would die young and he wouldn't be able to spend more of his life with me.

I view my husband as an extraordinary man because he is absolutely devoid of any shallowness and unconditionally loving. Some people may aspire to be as he is, but battle niggling voices that tell them to be preoccupied with the superficial. In this way, I am absolutely fortunate, but I wonder at times if this has played a role in my gaining more weight than I otherwise might have. Sometimes I wonder if my husband's absolute acceptance took away my motivation to keep my weight under control while the stresses associated with our relationship early one compelled me to lose control. If I had felt a risk that I would lose him if I got too fat, would I have then not become so fat? It's a terrible thought that I may not have gotten this way if my husband had put an emotional gun to my head. The fact that I feel that may have helped reflects more on how messed up I am (I need external validation for my actions or I don't take them).

My husband was the first person who ever accepted me unconditionally, loved me openly, and provided a lot of the validation, attention, and affection that I desperately needed. Because he was the only person who ever made me feel like I was actually human (since I'd been dehumanized by everyone my entire life based on weight), I developed a mindset where only his opinion mattered. This is a view that he encouraged because he wanted me to stop allowing the arbitrary judgment and subsequent devaluation of me based on superficial analysis of strangers to continue to damage me. He knows me. They don't. Therefore, his opinion of me was the only one that mattered.

Though he did not intend me to take this message from his actions, I wonder if I stopped caring about my weight because he seemingly didn't care about it, and though everyone else still did, they did not matter. How could I reject their judgment yet act on their wishes? Beyond that, I believe that, despite my husband's complete acceptance of me, the self-loathing I had (and still have) made me disbelieve it on a certain level. I accept it as a possibility that I may have let my weight go completely on some subconscious level because I wanted to "test" whether or not his love for me was beyond superficial concerns. I can say, without hesitation, that it absolutely is.

Of course, I don't know if any of this is actually true. It is mere speculation, but I believe there is value in pondering it. I do want to know all of the factors that contributed to my getting to a weight close to 400 lbs. so that I can understand how not to get there again.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fat Myth #6 - Fat People are Stupid

Many people mistakenly state that humans have instincts. Human beings do not have instincts; only animals have instincts. Instincts are complex genetically encoded behaviors like nest-building. Humans have drives such as the drive to eat, have sex, seek physical comfort, companionship, etc.

When I mentioned this distinction to someone once after he asserted our human "instinct", he said that it was basically a semantic difference, but that is not true. The difference between a drive and an instinct is that a healthy animal can't resist it's instincts and that it is behavior it did not learn. A drive can be resisted, and we learn how to deal with our drives from our respective cultures. We see this all the time in people who choose to be celibate, starve themselves to death, or isolate themselves from others. We see these activities as difficult and often abnormal because resisting a drive is not only hard, but generally antithetical to the continuation of the species.

The reason I'm bringing up the idea of instincts and drives is that there is another distinction between them which relates to the idea that people who are fat are stupid. That is the fact that the relationship we have with our drives is an emotional one, and the one that animals have with instincts is not. Animals don't think about enjoying copulation. They merely do it because they are driven to do so. Humans attach a wide variety of emotions to how they act (or don't act) on their drives.

Eating is one of the stronger drives because it is required that we do it in order to survive. Sex, on the other hand, can be resisted without the risk of death on the part of the individual who is abstaining. That means we face our emotional relationship with eating much more often and form a more complex relationship with it than other drives.

Many people who are not fat conclude that fat people are too stupid to exercise proper diligence over their eating habits or exercise, but eating isn't something which is governed by intellect. It is emotional. Just as a woman generally cannot make an intellectual decision to be sexually attracted to a man merely because his relationship resume is perfect for her, a fat person cannot decide to not eat based on her weight. Sex and food are both drives we act on emotionally, rather than with our intellects.

There has been some evidence that links lower intelligence with higher weights, but saying being fat makes you stupid is a conclusion based on a correlation and causation error. More poor people are fat, but they are also less educated. Being fat doesn't make you stupid. Poverty is the common cause of both lower test scores and obesity. There may even be some other factors such as poor nutrition during ones formative years causing impaired intellectual development, but there is no evidence currently to support that.

The myth that fat people are stupid is just another way of attempting to justify fat bashing. The correlation between weight and intelligence is being manipulated to make it look as though weight links directly to intelligence, when it simply does not. Those who assert otherwise have an agenda which has nothing to do with concern about the negative effects of being overweight.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Looking For Loopholes

Sometimes I think about all of my past failures with trying to lose weight (in addition to my one success), and ponder why I failed before and am succeeding now. One of the biggest reasons is that my initial motivation to change was much larger this time so I had a bigger push to find a way to make it work this time. My "big life change" in several years which will require that I find a new job scared me into doing something last year.

While that motivation got me going, it isn't what has me succeeding. I think there are plenty of people who have even more important and pressing motives than me. For instance, there are people with very dire health problems or who are at risk who need to lose weight. There are also people with children or families to look after. My motive is definitely not the most pressing, and I frankly don't believe any long-term change in lifestyle can occur only because of a good, strong motivator.

This time out, one thing I finally figured out, and this is obvious intellectually, but not so emotionally, is that there are no loopholes in dealing with the food side of this. Part of the reason we (fat people) think there are loopholes is that we are constantly marketed solutions that will spare us the part we feel the least emotionally equipped to handle, controlling our eating. Low carb is supposed to make us feel less hungry by default so that we won't have to fight our urges. Weight Watchers is supposed to give us freedom so we can eat what we want as long as we stay within allotted points. Plans to focus on fitness are supposed to allow us to keep over-fueling our bodies by burning off the excess energy.

We look for loopholes because we feel hopeless and powerless in the face of food. This is what makes it an addiction. If we can just find the right alchemy, either our hunger will vanish and we won't have to fight our cravings or we can shovel in as much food as we want without gaining weight. We're desperate for the loophole that will help us escape being under the spell of food. This desperation has fueled economic empires as diet pills, supplements, diet plans, and exercise gear and plans are grasped at by people like me who feel the only way out is a loophole.

This time around, I've finally internalized the idea that there are no loopholes or special diets that will make it all go away. It will never go away. I will always have to face times when I am hungry and have to fight not acting on that hunger. I will have to build up the ability to resist food and limit portions. I have to create the psychological building blocks that allow me to do these things because there is no loophole that will allow me to not do the hard mental work.

Today's Breakfast

More often than not, I feel better if I have something with a lot of carbohydrates for breakfast. I've tried oatmeal, and it gives me an upset stomach. I've had yogurt and fruit, and they leave me starving in under two hours. Having a whole grain piece of toast or quick bread does a much better job of tiding me over for about 3-4 hours until I can have an early snack (usually some fruit or vegetable-based soup) or lunch. I know that this doesn't work very well for many people, but my body chemistry just likes having something with a lot of carbs in the morning.

In my limited repertoire of sugar-free, whole grain quick breads, this is actually my favorite. It's immensely flavorful and full of fruit. I can have it either plain or toasted, though I rather like it toasted for the crispy edges and the added fat of the spread improves satiety.

Blueberry bread:
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce (79 calories)
  • 1 medium egg (63 calories)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (77 calories)
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice (5 calories)
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil (120 calories)
  • 1 1/2 cups regular (not pastry) whole wheat flour (742 calories)
  • 1 cup granular Splenda
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder (15 calories)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened frozen blueberries (119 calories)
Total for entire loaf: 1220 calories

Whisk the applesauce, yogurt, egg, oil, lemon juice, salt and Splenda together until thoroughly mixed. Add the whole wheat flour and gently moisten it by pressing it down into the liquid with a spoon. Do not overmix it or the bread will be tough. Allow the flour to rest for 30 minutes and absorb moisture. While the dough is resting, spray a loaf pan with baking spray (or grease and flour it). After the 30 minutes is up, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the baking powder over the flour and mix it well, but only as much as necessary to incorporate it. Gently fold in the frozen blueberries. You want to add the blueberries at the last minute so the bread doesn't turn purple from thawing juices. Bake for 45-60 minutes until a tester comes out without any unbaked batter. There may be blueberry juice on the skewer so it won't come out dry.

In this recipe, one could conceivably leave out the Splenda and just make this as an actual fruit bread, though obviously it wouldn't be very sweet. If you try it as toast, it would certainly work without the Splenda.

tea with skim milk and Splenda = 5 calories
blueberry bread (1/8 of loaf) = 152 calories
total: 157 calories

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Overdoing Exercise

About 16 years ago, I was having problems with my knees and having difficulty walking around our home. At that time, I probably weighed less than I do now, but perhaps was having pain due to lack of fitness, age, or early arthritis. As I hobbled around, I complained and my husband in our twenty plus years of marriage said his one and only criticism of my weight. He said that I wouldn't be in pain if I "did something about it."

I was crushed and full of even more self-loathing than usual. I decided to push myself to exercise harder and do better because I was so upset that he disapproved of me. We had an exercise bike that I used despite knee and back pain, and the consequences were pretty disastrous. My back pain, because of the pressure on my spine from using this particular bike, got even worse as did my knees. I undoubtedly did more damage to my body through pushing myself (damage that may still be with me to this day), and my husband felt terrible that he'd said anything at all and contributed to that result. He never said anything to me like that again, which is much to his credit and a testimonial to his patience and compassion.

Since that time, I've tried to know my exercise limits, but every once in awhile, something really bad happens unexpectedly. Yesterday, my husband and I went out for an extended sojourn which included a fair amount of walking. It wasn't fast paced, but I had mildly strained a muscle in my back about 4 or so days ago and we were just out for too long. The muscle pain was one of those things you don't anticipate where you turn your body in some manner that you'd turned it many times before and suddenly there is pain. Since the initial strain, the pain wasn't too bad and tended to come and go. My daily walks of between a half hour and hour didn't aggravate it terribly, though it did get tender in the evenings. The pull is in my middle back and much higher than my usual back pain. I think it actually is related to the redistribution of my weight now based on weight loss so far. Muscles higher up are being effected differently, but also I move so much more that all of them are being tasked more.

Yesterday's ambitious walking and standing, which probably totaled close to two hours or so of time, aggravated this strained back muscle horribly. I was okay until I laid down to go to bed (though it was very sore during the last half hour of walking). Within about 20 minutes, I rolled over and was in agony. I couldn't lie down or move my right arm without incredible pain. I've had very intense pain like that before with my back, but this set off a strange response whereby I got very cold and my teeth started chattering. The pain was truly overwhelming and I decided to sleep on the sofa so that my labored movement and painful utterances didn't disturb my husband's sleep.

Overnight, the muscle mellowed out some. It's still very painful, but I can now move around more normally without soul shattering agony. That being said, I really need to take it easy for awhile and let this muscle heal more thoroughly. I'm thinking that this means doing nothing more than housework today, and keeping my walks down to less than 40 minutes until the pain is completely gone.

This was a case where I had a little problem that got exacerbated by overdoing it, even though what I did was relatively mild exercise. At my age (45), I need to be more careful with listening to my body's signals even when it doesn't seem that the problem is that serious, but the truth is that everyone needs to be careful about pushing themselves too far too fast. In this age of "The Biggest Loser" and slogans like "no pain, no gain", people think that pushing your body hard despite pain is best, but pain is a signal for damage. I'm not talking about discomfort or aching from using muscles, but authentic pain.

One of the things my earlier experience has illustrated is that a lot of people, including caring, loving, and concerned people like my husband, make the mistake of thinking that you would suffer less if you worked harder (i.e., exercised more) to lose weight. They also don't see health issues with invisible symptoms and show disgust or disdain when they see a fat person take the elevator or escalator instead of the stairs. My knees are still fairly wrecked, and while I do my best to get around as much as I can bear, I have a lot of problems with walking up steps.

Yesterday (and today as I'm still in a lot of pain), I was reminded that I can suffer serious consequences because my back is so messed up. People who see me in public don't know that I go home at night after walking just a bit too much and am in so much pain that I get uncontrollable chills as my body can't manage the intensity of what is happening to it. They just see a fat person who they think should move more. My message to them is that some of us are doing the best that we can, and are in no condition to be doing anything more than we are.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Learning Moderation

Some 7 or 8 years ago, I decided to make some changes to my lifestyle for various reasons. I was tired of living in a small home which seemed to have too much stuff in it and I wanted to stop spending money on things which weren't returning enough pleasure or convenience. Frankly, I also just wanted to save more money than we had been saving. I'm not sure if this was my riding the early crest of the simplicity movement, or if it was simply an outgrowing of my materialism, but I slowly started to make some changes.

The first thing I did was start going through the possessions we had crammed into our limited storage and toss out the things which we'd bought that had been used for awhile, then set aside and forgotten. One of those things was a camcorder which we'd paid about $500 for and used perhaps 4 times. It sat in the closet, a piece of antiquated technology, unused and unwanted but kept merely because we'd spent too much on it to simply throw it away. I realized that keeping such a thing in the closet wasn't adding any value to our investment, it was just assuaging my conscience about having impulsively purchased such an expensive item for temporary use. Dealing with that camcorder was a turning point because it was the one thing that made me realize that all the things we owned weren't gaining value by being kept, but not used.

Slowly, I made a great number of changes to our life. I weeded out our possessions, we ate out or had take out food less and less and I cooked more, we stopped taking cabs when cheaper transportation was there (but less convenient), and I stopped buying new things right away because I wanted them and could afford them. Over a period of about 3 years, I made the transition from being someone who freely spent and acquired (though actually I was never a big spender or shopper) to being someone who scrutinized every purchase not only from the money spent point of view but also from the material waste and value view. I won't even spend a dollar on something if I don't need it because I don't want the clutter in my home or to use up resources unnecessarily.

This change in lifestyle wasn't like a light switch. It took some time and mental work for me to give up the "stuff" I'd bought and I had to "talk myself down" from the "I wants" when I went shopping. I'd see a cute household item and want it. I'd talk myself out of it. Sometimes I'd even pick an item up or put it in my basket, but convince myself to change my mind before checking out. The transition was slow, but complete. My mindset has changed completely and I rarely have any pangs of material desire as I once did. The materialism monkey, small as it was for me, is off my back.

This path to frugality, is very similar to the current path I'm treading to moderation with food. I sometimes want to eat things when I shouldn't or in portions that I shouldn't, and I talk myself down from them. The process hasn't been as deliberate as the one I took with material possessions, but it has been very similar psychologically. That is, the first step was the hardest (counting calories one day a week and learning delayed gratification), but the other steps fell into place more quickly and easily once I got through it. I also use a lot of talking myself down or stepping away from food in the same manner that I did for shopping.

I didn't realize how similar the mental processes were until I had a recent exchange in comments on Kaplod's blog in which she said that changing food habits has been easy for her as compared to learning moderation. I feel that I have learned moderation, but it happened rather by happenstance rather than by plan. It occurred to me that moderation is learned behavior and not natural at all, and few of us know how to teach others or ourselves to be moderate, particularly about food which has a profound biological hold on us.

A lot of people talk about how our parents can't be blamed past a certain point for our weight issues, but I think that moderation is something our parents teach us through example, portion sizes, and eating instructions. My husband has always been a moderate eater. He overindulges on occasion, but generally eats "enough" and stops. He thinks nothing of pouring a glass of milk and drinking half or two-thirds of it and tossing the rest away. I'm guessing his parents, unlike mine, never scolded him for consuming what he wished and "wasting" the rest, nor did they serve him heaping helpings or cook too much and encourage him to eat as much as possible to avoid unwanted leftovers.

I think that the focus on diets that are supposed to incidentally encourage moderation (because the food isn't tasty and people lose interest in eating) is part of the problem we have with weight in America. The focus doesn't need to be on the food, but on the psychology. Certainly, the food itself is an issue, particularly when it is designed to encourage ever increasing consumption, but if we learned to simply stop, then it wouldn't matter what sort of food it was. I can eat one potato chip and not want another. This is a skill I acquired in the past 10 months. It's not something magical. It is a learned behavior. What is more, it's something which once learned can apply to all areas of life and does not result in any sort of strict denial of pleasure. Granted, it does result in a reduction in the quantity of pleasure, but given the diminishing returns on food-based pleasure, and the negative consequences of being overweight, it would serve to improve quality of life overall.

Moderation can be taught and it can be learned, but we first have to focus on teaching it and realize that it's not an innate character attribute like "willpower", and we have to stop thinking that it's something we magically muster up when we're "ready". It's a skill to be taught and acquired. If our parents didn't teach us it, we can teach it to ourselves with some great efforts. I did, and I can't believe I did it because I never planned to do so, but I realized today that I have done it twice now; first, I did it with money and possessions, and now I have done it with food.

Connecting these two transitions makes me feel very strong right now because I realized that the way in which frugality has become effortless and free of neurotic concerns about "denial" through the years with repetition and mental training is very likely the same path that my changes in my approach to food will take. If I keep at this long enough and apply myself to it with the same diligence as I took with material goods, I may one day find that moderation with food is effortless and resisting its lures becomes simple. There is the potential for that gigantic food gorilla to one day be off my back.

Today's Snack

Only after I took this picture did I notice that I'd only given myself 4 pretzels. I added one more in after the picture was taken.

This is one of my favorite "substantial" snacks. When I say "substantial", I don't mean that it's healthy, but rather that it's more filling and causes me no blood sugar problems (as fruit often does).

This is pretty straightforward in terms of contents. This snack is more about how it's done than what it is. Those are sourdough pretzels and the cheese is Gouda. The drink is 8 oz. of Coke Zero. I always measure out portions and put them on a plate in this way in order to give it a sense of being something planned rather than something I cram in on the run. This helps keep portion sizes in line and stops mindless eating.

The cheese is sliced with a "cheese planer", which makes paper thin slices. You'll notice that you can see through the slices where they overlap the green table cloth. This not only allows me to get more slices (which makes it seem like a lot of cheese and prolongs the enjoyment compared to eating cubes or blocks of cheese), but it also enhances the flavor experience. Putting a paper thin slice on your tongue and holding it in your mouth for several seconds while it touches your palate gives you a much better sense of the cheese's sublime qualities. The more surface area of your tongue that the cheese touches, the greater the taste experience.

The sourdough pretzels are more flavorful than regular ones, but I like all sorts of pretzels just fine. The texture and saltiness, as well as the smell of the yeast and bread-like qualities are quite nice. I encourage you to smell them and concentrate on these qualities if you're a pretzel fan.

5 sourdough pretzels: 110 calories
1 oz. Gouda cheese: 101 calories
total: 211 calories

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Actor James Marsters, who is best known for his role as “Spike” on the television series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, once said that casting directors favored actors who looked like Q-Tips. He said they wanted people with big heads on skinny little bodies. He also has said things that would lead one to believe that he had to remain about 10 lbs. or so below his normal weight when he appeared on Buffy (because of all of the shirtless scenes, no doubt).

I also recall a very long time ago reading one of my grandmother’s large stash of old “Star” and “National Enquirer” magazines about how frustrated actress Stefanie Powers was when people told her how much they envied her "naturally" petite physique. She complained that she worked hard for that body, and chose things like apples over other more enticing treats in order to maintain her body in its slender state.

I think that both of these actors are relatively rare in speaking about their efforts to keep their bodies extra trim, possibly below their natural weight set point, in this manner. Most actors tend to emphasize their working out rather than the other sacrifices. Of course, I personally think the truth for some is a bit grimmer than exercising with a trainer everyday and eating healthily. I think there are a lot of people who smoke to lose weight (as Janeane Garafalo has admitted to doing) and others who binge and purge (as one 80’s actress who was viewed as a goddess in her heydey is suspected of doing since she has been reported to have purchased several bottles of Ipecac at a time when she was childless and had no real fear of accidental poisoning).

My point in this post isn’t to talk about slender celebrities or whether their healthy or unhealthy ways are what keeps their physiques at a size that makes casting directors cast a favorable eye on them. Frankly, I don’t care what celebrities do now that I’m no longer 12 and in my grandmother’s basement amusing myself by thumbing through her old gossip newspapers. My point is to talk about what it takes to maintain one of those idealized Q-Tip bodies and the sacrifices that it takes.

I've been thinking a lot about the end of the road on my weight loss because I think that that is actually more important than the path between now and that time. There's no point in losing a lot of weight just to find that you can't keep it off. A lot of women who have lost a lot and are now maintaining talk about having to eat between 1600-1900 calories a day just to stay at weights around 120-130 lbs. and a lot of them are either very fanatical about never putting a sugary treat in their pie-holes again or (at least a little) bitter about losing access to said treats forever. I wonder if this bitterness is part of what makes them so angry and judgmental of people who complain that they can't make the same sacrifices to lose weight rather than empathic. I would like to make clear that I'm not criticizing them or their feelings. We all make choices, and I'm not going to question those of others. They have their priorities and I have mine.

The question for me is about sacrifice and rewards for those sacrifices. For actors and actresses, whose careers ride on their appearance, the reward for having a body which is underweight relative to their bodies' homeostatic state has multiple advantages. For someone like me, trying to force my body lower than it might naturally be on a regular basis by eating 1600 calories a day forever would have relatively few advantages compared to having a little more pleasure with food on a regular basis and not feeling hungry all of the time. Eating 2000 calories per day offers a lot more wiggle room on the food pleasure front.

And, yes, it's no sin to enjoy food. One thing I'm tired of is feeling guilty for liking food and taking pleasure in it. Humans were built to enjoy food that tastes good, as are animals. Let's not minimize the fact that there is pleasure in good food to be had and sacrificing that pleasure for a tiny little body isn't easy or even necessarily natural. Our biological nature is to stuff our mouths with the sweetest, fattiest food we can find, not to care about how we look in a tiny cocktail dress.

I'm not sure what my natural resting weight is going to be, but I'm sure that I'm only willing to sacrifice so much on the altar of thinness. I'll eat as healthily as I can manage, and I'll lose as much weight as I need to to feel stronger, fitter, and healthier (and to end the constant abuse I take every time I go out in public - let's not forget that that is a huge motivator in what I'm doing - I've been essentially emotionally beaten into submission), but I'm not going to push myself to abandon all pleasure in food so I can look better in clothes and marvel at my incredible trimness. I'll leave that to actors and those who are willing to trade in one type of pleasure (food) for another (satisfying their vanity).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Today's Lunch

I love grilled cheese, as do most people, I imagine. Even when I successfully lost weight in college so long ago, I never stopped eating things like grilled cheese. The only difference was that I ate it on whole wheat in college and now I eat it on whole wheat and eat about half as much as I did back then. I had tuna salad around from earlier in the week, so I made this into a tuna-melt-style sandwich instead of straight grilled cheese, though it's common for me to make a cheese sandwich with 2 ounces of cheese. The soup and the pickle help make this more filling, though it is a small meal. Ironically, I've found that reduced calorie margarine actually grills whole wheat sandwiches better than real butter, so I get lower calories and a nicely browned sandwich.

This tomato soup is one of my absolute favorite things to have around to snack on  or accompany meals because it is warm, filling, savory, and low in calories. It's also cheap to make. Note that not all bouillon cubes are the same so you may have to experiment with the number and type that you use. You may need more or fewer depending on the size and flavor intensity of the cubes and your tastes. I prefer to use chicken-flavored cubes, but beef is okay as well. Generally speaking, I use cubes intended for making soup by dissolving one cube in 8 oz. of water. I usually use Knorr brand.

tomato soup:
  • 1 tsp. oil (40 calories)
  • 1 medium onion, diced (44 calories)
  • 2 small garlic cloves, cut into quarters lengthwise (9 calories)
  • 1/3 large carrot sliced, chopped (10 calories)
  • 1 large tomato, roughly chopped (33 calories)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (77 calories)
  • 2 chicken (or beef) bouillon cubes (20 calories)
  • dried parsley, salt, coarse black pepper to taste (I use 3/4 tsp. parsley, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1/2 tsp. salt)
  • 3 cups water
total for entire batch: 233 calories

Heat a medium-size soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat. Warming the pan first then adding the oil allows you to get more coverage with less oil. Add the onions and garlic clove pieces to the oil and cook until the onion is softened. If it starts to brown too quickly, lower the heat to medium-low. Stir in carrot pieces, parsley, pepper, and salt and allow to cook for about 5 minutes. Add the chopped fresh tomato and cook for a further 5 minutes. Finally, add the canned tomato, bouillon cubes, and water. Cover and cook at a vigorous simmer for 30 minutes or at a normal simmer for an hour. The soup is done when the carrots are tender. Cooking it longer just develops the flavors more, but isn't absolutely necessary. Puree the soup with an immersion blender and taste to see if it needs more seasoning (usually, you'll need to adjust the salt). This makes about five 8-ounce (1 cup) servings at 47 calories per serving.

grilled sandwich of (1/2 serving) tuna salad, 1 oz. Colby Jack cheese on (1 slice) whole wheat bread: (71 + 110 + 80) = 261
1 cup tomato soup = 47 calories
reduced fat margarine (for grilling) = 30 calories
pickle = 0
total = 338

This was obviously a very tiny meal, and is not really an uncommon choice for me. Later, I had a banana and full fat yogurt (with sugar) as a snack. This is a fairly classic example of my meal splitting to eat my calories spread out throughout the day more in order to not feel as hungry.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Another Progress Pep Talk

Lately, I've been noticing some more changes to my body which indicate progress being made. Some of this comes under the heading of "too much information", so squeamish sorts may want to bow out before they reach the end (I'll issue a warning when the time comes). Nonetheless, if this is to be a record of all of the way weight loss is going for me, and improvements I'm experiencing, I want to be relatively thorough.

The biggest thing I've noticed physically is that there has been a profound change in the way in which I perceive the "layout" of my fat. The way I'm saying it makes it sound bad, but it's actually a good thing. In the past, my belly felt like a tire that went all the way around my body, and it still is a bit like that, but lately I've had more of a sense of it hanging mainly from the front of my body. This means my stomach is shrinking. It's pulling up from the sides such that I can see more of my thighs. I'm getting some sense of my true body structure as it follows my spine rather than feeling like some sort of amorphous blob. Oh, I'm still plenty fat, but things are changing in a noticeable way.

When I was walking around shopping today, I caught a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror, as I occasionally do, and felt as though I was definitely much smaller than I once was. I still am very pear shaped (and big bottomed), but my upper body in particular is much, much smaller. No one is going to mistake me for anything but morbidly obese, but I've shrunk a good 10 inches all over by now, and more in some areas.

The size 44 bras I bought last year which started out quite tight are now getting loose. I have to have the straps at their shortest to keep my breasts from wanting to fall out of the D cups. I couldn't use my 60-inch tape measure to get my bra size over a year ago, but now I can use it. The size around my body under my breasts is now roughly 42 inches. I'm hoping to deal with these bras until I reach the size of the 38C I've got in reserve. Bras are expensive, so I'd rather not splurge on interim sizes.

Though I never had much of a double chin for someone of my weight, the little bump of flesh under my chin is starting to flatten out a bit. This sounds good, but it looks bad to me. I'm 45 and it looks a little wrinkled at the moment. I'm wondering if I'm going to end up with some sort of turkey neck after I lose as much weight as I like. This certainly wouldn't stop me from deciding to lose weight, but it's not a happy ending to this process.

My legs have always been fat and I expect that they always will be, but I've noticed that they are starting to get smaller as well. I'll never have lovely, shapely legs, but my calves don't seem to be quite as obscenely huge as they used to be. My feet are also starting to feel too small for my shoes, which I believe were stretched out when my feet were fatter.

I've also noticed that I no longer need to lean on various things in order to clean difficult to reach areas in our apartment. I also used to have to sit while vacuuming because my back hurt too much to stand all of the time. Now, I only infrequently experience the sort of discomfort that prevents me from moving about and doing cleaning work in a normal way.

On the negative side, I continue to experience swelling in my hands when I walk, and I think it's related to overdoing weight lifting. Sometimes my hands feel like stuffed sausages after (and during) a walk. This is definitely a new thing, and I quit weight lifting for the time being to see if it abates, but I'm not liking it. I've also developed a "runner's toe" on my left big toe. It is black and blue and gets fluid under it. I think this is happening to me because my shoes fit badly, but also because my body is weak and not accustomed to so much walking. Still, these are minor issues, and I'm in so much better condition than before. My back problems are such that I can walk for about an hour now, and even then the main issue isn't my back as much as my joints or hips aching. I still wake up stiff in the mornings, but it isn't as painful as before and passes much more quickly.

Finally, I'm getting to the "TMI" section, so nervous types might want to close the browser tab or window. Before I started this, I had a lot of problems with irritable bowels. I would urgently have to defecate in the mornings shortly after waking up and had excruciating pain from my back while dealing with this. Often, I'd have diarrhea-like bowel movements and more often than not I'd have them 2 or 3 times in the same morning. I also had some hemorrhoids. All of this has gone away. In fact, now, I occasionally have difficult bowel movements, but I think that is related to water retention and hormonal changes. Nonetheless, my body is not accustomed to having to "force" a movement, and it's quite difficult trying to work those muscles now.

There's another toilet-related issue, and this one is quite humiliating, but I'll say it anyway. Because of my belly apron's size, back stiffness and difficulty bending and the narrow layout of my toilet (which prevents me from opening my legs wide), I have not been able to wipe my backside from a seated position for over a decade. I have always had to stand and prop my foot on the seat and wipe myself in that manner. I realized this week that my back has healed enough and my belly has shrunk enough that I didn't have to do this anymore. I can now wipe from a seated position like most people do, even in a narrow toilet space.

I also have found that my periods, which went away for about 2 years, have returned (note that this happened to me before - I didn't menstruate for a year in my early 30's and no cause was ever found). I thought it was perimenopause, but I think that my weight simply arrested menstruation. Now that my weight is between 250-280 (not sure of the number now since I rarely weight myself), they're back more or less on a regular basis.

On the brightest side of all, my husband has given intercourse another try after years of not wanting to for reasons I already discussed. He didn't do this because I was losing weight, but neither of us can deny that it is much easier now than before. I'm not pinned down by my weight and he has much easier access because my belly isn't in the way as much and I have greater flexibility. This is something which we're still working at (because it wasn't entirely only an issue due to my weight), but I'm much more hopeful now than before that we'll get back on track to something closer to what we once were (which was much more active and confident on both our parts).

There are still some changes I'm very much looking forward to, and some of them are embarrassing things. I know it may seem that I've already talked about the worst of it, and I may have, but there are a few more. One thing that has been happening for many years is that my belly apron catches on the lip of the toilet seat when I lean over to get up and off, and it sort of grabs it and picks it up a little and it falls noisily back down. This still happens, but not all of the time. I think that it should stop by the end of this summer as my belly size should soon be small enough to not get a good enough grab.

There's also a narrow doorway leading from our bedroom to our kitchen which I'm too fat to walk through. There's another entrance that is wider that I can use that is not far away, so I always use it. My husband uses the narrow one, and I want to be able to use it, too. Of course, I'm also very much looking forward to the day when I don't outweigh him.

It's Not About Being a "Good Girl"

It's not uncommon to read blogs or forums about weight loss and see initial statements, introductions or "pledges" from people who have had enough and are ready to buckle down and lose weight. More often than not, there is either a subtext or overt statement to the effect that one has been "bad" and now one wishes to be "good".

You see this as a pattern as people report their behavior and report satisfaction for boxes on their mental check sheet under the "good" column - drank a gallon of water, worked out, ate a ton of vegetables, resisted sweets and salty treats. In support forums, others pat them on the head for their good choices and following their plans. You find that there is also a fair amount of confessing about trivial lapses as people scold themselves publicly for being "bad". I've seen people scold themselves for eating a pickle even though they have nearly zero calories. They want a hand slap because of the salt.

People also set up elaborate reward systems which remind me of my childhood. When I made the honor roll, my mother gave me $5 as a reward for being a good girl and doing well with my grades. When I memorized each row of the multiplication table, I was given a mini candy bar by the teacher and when I memorized them all, a big candy bar. Women who lose weight reward themselves with manicures, perfume, trips, and items they desire for every x number of pounds they lost or for reaching some arbitrary number. These gifts remind you that you were a very good girl indeed.

One of the things I have realized, and this realization comes in part because I have been "warned" on occasion that I can't possibly succeed if I allow myself chocolate, cake, cookies, ice cream, and salted goodies on a regular (okay, daily) basis, is that people make this harder on themselves than necessary by making narrow definitions or categories of "good" and "bad" and shoehorning their behavior into them. I'm undeniably succeeding, but I'm not doing so as a "good girl", so therefore my methods are not acceptable and to be regarded with skepticism. I'm bound to fail in the long run because I'm not following the rules or the accepted definition of what "good" weight loss behavior is.

I think talking about being "good" or being "bad" is part of what ends up sabotaging people's weight loss efforts as the terms are so black and white. Food and exercise have to also be seen in very absolute terms. I've read about people who exercise when they feel like crap because they want to be "good" despite their poor state. The irony is that these same people claim to subscribe to the philosophy of taking care of themselves and putting themselves first. To me, forcing yourself to exercise when you feel very tired, a little sick, or just plain crappy isn't looking after yourself. If your body feels bad, you rest it. You don't push it to make a tick mark on your chart which says you exercised today.

Of course, there are good reasons why many people turn to such absolutes. They can't touch a chocolate without wanting to eat the whole bag. They can't not exercise on a day that they feel like lying down and doing nothing because it'll set off a pattern of behavior where they make excuses about not feeling up to it more often than not. That being said, I think moderation in all things is the key to long-term success, and the "good girl" approach is simply another form of excess.

I'm not a "good girl", but I've come to realize that that isn't what this is about. It's about learning to eat and have habits that can be sustained and not cause me to be unhealthy. The great thing about this is that I hate myself a whole lot less now than I used to because not being "good" means I also don't have to see myself as "bad."