Sunday, May 30, 2010

Control, the Illusion, the Reality, the Need

Recently, my husband and I were invited to one of his coworker’s homes. In the past, accepting such an invitation was out of the question for me. With my back pain, mobility issues, and the uncertainty associated with situating my large body in unknown surroundings that I may not fit in, my husband always knew that I could not go to another person's home. It was physically impossible when I couldn’t walk 5 minutes without great pain, and very stressful because of the potential trauma involved in finding myself in a situation where I was so fat I might not fit due to my girth.

Now that my back pain is almost reduced to the point that it is not an issue except in the longest sojourns and my size is about two-thirds of what it once was, the possibility of my taking part in such social situations has been opened up again. This may look like some sort of achievement, but it actually is something that makes me uncomfortable and causes stress. I’m not necessarily keen to subject myself to unknown situations despite the low probability of any sort of difficulty arising due to my size. Though now that my weight is likely in the 260 range rather than the high 300’s, I still don’t feel comfortable visiting other people’s homes because I need control, and I don’t have it when I’m not in my own home.

Control has always been an issue for me and I have had very significant problems emotionally in any circumstance in which I feel acutely out of control. The thought of having to go to a government office to apply for something that I need but may be turned down for would stress me out for weeks before the appointed time. My sense of not having control over the approval process caused a great deal of anxiety for me. It may seem ironic that someone who needs control to such an unrealistic extent would live the majority of her life to date completely out of control with food, but I’m sure that these factors are linked in a way that is not yet clear to me. Perhaps there is only so much one’s psyche can expend energy on in terms of taking control, and food is where I have traditionally let myself be out of control. It may have been the release valve. It’s something that needs to percolate a bit longer before I figure out the connections.

I believe that most of my control issues are not the result of some biologically induced compulsion, but rather related to my upbringing. My father is an alcoholic. My mother has always had significant mood issues and was verbally abusive throughout my life. That home life coupled with the daily torment I received from everyone around me at school and in public because I was fat, instilled in me an intense need to have control in order to escape the suffering I experienced. Having control meant I wouldn’t be hurt. Not having it meant I was exceedingly vulnerable.

One of the things that I am vigilant about at this point in time is how many changes in lifestyle I take on as a result of my “improved” condition. That is, I am aware that being fatter than I am now served me well in many ways psychologically because it gave me the power to say “no” with excuses that could not be considered arbitrary or selfish. If I was in too much pain to walk somewhere, no one could blame me for not going. Now, the only reason not to go is that I simply do not want to, either because I prefer to do something else, or I have a need for control that is not really rational but not having it causes me stress nonetheless.

Since I, like many other people who have been fat all of their lives, believe others have the right to control me (since so many of them have tried through bullying, judging, pushing me to lose weight, etc.), it is hard for me to simply refuse because that is what I want to do. I think that part of what might compel me to stop losing weight or start regain is not asserting my needs and wishes actively and without guilt at this point in time. It is imperative that I refuse when I want to refuse regardless of the reason so that I don’t start to conclude that losing weight or being smaller is going to result in a loss of control for me over other parts of my life.

While I initially told my husband that I was open to visiting his coworker, who has visited us and is a lovely person to talk with, I changed my mind after pondering all of this. I know he is disappointed, but he understands the choice I have made and that I may have to continue to say “no” in the future. It’s something I have to do for myself as a means of giving myself the power that being fatter once gave me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mental Health Prejudice and Fattism

Since I've been overweight most of my life, I've often thought about what factors cause a person to be fat. Is it biology? Psychology? Both? The difference between the way I ponder this point and the way it is generally bandied about in the media and by many people (both those who are thin and those who are fat but trying to lose weight) is that I do not concern myself with this issue in order to assign "blame" or "responsibility". I'm not looking to find out why in order to let someone off the hook or to hang them on one. I simply want to understand the factors that go into weight problems so that solutions, when they are desired, can be found.

One of the things I realized lately is that the accusations related to being fat are based in a bias which we supposedly have overcome. If the person's weight issue is deemed to be a physical issue, then we "forgive" them because it's not their fault. If the person's fatness is the consequence of a psychological issue, then we say it is their fault because they are "weak-willed", eat emotionally, or are lazy, or piggish. In essence, if overeating is a mental health issue, we feel they should just be able to overcome it alone by sheer force of desire.

Psychology, in my opinion, always plays a role in eating. We have a psychological relationship with everything because we are human and have feelings about everything. Unless you're in a coma (and maybe even then... I've never been in one so I don't know), your limbic system is going to be engaged in regards to food. To deny this is foolhardy. The only issue at play is whether or not you have a psychological relationship with food which results in physiologically undesirable results (a lack of health) or desirable ones (robust health).

It's important to keep in mind that each individual's biology and psychology are unique when it comes to food. A person with Type 1 diabetes can have a perfectly "normal" psychological relationship with food and eat within caloric limits and still have a degradation in health. A person can have a horrendously bad relationship with food like compulsive eating and not suffer any ill effects if that compulsion leads them to eat say, a dozen oranges everyday. So, the situation is never simple.

At any rate, one thing that I have realized is that much of the disgust and judgment of fat people is based in the idea that psychological issues with food which lead to being overweight are to be regarded with disdain, anger, and condemnation. If we consider that any weight gain as a result of a psychological issue is a mental health problem, then it would seem that the underlying idea is that it is acceptable to blame someone for a mental health disorder, but not a physical health problem.

Some people would deny that the psychological factors which compel people to overeat can be classified as true "mental health" issues, but this is merely an attempt to justify fat hating and the underlying processes that drive it. Any behavior which causes you to behave destructively toward yourself (or others) is a mental health problem. Any emotional problems which drive you to do things which promote poor health are mental health problems. Mental health problems don't only cover the extremes. They cover a wide variety of quality of life issues, including emotional issues which drive people to food for comfort.

The irony is that fat people, who are often the victims of abuse, often tacitly buy into this prejudice as well. When they attempt to offload their weight problems onto metabolic disorders, medication, etc., they are saying, 'my problem with weight is a medical one, not a psychological one, so please don't blame me the way we blame fat people who "can't control themselves."'

The attitudes of fattists, and even fat people who apologize or nervously offer medical excuses for their weight, can be boiled down to a mental health disorder prejudice. We can't judge and blame people with medical conditions that lead to weight gain because that's like blaming someone for developing cancer. Apparently though, we can blame people with a psychological issue for their inability to simply "get over" the problem. The anger directed at fat people is akin to "blaming" a chronically depressed person for simply not "manning up" and "cheering up." In other words, a person with a weight problem, when that problem is in whole or in part motivated by psychological issues, simply cannot "eat less" and "exercise more" anymore than someone with any other mental health problem can simply decide to be well by "snapping out of it".

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gold Stars

"Dessert" is used in academic circles as a noun form of "deserve" in addition to meaning a sweet ending to a meal. A lot of people who are losing weight focus on the notion of dessert, meaning they believe that they deserve a reward as a result of their efforts. It's my feeling that any notion of dessert is what got me to where I am now, at least in part.

In the past, it wasn't uncommon for me to say things to my husband to the effect of, "I deserve (whatever)." In particular, I would say this in regard to certain foods that I wanted. If I had a hard day, I'd say I "deserved" some ice cream to comfort me. If I was sick or tired, I'd say I "deserved" to eat something that would bring me comfort. When I had a cold, in particular, I'd crave potato chips because they were salty and carby. That made them both easy to taste with dulled senses and easy to digest with an upset stomach. If I worked hard, I "deserved" a pizza because I was too tired to cook.

One of the many things which I've tried to change about my approach to food and to life in general is to remove the notion of dessert (as in deserving) something in response to carrying out a particular behavior which should be done simply as a result of being a responsible adult. If I pay a bill, I don't get a reward. If I do the laundry, I don't get a reward. If I eat properly, I don't get a reward. Food-related behaviors which contribute to an overall lifestyle of moderation and healthfulness are not things which should require a reward for me. I should carry out these behaviors for the value of the natural consequences, not for some sort of "bonus".

I haven't "rewarded" myself throughout the 11 months I've been losing weight and at times, I have felt a bit at loose ends. Early on in the process of changing how I dealt with food, I often felt a profound sense that something pleasurable and useful (psychologically, as in a coping mechanism) had been stripped away and I had been left with nothing to carry me through. I'm guessing this is a classic addictive response.

At this point, the sense that something is missing has faded greatly. In fact, using food as a reward is something which I have managed to eliminate from conscious thought. I don't think of food as a reward, though I do still occasionally crave it for comfort or when I'm bored (and have to fight the impulse, though not nearly as often as I once did) and that may be unconsciously linked to the idea of food as a reward. My fear in using "rewards" for behavior which leads to weight loss is that I'd be merely substituting one reward (food) for another (shoes, clothes, make-up, concert tickets, etc.).

I think that perhaps my inability to see eating properly and exercising as simply part of an adult existence indicated that I was still stuck in some childhood stage of development in which I felt I should get a gold star of some sort for "being good". Note that I attribute this being mired in a childish stage to myself only. I can't speak for the psychological inner workings of anyone else and do not attribute the same underlying ideas to others.

For some people who are trying to change their life habits in the hopes of losing weight, if the food isn't the gold star, then something else should be. The problem I have with this in regards to me personally is that I think that there is a danger at the end of the weight loss process when there are no more structured goals and no justifications for rewards. If you (and by "you", I actually mean "me") never frame lifestyle habits that provide you with the health and physique you desire as mere obligations of living the type of life you wish to live, then you risk falling back into old habits when the rewards end.

For some people, they have found a way of rewarding themselves without looking like they are rewarding themselves. All of those people who make dieting and exercising their raison d'etre and obsessively focus on what they did and did not eat and what they did and did not do in terms of activity? They are rewarding themselves with their obsessive cataloging, counting, or ticking off mental goal sheets in regards to the number of minutes they exercise, vegetables they eat, or weights they lift. Their system of reward is more abstract, but it still ties their food and exercise habits to dessert, though in this case it is mental gold stars instead of manicures or iPods. It's like getting your kids to clean their rooms in response to praise as a reward instead of a new toy.

My goal has been to do the equivalent of getting the kid to clean the room because a nice clean room is more pleasant to spend time in. In essence, I want to do what I do because the body I end up in will be easier to live in and with. I have no way of knowing if this will be successful in the long run. It has been so far, and that's enough for now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Slow Crash

When I was a kid, I loved to spend time at my paternal grandmother's house. She was poor, lived in a small trailer with no running water (you had to pee in a bucket or go into the woods near the edge of her property), and had a big belly and one eye in which she was blind that didn't move. My maternal grandmother, on the other hand, was trim, middle class, lived in a big house with lots of magazines, gossip papers, games, and not one but two bathrooms. My maternal grandmother was judgmental and distant though and my paternal grandmother, who I'll call "Grandma D", was warm and loving.

Grandma D used to take her grandchildren with her to play bingo as well as on various cash-paying jobs that she could do to augment her meager SSI income. She did a lot of manual labor work like cleaning up a wealthy woman's lawn from sticks and leaves, picking strawberries, and doing seasonal tree handling at a nursery. We'd do these jobs with her sometimes, and part of being with Grandma D was steeped in the pleasure of her company and the uniqueness of the activities she took part in, and part was in the food that she treated us to. When we went to bingo with her, she'd buy us French fries or potato chips. When we stayed in her little trailer, there were pizzas or hoagies. She also let us stay up late and watch "Chiller Theater" on her small black and white T.V. It was through my association with her that I developed an affection for old, old horror movies with the likes of Boris Karloff. Even as a kid, they never scared me, but hooked me with the underlying sense of humanity that was in the "monsters".

Don't get me wrong, she didn't ply us with junk by any stretch of the imagination, but spending time with her was very special in part because special food was sometimes involved. I remember specifically walking in the dark from her trailer to the local pizza joint to pick up a small cheese pizza. She was a "townie" and it took about 7 minutes to walk to town from her place and we lived deep in the rural backwoods so it seemed so different being so close to the heart of even a tiny town. The idea that one could walk to a store or restaurant was novel. I'm sure that a kid, even at age 10 or 12 in a safe, sleepy rural area, would not be allowed to walk alone after 10:00 pm as I did at that time.

I've been thinking about Grandma D a lot as of late. She passed away some time ago. After college, I used to drive through the area she lived in when I was doing my first job (and had lost a great deal of weight) and I'd stop by and talk to her (usually to complain about my mother) for long periods of time. I'm glad for those times with her because they had nothing to do with special food, bingo, yard-sale-hunting, or any of the other activities I engaged in with her as a child. It was just the two of us, talking, though I'm sure that being young and self-centered, it was all about me. She never criticized me though and listened, empathized, and commented.

When I think of Grandma D, and her common-law husband, Grandpa B, I miss them both, but I also feel bad. He died when I was in my early teens and she died when I was living very far away from her and out of touch for quite a few years. I never felt I got a chance to let either of them know how much their love meant to me and how they were such wonderful grandparents because the time they spent with us was enriching on so many levels. I want the chance to tell them how good and meaningful my relationships with them were now that I have my adult perspective on life, but I can't, and I grieve for the loss of that opportunity because I was too young and self-involved to tell them when they were alive. I don't believe that any reassurance that "they knew" is helpful. Maybe (only "maybe") "they knew" without my telling them, but it is in no way as good as having told them while looking with love in my eyes and arms ready to offer a hug.

Given my rocky relationship with my emotionally unstable mother, being with these grandparents was a relief. They weren't perfect people, and Grandpa B once made the well-known comment about my "living to eat rather than eating to live" after I started to gain weight as a kid, but they generally did not judge me and engaged me as person. I think that spending time with my grandmother was a necessary relief from my mother's way of belittling me and sending mixed messages about my value as a person which may have granted me some scrap of self-esteem on occasion.

I never thought about my grandmother's big belly. It simply was not a factor in the way I viewed her. I never thought of her as "fat", particularly not compared to my mother who was always big all over while Grandma D had pretty average-sized limbs but a large belly. I'm guessing Grandma D gained her weight later in life and spent much more of her early adulthood rather thin. At any rate, I never thought about her weight until she developed what must have been Type 2 diabetes at some point in her late 50's or early 60's. I don't recall it too clearly except that at one point she talked about the doctor putting her on a diet and "getting her 1600 calories" for the day. It still wasn't something I dwelt upon, but just a random comment that went along with changes in spending time with her. By the time this happened, I wasn't so interested in the food side of spending time with her anyway, but it did signal an end to pizzas, hoagies, and chips at her place.

This experience came to mind recently because I think that 1600 calories is a common slow but steady loss benchmark for people who need to lose weight. I don't think the doctor put my granny on any sort of extreme diet, but chose a number which she could manage without getting too terribly starved and that would result in about a one pound average loss per week. She probably needed to lose about 50 lbs., so it'd take awhile, but she'd get there. It may or may not be a coincidence that my target number is 1600. Perhaps something stuck with me from that time, or perhaps it just seems sensible.

I'm talking about that number not only because Grandma D has been on my mind a lot, but also because recently I read a blog post by a fat acceptance advocate who said she spent several years on a 1600 calorie diet and worked out often and only lost 35 lbs. over a long period of time. Some of the comments were critical of her and called what she did "crash dieting" and accused her of being "lazy" and seeking the easy way out!

I was flabbergasted at the idea that 1600 calories, when the recommendation for most average adults is a diet of between 2000-2500 calories depending on height and gender, could be called a "crash diet". The poster I'm talking about is only 5' 3" and female, so 1600 calories per day would be a very slow motion "crash" indeed. If it was safe and moderate enough for my granny, it certainly is safe and moderate enough for a woman who looks to be in her middle adult years at most. Reading the comments showed just how judgmental people can be if you don't lose weight. It's not enough to exercise. It's not enough to eat less than a day's calories as you're instructed to by doctors. It's never enough if you aren't thin. They will always find a failing on your part, even if it means defining something with is moderate and reasonable as extreme and unrealistic.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It's because you're fat

I once worked with a woman who said that she had had a headache every day for the last five years. The doctors didn't know what caused it and there was nothing to be done about it. Aspirin or other palliative medicine didn't work, so she had simply learned to put up with it. I felt bad for her, and wondered what sort of mystery could bring on such a condition.

A few years after working with this woman, a woman who was around 50 years old and absolutely average weight, I developed a headache that wouldn't go away for over a month and gave in and went to a doctor. The doctor did a lot of tests including various neurological tests and X-rays. In the end, he could find no cause so what did he tell me? He told me that “sometimes fat ladies have headaches for no reason.” He then advised me to “lose weight” using the “color method” where I should try to eat foods in various colors in small portions every day. He talked to me like I was an idiot who needed some sort of explanation that a child might understand because clearly I was stupid. This would be clear to anyone who saw my body because, you know, “fat = stupid.” It's not like overeating is often related to psychology rather than intellect. No, fat people are too dumb to understand how food and weight have a relationship.

Now, my coworker and I had the same problem, but because she was average and I was fat, my weight caused my headaches when no other cause could be tracked down. Here is reason one why I hate, no, DETEST, doctors. If you are fat and have a health problem, it must be because you are fat and if you lose weight, that will fix the problem. It doesn't matter what the problem is, cold sores, athlete's foot, pimples, etc., it is because you are fat. In the end, I didn't change my eating, even though I wanted to, and the headache finally went away after 6 months.

My experiences with doctors have lead me to believe a good many things about them and none of them are good:

  1. They are lazy and impatient. Doctors will jump to the fastest and simplest conclusion about a patient rather than listen carefully and consider all possibilities. What is the point of years of medical school and training if you're going to jump on the easiest cause without considering other possibilities? I haven't been to a doctor for years now because I don't want to pay someone to tell me I'm sick or in pain because I'm fat and then give me a vague recommendation to “lose weight.”
  2. They believe they are infallible. If your health fails to improve under a doctor's care, the doctor believes it is because you haven't done as he or she has recommended. It's not about the fact that they may have ascribed your illness or problem to the wrong cause (fatness), and given you an ineffective treatment, but because you failed to comply adequately to his or her wishes. Even if you lose weight and are still sick, it won't be enough.
  3. They fail to realize you are “a customer”. The doctor-patient relationship is fascinating from an economic viewpoint. You pay someone to help you get well, and they treat you as if they are doing you a favor by treating you if you are fat. They think it is okay to be patronizing, judgmental, and rude to you even though you pay them. This is like a porter who carries your bags to your hotel room and complains about how heavy they are and expects you to tip him heavily for the privilege.
  4. They are dictatorial and sensitive to having their authority over you disobeyed. Doctors believe they have the right to tell you how to live your life, and get angry and dismissive if you don't follow their dictates to the letter. Even if you do follow their instructions, they will believe you are lying if you don't show the improvement they expect of you. It's always that you're disobedient and a liar, not that they are wrong about the underlying notion that your fat causes every health problem known to man.
I've read again and again that being overweight shortens you life, but I'm beginning to wonder if what we're seeing is a correlation and causation mistake. Yes, being overweight can contribute to certain health problems, but what it also very much relates to is an avoidance of seeking regular medical treatment as well. Fat people don't go to doctors because the doctors zero in only on their fatness (which often can't be fixed, or if it can, not quickly, easily or, more often than not, medically) to the exclusion of all else and are patronizing, rude, or dismissive.

If you don't receive regular medical treatment, you are less likely to get an early warning on diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. You're more likely to seek treatment when it is too late and die earlier. Maybe being overweight doesn't cause you to die at an earlier age. Maybe it causes you to avoid medical treatment such that you are more likely to die of illnesses that thin people receive help for at a much earlier stage and therefore they survive. Fatness may not cause early death so much as the doctors' responses to overweight patients and the emotional damage it causes.

I don't know if my speculation is true, but certainly my aversion to doctors because of my weight could contribute to an early demise from some budding problem which I do not get tested for. I can't say one way or another. I can say that I hate doctors, and I don't think that will change even after I lose more weight and fall into a “normal” range because I can only take being treated like crap by the entire medical profession so many times before I write them all off as arrogant jerks. I'm sure that won't break any doctor's heart. After all, the last thing they want is another fatty patient who won't do what they say.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On Plateaus

I came across an interesting piece on plateaus, why they happen, how they can't be avoided, and how to deal with them. That piece is here.

Since I don't weigh myself very often, I don't know if I have had any plateaus or not. I do believe that I may have had a few "mini" ones just based on the lack of change in my body over a month or so on a few occasions. That's okay because I haven't really worried much about it. One thing I did do was start to lift weights (low weight, high repetitions) when I felt I wasn't seeing much progress. Ironically, the article says you should build muscle during a plateau phase and I fell into doing it around that time. Of course, this was not due to any great insight on my part, but because I felt it was time to add something else to what I was doing.

One of the things that is often talked about with great frustration in weight loss forums is reaching a plateau and being there for months. Some people recommend that the person suffering the plateau eat more and others come along and shake their heads in disapproval at the idea that eating more will break a "stall". The metabolic nutritionist who is cited in the article I linked to would seem to be on board with those who advocate eating more during a plateau, particularly more protein.

Besides offering some interesting scientific information about the ebb and flow of weight loss (or should I say the total drying up of the river for a certain period of time), the article made me consider just how much conflicting advice and information is out there. In particular, I think that it illustrates well how laymen who take part in weight loss forums operate mainly on anecdotal experiences when they advise others. It's not about what they learned, but about what they experienced personally. If it works for them, they believe it should work for you. If it doesn't work for them, then they don't believe it should work for others. In the end, they are the center of all things normal and their reality will be that of others if they follow the same plan.

Losing weight simply doesn't work that way. Every body is different and you can't predict responses based on the response of other people. Because of that, I'm not so sure that holding your body at maintenance levels for as long as 6 months (as the nutritionist in the article advises) is really necessary for everyone and wonder if doing that for so long would de-motivate people who desperately want to lose weight. However, the ideas in it are good to keep in mind should one encounter a prolonged stall in their weight loss. It's not failure. It's not personal. It's just human biology.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Not all the changes are good...

Sometimes I think the fact that I have been fat all of my life (well, since 4th grade of elementary school) has one tiny blessing when it comes to weight loss. That is the fact that I have never had an attractive body. For as long as I remember, I have had fat legs, a belly apron, and a large behind. I've always had lumpy cellulite and breasts which were not beautifully shaped.

The reason this may be a blessing is that I am not freaked out by all of the changes brought on by weight loss. I don't expect there not to be stretch marks all over me or bat wings on my upper arms. I don't expect a flat stomach or firm thighs and a nice behind. I can't expect these things because they have never existed on my body. When I lose weight and things start to sag and droop, it's pretty much just a variation on what my body has always been.

I think a lot of people when they lose weight, and the ridiculously idealized bodies people choose for their avatars on weight loss forums would seem to support this notion, want to end up firm, toned and "hot". Such an expectation would never be on my radar so I face no disappointment at the end of the road. My body is not going to look "good" naked when I have reached my goal and I'm okay with that because my body is like an old, well-worn, stretched-out sweater that can't get back its shape and I'd have to be delusional or have a ton of cosmetic surgery to have it end up otherwise.

The benefit of this is that there isn't disappointment waiting for me at the end of the line when I inevitably fail to meet some absurd ideal form based on the images we see of people in the media. Such people are Photoshopped, plastic-surgeried-into-perfection or have nothing better to do than to work on their bodies for several hours a day and do not represent our potential so much as our distorted expectations of what is achievable. That being said, even someone with my low expectations can find some disappointment in the results of weight loss.

As I have mentioned before, for my weight, my face has never been particularly fat. Of course, it has been "fat", but I haven't had much of a double chin for someone who was closing in on 400 lbs. and my cheeks haven't been too plump. While this was "good" when I was fatter, as I lose weight, I'm starting to find that the skin on my face is getting thinner. This makes parts of my face look younger as it's a bit like a face lift as the fat droopy areas start to thin out.

However, weight loss is causing the skin around my eyes to get very, very thin and bringing out all of the wrinkling one might expect with my age of 45. The wrinkles are shocking and not something I expected at all, but there is also the fact that my pale skin reveals bluish darkness around my eyes because of the coloration beneath. I first looked younger due to weight loss, now, I'm starting to look older.

Some people who are losing weight say that others remark that they are looking "sick" and are perhaps losing weight too quickly or losing too much. The person who is losing weight gets upset at this, but my experience is enlightening me about why others may have such a perception. My face, and my eyes in particular, are starting to look drawn (from the wrinkles) and tired (from the darker coloration showing through). I can easily see how someone who has seen my plumper, less-wrinkled, and pinker face at a higher weight for years would view me as looking "sick" as a result of this change. It's a reasonable conclusion, though one that they only reach because of their point of comparison and not because I'm actually ill or my weight loss is "bad". If anyone ever tells me I'm looking bad because of my weight loss, I'm not going to get mad; I'm going to understand where they are coming from.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It gets easier

When I started trying to lose weight, it was unbearably hard trying to eat less than my body required. The hunger nearly drove me mad at times. In retrospect, I wonder if, at a starting weight which was probably around 380, I made it harder on myself than necessary by picking an arbitrary number and saying that was how much I’d try to eat that day to lose weight.

I don’t think I experienced “starvation mode”, because I didn’t count calories everyday at first and didn’t greatly restrict my eating 6 out of 7 days a week at first. I do think, however, that things could have been just as effective, but smoother had I eaten 500 calories below my basal metabolic number everyday from the start. That is, if 3800 was what I needed to stay at 380, I may have been able to lose weight on 3300 calories per day. I don't’ know if that would have worked, but I think it might.

At any rate, I don’t regret the choices I made because they helped me to incorporate delayed gratification into my life quite effectively. Weight loss plans aren’t a perfect science. They’re more like alchemy in which you’re making wild guesses at what to do and on rare occasions it works and most of the time it fails.

The reason I’m thinking about how many calories one can eat and still lose weight is because lately it has gotten a lot easier to eat less. I haven’t weighed myself recently; in fact, I have scrupulously avoided it because I have a planned weighing for mid-June as that marks the one-year anniversary of my decision to try and change my life such that I’d lose weight. My sense is that I’m probably somewhere in the 260’s now, which means that I’m now aiming for 1500 calories a day with some “bonus” nibbling that might take me up to 1600. I’m easily falling in the mid to high 1400’s most days since deciding to scale back my eating a little more. Some days, I’m actually in the high 1300’s without effort.

The main thing which has changed since the early days of my efforts is the frequency and intensity of my hunger. I recall all too well how hard it was in my early one-day-a-week 1200 calorie days. Sometimes, I thought I would just go mad with hunger. I also have found even within the past 3 months that I was having problems throughout the day, but recently something seems to have changed. Either hunger isn’t hitting me as hard as it used to, or I’m much more capable of setting it aside and ignoring it (possibly both).

I can’t say for sure why this is the case, but my speculation is that my body’s energy demands have drastically gone done (as a lower weight means a lower BMI) and my cells and organs have slowly adjusted to the diminished energy levels. Whatever myriad chemical processes keep my body alive have finally gained some sort of cellular “understanding” that this is a situation which does not require klaxons going off in my brain saying, “eat, eat, eat.”

It’s also possible that I’m simply spending those calories better now and therefore I’m more easily sated than before. I consider this as a rather remote possibility because my eating style has not appreciably changed from the start. I still eat lots of chicken breast, quick breads made with fruit and Splenda for breakfast, eggs, controlled portions of rice, sweet potatoes, and whole wheat bread, fruit, occasional small portions of salted snacks, small portions of cheese, pureed vegetable soups, raw carrots and tomatoes, small amounts of chocolate, salads, and tuna and drink lots of tea and moderate amounts of Diet Coke. The diet really hasn’t changed, though I have been more consistent as I’ve gotten used to the (high) cooking and preparation demands. I can say though that I love the food I eat and rarely hunger for something that I feel I have to deny myself. It’s not that I’m such a “good girl”, but just that I have developed really good portion control and can incorporate nearly anything into my plans without losing control or overeating.

The way things have gone lately, and I realize this may be a temporary state (but I hope not), have given me a better sense of how other people manage to eat less on a regular basis without trying too hard. They do it because their bodies aren’t issuing demands and their psyche’s aren’t controlling the path from mouth to stomach. That being said, my psychology still drives me to food for comfort on occasion. Last night was stressful, and I ate about 200 calories at the end of the day as comfort. The only difference about what I did then and what I do now is that the amount I eat for comfort is very small, engaged in much less frequently, and usually within calorie allotment totals for weight loss (and never above maintenance numbers).

Besides the inevitable relief of not having to fight your impulses to eat all of the time or stave off hunger, this state of being feels more peaceful because I find that I ruminate on food much less often than I did initially. I used to go to bed every night thinking about food and imagining what I’d eat the next day. Now, I find that I rarely end up doing that. I also find that I am spending less time looking at the clock to see if enough time has passed between breakfast and lunch to allow me to eat again.

So, I’m glad to say that it gets easier after awhile. I can’t say it “gets easy”, but with practice and further reduction in body weight, it does become less difficult. It has taken nearly a year to get to this point, but I’m gratified to be at this current stage, and I hope it continues to last (or get even easier). I want to note this change because I think it's important to remember not only where I am at this point in the process, but where I used to be before. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie, yes

When I read forums or comments about people wanting to lose weight, the most common complaint I hear is something to the effect of, 'I work out everyday and eat healthy food, and I lost a little weight, but I can't lose anymore.' The fact that people believe this type of behavior is enough to lose weight is a reflection on how the  media continues to fail people in regards to informing them on what makes us fat.

If you believe all of what you hear about fat people, you think that they all got that way stuffing their maws with fast food and junk food. You also think they are lazy and watching T.V. or playing video games all day. Here's the thing; you can get fat from any type of food, even healthy food. You can be fat if you are very active. Losing weight is far less about what you eat and do than about how much you eat. Period. You can be thin eating McDonald's everyday and sitting on your duff, and you can be fat eating vegetables, high fiber foods, and lean meat and running 5 miles a day.

The perception that all you have to do is be "good" also shows just how poorly educated people are about calories in general. That is, they think there is a relationship between the nutritive value of something and the caloric density. Oatmeal is good for you. Milk is good for you. If you make yourself a bowl of oatmeal with a half cup of dry oatmeal and a half cup of whole milk, the calories are going to come out to 282. If you happen to add some fruit to it, say just half a banana, you're going to boost that up to around 340 calories. If you add even a tablespoon of brown sugar (or honey) to make it more palatable, you're up to 390 calories. Congratulations! Your healthy breakfast now has almost the same number of calories as two Krispy Kreme original glazed donuts (400 calories). Even without the banana, and with skim milk, your oatmeal is the same number of calories as one donut, and your body is going to treat those calories the same when it comes to fat loss or storage. If you eat your healthy oatmeal and your skinny compatriot has one donut and a black coffee, she's going to be eating less than you.

Of course, you will probably feel sated longer with the oatmeal (probably, though frankly it doesn't work that way for me), and it is undeniably healthier for you as your body can take the fiber and other nutrients and use them to help with vital processes like healing, muscle-building, etc. However, my point isn't that the donuts are better for you or equal, but rather that in terms of weight loss, being "good" isn't going to help you lose weight unless you are very aware of the total number of calories you're consuming in healthy foods.

As long as the stereotype of fat people becoming fat is linked to excessive consumption of empty calories and sloth, people who want to lose weight are going to keep thinking that eating good food and exercising are all it takes to lose weight. It takes so much more than that, and it is cumbersome and fussy. You don't have to count calories, but you do have to reduce portions and be aware of how much you're eating with at least some vague idea of how many calories are involved rather than only concern yourself with what types of food you are eating. To me, this is yet another problem that results from people oversimplifying things. They want easy answers and easy advice, and having to weigh and measure your food, and count calories isn't easy. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Building an Angry Fat World

Recently, I posed a question for the proprietress of the Fatshionista blog about whether or not she would accept an offer to wake up at an "appropriate" weight tomorrow should a magic fairy proffer such an offer. Further, I asked if ones level of true fat acceptance would be mirrored in the reply. Her response was thoughtful and considered, and I appreciated that very much. I think it spoke well to her level of body acceptance and the manner in which she regards others. The commenters, on the other hand, ascribed various motivations to me based on their paranoia and anger.

Among the motivations I was ascribed were that of setting a trap for fat acceptance advocates or creating a "litmus test". Some people clearly assumed that a thin person or a person who was a diet fiend of some sort had asked the question. I guess to some people, the fact that I am losing weight would make me an "enemy" of fat-acceptance (I should state that I accept fat on other people, I just can't accept it on myself for many reasons as I've mentioned in past posts). The truth was that I asked it because it was a notion that occurred to me, and felt it was pretty much simply an interesting idea to kick around. Certainly there are many people who would like to wake up tomorrow at their ideal weight, and I think that you can say "yes, I'd like to be my ideal weight tomorrow" and still be an advocate of bodily acceptance. That being said, it would say something about the extent to which you believe society will adopt fat acceptance if you say "yes". If you say, "no", then perhaps it is a reflection of your (lack of authentic) hopefulness that what you are striving for will come to fruition.

At any rate, I understand why the commenters concluded what they did. I have been in the paranoid fat girl seat more than once. Someone says or does something and I get mad and ascribe it to their intolerance of my weight or their anti-fatness agenda. Of course, sometimes (perhaps even often), that is their motivation. However, I have endeavored to be less defensive and angry as the years have gone by. I try to ignore it, or ascribe some other motive, but I have had less than complete success.

I think a big reason why we need fat acceptance and advocates who want the judging to stop is reflected in the low-key hostility that shone through in the commenters' words. They were defensive and went on the offensive in some cases. People don't become like this in a vacuum. It's the result of being fat and being attacked all of the time in a variety of ways. Anti-fat bigotry, doesn't make us thinner, it just makes us madder.

“Instrumental” Eating

Recently, I read an article about mothers and how they are significantly less happy than childless women. The article noted that most women cited the fact that they were so incredibly busy as the reason for their emotional state. It further went on to say that the problem isn’t that mothers are busy, but that they are spending all or most of their time doing “instrumental” activities. That’s the psychologists' way of saying that these women spent all of their time doing things that they had to do, but didn’t particularly enjoy. Being busy wasn’t the problem so much as the way in which they were busy.

I rolled this idea around in my head for awhile, and thought about how the notion of what is “instrumental” in life plays into success or failure at a task as well as satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a process. Obviously, since this is a blog about weight and weight loss, my thoughts turned to the notion of “instrumental” eating.

I would define “instrumental” eating as food that is consumed for nutritional purposes as opposed to pleasure. Just as a mother may wash dishes, prepare food, vacuum the carpet, etc. because she must, there are some foods that we eat because they should be consumed for proper health. We may not hate them, but we also may not necessarily take great pleasure in consuming them.

Some foods can be “instrumental” for some people, but recreational for others. For example, I love cottage cheese and always have, but a lot of people find it pretty mundane or even offensive fare. If you consider the task of cooking, which can be either instrumental (necessary) or recreational (for enjoyment), you can see that the same task can have different connotations depending on personality type and circumstances. If I am interested in cooking and experimenting with recipes at my own discretion, cooking is fun. If I have to cook a meal in a certain time frame day-in and day-out and to suit the tastes of people other then myself, it becomes a necessary task. Food, similarly, can be seen as having instrumentality or recreational value based on the individual.

Most people who are “on a diet” spend the vast majority of their time focusing on instrumental eating and actively deny themselves recreational eating. They do the former because they have to, and they have to do it day-in and day-out. They avoid the latter, recreational eating, because they often don’t trust themselves or out of the notion that to be fit and thin, they have to be “good”.

The situation with dieters is further complicated because there’s little latitude for many people who are trying to lose weight in terms of incorporating recreational eating. Calorie restriction leaves little wiggle room for “fun” eating, especially certain types of enjoyable foods which are energy-dense like ice cream, chocolate, and fried foods. That’s not to say that there are no healthy foods which some people can view as something they eat for enjoyment, but most people have to train themselves to view such foods with a similar enthusiasm to that they have for less healthy treats. Besides, even if you enjoy a nice, ripe peach as a treat, it’s not going to be the same as a rich slice of cheesecake or even something like eggs Benedict.

It’s my feeling that the fact that weight loss focuses entirely on “instrumental” eating is one of the reasons people ultimately fail or regain weight. Like the mothers who are unhappy with nothing but instrumental activities, dieters are going to be unhappy if all they ever eat are “instrumental” foods. Despite the fact that many people repeat the mantra that “food is fuel”, it is simply not true. Food is something humans consume for pleasure. It has been the case for thousands of years and is a part of civilization and culture. It can’t be stripped of its connection to pleasure simply because we wish to neutralize the seductive allure of food.

I think if we want to deal with obesity as a problem, we have to start acknowledging the truth about our relationship with food and stop trying to force some sort of sterile relationship on people. Focusing forever on eating instrumentally will only result in people feeling deprived and unhappy which will in turn cause them to go back to the ways which caused them to gain weight.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Percentages

Recently, my husband has been losing a little weight because he had some blood test results which were cause for some small concern. It's nothing incredibly serious, at least not yet, but even someone who is not greatly overweight can have health issues related to body fat. In particular, visceral fat, or fat around your organs which you can't necessarily see easily by looking at a person's body can cause Type 2 diabetes because this type of fat causes more issues with insulin resistance. This is likely the reason he needs to lose a little weight.

It's actually a little ironic that my husband, who has always weighed less than me by a wide margin, has had troubling blood test results while I seem to be okay. It does seem that my fat on the outside is less damaging than his fat on the inside. At any rate, my point is not to compare my fat to his fat, but rather to talk about his weight loss and mine.

As is so often the case with men, he is losing weight relatively rapidly and without much of a struggle. He has cut back on portions and cut out obvious things like sweets (and the donuts that he loves so well) and has lost 10 lbs. in about 3 weeks. He has always exercised for about 40-60 minutes on a regular basis, though he has made an effort to do so 5 days a week instead of 3 or 4 as he was doing. All in all, his changes have not been what anyone could consider radical and he hasn't chafed mentally against them much. The fact that he is not a food addict (like me) is evident in the relative emotional ease with which he has made the changes.

My husband told me that one of his work acquaintances remarked that he looked different and asked if he had lost weight. He has lost only 10 lbs. and someone has noticed already. It took me about 50 lbs. before any appreciable change was noticeable by others. I noticed in my wrists about 30 lbs. in. These differences remind me of the fact that every pound is more meaningful the smaller you become. As a percentage of his starting weight (and of the weight he needs to lose), each pound is more meaningful to him. Each pound for him is perhaps 1/30th of what he needs to lose. Even after all of my losses, each pound is 1/130th of what I still need to lose.

I try to keep in mind that when I started all of this, each pound was about 1/230th of what I needed to lose and every pound I lose makes the next one more meaningful. The percentages keep getting better and more impressive the longer I keep at this. Since I don't look much "better" in my opinion (just different - smaller fat as opposed to bigger fat), this is one more thing that can motivate me to continue when I start to feel like my success is relatively unimpressive or inconsequential.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"No Diet Day"

I read a lot of fat acceptance blogs because I'm on board with body acceptance and people being allowed to live their lives (and deal with the consequences) in any way they choose. That being said, I wish that the fat acceptance advocates would separate their anti-diet agenda from their fat acceptance agenda. It is possible to accept your body as is, but not be against weight loss as an idea. Many people would want to lose weight even without the social stigma attached to being fat because it generally makes movement easier, reduces stress on joints and bones, and improves energy.

Apparently, "no diet day" was several days ago and a lot of the fat acceptance blogs took this as an opportunity to offer up "evidence" and opinions that dieting (as in calorie restriction or food control) is bad for you. There was everything from the idea that dieting will cause cancer and heart disease to the notion that it will make you gain weight. All of these conclusions are correlation and causation errors, but they are pointed at nonetheless as a means of supporting a "pro-fat" agenda. Restricting your eating doesn't cause you to gain weight, but many people do regain the weight they lose and more. That is a correlation, not a causation. Also, being overweight and changing your eating habits to lose weight causes stress which leads to a variety of illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, but the dieting does not cause these diseases.

At any rate, I didn't observe "no diet day", because I think the idea is silly and frankly I have no urge to abandon my eating plan for a day. I don't need or want permission to overeat by some made-up international holiday. I'm not a diet and exercise zealot by any stretch of the imagination, and I think people's eating habits are their own business and their body size isn't the concern of anyone but themselves. That being said, I think that fat acceptance advocates aren't doing themselves or anyone else any favors by asserting the equivalent of "dieting kills."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

No Gyroscope

A few days ago, I was doing an online chat with a long-time friend of mine. She is a lovely person both inside and out. She once dreamed of modeling and has always had the figure for it. Food has never been an issue for her, though she eats abysmally. What I mean by that is that she eats fast food, instant food, and frozen prepared meals. She never cooks, and eats two meals per day. Much of the time, she selects from the 99 cent menus of various fast food places.

The thing that my friend does not do is overeat. She eats enough to be satisfied, and then she has no interest in food. In fact, the reason she doesn't cook is that the effort simply isn't worth it for her. She loves certain kinds of food, but she has an internal mechanism which tells her to stop well short of ingesting enough to put on weight.

She and I were chatting about addiction and I told her that I believe that I am a food addict and forever would be. She is a (recovered) alcoholic and former smoker, so she understands my situation well and has empathy for me. In fact, she's the most compassionate thin woman I have ever known and has never judged me or her other overweight friends for their problems with food.

While talking to her, I told her that I think that I will have to spend the rest of my life weighing, measuring, and counting calories for food that I eat because I have no internal gyroscope that serves to stop me from overeating. I don't know if I never had the type of mechanism that she and many other thin people have, or if it was destroyed over the years by my eating habits and psychological situation. Either way, it's a bit like a disability that I have to compensate for. I don't know how much I need to eat to survive and I can't properly read my body's cues (or my body cues me incorrectly because its tuned improperly or "broken" in this regard).

I think that this is the case for a lot of people who end up morbidly obese. Our GPS when it comes to food simply does not work correctly. We're like people who can't hear who cope by reading lips. They can't hear, but they can communicate and understand, so they cope. We can't know how much to eat, but we can monitor and regulate. Of course, it's no where in the vicinity of "easy", but there's not much choice if you want to feel better about yourself. I'm guessing no "disability" is easy to work around, and not knowing when to stop eating and therefore having to work hard to control your behavior is no different than any other problem in this regard.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

One down, one to go

Recently my husband noted another "jump" in the change of my appearance. It really does seem that a month or so goes by and nothing has really happened, but then suddenly there's some noticeable change. Yesterday, he told me that my breasts "stuck out" more than my stomach, and noted that it has been quite some time since that was the case. Of course, they only do this when I stand. When I sit, my belly apron still remains the victor by a mile at this point. He said that my stomach also seems to look "flatter". What he means by that is the bulgy rings have had some of the air let out of their tires and aren't protruding as much, not that my stomach is in any way flat.

I also noticed that the little double bumps of fat on the inside of my upper arms (just behind the elbow) have started to disappear. I've also noticed that I can rest both arms on the arm rests near the back of the only chair with arms in our home whereas before I could rest one arm by turning sideways or both arms near the front of the armrests. I can also reach my arms around behind my back more easily.

Also, I have found that I can feel my hip bones much better when I'm lying on my side in bed, and a few days ago I could actually feel my ribs under my breasts (this is the smallest part of my body - within 4-5 inches of being within the range of what people would consider "normal" chest size for someone with my bone structure). I've also noticed that the 44 D bras that I bought are starting to become rather loose. They keep riding up because they don't fit snugly enough around my chest and the bra straps are at their smallest extension. I'm still hoping to stick with these bras for another several months. Frankly, I was hoping they'd do the job until I reached the long-neglected 38C that I have in my closet, but I'm thinking that may be too big a leap.

One thing I realized a few weeks ago is that I have been carrying around the weight of 3 women for quite some time. My poor body has been burdened with the equivalent of carrying two more people on my back for many years. Now, at around 270, it's carrying only two people's weight and it is much easier to move around than before. If I think of it like having someone riding piggyback on me at all times, it feels devastatingly hard to live life like that. It's no wonder I have had such terrible back pain.

At this point in time, I've lost about 1/3 of my total body weight since starting and I have lost about 1/2 of the weight that I need to lose (with a goal weight of 150). The weight of one person is down, and there is one to go.


In order to make sure that my progress remains on track, I've tightened up my eating habits a bit. I used to have a goal of 1600 calories, but I knew I'd nibble here and there and add in another 100 calories. Mainly, this "nibbling" was a hard candy here and there (about 10 calories per candy), particularly the odd throat drop as I tend to have a sore throat because I talk a lot in my work. I'd also have a little milk in my tea, the odd lone pretzel  or cracker, etc. It wasn't much, but I'm thinking as I edge closer to 250 lbs., I should try to top out at 1600 rather than 1700-1800. To that end, I've capped my calories at 1500 so that these nibbles (which I am not prepared to surrender) will take the number up to 1600 at most. I am always aware of the cumulative nature of these small indulgences, and never go too far or have too many of them.

The reason I'm not prepared to give them up is that I will not live without some sort of spontaneity in my eating or life. If I crave a sweet, or a cup of tea, I'm not going to deprive myself over a few calories here and there. I think that these are actually "release valves" that help me not feel as though I'm trapped by my style of eating. Without the chance to have a quick sweet, a milky cup of tea, etc., I think I start to feel as if I were doing little but toe the line and possibly feel like I was "suffering".

Saturday, May 1, 2010

“Let Myself Go”

There are certain terms associated with weight gain and loss that I detest. One of them is “willpower”, as I have mentioned before. I view it as a simplistic term that has been created to make people feel there is a character quality that they lack when they cannot make some sort of behavioral change. People think they have willpower if they can resist something that you can't. Thinking that makes them feel smugly stronger and like they are better than you.

The truth is that resistance to temptation is highly individualized. I can resist a great many things, including alcohol, opening gifts that I am given until a specified time or date, spending money, and having sex with attractive people. I can resist these things effortlessly. Does that mean I have a better character than those who cannot? Since there is no way to acquire (or quantify) “willpower”, talking about it is absolutely useless. If you want to talk about something of value, talk about “delayed gratification”, not “willpower”. Delaying gratification can be learned; willpower cannot.

At any rate, one of the other things that people say that I loathe is “(someone) let themselves go.” Often, this is prefaced with “I can’t believe…” The statement implies that a person could have done something to prevent herself from gaining weight, but behaved in a willfully neglectful fashion. It carries the idea that one could have slammed on the brakes at some point, but just kept shoveling in the food and sitting on her ass.

The idea that one is in rational control during a period of weight gain is one that people hold because it allows them to judge overweight people and view them as lazy and indifferent to their appearance and health rather than incapable of stopping the process. No one gains weight if they have the capacity to stop it. Most people gain weight because something is wrong and out of their control. Sometimes it’s taking some medication. Sometimes it’s depression. Sometimes it’s simply being overwhelmed by stress. And sometimes it’s simply lifelong patterns of behavior that are so deeply ingrained that they can’t find the mental purchase to successfully change.

No one “let’s themselves go”. They are taken for an emotional or physical (or both) ride that they can’t get off of. Trying not to gain weight is like trying to disembark in the middle of a rollercoaster ride. There are only two ways to escape and that’s to step off in the middle and die or to wait until the ride is complete and you have control over the direction of your life once again.