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.


Anonymous said...

You're right. It (1600) would be considered a crash diet for my husband or son, both of whom regularly eat over 3500 calories a day and each weighs approx 182 (6'1").

My daughter and I, on the other hand... She eats about 2500 calories a day and stays at around 175. (She's a swimmer.) I eat between 1400-1800 and have been on a 3 week plateau (249). So, no, 1600 is not "crash dieting" for most women (especially older women, like me.)

I think a lot of the FA folks refer to the WW2 study that kept a group of young men on a strict "starvation" diet of about 1600. Those guys were probably used to eating twice that much, like my husband and son.

BTW, your grandmother sounds like she was a lovely, one of a kind woman. I imagine you carry quite a bit of her spirit with you in your journey through life. However you define spirit. :)


screaming fatgirl said...

Your husband and son must be pretty active to eat 3500 a day and stay at such weights! It's rather impressive.

You and I are now at similar weights - I probably weigh a bit more than you, and I'm probably a little older than you (I'm 45).

Thank you for the kind words about my grandmother. She was a wonderful person, imperfect in her ways, but not in a manner which I ever noticed.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post! It is also a great reminder to everyone who reads it, to let those who play such an integral positive role know; to voice gratitude and appreciation.
Like you and Rebecca, I also am in the same ballpark, regarding calories for my loss stage. Mine is 1650 calories. I do not exercise but I walk quite a bit. I can't imagine THAT being referred to as 'starvation level'.

screaming fatgirl said...

The irony is that, while some are told they are "crash dieting" at a level, others are told that they aren't strict enough. The bottom line is that the message will always be that your fat is your fault and you're doing it wrong if you're not losing weight.

I realized a long time ago that we're all put in a different biochemical machine with different responses. What works for one won't work for another and the level at which some people must restrict their eating to lose weight is much lower than what is required of others. Instead of writing article after article about "the obesity epidemic", I wish the media would start talking about the damage done by talking in averages. Sometimes, what a person has to do to get "thin" is starve themselves every day for the rest of their lives. I'm not sure that losing 20-30 lbs. is worth that, particularly when no health concerns are in play.

Thanks for commenting, as always!