Friday, April 22, 2011

Equivalencies (and Lisa)

Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons the thriving diet world is so dysfunctional is that failure, struggle, and all of the drama that come along with such things are infinitely more compelling than a life of quiet success. People read romance novels not for the happy ending, but for everything that leads up to that point. Once that end has been achieved, they move on to the next drama- and romantic-tension filled book.

This "drama" adds a largeness and dimension to ones own struggles and removes some of the mundane aspects from what is often a mechanistic process. There is little that is more boring than counting calories, tallying up minutes on the treadmill, and eating steamed, roasted and boiled lean protein and vegetables. Listening to someone paint this focus in life as a picture other than what it is helps one frame ones own struggles as having significant value, rather than being a grind. This drama is largely what makes it so hard for me to read such blogs in the long run.

Through one of my link chains, I discovered a blog after my own heart, though not necessarily one that follows the same path as mine. This woman, Lisa Sargese, has been struggling with her weight all of her life, has suffered many of the same psychological traumas as me, and is approximately the same age. When I read her blog, even when she talks about adding in some type of food or exercise, I don't feel the sense of "sickness" that I get with other blogs written by people who are working on weight control. I get the sense of someone who is trying to grow in whatever way she can given the damage to her life from physical and mental aspects. Regardless of the outcome of her efforts, I can see the growth and relate to her struggles. I can also see someone who is trying to become functional rather than replace one dysfunction with another more socially admirable and acceptable one.

One of the things Lisa wrote about which has rarely occurred to me, and provided me with food for thought was the way in which people look at couples and decide whether or not one can "do better" than the specimen one is with. Because I've been married for a very long time to a husband who is unconditionally loving, I haven't entertained such thoughts since early in my marriage. At that point, I was convinced that his family disapproved of me in part because they thought he could "do better" than me, though not physically. When I gained weight back (and more), I occasionally thought about how people must look at him and think about what he was doing with his enormous wife.

Though when we first got married, I thought our attractiveness levels were roughly equivalent (neither of us models of great beauty nor horror, though I think my husband is uniquely gorgeous and insanely appealing physically... to me if to no one else), gaining weight made me feel that I moved from his rough equal to being a monstrosity that was unworthy of him. Eventually, I stopped thinking concretely about this, but I did often remark that he "deserved" a better wife than me. Those comments weren't motivated so much by my appearance as by the limits on our lives because of my weight. I thought he deserved a wife who could walk around the city with him for more than 5 minutes without pain and who did not attract unwanted and unpleasant attention with her size.

Because of my weight, we couldn't go to restaurants because of my chair fear, couldn't go to movies for the same reason, and he had to go out and shop alone. There were hits to his quality of life because of me, and I felt he "deserved" better than me. Being the wonderful and loving person he is, he never once criticized me or complained. Even now in retrospect, he never says or does anything to make me regret the limits of our lives for so many years.

What I realize now is that his actions have left me in a rare place mentally in regards to my weight loss. Instead of being focused upon my appearance, which I feel at my age would be a discouraging factor in continuing to work on my weight, I am honed in on quality of life gains. It's not about a taut tummy (which is out of the question for me anyway - stretched out skin does not snap back when you're in your mid 40's), but about being able to do the things other people do without a second thought. Because of him, my eye is on the achievable rather than the unachievable. I don't like my stretched out and wrinkly form, make no mistake, but I'm also not questioning the value of my efforts in light of the fact that I'll never look like anything but a disaster naked.

There are many gifts that my husband has given me, and this is just one of them. It's something that I didn't even realize was the case and a blessing that is worth noting and being incredibly grateful for. People who go into this with a significant other who has helped shape their thinking such that they value the impossible to attain ideal rather than the doable are working at a disadvantage I have not had to cope with.

I think this advantage, along with many other things such as valuing changes in action and thinking patterns rather than the end results, has made it easier for me not to fall into certain thinking traps. In particular, there is the weight loss burn-out near the end of the process in which someone says, "good enough" before they reach the goal they set and they start to slide back into old habits. Essentially, they miss enjoying food and accept the body they have, often with a load of cognitive dissonance quieting self-justifications.

Make no mistake, I have no problem with body acceptance at any size. If you're happy with who you are (whether you are healthy or not), it's nobody's business what your weight is. However, the reasons are paramount. "Good enough" thinking is spurred in part by the focus on appearance, which I generally do not have and I'm pretty sure I have my husband to thank for that in large part.

I note this here in part because I think that it's important to understand the dynamic involved with your choices and the opinions of others close to you. They can shape you in ways you can't easily detect at times. Sometimes it is highly destructive, or, as is my case, it can also be highly constructive.