Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thoughts on Intuitive Eating

Lately, I've been thinking about intuitive eating and how that works for some and not for others. The idea that I listen to my body and eat what I need to when I need to until a point of satisfaction (and not being "full") is an attractive one. It's not like I enjoy the tedium of weighing food and entering data into an online database in order to track calories. In fact, it's just a little task I have to do everyday like washing dishes. It's not a big deal, but it's not exactly fun.

As my weight approaches the 170's (I am probably already there - high 170's likely but, as always, I weigh myself once a month so I don't know) and have been at this for just a hair over 2 years and have lost approximately 200 lbs., I have changed to some extent in my thinking on the concept of intuitive eating. That is not to say that I felt it would have been a good choice for me in June 2009 when I started making an effort to lose weight, but rather that me around 180 lbs. is different than me around 380 lbs.

Quite some time ago, I wrote about how our cells have a memory in regards to their life and how that makes reducing the amount of food we eat (particularly if we do so dramatically) quite difficult. Our organs also have a "memory" of sorts and have to make adjustments when we change our eating habits. Your body resists change and dragging it into a new realm of eating is difficult, especially when those cells are used to a certain amount of energy everyday and you disrupt that.

Additionally, your stomach capacity is going to be larger or smaller based on your average eating habits. One of the reasons I practiced gradual portion reduction as part of my process was that I wanted to slowly acclimate my stomach to smaller amounts of food. While not as dramatic as something like weight loss surgery, this did slowly make it harder to eat a lot as my stomach shrank. My intestines also gradually changed as I'm sure many organs did.

At 380 lbs., my "intuitive" eating would have been unlikely to result in any sort of weight loss as my body would have been compelling me to maintain the status quo, not lose weight. That's what bodies do. They seek homeostasis. Additionally, at that weight, my body is operating in a damaged way. What it seeks isn't necessarily what a healthy, balanced body would seek. When you eat too much too often (and I define "too much" as more calories than necessary for me personally, and do not define that for anyone else), you alter biochemical responses to food in your brain. You need more food for the same pleasure that others get from less food. It is not dissimilar from the way in which a drug addict needs more drugs to get the same reaction.

For these reasons as well as my utter lack of faith in my psychological balance in regards to food, I rejected intuitive eating as a possibility for me. I still firmly believe that it was the right choice and will continue to count calories until I reach a healthy weight (147 lbs. is the threshold at which I am no longer clinically overweight and where I hope to land some day so that I will qualify for health insurance without punitive costs). After I reach a healthy weight, however, I think that I may be ready to attempt intuitive eating.

It is my hope that, when I reach that weight and hold at it for an indeterminate amount of time, my body will have adjusted to the energy and consumption levels it has been receiving such that it will cue me naturally to hold at that point if I attend effectively to it. Much of the last year or so of my calorie counting has been a sort of "training" in recognizing different types of hunger and how much I "need" to eat versus how much I "want" to eat. There are times when I want to eat something, but I am simply too full or not hungry enough. This is a feeling that I developed about a year ago in a vague manner, but has been something which has become more defined as time has gone by. I have been slowly tuning both body and mind so that I eat when hungry and don't get hungry as often as before. These processes (psychological and biological) go hand-in-hand and one could not succeed without the other.

This is a profound change in how I feel about eating. When I was greatly heavier, there was literally no time short of a stomach bursting sense of being stuffed that I couldn't eat. My capacity to eat was nearly unlimited at that time and I would sometimes eat myself sick merely for the sake of the pleasure food gave me. Now, I can't come anywhere near that. My body and approach have changed such that I (generally) won't eat if I'm not truly hungry because I've changed psychologically in this regard.

All of that being said, I do sometimes ignore the fact that I'm not hungry (especially if I'm also "not full") and eat if I want to. I still indulge. I still eat for pure pleasure. I still eat the sorts of foods that you're "not supposed to eat". I just eat very little of such things and I rarely binge and what constitutes a "binge" now is laughably small by most people's standards. Food continues to fall into its proper context (enjoyment, nourishment, a social and cultural experience) rather than be something I use for psychological survival. It's been a long road to this point, but I feel like it may end with being able to eat intuitively and still not regain weight.

Friday, July 29, 2011

How did health become a social responsibility?

At a former job, the president of the small company I worked at once criticized workers for having to call in sick. He said that employees had a responsibility to look after themselves and not impede the orderly conducting of business with their absence. This same man used to take a half day off of work and go home if he had a headache so it was hard to take anything he said seriously given the immense level of hypocrisy that he displayed.

The underlying notion of what he said, however, is becoming increasingly more pervasive. The idea that we "owe it" to others, especially unconcerned strangers or all of society, to care for ourselves in a particular manner is not one that has always been around. Previously, I wrote about how I think that health and how we deal with our own bodies is a personal choice and nobody's business and I pondered today how we have reached a collective mentality which pressures people to attain health, as if it were something we could choose to pursue and successfully acquire (it isn't in many cases, but that is beside the point).

While rolling this notion around in my head, I thought about what life was like hundreds of years ago. Before medical science, people knew that there were certain actions or behaviors which lead to better or worse health and some lived a lifestyle which was more conducive to maintaining health and some less. They did this because health was seen as precious to them and integral to maintaining their livelihood and life. If they became sick, there was little or no confidence that there would be a treatment that would repair the damage or cure the disease.

People during that time also knew that luck played a huge role in whether or not someone was healthy. They may not have known about genetics, but they did know some people were born hearty and some weak and prone to problems. They also realized, all too well, that wealth factored into the availability of food, medicine, and education such that poorer people had a lower chance of living in good health than richer ones. During this time, I doubt that a person who became sick was "blamed" for his or her state (short of those who drank themselves into illness) and certainly was not seen as a burden on society for allowing themselves to become sick. In the past, people wanted health for their own reasons, not because they owed it to their community at large.

So, what happened to our mentality and why did it switch? How did we go from desiring health for our sake to a world which is demanding it for society's sake? I can only speculate, of course, but I think that the following may be factors:

1. The perception that medicine can cure (nearly) anything altered the perception that health was related to luck (genetics, environment, wealth) and transformed it into something we can buy. As we perceive health as something we can choose to purchase or cultivate, we see those who do not attain it as choosing to cost "us" money rather than live a lifestyle that is conducive to health.

2. Media states "you owe it to (whoever)" to be healthy, strong, etc. This notion creates a sense of being obliged to be well. Of course, these messages are commonly offered by companies selling supplements or some other product that promises health, but the messenger's original intent (commercial interests) is lost on people who remember the message but not the source as time goes by. This notion has insinuated it into the collective consciousness.

3. Egalitarian societies which allow for more even distribution of resources lead us to believe everyone has many good choices. In the past, we knew people had unequal access to food, medicine and health education. We didn't expect them to look after themselves well because the perception was they had little choice in the matter.

4. Social welfare created the mindset in which people feel they have a say in your private matters as long as they are paying taxes to assist you. The idea that those relying on public assistance to survive are akin to "employees" who the "employer" (tax-payer) can dictate to is becoming increasingly pervasive.

5. Democracy has an underlying notion of "self-determination" which indoctrinates citizens into the belief that we can do anything if we make the right choices in life. It doesn't provide any context and creates an illusion (which results in just world thinking) that all people have all choices (or at least that the "good choices" healthy people make are available to to everyone). Humans used to understand life was inherently unjust because the evidence was all around them, but that thinking has been replaced. As the material aspects of life have equalized for many people, the illusion that our lives are roughly equitable has created the notion that we all have equal access to health-related choices.

I'm not going to debate whether or not any of this thinking is valid because I've already made it clear in my posts that I think people are far less in control than we'd like to believe. The momentum of personal history drives people to do things another person might not do and our solution is not to help them slow down the car hurtling toward the precipice but to sit by and cluck our tongues in disapproval that they can't get their foot off the gas pedal. In my mind, those people aren't choosing to keep it on there, but their legs are paralyzed and they can't lift their feet. My interest continues to be to help them regain mobility so they can go in another direction rather than to point my finger and accuse them.

I realize my belief that it is far harder to change your choices is an unpopular way of viewing things because it flies in the face of a lot of the thinking I've detailed above. Nonetheless, I think it goes a lot further toward explaining why people continue to do things that hurt them than simply deciding to blame them for their choices. My intention in this post was mainly to explore the factors which I believe have lead us to the point in which we believe health is a social responsibility rather than a personal one. I don't believe that what I do with my body is anybody's business, but that doesn't mean I don't want to understand what drives them to think it is their concern.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Expanding the Capacity to "Choose"

In previous posts, I talked about how I think we have far less control over our behavior than we realize and that "choices" are often shaped by our past experiences. This is my offering insight and explanation of a situation that I feel is frequently misunderstood in order to judge, blame, and simplify something which is immensely complex. In this post, I'd like to offer some ways in which I believe one can break out of the pattern of choices they are compelled to make based on how I have done this (so far). This is not a fast process, nor an easy one, but it does apply to all areas of life (not just altering your relationship with food) and can lead you to gradually becoming the person you want to be through time and focused effort.

This post is essentially a summation of posts and ideas scattered throughout this blog which I feel are useful to offer in this fashion at this time. I often feel I explain problems in my posts, and it would be useful to follow up with solutions rather than assume everyone has read and digested every post I've made in the past which have such answers scattered among them. Here is what I've done:

1. Complicate the situation.

First things first, don't try to reduce simple behavior down to simple reasoning or logic. If you overeat consistently, it isn't just because you "like food too much", "lack willpower", or are a certain type of eater (stress, boredom, etc.). There are multiple factors that play into the choices you make including genetic predisposition (emotionally, in particular), personal history, present environment, and psychological well-being. If you want to change, you have to know what compels you to do what you do and understand that insight will help you untangle the knots.

It's not enough at this stage to dig for the roots of issues and discover the lame, pat answers that are popular in the media. Analyzing your overeating and saying, "I eat when I'm bored," doesn't really mean much and is not helpful in making different choices. It's important to know why you eat when bored (as opposed to doing something else), why you are bored, and how eating fulfills your needs at such times in a manner that makes it the most favorable (or indeed, only) choice for you. The problem is more likely that you're tired and seeking the most expedient, simple, and gratifying stimulation. The root cause may be being overwhelmed or exhausted, not eating while bored. Dig deep and then dig deeper about what you have unearthed. Deal with the core issues and it'll be easier to make different choices since they won't be driving the ones you are making now.

Don't assume the core is the first answer you find. In fact, it may not even be the second, third or fourth one. Sometimes tunneling down into your motivations and understanding yourself is a years-long excavation project. It is worth the time and effort because it will free you to make different choices by removing the forces motivating your current ones.

2. Analyze "failure".

Failure is seen as a crushing defeat or the indication that one is unable to change. That is not what failure to change is all about. It's the ultimate consequence of making a choice you are not capable of at this point in time. It's too much too soon, more than you can accomplish at this time, or the result of setting things up such that you can't succeed. And the "you" in this case is very personal. I may be able to do something right now that you cannot because my life, body, and mind are different than yours. That does not mean I succeed and you fail or that I am in any way "better" or "stronger" than another person. It means we have different choices that we can make at this point in time based on individual circumstances. Make the choices that are in your current ability to make and be patient.

3. Anticipate and prepare for a psychological backlash, even for small changes.

People like to believe psychology is a ridiculous psuedo-science which has nothing of value to offer "sane" and "normal" people. Part of this is because they are ignorant of the complexity of psychological study and believe it applies only to "crazy" people or deeply effected individuals. Another is that they think only serious disorders can benefit from analysis and yet one more is that they fear that people with psychological study under their belts can see things they don't want seen so they reject psychological analysis out of hand. To this I say, "grow up and get over it". If you are so entrenched in your need to be "normal" that you reject all analysis as hooey, then you probably do have an issue.

Every action in your life happens because it serves you in some fashion. That service may be quelling a rumbling belly. It may be supporting your self-esteem. It could simply be that routine and the comfort it provides stabilizes your chaotic life. If you change your behavior, there will be a backlash from your mind and/or body. Expect it. Prepare for it. Try to figure out a way to mitigate it rather than simply buck up against it and grit your teeth. Don't think simple change means simple consequences when it comes to your mental health.

4. Be hyper-mindful of identity.

Who are you? No, really, who are you? Are you your hobbies? Your body? Your relationships? Deep down, do you really know who you are? You probably do on a superficial level, but not deeply and certainly almost certainly not if you are stripped of your exterior defining characteristics. We define ourselves largely by outside factors and forces, and having an identity is something which all people require. When you start altering outside factors, you tweak your identity and the more you change them and yourself, the more you strip away your core identity. If you don't purposefully build a new one along the way, you will go running back to your old one by returning to former choices. Losing your identity is a far more unsettling experience than people realize. Is it any wonder that people find it so hard to change when they focus on superficial changes and outcomes while ignoring this larger issue? Identity issues will hamper your ability to make different choices. Even dealing with them head-on won't make it easy, but it does expand your capacity to choose differently as you won't feel compelled to return to old patterns to keep your old identity intact.

5. Go slow, but steady.

If you don't accomplish a change successfully, then move the bar rather than keep failing to get over it. If you want to get up an hour earlier but keep sleeping in when the clock goes off, stop trying to get up an hour earlier and focus on getting up 5 minutes earlier instead and think about the value of the extra time for you. Make the choices you can make at this time rather than the ones you ultimately want to make in the future and consider the ultimate repercussions of such changes rather than focus only on the changes themselves.

Psychological studies show that small changes in and of themselves are not enough to really make much of a change, but that's because those studies focus only on the small changes as an end to themselves. It's about incremental change toward an ultimate goal, not about making a tiny change and stopping. Make a small change. Make it routine. Increase the increment after you are used to the routine. However, prepare to fall apart a few times along the way. You'll be going along fine and one day you'll feel like you can't go on anymore. Pause at this point and hold until you're ready to add in another increment. Treading water when you're overwhelmed is better than snapping back into old choices which took you places you didn't want to be.

6. Drop the punitive talk and silence the judgmental voices. 

Seriously, this business of deriding yourself in order to achieve something, it's counterproductive to the point of making me wonder if the people who do it are emotionally or intellectually impaired. People who denigrate themselves in order to empower themselves to achieve are children who haven't grown past the point of needing a mommy or daddy to scold them and push them to do their homework. You don't get strong by berating yourself about how weak you are. You get strong by understanding who you are, what you are capable of and applying yourself to making small changes that you are capable of.

Be a grown up and do what can be done for now and stop thinking being an asshole, being pushy, or negative talk makes you tough or cool. It just shows how insanely insecure you are. You can't make different choices by beating yourself up about the choices you've already made. You do it by telling yourself that you can do it and choosing ones that are within your capacity to make at this point in time. If you can't free yourself from the shackles of external voices that say you need to be abused into change or tell you who you should be, then you can't make different choices in your life for good. Work on ditching all judgmental talk and just address yourself as a rational human being in a mature and measured tone.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a follow-up to my previous post where I talk about making choices. You can make different ones, but not if you think it's a simple decision that you stick to.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Choice (Again)

My father grew up in the 50's when the role of men was to earn money and that of women was to make the home and rear the children. His life with my mother started out quite like that as he worked making cars for freight trains and she stayed at home and got pregnant with my sister and I. I don't know what their life was like during those years because I was too young to perceive the dynamic between them, but I suppose at this point that they both were living the life they expected in accord with societal norms of the time.

Some time during my father's employment, he suffered an accident in which he was struck in the head with heavy equipment. This happened not once, but several times and the consequence was that he became disabled. The damage done to him would cause random blinding headaches that the most powerful pain medication at the time could only blunt, but not obliterate. He would also suddenly become paralyzed on his left side and become blind in his left eye. The doctors told him that he was going to die young and gave him 6 months to live after conducting painful spinal taps.

All of this happened to my father over 30 years ago and he did not die as the doctors predicted. He did, however, become an alcoholic who sat around the house all day watching T.V. and smoking. My mother, who didn't get the life she bargained for economically as the family was living on my fathers Social Security disability payments, had to go out and work at minimum wage jobs which she hated. While she worked, my father sat around and did little aside form the occasional handling of the trash, yard work, or maintaining our vehicles. He was home all day, and except on those rare occasions when he suffered headaches or paralysis, fit for doing household chores and child-rearing.

One of the many sources of contention between my parents was the burden imposed upon my mother with having to work and be responsible for home and kids. My father would not do these things because this was not man's work. In the end, their solution was to burden my sister and I with as much cooking and housework as they could heap on our 10- and 12-year-old shoulders. It was easier for my mother to say that her two daughters, who were in school full-time, should split the entirety of household responsibilities between them than fight with her husband to have him do some of the things he was well and truly capable of doing.

One could argue that my father made a choice in choosing not to assume the role generally occupied by the woman of the house and that he chose to sit on his ass and do what was easy for him. There may have been a time when I even believed that, but that would not be the case anymore. Now that I'm older, and hopefully quite a bit wiser, I realize that my father made a choice but not the one which seems obvious to most people.

My father was raised in another era and men who were manly did certain things and didn't do other things. When he lost his job and essentially lost his life when given a death sentence, a component of his masculinity was ripped away. He couldn't work and support the family and he wasn't strong physically anymore. Turning to "women's work" because he had the time and ability would have shredded off another large piece of his identity. My father didn't choose to be a lazy, inconsiderate husband and a bad father. He chose to preserve his fragile self-esteem and self-image over shattering what little of these things he had left.

People often talk about how behavior is a choice, and to some extent, that is true. However, we are not all operating from the same pool of options or driven by the same psychological forces to make a particular choice. I've talked before about how choices are driven by the power of individual history and I strongly believe that remains an important truth. Most of us realize this when we are the ones driven to make "bad choices" or choices that are externally judged to be poor ones. We are not so good at applying that insight to others when they make choices we don't agree with.

Thinking about my father's situation, I realize all too clearly how easy it is to judge people for the behaviors they seem to "choose". Psychological survival is a big factor in every choice a person makes and some of us are closer to the precipice and falling into oblivion than others when it comes to the final decision. For my father, he was too close to the edge to be a pioneer in men's roles. In fact, it is my belief that he hurt himself more than anyone else in my family with this choice because it only continued to reinforce his sense of his life's emptiness and lack of value.

There were times when he'd cook for himself or us or wash dishes offering up the angry excuse that "no one else was going to do it", but I think he actually enjoyed doing such things when he gave in to those impulses. His fear of being "found out" or labeled a househusband (particularly if his male friends found out) was too great, unfortunately, for him to ever continue on in such behaviors or to engage in them regularly. I think he knew he was pretty good at those things, and in fact, now, much later in life with my mother being blind and disabled, he will do such things on a daily basis without complaint. Of course, most of his friends are dead, and times have changed, so the risk of being discovered for doing domestic tasks is pretty low now as well.

I wonder how many people are driven to unconsciously make bad choices to the detriment of themselves or others because of psychological survival. From the girl in the group of "cool" kids who regrets bullying the dorky girl but goes along with it to fit in to the car full of dudes who catcall girls because they feel it's the only way to prove their heterosexuality to the people who judge themselves harshly by what they eat, I think there is a lot of "choosing" which reflects that people have little other choice.

I think that we can broaden our capacity to make choices which help us move toward being the kind of people that we want to be, and I believe it's something I've done and continue to do. It's immensely difficult and requires a high level of self-awareness and a strong desire to change the range of choices which are psychologically possible for you, but it can be done over time if one is emotionally prepared for the task. However, I don't think that we can do that until we stop oversimplifying the behavior of others (and ourselves) by saying that what we are doing is something as trivial as "making a choice".

Sunday, July 24, 2011


There is a concept in art called "negative space" which has nothing to do with being "positive" or "negative". It relates to looking at the space around the object rather than at the object itself. Imagine a wall full of framed photos. Fill the photos in with black and the wall space around them with white. The white areas that encase the silhouettes are what is referred to as "negative space".

Identity is a tricky thing, especially when so much of who you are is defined by what is around you ("negative space") rather than what is inside you. People think they are their affiliations and roles rather than human beings. Women are wives, mothers, Christians, teachers, sex objects, cooks, maids, etc. Men are husbands, fathers, yard workers, mechanics, etc. (I realize those are stereotypes, bear with me.) People think they are in relationship to other things around them, not that they simply are.

I have long pondered the metaphysical notion of who I am stripped away of all negative space considerations. If I strip away those aspects of my identity which define me as a writer, a thinker, a wife and partner, etc., what is left? What is left if I toss out all of these negative space identifiers and just look inside the silhouette of me? This isn't a question for this blog because it explores something which is not related to weight, but pondering this issue did reveal a truth for me that is of value in relation to the theme of this blog.*

That truth is that for very fat people, especially those that have been greatly obese for most of their lives (from childhood to adulthood), the negative space is a little bit bigger and a lot harder to escape. It cuts into your silhouette and carves away some of your ability to define yourself by internal aspects. Your appearance and how it is perceived by the outside world is just another negative space identifier because it has to do with how others perceive you more than how you perceive yourself. One has to wonder, incidentally, what it would be like to live life without the aesthetic appraisal of ones appearance. Would you not think about your appearance at all regardless, or would you think yourself beautiful because you were the standard by which you judged such things?

Such notions aside, I realized just how hard it is to divorce oneself from the aspects of identity that relate to appearance under these conditions. My husband, who has asserted that he is happy with his appearance because he feels he is neither stunningly gorgeous enough to be appreciated for his looks (though I find him so) nor unattractive enough to be viewed punitively for them, has made me consider the value of having a neutral outlook in regards to appearance. It is far easier for someone who hasn't received praise or censure for their looks to simply know who they are because it hasn't been tattooed deeply upon their self-perception.

I've been struggling as I continue on in dealing with my issues to strip away the effects of these negative space identifiers. That is, I've been trying to stop feeding myself mantras about how unappealing my body is and how it relates to who I am. Unfortunately, this is not so simple because I continue to have such notions reinforced. When those old tattoos start to fade, someone is ready to apply a fresh coat of ink to the ones which say "fat", "strange", "ugly", etc. I can't control the behavior of others in this regard, but I can at least recognize when I'm the one who is parroting those judgements rather than hearing them externally. A lot of this identity business as time goes by and I lose more weight is coming from inside of me rather than outside, though some of it still comes from others. 

I realized today that a large part of the problem I'm dealing with right now is coming from inside, and it has to do with my age as much as my body and my weight. I'm transitioning from one negative identity which says I'm a fat, disgusting, blob, to another negative identity as I lose weight. That new identity is "old". My skin hangs off of my body in wrinkly, crepe-like sheets. My face shows more lines as body fat leaves it. I can see varicose veins that were always there but masked by fat. I realize that I'm moving from one inescapable identifier which society censures to another which society does not censure but sees as showing diminished value. This is not a happy transition.

I would like to say that I'm boldly moving away from allowing myself to be externally defined and focusing on the deeper "me", but the grim irony is that that was a lot easier when I weighed nearly 400 lbs. When your body is that big a hindrance to your life, you have to focus on who you are, not what you look like. It also helped that I avoided the world as much as possible. Losing weight has introduced a lot of new psychological variables into my life and this is just another one of them. 

I can pretend it doesn't matter or assert that the world be damned in its estimation of my value based on appearance, but that in no way will change how the negative space around me interacts with me. I think one of the biggest lessons I've learned has come as a result of coming out of the cave I hid in at a very high weight and walking into the light of the real world is that you're only fooling yourself if you think you can exist as an island unto yourself physically, emotionally or psychologically. My identity shouldn't be defined by others, but I also can't escape the consequences of their efforts to do so.

*This blog isn't my only outlet for writing and in no way represents the rich and round nature of my life (which is hidden from view as much as possible to protect my anonymity). It's merely the funnel through which specific thoughts are sorted out and away from the rest of my life, which is far vaster and broader than my readers' might imagine based merely on the content of this theme-based blog.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why the HAES movement has it wrong

Lately, I've been thinking about the HAES (health at every size) movement. I've run across some fairly articulate fat activists who keep beating readers over the head with their spectacular health at their high weights. This habit has been rubbing me the wrong way, but I hadn't really given it too much consideration until recently.

I realized that my discomfort with HAES as a focal point among overweight people comes from the fact that the very existence of such a movement validates the idea that we have a social responsibility to be healthy. It comes from the same mental place as people who criticize being overweight because it drains the health care system funds or who think it's okay to tell you you're fat and shouldn't eat this or that "because it's bad for your health". Health isn't an obligation we owe the world and HAES essentially acts as an answer to criticisms about weight and health. By addressing those concerns, you validate them.

My feeling is that there needs to be a different sort of movement which encompasses all people with all lifestyles. I'd call it "My Body, My Business." If you want to make it sound catchier, you could even call is "MB squared". The basic idea is that everyone has the right to treat their body, which they own and live in, as they desire. If they want to spruce it up, remodel it, or rebuild it, that's their business. If they want to wreck it or demolish it, it's also their business.

If this were the movement, the focus would be on personal rights to live in accord with ones own values and pursuit of happiness. Those rights, however, would end where they infringe on someone else's. That means smokers can smoke until their lungs turn black, but they can't inflict their smoke on anyone else. It means fat people can gain as much weight as they like, but they can't crowd someone else on a plane. It means alcoholics can drink until their livers cry for mercy, but they can't get in a car and hurt someone else.

Of course, there will always be people who argue that we harm others collectively with our bad habits and damaging our bodies, but I would say that vague and diffuse costs are the top of a slippery slope in which we police lifestyles according to "the greater good". We don't want to go there, because if we kept on that path, no one would be happy when they reached that destination. So, let's keep it to the concrete and real and stop talking about health, which is personal and nobody's business and you don't have to justify how you live to anyone but yourself, and focus on minding our own damn business.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Above Average

When I read the thoughts of others who want to or are losing weight, they seem to ruminate on and be more than prepared to step into the shoes of "normality". I guess this is because I've been greatly overweight for most of my entire life and many of them may have either spent more time at "normal" or closer to it. I've spent more time at or over 300 lbs. than under it. Living like other people do isn't something I'm accustomed to and it's an emotional transition.

I've talked before about identity, and part of my identity is that of someone who doesn't fit in. Part of that is how other people have objectified me and marginalized me based on body size. Part of that is also the basic facts of existence in a world designed for people of average size when you are far above average. This includes not being able to fit where other people fit when it comes to spaces, but it also, quite obviously, includes clothes.

When it comes to clothes shopping, most people squeal with delight at the prospect of fitting into smaller clothes, shopping in another department, or looking "better" (frankly, I think most people just look "different" when they lose weight, not "better"). For me, this remains something odious and stressful. Part of the reason for this is that I don't care about clothes much and I hate wasting money on them. Part of it is old associations and new confusion associated with a changed body.

Shopping for clothes for me used to be "easy" because all I had to do was get a mail order catalog and order the biggest plus size items they had and hope they fit me. Most of the time, they did. Sometimes, they didn't. This system allowed me to stretch fabric over my form to conform with standards of modesty in a socially acceptable way, but the process was utterly utilitarian. I didn't know how I was going to look when I made new purchases, and I didn't care. Now, I have to care because I work outside my home again.

Yesterday, I went to the store at which I found my first off the shelf clothing which fit. There is no such thing as a "plus size" there, so I can only shop from the larger sizes of "normal". I hadn't planned to deal with clothes there because I don't believe I "need" anything, but I decided that I should push myself to try on some clothes. The main reason for doing this is that I don't know what size I am and doing so would give me an idea. It may shock some people to know that I'm still wearing pants I wore 200 lbs. ago. I've just progressively taken them in as time has gone by.

I realize to some extent that I hang on to my oversized clothes as part of my former image of myself and a rejection of my femininity. I wear XXL T-shirts that fit me close to being a dress and pants that are too big even after being cinched and modified. I need to let go of these habits as a way of letting go of my perception of myself as a shapeless lump. To that end, I need to try on clothes and find things that fit.

This may sound like an easy and possibly even enjoyable thing, but for me, it is fraught with stress and paranoia. I still have to find larger things among normal sizes for starters, but it's more the fact that I'm still fat and I think "everyone" is watching me paw through the clothing racks and thinking, "she's too fat for anything there." This is very likely the result of the spotlight effect error, and not reality, but my feelings are my feelings. I can't deal with them by invalidating them. They can only be dispatched if they are recognized.

Not only do I feel like I'm being judged by people who are sizing me up and determining that I have no business looking for clothes among normal sizes, but this experience also taps into my feeling of being a "fraud". I don't belong in clothes designed for women because I don't have the "right" to be portrayed in a feminine manner because I'm a valueless, gigantic wad of flesh. I'm only fooling myself by painting myself with make-up and trying on "girly" clothes. I "don't belong" in the women's clothing department.

I realize that these thoughts are irrational, though they have been reinforced during nearly all of my adult life. I didn't invent them in my own fertile imagination. They are the clear messages from society for extremely morbidly obese women and I merely internalized them emotionally, despite rejecting their validity on an intellectual level .

The irony is that I know that I am not my body. One of the coping mechanisms you acquire when you live in a body society rejects so roundly for most of your life is the notion that you are your soul, psyche, intellect, or mind. You divide "you" from the meat sack that you inhabit because not doing so would be to exist in a constant state of self-loathing because you'd evaluate yourself as society does. No one can live like that for long.

However, you know, beneath the surface, that you also cannot escape your container, nor the responses to it. No matter how hard you try to distance yourself from your physicality, it is right there with you. It's a conjoined twin with your personality. Pretending it's not a part of you only helps cope with the pain of social censure but it doesn't change the fact that it is inescapably as much "you" in corporeal reality as your mind or soul.

On the surface, I have rejected this for as long as possible, but part of healing is welcoming my body into a partnership with my mind in which it doesn't take second place and isn't regarded as my enemy. For most of my life, I've felt my body has betrayed me and I've hated it for it. My mind has to shape its thoughts toward looking after the body rather than shoving its interests aside in favor of catering to the psyche. No matter how hard you try to separate mind and body, you can't in this world. That's a task for the next one, if there is another.

So, I made myself try on clothes, but not because I'm so infatuated with my new figure or want to "look good", but because it's part of a process of learning to respect my body and view myself in a less pejorative light. I still hate shopping for clothes, and I still don't care about how I look. And, I still hate how my body looks in most things, but this is how I'm moving forward.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Not There Yet

Recently, one of my clients told me that she thought she suffered heat stroke after returning from a vacation in a very hot part of the country. She said that she felt terrible and had no appetite for three days. Though she wanted to eat, she couldn't make herself do so. I had two reactions to this: I felt very bad for her that she was so sick for such a long time, and I envied her that she had no appetite for three days.

The latter response is one that I didn't think about, but several days later, as I walked in scorching heat and sweat ran down my brow and thoughts of heat stroke entered my mind, I rolled it around a bit more thoughtfully. My thought as I wondered if I had drunk enough water or been in the sun too long was not, "it'd be awful if I suffered heat stroke, too." I was thinking, "at least I wouldn't want to eat for several days." As soon as I reached the end of this line of thinking, I realized that my relationship with food, much improved as it is, is still not in a good place.

While I have very successfully divorced myself from the idea that some foods are "good" and some are "bad" and will eat whatever I want (though in controlled portions), it became clear that I still embrace the idea deep down that "eating is bad" and "not eating is good". When I was in junior high school, while sitting near one of the more popular girls, I heard her remark that she thought she might be catching a cold or the flu. She said that she hoped that she was because she wanted to lose some weight and that would expedite the process. At that time, I thought about the fact that getting sick never made me not want to eat. In fact, it only made me want to eat more and more unhealthy food.

Eating is a part of life. It's for pleasure. It's for sustenance. It's an experience that we should approach with joyous anticipation at the variety of experience and quality of nourishment that we are about to receive. It's a part of our celebrations of important events and a component of building rich memories. Instead of viewing the desire to eat in such a light, some part of me still sees having an appetite as an undesirable impulse.

Part of the reason I feel this way, I'm certain, is all of the censure I have received all of my life for wanting to eat. Fat people aren't supposed to eat at all. They should lose weight in order to gain the privilege others have to nourish themselves. If they must eat, they must only eat for nutrition and never for pleasure. For fat people, wanting to eat is "bad". Not wanting to eat is "good". Part of me, the conscious part, has no interest in being a "good fatty", but obviously some unconscious part of me still subscribes to the idea that I shouldn't want to eat.

Not all of these feelings are inspired by direct societal messages about being a "bad fatty". Some of it is also the result of a life spent fighting urges to eat things that made me heavier and failing to resist those urges. The battle fatigue I sometimes feel at not acting on hunger immediately quite naturally inspires a sense that it'll all be a hell of a lot easier if I had less of an appetite.

Frankly, I do have less of an appetite now than before, but I still feel like eating more than I do most of the time (and definitely more often than I do). The bottom line is that I think I would eat nearly all of the time some days if I didn't resist my urges. And I know that doing so would result in an ever upward spiral of eating more until I started to put weight back on again. The appetite can contract through behavior modification and gradual reduction in portions, but it can so easily expand through similar increases.

Sometimes, I'd just like to dive into a pile of food and not come up for air until I'm ready to burst, and occasionally, I do that and regret it a little because I feel uncomfortably full. Fortunately, doing so rarely lands me at consuming more than 2500 calories in a day these days, so it's not a serious problem. However, I'd still rather not want to do it at all. I need to deal with the part of me that thinks being sick and not eating might be better than being well and eating. At this point in time, I'm at the recognition stage. From here, I have to work on healing my thinking in this regard so I can form an even better relationship psychologically with food.

Friday, July 8, 2011

It's Not a Psychological Failure

Occasionally, well, perhaps more often than that, I will run across a woman who is so frustrated with herself because she was hungry and ate and ate and ate. These are always women who have been "dieting" and are perplexed about incessant and increasingly irresistible hunger. They view eating a lot as a failure of will and are disappointed in themselves.

I've written before that I sometimes simply have to just eat, and at those times, I will eat a lot. I recognized this a long time ago as the predictable physiological outcome of consistent deprivation and that it's not about mental desire to eat more, but biological pressure. For those women who are confused, I would recommend that they view what they are doing from the body's point of view rather than their own more highly developed mental viewpoint.

From the body's point of view, it is being consistently deprived of necessary energy. It has been successfully "saving" energy as fat on your body for a long time and is pleased to have reserves on hand for need. Suddenly, it is having to use those reserves day-in and day-out. It's like a miser who suddenly finds the cash flow has utterly dried up and now he has to constantly take from savings. There is utter biological panic at the idea of being under-fueled constantly over a long period of time. The more extreme the deprivation, the more extreme the response from the body.

As far as your body is concerned, you are not getting fit and healthy. In fact, as far as your body is concerned, you are slowly dying of starvation. Its priority is to send as many biochemical cues to you as possible to get you to eat more and stop the starvation which it is reading as the current state of affairs. Unlike the miser, who may have an account book somewhere telling him exactly how much is in the savings account, the body does not know you've got energy to spare hanging off your hips and belly. It only knows that it's constantly diving into savings and is uncertain when it will run out.

So, the body says, "I'm going to die and I must act to pressure you into stopping this." That insatiable hunger is the culmination of a week, a month, or however long it has been of deprivation. The nice thing is that you can deal with this effectively by stopping with the head games and just eating once in awhile. Cue the body occasionally such that it thinks you're not starving every single day. This isn't "cheating". It isn't about "giving in." It's about occasionally succumbing to a biological need such that the body stops going into panic mode and driving you insane with hunger.

I haven't plateaued in my weight loss, and I do wonder (though can never know) if this is because I've never practiced extreme deprivation (usually eating between 1500-1800 calories) and do occasionally just respond to these super hungry times by eating until I'm full. That's right, not "just sated", not "no longer hungry", but damn good and full. Is it possible that I'm cuing my body occasionally such that it feels all is well and I'm not starving to death and there's no need to cling to fat reserves? I don't know, but it is possible.

I also wonder at times if a lot of women who have turned to fat acceptance after dieting, many of whom pushed themselves hard and cut calories far back and eventually stopped losing, wouldn't have suffered metabolic damage had they practiced more moderate behavior. As far as I can tell based on weight loss and calorie consumption values (and I've been eating consistently more since the beginning of this year and exercising no more), I have not suffered any sort of metabolic slowdown from modest deprivation.

I also know that I am careful about exercise in terms of never doing it too hard and allowing for resting periods for my modest weight lifting and stretching when the muscles are aching or the glycogen reserves seem unusually low (signaled by unusually difficult muscle movement). In other words, I'm not doing anything which would cue my body to believe more exertion and damage is going on than necessary. I'm also not pushing so hard that it would need to be consuming the muscle mass instead of the fat.

I'm not saying that my way is the right way, but I am saying that it's not a psychological issue when you deprive yourself everyday of food and then find yourself starving and wanting to eat and eat and eat. It's your body seeing what is happening to it from another perspective. Yes, you can fight it, but perhaps only to your own detriment. Starvation reactions are real and proven, no matter how many people want to deny them in order to validate the irrational  notion that the body is simply a calculator into which calories in and calories out can be input and predictable results will occur. Give your body a break. Give your self-esteem a break, too, and just eat once in awhile and stop beating yourself up for it. It's not going to sabotage your weight control efforts as long as you're reading it as a real cue and not acting on emotional needs to binge.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


When I was younger, I used to fantasize about a beautiful blonde woman I named Christine. In my fantasy, she was voluptuous, but not fat. Her hair was long, wavy and thick. She was talented and intelligent, but quiet and reserved in manner. Because of her beauty and manner, everyone was intrigued by her. Men desired her and women admired her.

Christine was an avatar of my hopes and dreams. She had the aspects of me that I liked (my hair, except blond, and my general shape, but not fat, and she had my intelligence), and the ones that I desired (good temper control, beauty, thinness). In my fantasies, people treated her and regarded her in the manner I would have liked to have been. They were interested in her, wanted to associate with her, and were keen to be in her presence. Men not only wanted her, but they wanted to take care of her. Depending on the fantasy, she had wealth or power, but was still vulnerable and needed support. She needed a lot of what I needed, despite having more than I had.

I hadn't really thought about this fantasy and the implications for quite some time, but my thoughts as of late in regards to beauty brought it back. One thing I realized is that the beauty ship has sailed for me and it's never coming back to port. I'm too old to ever be considered "beautiful", and I was too fat when I was young enough to carry the illusion of beauty as youth can do. And, don't give me any crap about how fat does not equal ugly and thin does not equal beautiful. I've already discussed that before and it's not a concept I buy into. There are many ugly thin people (I see a lot of them everyday, trust me) and beautiful fat people. However, the sort of beauty that I'm talking about is never, ever seen as a part of being fat.

Fat people can be beautiful, but the kind of beauty I'm talking about is the type that society rewards with power. My fantasy was not so much about beauty as it was about what beauty granted one in life, and no matter how gorgeous a (truly) fat woman is, she's never going to get that sort of power, not the type that people recognize as aesthetically pleasing but society at large is disinterested in. I'm not talking about the imaginary version "fat" which comes from idealizing runway models who look like human coat hangers. I'm not talking about Crystal Renn "fat", but truly fat with rolls of tissue cascading off of you and all of the skin  damage (e.g., stretch marks, discoloration where skin rubs together, etc.) that comes along with it. This is not a beauty that can confer power, but rather gets some individual recognition by people who subscribe to more varied notions of beauty. It's the essence of self-acceptance and finding ones own unique beauty, but it does not give one the things I fantasized about.

Part of me mourns the fact that I'll never have the sort of power that beauty grants people, and part of me knows it's all an illusion. I've seen women who were once considered quite attractive reach a higher age and found that life is quite confounding for them. What was once given to them with ease is now retracted. They believe they earned what they were given, and struggle to reconcile the changes in the way people treat them with how they're going to live the rest of their lives. If beauty gave you power and that power is gone, what do you do now? I'm not saying such people lack skills, but rather that it's a real blow to their identity and notions of the way the world works which causes them to live in fear of how they will get by. They may have those skills, but they may not even know where to apply them having not had need of them before.

All of that being said, part of me wishes that, for just a little while, I had lived as a true beauty. It's an experience that perhaps I never had the capacity to live in because my basic physical structure may not have made any conception of me, fat or thin, "beautiful". I'll never know, because it's simply too late to ever be sure.