Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Moving Locus

About a week ago, my husband and I were invited to attend a dinner at a Turkish restaurant. The meal was the first breaking of the fast on the first day of Ramadan for a friend who happens to be a Muslim. This is a special time for those who observe this tradition and only good friends and family are asked to be a part of it.

This friend was actually a mere acquaintance to me, but quite a bit better known to my husband. I'd met him once briefly at a cocktail party (my first and only so far) and knew him via FaceBook. I knew that my husband was keen to be a part of this social occasion and I saw no reason for us not to go and we went and had a great time. The part of me that blog readers will never know is that I have excellent social skills and am able to talk freely with people I have just met. This has been the case for quite some time and is unrelated to my having lost weight.

Just this evening, almost a week after the event, I was thinking about the situation in the shower and some thoughts occurred to me in retrospect. Those thoughts relate to what I didn't think about during the dinner rather than what I did. As we ate and socialized, I thought about the topics of conversation, how to equally involve all of the assembled people (3 out of 4 of whom I'd never met before), and the delicious food.

I thought about how this occasion would have been different had I taken part in it a little over two years ago at 380 lbs. Had that been the case, I would have had nothing but fear about the situation. I would have been afraid of crippling back pain making it hard to walk from the train station to the restaurant. I may have even asked my husband if he and I could map the route there on our own before going so I could scope out places to sit and rest when my back pain hit. I also would have wanted to do reconnaissance on the restaurant to ensure that the chairs did not have arms and I could comfortably sit in them. Inspecting the material the chairs were made of to see if I felt they'd support my weight would also certainly have been a part of this surveillance.

Had every aspect of this event passed muster, I would have spent the dinner thinking about more than just the conversation. My main preoccupation would have been with not eating in front of others. As a super fat person, I would never have eaten freely in front of others because I'd "know" that they'd be judging me by every morsel I put in my mouth. There's every chance I would not have enjoyed what food I did eat and would have eaten far too little to the extent that I'd need to come home and eat to be sated. In fact, there's every chance I'd come home and binge both because I'd be starving and because of the emotional stress of the event.

I almost certainly would have spent the entire evening scrutinizing the responses to my physicality and behavior by everyone there. Did they look me in the eye when I spoke? Did they address an equal number of questions to me? Did eyes linger on parts of my body? Was there any whispering to one another which may have been talk of me? Were they going to go home and fill their dead time on the train by talking about how shockingly enormous I was?

My thoughts and actions in such social occasions when I weighed 200 lbs. more than I do now would have been drastically different than they were this time. The shocking revelation that I had as I mulled the experience over in the shower was that I hadn't had any of those thoughts at all. Though I'm still fat, I've finally decided that I'm human enough to be perceived like all the other humans instead of as a freak that people judge and scrutinize.

Most people who have lost weight would now talk about how this was a good indication that all of my thoughts about how other people are attending to me based on my body size were all in my head. That is, of course, a load of crap. Extremely overweight people do not imagine that they are judged by what they eat or that they are being talked about and judged. These things happen all of the time. The mental change I made was not one in which I failed to worry about what other people thought, but rather a shift in self-perception and locus of control.

All along, I've had issues internalizing a change in self-image. As I've mentioned before, I often feel uncomfortable dressing in a feminine manner because I see myself as a sexless lump. I still saw myself as this objectified creature that was fooling people by walking around as if I were equivalent to actual people. What I realized after this dinner was that some part of me has accepted that I'm "human", at least on a social level. This is a psychological breakthrough and an indication of progress in my identity and image.

Beyond the change in identity, I realized that the locus of control for my eating has shifted and is now internal. In the past, I would never eat in front of other people for fear of committing the crime of being fat and having food. I mentioned some time ago that T.V.'s portrayal of fat people who stuffed their faces openly all of the time couldn't be more wrong. We hide our eating. We don't flaunt it. We place power over what and how much we eat to those who surround us and only allow ourselves a choice in secret.

At the dinner, I ate what I wanted to without a thought for how others perceived my eating. This wasn't because I'm thin, mind you. I was still the fattest person at the table, but rather that my relationship with food has changed. I have stopped punishing myself for enjoying it. I deserve to enjoy food and I did. In fact, I ate too much because it was so good. Note that I define "too much" as "beyond satiety", not "too many calories". Afterwards, I knew I'd eaten more than necessary, but I didn't have any negative thoughts about it or my behavior. Sometimes people eat more than necessary. I'm a person. I did it, too.

So, my second revelation is that I'm now the boss of me when it comes to food. This may sound obvious, but it's just not that simple for fat folks. Most of us are not thinking about food as a source of joy that we are as entitled to as thinner folks. We see it as our abusive lover who beats us up and then embraces us; it is who we want to leave but keep coming back for more and more because we so desperately need it. Of course, the reason it abuses us is that we abuse it. It's hard to have a sound relationship with anything in your life when you view it through dysfunction and distortion.

At this point, I feel very far from having resolved all of my issues, but this was a time at which I could measure some major steps forward in my psychological development and my relationship with food. At the time, it was pretty effortless and natural. Now, it is remarkable in the way in which so many neurotic feelings and fear were utterly absent. That's progress.