Monday, February 20, 2012

Wanting it all (answering a few good questions)

I got an excellent question from Human In Progress and the answer ended up being so huge that it exceeded Blogger's comment length. So, instead of editing down the answer, I'm going to answer in a post:

"I don't know how long I'm going to do this. The problem is, my mind is already whining about "NEVER getting to have" a big piece of cake or whatever. I probably just need to give it time: after considering a pint of ice cream to be a single serving for years and years, one scoop is bound to look paltry.

Nevertheless, I am curious: do you ever eat a sizable dessert? Did you ever do so while working actively at weight loss? Was there any particular way you convinced yourself that for the most part, "less is more" when it comes to dessert? 

The first thing that I should say is that I still eat more calories than “necessary” on occasion. Part of what I've done is simply accept that this is something everyone does sometimes. This probably happens at least once every 2 weeks, possibly once every ten days. That's okay because I eat less than necessary sometimes as well. It all seems to balance out. I think humans were never designed for stable consumption and that there is a drive to cram everything in sight into your maw at times, especially when you've been pushing your hunger tolerance in an effort to lose weight over a long period of time. When this happens, I never change my eating habits the next day to compensate. I also do not beat myself up or berate myself. I just see it for what it is and get on with a more “normal” eating style in the coming days.

I think it's extremely important not to moralize or judge your eating habits at all. That is, it is important to not label yourself as “bad” or “good” or to see yourself as a “success” or “failure” due to food consumption patterns. Mainly, I look at what happens as one consequence or another to my body. Awhile back, I talked about seeing eating like saving or spending money. If today, I eat a lot of something because that's what I want to do, it's like “spending” more money than budgeted. The consequence is that I'll have to spend less over the next week or so to balance out that excess expenditure. When I started to incorporate this view of food into how I regarded eating, I started to lose interest in large portions to some extent. I saw a certain “cost/benefit” ratio in play. Was I going to enjoy every bite of a big piece of cake enough to want to pay it back later? Would I “spend” the calories on that experience? Sometimes, the answer is “yes”, I am willing to pay that price, but I'd better get my money's worth and attend to enjoying every bite.

However, that being said, it is not that simple because the rational aspects are only half of the equation. Compulsive eaters and those with psychological issues related to food do not deal with food rationally. They deal with it irrationally. It took a long time to develop a fuller cost/benefit view, but it took a lot of time and mental effort to handle the other side of this coin when it comes to the "I want it all" syndrome. I also used to feel dissatisfied unless I could have as much as I wanted whenever I wanted it. I still feel that way sometimes, but not nearly as often as before (it used to be every day). The notion that the experience of eating was inadequately fulfilling if I couldn't eat a lot was one I have wrestled with for quite some time.

There was a very long and a still ongoing process of dissecting the feeling of wanting a lot and changing how I viewed such things. I can only speak to what this all entailed for me, but I'd be surprised if some people did not share similar feelings. The first was that I think that eating compulsively, that is, the mere act of putting large amounts of food in my mouth and chewing and swallowing it was immensely comforting to me. The taste, texture, and smell of food and appreciating them didn't have anything to do with this purely psychological benefit of eating. This is equivalent to perhaps how alcoholics drink not because they enjoy the taste of alcohol, but because they can numb themselves by drinking a lot of it. For them, it's not even about the initial buzz or good feeling, but about a state far removed from normal. This is the difference between a compulsive eater's thinking and that of a person who really enjoys food or even a mere sugar high. We “need” a lot of food to satisfy a deeper need than the pleasure food brings.

Fighting off this desire is not in the least bit trivial and sometimes, I say, “to hell with it” and give into it. However, I know what I'm doing when I do it. I know that I've grown weary of the battle and am deciding this time to lay down my weapons and give in. I tell myself it is okay as long as it is not something I do everyday or often. Occasionally, it is alright to do it, but I never allow it to happen for two days in a row. The “recovery” the following day gives me strength and confidence that I can give in without setting off a new pattern. Failing and succeeding so often has shown me that I control food, it does not control me. If I want to abuse it once in awhile to feel better, I damn well will. I don't have to be perfect and I don't have to be strong every single day. I've got a serious problem with food and I'm solving it, but it makes me tired emotionally so sometimes, I have to rest and give in. Some day, I think this will not happen, but not because it's not “okay” to do this, but because I'll extinguish the emotional connection over time. It's been a flame I've been suffocating for a long time, and it doesn't burn as brightly as it did in 2009. I'm patient enough with myself to give myself the time to keep working on this. I see progress in the direction I want to go. Progress is enough. Perfection is setting myself up for failure.

The next stage of analysis of this situation is understanding how I got to the point in which this sort of compulsion has evolved. Why do I derive satisfaction from cramming lots of food in my mouth and swallowing it? Many other people don't suffer this. The answer, I'm sure, in the minds of many people is biology. There certainly was a predisposition, but I think that it was a connection that grew over my entire life and it's thick and strong, but I can cut away at it like a tightly bound rope. Each time I sever a thread, the connection gets weaker. To cut it, I have to know what it does for me and why I need it. This excavation is very personal and tricky. It gets to the core of what psychology can do for a person and that's offer understanding that can lead to profound change. Unfortunately, it is often like digging holes in the yard and hoping to find treasure. I don't know when the connection I've made is “right” or not. I can only keep digging.

One little gold nugget that I have absolutely determined is a part of this is that I have spent all of my life putting my needs second. My ego structure is such that I feel like putting myself first makes me a bad person (thanks, Mom, for planting that seed and watering the hell out of it). Beyond that, growing up as a fat child, there were many dreams and positive experiences I never got to have. Other kids dated, looked cool in hip clothes, and had homes that they weren't embarrassed to bring their friends to. They weren't so poor that their father hunted squirrels to put meat on the table or scrounged for discarded bottles that could be turned in for the deposit money in order to buy milk at the end of the month. There were so many things I could not have, but I could have food. It was the one area of my life where my head decided I was going to assert my desires 100%. I was not going to deny myself on that front. Cramming that large amount of food in was me having what I wanted when I wanted it in this one way. Being denied that panicked me and made me feel powerless, because I was so powerless everywhere else in my life.

Knowing this helped me talk myself out of the pattern through time. My whole life since starting to lose weight has included a lot of internal dialogs that sometimes I am so sick of having that I'd like to scream. Even now, with decreased frequency of food issues, I still have to tell myself, “you are not hungry, you just want to eat,” a fair number of times everyday. Food is less central to me. It's less important, but it still occupies a space in my life which is greater than it is for “normal” folks. I still find myself daydreaming about food when I'm bored, or meal planning, or viewing the best part of an experience as the food.

However, this really is decreasing in frequency. It's nothing like it was even a mere 6 months ago. Yesterday, my husband and I went to a world famous amusement park and in the past, I'd be thinking about how the special food would be the best part, but that was not the case. This time, I was focusing on the rides, seeing the place, and being with my husband. The experience, not the food was the thing I was looking forward to.

I should note that there is very much an aspect of this which is “duller” than things used to be. That is, the lights were more brilliant and the colors were brighter when food was fully centralized. There is a process going on in which I can feel the things which were unimportant or of weak importance to me growing in importance while food lessens so. It's like a scale and it used to be that food was on one side and heavily weighted and stuff on the other side was so light as to be of no consequence. When I was originally changing my relationship with food, I felt like I had nothing to look forward to or enjoy as I lost what really made me so happy and had not yet found the joy of what was on the other side. I got very depressed at times at the hollowness of my life as I lost weight. I found little to enjoy without food. It is taking a long time to add weight to the other side of that scale as I remove it from the food side, but it's coming along. I can't even really control it, but I think it is happening as a natural consequence to decentralizing food in my life and trying to mentally focus on a life which has a more balanced perspective.

I have to force myself to think about and focus on other things. It is something which I must attend to actively and cannot merely be expected to happen as a result of a reduction in food consumption or applying the conventional tools of diet culture. In fact, I think I can only fully realize this by abandoning the tools of that culture because they, while educational and helpful in the initial phases, also require you to stay on the topic of food. Once I get the general habits down, I have to let them go in order to live normally and not be emotionally reliant on food. I have to become more dependent on other things and I know that if I'm stuck on food, then I've either got an emotional issue that I need to manage differently or I'm bored and thinking about food in the absence of other topics.

So, this is all a long-winded explanation of the side of wanting to eat all I want from the psychological viewpoint. I can't tell anyone else what drives them, but I would encourage you to try to understand why you need a lot of any food to satisfy you. The truth is that I think that people rarely enjoy every bite of a treat that is a big portion. That isn't to say it never happens. I've eaten an entire piece of cheesecake (a small one, but a whole piece) and relished every bite before. It wasn't compulsive and it wasn't gratifying a need to have “all I wanted”. I enjoyed it totally, and that really is what it is all about. I think one thing I can offer as advice is to think about whether or not you want it all before you even eat it. If you decide beforehand that you won't be happy unless you eat it all, then it's about something other than the experience of enjoying your food. If you end up eating it all anyway, that's okay, but just understand why and learn from that. Through doing so, eventually, you'll be able to develop a sensory relationship with food which is based on enjoying it and not using it to fulfill other psychological desires. Even if you end up eating a whole piece of cake every time, it'll be because you loved every bite, and that's the best way to approach food. So, the bottom line is you can have anything you want, but it's better for you to know that it is actually what you want and not something deeper than that cake.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Progress Report

I rarely do progress reports anymore because I'm not as concerned with progress in general. Yes, I still would like to lose more weight, but I know that I'm at a stage at which losing more weight is less important than continuing to tweak psychological issues with food. I'm in transition from what could be called "dieting" to "living normally with food." To that end, several weeks ago, I abandoned all food logging and calorie counting. It is progress along those lines that I'm going to talk about.

When I first gave up the counting, I often had a vague sense of "overeating" or feeling like I didn't know how much I was eating. Since I'd already slacked on logging a full days intake, this wasn't particularly acute. My main concern was that I'd slowly slip back into old habits and regain, not that I wouldn't lose. Again, I'd like to lose more, but in this transition phase, I'm more concerned with being able to feed myself at a maintenance level without tracking calories or food. Once I have this ability down, then I can attend more concretely to further loss of body fat.

Over the last several weeks, I can't say that I've markedly eaten differently, but I have noticed some bad habits that I had even when I was calorie counting and feel that I need to get rid of those. The  main problem is too much freestyle "grazing". This is something I had been working with before, but only in certain situations. That is, I was still comforting myself with food, but doing so with small portions such that I didn't impact weight gain or loss. I have been working effectively on not doing this because I'm tired, stressed, or anxious, but I have not been doing so well with it when I'm incidentally hungry.

What I mean by that that last part is that I will feel slightly hungry at times and decide to eat things rather than wait and eat in a consolidated manner. I well know from experience that eating when slightly hungry was a huge reason why I gained so much weight. I never knew true hunger because I never allowed my body to get there. I became incapable of tolerating true hunger because I never built up a tolerance. My incidental eating was something I saw as a road back to that sort of thing and I decided that I need to "tighten up" how I deal with food.

My approach as of yesterday was to eat incidentally if I wanted to (or "needed to"), but to make sure that I fully acknowledged the experience by plating everything I ate and carrying it to another place. There will be no more standing in the kitchen eating a piece of chocolate, a rice cracker, a few mini pretzels and a bit or two of cheese. If it isn't on a plate, I don't eat it, at least if I'm at home when I'm eating. 

I think that this grazing wasn't necessarily a slippery slope, though I acknowledge that it could have been. Mainly, I think that it would ultimately impede further weight loss. I weighed myself today and I remain at 80 kg. (176 lbs.) which is where I've been for awhile. I was actually pretty pleased with this as I hadn't gained any weight for my sloppy habits. Frankly, I have felt that I've been eating too much, particularly too many empty calories, and was concerned that I might end up gaining because of it. Fortunately, I did not, but clearly it's time to move on to some better habits. 

Yesterday, I ate five times. That was breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea time, and a later evening snack. I plated post-lunch tiny pieces of chocolate and a few cookies as well as dessert after dinner (half a small chocolate chip cupcake and strawberries). The late night snack was fruit, but I feel it was slightly indulgent. A lot of my extra eating since stopping strict counting has been eating after dinner and I know it's not absolutely necessary. It's just laziness about not putting up with being a little hungry at bedtime. Still, it's not that big a deal either, especially on the first day of tightening up my habits.

I want to write about these things more than I do, not because I believe such  mechanistic processes are so interesting, but because I want readers to know I'm not perfect and I still have work to do as well. It's not easy, though it's absolutely nowhere near as hard as it used to be. I don't know if I'll be struggling with this for the rest of my life, but I'm prepared for the possibility that I might have to. It's tiring.  It gets old, but looking back at pictures of me at my higher weight, I think it's absolutely worth it. 

Weight Loss Surgery (WLS)

Several years ago, I started reading a blog about food written by a particular woman. It had nothing to do with dieting or weight loss. She was writing reviews of various restaurants and snacks that she tried. As time went by, she stopped that blog and started another. The new one was about her life married to a man in her husband's particular profession (which is hardly rare, but relatively uncommon and wives with such husbands have unique challenges). I mention that I started reading her blogs with these topics because now she has changed to writing about having weight loss surgery. I generally do not read blogs about people who are having, have had or are contemplating WLS, but I already have a "relationship" with this writer and an interest in her life.

I've said before that I think people who have weight loss surgery are essentially putting a biological gun to their heads in order to lose weight. I still believe this is true. I also said that they are likely braver than me for having the courage not only to endure the pain of surgery, but also to force themselves into this position. That also remains true. However, I have changed my thinking about the value of such surgery as I've learned more and more that it can be an incredibly destructive force in some people's lives and a sizable number of people (somewhere in the vicinity of 1/3) end up regaining the weight they lose and more.

It seems likely that it  metabolically damages people in a manner which is more severe than extreme dieting (under 1000 calories). I once read someone say that they believed WLS would one day be considered as poor an answer to weight problems as extreme lobotomies were to mental illness. Yes, it can fix a problem, but it creates many others. People can die from WLS complications and their food issues are not fixed if they don't change their relationship with food forever as a result of that surgery. I continue to believe that psychology, not biology, is the main driving force in weight problems whether they be related to overeating or under-eating.

That is not to say that I believe some women do not ultimately benefit from WLS. Clearly, some adapt to the lifestyle change, never stretch their reduced size stomach and it becomes a catalyst for lifestyle changes that they couldn't manage pre-surgery. That being said, such adaptation would have been possible without surgery. The surgery just makes it harder to overeat initially because you vomit if you eat too much and feel full quickly. When you try to eat less without surgery, the only thing stopping you is hunger and psychological issues. Both of these are potent forces that are hard to ignore when you have the biological capacity to fully sate yourself. I don't underestimate the value of a biological stopper for people who can't find their way to eating less. However, the price to me has always seemed too high.

The woman whose blog I've followed through various permutations has presented me with a lot of personal challenge in terms of taxing my self-restraint. I have wanted to say, "don't do it, there is another way," but I realize that there may not be another way for her. I also know that everyone has to make their own choices and, yes, mistakes in life. I've been allowed to  make my own and have made plenty. I have refrained from commenting unless I can be honestly supportive in line with my views.

I wish her well, but I feel that the odds are stacked against her given that she has always been a much bigger consumer of junk food than I ever was (because I never ate that much of it). She eats out a lot. I believe that the binge before the restriction habit among people who are attempting to lose weight is always a bad sign and she went crazy the weeks before surgery and gained 17 lbs. before going on the pre-op diet that she had to endure. She eats poorly, and has already overeaten and thrown up several times with barely a week and a half of time between her and the surgery. I think that, while the pouch is small, she will be restricted and lose a lot of weight. Ultimately though, I think she'll return to old patterns with a heap of metabolic damage on top of it and be worse off in the long run. I hope I'm wrong. I'd love to be wrong.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Body Shaming and Competition

Facebook can be a horrible place if you are sensitive to other people's actions and perceptive about their subtle messages. It can also be fertile territory for understanding people in general and knowing your friends better. In ways both subtle and gross, you can see how others think and feel.

Recently, I have had experiences with both of the obvious and the less so. One of my friends posted a picture of three people on the beach. One woman was very thin, possibly anorexic, and she had had somewhat moderate breast implants (probably a "B", definitely no more than a C-cup). Her age was difficult to gauge but given the skin sagging, her hair color and texture, and her wrinkles, she may have been as old as her early 60's or as young as her late 40's (probably she was in her mid to late 50's). She was standing with her arm around a slightly overweight woman with a hairy, chunky guy in Speedos on the other side. My friend's comment was something like "I'm glad I kept my own (referring to her breasts)! She (thin woman with implants) makes the guy on the right look pretty good!"

I should note that my friend is very short (about 4' 11"/150 cm.) and has very large breasts. She has also rarely been thin, but not especially been fat. She has had body issues all of her life including being uncomfortable with her disproportionately large breasts and feeling she had a large behind. As she has gotten older, she has put on a little more weight and gained enough at one point to develop Type 2 diabetes, but changed her habits to take her out of the red zone and back to borderline insulin function.

The fact that my friend engaged in such body shaming upset me for several reasons. First of all, I disagree with all body shaming on principle. Second, the sort of sagging and skin wrinkling that woman had was very familiar. It was a less extreme version of what has been happening to me as I lose weight. Third, I think anyone with their own body issues should have more empathy for others with less than perfect bodies. Finally, her behavior was childish and cruel. No one should have their picture passed around and talked about in such a fashion.

Since I don't believe that outright confrontation is helpful when people do these things, I made a comment saying that we don't know anything about how this woman came to be in this state. On the heels of a few "ewwws" and "I just tossed my lunch" types of comments,  I mentioned that an acquaintance recently had a double mastectomy and had breast implants as a result. Any woman could have such implants because of a medical issue, not just because she's vain. I did not say that it didn't matter if she looked as she did out of vanity or not, but I did think so. I wanted my friend to have empathy for this woman, not merely use her as a stepping stone to elevating her own low self-esteem a notch or two.

As the comment thread went on, I mentioned that I would be certain never to show up on a beach in a bathing suit of any sort because strangers would take my picture and pass it around on the internet and mock my body as was being done with that poor woman. My friend expressed incredulity that my body could look so bad and called me a "goddess" (which is weird since she knows I used to be fatter). I guess as someone who has never been severely overweight, she doesn't know that you don't spring back into shape but rather look like a stretched out sweater made of skin. At any rate, my husband, who is also her friend, went on to mention that he felt there was too much body shaming as did a few other people and she withdrew the picture under the weight of disapproval. I remain somewhat surprised that she didn't anticipate how bad what she did might make her look.

Another one of my friends recently posted that she found some dresses in the back of her closet and that she was shocked that they fit. This particular friend has always been slightly chubby and gained a little more weight as time has gone on. She's probably no less overweight than I currently am, but has been mentioning that she went down two dress sizes recently.

Note that my Facebook page does not discuss my weight or anyone else's. As far as they know, what they see is what I am. This blog is unknown to them (and shall remain so) and my struggles are not public. There is no reason for anyone to think I am trying to lose weight, though I do occasionally post recipes which I enjoy that are sugar-free or nutritious. They are there for me to keep track of, and for diabetic friends to experiment with on their own. Though I have never been diabetic, I do make sugar-free items (baked goods) to reduce the blood sugar impact and calories of such items.

Regarding my friend's situation, I commented to her that there were no dresses in the back of my closet, but if there were, they surely would not fit me. I did not state that the reason this was the case was that all of my clothes from the past are far too big and she "liked" the comment. I am not sure why she would "like" the fact that I wouldn't fit into my old clothes while she could, but I got the impression that she was concluding that I was too fat to fit in my old togs. This friend is from college and last she saw me I was at a lowish relative weight (very similar to how I am now), though she met me when I was likely in the 300-350 lb. range in my earlier college years. She had no way of knowing I'd regained and lost weight again, so she didn't know my bodily disposition over the years. From her perspective, I have remained unchanged.

This friend has had a habit of being competitive and copying people she admires or is envious of. When I lost weight in my later college years, she also lost weight shortly thereafter and had shown increasing moodiness and resentment toward me as I continued to lose weight at that time. She also dyed her hair blond to match her roommate's (who she had a serious non-sexual crush on and believed was the coolest human being on the planet) and dressed like said roommate for several years. It could also have been a coincidence, but she dyed her hair the same color as mine shortly after I connected with her on Facebook and remarked on how great she looked with that color.

Though I could be wrong, I think the reason my friend "liked" the idea that I may not be able to wear my old clothes was that she felt I'd gained weight and that made her feel better about herself. This is all not meant in any way to say that I am awesome and enviable in my beauty, but rather as a reflection on the situation in which someone is competing with me and happier to come out the "winner" in her estimation. Both of these friends are behaving competitively with other women. One of them is doing so with a picture of a woman from the internet and the other with an old friend. In both cases, they are valuing bodies such that they can value themselves more highly relative to others.

In both of these cases, I'm not angry with my friends, but I am disappointed that they assign such value to external appearances and sad that their self-estimation is such that it is based on body size and shape. I'm also increasingly uncomfortable with the feeling that I'm being drawn into a sort of "race" for relative beauty now that I'm no longer viewed as the one who absolutely will come in last. When I was super obese and  near 400 lbs., women simply dismissed me entirely as "competition". Now, it's not quite so simple.

I don't want to be involved in any of this, but it does seem quite unavoidable. Though I have changed a lot inside, it seems that people only attend to the changes on the outside, and they aren't necessarily happy to see me looking pretty good if they feel they look relatively not quite as good. I don't want to play this game, but people keep dealing me hands anyway. I'm not sure what to do about it, but I guess all I can do is try to maintain empathy for them and their needs in this regard.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Member of a New Club

There's an Eddie Murphy sketch in which he explores the world as a white man in order to see how things work when you're white in a Caucasian-dominated world. The comedy works in two directions, though I imagine most people miss the more subtle second side. First, Murphy makes fun of white people and the way they walk, talk, and dress. Second, he is sending up black perceptions that white people live in a privileged world in which people hand over free cash and goods merely because of skin color. The humor works because there is truth to both sides.

Recently, I had an experience which brought this sketch to mind because I felt as if I had crossed over into the "normal" world and was being treated as a member of a different club. As Murphy made himself white instead of black, I have made myself "normal" instead of "freakishly fat". While I'm still fat, I'm in the range of normal middle-aged spread now and people don't treat me as an object of unbridled disgust and incredulity. Those who never knew me at a higher weight just see me as if this were the way I have always been or if I'd just put on weight as I knock on the door of my 50's.

I had an experience with a client in the past week in which he was telling me about the women in his office which dredged up the memory of that SNL skit. He told me that one of the women reminded him of a boneless ham because her legs were very fat and she had a habit of wearing black fishnet stockings. He went on to talk about a woman who he called a "kabuki actor" because she wore so much make-up it practically blinded him with the white that was reflected. Finally, he talked about a woman who wore no make-up and had long nose hair. In summation, he said that all the married women in his office were beautiful and the unmarried ones were not.

As I sat there listening to him ridicule these women, I had to contain my sense of anger at the way he was objectifying them and judging them based on appearances. I am not in a position to confront him about his behavior as it is simply not appropriate in the work I do. I did not condone it, but simply said that I felt sorry for those women. I also, frankly, felt sorry for him as I'm sure he wasn't aware of just how ugly a side of himself he was displaying by speaking this way and I think his need to speak of these women in this fashion reflected his own insecurities and pain at being rejected romantically. 

During his continued discussion of these women, I wondered if I would have been hearing all of this had I not been much thinner now and perceived as normal, attractive, well-groomed and known to be married. Like Eddie Murphy in his white guy get-up, I felt like a super morbidly obese person in a normal person costume sitting in on an interaction that I would not have been a part of had I not been wearing a "disguise". This is how people talked about people like me when they didn't know that I was one of "those people". 

Before I lost weight, no one even talked about fatness in front of me. They wouldn't mention it because of fear of letting on that they recognized the elephant in the room or offending  me. Now, I'm not fat enough to be viewed as offend-able in this regard so people talk like they would to other "normal" folks. Since I got the part-time job at which this occurred last April, people there have never known me at a much larger size (though they knew me at a larger size than now as I've lost another 35 or so pounds over the 10 months) and don't know what I once was. 

The interesting thing about this experience was not only that I did find that the world is rather different on the non-morbidly-obese side of the fence, but also that the flip-side equation applies as well. That is, Murphy parodied the perception of whites, but also the fantasy benefits they received in the minds of blacks. The "thin fantasy" in which life is magically better and all problems are solved at lower weights is equivalent to the "white privilege" fantasy in the skit in which money and goods are given away freely. There is some truth that there is a different world for smaller, more socially acceptable bodies, but it isn't as great as those who want to lose weight think it is.  

I asked my husband if he felt that this man would have had such a conversation with me had I been at my much higher weight. He said that this client would not have chosen to deal with me at all had I been much fatter. Sadly, I'm sure he's correct, and that's just one of the reasons I decided I had to deal with my relationship with food in the summer of 2009. Much as I can sit and hope that the world will treat very obese people differently, there is still a reality in which people do judge you and reject you whether you feel it is unfair or "wrong" or not. You can change yourself, but you can't change the world. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The "C" Word

My sister told me today that she has cancer markers in her blood, so I can no longer live in the fantasy that her tumor may be benign. A successful tissue sample for a biopsy to determine if it is cervical or ovarian cancer has not been completed. I suspect some of the issues may be related to her weight, but I do not know. My sister and I talk about many things, but her weight and up until the last three years, mine, were always the elephants in the room. She pretends her weight isn't a factor in her life, and I never address it.

As I said before, I strongly suspect she avoided routine screening because of her body size (as that was the reason I avoided it and many women do as well). I could be furious that the world encourages morbidly obese women to put their heads in the sand with their behavior, but there's no point in directing my energy so uselessly. My energy is directed toward my sister's well-being, supporting her, and understanding that things just happen. I don't have a need to "blame" anyone or anything. This is what it is, and I hope that she is going to be okay at the end of all of this.

Not everything is about weight in my life, but this thing may be about hers. I wish that I could help her more, or had helped her better, but I know each person has to help themselves. I don't even look back on the last 6 months or so when I advised her to get a gynecological exam and be checked for uterine tumors and think, "I was right" or "I told you so." I really don't. I just see this as a part of a pattern that many fat women are in and the way life works. It's sad. I'm sad, but I'm not mad. I just hope, again, that she doesn't pay a huge or the ultimate price for waiting. Right now, I just love her and appreciate her without any dialogue about "could have been/done" or "should have been/done."

If I can't have it, so...

There's a Calvin & Hobbes comic in which Susie, Calvin's neighbor and schoolmate, sees something down by a pond and asks Calvin if he'd like to see it. Not wanting to validate the value of what she has discovered, Calvin indicates derisively that it's not of interest. Susie stalks off and Calvin sneaks to the pond to have a look. Susie catches him and essentially says, "gotcha!"

There have been numerous comics, stories, and performances depicted children in which one essentially says of another's possession, 'I don't want one. It's not so great.' In such cases, it's clear that the speaker thinks that it really is 'so great', but is trying to diminish the value of whatever it is in order to cope with the sense that it is beyond his or her ability to acquire it. A lot of people mistake this for envy, and while there may be an element of that, it is more about finding a way of balancing their despair with what they view as a cold, hard, and limited reality.

No one is immune from this. In the past, I have been guilty of it in ways both big and small. When I didn't fit in the bath tub due to my weight, I used to tell people I didn't like taking baths and that I didn't care about having a deep bath to soak in. I even convinced myself that this was not such a pleasurable experience that I couldn't partake in. Now that I can fit in the tub, I have to admit to myself that it's not only relaxing, but deeply and satisfyingly warming on cold evenings.

One of the most pervasive messages that people spread about something not being of value because they have concluded that they can't have it is having a life partner. They say marriage is nothing more than a loss of freedom, a life in shackles, and endless and unfair compromise and suffering. I never told myself such negative messages, but I did say I didn't aspire to being married. That was, in part, because I grew up having a very bad marriage role-modeled in front of me, but it was also because I thought I would never be wanted by anyone. If I couldn't have it, it wasn't worthwhile for me.

Unfortunately, most people aren't content to say that it's not worthwhile for them because they can't have it. They say that it has no or little value for anyone because they can't have it. I talk a lot about control, and this is something many people have concluded that they can't have in various areas of their lives. And, if they can't gain it, it can't be had by anyone and therefore should neither be sought nor desired.

This message is pervasive in the fat acceptance movement. There is a steady drumbeat of "can't lose weight, don't try." There is a constant trotting out of some dubious statistics about dieting and a 95% failure rate to the tune of many actually gaining more weight. These numbers may or may not be true, but that is a failure of method, not the value of losing weight. However, fat acceptance is populated by people who have tried and failed, tried and failed, and tried and failed. They can't have permanent and effective weight loss, so it has no value (i.e., no positive health effects that cannot be gained by healthy lifestyle without weight loss) and they can't do it so it can't be done by anyone (e.g., the "95% failure rate"). If they can't control their relationship with food and subsequently their weight, no one can, and they don't need to.

Frankly, I don't care what people weigh, but I do care about quality of life and I believe that you can't be happy unless you can move closer to who you want to be. If you can't draw a line between who you are now and who you would like to be in the future and start to make progress along that path, you will not be satisfied with your life. There's a word for people who can't move along and realize their goals. It's called stagnation. You can stamp your feet and insist that you are just great the way you are and that wanting to have more control is neurotic and destructive, but you're only succeeding in fooling yourself (if that). Harnessing chaos (including our own chaotic relationships with every aspect of our lives) and turning it into something organized, creative, and harmonious is what humans do. It is the essence of our nature and it is harder to do it with ourselves than nearly anything else in our lives.

Control is about avoiding stagnation. It's about not being trapped in your own head and body and being unhappy with where you are. It's also about not spending all of your time and energy convincing yourself that you are happy staying right where you are because you feel there is no place else you can go. It doesn't have to be about weight, but often in fat acceptance circles, that is pretty much what it is about. They preach a message of "can't control, don't try, just accept". I don't like that message, not because I care about people being fat (I truly do not), but because I think that the message should be that you can be what you want to be, not simply be told you'll never have enough control to be anything else. That goes for everything, not just weight.