Thursday, September 17, 2009

Over The Hill

This past February, I turned thirty eight years old (in the Happiest Place on Earth© and with Tom Cruise by my side. No kidding, I swear!). People tell me that being in my late thirties hardly qualifies me as elderly, but I confess that I don’t really believe them. To me, the litmus test for “old” is simple: You are old as soon as you no longer understand the young people—and I don’t. I don’t particularly care for much their music, I don’t get their clothing choices (how do they even keep their pants up when the ‘waist’ falls below their butt cheeks? Is this the reason for the triangle stance they’re always lounging in?), I can’t STAND texting lingo, and I think most of them could use a haircut for God’s sake. If that doesn’t qualify me as old, nothing does.

But even if 38 doesn’t qualify me for the senior citizen coffee discount at the local Burger King (which my 63 year old parents take unholy advantage of, I might add. My mother has actually gotten up early and driven to BK to pick up coffee for herself and my Dad all the while ignoring the perfectly good coffee maker in her own kitchen. I suspect it’s because the local grocer doesn’t give her 25% off of her bag of coffee beans just because she happened to be born in 1946.), there are still some venues in which I’m definitely not a kid anymore. One of them is right here in the blogosphere.

I started my website ( in late 2006, and that means that as weight loss bloggers (or “floggers” as we’re sometimes known) go, I’m practically a geriatric. Do a web search for weight loss related blogs, and you’ll turn up approximately a kajillion sites. Start clicking on them, however, and you’ll soon realize that the vast majority of them fall into two categories:

1. Relatively new blogs by people who are in the first several weeks or months (or days, even) of their current weight loss effort, and

2. Pages long abandoned with their last entries a static reminder of better times.

Given that weight loss is generally impermanent in nature, it makes sense that the websites it inspires are equally so. If statistics say that only about 3% of us will ever achieve the holy grail of weight watchers everywhere by taking (and keeping) the weight off, then it’s probably safe to assume that some 97% of weight loss bloggers will disappear along with the success they had at the scale. I understand this, but it still makes me sad.

One of the most insidious side effects of obesity is often the loneliness that comes along with it. The internet broadened the definition of community to a global scale and helped to bring people with common interests together in a way that has never been possible at any other time in history. It’s been an especially welcome tool for the weight loss community, I think. Since the fat is off limits for discussion in nearly every venue of polite society, it can be really hard to feel like you’re not the only person on earth who is dying beneath the weight of that silence.

For me, the internet finally gave me a place that I could look out over the crowd and see my own face staring back at me. I have taken so much solace, inspiration, and solidarity from reading the blogs of other people battling obesity. I revel in their successes, I am angry for the injustices they face, and I am heartened by the fact that they’re out there writing down all the things that we’ve never really had a place to say out loud before. And when they fade away, it makes me sad.

Most blogs are started in the early stages of the journey, in those first heady days of success when it feels like we’ve finally got this whole weight loss thing figured out and we’re anxious to share our secrets of success with the world—to tell them that if WE can do it, so can they! In our weight loss childhood we’re full of the hubris of youth, the certainty that our goals are in sight. It’s a force to be reckoned with, one that is powerful simply by virtue of the fact that it hasn’t been tested by reality yet. But when the fall comes (and make no mistake it WILL come), it often catapults us right into the next phase—a little something I call the weight loss “adolescence”. Our bodies are changing, often faster than our minds can catch up to them, and of a sudden what was once so easy feels a little awkward. What we once knew for certain, suddenly doesn’t seem so simple anymore. It’s a rough period. One that, frankly, most of us never make it out of. And it’s been the death knell for many a weight loss blog. When we stumble, when the high we’ve been riding (and writing) out starts to wane, many of us just stop talking. Our blogs become ghost towns, our past successes frozen in time and our silence speaking volumes about the present.

I understand how it happens, how we’d rather say nothing than admit that all those things we were so very sure about turned out not to be as fool proof as we thought. I’ve taken a hiatus or two myself over the last three years because it’s hard to admit when we struggle, especially when we’ve been so sure that we never would again…and said as much, to the whole world. It’s sometimes easier to fade away than to admit that we just weren’t as infallible as we thought we were. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, though. I wish there was less shame tied up in stumbling and that our setbacks and spectacular wipeouts could feel less like failure and more like progress. I wish we could learn the lessons of adolescence and finally grow up and realize that there is truly no end to this journey, no final battle to be won.

A friend of mine sent me a link to a well written, if somewhat pointed, post on a newer weight loss blog filled with broad stroke assertions and the hubris of youth with a note that said “I’ll check back in a year and see how they feel then”. It made me smile. I regularly read some young blogs and all the hope and joy and certainty…and I don’t resent it. I do envy it sometimes, though. I try to soak it in. I use it to remind myself what power there is in new success, and how easily it can slip away.

When I started blogging, I promised myself that I wouldn’t do what so many of my heroes had done before me. I wouldn’t fade away when things got rough, and I’d do my best to try and accept that if I’ll be battling my obesity the rest of my life then it’s a pretty safe bet that the fight isn’t always going to be an easy one. So here I am, bruises and all, still fighting. Over the hill? Maybe. But I can see another one in the distance, and another after that—and I want to make my way up and over all of them.

(Read today's other Theme Thursday posts here)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Theme Thursday: Trying Out a Different Drummer

I am not a morning person.

I do not say this in the annoying, kitschy, self-deprecating cartoon-strip thought bubble way with a dramatic roll of my eyes and a wacky expression (Yeah, I’m looking at YOU, Cathy--“Ack!” indeed.), but with the quiet certainty of fact. In my 38 years on earth I can say without exaggeration that there has never been a single morning (Nope, not even Christmas morning or the first day of summer vacation) where my eyes popped open with the sun and I immediately bounded out of bed with a smile on my face and a can-do attitude ready to greet another bee-you-tee-full day!

My day invariably begins with the jolt of the alarm clock and the subsequent shushing of that clock via the flop-armed slap of the snooze button (though a lifetime of this habit has given me an extraordinarily firm grasp on all mathematical operations involving 9 minute increments) followed closely by a groan and/or a sigh and the eventual settling in of a grumpy resignation that laying in bed for just one (or nine) more minutes isn’t an option and I haul myself out of bed to begin just-another-damn-day.

But although I know this about myself, it doesn’t stop me from occasionally believing that I can work against a lifetime of droopy eyelids and train myself to greet the pre-dawn hours with not only vigor and glee, but a healthy dose of cardiovascular activity as well.

While I am an evening exerciser by nature, every so often I’ll read the accounts of those who wake up at the ass-crack of dawn and lace up their running shoes and meet the sun and all about the benefits in energy level, metabolism, weight loss (and sex appeal, and intellect, and income level, and magical powers…) and I’ll decide that I’ve been doing this all wrong. I vow to change my ways, to fight my nature and set the alarm for an hour far earlier than any self respecting night owl should ever see upon waking, and to get out there and reclaim mornings as MY time. I vow to start a new routine of early to bed and early to rise…and I sometimes (read: hardly ever) even make it past the first day!

I’m on week two of my current morning exercise experiment (which is amazing, since I rarely make it to DAY two) and I have to say that I’m finally realizing that all those promises about my body getting used to the change in it’s regular rhythm and beginning to appreciate the many benefits of A.M. activity is pretty much a load of crap. Ok, maybe it hasn’t been a TOTAL loss, but it hasn’t been exactly enriched my life much either. The time I’ve ‘saved’ for other activities in the evening is mitigated by the fact that I’m too tired to do any of them because if I’d like to sleep for more than three hours in a row I actually have to go to bed earlier. All the extra energy I was promised doesn’t seem to be materializing either. So tell me, morning people--Where’s my payoff? Huh? HUH?

One of the best things about this weight loss game is that there is an abundance of information out there from various experts and fellow fat-fighters about all the ways in which we can make ourselves more successful in our quest for better health. Unfortunately, one of the worst things about this weight loss game is that the aforementioned abundance of info can sometimes be a minefield of contradiction and complication. It seems like everyone’s got an opinion about, well, everything. When we should eat, what we should eat, what we shouldn’t eat, what exercise works, IF exercise works, what supplements to take, why we should avoid supplements, surgery that might help, why that same surgery is a tool of Satan, drink green tea, don’t eat fruit, pray to the skinny gods, stand on your head, swallow this pill, balance on this ball, wear this magnet, cleanse your colon, blah, blah, BLAH. It can be a bit mind-boggling at times. If I tried to incorporate all the diet advice I’m bombarded with on a daily basis you’d eventually find me curled up in a ball in the hall closet tangled up in rubber resistance bands babbling incoherently about high fructose corn syrup through acai berry stained lips and crying because I ate a handful of cheerios after 7PM.

Ask 100 successful losers for their very best weight loss advice, and you’re likely to get just as many different answers. How do you know which one is the right one? Hint: They ALL are. This weight loss stuff is intensely personal, it’s complicated and multi-faceted and what one person adopts as gospel just might be blasphemy to the person fighting the fat along side them. Since all that shtick they’ve been handing us for years about they key to permanent weight loss being permanent lifestyle change has turned out to be totally true, it makes sense that we might not all march to the same drummer. The longer I do this, the more I believe that the key to finding what works is to keep trying things until you find what works for YOU, that magical combination of elements that helps you find your own routine, helps you settle into the rhythm that feels right to you.

Me? I’m still working on finding my groove, and for now that means that my iPod is charged, my shoes are laced, and the dog is leashed up by 5:30 AM so that I can leave the house and put one foot in front of the other, up hills, down slopes, and over the land until my feet settle into a beat that makes me forget that how damn early it is. I stand on the front porch and look out into the dark and get ready for the day.

Rhythm? Check. Music? Check. Could I ask for anything more?

How about 9 more minutes of sleep…

(This was my take on the Theme Thursday topic of "Rhythm".  You can read the other posts here)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Simple Pleasures...

We had a terribly boring dinner last night. Seriously, while edible, it was also bland--the kind of meal that you can barely even remember well enough the next day to describe it in any detail, appetizing or otherwise. In retrospect, the only adjective that perfectly describes it is B-O-R-I-N-G. And maybe the (non)word “Meh”. And the very fact that it was so unremarkable is what makes it noteworthy enough to tell you all about it.

Every so often I am seized by the realization that, as a citizen of a country that is a study in excess, I need to take steps to simplify my own little corner of this gimme-gimme world. Generally this manifests itself in two distinct ways:

1. I go stomping through the house armed with a hefty bag and an attitude and pick up the assorted flotsam that’s found it’s way into my cupboards, closets and various flat surfaces. If it can be pitched, I pitch it. If it can be donated, I bag it up. If I need it, it’s granted a reprieve and put away for future use. At the end of this exercise I torture myself by dwelling on just how much good will (read: hot fudge sundaes) I could have bought with the cash we spent on yesterdays essentials that somehow became today’s trash. Then I get over myself, enjoy all the pretty order, and get back to the business of accumulation.

2. I get out a pad and pen and take a detailed inventory of everything in my cupboards, pantry, fridge & freezer (and my super secret stash of goodies in the Rubbermaid tub out in the garage. Shhhh. Tell NO ONE.) and vow that until we’ve gone through all the food we already have in the house, we’re not buying any more.

This is not particularly a hardship, mind you. At least not at first. I have a somewhat liberal view of what constitutes a ‘staple’ food, and so am rarely without the fixins for an impromptu feast on hand at any given moment. Drop by my house unexpectedly for dinner and it’s a good bet that I can probably whip you up something tasty enough that you’ll be glad you stopped by. I thank my Sam’s Club membership and all that time I spent in culinary school for my propensity never to be without all the basics of a damn fine meal. But those same things, combined with a food issue or two that I happen to possess, also means that I often find myself with more than enough on hand to feed us for weeks at a time, and I’m seized by the need to use it all up before accumulating more.

So after purging my kitchen of what has passed it’s prime (like, say, a cake mix that expired in January 2007 or a long ignored box of hamburger helper that I remember having before we moved into the new house in December 2006) and armed with a detailed list of what’s on hand, I set about using it up in creative and delicious ways. The first week or two is pretty much status quo as the old favorites make their way through the rotation. As fresh produce supplies are dwindling (thank you Debbie Meyer’s Green Bags! Can’t live without ‘em) the menu gets a bit subdued as bags of frozen veggies are hauled out to round out unremarkable meals. It’s also about this time when you start serving up all those things that someone pleaded with you to buy only to realize that maybe the fact that they are sold by the gross should have been a hint as to the adjective that best described them (I’m refering to YOU son, and the horrible mini-taco appetizer fiasco. Yes, I know they taste like unwashed feet, but they were 12.99 so I’d develop a taste for toes if I were you).

When the cupboards and appliances start to get noticeably bare, the fare becomes hit and miss as tends to happen with forced creativity (Hmm. What can I make with pork chops, frozen ravioli and sugar free tapioca pudding mix?) until I’m eventually facing down an ancient can of sugar free cherry pie filling and an unopened box of frozen spicy black bean veggie burgers and dreading the possibilities. That’s when it’s time to make list and head out to start accumulating all the things we’ll finally be eating when the whole cycle repeats itself in a few months. Ahh. The Circle of Life.

We’re well into phase two at the moment, and after the last onion had been chopped two days ago and there was nary a can of condensed soup in sight, last night’s dinner of steamed rice, frozen green beans and grilled marinated chicken breasts made it’s way to the table. It was a fine dinner. A serviceable dinner. A sensible dinner. A simple dinner. A dinner that most people would happily consume without a second thought. It just wasn’t a typical dinner. Not for me, anyway.

There are people in this world who view food simply as fuel. A necessary part of their day to be consumed and converted to the energy they need to live their lives. I’m not one of those people. Food isn’t incidental in my life, it’s not a pleasant diversion—it’s an event, a sensory experience, an fascination and a thousand other things it probably shouldn’t be…but it is. I’m convinced that while I will likely never be cured of my obsession with food, part of learning to manage my obesity is in learning to make food less important in my life.

As I prepared last night’s dinner, I found myself ruminating on the ways it could have been better. A handful of fresh chopped parsley, chicken broth, some caramelized onion and a teaspoon of chopped almonds would have turned that steamed rice into a damn fine pilaf. A sprinkle of parmesan would have livened up those beans, and a peanut-sesame marinade whipped up on the fly would have made that plain old chicken breast delectable. But, alas, my rapidly improving Old Mother Hubbard impression wouldn’t allow for those kinds of tweaks. And so I sat down with a sigh to my boring meal…and you know what?

It wasn’t half bad.

I enjoyed the food, the company, and finished the meal with a satisfied tummy—and palate, surprisingly enough. I wasn’t tempted to lick my plate, I didn’t find myself coveting what needed to be boxed up for lunch tomorrow. It wasn’t an event, it wasn’t a sensation, it was just a meal. Sometimes food is just food.

Who knew?

Friday, September 4, 2009


In a world where the corporate dress code is increasingly a charming relic of the past, my office seems to be one of the last holdouts. In the last few years we’ve seen a few relaxations of the strict business professional atmosphere, most notably the recent abolition of the mandatory hosiery rule and the inclusion of open toed shoes on the list of acceptable footwear choices. So when we get a chance to get our denim on (at the cost of a $5 donation to rotating charitable cause), there’s nary a suit or skirt in sight. Today we get to participate in what many workplaces celebrate on a weekly basis: Casual Friday!

As a fat girl from way back, I have to admit that the love affair this country has with jeans was somewhat lost on me. While I could find jeans in my size, I also found the very nature of denim heavy and constricting (not to mention the fact that the inner thigh friction swish of denim is WAY louder than that of softer fabrics) and not particularly comfortable most of the time so I rarely chose them over more forgiving garments that didn’t hug every curve (read: lump). As I lost weight, though, I started to appreciate the magic of a good pair of jeans. For the first time in my life I wasn’t relegated to whichever pair I could fit over my ass and still manage to button—I had choices. I could try on different cuts, different leg styles, find the right rise for my newly discovered waist and hips. It was a whole new world.

Unfortunately the jeans I’d finally learned to fall in love with simply don’t fit me anymore (I believe that it’s somehow related to the 40+ pounds I’ve gained, but I can’t be sure) and I gave in a few months ago and bought some new jeans. Jeans that were not one, not two, but THREE sizes larger. I reconciled myself to them by asserting that they were only a temporary fix and I’d be back into my beloved smaller jeans…eventually. It turns out that I’m moving in the right direction, and my current fat jeans are starting not to fit--getting loose enough to be annoying, but still not loose enough to be unwearable.

So when I put them on this morning I found that even a trip through the dryer (which I never would have DREAMED of doing at my highest weight) wasn’t enough to shrink up the extra give in the waist and so I had to reach for the old staple of my thin wardrobe that had rarely seen any play as of late: a belt. I pulled my favorite (and only, for that matter) old worn wide brown leather belt (which I didn’t even buy in the fat women’s section of the store! Sure, it had two “X”s in the size, but still—REGULAR section!), threaded it through the loops on my jeans…and realized pretty quickly that it didn’t fit. I’ve got jeans that are getting too big, and a belt that’s too small. Son of a bitch.

After a few deep breaths I managed to fasten the belt using the first hole and was still able to breathe, so I hastily slipped on my shoes, herded the kid out the door and drove off to start the day. The morning passed uneventfully enough for a while, and after my first cup of coffee made it’s way through my system I stopped off in the bathroom and one of those sideways strange angle glances in the mirror stopped me in my tracks. My ill-fitting jeans cinched by and ill-fitting belt have combined to create a perfect storm of unattractive consequences.

It wasn’t so long ago that I clearly recall looking in that same mirror and liking what I saw. My size 18 jeans hugged in all the right places, elongated my legs (which always seem too short for my 5’11” frame and need all the help they can get), held in place firmly by my belt onto my newly defined hips visible beneath a soft long sleeved white t-shirt under the super cute red fleece vest hung fashionably over it and the toes of my sleek black shoes peeked perfectly out from beneath the boot cut hem that barely skimmed the floor.

But today I saw a different woman staring back at me. Swollen feet stuffed into loafers disappearing into jeans that covered Lumpy thighs and a baggy crotch below a round stomach and a roll of fat above a too-tight belt that pressed just enough through the cotton of the simple v-neck shirt over it to announce it’s presence to the world. I wanted to flee the building, grab my purse and use my cell phone on the way home to call in “fat” for the rest of the day, climb into bed and cover my head and have a good cry about what I’ve become. I really, really wanted to do that. But instead I took a deep breath and went back to my desk and told myself that since I already had my big girl pants on literally I might as well hitch them up, metaphorically speaking, too.

Then an hour ago life, as it often does, decided to add insult to injury and Mother Nature bestowed upon me a wardrobe malfunction of the variety that necessitates changing one’s pants as practical matter. So I came home, put on some non-jeans work appropriate attire, and sat down to tell you all about it. (Lucky you!)

So here I sit, infinitely more comfortable, but feeling defeated nonetheless. But I’m also determined that the next casual Friday will be less of an ordeal. I’m finally back on track and the scale is heading in the right direction, and today helped me remember where I want to get back to—and beyond. Everyone needs a nudge in the right direction sometimes, and today was just the kick in the pants I needed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lather, rinse, repeat...

I’ve been a little stressed lately. Ok, a lot stressed. But while the atypical shenanigans afoot in my life lately might be making my head spin like the Tasmanian devil, you’d likely only notice this if you looked very, very closely—and only when I didn’t know you were looking. While I might be fairly well known for having a penchant for the dramatic in some (read: many) situations and will fight ferociously for the well being of those I love (or hell, who I barely know if I detect the faint whiff of injustice in the air), I tend to hold my emotions pretty close the vest when something is bothering me. This has always been my M.O. according to the people who raised me. My father tells me that even as a very young child trying to get me to divulge what may or may not be bothering me was a lot like performing dental work on an unwilling patient, like say a raccoon. With rabies.

There is, however, one relatively reliable barometer of my mental status at any given time. If you want to know if I’ve got a lot on my plate, then just look to see how much I’ve got on my plate.

I admire those people who, when the going gets tough, fall squarely into the “tough get going” category. When there’s a crisis to be tackled at work or in the life of someone I love, I am totally one of them. But in my own life, when the going gets tough—the tough go to Long John Silvers. Or at least they did last night.

I didn’t set out to engage in fried fish therapy, mind you. In between drop off and pick up duties I actually intended to stop for a few things at the store and then hit the gym. Instead I wolfed down up a #7 seafood lovers platter with a side of clams and then took a nap (which is pretty much the same thing, right?). I could tell you that I felt bad about it at the time, but it would be a lie. Despite the fact that I’m not really even a fan of Long John Silvers (seriously, I think they should cut out the middle man and just replace all their dining room seating with toilets), every bite I took of that meal had exactly the effect I desired, each mouthful dulled the rising panic within me and left me calm and sleepy and tired enough to forget about everything that drove me to eat it in the first place. It was a familiar feeling.

Looking back over my life and at how my weight has fluctuated through the years, it’s not terribly difficult to see a pattern emerge. When harmony reigns, the balance in my life is reflected in my eating patterns and my resolve is strong and sure. But when that balance is thrown off kilter, the ground feels less sure beneath my feet and I find myself stumbling around trying to regain my footing while old habits seep out of the cracks in the foundation that seemed so strong just moments ago. I find myself reaching for food and the comfort it brings, the hazy calm that settles over me with each bite, with each swallow, with each sigh of relief that comes when the gaping hole inside of me has been filled up for the moment. Never mind that it won’t last, or that the low that follows will spin me farther into despair. All that matters right then is that temporary comfort is better than the alternative.

When the fog lifts, it occurs to me that the first step to restoring balance in my life is often taking control of my weight, and restoring my power over food usually snowballs into giving me the energy to deal with the things that threw off my balance in the first place. When I look back to see what lessons I can take with me for the next time things go haywire, it frustrates me because the line between cause and effect is blurry. Balance equals control, chaos upsets control, loss of control makes chaos worse, rock bottom chaos leads to regaining control, control facilitates balance (lather, rinse, repeat). The chicken versus eggishness of it all makes my head hurt.

So when I woke up at 5 AM with a headache, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. Neither was that familiar feeling of self loathing it brought with it. I spent some time kicking myself for what I’d done, mentally listing and re-listing my sins and calculating the damage, thinking about how long it had been since I’d done something like that. As I lay there in the dark I asked myself if this was as low as I needed to go, if I was ready to be in control again. Turns out I was. So I got up, brushed my teeth, put on my sweatpants and went to the gym.

I feel good. The darkness is lifting, and what I couldn’t face last night doesn’t seem as scary today. I feel in control, like I’m ready to find balance again.

Lather, rinse…

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Cone of Silence

Obesity is a lonely business. Because the most visible thing about us is often the very last topic up for conversation, we don’t often get the chance to talk about the fat in any meaningful capacity. We’ve erected a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ barrier around the subject, drawn a chalk line of propriety that we rarely allow to be crossed even in the most appropriate of circumstances. Whether you’ve always been the fattest person in the room, or you live in a world where you’re one amongst many, there’s not likely to be a whole lot of conversation about that fact encouraged, or even allowed.

But the great equalizer of our time, the Internet, has changed that. It turns out that there are literally millions of people out in cyberspace who are learning every day that they’re not alone in their battle with the bulge. There are approximately 1 gazillion weight loss blogs to be perused, and countless weight-related online communities with thriving memberships offering something for everyone on the subject. For me, finding a group of people who looked like me and were facing obesity on the same scale as my own was an unexpected gift, and being able to look out into the crowd and see my own face staring back at me was a singularly freeing experience.

And yet I’ve found that, like most things, too much solidarity isn’t necessarily a good thing, and everything I’ve gained by finding a place where I finally fit in is sometimes offset by the occasional loss of perspective that comes along with it.

My favorite weight loss message board is one that was created to give a home to those who are struggling with morbid obesity and face the monumental task of losing hundreds of pounds to achieve a healthy standard goal weight. It’s a very welcoming community, and the positive nature of the board is an attractive draw for many who call it home. Every once in a while, someone will show up on a fact finding mission asking for advice about their friend/spouse/loved one who has a severe weight problem. I have no real problem with this phenomenon, and although there are those who resent the occasional sightseer, I give most people the benefit of the doubt. Just today, someone popped in to ask advice about a loved one who’s weight has gotten so out of control they can barely move and are having difficulty breathing, but yet refuses to engage in any conversation about their weight problem. Tough stuff.

I sat back for a while and waited for the inevitable onslaught of responses that would advise the questioner that obesity is a very personal issue, that her loved one already knows that they’re overweight and reminding them of that fact is just being cruel, and it was only polite to speak about their weight when invited to, remembering that until someone is ready to lose weight that any criticism will likely only make things worse. As I visualized the admonitions about unconditional love, I found myself getting really, really pissed off. Not at the person asking the question, but that they had to ask the question at all. What is it about obesity that makes us still treat its discussion as an etiquette conundrum instead of the serious, dangerous health issue that it is?

What if this same person had told about how their loved one was starving themselves to death, that their weight had reached such a low number that they could barely move their wasted limbs and that their breathing had become visibly shallow and labored beneath their emaciated rib cage. Would we be talking about preserving her self esteem and remaining silent on the subject? Would we encourage the questioner to love the dying woman unconditionally because weight is a personal issue and that she already knows she’s anorexic, so to bring it up would be impolite? Would we tell her to sit back and wait until her loved one was ‘ready’ to help herself?


We’d be telling her to batten the hatches, dial 911, alert the medical professionals, call in the troops and stage an intervention to let this poor soul know just how much danger she was in and how it was affecting the lives of everyone who loved her. There would be ambulance rides and tearful pleading and declarations of support heaped upon her like a tidal wave, and we’d applaud as it crashed into the shore.

But when fat is killing someone, we tell everyone to just back off…with love. And I think that’s crap. It’s unjust. It’s patronizing.

Morbid obesity isn’t a lifestyle choice. It’s not a “personal” issue. It affects the quality of life of every family member and loved one around us—and yet we demand they remain silent on the subject. How often have we required those who love us to bite their tongues about the choices we’re making, had them sit right beside us as we devoured more and more of what was stealing our breath, our mobility, our very lives? How many times have we raised a hand to halt them telling us their fears, have we warned them against expressing the anger our out of control habits have caused them with just a look? And how often have we felt justified in doing so, in proclaiming that we’d do something about it when we were ready to—and not before? How often have we demanded their support in our weight loss endeavors, only to prohibit them from showing disappointment in our failures?

There is a piece of conventional wisdom we always throw around that says that no one will ever be successful at losing weight unless they are doing it for themselves. I disagree. I believe that some of the most powerful motivation we ever have under our belt is the desire to do right by those we love. And just maybe the gap between “unwilling” and “ready” can be bridged when someone precious to us has the guts to say, “I love you. I’m scared for you. I don’t want you do die.”

The enemy of change is silence. Obesity will never be elevated above a mere character flaw unless we allow the conversation to begin. So let’s start talking.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dear Abby...

Hello friends.

First, let me apologize for the radio silence of late. I’ve spent a long week tending to the home front, including (but not limited to) a bizarre and painful eye injury that my 14 year old son brought home from school Monday afternoon, and between visits to the ER, the pediatrician, the opthamologist, and the pharmacy frankly there just wasn’t enough energy left for me to tend to my blog. Or the laundry. Or the lawn. Or my hair, even. This little patch of the web is rarely far from my mind, though, and even in the midst of the chaos of the last several days I found myself knee deep in topical material.

As we sat in the various waiting rooms with little else to do than look around at the other people waiting there with us, it struck me just how very aware I am of the fat-content of any room I enter. I’m forever scanning the area, sizing up my obesity in relation to those around me. How much more room am I taking up than the man sitting on the other side of aisle? How much more comfortable am I than the woman struggling just to fit into the chair three seats away? How much area on this bench does my ass take up and how much space does that correspond to on the empty bench directly across from me? It’s an endless game of proximity and relativity and I’ve been playing it for as long as I can remember.

This is how I noticed a little girl I’ll call Lauren (because that’s what her Mom called her so I assume it’s her name--and because I doubt that her fundamental right to privacy is impinged upon by my mentioning her first name to the tens of readers who stop by my little patch of cyberspace) and while I don’t usually spend copious amounts of time intently watching little girls in public places, on that day I did. She was a lovely little thing, about 10 years old I’d guess with thick dark hair pulled up in a ponytail secured at the back of her perfect little head by a pink ribbon. Her blue eyes sparkled against her creamy complexion, and her white tank top covered her slim tummy where a pair of pretty plaid shorts peeked out from beneath the hem and below that her long, coltish little girl legs that seemed to go for miles before terminating in sparkly pink flip flops. As she flitted around first sitting, then standing, then pacing, then flopping back down in her chair (which, for the record, could have seated three of her comfortably, yet still didn’t leave me enough room to wedge my purse in next to me even with the aid of a handful of Crisco and a shoehorn) I found myself transfixed by just how…normal…she was.

I grew up fat. There is photographic evidence of a perfectly normal looking little girl who has my eyes and freckles and dimples all over my parents house, but after about the age of 5 ‘normal’ moved out and ‘fat’ took up residence, and it’s been squatting on my land ever since. I have no memories of those lean years, and to me it seems as though the fat has always been a part of me. I’ve always been bigger than anyone I know, and I’ve never been unaware of that fact. I’ve spent my life watching little girls just like Lauren. I’ve looked on with fascinated wonder at how easily they move through the world, how they were slim and lithe where I was broad and bulky, at how the clothes they wore certainly didn’t look like anything that came with the words “pretty plus” on the label. I used to watch them for clues about what it was that they knew that I didn’t, trying to decipher the whispered secrets of skinny girls that I just couldn’t hear no matter how hard I listened. I watched them live their lives in perfect little bodies that they seemed to take for granted, all the while living mine in one that I could never, even for a moment, forget about. I watched them and longed for what they had. I wanted to be like them, even when they made it clear that I never would. All these years later, I’m still watching.

Lauren was clearly getting exasperated with all the waiting she was being made to endure, and with a level of drama that only little girls can sustain for any length of time, she sighed her impatience to her Mother who responded by telling her it wouldn’t be much longer. Lauren rolled her eyes and asked “Well, can we at least still go to Dairy Queen after?” When her mother said that they probably wouldn’t, Lauren asked “Why not?” to which her mother replied (and I quote):

“Because you don’t want to get fat like Abby in your class, do you?”

Lauren thought for a minute, shook her head, and said “No way.”

And that’s when the nurse called her name…and they were gone.

And in that moment, I felt like I was 10 years old again. I don’t know Abby, but I sure feel like I do. I wonder if she watches Lauren too, if she wishes that she looked more like her. I wonder if she knows that she’s the warning that her classmates’ mothers use to discourage their daughters from eating ice cream. I wonder how many times in the last 30 years the name “Sara” has been uttered in similar cautionary tales. I wonder if Lauren knows how lucky she is in her own skin, if she has it in her to be kind to Abby despite just how much she doesn’t want to be fat like her. But mostly, I wonder if Abby is OK.

Dear Abby,

Where ever you are, whoever you are, you’re not alone.


Friday, August 21, 2009

No Jury on Earth...

...would convict her. At least not one that I was on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Let's give 'em something to talk about...

Yesterday on his wildly popular weight loss blog, “Jack Sh*t Gettin’ Fit” posted an open letter to a morbidly obese couple that he ran into a few times while on vacation last week. The author has a big following, and I find his posts are often good for a laugh, or a sigh, or a kick in the pants. This particular post was an interesting read. Angry, passionate and well written, it was filled with blunt observations about the eating habits of the couple and as well as some uncharitable assumptions about other aspects of their lives and the effect of those things on their children. It certainly sparked some lively conversation.

Among the responses, it would seem that most people were a member of one of two distinct factions:

1. That was awesome and you’re my hero!


2. That was hateful and you should be ashamed of yourself.

And me? I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. The truth is that I know exactly where angry diatribes like that one come from, and I also know how much validity there was in the content. It can be really, really hard to watch other people making the same mistakes that you’re ashamed to have on your own resume—especially when you’ve finally found something that’s helping you rise above those old habits, when you’re pretty sure that you’ve finally made progress toward beating your own demons and you wish that everyone else would wake the hell up and get with the program already. Hubris is a natural consequence of success, and the feeling of power that comes with control is a force to be reckoned with.

When I read Jack’s letter, I admit that I understood where he was coming from, that I nodded my head as he called out the trappings of obesity and how it affects those closest to us and that what is touted as a personal lifestyle choice is often anything but. But I also admit that I found some of what he said cruel and spiteful, and that while the subject matter didn’t give me pause, the spirit in which it was conveyed did. Maybe I felt so conflicted because I saw myself all over that letter.

I saw myself in the anger it conveyed, in the calling out of truth without remorse. I saw myself in the disgust over the choices the couple made, in the confidence in the choices I was now making and how much better off my life was as a result. But I also saw myself in the faces of the couple he wrote about, in each movement from plate to mouth, in the way it feels to have others scrutinizing your choices, in the assumptions that others make about you behind your back, or right to your chubby face. I’ve seen those scenes play out from every seat in the house, and I’ll be damned if I can pick which one had the clearest view.

One of the very best (and most frustrating) gifts that this ongoing weight loss journey has had in its hands for me is a heaping helping of humility. I’ve felt the almost cosmic power of unshakeable self-control, and I’ve felt the despair that comes with losing my grasp on it. I know that very often the behavior that I find the most objectionable in others is usually what I can barely stand to look at in the mirror. Jack’s open letter to that couple brings home to me just how powerful both feelings are, but it also cautions me not to forget that “they” aren’t the only ones out there judging us by our actions, but that “we” are ever watchful as well.

I’m glad that he posted that letter, and I’m glad that I read it. I believe that breaking the silence that surrounds obesity is key in the fight against it, and that when it’s easier to talk about the fat it’s easier to fight it. And people sure are talking…

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

WARNING: There’s a silent killer on the loose. Preying on fat girls all over the world, it whispers to them, affirming their darkest fears and convincing them that their deepest insecurities are all 100% valid and that no matter how they try to improve their lives none of it matters because at the end of the day it doesn’t change the fact that they’re just…not…worth…the work. Despite efforts to banish this murderous beast, it can’t be stopped. The media writes about it, experts raise their voices against it, but in the end it’s proven itself such a powerful foe that it can stop those it haunts their tracks. What is this foul force, you ask? I’ll tell you, but you have to promise to keep your wits about you. I’ll say it’s name, but you MUST NOT SCREAM. It is…

Low Self-Esteem.

Wait…where are you going? Why aren’t you shaking uncontrollably and nearly weeping? Where’s all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, huh? I just told you the number one cause of all weight related suffering as reported by millions of people in countless chat rooms and weight loss blogs and you can’t even muster up an appropriately terrified or sullen expression in return? Aren’t you scared of it at all?

Hmm. Me neither. Try as I might, I just can’t figure out what all the self-esteem fuss is about. Which is odd, given the almost reverent tone that is so often attached to discussions about the relative level of it each of us possesses and how that impacts many of our decisions, both food-related and otherwise. We’ve come to believe that having it in abundance is necessary for success in this world, and that not having enough of it is the reason for so many of our failures. If we just had a little more of it, we might believe that all the hard work it takes to achieve our goals was really worth the effort. If the world was nicer to us, we’d like ourselves more and if we just liked ourselves more, then we’d believe that we deserved the best life has to offer. We could have better, richer, fuller lives…but tragically, our Low Self-Esteem just won’t allow that to happen.

Forgive me, brothers and sisters, but I just drew the bullshit card from the deck—and I’m throwing it down on the table.

Just what is self-esteem anyway, how did ours get so low, and where do we get ourselves some more of it? After some intensive research (consisting of five minutes of googling) I’ve found that the concept itself is pretty simple. According to Merriam-Webster, self-esteem is defined as ”a confidence and satisfaction with one’s self”. At face value, it’s a wonder that everyone on earth isn’t bitching and moaning about not having it. None of us are confident all of the time, and only the most tiresome among us is consistently 100% satisfied with themselves and their lives. But amongst Fat America, self-esteem levels seem to be much lower than the norm. And the truth is that I understand why.

Make no mistake; it’s tough to be fat in this world. There are days when it takes all your energy to simply exist in a society that doesn’t understand you, often openly reviles you, and certainly isn’t built to handle you. In a world that reduces our weight to the result of a character flaw, I can see why so many of us lack confidence in ourselves, and how every failure we’ve had in managing our obesity chips away at what is left. I believe that, for many of us, it can erode away our self-esteem and leave us feeling less powerful than we are.

But I also believe that we often use our lack of self-esteem less as a reason for our honest and earned weight loss failings than we do as an excuse for not really trying at all. It’s one thing to genuinely suffer from a deeply wounded sense of self-esteem, and another all together to repeatedly call out that same phenomenon as our Achilles heel. In my mind, it’s the classic Catch-22: People who are truly crazy don’t know they’re crazy--and it seems to me that people who suffer from cripplingly low self-esteem generally don’t walk around talking about just how low their self-esteem is.

I understand self-loathing. I understand moments of self-hatred. I even understand reaching out within our unique weight loss community for reassurance that our darkest moments don’t define us, for someone to tell us that the worst we see in ourselves isn’t the core of who we are. I’ve been there, and I am so grateful for this community and the mirror that I’ve found within it. But I sometimes think that because we’re so willing to offer up bravos and affirmations touting our intrinsic beauty and goodness to each other in the name of building up our confidence that it can sometimes be counter productive. It’s a way to artificially fill up our self-esteem meters with kittens and rainbows and warm fuzzy intangibles instead of recognizing that it’s called SELF-esteem for a reason. It’s not something we’re born with a bank of as our birthright or that other people can give us, but something that we have to work for. We earn it each time we make a choice that honors our goals, and each time we pick ourselves up after we stumble. And the more we earn, the less willing we are to give it away to the next person who wants to take it from us.

Motivational speaker Ron Brown said something at a dinner I attended a few years ago that’s stuck with me ever since. Looking into the audience he pointed to someone near the stage and said “If I come over there and knock you out of your chair, that’s on me. But if I come back tomorrow, and you’re still rolling around on the floor, that’s on YOU.” There’s only so much good that we can do by standing around and telling each other that we’re good enough, and strong enough, and pretty enough, and talented enough to get up off the floor when we’re ready to…but sooner or later we have to quit rolling around and get back in the chair, even if it means that no one tells us what a great job of sitting back down we did.

Let’s continue to build each other up, to offer a hand to those who need it—but remember that affirmation is a partnership: One of us offers a hand, the other one reaches up and takes it. Let’s encourage each other to look within ourselves for what we want so desperately to believe—that the hard work is worth it. And so are we.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake...

There's a piece of cake in my trashcan.

Ok, ok. There's most of a piece of cake in my trashcan. Like seven-eighths of a piece. Or maybe three-fourths. Definitely two-thirds of one, anyway. At least.

I didn't set out to have cake for breakfast. I was perfectly content to go about assembling my old standby meal of yogurt topped with fresh sliced strawberries sprinkled with Fiber One cereal. But as I was heading back to fill my coffee cup, a coworker announced that there was leftover cake by the coffee bar--and not just ANY cake, but leftover WEDDING cake (And seriously, is there any cake more delectable in the whole world than white wedding cake with white icing? Call me a pastry purist, but I say a definitive no!). I walked over to it, sniffed the air and took in it's heavenly scent, and then told a coworker who was busy cutting a piece for herself that I'd pass, but I'd have one later if I still wanted it. To which she replied by taking a bite of the cake and making yummy noises and saying that I really should eat a piece now because it was crazy delicious.

She had me at "Yum".

So I cut myself a small piece (and by "small" I actually mean "of diminutive size" and not "small compared to, say, a concrete block or a baby rhinoceros"), took it back to my desk, took one bite, and then set it off to the side. As that first bite melted in my mouth, my eyes rolled into the back of my head and for a moment I forgot that it was 8:10 AM and I was eating two day old dessert from a party I wasn't invited to and just reveled in the cakey-goodness. I took a sip of coffee (to cleanse my palate, of course) and then lifted another bite to lips and thought..."Hmm. Well, this is OK I guess." Bite number three settled itself on my tongue and I found myself thinking "The frosting's a little too grainy, and the cake is moist but not terribly flavorful..." and in the seconds before my fork descended to scoop up bite number four my brain completed a complicated formula that compared flavor payoff to caloric content, and I found myself laying the fork down, picking up the plate, and tossing the rest of the cake into the aforementioned trashcan.

It's still sitting there as I type this, completely in tact (less the three bites I forked out it) where it slipped off the paper plate as I tossed it in there and came to rest on the bottom right hand side of the bin liner. Nary a crumb out of place, it lies next to a banana peel, a kleenex, about ten used sticky notes, and an empty blueberry yogurt container that were all tossed it after it as the morning progressed. I know all of this because out of the corner of my eye I can see it at the bottom of the trash can, the little red rosebud perched in the center of the creamy white icing that was spread over moist white cake as it looks up at me like an angry, unblinking eye. It's been staring at me ALL DAY.

It wasn’t that great tasting, it wasn’t so tempting that I couldn’t bear to throw it away several hours ago, and it currently has a sticky note that says “stop loss” with three exclamation points on it embedded in the bottom corner of it’s frosting…and yet there’s a part of me that wants to reach down, grab it, and shove that creamy fist full of trashcan cake right into my mouth. “But Sara, it’s in the TRASH,” you’ll argue, “and that’s just GROSS!” Yeah, well, you’re right—but sadly the mere fact that a food has a current status of garbage isn’t always enough to dissuade me from thinking about eating it (or actually doing so, for that matter). Sometimes I wish that my particular brand of crazy wasn’t of the variety that had me arm wrestling with discarded confections all day, and that there were often more impressive victories to report than “Today I didn’t pick the cake I threw away this morning out of the trashcan and eat it 7 hours later!”

But for the record, I didn’t.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Paging Mr. Power, Mr. Will Power...

I was talking to my Mom the other day, and she was lamenting (as she is wont to do) the state of her current weight and the plans that she had to send that number into decline. As we rehashed the finer (and familiar) points of calorie intake and physical activity, I thought to myself that if the Department of Homeland Security came across snippets of our conversation out of context in one of their now totally constitutional and not at all invasive phone sweeps, they might mistake us for knowledgeable nutrition and weight loss professionals instead of just a fat girl and her mom who could stand to lose a few pounds herself. After all, we talk a very good game—full of strategies and buzzwords and clear and concise plans for putting that know-how into action. Mom remarked, not for the first time I might add, that she knows exactly what she needs to do…so why doesn’t she just do it already?

Well gee, Mom. Isn’t that the sixty four thousand dollar question?

I bet if you asked any group of overweight people how to lose weight that 99% of them would be able to write you a 1,000 word essay filled with factual information and conventional wisdom on the subject without having to crack a book or pen even a single footnote. While there may be that 1% of the obese population who just recently woke up one morning and realized for the first time that they might indeed have a bit of a weight problem, most members of Fat America aren’t on their maiden weight loss voyage once they’ve reached adulthood. The concepts traditionally involved in weight loss are painfully simple: Eat Less + Move More = A Smaller Ass. I know this. YOU know this. And yet most of us can’t seem to stick to that formula for any meaningful length of time. What is wrong with us that we can’t do what we know we should? How can we see so clearly what needs to be done, but turn around and make choices that are in direct opposition to our goals? Where, we wonder, is our willpower?

It seems that some scientists are wondering the same thing, and it turns out that they’re starting to figure this whole willpower thing out.

I read a fascinating article in Psychological Science about the science behind self-regulation and the concept of willpower. You see, I subscribe to several scientific medical publications and peruse them frequently for light reading material to amuse myself when I have a moment of free time between Mensa meetings or while using the bathroom. Or I might have heard about the article on the radio this morning and then googled it. I forget which. The article states that in a world where lack of willpower & self-regulation is at the root of many societal problems (obesity, addiction, consumer debt, violence, infidelity, crime, etc.), the science of willpower has become a priority for scientific study.

Over the years, many psychologists and biologists (and neurologists, oh my!) have been working to learn about the various ways that human beings regulate their behavior. Self-discipline is one of the hallmarks of humanity, and the ability to make choices that defer immediate gratification in favor of the promise of a future payoff is one of the central characteristics that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. And yet most of us have trouble in some area of our life with regulating ourselves as much as we’d like to, or as much as we think we should. And when we find that we can’t rein ourselves in, we blame our lack of willpower for the failing.

In the weight loss world willpower a precious commodity, something that we long to have a good supply of, but too often seem to lack completely. We envy in it in others, we ask each other how we can get more of it (like we’re secretly hoping that someone knows the name of a guy who hangs out in back of the local Burger King and sells it out of the trunk of his car or something), and lament how we once had it in our hands it but it slipped through our grasp. We admire the people who have it in abundance, and we kick ourselves for letting ours fade away. And no matter how much of it we have, we always want more.

According to scientists, willpower is a lot like a muscle. We can choose to flex it, but it takes effort to exercise it—and just like any muscle that’s not used to being used regularly, it gets sore. Each individual seems to have a finite amount of it to use at any one time, and each successive situation that requires us to call up on our willpower can tire that muscle out. As I read this theory of willpower as muscle, it seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I know that, for me, my ability to control my behavior with food seems to be directly related to how much control I feel I have over the rest of my life. When my world is in balance and things are going swimmingly I have no problem calling upon my willpower to turn down a high calorie delicacy that doesn’t fit into my plan because I know that doing so will only keep me further from my goals. But if my world is in chaos, if I’ve already had to talk myself out of listing my child on Craig’s List under “Free Teenager, You Haul him away, you make my day!”, or had to stop myself from yelling at the jerk in the Jetta who cut me off on the expressway that morning, resisted the urge to tell a frustrating coworker exactly where they can put that last minute emergency request of theirs, and had to pry the third smallest piece of a set of hand painted nesting dolls that my parents brought me from their trip to Russia a few years ago out of a 70 pound Labrador Retriever’s jaws…then my ability to turn down an offer of “Hey, let’s go out for Mexican!” in favor of grilled chicken breasts, steamed broccoli and whole wheat cous cous is severely impaired. My willpower is no longer a shapely and taut muscle to flex for the world, but is sad and limp like a dunked cruller. (Mmmmm. Dunked Crullers.)

But if willpower is like a muscle, the big question is: Can we strengthen it through exercise? Interestingly enough, the answer seems to be yes. We can work it like any other muscle to make it stronger and more efficient for use in the future. Those of us with food issues can do exercises like tracking our food intake (Yep—turns out there’s a method to all that much lamented food journaling stuff they keep telling us is key to our weight loss success), through practicing our responses to difficult situations (Visualization, not just for hippies anymore!) and by repeated use of willpower in lower stress environments (that whole “fake it ‘till you make it” shtick might not be just an annoying catch phrase after all). And some studies also suggest that merely observing other people exercising self control helps us to make better choices in our own lives. (This means I can count catching up on my favorite weight loss bloggers' adventures each day as exercise. Hooray!)

It encourages me to think about willpower not as a trait that I just don’t have, but as a tool that I can develop. My willpower muscle might be flabby and lack tone, but I’m working to strengthen it, to move it and shake it and give it definition so that I’m no longer ashamed of how weak it is, but confident enough to show it off to the world. I think I can make that happen.

And then I’m going to do the same thing with my butt…

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How It Happens

(orignally posted here)

I’d like to send a special shout out to all the first time visitors (and kisses to my returning visitors, too!) who breezed by my little patch of the web yesterday. I’m not sure how it happened, but July 29, 2009 was a banner day here at with over 300 unique users clicking in. I started this website because I was tired of the silence surrounding obesity, and I was hoping that that there were other people out there who were too—and I haven’t been disappointed! Breaking my silence and starting a conversation about the fat and everything that comes with it and what it takes to fight it has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life, and I am so glad to have found you all and to still be here and still be talking.

It’s an uncomfortable dialog for most of us, because it turns out that living with obesity and talking about obesity are two completely separate endeavors. When we go out into the world, we wear our condition not just on our sleeves, but stuffed tightly into them. Our obesity is the most immediately visible, identifiable thing about us…and yet we’d rather just not talk about it thankyouverymuch. I sometimes think that because we cannot hide the fat from the world that we compensate for that by clinging fiercely to our intellectual and emotional privacy on the subject.

But I believe that the enemy of change is silence, and the world isn’t waiting for us to get comfortable, they’re starting to talk about it now—and I figure that those of us who are intimately familiar with the subject should probably enter the conversation. Case in point:

On the front page of the Omaha World Herald this morning is a story about the efforts of local fire & rescue officials to purchase emergency equipment to accommodate the increasing number of severely obese people they are called upon to help. The article (you can read it here) discusses possible plans for adding a special ambulance to the fleet that has an integrated winch, a larger compartment and a reinforced floor to accommodate larger passengers. They also talked about newly available stretchers with higher weight limits and hydraulic lifts, as well as detailing several creative ways that fire & rescue crews have been forced to transport obese patients. Plans to acquire both a forklift and a construction crane that would be ready in an on-call capacity were also mentioned.

I am getting better at reading articles like this without my insult-o-meter rising immediately to stack-blowing status and having smoke shoot out my ears. I accept that obesity is not exclusively a personal matter, but a medical issue worthy of scrutiny and a societal issue that must be addressed. The article in question deals with the subject matter in a dignified and fair fashion, I think, and the questions of how to deal with a growing severely morbidly obese population need to be answered. It is estimated that that there are currently over two million people in this country who weigh 550 pounds or more and the inevitability of the need for medical attention for them requires us to do some planning. I read the article with interest and empathy, all the while knowing that many people would see it and feel much differently about what they read.

The hosts of my favorite morning radio show read the article too, and their reaction was what I expected it would be. Some shock, some horror, a little bit of snide joking, a smattering of serious head bobbing, and a nearly total lack of understanding of obesity in general. This doesn’t surprise me, because the truth is that the most of the world doesn’t understand much about obesity either. Even those of us who live with it don’t know much about it beyond the idea that fat people eat too much. Medical science is just beginning to do some real research into the condition, but still has yet to elevate obesity above the status of a mere character flaw and lend credibility to the idea that there might be more complicated causal factors involved than “too much pie”. The radio personalities commented on the major themes of the article, pontificated broadly about the “obesity epidemic” in this country, and then settled on the real question that was weighing on their minds:

How, they wondered, could someone let themselves get so big?

I understand why they don’t know how that could happen. Part of being able to blame someone’s weight problem exclusively on their own slovenly nature and inability to control oneself with food is believing that morbid obesity could happen to anyone. That way, they can point out that they know how to stop themselves form eating too much on a regular basis, so we can all assume that everyone else should be able to do the same.

But the truth is that not everyone has the natural potential in them to be morbidly obese. Many, many people on this earth are blessed with bodies that don’t long for food the way that mine does, with brains that don’t spend their days and nights consumed by the thought of it. Most people aren’t even physically capable of eating enough food on a regular basis to gain an extra 100 pounds (or 200, or 300, or 500) without making a concerted, directed (and kuh-RAY-zee, I might add) effort to do so. To them, the idea of ever letting your weight spiral out of control the way that so many of us have is, literally, unthinkable.

But I do understand how it could happen, because I know how it happened to me. I’ve been overweight for the majority of my life. When I look back at my progression from normal sized little girl to morbidly obese adult, it is interesting to me to see just how fat I wasn’t, comparatively. I’ve joked that if you stacked up a portrait of me for every year between the ages 6 and 36 and used the edge of your thumb to reveal them in quick succession you’d have a flip-book that could be titled “Girl gets lips stuck on bicycle pump”. What started out as a minor weight problem grew incrementally with the passage of time. Later in my life, as I crossed each line I drew in the sand of the weight I said I’d definitely never go higher than, I drew a new one a few pounds higher. And when I crossed that one, I drew another, and another, and another, until one day I was so scared to see whether I’d crossed that line…that I stopped looking all together. And that’s how I imagine that it happens for many people who weigh so much that they’re no longer able to leave their homes. I think they woke up one day and realized that the unthinkable had become the status quo…so they just stop looking. I can see how it could happen to them. I can see how it could have happened to me.

More importantly, I can see how it still could.

So there you have it, Big Party Morning Show on-air personalities. That's how it could happen. Any other questions?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm Fat as Hell, and I'm Not Going To Take it Anymore...

Last night as I rounded the last corner before the homestretch at the end of my evening walk, I found myself in possession of that enviable post-workout energy spurt, the feeling that even though I’ve just purposely taxed my muscles and cardiovascular system with heavy footfalls over hilly terrain for 3 miles, I actually feel better than I did when I started. It doesn’t always happen that way for me, I admit. Most days I find that the first 15 minutes of my walk are spent trying to quell the internal bitching that runs on a constant loop in my brain, a steady stream of various versions of “This sucks!” that I have to work to silence, reminding myself that they’ll pass soon enough once I find my rhythm and the audio book du jour sucks me into the story it’s telling. Most of the time my post workout moments are spent in equal appreciation of the fact that I did what I set out to do, and that it’s done with for the day.

But last night I felt downright buoyant, sucked into a great story being broadcast from my ear buds (you can have my iPod when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers!), and decided to take advantage of that feeling and stay out for a bit longer and enjoy it. I eyed the flower beds and deftly pulled the weeds that were sprouting out from under the mulch, I added some river rock to the strip below the downspout in the front yard to facilitate drainage, and I unrolled the hose off of it’s reel and set about positioning the sprinkler to give the front yard a good soaking as the sun went down. As I worked to make sure that the arc of the spray was exactly where I wanted it, I bent down to adjust the stops.

As I fiddled with the sprinkler head, I saw a car as it came to the corner of our street and turned in the direction of my house. The aging Honda’s windows were down, and as it turned up the street toward me, the car slowed. I looked toward it and saw the three young men in the car glancing at each other, and then at me. As they passed by, the driver leaned out the window, and gave an exaggerated wolf whistle and the two other men in the car began to laugh and one yelled out “Work it, Fat Bitch!” before they all three burst into giggles and sped away.

Acting instinctually, I responded by raising my arm and displaying the second finger on my right hand in a prominent way to them as they drove off (classy, no?), while watching their car disappear over the hill. When they were out of sight, it took a few moments before I realized that I was still flipping the bird to the empty road. It occurred to me that I’d better check to make sure that none of my neighbors were standing upwind of me right now, lest they mistake my rude gesture as meant for them. Thankfully, I found myself the lone figure standing outside. I would like to tell you how little the events of the previous minute or two affected me, how I shook my head at the silly little boys and their childish insults, and then set back about the business enjoying the post-workout high that I’d earned that night. I’d like to, but I can’t. I was too busy standing in my front yard trying not to cry.

This is not exactly my first experience with this kind of unsolicited vocalization. In my 38 years on this earth, I have had countless encounters of a similar nature with the peanut gallery. I’ve been the victim of drive by moo-ings, had diet advice directed loudly in my direction (helpful things like “Why don’t you lose some weight, fat ass!” as my 12 year old self rode by on my ten speed), and heard perfect strangers mutter unkind things about me under their breath (or at the top of their lungs). I’ve been passed notes that expressed their displeasure about my physique, and even received strange hand written notes about new weight loss products in the mail. People have been able to convey to me just how offensive the very presence of my fat body was to them without them having to say a word, and I’ve been judged and derided in public with more arched eyebrows and disgusted smirks than most averaged sized people will ever seen in a lifetime. The unapologetic hatred that obesity unleashes in so many people is such a common phenomenon that you’d think that I’d be used to it by now, that I could laugh it off as societal ignorance and go on about my merry way. You’d think.

A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of fellow weight loss blogger Diana, I added the movie “Disfigured” to our Blockbuster Online queue. Just last week, it showed up in the mailbox and I popped it in the DVD player and sat down to watch. It’s a charming little indie flick about the unlikely friendship between two women, one obese and the other anorexic, who meet at a fat acceptance group meeting (While not a cinematic tour de force, it was certainly a worthwhile use of 2 hours of my time and I think it would be an excellent conversation starter, check it out).

In several scenes during the film, while the obese woman is out for her regular walk near the beach a homeless man taunts her with jokes about her weight, berating her and even calling for others standing by to call the coast guard, because “we got a beached whale” up here. And each day, she bites her tongue choosing to walk on by despite his continued taunts. Finally, one day she can stand no more and asks him what his problem is. He tells her that he’s simply exercising his first amendment right of free speech, and she screams back at him “Oh really? Well, you live in a cardboard box, you’re just a smelly, broken down, homeless, drug addicted, alcoholic, stinky, scabby human disaster area!”

He looks back at her and responds, “Maybe. But at least I’m not fat.”

And if that just doesn’t say it all, then I don’t know what does. I believe that my obesity scares the crap out of people, makes them confront their own worst fears about what it might be like to lose the tenuous control they have on their own bodies and lives. Hating me is easy, it helps them believe that no matter what disappointments their own life has handed them or how grievous their own failings are, that it could always be worse. There are so many loathsome, horrid things that a human being can be. A terrorist. A serial killer. A pedophile. A wife-beater, a child-killer, an ex-NFL player serving time for running a dog-fighting ring.* A liar, an adulterer, a crazy communist dictator who oppresses his people. You can be stupid, or cruel, or insane, or a drug addicted homeless man, or even a twenty something, inbred, 1996 Honda driving fool with a talent for whistling and a loud mouth…but count your blessings because it could be worse: You could be FAT.

As I stood there last night and stared up at the now deserted street, it occurred to me that the quality of what I was feeling wasn't as familiar to me as the situation that prompted it was. I wasn't standing in my yard with my shoulders slumped and holding back tears of shame. I was standing with my shoulders back, my chin held high, and the tears that threatened to fall down my cheeks were tears of rage, of anger over a lifetime spent believing that every good thing about me was mitigated by the fat on my body. I'm not willing to believe that anymore. So I stood there for a moment longer, my arm still oustretched in a one finger salute--not at the car of buffoons that was long gone by now, but at the whole damn world.

*special thanks to my friend Bill for correcting my sports association faux pas.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sometimes You're the Donut, Sometimes You're the Hole...

Approximately 30 feet away from my desk is a gigantic cardboard box full of deep fried dough, powdered sugar, icing & glaze in various shapes and configurations. I'm not sure how I offended my higher power today that made him toss this little test of will into my life but whatever it was I'M SORRY ALREADY, OK? Can't I just rattle off a couple of novenas or do three good deeds so we can call it even? Did you have to go all old testament on me and put some obstacle in my path that I've got to hurdle to prove that I'm steadfast in my quest? If so, then did it have to be donuts? I've got a perfectly good 14 year old boy at home that you could have asked me to take up to a mountain top and sacrifice as a test of my obedience, and I thought that the pimple on my left cheekbone might already qualify as a mild plague of boils, but NOOOooooOOOOooo--you had to pull out the big guns and send deep fried breakfast pastries my way. Thanks for that.

The irony here is that I don't really care too much about donuts. It's not one of those foods that I'd knock over a 4 year old to get to if we were both reaching for the last one (but if that kid was eyeing the last Wheatfield’s caramel pecan roll or Nathan's hot dog, then he'd better be wearing a cup and a helmet). Donuts don't generally tempt me to distraction, with three exceptions:

1. A cream-filled, chocolate iced donut from Krispy Kreme. And before you ask—no, bavarian cream won't do--just the fluffy stuff. I have standards.

2. A raised cherry blossom donut from Pettit's. So yummy, and I maintain that their pinkish tinge and hint of cherry flavoring allows me to count them as a fruit.

3. A chocolate iced "Old-Fashioned" from Winchell's. Sometimes I like to kick it old-school and have been known to purchase and eat two* of these in a sitting.

But despite my lack of (general) affinity for donuts, the box of them on the coffee bar is consuming my every thought. After actively avoiding them for the first half hour of their existence in my world, I finally strolled back just to take a look at them. And maybe have a little sniff. Or two. Or seven. I looked over the offerings and was pleased to see that there wasn't anything there that made me feel like I needed to drop my face directly into the box and go bobbin-for-pastries. There were a few melted-looking glazed donuts, a cinnamon twist or two, a couple of fruit filled rounds with white icing, some cake donuts with sprinkles (have I ever mentioned that I loathe sprinkles? I like the idea of them, and I love that you can match your dessert item to your decor with just a flick of the wrist, but chewing on those waxy little pellets is about as appealing to me as grating a votive candle over a stack of hot pancakes. Even the most perfect cookie ever made, the Eileen's Frosted Sugar Cookie, can be rendered inedible by the addition of a handful of sprinkles smashed into their heavenly, light-as-a-feather-creamy-as-a-dream almond flavored icing. So sad.) and one pathetic looking smashed cherry danish. I closed the box lid and walked back to my desk not feeling as though I was depriving myself of anything notable.

And yet, here I sit, writing about the donuts that I'm not eating. What's up with that?

I suppose that it's not so much that there are donuts back there that I'm not eating that's bothering me--it's that there's food of ANY kind in the room that I'm not eating that's got me all distracted and fidgety. I bet that if I was a recovering crack addict, I probably wouldn't be able to happily ignore a big pile of cocaine on the coffee table just because I'd rather smoke my rock than snort it. Sometimes I can't even handle the idea that there are kit-kat bars in a closed cabinet in the far corner of the room, or that there is ice cream in the freezer in the garage, or that there's a fiber one bar in my bottom desk drawer that I'm saving for later because if those things are where they are then they're not in my mouth which, as far as I'm concerned, is where anything edible should be.

This feeling will pass, and the truth is that just putting fingers to keyboard has helped to quell the rising panic that close proximity to uneaten food often causes me. There is also truth in the idea that not eating what I could eat if I wanted to can send my personal-power meter up a tick or two higher than my self-loathing meter thus tipping the scales toward the whole experience spurring me further on toward my goals. All those fringe religious groups who tout self-torture as a growth tool would nod along with me when I assert that sometimes victory is sweeter when you don't emerge from battle unscathed, and you get to point to your bloody lip and say "yeah, but you should see the OTHER guy!". I'm a little bruised but, for today anyway, I win.

Sara: 1 Donuts: 0

*read: four

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wanna read more?

You can read my full blog archives on "The Soapbox" page here.