No Offense, But Serenity Sucks! Weight Loss & Not Giving In to the “Inevitable”

We’ve all heard of the Serenity Prayer, and while I try hard not to roll my eyes whenever anyone mentions it, I admit that in some instances, you really do have to accept the things you cannot change and hope you can recognize what those things are.

However, how many times have we looked at a situation and just decided “I guess that’s just something I can’t change so I’m just have to accept it.” Is this really something we can’t change or are we just giving up? That’s what I mean when I say serenity sucks! How many times do we lump a situation in with other “I can’t change these” situations just because they are really hard? I”m not going to give you the old Edison ‘50,000 ways not to make a light bulb’ story but I am going to toss out of his best quotes: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Yes, change is hard. Yes, you may fail many times before you finally succeed. Does that mean you should just give up because it’s hard? No! It means we need to keep trying. I know we’ve all heard horror stories about someone who “just kept trying” and ended up spending their entire life struggling with something they could never achieve.  [The 19th Century Computer Genius] Sometimes we end up doing the best we can and still not hit the goal, but, at the risk of becoming existential, is the ‘goal’ really the point, or is it really the journey itself?

I have struggled with my weight since I was in 5th grade. Throughout my teenage and adult life, I’ve lived with the “Fat” label attached to everything I’ve done. In college, one of my managers told me I’d never rise any farther in the company because I was fat, and later as an adult, I had another boss send me to a bariatric surgeon. I’ve come home to find the latest diet books on my doorstep courtesy of my mother, who’s also offered all kinds of bribes from new wardrobes to European vacations as incentives to lose weight.  “Weight Loss” has always been the shining sparkly magical goal always out of reach during my life.  I’ve been told that everything in my life will be better “once you lose weight!”

I’m not going to lie: after losing 130-plus pounds, there are a whole lot of things in my life that really are better! Walking, moving, sleeping, being active: all of these are much better having lost that much weight. Physically, I feel better overall.  Emotionally? I still feel like the Fat Woman, mainly because I still need to lose probably another 100 lbs.  Does that mean I still haven’t hit my Weight Loss Goal? Does that mean I will never hit my Goal? Should I just accept that I can’t change this and accept that I will always be fat? I’ve been trying to do this since I was 11 years old and I’ve still only achieved partial success.

Struggling with my weight, trying not to gain, trying to lose pounds and failing over and over has taught me a lot over my lifetime, because at one time, I did just give up. In my forties, I just accepted  “I will always be fat and I should just learn to live with it.” What happened? I wasn’t any happier having “accepted being fat.” Telling myself that I didn’t have to try to lose weight or look at new diets or say no to chips because “hey, I can’t change being fat!” did not stop my wanting to be thinner and healthier or hating the fact that everything hurt and was harder for me at my weight.

Having achieved a measure of success, I have learned that it really isn’t the Goal that matters: it’s the Getting-There that is the point. The struggle to lose weight has truly been overwhelming at some points but having struggled, having failed, having given up and having returned to the fight, I have learned that it is the struggle that gives you strength.  I don’t have to hit a certain magical Weight Loss Goal to be happy.  I don’t have to look the way everyone else thinks I should look.  I can be smart, attractive, and professional at any weight. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself.  Even if there are things about myself that I want to change but never can, am I going to feel proud of myself for giving up and accepting that I can’t change this, or am I going to feel proud of myself for continuing to try?

I am sure there are people who think I should just accept that I will always be obese, especially at this point in my life.  I am also sure there are people who think I am trying to lose weight “the wrong way.” There are always people who are happy to tell you what you should do and how you should do it and what you are doing wrong.  A lifetime of fighting my weight has definitely taught me that! But giving up? Never again!

Insecurities: Weight Loss & Being Fearless

No one likes talking about their insecurities.  It’s been said that our own insecurities stem from our own judgment of ourselves.  The idea is that we are used to passing judgment on others and assume that they will pass judgment on us, so we are constantly insecure about how we look and how we act. I find it a little ironic that insecurity and passing judgment have become such hot topics right now. One of the more popular movies in theaters now is the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and if anyone ever embodied the word “fearless,” it is Freddie Mercury.  In fact, one of the film’s posters has the legend “Fearless lives Forever.” (Fearless) Obviously, we all have our own insecurities and self-doubt, and I am sure Freddie was no different.  What does make a difference is whether we choose to let these insecurities and self-doubt get in the way of living our lives.

Many of us use our doubt and insecurity to hide from what we want to do and how we want to live.  We are afraid of being judged by others and ourselves for what we do and what we want to do.  Weight loss and dieting are full of judgment and self-doubt! We are constantly being told what we are doing wrong. Just last night I saw a tv commercial telling us that counting calories and cutting carbs is the wrong way to achieve weight loss- it’s our hormones that are the problem! By signing up with this program, we can fix our hormones! What the ad didn’t say is that we can control our hormones by how much we eat and what we eat, including carbs.  While I’m sure this program has had some success, I don’t think the only way we to lose weight is by forking out money to this weight loss guru so he can let us in on his little secret.

But by implying that “we’re doing it wrong,” he and others are playing on our insecurities.  We start doubting ourselves.  We start wondering if everyone else is going to tell us how wrong we are for not following “the right diet.”  Let’s be honest: no one likes being told they’re wrong! No one likes being laughed at or being made to feel stupid either.

Fear of what other people think is one of the biggest reasons people hide the fact that they are trying to lose weight and why so many people don’t go to the gym or even exercise the way they want. Those are valid fears: there are a lot of judgmental people out there in addition to those who will just give you ‘free advice.’  The Judges will flat out tell you what you are doing wrong and how you will never achieve lasting weight loss following “that weight loss plan!”  The Free Advisors will give you all the details about this other weight loss plan they heard of that worked great for their cousin’s boyfriend’s sister.  Some of them may be trying to make you feel insecure about how you are eating or what you are choosing to eat (and not eat), and then there are those who really want to help but don’t realize they are undermining your self-confidence.  We shouldn’t feel like we need to hide how we eat to avoid unwanted criticism!

While some of us can get by at luncheons and restaurants by surreptitiously avoiding the carbs, high fat sauces or starches, it’s harder when it comes to working out.  While weight loss isn’t driven by exercise, being active is an important part of being healthy, and for most of us, once we begin losing weight, we feel the urge to be more active.  However, being insecure about our appearance is one of the primary reasons people avoid the gym.  Who wants to go to a gym full of fit athletic people when we look in the mirror and see a pudgy blob in a t-shirt and sweatpants? News flash: YOU are the one putting that label on YOURSELF! Why are you assuming that’s what other people are going to think about you? Frankly, there are probably a lot of people at the gym who aren’t even going to notice you because they are too busy worrying about what other people (i.e., you!) are thinking about them! Even if they did notice you and say something rude or judgmental, do you really care about a complete stranger’s opinion?

This is where we fight the self-doubt and insecurity by growing a thick skin and some self-confidence. It’s not easy getting used to negative comments or criticism.  My mother was my worst critic for most of my life and I learned at a young age I could either give in to her judgments and change how I lived to suit her, or I could ignore the negativity and live my life the way that suited me. (FYI: my mother hates the music I listen to, including Queen!) For most of us, ignoring a stranger’s obnoxious comment is one thing but ignoring family members and friends is much more difficult.  It takes some courage to say “I am doing this my way” when it’s someone you care about, and it can be harder still when the critic really thinks they are being helpful.  It takes time, practice and a little tact to build up the self-confidence.  Frankly, I was never good at tact: I just ignored the comments and did what I wanted to do!  If there is anything any of us learn when it comes to weight loss it is that what works for one person may not work for you.  Your sister’s boyfriend’s mom may have lost a boatload of weight on Nutrisystem but that’s no guarantee it will work for you, and there is no shame or rudeness in telling them this!  We don’t have to be afraid of trying things our way and doing the things we want to do just because we don’t want to be singled out as “different” or “wrong” or “foolish.”

We can be afraid of going to the gym and being laughed at.  We can be afraid of being criticized for choosing the weight loss plan that we like.  We can be afraid of working out the way we want because others think it’s not good enough.  We can live our lives being afraid or we can learn to be fearless of criticism and judgment.  Being fearless doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes but it’s our right to make them and hopefully we’ll learn from them. If we really want to be the best versions of ourselves, we need to keep moving forward despite the judgment of others.  I really think that is why artists like Freddie Mercury appeal so much to me: I want to be fearless too. (Champions)

 

 

Motivating Weight Loss: Oysters, Big Fruit & Cliches

Motivation is always a hot topic because it tends to be short-lived.  We hear a great podcast or see something online and we get all fired up.  We want to make progress and we want that progress to be fast! Go to it, guys! Burn that fat! Cut those carbs!

We all know it takes a lot of energy to keep at it, doing whatever program or plan we are following and the motivation eventually burns out because we can’t keep that fire going without constantly stoking it.  That means several times a week, we have to find something to keep that motivation burning hot so our progress doesn’t fizzle along with the motivational fires.

However, there’s something else that can keep us motivated that might not be as fun as listening to an inspirational podcast or a motivating YouTube video and that’s a bit uncomfortable because it’s discomfort. It’s not fun and it’s not pretty but it’s a major reason a lot of us end up losing weight and getting healthier.

I know lots of people like to use the idea of the little grit of sand that gets stuck in an oyster so the oyster turns it into a lovely pearl, blah blah, yadda yadda. Yeah. It’s a cute perky little cliche: we go from being ugly gritty sand into beautiful pearls! Ugh…. too perky for me! And any transformation into a ‘pearl’ takes a long long time- those pearls we pull out of those oysters took many many years to develop!

Of course, the cute perky response is that we are all ‘pearls’ to begin with, not gritty bits of dirt, but the truth is most of us feel like gritty bits of dirt. Why? Because we are uncomfortable! And though most of us come to loathe those feelings of discomfort, that discomfort is really what gives us constant encouragement to change.

Remember when you brought out your dressy blouse/ shirt for that important occasion only to be shocked that it’s too tight? Or when you went to button up your jeans and they also didn’t fit anymore? Even worse, you couldn’t get your good slacks up over your butt? How about all those times you had to suck in your gut to get the seatbelt in the car or the plane to reach across you? Or when you had to loosen the straps on your sandals because your feet are bigger than last summer?

It’s an embarrassing reality check and it makes us feel uncomfortable, just like all those chairs at restaurants where the arms dig into your thighs. Embarrassing. Uncomfortable.  This emotional and physical discomfort is important: it’s called an impetus. It’s what ultimately spurs some of us to change how we eat and how we live and it’s a daily reminder of why we need to change, so when we start thinking that “305 lbs isn’t the end of the world,” the next time we have to lay on the bed and suck in our gut to zip up our jeans (and then hope we don’t drop anything while we’re wearing them!), there’s that little annoyingly uncomfortable reminder of why 305 may not be the end of the world but it still doesn’t mean we have to live with it!

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of online ads for Big Fig mattresses.  It’s a mattress for a “fuller figured” individual and the ads show a plus-sized person lounging comfortably on the mattress reading, sleeping, with their tablet, etc.  Frankly, instead of being intrigued, I was outraged.  Why are we making it easier for people to accept being fat?? Instead of encouraging them to lose weight, they are making it easier for them to stay where they are: overweight and possibly unhealthy.  Now before you jump all over me for criticizing the obese (of which I am one), I realize there is a need for ‘heavy duty’ mattresses for the ‘heavy duty’ sleeper. I also realize that by making it easier for people to feel comfortable with their weight, they are reducing their impetus to change.  In other words, unless you feel the discomforting reason to lose weight, it’s easier for you to stay the weight you are and as all of us obese people know, we rarely stay at that weight: most of us gain, either quickly or slowly, but gain nonetheless.  So while we might be 305 now in 2018, come 2020 we will probably be at least a few pounds closer to 350, and come 2022, probably closer still if we haven’t passed it already.  Why? It’s not because we want to be fat and unhealthy– it’s because we don’t have any nagging little uncomfortable reason to change how we are living! (Read about the mattress for yourself: Big Fig Mattress Review )

When I was in high school way back in the 1980’s, I was already at the limit for ‘plus-sized’ clothing and that was about a size 20 or so. I remember buying school clothes one year and the only pants they had in my size were horrible old-lady looking styles in some horribly bright reds and blues.  I was mortified that I would have to wear these to school!  (FYI: the only person at my school who was bigger than me made her own clothes!) Now, although I weigh a whole lot more than I did in high school, I can go to a variety of different stores and find a whole lot of gorgeous clothes in colors and styles that are actually too big for me! I can find clothes in brick-and-mortar stores in my town all the way up to 32-34! Why the change? Because Americans overall have gotten more and more obese! There is a market for these clothes in stores, not just online, just like there is a market for Big Fig mattresses! People who are ‘plus-sized’ need clothes and furniture and mattresses and seatbelt extenders and all kinds of accommodations.  In fact, if you are a business and cannot (or will not) accommodate a plus-sized client or employee, you might find yourself on the wrong end of some legal action.

I don’t want to encourage discrimination against the obese, especially since I could find myself on the receiving end of it. I love having a lot of clothing options as well as getting some cool shoes that fit too, but I worry that making it easier to be plus-sized is doing more harm than good.  Being constantly reminded that we are larger than is healthy for us is a good thing. It’s that constant discomfort that makes us want to change! Think about it: while you were out with your friends in those suck-in-your-gut jeans, was it easier or harder to say no to the fries with the burger or the cheesecake for dessert? Didn’t that metal button digging into your gut tell you “not a good idea?” How about that seatbelt that barely made it across your lap? Didn’t it remind you that a second trip to the buffet might be pushing it? Or those shoes that pinch or that blouse/shirt where taking a deep breath might cost you a button? All those little uncomfortable reminders are urging you to skip the buffet and have a yogurt instead or maybe forgo the House of Cards binge until after you’ve gone for long walk (you can take the dog so it’s not really ‘exercise’!)

I know there are people who are happy with their weight even though the rest of the world considers them obese.  I don’t want to point at them in condemnation. If they are happy with their health and their body, I congratulate them!  (I myself will probably always be considered obese by the rest of the world.) But I do want to question the wisdom of making us feel just a little too comfortable. We have plus-sized clothing, extra wide chairs and plus-sized mattresses  and those are good. Everyone deserves to be comfortable in their skin and in their home, but there is a price to pay for that comfort and I don’t mean the price tag on the clothing or furniture.  I mean the price tag on our health and our bodies. Most of us carrying extra weight feel it on our joints even if we don’t see it in our blood sugar or our blood pressure. We minimize the effect our weight has on our lives until it’s literally too much for us to ignore and by then, we’re suffering health problems from it.  Our weight keeps us from doing some things we might want to do because we are afraid of being embarrassed or because we physically can’t do the activity.  Those are the nagging little reminders that we can be healthier and more active, but then we go home to our comfy chairs and get into our comfy lounge clothes and we forget how uncomfortable we were.  All of us have some kind of limits on our lives, either those we put upon ourselves or those put upon us by circumstance.  Just make sure your weight isn’t something you’ve allowed to limit your life and happiness.

 

Minus the Negatives: Weight Loss & Positive Reinforcement

Most of us who are trying to lose weight tend to focus on the negatives and what we’re doing wrong.  I believe it comes from too much outside influence.  We all have that family member or ‘friend’ who is only too eager to point out where and how you messed up again.  So naturally, that’s what we look for since our errors have been pointed out repeatedly (and gleefully) by everyone in our lives to whom we turn for guidance.

At the risk of doing it again, that’s wrong!  Seriously, though, while it can be helpful, focusing only on the negatives and the errors is negative reinforcement.  Some of you may remember that I have dogs (I also have a pet blog where I blab about them endlessly!) But I’ve learned a lot from having dogs in my life since forever and one of the most important things I’ve learned is the value of positive reinforcement.

When I started college (back in the ’80’s– aack!), one of my first classes was Intro to Psychology where the professor explained the difference between negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement, and since I had recently gotten my first Yorkie, I decided I would use positive reinforcement to teach him and he learned so fast that I’ve used it with all my dogs.  It’s the only way I teach my pets what I want them to do and not do.  What’s more important is that it’s fostered a sense of trust among us and a natural inclination to listen to each other.

We all know what negative reinforcement is even if we don’t know what it’s called.  It’s where your dog pees on the rug and you shout and spank him and rub his nose in it so he “knows not to do it again!”  I’m pretty sure that’s never worked for anyone I know who has dogs.  It teaches them to hide from you and to be afraid of you.  With positive reinforcement, if I find that one of them peed on the rug, I point at it, tell them “no” in a firm voice and then clean it up.  No shouting or spanking or nose-rubbing.  When we go outside and they do their business where they’re supposed to, I make a big deal about how they’re the best doggies in the whole world ( because they are!) and it encourages them to do it again.  They make the connections: “outside= yay! great doggies! and inside = blah.” Why pee inside and get blah when I can pee on the lawn and be the best puppy in the whole world?  I gotta pee anyway so why not get praised for it?

Some people think that adding negative reinforcement to that increases the connection: “inside = bad spanking but outside = good doggie!”  The problem is that whole ‘teaching them to be afraid of you’ plus dogs (and people) develop a tolerance to scolding and negative treatment.  We learn to deal with it.  Anyone with teenagers know this: no matter how much you yell at your kids for not taking out the trash, they just block it out.  They stop listening, and so do the dogs.

Praise however is a different matter.  When I tell my dogs how great they are, they are always paying attention to that.  They love getting petted and get excited when I tell them how good they are, so they are getting the point: “I did something good and I want to repeat it as often as I can so I can get more hugs and pats and toys.” You would think they would get bored with it, but over the years of using positive reinforcement with my dogs, I have found they respond better to it, learn faster once they make the connections and they seem to pay better attention to me when I talk to them.  They listen and respond to me and I think I pay more attention to what they tell me too.

When it comes to eating better and weight loss, we tend to use the same tools we do for the dogs peeing on the rug: we shout at ourselves, belittle ourselves and do the emotional equivalent to rubbing our nose in the spot.  We had dessert when we went out last night: “I’m sabotaging myself! Why do I keep making the same bad choices? I can’t say no to temptation! I’m never going to lose this weight! What’s wrong with me?” We look at ourselves in the mirror and point out our muffin top, our chubby thighs, our great big butt, and that bra spillover that just makes our arms and chest look awful.  We’re trying to reinforce to ourselves how much weight we need to lose so stop with the desserts, stupid!

Does it really work for anyone? Or does it just make us feel like crappy failures because we ate dessert when we obviously look like an escapee from a Fat Farm? The same thing happens to us that happens when we go bonkers at the dog because he piddled on the rug: we ‘hide’ until we eventually stop listening to it.  When someone asks how we’re doing on our weight loss, we gloss over or omit our recent transgressions and tell them we’re doing “fine” or “okay.”  When someone points out that “maybe you’d do better if you didn’t have dessert or bread or cookies or frappuccinos,” our emotions are all over the place (anger; embarrassment; shame; frustration; hurt) or we’ve been chastised slash reprimanded so often that we don’t hear it anymore, a la teenagers: “yeah yeah yeah, I screwed up again! Whatever!” It doesn’t matter if we are the ones doing it to ourselves or if it’s that alleged friend or even someone who truly cares about us: after awhile, getting our nose rubbed in our screw-ups stops being effective.

What’s worse is that we stop trying!  It’s not that we want to give up; it’s that the constant accrual of screw-ups keeps growing and in the face of the overwhelming ‘failures,’ we simply feel defeated. “I’ve blown my diet four times this week and it’s only Wednesday- like one more screw up is going to matter now!”  This kind of thinking really doesn’t lend itself to success, does it?  Even if we are motivated to ‘win today!’, once that negative thinking creeps in, there goes our motivation! We all know that it’s hard staying motivated because it requires constant stoking like a camp fire: if we aren’t adding fuel to the motivational fire, it goes out, and remembering to keep it hot is work.  We all need motivation from time to time but staying motivated when you and others are always pointing out your failures is even harder, and we have all become experts at de-motivating ourselves that way.

This where positive reinforcement makes everything so much easier: instead of rubbing your nose in your mistake (and it’s only a mistake- not a failure!), how about you praise yourself every time you do something right?: “I had salad today instead of a burger! Yay, me!”; “I made my workout even though I didn’t want to go! Whoo hoo!”; “I said no to Barbara’s cookies at the office! Killing it here!”  It might feel a little weird or downright silly at first if you aren’t used to it, but it starts a trend. Instead of cataloguing what you’ve done wrong, you are keeping tabs on your good decisions and– most importantly– you are making yourself feel good about that list! This has the opposite effect of that negative list: if I’ve done so great on all of these situations, I can easily do it on this one! It builds confidence instead of tearing it down.  When someone asks “how are you doing on your diet?” you can give specific examples of how well you are doing: “I’m eating tons of healthy veggies and haven’t had a cookie in three weeks!” It makes it easier to say no to temptation because, heck, you’ve been saying no for over a month! Even if there is a mistake, not pointing out your muffin top and rubbing your nose in the one mistake lets you get over it and move on to the next success: “I can say no next time since I’m in the habit of saying no.” And should you make a serious decision to have dessert to celebrate a special occasion, it’s easier to remind yourself “I didn’t give in to temptation because I chose to have the cake.”

Positive reinforcement gives you another reason to make the right choice: not only are you doing something healthy for your body and your weight loss, your celebrating your wins gives you a reason to feel good about yourself– period!  Remember my dogs? Praising them for listening when I tell them no or for sitting still in the car encourages them to do it over and over again.  They get to go more places because they behave themselves plus they get the big bonus of being the best doggies in the world!  When you make the right choices for your health and weight loss, not only do you feel and look better physically, but your confidence gets a big bonus as well: “Score! I killed it today on my diet! Yay, me!” The bonuses add up and are more powerful motivators than rubbing your nose in the screw-ups: who wants constant reminders of our mistakes when we can focus on our growing list of wins? If winning yesterday makes you feel awesome, how hard is it to stay motivated to win again today? Not hard! “I’m on a roll!” vs. “How can I not screw up today?”

Most of us aren’t used to positive reinforcement.  All those Negative Nancys and Neds like to poo-poo it as “feel-good fluff.” They give you the unimpressed eye-roll when you congratulate yourself on having the veggies instead of the fries: “like those veggies make a real difference!”  However these are the same people who will nag you forever about that candy bar you had on the way home, as if that candy bar is going to add thirty pounds on you! (Knowing you feel good about your choices and your progress also allows you to poo-poo their negative comments.)  When you feel good about yourself, it’s easier to make good choices and stay motivated, because you are literally your own cheering section.  Instead of working to overcome the obstacles you are creating for yourself, you are giving yourself a leg up on the ladder to success. Whoo hoo! Yay, you!

 

Laughter, Fear & Weight Loss: Taking a Stand

Humans are bit of a paradox: we like to think we stand out as individuals in a crowd, but at the same time, we don’t want to stand out too much. We don’t like to think we are just ordinary but then we don’t want to be “that weirdo” either.

This is especially true when it comes to our weight: being as plump or chubby as everyone else is okay, but being really big? Not okay.  This idea of being too far outside the norm becomes a real problem just at a time when we think we’d be getting over it. I’m talking about going to the gym.

We’ve either started losing weight or we’ve made the decision to be more active so we head to the gym, and once we’re there, we realize it’s full of athletic, toned sweaty people in tight fitting clothes who know what they are doing.  Our first thought: “holy sh**! what did I sign up for?” It’s bad enough not being familiar with the gym itself, where things are, and how to use the equipment, but we’re also aware that we look a lot different from everyone else.  Now when we fumble with the equipment or get lost trying to find the weight room, it’s obvious that we’re chubbos who’ve never been in a gym before! This is pretty much why Planet Fitness’s slogans are “No Gymtimidation” and “The Judgment Free Zone.” They’re marketing to all the chubby gym newbies who are scared of sticking out!  (Planet Fitness was the first gym I joined, although their motto had nothing to do with my reasons: they were cheap and they were close to my house.  The gym I belong to now (In-Shape) is also close, though twice as much but it’s got a pool. If Planet Fitness had had a pool, I would still be there!)

There’s really not much you can do about learning how to use the equipment and where things are in your gym except experience and asking for help when you need it. The more you are there, the more you do, the more at home it becomes.  In this respect, everyone at one time or another was new to your gym and was wandering through the locker room looking for the showers or the towel bin.  It’s that being so much bigger, so ‘out of shape,’ that makes us feel even more self-conscious. It feels like everyone is looking at us and laughing.

As I mentioned before, I had been a Planet Fitness member and had gotten relatively comfortable with the treadmill, but when my doctor and physical therapist recommended a pool for me, I moved to In-Shape (the therapist’s suggestion). So about the time I was feeling pretty comfortable with my old gym, I had to start all over with new one, and on top of that, I had to wear a swimsuit in a public area, where everyone could see me!

It’s bad enough feeling like an idiot trying to figure out where everything is in the gym and then feeling like a fat lazy blob when you walk in and now you’ve got to wear a swimsuit so all your chubby parts and muffin top are visible to anyone who walks by the big glass walls of the pool. Ugh! Talk about torture! Isn’t this one of the top five nightmares that terrify most people?

In all honesty, being unfamiliar with the equipment bothers me the most.  I’m afraid of breaking equipment or injuring myself because I am doing the move incorrectly. As for wearing a swimsuit in public or a tank top or shorts? Not a problem! I remember years ago, I went by a weight loss company (something like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers) to check it out and the ‘counselor’ asked me if I wore shorts or tank tops in public. I remember telling her yes and being a little confused: “am I not supposed to wear them because of my weight?” She appeared equally confused because at the time I was easily about 375+ and apparently people “my weight” normally don’t wear revealing clothes in public out of fear of ridicule and embarrassment.

What this counselor didn’t know was that when I walked into her office sometime in the late 1990’s, I had already spent a lifetime being laughed at in public.  I went to a private grade school full of thin affluent white/ Anglo kids with ‘normal’ names like Jimmy, Molly, Kathy and Scott.  I, by contrast, was a poor overweight Mexican girl with a weird first name! In fact, outside of being overweight since grammar school, my name was the biggest target: Koren. (It really didn’t help that the teachers and administrators couldn’t spell or pronounce it either!)  Since childhood, I’ve been Karen, Koran, Korean, Korine and Koreen until the boys in the class finally settled on Korndog.  The teachers were completely aware of this appalling nickname bestowed upon me, but since it was the poor fat Mexican kid with the name no one could spell or pronounce– meh! whaddaya gonna do?

As I said, the teachers and administrators were completely unconcerned and neither my sister nor I mentioned this humiliation to my parents who would probably have raised a huge embarrassing stink with the principal (whose son was in my class and one of the offenders) so it went on for several years. My choices were either let the nickname bother me or go on with my life. In this day and age, this would be called bullying and harassment, neither of which would be tolerated at the school for fear of a lawsuit, but in the late 1970’s & early ’80’s, bullying and harassment were a part of every day life in grade school.  It’s just the way it was!

So when I walked into that weight loss center, I was pretty much over the whole ‘fear of being laughed at,’ at least for my weight. Being laughed at for doing something stupid was– and still is– a much bigger fear, and in these days of names like Jaeden, Brookline, Hadley and Genesis for little girls, having a different name at my age just puts me ahead of the curve!  The idea of changing what I wear so I won’t ‘look fat’ was a total non-starter.

All of us who are overweight know you can’t hide obesity.  Yes, you can wear clothes that minimize the pudgy parts and hold in that muffin top.  You can wear colors, patterns and designs that are more flattering and I think we should, because the better you feel about yourself,  the more confident you are.  Feeling bad about yourself because you are overweight is not a requirement for obesity or weight loss!

The problem is that’s what happens when you slink around the gym trying to be invisible!  When you try to hide how you look or that you’re uncomfortable in the weight room or you wear baggy t-shirts and shorts into the pool to hide your belly and thighs, you are shaming yourself.  You are telling everyone who sees you that you are not proud of yourself or that you are ashamed to be at the gym.  When I first started using the pool, the swimsuit I had was a tankini: shorts and a long tank-style top.  I had gotten it at Target in the plus size department and all they had were tankinis, so I had two of them.  Once those wore out, I went online and bought a regular two-piece with shorts and a bikini top– NOT a tankini!  Yes, they hide the muffin top and some of the pudgy thighs but overall, they get in the way of the workout! So when I walk out of the locker room headed to the pool area, going right by the weights and the sauna and the steam room and tanning beds, everyone can see me in my two piece: there’s the muffin belly, the saggy skin on my legs, thighs, bingo wings and my great big butt.  I don’t wrap my towel around myself on the way to the pool (on the way back, hell yes! It’s cold in that hallway!) I’m there to get some exercise and have some fun, just like everyone else in my class and everyone else in the gym.

Having been a regular at gyms for a while now, I’ve noticed a few things: those toned athletic young people are just about out-numbered by the older chubby less-toned members.  For every shirtless young guy in shorts is an older guy with a belly, age spots and cut off sweats.  For every tanned young woman with sculpted arms and legs is an older grey haired woman with chubby thighs and a double chin. No one points at anyone else and most members are happy to help someone new by pointing out the locker room or how to use the equipment. I admit the first time I walked into a gym, I was nervous. I didn’t know where anything was or how anything worked, and it took a little time before I got comfortable with everything.  Being nervous is okay but being afraid isn’t.  If you let your fear of being laughed at dictate what you do and where you go, you will have a very narrow and lonely life. Being overweight isn’t a crime any more than being poor, Mexican or having a different first name. Being afraid of being laughed at or being ashamed of who you are has no place in the gym or in our lives.  I learned that in grade school.

Fearlessly Being You: Weight Loss & Liking Who You Are

I am sure we are all familiar with the self-help mantras “you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you,” and the ever-popular Serenity Prayer. I accept that these mantras have merit, but they’re a little too mainstream for me.  I much prefer the somewhat quirky “wherever you go, there you are!”  I feel it not only speaks to where you are in life, but who you are as well.

One of the newer podcasts I’ve been listening to is The Wellness Force podcast with Josh Trent and while I’m still not sure he’s going to fit with my lifestyle, one of the recent podcasts he had was with professional volleyball player Kelly Claes who used an expression that really resonated with me: “fearlessly authentic.”  The inspirational quote app that I use updated earlier this year and now allows me to create tags for my favorite quotes and the first tag I created is “#fearless.”  Simply put: sometimes you need to be fearless to get where you want to go!

Most of us start out life with our parents setting our goals and aspirations.  This is pretty normal: as a kid, you really don’t know what’s what so you look to your parents for guidance and somewhere along the line, you realize you don’t want to be a doctor or a teacher but an artist or a baseball player or an engineer.  You start finding yourself and finding your own way.  Again, this is pretty normal.

But when you’re a kid and you’re overweight, you face some different obstacles. Most parents either believe ‘it’s a phase’ and you’ll ‘grow out of it’ or they start trying to guide you out of it. Sometimes their guidance is encouraging you to be more active, play sports or eat healthier foods.  Sometimes, it’s humiliation and recrimination. Even if they don’t mean to do it, sometimes it feels like their love and acceptance hinges on how much you do or don’t weigh. They may not ever say it, but we feel their disappointment and disapproval of our weight and from those unspoken feelings, we begin to feel that we are simply inadequate, lacking and a failure.

Growing up is hard enough without feeling like you are a failure as a person. While this post is about weight loss and obesity, it happens to kids for all kinds of things: not being pretty enough; not being a good enough athlete; not being smart enough.  Parents don’t mean to do it, but they place their own expectations on their children and when they fall short of those expectations, the child internalizes the disappointment as being their own personal failure. When it comes to weight loss, it can lead to a lifetime eating disorder, among other things. Generally children who feel inadequate either begin to crave their parents’ approval or they go the opposite direction. (Guess which way I went!)

For me as an overweight child, I was constantly being told “if only you lost weight, [insert good thing here].”  If I lost weight, I’d have boys lining up at my door.  If I lost weight, I could wear all the pretty clothes.  If I lost weight, I could have a whole new wardrobe.  Basically, if I lost weight, I’d be perfect.

Except I didn’t lose weight.  I stayed obese and after years of failing to win my mom’s approval (she was the most critical), I eventually gave up trying to get something I was so obviously never going to get.  (While my dad wasn’t exactly happy with my weight either, he was more focused on other goals such as college and a career.) This is where I learned to be fearless when it came to being me.

What I mean by “fearless” is that I simply stopped apologizing for being obese and not being perfect. It also means that I accepted myself for the person I was at that time and not who I was going to be at some time in the future.  This is paramount because until we accept who we are right now, we’ll always be stuck putting off our lives until some future time ‘when we’re thinner.’ While you’re probably thinking that’s a no-brainer, this idea sometimes gets internalized with the “I’m not good enough” mentality and before you realize it, it’s part of who we are.  Unfortunately, it’s usually the part that holds us back from living the life we want.

One of the constants on My 600 lb Life is patients saying how they need to have surgery so “I can get my life back” or “start living my life.”  Many of them probably never considered that their lives don’t have to be on hold because of their weight.

Obviously there are a lot of issues behind their compulsive overeating but I think a portion of it comes from that ‘waiting to be perfect’ mentality. They can’t move forward because they believe there is something wrong with the person they are right now. Being morbidly obese- and especially super morbidly obese- is a fact of life that has to be dealt with but when you put your life on hold until you are ‘fixed,’ it can mean waiting forever. Most of are familiar with the ‘perfect outfit’ in our closet that we can’t wear until we lose 20 lbs or so, and we hang onto it until it’s no longer in style and we have to give it away without ever wearing it… and we replace it with another perfect outfit we’ll never wear. Imagine that’s your life: always waiting for it to ‘start’ until you’ve got no time left.

Wherever- and whoever- you are is all you’ve got. There were a lot of times I was rejected because of my weight. I was told I wouldn’t advance or be successful in some jobs because of my weight, that guys wouldn’t find me attractive because of my weight, that my weight was always going to hold me back from doing things I wanted to do. Some of these statements were and still are true.

But I’ve lived all my adult life obese, mostly around 375 lbs. Once I learned to stop apologizing for being fat and imperfect and fearlessly live my life on my terms, my weight took a backseat to the rest of my life. Yes, there were times it got in the way and there were a lot of times I wished I were thinner. FYI: I also wished I were taller, too! But for most of my life I refused to let my weight make me miserable.

When my weight did finally become a problem I had to deal with, it still took a backseat to an even bigger problem, mainly my depression over The Job From Hell. That job seriously made me hate my life and who I’d become and it wasn’t until I dealt with that as well as the mental and emotional fallout from that job that I was able to deal with my weight. When I learned to like myself again, it gave me the strength to take advantage of new and unexpected opportunities which led to some serious weight loss.

Even though I’ve lost nearly 170 lbs, most of the world still considers me obese. There are a lot of family members who would be happier if I lost another 100 lbs. I’m still eating healthy and I’m still being as active as I can be, but my weight doesn’t define me anymore now than it did when I was 375. I am still more than just the number on the scale. For most of my life, I liked and accepted myself for the person I was, and I like who I am now. The difference is that now I’m 170 lbs lighter. It was my acceptance of myself that gave me the strength to grow and succeed and make the necessary changes. My acceptance of who I am gives me the courage to live fearlessly and do what’s right for me instead of following advice that doesn’t work for me, whether it’s for weight loss or anything else. If I hadn’t had the strength and courage to live fearlessly, I’d never have tried the Paleo diet; I’d never have gone to a gym or tried water aerobics; I’d never have joined My Fitness Pal, or started blogging, and I’d likely never have lost the weight I’ve lost. Liking myself, accepting myself and trusting myself has allowed me to continue growing into someone I like better who is happier and healthier than she used to be. But weight loss isn’t what’s made me happier and healthier: it’s the byproduct of learning to like myself again.

Sometimes we think we know where we’re going. We all have an idea of where we want to be but a lot of times, that’s not where we end up. That’s why I like that quirky mantra so much: “wherever you go, there you are!” And if you don’t like where you are, have the courage to go somewhere else!

Weighty Issues: Judgment, Obesity and Life & Death

One of the constant refrains on My 600 lb Life is Dr. Nowzaradan’s warning to patients that they don’t realize how close to death they truly are.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen a few other programs dealing with super morbidly obese patients who didn’t have the chance to make it to surgery or the surgery came too late. I know probably better than most how difficult it is to struggle with obesity all your life and the dangers that come with it.  For those who’ve never had weight problems, it probably seems like the obese are just lazy or gluttonous and while they don’t believe we are deserving of sympathy or help, they do believe we are deserving of their disgust and derision.

I can understand how some people never think of a box of donuts or a bag of chips as dangerous. Personally, I’ve never thought of a case of beer as being something dangerous to me, but to other people in my family, it might as well be a rattlesnake: if you don’t watch out, it can bite you! For those who’ve never struggled with their weight, they don’t understand how someone can eat a whole loaf of garlic bread at one meal any more than I can understand how someone can drink a whole case of beer in a couple of hours (or less). But just like people can drink themselves to death, people can eat themselves to death.  Obesity, like alcoholism, can kill you in more than a few ways.

The most obvious way obesity kills you is that your weight is just too much stress on your body.  Your heart and lungs are simply crushed by your weight: your body is too big for your heart to keep the blood flowing to all your organs and extremities, and as for your lungs, not only are they struggling to keep up with the oxygen demands for your body, but they are having to fight the weight of your chest each time you take a breath.  And that’s the situation if you have no other health problems related to your weight! There’s a host of health problems that come with obesity, including type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney (renal) failure, sleep apnea, high blood pressure (hypertension) and fatty liver disease just to name a few.  Those are the ones that can kill you, but there are a lot more than just make your life utterly miserable, such as lymphedema, skin ulcerations, cellulitis, asthma and gout. FYI: some of these can kill you too if you don’t keep them under control.

Obviously not-being-obese is a big step towards staying healthy. Of course there are plenty of skinny people who have serious health problems but when you weigh double (or triple) what you are supposed to weigh, you have a lot less wiggle room when it comes to your health.  Getting an infection that might be mild to someone with normal weight can be fatal when you weigh 500 lbs.

For most of us, we scoff at the idea that we will ever be anywhere close to 500 lbs.  Even while we may admit that we ‘might be overweight,’ we never think that we’ll be as big as ‘those people.’  I was reminded today of the frog analogy.  Most of us are familiar with it: you drop a frog in boiling water and it jumps right out, but if you put the frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will get cooked alive. (As a frog lover, I totally hate that analogy!) Whether it’s true or not, this is what happens to most of us when it comes to our weight. We start out a few pounds overweight and don’t think much of it; then we end up getting kind of plump and start thinking we should fix this; and then we’re suddenly shopping in the plus size department and start to get really concerned (maybe we even start dieting), and before we know it we are really-without-a-doubt FAT and now we start freaking out.  We don’t give much thought to the fact that food is everywhere. It’s cheap and easy to get and we often eat without even thinking about it.  How many of us have finished off a bag of chips or most if not all of a box of cookies without realizing it? It’s not that we’re gluttons– the cookies were just there and available and we weren’t paying attention!

This is what overeating is like for most people: too much pizza out with friends; scarfing a whole bag/ box of something while binge-watching a favorite show; or too many holiday treats.  But for some of us, overeating has way more in common with alcoholism: it’s become an addiction.  There are more than a few ‘experts’ that protest the idea of a ‘food addiction,’ but for the patient, it’s irrelevant.  They need to find a way to control their eating so they can lose the weight before it kills them! Does this sound over-dramatic? Believe me, it’s not.

People overeat for a variety of reasons.  For some of them, it’s a comfort mechanism: eating something they enjoy makes them feel safe and happy for a little while.  For others, it’s a way of controlling their body or their situation: it takes away feelings of helplessness. I am sure there are other reasons and for many super morbidly obese people, they may not know why they overeat.  The point is that when your weight is approaching a quarter ton, your first goal is to get control of the weight and worry about the whys and wherefores later. It’s basic damage control. Why you are overeating isn’t going to matter much if you’re dead.  Unfortunately, this is where most of us hit the brick wall: we know we need help but we don’t know how to get it.

I had a cousin who died from obesity.  He was in his early forties and weighed over 600 lbs.  Like all those patients on My 600 lb Life, he fought obesity all his life.  I remember him being about 18 years old and having high blood pressure. He was probably about 200 lbs then and his mom was screaming at him for eating potato chips and yelling at her husband for not hiding them from their son. He tried everything to lose weight, including joining the Army.  He was probably his thinnest ever once he got out of boot camp, but the weight came back and his health problems worsened: kidneys, diabetes, heart and liver issues. Although bariatric surgery at his weight was still highly risky, his doctor laid it out for him: either he takes the risks with surgery or he gives up and dies from his weight.  He risked the surgery and died on the table, leaving behind a wife and a son.

In my small high school, I was the second heaviest person in the school (that’s including the football players).  The heaviest person in high school was my friend Jennifer.  We were in the same grade and we took a lot of the same classes. She made a lot of her own clothes because it was hard finding anything that fit (this was the early 80’s). After graduating, Jennifer lost a lot of weight. In fact, I didn’t recognize her when I first saw her because she was ‘normal weight’ and looked so different. I confess I was completely jealous because I still weighed the same, around 200-250.  After college, she gained the weight back like so many of us do and this time she decided to try bariatric surgery.  She didn’t die in surgery like my cousin, but there was a complication with the anesthesia and she spent the last year of her life in a persistent vegetative state before dying of pneumonia.  She would have been 37.

My aunt was someone else who was always unhappy with her weight.  Unlike my cousin or my friend, my aunt (my dad’s sister in law) never approached 500 lbs or even 250.  My aunt’s weight hovered around the 200 lb mark but for her, it might as well have been 500 lbs. She hated being overweight and tried diet after diet. I tried a lot of them with her, mainly because I outweighed her by about 100 lbs.  She wanted to lose weight and lose it fast so she also opted for the gastric bypass. She was in and out of the hospital in no time at all and the weight seemed to melt off her.  She was over the moon! Until she started having issues with keeping food down.  Her weight went from slender to emaciated and she didn’t have the strength to walk or even stand up.  One of the complications with bariatric surgery that gets swept under the rug is anorexia. If eating a little bit of food leads to quick weight loss, eating even less food or no food leads to faster weight loss! For those patients who use food and their weight to control others or their surroundings, this is especially dangerous. For my aunt, I think it was just that she had always wanted to be thin so badly all her life and by the time her weight loss became a problem, the physical problems involved with anorexia had taken over. They were simply too much for her to overcome and sadly a few weeks after attending Jennifer’s funeral, I went to my aunt’s.  She was fifty-one.

The point of this post isn’t “bariatric surgery will kill you.” For a most bariatric patients, the surgery is literally life-saving. The point is I remember my cousin as being compassionate and funny and a warm-hearted young man.  I remember Jennifer as being a gifted artist, great with children and so giving of herself.  My aunt was also artistic, quick-witted, with a wicked sense of humor and a wonderful grandmother.  These are the people I knew and they are missed, but for the stranger on the street they were just fat.  They were neither gluttonous or lazy.  They were in fact some of the most industrious people I knew. Obesity is a serious medical problem but it gets overlooked because of snap judgments: “She wouldn’t weigh so much if she kept her hand out of the cookies!”; “He’d be thinner if he got off his butt and worked more!”

What is tragically ironic to me is that Jennifer, my aunt and my cousin all died while trying to help themselves while so many of the obese are stymied by their situation.  They know they need help, but other than ‘a diet’ they don’t know what to do or how to help themselves.  Unfortunately, many of their family members don’t know how to help them or believe their weight is the result of their own gluttony, laziness or greed (I remember my mom’s sister screaming at her son). Because it’s seen as “something they did to themselves,” it’s not seen for the real danger that it is. The obese are lumped in with drug addicts and alcoholics: “it’s their own fault!”  These are diseases of lifestyle, which nowadays include conditions like diabetes, but no one gets judged for having type 2 diabetes. Blame is a sad excuse for lack of compassion and a sadder excuse for letting someone die.

 

 

 

 

The Weight of Self-Worth

A friend of mine on MFP (My Fitness Pal) recently posted about “Plus Size Day.” Apparently it’s a day to celebrate being “plus-sized.”  In his post, he mentioned a parade full of larger people and how the news snippets were full of larger women making nasty comments about skinny people.  He concluded his post about how this day is to promote being the best You you can be, whatever your size, and he voiced his own concerns that maybe the best You doesn’t carry an extra 100 lbs.

While I realize he was just putting his opinion out there, this is the attitude I have lived with all my life. I’ve been overweight all my life and I’ve heard all the comments, from sad & pitying, to nasty & snide, to the passive aggressive- all of them.  Most of them now I just ignore: ignorant people will continue to be ignorant no matter what I tell them, but occasionally, they still make me mad. I understand why some of those larger women are angry: like me, they’ve spent their entire lives being told there is something wrong with them; they are somehow broken/ substandard/ a failure; or they are just flat out ugly. They don’t meet some arbitrary social standard of what is ‘pretty’ or ‘acceptable.’

People might think that thin has always been pretty but there was a time when plump and curvy was the standard for pretty.  Having curves, wide hips and an ample bosom meant you were prime for bearing children and survival.  Thin meant poverty, possible miscarriage and malnutrition.  When the most important thing a woman could bring to a marriage was her ability to produce offspring, choosing thin meant betting long odds, whereas plump was almost a sure thing. (For men, plump meant being a successful  provider.)

Obviously those days are long past, but the idea of beauty being relative hasn’t changed.  Every February, the media is full of biologists’ reports about the ‘biological recipe for attraction,’ and how some physical attributes or gestures cue us on a biological or subconscious level that someone is a potential mate or is attracted to us.  Whatever science and biology may dictate, attractiveness is still defined by the individual.  We still bring our own personal values to the table, and these include our values about ourselves.

In one respect those old platitudes are correct: if we don’t value and respect ourselves, no one else will either.  When we look at ourselves and see someone who is disgusting, unworthy, ugly, stupid or hopeless, it shows.  We communicate those ideas and attitudes to others, and worse yet, they are reflected back to us by them and over time, those beliefs become firmly entrenched in our psyche.  We are unworthy and unlovable and we have nothing of value to offer anyone else.  Whether those ideas start in ourselves and come back to us or come from outside and become part of us is irrelevant.  If we believe it, it becomes our truth. 

This is what I and almost every overweight person has been told for as long as they have been overweight.  Most of you reading this have been on the receiving end of a lot of free advice about how to lose weight; unsolicited attempts at ‘motivating’ you to lose weight; plenty of incentives to be thinner; and more than a few nasty comments about being a glutton, including the not-so-subtle implications that gluttony is a mortal sin and my being fat is sending me to Hell (thank you, Catholic school!) As a kid, I got them all the free and supposedly helpful advice about how to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with me; what I didn’t get was the idea that I’m fine just the way I am. When I was a kid, I probably carried an extra 20 lbs through middle school but the more people tried to ‘fix’ me, the more weight I gained, so by the time I hit high school, I was probably close to 200 lbs if not there already, and I kept slowly gaining weight. By the time I hit college, I was definitely over 250 and heading towards 300.

And the bigger I got, the more I heard about how flawed and unacceptable I was. My mom (the chief proponent of this attitude) pretty much gave up on me at that point.  Whatever was wrong with me, she wasn’t going to waste her time trying to fix me.  But I still got lots of criticism from the rest of society, because by then, I wasn’t just ‘plump and curvy’; I was certifiably FAT! I was the definition of ugly; of lazy; of gluttony. I had no redeeming values at all, because I was defined by my weight.  Whatever my mind or spirit might have to offer is completely negated by my fat body.

This idea that who I am is defined by how much weight I carry and what I look like eventually completely p*ssed me off.  Someone else was determining my value based entirely on what he or she saw, rather than who I actually was.  I was repeatedly being told by my professors and administrators and -yes, the same society that was condemning me- that it is flat out wrong to judge someone by their ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or physical capabilities, but it’s totally okay to call me a loser because of my weight! How stupid is that? Everyone is to be judged on the content of their character, except for that fat chick over there- she’s worthless because she weighs 300 lbs.

This is why I stopped listening to other people’s opinions of me and my weight.  It’s why when my mom decided to try and ‘fix’ me again (after my sister stopped talking to her), I pretty much ignored her attempts.  I would come home and find diet books left on my doorstep followed by a voicemail asking if I got the book she left: I just stacked them in a corner, and over the years, the stack got taller and taller, and dustier and dustier.  While I realize that part of her motivation was my slowly declining health, her attempts at ‘fixing’ me were accompanied by more of the same dangling incentives: I’d have all the guys I wanted; she’d buy me a brand new wardrobe; I’d be ‘gorgeous.’  Because obviously, I wasn’t attractive to anyone at my weight! (FYI: I didn’t tell her about my boyfriends because they sure didn’t share her attitude!)

I can’t lie and say I didn’t want to lose weight despite ignoring my mom’s and everyone else’s criticisms.  My desire to lose weight came not from thinking of myself as worthless, but instead came from my growing inability to do the things I wanted to do.  It’s hard to walk around and be active when you’re carrying 400 lbs.  The pain in my knees had more to do with my desire to be thinner than anything my mom had to tell me. I didn’t want to walk with a cane or end up diabetic or have to sleep with an oxygen mask because my independence was far more important to me than the opinions of strangers. While I wasn’t happy being 400 lbs, I did my best not to allow it to dictate my life any more than I allowed other’s opinions of me to do so either.  I lived my life the way I wanted to live my life.  I became the best Me I could be, whatever my size.  For the most part, I am still that same person: I do what I want, say what I want and think what I want. The only difference is that now I weigh 185 lbs less. I am the best Me I can be, despite carrying that “extra 100 lbs” my friend mentioned in his post.  Although I am still losing weight, it’s not so that I can hit my “ideal weight” or some arbitrary “goal weight” set by some doctor or BMI chart; it’s because I value my independence.  I like being able to do all the things I want to do, and I like trying new things.  Being thinner and healthier has added more valuable activities and abilities to my life, but at the same time, I also know that I am still obese. That “extra 100 lbs” is still there and strangers still judge me by my weight.  And you know what? I still don’t care. Who I am is not what I weigh, nor am I defined by what other people think of me.

Perspective: Seeing the Elephant in the Room

One of the best things about being an eminently employable English major is that I come across a lot of different literature from many different cultures.  One of my favorites is “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”  It’s an Indian parable about perspectives found in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, so all we really know about its origins is that it is ancient.  The story goes that six blind men learn that an elephant was brought to their village and having not experienced one before, they go to “see” the animal with their hands.  Each man touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with a different viewpoint than the others.  One feels the tusk and determines that an elephant is like a spear; another feels its tail and concludes it looks like a rope; another feels the ear and thinks it looks like a fan; another feels its leg and says it looks like a tree trunk; one feels its side and believes an elephant is like a wall; and the last touches its trunk and believes the elephant is like a snake.  From there, the story varies with the text but the point is that each is seeing only one part and one perspective of the elephant. In order to really determine what an elephant looks like, they need to see the whole creature or at least compare their findings, because each of them is correct about the part that they touched, but none of them is correct in what an elephant truly looks like.

Perspective is massively important when it comes to weight loss, health and fitness, and it’s where so many of us get in trouble.  It’s easy to lose weight if you don’t care about being healthy, and the same is true about fitness. Most of us think in terms of “losing weight” or “getting fit,” but neither of those are important if we don’t think in terms of Being Healthy (the whole elephant.)  When I was in college, I had a roommate who was also overweight.  We really commiserated over it because we both liked a lot of the same foods and we both tried being vegetarian and both of us ended up gaining weight.  I ran into her a few years after she moved out (both of us were in the pharmacy line, FYI) and I didn’t recognize her because she had lost so much weight.  Unfortunately, it was due to Type I diabetes.  Her pancreas had stopped functioning and now she was insulin dependent. She had to check her blood sugar several times a day and inject insulin before every meal to control her blood sugar. I remember her telling me she had always dreamed of losing weight, but this was not how she thought it would happen.  She was over a hundred pounds thinner than she had been when she lived with me but she certainly was not healthy.  Even worse, she was pregnant with her second child which put both her life and her baby’s at risk!

When we approach weight loss or fitness, we can’t just focus on the one aspect that we want to prioritize, otherwise we lose sight of the whole elephant. “Being thin” or “being muscular” is of no importance if you aren’t healthy also.  Some of you know that I lost an aunt in 2003 due to complications from anorexia.  She’d had a gastric bypass, which in my opinion she did not need as she barely weighed 200 lbs, but the end result was that she stopped eating, which is not an uncommon side effect of the bypass.  Ultimately, she ended up collapsing, catching an infection and dying. She was the same age as I am now, and while I’m not exactly young anymore, I have a lot to look forward to and so did she. But she had also always dreamed of being thin, and for months prior to her death, family members had been begging her to see a doctor, because it was so painfully obvious that she was not healthy or happy.  Unfortunately, no one could help her.

Some of us do the same thing with exercise: we lose sight of our overall health, which is what really matters.  We’ve all heard the stories of people who over-exercise, or eat and then work out super hard to burn off all the calories they ate.  Some of us try to “out exercise” a bad diet, but most nutritionists and doctors will tell you that 90% of weight loss comes through your food choices and the remaining 10% is your activity. Basically, you can exercise until your arms fall off but if you’re eating donuts and drinking Pepsi every morning for breakfast, you’re not going to be accomplishing much!

Most of us are in a hurry to reach our goals- I know I am! But over-training and starving ourselves isn’t the way to “get cut” and/ or “get thin.”  Drastically cutting calories and working out really really hard are stressors on the body, so our body goes into conservation mode if we stick with these practices for a long time.  We will probably lose some weight and maybe build some muscle at first, but the longer we stick with it, the more the body begins to conserve its fat stores.  This looks like it might be a famine or some kind of catastrophe: basically a lot of hard work and not a lot of calories coming in.  The body’s first priority is survival: nothing else matters if it (i.e. YOU) don’t survive another day, so it takes steps to make sure you last as long as possible.  This is why Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up gaining weight eating 1000 calories a day: their bodies have slowed their metabolisms so much after a prolonged period of starvation and hard exercise (i.e. the tv show), that now any calories coming in over the subsistence level gets stored! The body is trying to protect itself against another catastrophe where it (the ‘winner’) drastically lost weight.

Obviously, that is not a healthy situation to be in.  I really want to lose a lot of weight and I’d really like to have more muscles, especially as I’m getting older.  I don’t want to be the helpless old lady (with the zillion cats!) but I also know that it’s going to take some time to lose weight and gain muscle in a healthy way.  That means growing long term healthy habits like eating for nutrition without starving myself and being more active without over-training or injuring myself.  Both of those mean that it’s going to take some time, since my body and metabolism are going to make slow healthy adaptations to my new lifestyle.  I need to keep my eye on the ultimate goal of Being Healthy rather than my chosen perspective of Being Thin.  As I’ve learned the hard way, being thin doesn’t count for much if you’re too sick to enjoy it.

You Are More Than Just Your Body!

I was listening to yet another podcast today and some of the things the guest mentioned  really irritated me.  It’s a viewpoint that I hear now and then, and each time it really makes me what to stand up and shout at someone: it’s the idea that women are emotional over how their bodies look because they are most often judged by their appearance.  As I said, this point of view really lights my fuse because it’s a freaking stereotype! Of course, that does not mean that it isn’t true: a lot of women get very emotional over gaining weight and all people are often judged on their appearance.  This entire idea that women are generally ashamed and emotional over their appearance is one of the few things that makes me angry, and frankly, I am pretty slow to anger.

This whole stereotype confused me for a long time while I was growing up.  I have been told all my life that I am an atypical female. (In our gender-fluid modern culture, I should clarify that I was born and remain a heterosexual female.) Maybe because I was mostly raised by my dad, I have been told that I lack certain ‘female’ mannerisms (like primping and flirting); that I tend to shop like a man (I go to the store, buy what I came for and leave), and that I approach problems like a man (offer a solution rather than commiserating).  I’ve read a few essays on the way men and women communicate and think (my favorites are by Deborah Tannen) and I have come to the conclusion that I have a male-oriented outlook about a lot of things.  This means that when men get confused or irritated when their wives/ girlfriends cry “my butt is huge!,” I am just as confused and irritated as they are: “so, what am I supposed to do about it? You’re the one who keeps buying the chocolate cake/ pasta/ frappucinos.” I don’t mean to sound callous, because I have also looked in the mirror and said the same thing: “damn, my butt is ginormous!!” but usually it’s without the wail of “this happened to me against my will.”  When I acknowledge my butt/ thighs/ ankles/ whatever is fat/ huge/ not looking the way I would like it to look, it’s usually accompanied by irritation at myself, because I am the reason it doesn’t look the way I want.  I don’t want someone to tell me what isn’t true- that my butt is not ginormous when I can clearly see that it is- but a few good ideas about how to make it smaller might be appreciated!  Of course, this is not what most women want; they want to be reassured they are still worthy of being loved, because for some women, their self-worth is wrapped up in a small butt and other assorted body parts.

For most of my life, my own self-assessments regarding body size were also accompanied by feelings of helplessness, disappointment and more than a little confusion.  Why wasn’t I able to make the changes that I wanted to make?  In most cases, it’s simply because it was hard work, but even when I did do the work, I didn’t get the results I wanted (I’m still blaming those 11 daily servings of ‘healthy whole carbs aka grains’ the USDA advised me to eat but whatever…!) I mostly missed the whole emotional stigma of being seen as ugly or unattractive by the rest of society, most likely because I have been overweight almost all my life. The constant criticism grew to be just more background noise in a sea of noise constantly telling me how I didn’t measure up to what ‘society’ says women should be. I wasn’t ‘girlish enough’; I made guys feel inadequate by being smarter than they were; I was too independent.  Geez! How dare I base my feelings of self-worth on my independence, intelligence and judgment! I was lucky: these were the things that were valued in my family. My dad never said he was disappointed my sister and I weren’t boys: he took us camping, shooting and fishing just the same. Nor did he encourage us to be “girly.” He did encourage us to read, make our own choices and do what we believed is the right thing to do.  Most of the women in my family are strong, opinionated and independent, even my maternal grandmother, who was not one of my favorite people. The men in my family treat them as equals, and although there were some traditional roles that were respected, it was never about ‘the women not being equal.’ No one in my family was judged on what they looked like, whether it was genetic (shortness and glasses run in my family) or whether it was about their weight (we have all sizes): any judgments were made on their choices.  If you chose to party all night and blow off your midterms, you really screwed up and they would let you know it! Being overweight, wearing glasses, being 4’10”, losing your hair, or being tall and thin- it was just a fact of life! You are who you are!

So whenever I hear people complaining about how ugly they look, how overweight they are, how some body part doesn’t look the way it’s “supposed to look,” I get pretty irritated.  I believe it perpetuates the idea that we all need to fit into stereotypical roles and if we don’t fit, we get dinged for it.  Somehow, we screwed up and we should be ashamed of ourselves.  I think it’s a little funny that if we don’t feel ashamed for not fitting it, we should be ashamed of not being ashamed! More evidence of our ongoing shortcomings! I was reminded not too long ago that most people don’t like being made to feel different or be made fun of.  Kind of obvious, but when being different is your way of life, you tend to forget that others are sensitive to it.  In one way, it’s made me pretty stubborn and independent, and in some ways it’s made me callous and insensitive to others.  While I’m pretty sure ‘independent’ is good, I’m not so sure about the others.

We are ultimately a combination of our choices, our genetics and our environment.  We are born with certain dents, and we collect more either through our own decisions and those life dishes out.  I don’t know anyone who has turned out the way they thought they would when they were kids.  We can either cry over the bumps and lumps or we can keep going despite or because of them.  Yes, I have a ginormous butt and I can either cry about it, do something about it, or learn to live with it.  Right now, I am doing something about it, and while I am, I choose not to cry over it.  Not too long ago, I paused to look at my reflection at the gym before I got in the pool and I realized my saggy skin is really looking saggier than usual.  Periodically my mom asks me when am I going to talk to my doctor about it.  Usually my answer is “I don’t know.”  I still wear short sleeves and tank tops and shorts despite the saggy skin.  I worked hard for those wrinkles and I am not about to let someone else’s opinion deter me! (This is where ‘stubborn’ is good!)

I think we all need to meet somewhere in the middle ground: I can certainly work on being more sensitive and less stubborn, and I think those who are too concerned about their self-image can work on being a little more independent and self-reliant.  We can all benefit by being more concerned about others’ feelings and having more confidence in ourselves.  We are more than the physical body we see in the mirror, and the people who love us do so despite our failings, physical and otherwise.  None of us are perfect, physically, mentally or spiritually.  We can all stand some improvement.  It’s how we grow and remembering that our own bodies are as imperfect as everyone else’s might make us a little more caring and empathetic when someone else is feeling the sting of being different.