Saturday, March 31, 2007

Twinkie Thief

My last post featured an appearance by my father, who certainly contributed to my misery as a fat adolescent (or at least as an adolescent who thought she was unforgivably fat). What about my mother? She passed on several years ago (14 years ago this upcoming Wednesday, in fact), and in her own benign way she also contributed as well.

Don’t get me wrong—she was unfailingly supportive and generally kind to me about my weight issues, and she struggled with dieting and feeling unsatisfied about her appearance as well. But that was the hard part for me. I saw her struggle, and I saw the things that she did in order to lose weight, and I came to believe that it was possible only with the greatest of sacrifices. When I was about 14, she went on a diet because we were going on a trip that summer to see my father’s family, just about all of whom lived overseas. She ended up losing quite a bit of weight, but oh, what she had to do to make that happen. She went on two strenuous walks a day and ate ridiculously—an Alba 77 shake (made with ice and only 77 calories—anybody remember them?) for breakfast, an apple for lunch, and a few bites of whatever we were having for dinner. I look back on that now, and I wonder if she was struggling with a thyroid problem or something, or if she was secretly snacking when no one was looking.

That possibility never occurred to me back then, because as far as I knew, I was the only secret snacker in the family. I would eat reasonably at dinner with the family, and then wait till everyone went to bed before I snuck into the kitchen and dove face-first into the Pop-tarts, cereal, ice cream…whatever we had. Thus began the binge-eating-in-secret pattern that I struggle with to this day.

I live alone now, so secret binge-eating is no challenge at all. It’s only a secret in that I would never plow through an entire box of cookies or 4 ice cream bars in front of a friend. A couple of years ago, when I was in a relationship that has since ended and living with my boyfriend, I found myself falling into the pattern of sneaking food when he was not around. I forced myself to at least quit eating in secret—if I wanted a granola bar, I ate it sitting next to him on the couch.

That sneakiness, that private shame, that’s been a part of my eating since those early days of watching Mom struggle with her own weight. I think my behavior was about rebellion back then—I was angry that I had to cope with feeling fat and that I was not accepted by my father for who I was. The only model I had of weight management was my mother’s, which seemed absolutely unworkable for me. So I sent that angry, hungry girl away, but she never stayed away for long. During the daylight hours I ate reasonably and acted rationally, but after hours I became a Twinkie thief by the light of the midnight moon.

My mother eventually found a way to eat that worked well for her, and in the last several years of her life she attained and maintained a healthy weight comfortably. That was the role model I needed all those years ago. But me, I’ve never fully shaken my inner, angry Twinkie thief, and I still carry those resentments around with me…80 lbs of pissed off adolescent girl who won’t be denied. I need to say goodbye to her for good and to say goodbye to those 80 lbs that keep my anger so visible to the world.

Friday, March 30, 2007

War on the Homefront

Every fat woman I’ve ever met (and most of the thin ones, too, now that I think about it) has her own personal history of war against her body. When I think about my own, I’m exhausted by how long, how sad, how freaking endless it’s been. I was first aware of being overweight at five years old. I remember the conversation so clearly. My father sat me down and explained to me that I was chubby and that I would have to do something about that, because it was a bad thing for a little girl to be. I said, “But Dad, you’re fat too,” and he patiently explained to me that it was OK for men to be fat, but for a little girl it was a Really, Really Bad Thing. I remember being surprised and a little mystified.

From there it was all downhill in terms of my relationship to my own body.

I was one of those girls that matured fairly early. Starting 5th grade as a 10 year old, I was nearly at my adult height of 5’8”, and I had begun to develop breasts and hips. I also got braces a year or two before everyone else. I felt unbelievably tall, fat and awkward around my classmates, most of whom were still shaped like children. I started my first real, organized diet at 14, when I joined Weight Watchers with a friend. I felt like a whale. Now I look back on pictures of that time, and I realize that I wasn’t fat. I was shaped like a woman. What shows in the pictures from that period of my life is not that I was fat, but that I was awkward and miserable. I was embarrassed to be alive. Throughout high school, I willed myself into invisibility by wearing generic, androgynous clothing and making sure that I did not stand out in any way.

And then, college. I was far enough away from the critical voice of my father that I began to experiment a little with clothing and with the idea that I was not too tragically fugly to live. I remember coming home for Christmas wearing a sweater I loved, with a bold, sort of Aztec-looking black and white pattern. My father took one look at me and said “I would think a woman of your size would choose something with a less obvious pattern.” I was a size 14!!! Gah, I shriveled inside, but I bounced back.

Since then, it’s been a gradual process of gaining confidence in my tastes, my style and my own worth. Unfortunately, it’s also been a process of gaining weight. About 5 years ago, I peaked out at 218 and decided that I needed to lose some weight. I adopted the Atkins diet, began to walk a lot, and over the course of a year lost about 40 lbs. I felt great! Control at last, and something to be proud of! But the weight didn’t stay off, and here I am, 5 years later, weighing in a 240. I’m happy to say that I seem to have permanently outgrown that sad, embarrassed child I used to be. But I’m not happy here, and it’s time to make some changes. Not because my father would like me to—he’s been waiting 35 years, since that first conversation, for me to cooperate and get skinny—but because I want to feel good in my own skin.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Baby steps

I figure that this whole thing is about small changes that become lifelong habits. I’ve made a few of those lately, and I’m kind of proud of myself, even though they’re all small:

  1. No more Diet Mountain Dew! Yeah, it’s diet. But I keep reading about how even diet sodas can contribute to weight gain or at least stall attempts at weight loss. But man, did I love my Dew–it’s been my major source of caffeine for quite some time now. Substituting a tasty blend of black and green tea now for my morning hit, which helps me feel nice and healthy. Less caffeine, more antioxidants. And truth be told, I was always sort of embarrassed (there’s that word again) by my Dew habit.
  2. Bringing lunch to work more often. Our cafeteria has a real dearth of healthy food options for lunch. There’s the very popular fried chicken, the often overcooked but still satisfying pizza, the daily entree choice that we’ve coined The Tub of Slop. So I’ve been bringing leftovers more often, which nets me both a healthier lunch and the admiration of my co-workers. I know, I’m a hero.
  3. More salads at lunch when I don’t bring my own. Work actually does have a good salad bar, and I’m making use of it more often and walking right by the fried chicken station (please, hold your applause).
  4. Oh, and I bought cross-trainers the other day. I used to walk a ton for exercise, and I always wore either my Doc Martens or my Dansko clogs. I figured it was time to resurrect the walking habit, and perhaps my aging joints would appreciate a pair of proper tennis shoes. Oddly enough, my maiden voyage in them suggests that my old walkin’ gear might be more comfortable. Hm.

Like I said, wee changes, but you gotta start somewhere.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The journey begins with...

A single step, right? A blog entry, maybe?

This is a weight-loss blog. I hope so, anyway. Right now it’s a “Wow. This feels really out of control and bad and I can’t believe I weigh as much as I do” blog. It’s a “can I really do this?” blog and a “What if I write about all of this and then can’t actually discipline myself to make any changes?” blog.

Well, here’s the thing. I’m fat. I’m 5′ 8″ tall and weight about 240 lbs. I’m big, people. I turned 40 last summer, and since then, I’ve started to see what all the fuss is about, health-wise. My blood pressure is starting to creep up. I hurt my knee in a fall last October, and it has taken forever to heal, no doubt in part because of the jackhammering I give it every day just walking around on it.

The last few years have been really demanding ones. I wrote a dissertation and completed a more-than-full-time internship at the same time. I’m currently on a year-long post-doc fellowship, where I’m at work about 50 hrs per week. And I sit a lot. I’m a psychologist, so I spend most of my day with my ass in a chair, nodding and empathizing. Which, as it turns out, doesn’t burn a lot of calories.

Do I sound like I’m bitching? Oh, I’m not. Love my life, love my work. But I look back and see that I’ve gained 60 lbs in the past few years, and that I really have let graduate school nibble away at my health until I am what I am now: fat, unfit, and embarrassed.

The ‘embarrassed’ thing…that’s big for me (no pun intended). If I allowed myself to think about it, I would be too ashamed to leave the house in the morning. I had fits like that in college, where I would look in the mirror and decide I was too fugly to leave my dorm room. I don’t have them anymore, and I’m proud of that. But I’m still embarrassed about myself. I don’t date, because I’m embarrassed. And I don’t ask for help when I need it, because I’m embarrassed.

And that’s where this blog comes in. I can’t do this alone. I need to change my life, and I need to get at least a little public about it. For accountability, for fellowship, for something…

And this is hard for me. I’ve always been one to hide my vulnerabilities and uncertainties, for fear that I’ll be criticized. That’s a family thing, and something for a future post, I imagine. So, even to start this blog feels like ripping off my clothes and parading my fat self down the street, but I need to do it. I need to let the world help me.

So, this journey. I’ve been on enough of them to know that they’re never what you think they’re going to be when you start out. This one will be no different. But I know this: It starts with a single post.