Thursday, October 19, 2006

Stories: Part I

With permission. . .

INTRODUCTION

I'm 43, 5'8", 180 pounds. My first memories of feeling fat come from about age 6. I was always in the top area of the growth percentiles for weight and height, and I remember the doctor lecturing my mom about how I was "going to be fat" if she didn't "do something." The alcohol smell of the exam room, the lights bright on the doctor's white coat, his pointing, hairy finger. Pointing at me. The frown on my mom's face. The feeling that I'd done something awful to her on purpose.

Since then, I've felt people's judging eyes on me: lonely, dumb, lazy, no control over her eating, spends whole nights on the couch in front of the TV with a pint of Ben & Jerry's.

None of that is true.

Lonely: No. Outgoing. I have an easy time making friends, which is how I survived school as The Fat Kid. In an 8-year relationship with a great guy (after divorcing a not-so-great guy; married 11 years that time).

Dumb: No. Last IQ test 153; graduated from college Magna Cum Laude.

Lazy: Lazy people do not graduate Magna Cum Laude. Nor do they rise at 5:00am on weekdays so they can go to the gym. Also, I don't own a car, so I carry all my own groceries, walk for errands, and so forth.

No control over eating: I haven't eaten beef, pork, or chicken since 1980. I eat very few processed foods, and snack cakes, etc leave me absolutely cold (what exactly *is* Cool Whip made of?).

Couch, TV, B&J: We have a couch. But we don't have a TV. And I'm allergic to dairy (actually allergic, not lactose-intolerant) so I've never even had Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

Non-fat people simply don't get it. There isn't one set of circumstances that makes all fat people fat.


WHAT HAPPENED

So what are my circumstances? Simply put, anorexia. It started in my teens. It wasn't a wish to have a certain body size and shape, although, like other girls, I did have those wishes. The anorexia went deeper. My logic was that perfect people don't eat too much; therefore, someone who never eats anything is the most perfect of all.

Not eating at all feels great. It's so exciting--I'm free! Free of stupid food! Hurray! Of course, my body disagrees. When I was a teenager I lived on about 300-500 calories a day. I skipped breakfast and lunch, ate a tiny snack after school and then some dinner but not very much.

I was praised to the skies for this behavior. Friends, parents, teachers--they were all thrilled that I finally "had control" over my eating habits. Of course the crash came. I couldn't keep that up forever, I gained a little weight, and presto, I was The Fat Kid again.

I should add here that I always ate "healthy" food, simply because it's what I prefer. My mom cooked everything. In the late 70s we all read Diet for a Small Planet and by 1980 I was a non-strict vegetarian, which I still am today. I'm a total food snob; I don't like chips or snack cakes or the other stuff fat people are supposed to like. When I went on Weight Watchers in 2002 (more about that later) I had to ask somebody what "Little Debbies" were. Of course, I won't say no to vegan flourless chocolate cake, so I'm not claiming superiority here--just pointing out yet another way in which the "fat person" stereotype is a lie.

I hovered around 180 for the rest of my teen years. Then I got married and gained a bunch more, up to about 220. I stayed there until I discovered exercise at 27. I'd always hated gym class, but it turned out I was a really good weightlifter. If you think about it, it makes sense. There are no weedy aristocrats anywhere in my family. I come from about ten generations of farmers. Of course I'm good at lifting weights. I was built to carry buckets of water, sheaves of wheat, newborn calves.

Exercise made me lose the excess, and without changing my eating habits I got down to about 180 again. Then I started college. I was 30.

I didn't go before because I couldn't afford it; I'd become an indifferent student in the later years of high school (probably thanks to my low blood sugar) and Ronald Reagan's changes to student loans basically torpedoed my chances. I left home early, longing for independence, and worked various drudge jobs. But after I got a divorce I decided it was now or never.

School was a huge stress. At the end of the first day, I stopped eating, like I had in high school. My clothes fell off me, which was a problem because I was totally broke. And again, the crash came about a year later--there I was, 180 again.

After graduation I went to work at a very successful dot-com enterprise. I made a lot of money, but 60 hours was a "short week." I was in a chair, in front of a computer, most of the time. I'd stopped exercising--when would I go to the gym? My entire life was dominated by the thought that I should be at work.

Three and a half years later, I got laid off (2001). I weighed 252 pounds. The 72 pounds was mostly huge dinners out, which I could afford. I ate at least one huge meal out every day, and most days it was more than one.


WHAT I DID ABOUT IT

So there I was--too fat to do anything. I'm an energetic person and it was driving me crazy. I couldn't go take a walk; it made my feet hurt too much. I could barely go to the grocery store. I was so out of shape, but I had boundless energy. I was slowly going crazy.

I hired a personal trainer who helped me get back into exercising again. I haven't stopped since. Some people are scared of being fat because they'll look bad, but at this point, I'm scared of being that out of shape again. I felt trapped.

This time, not that much weight came off, and I still felt trapped, although less trapped. So in 2002 I joined Weight Watchers online. It worked; I got down to 168. Then my "points target" changed and that was the tipping point. My food was too limited. A voice in my head told me, "You're a bad person!" every time I ate something. I hated that little voice. I was afraid of never being able to eat again. I started defying the diet--and for all WW says they're a lifestyle change and not a diet, they're wrong. Eating only so much per day, no matter what you want or need, is a DIET. Limiting food is A DIET. Weight Watchers might be a great diet, and a diet that works, BUT IT IS A DIET.

Online members don't have to go to meetings. When I noticed my stall in weight loss, I asked for help on the message boards. "Journal everything," people said. One lady said she'd decided she would have to "give up" cream and sugar in her coffee. "I just made the decision that I really should limit myself. It's a better decision." Those were the kinds of decisions I'd have to make. I felt trapped again, but in a different way this time.


THE REALIZATION

Nickel-and-diming food is humiliating. It says, "You're too stupid to do this properly so you're going to be punished. You may have only X amount per day and you may not have any small things that you enjoy." It's also attractive--if you can only get yourself to swallow that line of bull, you can live up to the limitations you stick on yourself. Then you're a success. If you refuse to believe that you are a "bad person who needs punishment," then you're a failure. Catch-22.

Being in that "failure" state is depressing, even though you know you should be angry. It's horrible to see other people go through ridiculous self-limitation crap and lose weight. An overachieving anorexic type like me can't stand it, even though I know they'll gain it back the minute they stop hating themselves. Birthdays at work are awful. There's a cake, and people moan, groan, bitch about how they "shouldn't" have any cake. Or they sit off to one side and brag about how they're not having any cake because they shouldn't.

Last time I watched something that was funny and not funny at the same time. A woman moaned and groaned about cake. Then she took some cake, but she scraped the frosting off. Then she ate the frosting anyway about two minutes later. She kept moaning and groaning the whole time, as if the cake were physically hurting her.

The solution is so simple. I want to slap them all. I want to stand on the table and scream, "If you want cake, take some and enjoy it! If you aren't going to enjoy it then FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THE GODS, DON'T HAVE ANY!"

Maybe it's easy for me, because there are only a few kinds of cake that I like enough to eat and enjoy; I skip the kinds I don't like that much without regret. But I never tell the whole office about how I don't really like that kind of cake and it isn't worth the however-many calories when I have stuff I like better at home. I just wish they'd eat some or not eat some and keep quiet.

For about two years, I refrained from nickel-and-diming myself. I gained 12 pounds. All day long, every day, I played a tape in my head: You are a failure. You are fat. You are huge. And that alternated with a tape that said, why don't you start making a few positive changes. If you just skip a few things you'll be smaller than you are now. If you just, if you just...

And then one day a few months ago, I decided to make a truly positive change. The tapes were killing me. I turned both of them off. I went to Trader Joe's and bought cookies and candy--a LOT of cookies and candy. I bought a huge jar of peanut butter, an infamous "trigger food." That's a food that supposedly starts a binge. Lots of talk about those at Weight Watchers.

But I didn't binge, and now I know why: I'm not a binge eater unless I'm defying a diet. Nor am I an "emotional eater," stuffing down feelings with food: I'm an extrovert. I get my feelings out there right away; hanging onto them feels horrible.

No. I eat BECAUSE I CAN. Because there's nobody bothering me about what I'm eating, and I get back at those people who bothered me by saying "Look at me! I'm eating and there isn't ONE GODS-BE-DAMNED THING you can do about it, you big stupid jerks!" I eat to negate everything those people have said to me: mom, doctors, gym teachers, "concerned" friends. When I tried to argue with them to their faces, or call them on their insulting, humiliating behavior, they'd say they loved me (Mom) or were concerned about me (everyone else) and that's why they were doing it. I liked them; I trusted them; I couldn't say anything back that didn't sound like the all-encompassing "denial," which generates further self-righteousness disguised as pity disguised as "love" and "concern."

I was stuck. But not anymore.


THE FUTURE

This time, I filled the house with so-called binge food. But I didn't binge, because I have decided, finally, that what I eat isn't any of their business. I'm tired of playing the game. I'm making my own decisions, for myself, because I am a grownup and I like myself and I trust myself. I AM good enough--what I eat or don't eat doesn't have anything to do with that. I am smart enough to make my own decisions, as I always have been but I just couldn't see it because people I loved and trusted and respected kept telling me I couldn't control myself. But I can, I can, the minute they stop looking over my shoulder.

I'm done playing.

I like peanut butter. It took a few weeks to finish the jar, and then I bought another. I've barely touched the candy and stuff. I know that this time, I'm free. I might fall back into my old thinking, but at least I know what the trouble is. So no more crutches, no more crap. Just me.

9 comments:

PalmTreeChick said...

Wow, what a strong woman. Thanks for sharing.

Maya said...

Thank God there are wonderful, intelligent women like this one. You keep me sane. May your strength and power just keep on growing.

Emily Jolie said...

Wow! What a powerful post! Thank you for sharing your story!

love,
Em

flowerchild said...

whoever you are.....I LOVE YOU AND WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND!!!! i am right there with you when you want to stand on the table and scream, "for the love of all the gods....etc, etc."

Heidi said...

All I can say is Wow and give u a hug :)

nyc said...

that was awesome. the author is awesome. i was definitely a little teary by the end. i wish i could meet her. she seems like the poster woman for powerful positive role models. yay!

drstaceyny said...

Thanks for sharing this w/us. I think the comments above speak for themselves. : )

Anonymous said...

I can SO identify with this great post! Having won a baby contest 60 years ago in GB because the British then liked "fat babies," I had a lot of fat cells from the beginning.

When my mother took me to a doctor in this country as a young girl because of my weight, he declared it was because I had been denied food during World War II, and I was making up for lost time! My mother was incensed, because during the War, parents made sure their children were fed even if they themselves weren't. 'Course, what I was fed would fatten one up quickly: Carnation Condensed milk!

On top of that, half of me comes from hearty southwestern Virginia mountain stock -- so in the eighth grade I was already 5' 8", and nary a boy wanted to dance with me during our enforced PhysEd square dance classes. I heard all the outloud whispers about "It's a shame she's so fat, as she has such a pretty face."

Relatives would say, "Oh, you're not fat, you're just big boned. You'll grow out of it." My mother would say, "I can't get your brother to start eating, nor you to stop."

I got a late start (no high school dates), yet I did eventually slim down somewhat after I left home and was out on my own -- but my self image was irrevocably scarred.

At age 27, tall, striking, and "normal" in size, I married a gentleman who felt his family was a reflection of himself, so he was particularly nasty when first his wife, then his two sons in their pre-teens, became pudgy and un- svelte. His own problem with alcohol didn't seem as much a concern to him though ...

Now, at age 60, after having divorced finally after 24 years ten years ago, and having tried every diet under the sun, I'm having another go at it. Like the strong lady that posted the above message, it has FINALLY hit home ... same message! I never had success with all my many diets (and there were MANY!) because my head wasn't in the right place!

I resented my loved ones for not accepting me for being me, for not being good enough because I didn't think that I fit their image of what I should be, and, in my mind, forcing me to be "nice" because, afterall, if you're overweight, you have to try extra hard to be liked, don't you?

Please, those of you who are overweight, don't wait until you're 60 years of age to understand that you don't need anyone's approval but your own to be successful in changing your habits and your lifestyle! Your head HAS to be in the right place!I'm losing weight (with Weight Watchers -- hey, it's sensible and it works)

erin said...

Somewhat of a blognewbie myself, I'm excited to take this moment and leave my comment virginity behind and commend you on what a well-written post you've authored. Throughout the entire piece, I felt like your words clothed my emotions and so perfectly described many of my very own emotions. While I was not totally able to relate to all the actual occurrences in your story, I totally connected with the feelings you were left with. I really appreciate and applaud your work. Come check out my blog if you're ever interested. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts ;)