Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

My brothers called me "Ten-Ton Twinkletoes" when I was a child.  I was fat then.  I'm fat now.  About once a decade I would lose a significant amount of weight, then gain it back -- not exactly the traditional format of yo-yo dieting, but also not evidence that I ever really wanted to be thinner.

But some things have changed in my life, and today (Starman and I weigh ourselves and the dog -- yes, the dog! -- on the first of every month) my weight is just below a really (really) round number.  I weigh less today than I have in 15 years.

Excuse me while I stop to answer some FAQs.  Yes, it is all about nutrition and exercise.  Yes, portion control is key.  Yes, it is a lifestyle change, not a diet.  Yes, I'm taking it slowly: about 4 pounds/month.  Yes, I have a specific goal: to lose 45 pounds by next October.  Oh, and one more thing:  I'm not taking any "herbal supplements" or the like, but I was put on an antidepressant earlier in the year that specifically helps with controlling urges.  That's helped a lot.  Talk to your doctor before beginning any weight loss or exercise program...

Okay, where was I?  Right: weigh less now than I have since 1994.  Here's what happened with my weight loss in the 90s.  I was in law school at a relatively old age (36 when I matriculated) and I got it in my head that I needed to lose weight before interviewing.  Now, I want to make clear that with every single one of my Weight Loss of the Decade experiences, at most I was going from "fatter" to "less fat."  I have never, in my memory, been anywhere near "thin" or even "normal."  The weird part of that being that my parents were "normal" as children and young adults, and their parents were as well.  My aunts and uncles: normal, and their children: normal.  So it's a familial thing, but just my immediate family.  (I'm clearly the "morbidly obese" one among my siblings; the other three are, at most, overweight.)

Anyway, in the 90s I devised an eating plan I could stick with (low fat, but with lots of white-flour pasta, as I recall) and got down to around 20 pounds lighter than I am right now.  Then my brother got married, and as I'm really quite allergic (i.e., I have an involuntary but negative reaction) to my siblings, that scuttled my weight loss.  I can actually remember the Dunkin' Donuts "Boston Kreme" doughnut that signaled the change from weight loss to weight gain.

I've known for a long, long time that my weight is connected to my damaging childhood.  Not only is overeating "feeding the hungry heart," as Geneen Roth put it, but being fat was like an instant invisibility cloak.  I know: weird, hunh.  As a very large woman (not only fat but tall as well), I'm hard to miss but easy to look past.  That's always suited me pretty well.  I didn't much want people looking at me, or perhaps a better way to express that is to say that I was used to people not seeing me.  In the manner of damaged children everywhere, I've been able to continue my childhood experiences into adulthood with a few additions.  In my case, a whole lot of fat.

I lost weight in the 80s, then had an affair with a married man (where the punch line was him cheating on both his wife and his "regular" girlfriend by sleeping with me), and regained the weight.  I lost weight in the 70s, had a family friend say, "Wow, I never knew you had breasts," and regained the weight.  I even lost weight in the 60s, when my parents sent me to a diet camp at age 10.  I lost 28 pounds (but still not "thin" even at that age), and when my older sister saw me she said, "Jesus Christ," to which our uncle, an Episcopal priest, replied, "No, that's your sister."  I regained the weight.

Other than the weight loss at age 10, where frankly my parents could (and should) have done a better job of learning how to manage the family's nutrition (to be fair, I would probably have still found a way to regain the weight, but I wouldn't have had so much help), I take full responsibility for every failed diet and every weight gain.  As the bumper sticker says:  I AM A VOLUNTEER NO ONE FORCES ME TO OVEREAT.

What's different now?  Maturity, I guess.  My body can't handle the extra weight now; at my last doctor's visit, I was pre-diabetic, which is an actual diagnosis.  Taking the weight off -- and it doesn't have to be all the weight; studies show that even a 10% drop can make a huge difference in one's health -- may well reverse that trend.  So I watch my sugar intake, try to eat more whole grains but less of everything else, and walk the dog daily.  At least I try to walk the dog daily; I probably succeed 4-5 times a week.

About that really (really) round number I dropped below today?  I remember the first time I weighed that really (really) round number.  I was 17, I think, and still in high school.  I've weighed less and I've weighed more, but until today I never thought, "Not seeing that number again."  And today I know I won't see it again.  Because whatever kept me fat is being dismantled.  I've found the antidote for my allergy to my siblings (I just don't contact them -- and they've never contacted me to ask why), I'm feeding my heart with stuff other than food, and I allowing people to see me.  I will have to continue the trend; it's not like my anxieties won't recur.  But it's a good start.


  1. My mother has struggled with weight issues all her life. Before my son was born, she decided she needed to improve her general health so she'd be around to see him grow up. She started going to the gym and eating healthily and the weight came off slowly but consistently. Almost three years later, she's managed to maintain her weight and still have the odd treat. I'm really proud of her.

    Possibly as a result of seeing my mother yo-yo diet when I was growing up, my weight issue went in the other extreme when I was a teenager. I'm determined to do all I can to prevent my daughter developing a similar complex. Unfortunately, eating disorders among young girls seem endemic. I'm convinced that's a problem which needs to be taken just as seriously as the fight against obesity in kids.

    Congratulations on your weight loss!

  2. Thank you, Sarah. I'm proud of your mom too. It's such a complex problem, and there's no single bromide that "fixes" all the issues. And it's not like there's a single set of issues that all fat people have! So each of us has to poke around and find both the methodology to lose weight, and the antidote to whatever reason we have for being fat in the first place.

    Tell your mom congratulations from me.

  3. Magdalen - great meeting you last night. I like your blog. I have linked to it in my google reader. I also have a blog, but haven't posted to it much lately. Have a great holiday.

    Mary Ellen