The Unbearable Fatness of Being

I find it best to delay discussing a goal until some steps have been made toward achieving it. Otherwise (at least in the history of my life), speaking or writing about an aspiration seems to be a certain talisman against it becoming a reality. For example, about a year ago, I wrote about how I was hoping to get back to the weight I’d achieved at the peak of the long-term diet I started back in 2010, when I lost 135 pounds over the first three years of this decade. So what happened after I wrote that? I gained 25 pounds over the next year.

It’s true that soon after I wrote that post I started having knee trouble, the first of several physical challenges I’d face. The knee issue was just the door opening to the revelation of my ruptured lumbar disc and eventual spinal fusion surgery. I remained as active as possible with the challenges I faced, but I did not want to focus much on what I was eating.

I do fix some indulgent desserts and dinners from time to time, but I am not going to blame my cooking for my predicament. I really believe that the lack of home cooking leads to more weight problems than cooking itself does. I have found that I can eat whatever I want. I just can’t eat as much of those things as I’d like to.

A couple weeks ago, my sciatica resurfaced, like heat lightening spotted far into the horizon. These flares first appeared in the wake of eating something disagreeable in volume or content. I figured that I may have been approaching the tipping point where my back might be straining over the weight I’ve gained. From seeing the multiple images of my spine through x-ray and MRI images, I can see that I still have the exaggerated lordosis, or back curvature, of someone who was seriously overweight. Gaining lots of weight again certainly would not help this situation.

As last weekend began, I woke up with the certain knowledge that the time had come to do something about it. It was one of those moments when you know that you must turn back and choose a different path, that change could grow so hard that only a future “rock bottom” moment could right your course. I had to stop myself from doing a Nestea plunge version into obesity: a trust fall into a sea of french fries and Little Debbie snack cakes.

I had taken that plunge before, more than once unfortunately. In my early 30’s, I reached a the point where I felt so at home with my fatness I justified it sometimes as an act of subversion. Being fat seemed to be the ultimate protest against consumer culture. I wouldn’t buy what was being sold if I couldn’t fit into it. Never mind that I didn’t consider that food is a huge part of consumer culture.

I was secretly pleased when people I didn’t like spotted me and couldn’t completely disguise their shock or displeasure with my size. When I despaired over waking up in the middle of the night to eat ice cream once again, I’d take comfort in a photo moment that never happened: how great it would be to see my daughter’s absent father be shocked if he finally returned and saw me weighing 300 pounds. I imagined that the look on his face would be priceless.

I did not reach 300 pounds. My rock bottom moment was discovering that I weighed 260 pounds at a doctor’s appointment seven years ago. By the way, I am only 5’1″ tall. For a person my height, just 26 pounds separates a borderline healthy BMI (24.9) from start of obesity (30.0). While I was gradually putting on weight this year, I kept thinking that I still weigh so much less than I did way back when. My excuse was the error of my past ways. I didn’t stop to consider that I’d crossed back into obesity.

Since my reckoning last Saturday, I have lost five pounds. I’d like to lose all of the weight I gained this past year. I’m sure that my back will thank me for it.

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The Benson and Hedges Bias

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My Honda CR-V in opal sage metallic

I am inclined to reflect on the past, and I have uncovered a benefit to looking backward: detecting bias. My recent post about Columbia House helped me identify another irrational preference. I considered how 70’s and 80’s magazine advertisements led me to imagine being grown up and smoking a particular luxury cigarette brand. When I looked at my car today, I realized that I had chosen a vehicle in the same color as that brand, Benson and Hedges Menthol. Thirty odd years after first seeing those cigarette ads and being awed by the luxury and minor hedonism shown in them, I still gravitate toward the color of that product.

When I picked out my car a couple years ago, I looked at its metallic sage green paint and thought it showed a bit of grace and indulgence against the chaos of this life. That’s the same thing I thought about Benson and Hedges Menthol back in the 70’s! I’d imagine smoking them on a penthouse balcony, safe from all the bustle on the city streets below.

That bias is fairly benign, setting aside that I did become a smoker. My taste for pale green did not lead me to exclude people or opportunities. When I painted rooms that color, I wasn’t letting that bias guide me at the ballot box, for instance.

Some biases can be self defeating, such as my presumption that I would be forever rotund. In the penthouse daydream of my youth, I’d picture myself as a semi-plump woman trying her best to look like Sheena Easton in pumps and a slimming black pant suit. I wore the self defeat of that I-will-always-be-fat bias every I went on many yo-yo diets. People have asked me how I memorized the calorie content of so many foods, and I tell them this information comes naturally to a person who has been on as many diets as Oprah has.

After I had surrendered completely to this problem, I had the lucky accident of delerium that showed me what I’d look like if I were a supermodel. This image of me without the extra weight busted that bias, and my weight was reasonable for the first time at age 40 (actually for the first time since I imagined that I’d grow up to be a heavy woman).

What you truly believe will come to pass. Once I reached the sometimes cold, hard reality of adulthood, I assumed that facing some adversity meant that I would always struggle. I would never prosper. Circumstance dared me to do better. I didn’t think I’d ever own a car that runs, let alone drive a CR-V the color of Benson and Hedges Menthol.

I’m also glad my youth gave me opportunities for biases that sweeten my perspective. When I was in grade school, I had a dear friend whose parents had a wall display full of political buttons of the past. The one I held most dear was the button that proclaimed, “Remember Harvey Milk.” I feel blessed that I learned about him when I was so young.

As the election approaches, I will take the time to learn more about the candidates, sniffing out what they really stand for as opposed to the biases they might be wearing to promote an empty brand image.

How I Lost 115 Pounds and Kept it Off

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I have maintained a 115 pound weight loss for four years. I would like to share my strategies for two reasons: to help others would like to achieve similar results and to renew my goal of keeping my excess weight off. The hardest part of sustaining weight loss is determining how much focus needs to be devoted to that effort. I admit that I have not found an easy formula for setting this priority, but I know that it needs attention every day. I have learned that I was overweight because I have little sense of proportion regarding food and physical activity. For example, if I do not make a list of what I’ve eaten, I will just keep on eating. Likewise, I won’t move enough without a record of the exercise I’ve done.

Based on my experiences, I think there are many ideas in circulation about weight loss that are discouraging. The darkest one is the notion that it should be done quickly. It is better to think of weight loss like paying off a long term beneficial debt, such as a mortgage or student loan.

My journey also leads me to doubt common ideas about how restrictive a diet needs to be. I think the intensity and duration of exercise suggested is probably inflated, too. I have rarely eaten less than 1500 calories a day. Actually I average eating 2000 calories  and walking 12,000 steps a day. While I was losing weight, those numbers were closer to 1800 and 15,000. I also gradually worked up to those numbers needed for me to lose weight.

Here is a list of what has helped me manage my weight:

  1. Keep a Food Diary and Count Calories – Calorie information is widely available online and on food packages. After a while you will gain a good sense of estimating calories.
  2. Use a Pedometer – At first just use it to get a baseline of your physical activity then gradually increase your steps to 10,000+ a day. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many daily steps you can sustain. Then try some more intense exercise like an elliptical workout or strength training. This last part isn’t absolutely essential, but you may find it feels so good that it helps you stay dedicated to watching your weight.
  3. Limit Restaurant Meals – I try to limit take out meals to once a week. I aim to spend the majority of my food dollars at grocery stores. It is easier to stretch your money and calorie budget by making your own meals. The portions of ready made meals at the grocery store are usually smaller than at a restaurant, too.
  4. Short Term Failures are Inevitable – I think it is impossible to eat right all the time. I have had many bad days with food. I have repeatedly gained and lost the same ten pounds. I try not to see these setbacks as signs of doom. I used to do that and yo-yo dieted my way to 260 pounds as a result. Keep trying, even if you have a bad day, a bad week, or a terrible month.