The Psychology of Fat

I will start this post with a great report: I have lost all my “pandemic” weight, and the last time I weighed myself, my weight was lower than it has been in the past three years.

I have been going to the Y, and I’m continuing my simple no sugar, no carbs routine. That’s it. As far as the physical weight loss, as I’ve discussed before, it’s just a matter of discipline.

However, on the psychological front, it’s not so easy.

Unlike a lot of weight bloggers who’ve struggled with obesity from the time they were children, I was not always super heavy. In my youth, teens, and college years, I was thin. I was a cheerleader for years. Lithe, strong, and generally living in a “normal-sized” body. The massive weight gain began in the 90s for me when a pdoc put me on an Rx that gifted me 100 extra pounds. It was like a runaway train. I tried several times to bring that weight down, but eventually gave up in exasperation.

The weight morphed into something else more sinister though. The weight was what I would come to dub a “spray-on male repellent.” I was able to move about my career without the unwanted advances of creepy men; it was so freeing in that way.

It also afforded me the ability to live my life without inviting men into it with complicated relationships that always seemed to end in ruin. Even more unsettling is the deeper, more fragile realization that the abundance of fat cells wrapped around my organs and bones acted like a bubble wrap, a physical protection against being kicked, punched, and thrown down a flight of stairs. Heavy, I know (pun, intended). To understand this at a root level, there is a book: “The Body Keeps the Score” that I have not read, but I hear it referenced all the time in my women’s work.

On my last appointment with my new pdoc, I struck up a conversation with him about this. He said it’s absolutely a factor (weight gain as protection). He said it’s not uncommon for men to gain weight too to ensure they won’t be tempted to cheat on their spouses. He said he hears stories like mine all the time.

I’ve been working hard here in this phase of my life to face my demons, to heal.

Losing the weight is part of my journey. I’m hopeful I will get back to the young woman I was before trauma derailed my mind, my spirit, and my lovely body. Of course I won’t ever be young again, but I can be that strong, healthy woman again.

I’m working on it.

“I do not yield. Not one second to you. Not one second!”

Negative thoughts get in your head.  They eat away at your self-confidence.  I used to watch this phenomenon with interest as a cheerleader on the sidelines during football season.  I could tell when we were going to lose a game when the psychology of the team “turned.”  It was weird.  It was like an uncontrollable social contagion.  No matter how hard the coaches tried to pump up the star quarterback and all the athletes, if the team was spooked, the game was over. It was a sixth sense, and I could feel it every time.

So, when I saw that recent uptick on the scale, I was worried.  That’s why I blogged about it.  Thanks loyal readers for giving me some confidence.  I hunkered down this weekend and flushed out my system.  Drank a lot of water, swam, and I think I should be okay.

Here is some reverse psychology:

This morning, I happened to peruse my “Memories” tab on Facebook to see what I was doing last year.  I found this photo of me and my friend Jon: 

Of course, I had carefully cropped it so as to not post my gigantic self in the photo.  I’ve posted this photo before on this blog.

I think this dinner was the final straw, however, when I realized I had to do something about my weight.  That I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy the rest of my life that large. Again, I have to make the point that I am not shaming anyone who makes that choice for themselves, and who knows, maybe some day, I will be okay with it again. 

But, for now, I still want to do things that I can’t do as a large person. So, the trek to lose weight began last year at this time.

I decided to go to that same restaurant tonight.  I asked the waiter to take a photo of me. The photo’s not great, and you really can’t see much of a change in my weight, but I have lost over 50 pounds since that dinner last year.

So, in the words of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, (thank you ma’am), “I will not yield one second” to those negative thoughts.  I have made a lot of progress.

And I’m still in the game.

Update: Lost those 2.2 pounds plus .2 more this weekend.

down

 

The Long and Winding Road

Photo credit: Marc https://goo.gl/WAva8b

The weight is coming off slowly now.  Every week, fractions of a pound. Sometimes, I gain a little, and that can be frustrating, even if it’s just fluctuating water weight (I’m measuring everything now).  But I’ve taken care not to fall into the trap I fell into before and to become obsessed with losing weight, to let it control me and let the manic desire to be thin and “normal” to take over my everyday life.

I want to adapt to a new way of living.  I read a great article in the New York Times a few months ago that explains what I’ve been doing more or less.  I have a new relationship with food.  I changed the way I eat.  This, more than anything else, has made the difference.

I’ve lost about 53 pounds now.  Yes, I still have a long way to go.  But the difficult part ahead will involve some more introspection, psychological commitment, and good old-fashioned, patience.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The excess weight that I wrapped around myself served as a fortress that shielded me from male attention.  It rendered me invisible so that I could ward off any possibility of romantic entanglements by making myself as unattractive as possible.  It was safe in that space.

I could start working out more rigorously and attempt to lose weight more quickly at this juncture.  But this would not serve me well physically or mentally.  First, on the physical score, it would be punishing on my body.  I do not wish to punish myself.  I deserve to be fair and kind to myself at this stage of my life.  I don’t hate myself for being fat.  I don’t even hate that I gained so much weight and feel fairly certain that anyone else who endured the shitty circumstances that I did would have found themselves in a fat suit too.  Second, on the mental considerations, it’s kind of the same deal.  I don’t need to shame myself into faster weight loss.  This is where I got into trouble before and eventually gave up because it just wasn’t worth the effort. Additionally, I am not conjoining my self-worth with my body image.  Something very important, and I’d encourage anyone who’s going through a similar journey to view these two as distinctly separate.  It’s unfortunate that society isn’t as enlightened, but so be it.

My only regret about this slow path is that it will take a very long time to get to the weight I want to be to do the things I want to do, such as ride horses.  But as I was discussing with my brother over the weekend, because it’s just one day at a time, one step at a time on a long road, at the point of my arrival, I won’t have to change a thing.  I will be “there.”  I will have literally changed the way I eat, sleep, exercise, meditate, process stress, etc.  There will be no interest in going back to the way I used to live.  In an odd metaphorical way, it’s like I’m walking down a very large mountain path with a slight slope that extends for miles and miles.  It may take years before I get to my destination, but when I finally arrive, it’s almost as if I will be arriving as the young woman I used to be before all that crap happened at the top of the mountain.

Fat Shame on Me

A couple weeks ago, I was having a pretty lousy week (understatement).  Instead of going all DEFCON-drama-1 on social media and posting the truth about my miserable state of affairs, I opted to update my Facebook friends on my weight loss progress.  This news will typically, oh hell– predictably, generate glowing feedback, and I was sheepishly trolling for much-needed attention and support.

But, even I was surprised at the result.

down 46.5

Facebook will occasionally tell you what your most popular post or photo is.  My most popular photo UNTIL THIS ONE (see image to left), was a snap of my kids looking very attractive on a park bench in Brooklyn. This post far surpassed that one by nearly a third.  Once Facebook’s feed claw gets ahold of a popular post, it keeps serving it up to your friends and voilà: 162 of my Facebook friends reacted to the post with a like, a wow, or a love. There were over 30 comments of good cheer and a few questions.  So, I achieved my goal of getting attention, but it really unsettled me as the post kept racking up “social” points.

Granted, I did this for attention, so that’s on me.  I literally created a “piece of content” with this news as a cheap attempt to feel good about myself during a pit of depression.

Getting that out of the way, I had to ask myself, is losing weight the best thing I ever did? After over a decade on Facebook, and all the achievements I’ve accomplished in that time, is losing a few dress sizes the most notable? The most laudable? The absolute pinnacle of my success?  If we went to the grave with our most popular post on Facebook chiseled on our tombstone, would this be how I was remembered?

“In January of 2018, she lost 46.5 pounds.” 

Seriously? What does that say about me? What does that say about our society that looks is so paramount that it trumps everything else?  It’s made me feel terrible for exploiting my weight loss for attention in this way, perpetuating the myth that ONLY thin is beautiful and right. It prompted me to re-examine, as I have earlier on this blog, having empathy for and self-identifying with the health-at-every-size movement.

So, in the end, I fat-shamed myself.  Shame on me.

p.s. I’m not ending my weight loss.  Just not holding it out as some great accomplishment in and of itself.  In subsequent posts, I’ll  attempt to explain the whole mind, body, spirit makeover path I’ve been on. Need to push through this dark period first.

Introspection on My Own Obesity

I’m squeezed into 1A here on a JetBlue flight Orlando-bound to visit with my daughter’s family for a few days.  I hit another milestone today.  I was able to get into this seat and fasten the seatbelt.  Something so simple that millions of travelers do every day was not available to me.  I used to bring a seat belt extender on all my flights.  Once in my seat, I would discreetly snap it together before the seats filled up around me.  I always tried to make sure I was one of the first in my section to board for this reason.  Everyone dislikes overweight seat partners.  I know this.

As I have been sitting here, I was thumbing through Texas Monthly and noticed something else.  I’ve been paying particular attention to fashion, jewelry, and hairstyles.  Now, I secretly think Pinterest is to blame for my sudden interest in all things girlish, but it did catch me by surprise.  Now that I’m on a path toward losing my weight, I’m feeling the powerful magnet pull of my inner femininity.   This is something very different and very welcome.

Thinking of how life is changing for me, reverting me back to my youthful image-conscious self, I started contemplating why I allowed myself to stay obese.  As I’ve explained before, a pharmaceutical drug put a hundred pounds on me very quickly in the 90s.  It was around the time I met my ex-husband (1995) that I was really beginning to put on the pounds.  He didn’t care about my weight and was always very complimentary about my looks, so I didn’t really care about the weight gain as we wound into our ten-year marriage.

But there was more to it than the malaise that sometimes comes with marriage.  For me, the weight was protection.  The layers insulated me from physical abuse in my subconscious mind – abuse from my past that I’ve begun to discuss on my personal blog.  I know it sounds weird, but I’ve been aware of this for a long while.  It’s as if I couldn’t be bruised or broken if I were, well, larger.  Further, after my marriage ended, the extra weight served as “male repellent.”  I tried dating and had lost some weight right around the time of my divorce, but I was still in love with my ex-husband and was unable to seriously consider a new relationship.  A decision I regret, but it was an unavoidable consequence resulting from the disintegration of our family.  After that initial stint, I was not interested in dating at all.  Obesity is the best way I know to not attract a new partner.  I regained those pounds and more, leading up to tipping the scales at 300 at the end of last year.  This was the wake-up call I needed.  I realized I was limiting my own happiness and decided to shed the toxicity that surrounded me – body and soul.

This post is more serious than my usual posts on this blog, but I have wanted to convey that there are complex psychological reasons why individuals stay obese.  Each individual has to deal with his or her own personal demons and should exist in a judgment-free zone.  I will always support an individual’s free choice to reject the societal pressure to conform to a commercial ideal of beauty.   For me, losing my weight is going to afford me the chance to live again.  Rather than dying slowly from the outside in, suffocating under the weight of my own insecurity and mental battle scars.