I have just read an essay in UU World, a journal published by the UU Association of Congregations. It's called Weighty Matters.
The subject of the essay is fat. It's written from the perspective of a woman who has traveled my weight journey. Here is a quote that I can very much relate to:
"All of which hurts like hell, but the accusations of laziness especially rankle. I have put herculean amounts of time, energy, and money into dieting and exercise, under the supervision of all manner of medical authorities. I have succeeded in taking off literally hundreds of pounds, and even maintaining the loss for a year or more—the point at which, many weight loss experts assured me, I would be home free, habits and metabolism now transformed into this healthy new me.
Only each time it all came undone. Some life crisis would come along and demand my full attention, and thereby reveal that I had maintained the entire show only through an obsessive effort of conscious will. As soon as these crises distracted my attention away from weight control, the whole house of cards would come tumbling down. All the supposedly permanent behavior changes would drop away, the old hungers would awake with what seemed a new level of voraciousness, and within a year I would have regained all the weight and more, as well as gouging several more wounds in an already badly scarred self-esteem."
That sentence I highlighted in red is particularly true of my experience. I have lost and gained 30, 40, 50, 60, pounds over the years since high school. Each time, this was accomplished through obsessive dieting and exercising.
The time-before-last was just before I met my husband. I had gained through graduate school, as the stresses of a bad relationship and trying to finish my thesis made life difficult and ended my daily 3 mile run, which had helped me to maintain my last weight loss. My teaching job was a fresh start, in a new city, with new people. After managing to successfully complete my first semester as a college professor, I decided to lose weight. I bought a cross-country ski machine and got up at 5:30 every morning to use it for a half hour. I bought a pair of rollerblades, and most afternoons, after teaching, I spent at least an hour rollerblading. I had a quarter cup of cereal with skim milk and black coffee for breakfast, a plain, dry, bagel for lunch, and a half cup of cooked rice with spaghetti sauce and steamed broccoli for dinner. EVERY DAY. For months. There was nothing else to eat in my apartment, and when I had to socialize around food, I would order a plain English Muffin, or salad, no dressing.
I lost 50 pounds over about four months, which still isn't skinny because my body doesn't become skinny and toned, even when I'm eating very little and exercising a lot. But I was fine with how I looked, and it was great being able to get jeans and t-shirts in a size 12, rather than plus sizes.
Then I met Rob, and we started dating. A bag of mini Snickers was the first thing he put in my refrigerator. A husband, a house with a huge yard, and a baby later, and I'd regained all of it and more.
I went through one more yo-yo cycle, when Emma was about four years old. I joined Weight-Watchers online, and began counting points. I obsessively over-estimated points so that I lost weight fast, again by restricting my diet. Then we decided to build an addition on to our house, which resulted in an unexpected period of homelessness, and living in a friend's basement. Somehow, counting points seemed unimportant faced with the issue of living for several months without being able to cook anything. Again, I regained all the weight and more.
I know there are people who lose weight and keep it off. I know there are people who never have to struggle with weight. I know there are people who are great at just watching (not obsessing over) what they eat, and maintaining a healthy weight. But I'm not one of them. After my last yo-yo episode, I happened across some relatively new information about the affect of yo-yo dieting on the hormonal signals that keep your body running successfully. People who diet as I had all my life have basically set themselves up to fail. I decided I wasn't going to diet anymore. If I could just stay the same (big) size, I'd be happy. Well, maybe not happy, but content?
The author of this essay was motivated to write because of the recent deaths associated with lap-band surgery in Los Angelos. Is living life fat so awful that we will so casually risk dying? Being too fat is a public health problem. As a society, we pay for the diseases that affect people who are obese. I've been lucky enough (a genetic roll of the dice) to avoid diabetes, but my hips and knees are paying the price of running on cement sidewalks, and then having to support too much weight on joints that were worn out through exercise that was trying to keep that weight off.
Somehow, we need a cultural change. Two things stand out to me: first, we need to create a culture where eating healthier food and having exercise as part of your daily routine (for example, walking to work) are the norm. Second, we need to stop expecting everyone to be the same thin size. The first time I obsessively dieted, I wasn't fat. I was just on the heavier range of normal. But that was enough to shame me into the first leg of my yo-yo race to thinness. That race has led me to be heavier than I would have been otherwise.
In an effort at full disclosure, here are two photos of me. The first is from the first year of grad school, before it became the stressful hell that seems to be true of all grad school experiences. I'm on the right --and as always, skinnier on top than on bottom :-)
And here is a picture of me taken this Mothers Day, with Emma.
Now I'm just big all over :-)