Grandma was a big woman.
Maybe 5’8 or so, and heavy. My mother followed in her mother’s footsteps, and has struggled with her weight her whole life. I, however, did not. I’ve been 5’10” since 5th grade. I hated it. Boys tend not to like to have to look UP to a girl. I remember in high school, I weighed 135 pounds. For some inexplicable reason, I distinctly recall thinking I was fat. I was mental.
My weight slowly crept up over the years. I was 16 when I gained 15 pounds on a visit to my dad in Ohio. The boy I had had a crush on for 3 years did something to break my heart….something I would let him do many times over the years. My response was to sit on my dad’s couch eating cheetos and other junk. Still, thanks to my tall frame, I still looked good at 150. I was close to the top of the range for a “healthy weight” by medical standards. By the time I graduated, I was about 25 pounds above that range.
Then came college, and “The Freshman Ten”, only in my case, it was “The Freshman 25”. One of the reasons I gained the weight was my new boyfriend. He had inherited some money, so there was no longer a financial impediment to my eating out all the time. My mom was sending me some money each month but, to be honest, it was impossible to live on. I don’t remember all my expenses, I just recall having the skimpiest of grocery budgets before Mr. Would Be Ex-Husband came along. I hit 200, and hovered there for many years.
Okay, I know, 200 is a scary number. But I’ve come to realize most people, particularly skinny people, have no freakin’ clue what 200 pounds looks like on a 5’10’ woman. From the comments I’ve heard, most people don’t take into account someone’s height when they comment on someone’s weight. I’ve heard people talk about 150 pounds being fat. Yes, on a 5’4” frame, that’s overweight, but not on a tall woman. But somehow, our supermodel obsessed culture latches on to a number and clings to it, regardless of logic or reason. On me, 200 pounds was *okay*. I was a little curvier, but still looked pretty good.
Fast forward to Oklahoma ’95, and Josh’s death. Jim Beam became my new lover, and after about 3 months of serious depression, drinking, grief and drinking, I saw a photograph of myself. I was shocked. I truly was ignorant to how big I had become. I think I had hit 260. At some point, I joined Weight Watchers . I’d get something like 30 points a day to eat with, and use at least 5 or 6 points each day to drink with. Every Sunday I’d take my “banked” points to Taco Bell and have a treat. I walked every day. I lost 60 pounds.
Then I moved to California. I only knew my brother. I was lonely and scared, so 20 pounds came back to keep me company. I didn’t want to get super heavy again, so I lost the 20 as soon as I could. But this was California, not Texas. 5’10”, 200 pounds may fly in Texas and Oklahoma, but not in California. They say only 5% of the population looks like the women in the movies look…well that whole 5% lives in LA County. I was invisible.
A year after moving to SoCal, I was helping some friends move. A recurrent minor pain I’d had in my back for years suddenly became excruciating. After some x-rays, it was determined I had “degenerative disk disease”. In other words, I had ruptured a disk, and the gel was slowly leaking out. I was sent to physical therapy to strengthen my back and unkink my legs, for I had been walking around with shooting pain down my right leg for so long, it messed with my muscles. To this day, I have Popeye calves. During this nine month period, I was unable to exercise. I wasn’t even able to stand up straight. I’d manage to come in to work, but by the end of the day, I was in so much pain, I’d just go home and lie in bed all evening. There was no way I could stand to cook. I mean, I literally could not stand up long enough to cook. So me and the fast food drive-thru became best buds. And I ballooned up to 275 pounds.
Despite my heavy drinking, I managed to get back down to the 230’s by the time I met my future husband. From the day he first saw me almost 10 years ago, he thought I was gorgeous. Here was this young man, 11 years my junior, handsome and thin, and he thought I was sexy. What the hell was wrong with him?
My weight yo-yo’d for a while. Up to 275, then down to 250, then, post-pregnancy, up to 284. I’m now 241 and losing, slowly. REALLY SLOWLY. But that’s okay. The slower it takes, the better my body can adjust.
I don’t believe in diets. I’ve seen my mom go on a diet and lose tons of weight, but because the diet wasn’t meant to be lived on forever, once she’d go off, she’d balloon back up. What *I* need to learn is moderation…to not binge on baked goods when I get tense, bored, or upset. I also need to figure out a way to get more exercise. When I lost 60 pounds, I was 15 years younger than I am now, and my energy was far better. Now I make it a point to take the stairs to the 6th floor of my office, but that’s the only regular exercise I’ve been getting. Before I fell back into the 20 foot hole, hubs and I were working out with weights three times a week at least. Must resume that.
As I’ve mentioned before, I work in the insurance industry. On the one hand, I find it absolutely infuriating that most insurance carriers won’t provide coverage for weight loss assistance (or smoking cessation programs), but will instead cover the diseases and conditions that result from obesity (and smoking). On the other hand, these are complex issues that can’t be easily fixed with a pill or procedure. So many (skinny) people think it’s just a matter of will power, but they have no freakin’ clue.
When you put on weight, your body changes, and not just how it fits into jeans. Your body CHEMISTRY changes. In our society, it’s all about quick and easy, but when your body drops weight that quickly, guess what? Starvation mode! If you don’t change the way you eat, you’ll put every pound back on and more, because your body will “hoard” the food you deprived it of. Even your brain chemistry changes in response to your food intake.
And let’s talk honestly about the psychological factor. Being fat sucks ass. It’s still socially acceptable to make fun of fat people. Fat people are assumed to be lazy, weak, and/or stupid. Women cut men all sorts of slack in the appearance department (Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, Sean Connery…every damn one of them balding but still desirable to most women I know), but a woman who’s more than a size 2 is invisible, at least in LA. In my single days I joked that men in LA have these anorexic playboy bunny cutouts for pupils. Any woman who doesn’t fit within that shape aren’t seen at all. Remember, when I first moved to California, I was 200 pounds. I carried it well, and got a little bit of attention from men, which got proportionately smaller as my waistline got bigger.
I can remember getting upset listening to my co-workers on several occasions getting together to discuss who they could set (skinny) Jane or Brenda up with. I was available and interested, but it never occurred to them to try to fix me up…they just couldn’t think of who would be interested in the fatty. Actually, it’s good that that happened so frequently. It caused me to complain to a friend about it who, two weeks later, introduced me to the man who would become my husband.
There’s a negativity associated with eating “fun” foods. A chocolate fudge cake may be described as “sinful”. Someone indulging in a treat will describe themselves as “being bad”. Cheesecake is “decadent”.
So what happens when someone tries and tries to accomplish something, but fails, and society at large tells them they are weak and lazy for failing? What is the response to loneliness and rejection? How do you feel when you feel invisible? You might feel like getting drunk. And when you can no longer get drunk, you feel like eating, since food is the only thing you can really count on. You know that Krispy Crème donut will be good. Butter Pecan ice cream can’t reject you. Carrot cake doesn’t care how fat you are.
When you have a problem with alcohol, drugs, or smoking, you can quit those things and survive, better than before. But you cannot quit food. And depriving yourself of everything tasty is not sustainable. I’m not trying to make excuses. I know I’m ultimately responsible for what I put in my mouth. I just feel like I’m caught in a catch 22. I’ve got PCOS, so that makes it easier for me to pack on the pounds (not to mention a genetic predisposition to doing same), I’ve developed sleep apnea, so I don’t sleep well at all, contributing to my low energy (and excess weight), which largely prevents me from exercising, which would allow me to drop more weight, probably lose the sleep apnea, and have more energy. Wait, wha? I know, if losing weight were easy, everyone would be thin. There are a lot of factors going on here, biologically and psychologically.
So the next time you see someone who’s a few pounds overweight…or even many, many pounds overweight…try not to judge them. It’s not necessary to try to shame them (“are you sure you should be eating that?”) or make fun of them. Everyone has their problems. Everyone has their imperfections.
I have to lose weight, for my physical and mental health, and so I can be a better wife and mother. And I will, eventually, gradually. But those in our society who are cruel to the overweight…how hard will that be to shed?
In other words, I can lose weight, but can they stop being assholes?