Moving the Needle

You’ve heard me say it before – the rules regarding diet and exercise are different if you’re fat. How many times did I exercise until I injured myself and diet until I felt faint, only to watch the scale fail to move, or worse, go up? Even my husband, who truly believed the “just make calories in less than calories out” lie, couldn’t believe it when I showed him that at the end of a week, the scale had crept up another two pounds.

Cut to now. For the last few weeks, my weight has settled into a range between 142.5 and 144.5. I weigh myself every day, and on those days I’m toward the top end, I limit my carb intake and when I’m at the lower end, I don’t worry about it. I always keep in mind the advice I received before surgery: Stop eating when you lose interest, not when you’re full.

Then came a day when I realized that I had eaten my normal yogurt breakfast, then a dozen graham crackers between breakfast and my lunch salad, then jellybeans until I had a whacking sugar headache. What the hell was I doing?

I needed to figure out a better way to deal with that cycle, otherwise I’d be right back where I started.

First, I stepped back. What’s going on with me? We’ve had some stressful uncertainty lately, and I realized that the stress was making me eat too much of all the wrong foods.

Second, I talked to someone about my anxiety. I admitted that I was terrified of having to move again, knowing that we would likely move to a place that was smaller and less well-situated. I was losing patience and hope about the rebuild – everything is taking months longer than it should. And also, I need to buy a formal for some upcoming events, and I’m terrified that, given my history, I’ll buy a dress and by the time I need it, it won’t fit.

Third, I took the time to address the sources of the anxiety. I increased my depression medication. I wrote to my county supervisor about the permit situation. I signed a lease for another year on this house, with the understanding that we may leave sooner than a year (but no sooner than 7 months). I know that I am exercising every day, with Sundays off. I acknowledged that I have the support of my family in eating a healthy, balanced diet, so there was no reason for my weight to go up.

Fourth, I took a day off. I have the privilege of not having to work, so I slept in. I took my time over my morning tea. I sat on the couch watching crappy television and doing crochet. I let the mental break sink in and remind me that nothing is on fire, nobody’s bleeding, and we’re not going to be thrown into the street tomorrow. I am fine.

After my day off, I had my normal routine: wake up, weigh myself, hit the stationary bike. When I stepped on the scale, my weight was down half a pound from the day before – down to 143.2 – still in the good range.

Back when I was nearing 250 pounds, this would be about the time that the scale would have started creeping up, not just because I would have been stress eating, but because my metabolism was trying to protect me from the danger by hanging on to every calorie. I would panic, exercise like crazy and stop eating in an effort to lose weight and when it backfired, I’d say “Fuck it, it’s futile, I may as well have some pizza.”

Now, even modest changes will move the scale in the direction I want it to go, and when that happens, I feel encouraged and continue to drink a lot of water, snack on fruit, and get on the bike every morning. I feel that I cannot say it often enough: weight loss works differently for fat people vs. thin people. As of this morning, I’m at 141 even.

You May Not Be Fat, But You’re Still Fucked Up

Ever since I started these posts, people have been flocking to me, wanting to talk about their own experiences of weight. Many of them have BMIs* in the “morbidly obese” category (a BMI greater than 40), but just as many of them are what I think of as a “media-normal” weight, that is to say close to the size and shape that people in the media tend to appear.**

When thinner people want to talk about fat, the conversation always starts out the same way: “I lost a lot of weight, and…” But drill down on what “a lot of weight” is, and it almost always turns out to be 30 pounds or less. Don’t get me wrong – it’s fucking HARD to lose weight, and 30 pounds is a considerable accomplishment. Anyone who’s lost 30 pounds has a great deal more sympathy for those still struggling than people who cry about wanting to lose “that last 5 pounds” but have never had a BMI above “normal.”

What’s sad to me is that even those 30 pounds are enough to make many people panic, and to have friends and family begin the cycle of well-meant advice and snotty, skinnier-than-thou remarks. To these folks, those 30 pounds are often admitted to like a dark secret (as though people who saw you in the past could see how your thighs touched or your upper arms wobbled or whatever your hallmark of fat was), and I suspect the reaction they’re looking for is “NO! YOU?” That would reassure them no one could see the moral stain of excess weight. As though knowing they weighed more in the past would make me think any different about them than I do in the present. As though 30 excess pounds is the equivalent of murdering kittens.

It breaks my heart to hear how those people who’ve had a few excess pounds and shed them often talk about the unpleasant things they did to lose the weight. “I gave up all starches.” “I exercised three hours a day.” “I ate nothing but celery for a week.” “I fasted for 20 hours a day.” None of them say “And the whole time, I felt like Superman!” But they did it because they felt they had to suffer and sacrifice, not just to lose weight, but to atone for having gained it in the first place. And the more extreme and unhealthy their dieting journey, the more skinny people laud them for having endured it to re-enter the Company of the Comely.

Weight fluctuates for such a huge variety of reasons, from a slower metabolism due to aging, to the body’s need to conserve resources when it thinks it’s in crisis. People should be kinder to themselves about their bodies’ own changes. Love yourself, not by ensuring that you look attractive to someone else, but my making sure that you feel healthy, strong, and at peace. And if you feel those things at 30 pounds more, you’re fine.


*I use BMI here only because it’s a commonly-used metric. Please remember that both the entire notion of “body mass index” that supposedly measures your lean/fat ratio and the labels attached to various numbers on that index are utterly arbitrary.

**I say “tend to appear,” because we all know that anyone who looks “normal” on television or in the movies is likely a miniature stick figure in real life. I’ve seen Jane Fonda in person. She’s 5′ 8″ and weighs 4 pounds.