Sunday, March 12, 2006

Weighty Issue ...

Every year, I take my friends out to lunch for my birthday. Two birthdays ago, my friends gathered and Dave was the last to arrive. I stood up to greet him as he made his way through the restaurant and his face registered a look of near-astonishment. He hadn't seen me in several months.

After lunch, as he and I left Water Tower to get a cab, he slipped his arm through mine and put his head on my shoulder. I turned to him and said, "Yes?"

His speech was halting. He wasn't sure how to say it, but settled on, "Well, it's just that ... you're so slim, Beth."

I laughed. As we got in the cab, I told him, "Honey, you can never go wrong telling a woman she looks thinner, so long as the context isn't 'My GOD! You've lost a TON of weight!' "

And the funny thing is, while I had lost weight, by today's insane, God-forbid-your-dress-size-isn't-a-single-digit-and-a-low-number-at-that standards, I was hardly "slim."

I'm still not, though I've dropped another size since then. The goal jeans are in my closet. It will be a while before they fit.

This morning, over bagels and coffee, my mom told me about a candle party she went to Friday night, and said, "No matter how heavy you thought you were at your heaviest, you were svelte compared to some of the women I saw that night. And they're younger than you were when you weighed more."

Much as we may not like to admit it, we're all somewhat sizist. If you've always been thin, it may be hard for you to understand the issues behind obesity. "Just stop eating," people say. Oh, there's so much more to it. In the worst cases, it's just like alcoholism: You have to get through one day at a time. But alcoholics may have it easier, strange as that is to say, because you don't have to have alcohol to survive, but you have to have food. And the bad choices taste so much better than the good choices. And it's all so available. White Castle is open 24 hours a day.

So as I got ready for my walk today (which I will take when I finish writing this, because walking every day is something I have to do, because if I don't do it for one day, then it gets easier not to do it for two days, and then a week, and so on), I got to thinking about the people in my life who, well, it's not like they're actively rooting for me to fail - they're not waving Twinkies in my face - but they don't seem to encourage me either.

Some offer endless variations on "Oh, you look fine." No, I don't. I'm not going to starve my way into a size 4. I'm too tall. I'd look like Jack Skellington from "The Nightmare Before Christmas." But I'm also not going to lie to myself that my current body type is as good as I can do. One of my mom's friends, who's been variably heavy her entire life, said to me once years ago, "Face it, we're just big."

That really resonated with me. A voice inside me immediately said, "I don't accept that." I knew then that I could be making better choices, that I needed to look beyond the cookie in my hand and see the bigger picture, that it wasn't a single choice I was making that was the problem, but a lifetime of choices that were packing on the pounds.

So, when the latest friend said recently, "Oh, you look fine" (and to his credit, he was just trying to convey that women are beautiful even if they don't look like Jennifer Aniston), I was able to articulate my feelings in a way he'd understand.

"Remember the Hollywood Vanity Fair issue from last year? Remember that picture of Hillary Swank running on the beach? I want to know what it feels like to live in a body like that. I want to know what it feels like to be that strong," I said. "And the only way to get there is to do the work. I'm not going to get there eating cheeseburgers."

"Well, she's a vegetarian," he said.

Which brings us to food, the co-culprit in the battle of the bulge, the faithful companion of sedentariness.

The aforementioned Dave never eats fast food. Never. Ever. I marvel at that, because we're so bombarded with options on every corner, and because his life is so crazy. He, of all people, could rationalize a run through McDonald's drive-thru. But he refuses. I mean, it's not like he subsists on wheat-grass juice and kelp. He eats real food. But he's very aware that food is fuel, and especially as he gets older, he wants to give his body every advantage, so he's mindful of what he eats (though I've shared occasional desserts with him and he clearly makes exceptions to his own rules and indulges with relish). And it pays off. He's the frontman in a very cool band and the boy has serious moves on stage.

When I'm in super-serious mode about dropping weight, I admit to getting very boring with my food choices. Not because all the food need be boring, but because I'm lazy, and if I find things that work, I just stick with 'em. I have friends who harp on that - "You can't eat that for the rest of your life" - and they're right, but eating the somewhat-boring food jumpstarts my metabolism and I drop a few pounds and then the weight loss becomes its own motivation. No, I won't spend my life eating steamed veggies and brown rice and poached chicken and oatmeal and bananas and apples and pears and grapefruit and plain baked potatoes, but for a couple of weeks I will. And then, if I have the occasional cheeseburger, it doesn't do as much damage, because my metabolism is stoked and I can burn it off in a couple walks.

So what's the deal? What's the resentment I register from such people? Why don't they encourage me? Am I holding up a mirror? Am I making them think, "Ah, shit. Yeah, I should get my butt off the couch, too"?

A couple weeks ago, I went through my closet, which had become overrun with piles of clothes. I took everything out, put it on my bed, and sorted. Some of it just went in the garbage. But a lot of it went in bags to go to Goodwill. I have no intention of ever fitting in them again. It's like fashion feng shui: keeping the bigger clothes in the closet is bad energy, and it literally means there's less room for clothes in the size I want to buy.

5 Comments:

Blogger Aarwenn said...

Hi Beth--this post really resonated with me. I've never been heavy, either--at the most a size 12--but I'm at a size 8 now, and the reaction I got from people who hadn't seen me in awhile was similar. "Um, wow...have you lost weight?" Said in kind of a halting tone, more like they were afraid to mention it because they thought I was sick or anorexic as opposed to just hitting the gym more.

Who knows. Now that I've wrenched my knee, I'm less active, and I don't care anymore what I look like--I just want to be able to ski again!

9:07 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

That's kind of you, Aarwenn. "Resonance" is a high compliment to pay a writer.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

I totally understand where you're coming from, losing weight is a constant battle. I've tried all the diets under the sun, but three years ago realized it was a simple formula; calories in > calories spent = gain weight. I'll never be the weight I was in college and that was never my goal. In fact, I've stopped having weight goals because I become so disappointed when I don't hit them. If I drop a pound this week, I'm happy. If I gain a pound, I know I have to work twice as hard next week. Sure, I still hit McD's on nights when I get out of work at 8PM, but I know I better hit the gym the next day to compensate. My problem is I just like the taste of food that's not good for me.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

In the worst cases, it's just like alcoholism: You have to get through one day at a time. But alcoholics may have it easier, strange as that is to say, because you don't have to have alcohol to survive, but you have to have food. And the bad choices taste so much better than the good choices. And it's all so available. White Castle is open 24 hours a day.

I like this analogy, to a point. However, addiction is at times incidental: It's not what you're addicted to, it's that you are addicted to something. Not to be overly simplistic or some sort of addiction expert. But kicking the bottle, while good, doesn't necessarily translate into magically having one's life straightened out. In weight/size terms, there are fat vegetarians. Food choices aren't all that goes into one's stature.

Great post overall. I have been mulling these thoughts recently and your post is well-timed.

12:50 PM  
Blogger scribe called steff said...

Groovy post.

You may be interested to know that there was a science study a few years ago that revealed that people who were overweight a bit were better lovers and had healthier sex lives. It comes down to being in touch with their senses, apparently, and being more drawn to the exotic and indulgent. :)

Lord knows it's true for me. My latest guy is a foodie, too, so this'll be interesting.

It's fun being a foodie and losing weight despite it -- but it's tricky finding things that fulfill desire and fit the diet bill. So, I'll email you a great recipe I have for a cornish hen and salad. :)

11:07 AM  

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