17 October 2008

To Speak Of Fat, Or Not To Speak (That Is A Question)

For as long as I can remember, my mother has talked about wanting to lose weight. She is maybe 20-30 pounds overweight. She talks about how much weight she wants to lose, how much she’s lost if she’s lost any, about how she shouldn’t be eating what she’s eating, but how long it’s been since she’s eaten it. She says she’s serious about it this time. Lately there is more urgency to it all because her doctor has told her to lose weight, and she thinks losing weight might mean she could stop taking blood pressure medication.

So what we end up with is a kind of an ongoing narrative about 1) her self-assessment of her body, especially its weight, and 2) what she should be doing, but is usually not doing, or not doing enough of, in order to achieve her goal. When she makes a casual comment about my body - even if it is a compliment (but it usually isn’t) - it feels invasive and unkind. In short, it makes me want to eat my socks.

Of course ordinarily we swing between two extremes in reacting to our parents – even if we think we’re too old to be doing so - by which I mean either taking the same approach around a particular issue, or doing the exact opposite. There seems not to be a lot of ‘middle way’ here sometimes. For me this would mean either sharing a continuous commentary about my body and my diet, or else not talking about it at all. I have chosen the latter. It may have its own problems as an approach, but one can’t bore people, or at any rate one must find other ways to bore people.

I am 45. For the last several years, without changing how much I eat or exercise, I have been gaining about 5 pounds a year. In the spring I resolved to take off some weight, so I took a swimming class, which was absolutely stellar in terms of a workout, and which left me so eternally hungry that I ended up horking down twice as much food as usual, and gaining weight. (Not just gaining muscle mind you!) For the last few years I’ve tried various approaches that didn’t work, often gaining weight as a result. I’m getting older and recently have come to the inevitable conclusion that the essential choice is between 1) being old and feeling good physically, or, 2) being old and fat and feeling low energy. The choice seems pretty clear, not that it’s an easy one for some of us.

So about a month ago, noticing that a friend who had joined Weight Watchers was losing weight, I decided to join as well. I have lost 15 pounds and am planning to continue, slowly, over the next several months. The reasons are partly vanity, and partly health-related, partly that I want simply to feel lighter on the earth.

Strangely, the hormonal changes that have started happening have helped me motivate. A few months ago I started having PMS (read: feeling very stressed) for about three weeks per month. It was really unpleasant. My mom told me that if I got exercise that would take care of it, and she was right, so far. So I have been really motivated to exercise - if I don’t, say, for one or two days, I feel tremendously stressed and anxious. The cause and effect here is very straight forward, whereas often such connections are harder to directly grasp because results happen so slowly. Although I did feel sorry for myself initially (especially when I would have what seemed almost like an anxiety attack), perimenopause has basically helped me to start taking better care of myself, which I am grateful for.

The greater challenge will be keeping it up - something I have never managed to do. It’s a big lifestyle change, and it takes a lot of conscious effort not to eat, or to eat a reasonable amount of, the processed, sugared, carby food that fuels life in America. Being a vegetarian takes even more effort.

But at this moment, I feel healthy and alive. I realize that there is more enjoyment for me in eating than there used to be. My clothes are loose. I have noticed that I need less sleep per night, and it’s easier for me to wake up in the morning. I have happily ridden my bike to Ocean Beach a few times from the Mission - yesterday was stunningly beautiful. I lift weights at the gym and for the first time in my life I actually enjoy it. I am occupying my body in a new way.

Some References
I highly recommend any book by Michael Pollan. (I have read The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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