Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just Desserts

When I was a child, I was unusually thin, so much so that I was the subject of frequent teasing. When I reached my mid-teens, I gained enough weight to be slender rather than skinny, and by time I reached my mid-twenties, I was convinced I was overweight. I weighed 115 pounds at 5'3", but what body fat I did have concentrated in my abdomen, an omen of things to come.

Now I am obese. The term, at least in its medical sense, does not offend me. I weigh almost 40% more than the upper limits of the ideal weight range for my height. For someone with a family history of heart disease and a personal history of hiatal hernia, diverticulosis, high blood pressure, borderline high cholesterol, a balance disorder, and mild osteopenia, that amount of excess weight is risky.

I have another kind of family history, too. The pattern that I followed, slender childhood followed by extreme weight gain in adulthood, is standard for my family. Although my siblings weren't as skinny as I was, all but one were slender as children. Now the four of us who were slender/skinny children are battling overweight, while the one brother who was fat as a child is now of average weight, and has been for most of his adult life. 

Not only am I obese, but my body follows the dreaded apple shape, the one most disposed to problems like diabetes and heart disease. I look like a beer barrel with feet. My extremities, on the other hand, are still slender. If I had as little body fat on the rest of my body as I have on my arms and legs, I'd be hard put to pinch an inch anyplace. 

Of course, I have tried to lose weight in the past. No, I succeeded in losing weight in the past. I have lost enough, on separate occasions, to make myself a twin. I'm good at losing weight. I'm just not good at keeping it off. I'll stay at my goal weight for maybe 6 months, and then the pounds come back, bringing friends.

It's not that I follow fad diets where you eat 3 grapefruit skins and a handful of coffee grinds, either. The closest thing to a fad diet I followed was the South Beach Diet, and I'm not sure a diet consisting of lean meat, whole grains, vegetables, small amounts of fruit and dairy products, and unsaturated fats counts as a fad diet. I still eat lean meat, whole grains, vegetables, and unsaturated fats. The problem is, I eat cookies, ice cream, candy, fries, processed meats, and saturated fats as well. If you remove all the junk food from my diet, what is left is 6-9 servings of fruit and vegetables, more veggies than fruit, 1 or 2 servings of whole grains, 1-2 servings of low fat dairy products, and three servings of protein, frequently chicken or fish, on an average day. That's usually how I lose weight: cut out the junk, reduce portion sizes on what's left, and increase my activity level.

Then I start to miss cookies, ice cream, candy, processed meats, and saturated fats. I try to ease a few back into my diet, like 2 cookies a week, or maybe one small serving of ice cream. Pretty soon it's two cookies on top of the ice cream, with some caramel syrup on top of that. 

When Dr. S, my foot doctor told me I may have broken my foot, possibly while exercising, I discussed these concerns with him. I was exercising because I wanted to lose weight and strengthen my thinning bones. I had discussed the exercise program with my rheumatologist, who was all in favor of it. I told him I realized that the excess weight I am carrying put stress on my feet and exacerbated my other problems as well. 

I had to go back the next day for him to give me the results of my X-ray. That's when I found out that I had a fracture, in a bad spot, and needed to be off my feet for oh, maybe twelve weeks.  I asked if someone could call my husband in from the waiting room so he could hear the news, too. 

John, recalling my previous ankle fracture from 8 years ago, asked why I kept breaking bones. Dr. S summarized our conversation of the day before as "obesity and osteoporosis".

"I keep telling her she needs to lose weight," declares my loyal husband.

Really? Up until then, hubby had suggested I lose weight maybe twice. Most of what he says that is weight related goes like this:

"Do you want to go get donuts later on?"
"Do you want some ice cream?"
"I'm making cinnamon rolls. Do you want some?"
"I thought we'd go get Mexican (pizza, barbecue) for dinner."
"I bought you your favorite cookies."

Perhaps there is a version of the Rosetta Stone somewhere that translates all those statements from husbandese to "You need to lose weight" in English, but if so, no one has found it yet.

Whether there is or not, I need to lose weight. Not because my husband wants me to, not because I'd look better, not because of societal prejudice against fat ladies, but because I'd feel better at a lighter weight. My feet, knees and hips would hurt less, my stomach would burn less, and I'd be less likely to injure myself if my wonky balance makes me fall down. I could walk around the zoo, the park, and the arboretum and look at the wonders around me instead of looking for the next bench to sit on.

The problem I have is, that when making decisions about food and diet, it is so hard to separate health, appearance, and social acceptance as motivators. It's hard to agree that yes, I am a lovable, worthwhile person at my current weight while struggling to weigh less. It's hard to agree that prejudice against fat people is just as obnoxious as any other kind of prejudice while trying to turn myself into a thin person.  I feel like I'm letting the side down. 

I need to learn to look at food in a simpler, more logical way. Vegetables aren't a penance for sinning heavily in a previous life, they are plants with vitamins and minerals that I need to be healthy. Cookies, cakes, and ice cream aren't special rewards that I have proven myself unfit to deserve. They're just desserts.

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