Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Weight Loss

   Ah the weight loss section.  As a woman living in the Western world issues with weight are almost inevitable.  Being to fat or to thin, not having enough ass or way to much, having to dark or to light of skin, boobs to big or to low - essentially any body part that can be picked apart and viewed as "not right" is constantly on the lips of the media and therefore on the minds of most women.  The ideal Western woman body (white, 5'7, long straight hair, big perky boobs, flat ass, small waist, and 95 lbs) is one that is unachievable for most, yet we all fall victim in trying to reach this unattainable ideal.  Celebrities are constantly in the news defending their "fat ass" or telling their "secret" of a skinny body.  Even Oprah  - one of the most powerful women in the world, I mean she picked and elected our last President for God-sakes - still feels like she has to defend her weight to the world.

I have my own weight issues as many women do. I am not unique in this respect and find it sad and infuriating that weight becomes the focal point of womanhood throughout Western society.  But, my weight loss, gain, loss story is one that is central to my journey and so I tell it as a way to finally get it off my chest.

I was "fat" - not "thick." "big boned," or a "little chunky" but good old fashioned "fat" growing up.  My mom is from the South and my parents owned a take-out rib restaurant so I was around rich, indulgent, enticing food all the time.   I ate when I was hungry, happy, and celebrating.  But, I also ate when I was sad, lonely, and scared.  The latter feelings are ones I felt most of the time.  My mother was a hard person to live with.  Her expectations of us, her kids, were ones that were, and still are, unfeasible.  So I ate, and I keep eating.  The more people told me I was fat, the more I ate.  Why not, I figured if you thought I was fat then I might as well live up to your expectations.  But, I was also tall, really tall, and so I also figured that since I was big one way might as well be big the other way.

Interesting enough I was also athletic and pretty good at the sports I played.  I found solace in volleyball as my height and weight were a benefit - well really the height, the weight just made things harder to do.  But it got me through high school, and living with my mom, and it helped me find an initial niche when I went to college.

OHHH college - I loved every minute of it and hated about half of it.  I entered college at around 270lbs and left weighing 333lbs.  I made friends, went out, drank, learned some stuff in class - everything you associate with college life.  But, I was never truly happy as I always knew I was the "funny fat friend" people could dump their emotions on.  I allowed myself to be a garbage disposal for others emotions (I was use to it with my mom so really didn't know any better) and I turned my body into a dump for food.  I didn't date because I thought I was ugly and fat, and I didn't take care of myself because I thought I wasn't good enough.  Now- before I go further I am not looking for sympathy.   I say these things because at the time they were real and part of my reality.  This was my worldview and everything I did was because this is how I understood myself.  But I digress...

Let's go on.  When I left college I was really unhappy with how I looked, how I felt, and who I was hanging around with.  My family life was not the best and the "friends" I held close to me were fickle to say the least.  I moved down to Louisiana on my own to start my Masters program and this is where I essentially started to change how I saw myself and the world around me. 

I was hot, sweaty, and overall uncomfortable when I first arrived in Baton Rouge.  So, I decided that maybe I needed to lose weight.  I hadn't weighed myself in years, afraid of what the scale would say - "YOU'RE FAT DUDE!"  When I stepped on the scale, that is what it said.  333lbs.  Now, that is alot of goddamn weight for a 22 year old ex-college athlete to hold, even at 6'3".  So I joined LA weight loss and dropped over 80 lbs with them in 2 years.  Interestingly, I didn't really learn how to balance diet and exercise.  Instead, I learned how to manipulate what I ate to achieve a 2lb weight loss per week.   In doing that I began to have an unhealthy relationship with food once again.  This time I was afraid to eat certain things like "carbs" thinking this is what made me fat.  I didn't really work out because I was told lifting weights would make me gain weight instead of lose it.  Looking back the whole program was shit, but it got me results and in this world that is what the consumer wants - results.

During the summers of 2005 and 2006 I worked at two weight loss camps on the East Coast.  These places were great because it created a bubble where all I had to do was work out, watch overweight kids, and eat "healthy well balanced" food made for me.  So I lost more, this time the "healthy" way and was down to 210lb by the Fall 2006.  I looked damn good, but all I saw in the mirror was a fat girl who was just less fat.  No one warned me about the whole mental aspect of weight loss - not at LA weight loss, Weight Watchers, of the two camps I went to - and I didn't see it coming.  How does someone deal with looking at a whole new body and person after seeing themselves a certain way for 25 years?  To look in the mirror and not recognize the person staring back at you is a mind-fuck (excuse the language, but it really is).  So as I was trying to wrap me head around the new physical me I was also dealing with the death of my father, a crazy ass mother, living in a city that I hated, and completing a Ph.D. program. (Really I was dealing with life and how it can bitch slap you up the face three times and then bend you over, but again I digress..)  That is the thing fat camps and weight loss programs don't do.  They don't really teach you how to live in the real world and embrace a new lifestyle of healthy eating and exercise.

The Problem with the Biggest Loser Show

So over the next 3 years I went up and down in weight as I balanced a stressful Ph.D. program, applying for grants, and a new relationship.  The relationship was a good thing - we are still together and Mike moved to the UK with me to start a new life.  But the other junk really took over my life and so I fell right back into bad habits that I picked up as a kid.  I let food, and now alcohol, become my escape instead of running or lifting weights.  Issues with my mom, which I will write on in a future post, began to come back and cut away at my self esteem.  Being in academia with all the inherent psychological racism and elitism cut down the drive I had to keep going.  So I stopped eating healthy and I drank alot, ballooning back up to 280lbs by the summer of 2009.

This picture was hard for me to look at, but it was a reality check.  I moved away from East Lansing, MI July 6, 2009 and left for a 2 month trip around SE Asia, Istanbul, and Barcelona before settling with Mike in Bristol, England.  Throughout that trip I was uncomfortable, lazy, hot, and sad.  I saw amazing sights and met wonderful people but I didn't feel like me.  I was back to how I felt when I was 21 leaving college and going to Louisiana.  I had to take a step back and start re-evaluating what the hell I wanted out of life.  In order for me to be happy with myself I had to take control over what I put in my body as well as what I did with my body.  Did I want to be 30 and unable to walk - no.  Did I want to wake up with constant back pain the rest of my life - no. Did I want to buy another wardrobe because I couldn't fit into my clothes - no.   That is when I decided that I needed to start training for something and the half-marathon came to mind.

Now, I am down 10lbs, with a goal of getting to under 200lbs and 20-18% body fat by August 31, 2010.  It really is not that hard to lose weight - it is called eating sensibly and exercising.  Calories in vs calories out, but that is not sexy and it requires...guess what...WORK.   I am ok with that.  The other ways seemed like quit fixes for me - eat these things and you will lose weight or go away to a fat camp and shed all that unwanted excess lovin.  But really it took me years to put on the weight so it might take years to get it off.  Like I said in my first post I am happier all around now as I am living in place I like and have a boyfriend that is supportive and who I love.  I also started to invest financially in me - instead of eating out 3-5 times a week or going drinking I pay to have a trainer once a week and do yoga with an instructor once a week as well.  I keep a food journal and write down what goes in my mouth - this helped me see what I was actually putting in my body which allowed me to see all the crap I was disposing inside myself.  Then, as all academics do, I read a book that really helped me rethink the whole "dieting culture."

The Body Fat Solution.  I love this book - and no I am not trying to promote it for profit - it was the only pic I found that I could drag to my desktop and put in the blog!  But anyway, I like how Venuto first addressed the psychological aspects of weight gain and weight loss before he even thought about going into food and exercise.  He starts with explaining the power of the mind, citing scientific studies as his form of proof.  He says that positive thinking is a great thing - but not in the vein of The Secret.  He contends that when you start to think that you can do something, and you create vision boards, give yourself daily affirmations, and create goals that work towards the result, then you are training your mind to actually accomplish that goal.  So the positive thinking, or reinforcement, gets you to take action towards accomplishing something - like weight loss.  Honestly, this makes commonsense - but as my dad use to day not all sense is common (thanks Dad).

So the fact that he is grounded in science helped me to see the connection between the spiritual awaking of positive consciousness and the physical reality of "diet and exercise." 

I find creating goals, setting targets, and having a plan allow me to balance the various parts of my life.   Really, it is not that much more work.  We all plan our days, our weeks, even our years.  Our calendars are full of "to do lists" about work and social life, so why not include your physical and mental life on it as well.  If we don't take of our mind and bodies then how in the hell are we to be productive in any other aspects of our lives?  Don't believe the hype - you can't lose 30 lbs in 30 days if it took you 5 months to put it on - I mean it is simple math.  But you can take the same amount of time it took to put on the weight and work it off.  That is what I am planing to do. It took me really a year to put on the 70 lbs I gained and so I am expecting a year to take it off and then a lifetime of committing myself to truly loving my mind, body, and soul to keep it off.  Yet, this doesn't mean me trying to fit into some "ideal acceptable type."  Being physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy is my goal - not fitting into a size 4 jean because it is trendy.   That is where lots of people get mixed up - losing weight because you are unhealthy and your body yearns to be at a smaller more manageable weight is very different then losing weight because you feel pressured by society, your friends, or your family to fit some ideal.  So if you are on your own weight loss journey make sure you first understand WHY you are doing so before you begin.

Next time - yoga...


Meg said...

You go girl!!!!! You should really write a book--you're a damn GOOD writer!

Sam said...

You were right...that was one long-ass post. It's a good thing you're engaging (and included good photos) keeping your readers focused and interested. Proud of you. :)