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Posts Tagged ‘losing weight’

Skinny doesn’t make you smarter or kinder

In beauty, behavior, blogging, culture, food, Health, life, women on June 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm

By Caitlin Kelly
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Great, lucid post from Joshua David at Jezebel:

Being thin is a priority for some people. This is a fine and perfectly valid thing. But your priority is yours and yours alone, and the ease with which one can make this a priority is irrelevant. It’s obvious if you make the same arguments about any other lifestyle choice that it’s absurd on its face. You know what’s easy? Being really knowledgeable about film and film theory. It’s something that I make a priority in my life. I don’t go to the gym; I go home and watch French New Wave films. But people aren’t crashing the comment section of reviews for Michael Bay movies to tell fans how easy it is to hang out and watch François Truffaut films and how much better you’ll feel, if you just make it a priority.

If you place a great deal of importance on being thin and athletic and in amazing cardiovascular shape, I think that’s just swell. You made something a priority in your life and you are doing things you enjoy. That’s great and I encourage you. But you’re no better than the person who doesn’t place a priority on those. Your choices aren’t better than the person who is fat and in great shape (I ran a half-marathon at 275 pounds, I know from being fat and in shape), or who is thin and in terrible shape, or even the person that’s fat and out of shape. Those people have different priorities than you, and to suggest that their priorities are inherently and obviously lesser, whether with outright nastiness or couched in pseudoscientific – hell, even solid scientific – concern trolling, is high-minded arrogance.

As someone trying to slim down — preferably by early September  when I start teaching two college classes a week, (i.e. being more publicly visible than working alone) — this hit home.

Again.

I admit it. I’d easily shed 30 pounds in a few months if I immediately stopped consuming: alcohol, cheese, any sweets, bread/pasta/rice — and made time to exercise vigorously for an hour every single day.

Bah.

I’d rather weigh a larger size and enjoy my life.

Me, a cover girl -- even at size 16

Me, a cover girl — even at size 16

I lost some serious weight a few years ago by going on a super-strict diet, the kind where you measure everything you consume, eat no fruit and in which my only allowed “snacks” were a tiny handful of almonds or sour, wet, cold, unflavored o% fat yogurt.

Neighbors were asking my husband: “Is she OK?” Meaning — the weight loss was so quick and noticeable (and I enjoyed it, believe me), they assumed serious illness.

But it wasn’t sustainable.

Women’s bodies are used every day in our toxic culture to shame us into silence and submission, as though wearing a smaller size of clothing somehow makes one of us more valuable in the world than another.

Which is bullshit.

Some of the nastiest women I’ve ever met were petite and chic, and some of the kindest are pillowy and zaftig.

And some women simply have no time or no money to focus all their energy on the size of their ass.  And/or they work multiple jobs and/or face underlying health issues and/or are helping needy family members — all of which make getting and staying skinny a much lower priority than mere economic and emotional survival.

Here’s a lovely and inspiring post about taking a photo of herself  — while overweight — by a professional photographer, L.A.-based Stephanie Simpson. As I did for the AT cover shoot, she had the services of a make-up and hair artist and a pro shooter to do it.

When the AT team of five (!) — makeup/hair, photographer, art director, stylist and assistant — came to my one-bedroom apartment, flying in from Chicago and Atlanta to NY just for me — I was excited and happy. I could have been terrified but I really enjoyed it.

I think my confidence both surprised the team and made the day, and the photos, much better than we probably expected.

I’ve modeled twice now at this size, both times for pro photographers, one time (yes, really) in a bathing suit, albeit with most of me underwater demonstrating water aerobics. It was a lot of fun.

Yes, I would like to be thinner. But until I am, I do not measure my sole value in the world — whether to friends, family, work — by the size of my ass.

The size of our hearts — as evidenced by our acts of compassion and generosity — and our brains’ ability to create art and science and music and dance and solve difficult problems — matters most.

 

It’s not just about the calories

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, food, Health, life, work on April 22, 2013 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m intrigued by what we eat, why we choose it and how challenging it is to eat (and drink!) very differently if you’re trying to lose weight.

Here’s a link to a new book that explains how major food companies carefully engineer things like potato chips so they are quite literally irresistible.

English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz...

English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz-brand, grandma’s kettle-cooked style. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2002, I gained 23 pounds in one year, stunning both my GP and ob-gyn.

I hadn’t done anything very differently, (no entire-cream-pie-eating-sessions, for example), but two major events had happened in the same six months — I’d started research, and lots of travel, on my first book and my mother (who survived) was found to have a very large brain tumor.

I went out to Vancouver, British Columbia, (I was in Dayton, Ohio doing book research when I learned I had a few days to get there) to see her through the surgery. Oh, and, I’d discovered some cysts in one breast (turned out to be nothing) that was scaring me shitless.

My point is this — if you’d commanded me, then, to count every calorie I was ingesting, I’d have laughed hysterically. Every ounce of my energy and wits was already in play.

Nor did I have much free time to go to a gym or be intentional about weight loss. I was writing a book about women and guns in America, a topic that was sometimes so dark and frightening I got secondary trauma. I’ve never owned a scale, nor am I the sort of person who stares at herself in the mirror every day pinching every excess inch with self-loathing.

But I do live and work in a wealthy suburb of New York City, where the alpha women are all ropy arms, size 2’s in sheath dresses, their calves the diameter of my forearms. And, in America, being productive trumps everything, so we’re all running reallyfastallthetime, tending to the endless needs of our bosses, clients and families, usually in that order.
Oh…..and our needs as well.

I think this skewed order is very much a part of why so many people are so fat. When the only source of real, cheap, accessible pleasure is something in a crinkly bag you can cram into your mouth while driving/commuting/sitting at your desk, you’re going to take the path of least resistance.

If the only thing that day (or week or month) that is going to make you 100 percent happy, (without a fight or eye-roll or endless negotiation with a whiny toddler), is a doughnut (dopamine hit alert!), odds are higher you’ll reach for the easy, quick and cheap holy trinity of sugar, salt and fat than a pious, low-cal apple or pile of celery sticks.

The Thai versions of Lay's Potato Chips. Most ...

The Thai versions of Lay’s Potato Chips. Most of the flavours are seafood oriented. Why can we not get these flavours in America? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our choices are also deeply cultural. I recently interviewed a senior manager who tried to call a lunch meeting of her staff in Montreal, a city with French values (food matters!) in a nation much more committed to life balance. No one came. I love that!

We are all deeply hungry, throughout our lives, for many things — silence, beauty, kindness, understanding, stimulation, leisure, pleasure, solace. Many of us simply do not have enough of these things in our days, or lives. We under-value them, or refuse to carve out time for them or have made too many commitments to many other people. We’re lonely or bored or overworked or underpaid. Possibly all of these miseries at once!

Food becomes proxy for so many other things we really want but can’t get, often in public moments when we most need comfort or joy: Fries instead of a hug. A Coke instead of a compliment. A bag of popcorn, with butter, instead of ten (six?) hours’ unbroken sleep. A 20-ounce latte instead of 20 minutes’ walk in fresh air with a lovely view.

I’m trying, still, to lose that weight, upping my exercise routine and being more careful about intake choices. So fucking tedious!

English: Snack food (potato chips and the like...

English: Snack food (potato chips and the like) vendors at side of church in Coyoacan, Mexico City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simply counting all those calories doesn’t address the fundamental and challenging issues of every single choice affected by our knowledge [or lack of] nutrition, our limits of self-discipline, our self-awareness, and the limited time many of us have to choose, prepare and consume affordably healthy food.

I did an eight-day silent retreat two years ago and when I re-emerged into the noisy chaotic world I was much more aware how noisy environments made me unconsciously eat more faster.

Food contains so much more than calories!

Here’s an interesting blog post about how we decide what to eat.

Do you enjoy cooking, and/or eating?

So after I spend months in self-denial, my reward is…more self-denial?

In beauty, behavior, food, Health, life on January 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Interesting, if deeply depressing, story in The New York Times Magazine by the paper’s health reporter, Tara Parker-Pope, about how bloody hard it is to lose weight — and keep it off:

While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.

“What we see here is a coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight,” Proietto says. “This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment.”

While the findings from Proietto and colleagues, published this fall in The New England Journal of Medicine, are not conclusive — the study was small and the findings need to be replicated — the research has nonetheless caused a stir in the weight-loss community, adding to a growing body of evidence that challenges conventional thinking about obesity.

I’m writing this post the day the story appeared and it’s already listed on the Times’ website as the fifth most e-mailed and eighth most-viewed story of the day.

“You see! It’s not just me!”

I can hear the frustrated bellow echoing across the internet, as fatties tell their skinnier/self-righteous family to back the hell off on the single easiest way to nag someone and make them really miserable. By telling them how to lose weight. “All you have to do is…”

I know because I need to lose weight — at least 30 pounds — and my father never lets me forget it. When I went out to British Columbia last year to put my mother into a nursing home — she, a former model with wrists the diameter of twigs — said “You’re fat.” Nice.

Two years ago this month I went to a nutritionist who put me on a vicious diet. No sugar of any form for a month. No carbohydrates or fruit for the first two weeks. I measured everything I ate with measuring cups and spoons. I drank a lot of water.

Yes, it worked. I refuse to get on a scale but I know my body — and see how my clothes fit. I shed 15 to 20 pounds within four months. I looked and felt great. Worried neighbors stopped my husband to make sure my weight loss was benign.

And then….why, yes, the weight came back on.

No, it didn’t creep up on me in my sleep. It showed up in the ways it does for all of us who weigh more than we should: through my own choices, of dessert, beer, the occasional cocktail, gooey French cheese.

Pleasure.

I have no tidy answers on the battle between sensual enjoyment of a wide variety of food and drink, to me one of life’s great gifts, and being lean, taut, ever-vigilant for every stray calorie, exercising every day for hours to make sure the flesh is vanquished. My fridge contains the Holy Grail of 0 percent fat Greek yogurt. I eat it every day — and am sick to death of cold, wet, sour — but healthy! — nutrition.

There is a terrible, sad irony that millions of people worldwide are dying of starvation as the rest of us freak out over calorie counts and portion sizes.

Have you gained weight — and lost it — and kept it off?

Do you find it difficult?

Why Diets Fail — Boredom! NYT Writer Test-Drives Pre-Made Meals

In behavior, food, Health on May 5, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Here’s one male writer’s frank assessment of what he was buying when he signed up for pre-made meals to help him lose 30 of his 230 pounds:

After online searches and conversations with friends, I decided to compare the offerings of four companies: Zone Manhattan, Chefs Diet, Nu-Kitchen and eDiets. All four would deliver the meals to my door in Brooklyn. Three deliver daily, while the fourth, eDiets, sends a large package once a week. None of the companies knew I was a reporter.

Krispy Kreme doughnuts being made at the Krisp...

Image via Wikipedia

There were dozens of companies I could have chosen, though it is hard to say how many are in the business at any one time. Research from Mintel International, which studies consumer behavior, suggests that the recession has made all-in-one diet programs less appealing.

“Consumers are trading down to do-it-yourself diets with foods or supplements from the supermarket,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, a global food and drink analyst for Mintel, a Chicago company.

Nu-Kitchen bills itself as the “ultimate personal chef and meal delivery company.” I ordered the five-day plan ($230.53) and was told that I would be sent 1,800 calories a day.

$230! That’s a really good pair of shoes, maybe three on sale.That’s what two of us spend on two weeks‘ groceries, and I eat 2-3 meals at home every day out of that.

What he’s getting for all that cash are three things, all of them helpful although each of them is actually a crutch. He will have to learn to walk differently. And alone. That’s the hardest part:

1) Portion control. My, that’s no food! Look at all that….empty plate. Eating out will never, ever look the same to you again.

2) They build in their idea of variety. Not what you like.

3) They free you from the tedious torture of grocery shopping for only healthy foods, let alone the endless measuring spoons/weigh scale/measuring cup drama that makes you start to feel like every meal should simply be served in an IV tube or maybe a beaker with graduated white lines so you know exactly when to stop.

I’ve been on what I like to call my doctor-ordered LD — Loathed Diet — for almost a month. I can’t tell you how much weight I’ve lost because (yup) I don’t own a scale and don’t want to. I know my own body quite well, thanks, having inhabited it for a few decades and — having been an athlete and dancer for as long — know intimately how it looks and feels. Yes, I look in a full-length mirror every day in very bright light. My body is noticeably smaller, all over, mostly on top. (I’m OK with that).

Once I start cycling and swimming, I hope to shave off even more, faster.

But, you know, when even the doctor who sent me to the dietitian says: “Most people never lose the weight”, honey, where’s my motivation? A little back-patting goes a long, long way to keeping your shaking, quivering hand away from the chips/candies/Scotch/whatever filthy bad thing you love most.

I wish Fred lots of luck but he quickly learned what any miserable fatty learns — 1700 or even 1800 calories a day is nothing! No sweets, very, very few carbs. That does not include — hmmm — doughuts or cookies or cake or pancakes or a margarita. (I get 1 oz. of dark chocolate starting Friday [woo hoo] but only if I sacrifice one of my two daily servings of fruit (1 cup, 8 ounces) or starch (4 ounces, 1/2 cup) in its stead.

Welcome to the nursery!

The sheer boredom of eating the same damn legitimate foods over and over  and over and over – plain yogurt, a small handful of nuts, a small serving of popcorn (but you better make it because it’s drenched in oil) will kill you.

I am only able, I know, to hang in this far because I work about a 2-second walk away from my kitchen and a fridge filled with so much lettuce it now looks like a rabbit’s hutch. The issue with weight loss isn’t just self-control, it’s control in general — over what, where, when and how you put food and drink in your mouth.

Very few of us have $1,000+ a month to spare for someone else feeding us pre-made small portions.

And, yes I can hear all your potato chip bags rustling! Sigh.

The Diet, Week Three: Loose Pants, A Piece Of Toast, Ignoring Cheesecake

In behavior, food on April 25, 2010 at 9:32 am
A visitor walk past wine bottles on display du...

Look, but don't touch...Image by AFP via Daylife

Only five more weeks to go.

I went out for dinner on Thursday with my colleagues on the board of a writers’ group. We ate at a midtown Manhattan restaurant, set menu: salad, steak, a piece of cheesecake the size of a foot for dessert. I ate strawberries instead, watching the man beside me dip large, multiple pieces of bread into olive oil. Everyone drank a lot of very good red wine, not allowed to me for another three weeks.

Lessons learned, so far:

You can say no to anything. You may have to say it loudly, and forcefully and repeatedly when out in public or at a restaurant — as I did last night when offered a fistful of succulent (off-limits) Peking Duck. Ditto, the rice.

A teaspoonful of peanut butter starts to resemble some sort of divinity.

Lean protein really makes you feel very full for a long time.

Doing almost no exercise at all (still awaiting clearance post-arthritis flare-up) I see a difference in two weeks: pants are much looser. So (weeps the sweetie) is my bra.

Carrying the right amounts of prescribed food (a measured bag of almonds, a 2-ounce piece of cheese) with you helps when you are so hungry you are ready to eat your arm.

Whining about the rigors of this regime has its benefits — people have been kind and supportive and offered me tips and special low-calorie, low-carb foods I didn’t know about. I now have the name of a friend’s smart, kind nutritionist. She’s in California but you learn to value expertise where you can find it.

Cups of very good tea or a creamy (skim milk) cappuccino are satisfying. They are not a martini or cheesecake, sorry to say, but they are both safely soothing and familiar.

My Diet, Week Two: Dreaming Of Martinis

In behavior, food, Health on April 18, 2010 at 9:33 am
DSC_5327

1.500 calories. Yum! Image by sam sha-put-ski via Flickr

Sitting here drinking my coffee (skim milk, which it always was, no sugar, as usual.) Trying to work up an interest in eating — for the second week — a breakfast of two to three eggs, bacon, a vegetable and a piece of cheese. Eggs have never been a favorite food and after this week ends, I may not eat one for a long, long time.

Friday begins Phase II, with the (re) addition of a tiny amount of carbohydrates and, for the first time in two weeks, fruit. It will be four very long weeks before I am allowed to consume refined sugar in any form — maple syrup, sugar, honey. Thanks to the steroids I’m on for my arthritis, no alcohol has entered my body for weeks. I pass our decanters of Balvenie and Tanqueray with only a brief, pining glance.

Now I really know what food means to me and what its deprivation makes me feel.

Lousy. Angry. Miserable. Controlled. Infantilized.

Shut off from the simplest pleasures of eating out, making a great meal for my sweetie, throwing a dinner party, biting into a creamy piece of Brie or fresh hunk of sourdough. Food is not fuel, to me. By removing its pleasure, and turning it into the enemy, I have had to look food straight in the face and see what it looks like.

We don’t have kids or pets or, really, hobbies. We’re both workaholics, lucky to eat dinner together by 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. most nights. Weekends, as they are for many of us, have been a cherished break with some beloved rituals, whether the blueberry pancakes my sweetie makes for me before I go play softball or the cold Stella or Guinness (one) I drink after the game with all my friends or roast chicken (yes, with skin) I plan and make for us.

A cold, wet, sour 6 ounces of unsweetened Greek 0% fat yogurt is not going to do it for me. Sorry.

Three things sustain me in this world, without which I am not sure life is worth it: ideas, delicious sustenance and beauty. These have been consistent for decades.

I recently blogged here, and had op-eds in two major newspapers, about having been bullied for three years in high school. What I didn’t say was that, every day after school on my long walk home, lonely and battered emotionally, I passed two bakeries. I’d eat something sweet and delicious from the first one and also from the second. The long walk and a high metabolism saved me from gaining weight. Sweet, gooey food was very real, immediate, reliable comfort. (Sorry, not a piece of celery or a low-calorie, low-fat apple.)

As it is for millions.

Losing weight and re-thinking the role of food in one’s life means paying exquisite, unrelenting attention not just to the invisible and delicate chemical balances of leptin and ghrelin and cortisol (that regulate appetite and satiety) but how it tastes and how it makes you feel and how happy your kids or husband or girlfriends are when you cook and serve them something delicious. And drink, whether a creamy cappuccino (still  permissible, thank God, with skim milk) or a stiff G & T (not OK. Shriek.)

I went grocery shopping in a suburban supermarket this week, as I have for the past decade. Obstacle course! Nightmare! It felt like one of those “hellhouses” that evangelical Christians like to create to show sinners the wages of their behavior. Every single aisle was a minefield of easy, terrible choices: chips, cookies, ice cream, candy, soft drinks, fat-laden meats, sugar-added breads, “low fat” yogurts packed with sugar. You practically need a pair of blinders, like those worn by the carriage horses in Central Park that block out all those cars and buses and pedestrians from view, to maneuver through without submission to multiple temptations. Produce aisle, dairy case, lean meat — out!

Eat out, for  a break from those damn measuring cups and spoons,  and you have to keep repeating, over and over: “No rice, bread, corn, carrots, thanks!” Then they bring it to the table anyway.

We ate Indian last night, where they know me, and the waiter — bless him — asked “Gin and tonic?” , my regular. That was tough.

I am now painfully aware how minuscule a “portion” is — go try it — four ounces of wine (as if!); one cup of pasta; 12 almonds.

The only good thing is, yes,  I am already noticeably thinner. I refuse to get on a scale. I’ve had enough humiliation for one lifetime, thanks.

I know my own body and how my clothes fit. I’ve had terrific support and advice here (thanks!) and from friends who have handed me some foods that work for them (Dreamfields pasta) and other tools.

Only five more weeks to go. Then….?

The Diet: Week One, In Which I Enter A Bakery Just For A Tantalizing Sniff

In behavior, food, Health on April 14, 2010 at 9:49 pm
Silhouettes and waist circumferences represent...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve never dieted. Never wanted to. The doctor ordered it and for two weeks I have a tightly edited list of foods I am allowed to eat.

No starches (including carrots, sweet potatoes, corn); sugar or sweetening of any sort; no fruit in any form; no rice, pasta or any type of bread. It will modify only slightly over the next six weeks.

Here’s the challenge. If you stay home, and never go out, and are OK with that hermit-like existence, it’s workable as you calibrate every single mouthful, literally, with a set of measuring spoons and measuring cup. Such a fun start to a meal!

If you actually venture into the real world of restaurants and cafes and mass-marketed meals — I just spent two days in Boston — good luck! Salad in a campus cafeteria offered “lite” dressing, filled with high fructose corn syrup (a sweetener) and no bottles of oil and vinegar to substitute. Breakfast in the train station meant grilling the poor people at Cosi whether their eggs were real or powdered; they didn’t know, which was not reassuring. I ate the contents of their wraps without the forbidden wraps.

You wander about in a haze of permanent hunger, food glimmering and glistening all around you like some mirage in a distant oasis: donuts, mountains of muffins, enormous cups of fresh orange juice, a cool, amber glass of beer enjoyed by the guy sitting beside you at the bar as you sip your….Diet Coke.

You start to count the very few people who are not overweight or even morbidly obese, and notice how rare they are, anywhere. Some of them look like the Michelin Man, a belt cruelly tightened across their midriff as if it were a torture device. You wonder if they even have a bossy/caring physician or if their doctor is unkind or unhelpful or has just given up on them.

Your day, if you love to cook and eat and drink and plan the night’s dinner, has lost its focus as food and drink as a source of pleasure are erased. I don’t want a lifetime where food becomes mere fuel, every single calorie a dreaded threat to my existence. Today’s New York Post featured a story about mid-life women, several of them boasting how they are hungry all the time thanks to their minimal food intake — but look hot.

I’ll take tepid and happy…The “reward” for losing weight, the dietitian told me, is…even less food! Tinier portions, because my body will need fewer calories.

This is motivating?

I start physical therapy tomorrow, 45 minutes of pool aerobics to loosen and strengthen my arthritic left hip, which I am assured — and logic would agree — will hasten weight loss by burning more calories.

I am counting the days until I am deemed strong enough once more to get out on my bike, work up a sweat in the sunshine and get back to my Saturday morning softball game. (Two weeks ago, I could barely walk across the room because of the hip pain, which oral steroids have mostly relieved. A hip replacement is in my future, but I am hoping to postpone it for a few years, at best.)

By then, I might gnaw on my glove. Hey, it’s protein.

Food Fight! Why We Love To Hate Fat People

In behavior, food, Health on April 9, 2010 at 8:47 pm
American cultural icons, apple pie, baseball, ...

Starch! Sugar! Fat! Carbs! Image via Wikipedia

Why do fat people make us insane?

I was struck by this recent, powerful post by fellow True/Slanter Ethan Epstein:

Imagine a television show on a major American network in which AIDS victims were paraded in front of the cameras and hectored by ultra-conservative evangelical ministers. The ministers inform the victims that they are being punished for their “decadence” and “hedonism.” Or perhaps a different program – one centered on people dying an agonizing death from lung cancer. They’d have cameras shoved in their faces as anti-smoking campaigners told them that if they wanted sympathy, well, tough. After all, they should never have smoked in the first place! Or, best of all, how about a show concerned with fat people. A chef from a foreign country would come stateside and lecture the citizens of America’s “most obese city” about how their unhealthy eating habits are going to consign them and their children to an early grave. This infantalizing message would be accompanied by lots and lots of camera shots lingering on the fatties’ rolls of flesh.

This week, kicking and screaming like a three-year-old who really needed a nap, I went to see a dietitian who put me on a severely restricted diet, on doctor’s orders. I don’t look obsese to most people. Curvy, yes. Definitely a candidate to shed some weight. I’ve gone into surgery more eagerly.

As Jamie Oliver is learning with his ABC television show, getting anyone to change what they eat — size, portions, taste, fat, salt, sugar — is a task far more complex than it appears. Set aside his show and the drama of battling school bureaucrats. Our emotional relationship to food and drink is like some tenacious desert plant, its wiry, tough roots buried deep in our psyches.

We eat what we eat, whether sipping, swallowing or gulping, for many many reasons, some unconscious.

Here’s what happened today at lunch. I ordered a small Caesar salad with grilled no-sauce chicken and a Diet Coke. I’m allowed, for that meal, two cups of salad and 2 tablespoons of oil and vinegar and 6 ounces of lean protein. No starches. I brought (hidden beside me, I ate alone) a measuring cup and set of measuring spoons. Waiters stared. I didn’t care.

The small salad, in our local Greek restaurant, was four cups of lettuce. It also had croutons that looked fried. A huge plate of fresh pita bread — I love warm pita! — dropped onto the table. A thick dish of creamy sauce. I had both taken away.

Were I my usual weary, distracted self, reading a newspaper or magazine or deep in conversation with a friend, I could easily have eaten both, inhaling a delicious 500 extra calories, all while eating “healthy” food. In only one meal.

My diet, for now, is about 1700 calories a day. Sounds like a lot to me. Hah! Hunger is now a constant companion. It’s like a little dog gnawing on my ankles, day and night. I’d like to drop-kick it across the room, (not a dog, the discomfort), and have two more weeks to go.

Millions of people today would be desperately thrilled to have access to half these calories.

We need to acknowledge to ourselves — our kids, our doctors, our mirrors, our fridges and grocery carts — that food is not simply fuel. We cling to it, and savor it and gobble it and gorge on it, for many reasons:

Culture: For many people, certain foods mean “home”, whether the fat-marbled smoked meat sandwiches Montreal is famous for; the creamy hummus of the Middle East; the flaky delight of a burek or baklava or croissant. It brings us, with every bite, closer to our country or culture of origin, in a nation of immigrants, no small thing.

Family: Feeding your family is the most primal act we commit, from the moment the baby latches onto the breast to deathbed purees.

Love: There are few easier, quicker, more affordable ways to show your love for someone than to cook them a meal, whether chicken soup or a birthday cake. “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” women are told. And it is.

Memory: For my friend Dalina, it’s her Nana’s spaghetti sauce. For others, their mother’s pie or uncle’s barbecue. For my partner, who grew up in the Southwest, his late Mom’s posole. My Dad always adds fresh apple to his salads so when I do it I think of him. (I also do it when I sip a great glass of Scotch.)

Pleasure: In a time of terrible financial difficulty for millions of Americans, food and drink remain, for the fortunate, a ready and cheap source of refuge and comfort. If the fridge or cupboards are full, so, too will be our belly, if not our gas tank or bank account. The salty crunch of a fresh potato chip or the creamy smoothness of a rice pudding — bad for you!!! -- carry tremendous allure when everything else is simply too damn expensive right now.

For low-income families, “right now” can be a lifetime.

Yes, I know and I agree — everyone needs to make wise(r) choices, eat small(er) portions, stop choosing to consume fried crap crammed with chemicals and color and sugar and salt. Have you tried to buy a loaf of commercially made bread with no added sugar or high fructose corn syrup? Good luck!

The United States — unlike France, Germany, Canada, Japan — was founded by Puritans. People not, perhaps, wild about the sensual pleasures of the flesh. Consider this in the finger-wagging culture that mistakenly and punitively conflates the size of your ass with the value of your soul.

I am now doing physical therapy for my arthritic hip at an upscale health club. The parking lot, at 9:00 a.m, is so packed I can hardly find a space, jammed with Range Rovers and Mercedes and BMWs as dozens of lean, ropy women head inside for yoga or a class or a workout. They are not, clearly, distracted from their goals by a long commute or a job. It’s a lot easier to be skinny and nauseated by fatties when you’ve got hours to burn off every calorie that goes into your mouth.

The cheap easy rush — sort of an addictive sugar high, really — of loathing fat people needs to be moderated by compassion.

Some fat people have no money. Some work three jobs and have little time to find and cook fresh foods with the lowest calories. Their local stores or bodegas may not stock the right foods and drinks. They work weird hours and/or it may be dark, cold or too dangerous in their neighborhood before or after work to even go out for a healthy, vigorous walk. A gym or health club can cost a shocking amount; our small, crowded, worn suburban Y charges more than $80/month for a family membership. That’s not cheap.

And who will watch your kids?

Too many people are forced to gulp (!) meals at their desks, shoveling food into their faces as fast as possible to avoid looking slack or weak — someone who can be fired. Many are constrained by physical pain or injury — I haven’t been able to exercise since January. To the ignorant and judgmental observer, I’m PiggyGirl  — clearly someone with zero awareness of how she eats, obviously overweight from (not), snarfing Twinkies and double cheeseburgers.

When some of us can’t even cross a room without agony, and 46 million Americans suffer from some form of athritis, (only aggravated by obesity), it’s time for the skinnies to lay down their self-righteous whips.

The next time you feel like sneering at a fat person, whether their flesh is jammed up against yours on a bus or airplane, or on TV or at the gym, ask yourself why.

Fat Luck? The Obese Have Very Little Of It

In behavior, Health on March 19, 2010 at 8:39 am
Silhouettes and waist circumferences represent...

Image via Wikipedia

Interesting essay this week in The New York Times about how and when the seriously overweight feel others’ contempt:

As a woman whose height and weight put me in the obese category on the body-mass-index chart, I cringed when Michelle Obama recently spoke of putting her daughters on a diet. While I’m sure the first lady’s intentions are good, I’m also sure that her comments about childhood obesity will add yet another layer to the stigma of being overweight in America.

Last August, Dr. Delos M. Cosgrove, a cardiac surgeon and chief executive of the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, told a columnist for The New York Times that if he could get away with it legally, he would refuse to hire anyone who is obese. He probably could get away with it, actually, because no federal legislation protects the civil rights of fat workers, and only one state, Michigan, bans discrimination on the basis of weight.

Dr. Cosgrove may be unusually blunt, but he is far from alone. Public attitudes about fat have never been more judgmental; stigmatizing fat people has become not just acceptable but, in some circles, de rigueur. I’ve sat in meetings with colleagues who wouldn’t dream of disparaging anyone’s color, sex, economic status or general attractiveness, yet feel free to comment witheringly on a person’s weight.

The writer, Harriet Brown, teaches magazine journalism at the Newhouse School in Seattle. She also found that doctors…!?…hate fatties:

Some of the most blatant fat discrimination comes from medical professionals. Rebecca Puhl, a clinical psychologist and director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, has been studying the stigma of obesity for more than a decade. More than half of the 620 primary care doctors questioned for one study described obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment.” (This last is significant, because doctors who think patients won’t follow their instructions treat and prescribe for them differently.)

Dr. Puhl said she was especially disturbed at how openly the doctors expressed their biases. “If I was trying to study gender or racial bias, I couldn’t use the assessment tools I’m using, because people wouldn’t be truthful,” she said. “They’d want to be more politically correct.”

Despite the abundance of research showing that most people are unable to make significant long-term changes in their weight, it’s clear that doctors tend to view obesity as a matter of personal responsibility. Perhaps they see shame and stigma as a health care strategy.

I need to lose weight. My GP wants me to lose so much weight I might as well cut off a leg or two to get started.

I want to lose weight, too — and for the past three months have been fighting excruciating hip and back pain. You can’t exercise when you’re in agony! One of the toughest issues when trying to lose weight is being told — over and over and over — by your family, your doctors and every single women’s magazine featuring anorexic 15-year-old models — what to do, what you must do, what is the smart, healthy choice.

You can be overweight and still have a functioning brain! We’re not deaf, you know.

Telling someone what to do is very different from helping them achieve a challenging goal. We live in a finger-wagging culture, where every self-righteous size 4 feels totally fine telling the rest of us if you just….be like moi!…we’d be fine. Going into stores to buy something pretty, even willing to spend some serious coin, and being told, oh no, we sell nothing larger than a 12 is another smack in the head. Larger sizes? Only on the website, blubber-butt!

I still make money, Ann Taylor, French Connection, J. Crew…

I often feel so totally overwhelmed by my competing responsibilities — and I don’t even have all the additional, relentless and time-consuming demands of kids and/or pets and/or a commute and/or a parent with Alzheimer’s — that going to the damn gym or taking my hour-long 4-mile walk falls right off the list after: earn money (in this recession, freelance, no small challenge), manage whatever money I’ve earned, saved and invested meticulously, get out and drum up more paid work to make sure that next month’s bills are paid, finish my book, work on the next book idea, take care of my partner and our home.

And, oh yeah, take care of my body, spirit and mind.

It is easy to feel hopeless and fed up. It is hard(er) work to do what needs to be done.

From 501 To 170 Pounds: A Man, A Bike, The Builder Who Believed In Him

In Health, men, sports on February 12, 2010 at 5:18 pm
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Image by Ralph Hockens via Flickr

Here is an amazing story — of grit, courage and determination. The man, Scott Cutshall, is not an Olympic athlete, but a regular guy, a Dad, who used to weigh 501 pounds and now, thanks to a newfound passion for bicycling and a custom-built bike that allowed him to get started even while he was gargantuan — weighs 170.

This piece is by Frank Bures who has written for Mother Jones, Outside, Esquire and Harper’s, among others. I found this today in a doctor’s waiting room in Bicycling magazine and it’s a great read:

The news was not good. The doctor gave him six months to live without bariatric surgery. With it, the doctor said, Cutshall had a 50 percent chance of making it out of the operating room.

“I’m a dead man,” said Cutshall, sobbing softly.

Over the next few years, even as he defied that dire prediction, every doctor, every authority he consulted would give him equally urgent warnings. Everyone told him the same thing: Lose weight or die. At the doctor’s office that day in 2002, Cutshall had voiced the foremost question in his mind.

“Do you think I can lose the weight on my own?”

“No,” the doctor had said. “At your weight, I’ve never heard of anyone doing it.”

One day, he sees a cyclist whizzing past his window, since all he could do at that point is stay home, and finds a bike-builder in whom he confides his unlikely dream, to start riding again:

Bob Brown, a part-time bike builder from Minnesota, happened to be at a low point in his queue. “Honestly, I didn’t take it real seriously,” Brown says. “I’ve had plenty of people claim to want to get back in shape and change their lives, but they didn’t follow through on it. So I responded and said I’d be willing to talk to him about it, but I really never thought I’d hear back from him.”

Five days later, the two settled on a frame and a price. Brown, who would be traveling to New York for his other job as a design engineer, agreed to stop by and take some measurements.

“Scott made dinner for me the first night,” Brown recalls. “He couldn’t stand up for more than a minute before his legs were exhausted. He cooked dinner, but he sat at the stove and asked me to get ingredients for him. I remember thinking: Wow, I can’t imagine living this guy’s life.”

Three months after Brown’s visit, in early 2005, he flew back into town with Cutshall’s new ride, a mono-grammed blue-and-white, steel-framed cycle with tandem-strength wheels and a fork that took Brown as long to build as the entire rest of the bike. It was, he says, at least five times stronger than it needed to be.

Read this story, put down that cupcake/beer/pizza — and get to the gym! It certainly inspired me.

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