The Thin Line

December 5, 2008

The other day I pulled out an old album I have from my high school days. Most of the pictures were taken during my senior year, the time when I think I looked my best. I was slender, but curvy, and I was just reaching that point where I was starting to look like a woman rather than a kid.

However, there’s one photo stuck in there that horrifies me. It’s from the previous year when I 17 and weighed about 90 pounds.  It was taken at our school’s junior banquet, and for the occasion I’m donning a black satin cocktail dress. But I look like a bobblehead doll. I have these teeny, tiny chicken legs with no muscle, stick-like arms and my hips — of my God, my hips — are jutting out of my sides with no discernable curves. 

What’s especially scary is that a) my mother still thinks this is one of the most beautiful photos of me ever taken and b) I remember that at the time this was taken, I seriously thought I was FAT! I can recall stressing over whether I should remove the little jacket that came with the dress and whether it made my hips look too wide. In retrospect, I don’t know what the hell I was on that night that I actually thought this. I can’t even begin to imagine what the old me would do if the current obese me were to visit her. I think I’d have to sit on her to quiet her shrieks of horror.

I often wonder how someone who was so obessessed with being thin could end up becoming ridiculously huge. I just finished a wonderful book called Hungry by Allen Zadoff. Zadoff shedover 100 pounds, but what’s interesting about his reflections on weight loss is that he concludes that anorexia and binge eating, as well as other food issues, have more in common than most people think. Now that I think about it, there has been a clear evolution in my eating disorder: I went from starving myself to bingeing and purging to simply bingeing. Though the change from small to large has been relatively gradual, my eating disorder has been there all along — just in different forms.

It’s been liberating for me to admit that yes, I have an eating disorder, and I appreciate Zadoff’s book for recognizing that connection between the various incarnations of it. That said, when I beat this thing — notice I’m saying WHEN and not IF, I think I’ll come out stronger than ever.

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Well, as it turns out, my two Thanksgivings didn’t derail my weight loss. I’m down another pound, bringing me to 289. Still a looooong way to go, but I’ll take anything I can get for now.

I didn’t have too much time to dwell on my weight, though; today was World AIDS Day and my mind was elsewhere.

For the past two years, I’ve played flute at Beth Israel Hospital on World AIDS Day. I do this through a group called LIFEbeat (www.lifebeat.org), which my musician friend Isabel introduced me to. Basically, LIFEbeat recruits musical volunteers to perform for AIDS patients throughout the city. For the Beth Israel event, they had me playing classical music to welcome the patients, doctors and their families, and then again during the reception.

During the actual event, several people got up to speak or perform songs about the cause. I was particularly moved by the speeches made by two women who are living with AIDS. One lost her entire family to AIDS and then learned she was also infected; the other lost her 5-year-old son to the virus. By the end of their talks, I was in tears.

I’ll admit, when I first arrived to perform, I was worried about what people would think. Would they think I was too fat? Would I look stupid in the photos that were being taken for the paper? But I quickly realized that NO ONE CARED. People were just grateful I was there to entertain these patients who’ve been through so much.

Before I left the venue, the LIFEbeat organizer, Erika, wished me a “happy” AIDS Day. This took me by surprise.

“Is it happy?” I asked.

“Well, we now have hope,” she explained. “Patients are living for many more years with it.”

This is true. We’ve come a long way with AIDS research and the outlook isn’t as dire as it was 20 years ago. Still, once you’re infected with AIDS, that’s it. At least for now, there’s no turning back the clock. It’s something you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life.

You see, this is where I’m lucky. I can turn back the clock when it comes to being obese. I can lose the weight and make myself healthy again. I have an opportunity to treat my body like it deserves to be treated. It’s selfish of me not to when other people don’t have that option.

Weighty Matters

November 26, 2008

OK, first the good news: I lost four pounds this week! For those of you who aren’t schooled in math, this brings my weight to 290 lbs. Still beyond the average realms of fatness, but a step along the way back to Healthyville.

Unfortunately, my size still remains a weighty — pun intended — topic between myself and my parents. This Saturday, we visited them to take my dad out for his birthday. But what should’ve been a happy celebration, especially with all my dad’s gone through recently, turned sour when my mom got in a sneak attack and brought up my gain.

Now don’t get me wrong, I GET that they’re concerned. I GET that my mom’s probably freaking out about her obese daughter having a heart attack since her fitness-minded husband just had one. I KNOW that they love me and want me to be healthy and happy.  But you have to understand that with every confrontation comes the weight — another pun! — of years of past arguments and tears.

When I was in college and began to rapidly put on the pounds, my parents would hold little “interventions” for me when I came home for breaks. I’d always try to preempt them by wearing baggy clothes and making up a number of pounds I’d lost that semester, but of course, they could see right through my bullshit. They’d then sit me down in the den and then lecture me about the evils of weight gain.  I didn’t mind so much them wanting to talk about it; hell, I was upset with how I looked and could’ve used the help. It was the WAY they discussed it and the way in which they tried to scare me straight by using negative reinforcement. They warned that I’d never get a job, make friends, get a boyfriend… and that worst of all, I just didn’t look my best. One time they even threatened to remove me from college unless I lost 25 pounds that summer (I did and then gained it back). I found this pretty funny considering the fact that I was an A student who never did drugs and rarely drank. Yet it was my inability to stop eating Ben & Jerry’s that put me in the hot seat.

What I remember most about these “talks,” was just how badly I felt about myself, how I felt like I’d let my parents down. How they were ashamed of me. I was always the good girl and wanted to stay that way… and I had this problem that I couldn’t control, that was making me dread going home to my family. And the lectures never worked. Since I’m an emotional eater, the hurt just made me want to scarf a box of donuts — which I often did. My parents are good people and I’m sure that none of the fears I had were true and that the last thing they wanted to do was hurt me, but it did hurt and this is how I reacted.

Over the years, my weight continued to fluctuate and the arguments got wosre. Being young and stubborn, I became less and less tolerant of the lectures and sought out ways to avoid going home for holidays. I’d stay with my friend Debbie (who ended up becoming my sister-in-law) for spring break, and I remember one lonely Thanksgiving weekend, where I stayed in our apartment while Debbie and our roommate Amy went home. For the entire four days, I never left the place, instead watching movies and eating bowl after bowl of pasta.

In retrospect, I’m less angry at my parents because I realize that they were desperate and wanted to help someone they love. We don’t have kids, but I often wonder how I’d deal with a child who had my problem. The truth is, I don’t entirely know. I think for starters, though, I wouldn’t try to scare her into becoming thin. Instead, I’d be honest about the problem, but then try to find a positive solution, like teaching her to make a low-fat version of her favorite meal. I’d also MAKE SURE to keep her self-esteem intact, reminding her that she’s beautiful, but will live a fuller life if she can move more easily. Still, what would I do if she continued to expand? I can see why maybe they felt they had no choice.

It’s for these reasons that I don’t want to discuss my weight with them. Now that I’m older, we have a good relationship. But when my size is brought up, it brings me back to becoming that snarly 20-something who wants to move clear across from them. Besides, it’s not like I’m not aware that I have a problem. I THINK ABOUT IT ALL THE FUCKING TIME! So when I’m with my friends and family, I really don’t want to gab about this thing that plagues me in my dreams. I want a break, dammit.

I’m pretty sure that my parents won’t stop bringing it up. As my dad says, it’s their job, they’re parents. But they’ve got to understand that I’m 34 years old and have to face the consequences of my own stupid actions. Ultimately it’s up to me to lose the pounds and having the extra burden of satisfying two other people will my progress just makes an already tough task seem all the more difficult.

In the end, though, they’re my parents and I’m can’t write them off. After all we’ve been through, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to come to them for help. Yet, even with our painful past, it’s comforting to know that they’re there if I do decide to.

Of Vice(s) And Men

November 19, 2008

There’s a new reality show on the Style network called Ruby, which chronicles the weight loss attempts of a 400-plus pound woman.  What I like about the show is that unlike many of the obesity-realted programs shown on TLC, it doesn’t only focus on the medical aspects of her journey. The viewer really gets to know Ruby the woman and what her personal world is like. Plus, unlike many other reality TV ladies, she’s not a screechy psycho whore and is actually, well, likeable. Sure she’s flawed, but overall she comes across as a kind-hearted person whom you want to root for.

That said, I felt for her when her ex — the man whom she almost married — came back into her life after a six-year absence. Yeah, yeah, I’m pretty certain that the show’s producers requested his return in order to add some drama to the series (it is a TV show after all), but I don’t doubt the veracity of their prior relationship history. Basically, she believed that this guy (who’s totally buff and really cute, by the way) was the love of her life. He, however, didn’t want to marry her until she lost the weight, and ended the relationship. Heartbroken, she put on even more pounds. This time around, he again told her that he’d be with her if only she’d lose the weight. Ruby then, in the nicest way possible, told him to get lost, explaining that she wanted to get healthy for herself — and in the meantime, find a man who’ll love her regardless of her appearance.

While my first instinct was to cheer, “Woo hoo, Ruby! Kick his skinny ass to the curb!” I can kind of understand where he’s coming from, too. Most of us — much as I hate to admit it, even me — do judge our significant others (or potential mates) at least somewhat on physical attractiveness. I think that when you truly love someone, though, you stick by him or her through thick or thin — figuratively or literally.

In my case, I’m very lucky that my husband, Jon, is one of these guys. We’ve been wed for 8 1/2 years now and I’ve been overweight for most of that time. Hell, I was even a fat bride. Still, I was thin when we first began dating, right after I completed graduate school. Though I’d ballooned up to 190 in college, I decided to get in shape while I was graduate school, mainly because it helped me deal with the stress of a tough journalism program. I worked out six days a week and got down to a nice, trim, muscular 140 lbs. This was probably the best shape I’ve ever been in — even more so than when I was stick thin, back in high school.

Therefore, I was lookin’ gooood  when we first started going out, and after a few months, our romance turned into a serious relationship. I then started work and began putting on the pounds… and before I knew it, I was obese. Still, Jon’s never said anything bad about me. He always tells me I’m beautiful and hates when I criticize myself. I guess there’s a silver lining in knowing that yes, if something happened to me where I didn’t look my best, my husband would stick by me. And yes, there is definitely some comfort in knowing that.

But while’s accepted my overweight status, he’s also gone above and beyond to help me lose weight. He’s never demanded that I do so, mind you, but he knows that it’s something I want to do and is anxious to be supportive. He even did that 20-mile charity walk last year. This time around, I want to show him that I appreciate his efforts because while he’s never said so, I know that my being obese can be frustrating for him. He loves to take long walks, for example, and with the way my weight is right now, that’s difficult for me. And traveling? Forget about it. We both love seeing the world and have been to many exciting places together, such as Iceland, Norway and Australia, but it just isn’t enjoyable visiting a place when you can barely move. The worst was when we went to England while I was at my highest weight of 326 pounds. Back then, I couldn’t walk a block without having to sit down and rest, and I was miserable the entire week we were there. We didn’t see very much of London and I knew just by looking in his face that he was disappointed.

We currently have a trip planned for Japan this spring. I’m determined to get in shape for this. I want to be able to run around Tokyo and perform karaoke without fearing that I’ll be mistaken for Shamu. I want to be able to hike around the temples in Kyoto and appreciate their beauty without gasping for air. I want to be able to enjoy my life — and for my husband to be able to really, truly enjoy seeing the world with me.