Confessions of a Fat American

— A New Direction For This Blog.  I’m going to talk about being fat.  I’m going to talk about health and what it takes to become healthier, regardless of whether you are overweight or not.  I’m also on a search for what kinds of exercises are available to people with joint problems, like those I have with my hands.  What can be done about being fat?  I’m probably not the one to ask as I have never figured it out.  But I also haven’t given up and I’ve accumulated a lot of information over the years. So I’m going to take this opportunity in the first month of 2011 to start writing and doing something about my own health and well-being.

What and who can control the issues surrounding weight, beauty, health, and our culture?  Those are things I have some opinions about and experience with, so I’ll probably write about those things, too.

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I have been fat since I was 13 years old. (Before that, my childhood picture looks just like everybody else’s childhood pictures.  I only have one, but I’m sure there were others taken.)

I know I was fat when I was 13 years old, because that’s when my mother first took me with her to a Weight Watcher’s meeting.  As far as I know, I was about a size 11 when I first switched from kid’s sized clothes to adult sized clothes.  I was about 15 pounds heavier than the Weight Watcher’s charts said an adult of my height should be.  That I wasn’t an adult didn’t seem to matter.  That I was just going through puberty didn’t seem to matter.

My father was an up-and-coming minor executive in an insurance company that had built itself a huge new building on the freeway — and so he’d gone from being a country boy who married money, to a self-made ladder-climber on the road to the top floor and suburban life.  Appearances had become very important to him — and would later become more important — so having a fat daughter AND a fat wife must have made it difficult for him to come home at night.  At least that’s how he framed it later.

So I lost the 15 pounds.  My mother was on the Weight Watcher’s (first edition) diet off and on for several years — but with only a yo-yo type of success.  She bought me diet aids that were available at the time — canned chocolate milk flavored stuff meant to replace 1 or 2 meals a day, and diet sodas made with saccharin.  This was long before Slim Fast and its clones.

Here’s a commercial circa 1965 —

By the time I was a junior in high school, my father had begun to “make it big.”  He’d switched from insurance to joining a start-up import company as their National Sales Manager, and suddenly we were on our way to upper middle class life.  The pressure to represent him and his new life was outrageous.  His business partner’s wife was in the same position as my mother, and had found a doctor who would prescribe diet pills — and so at 16, I was still, at most, 15 pounds over an adult weight chart recommendation — and I was crash dieting with diet pills on command to make my mother feel better about her “long and hard road.”

I got down to 122 pounds — a new low for me –and my parents threw a party.  And I gained 3 pounds back in week.  And all the weight I’d lost with the diet pills was back with interest inside 2 months.

Before I left for college, I’d been put back on diet pills+crash diet 3 more times.  And still, I left for college at 135 pounds.

When I went home for the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I went home at about 140 pounds.  My parents had moved into an outrageously massive and expensive house — with a black marble swimming pool, landscaped gardens, a pool room, a bar, 2 dining rooms, 5 bathrooms, and garage space for 3 cars and storage — except they didn’t store anything.  They’d sold the old life and bought a brand new lifestyle.  They had a lake house, a boat, a Cadillac convertible, a sports car, commitments, and a calendar.

And my mother was back on diet pills — so naturally, they insisted I do the same.  My father offered to take me to Neiman Marcus and buy me a new wardrobe if I would just lose all the weight I’d gained at school.  I did their diet — but 3 months of summer break wasn’t enough — even on a 600 calorie a day diet — to get down to the 112 pounds that the new weight charts and Hollywood gossip magazines said I should weigh.

I went back to school starving, miserable, and addicted to pills that the campus pharmacy wouldn’t refill because they were from a doctor in another city (and they were for amphetamines!) so– I went through withdrawal (without even knowing what it was)  I gained back all the weight I’d lost and started having horrible migraines that have never left me.  I was sick and jittery and couldn’t sleep regularly for nearly a whole semester.  And I never went home for more than 3 weeks at a time again. Three years later, my parents were divorced — of course.  My father had finally traded in my mother and her misery and pill addictions for his pretty young secretary who filled the role of arm-candy with much less effort.

When I got married, I weighed bout 155.  I dieted; lost weight; then gained back all the weight I’d lost  plus a couple of extra pounds — and then dieted again.  Each time, I had to diet longer and make myself more miserable and guilty — because that was how I’d learned to do it.

I had chronic migraines.  I had inherited arthritis.  I had severe asthma that had gone undiagnosed all through childhood.  And I was now legitimately overweight. I’d finally learned to talk to doctors for myself and figured out what the “miracle diet drugs” were that I’d been given so many times by slick diet doctors catering to middle-class housewives.  I tried Overeater’s Anonyous.  I tried Weight Watchers again.  Then when Weight Watchers came out with a new “program” — I tried that too.  I tried Slim Fast.  I even tried aversion therapy that used electric shocks to try and alter eating behavior with “technology.”  What a crock!

Somewhere along the way, I completely lost my ability to tell when I was hungry and when I wasn’t.  After being on starvation diets so many times — I was just going from nothing — to my normal food choices over and over again.  I would eat the first thing that I could find — a whole bag of chips instead of a serving.  A huge deli sandwich instead of a normal-sized one.  The Special Mexican Dinner — that came to the table on a platter and 2 salad plates, instead of the daily lunch special served on 1 salad plate.

By the time I’d had knee surgery, a baby, and moved back to school so my husband could finish his degree (and then another degree) — I’d dieted so many times that I’d gained 30 pounds more.  After a divorce and finding  a job to support myself and my son, I’d gained another 25.  After 3 years teaching in the public schools, I’d gained another 20.

Down a few pounds — up a few more.  Over and over and over.

Until finally, at about 266, I said “to hell with it” for the first time.  I had a good job that let me buy really beautiful clothes — for myself and the size I was — for the first time.   I just let myself be the weight I was.  And for those 3 years — I stayed exactly the same weight.

This is a clue.

My son got sick — really sick — and we were uninsured.  After several years, he got better with this now chronic condition — but I ended up declaring bankruptcy.  I worked odd jobs so I could be home with him instead of traveling.  When he was going through difficult periods — I stayed home with him and didn’t work at all for days at a time.  I was mixing temporary jobs of all kinds with donations from my family — We found him a small private university with a Medical School/Teaching Hospital, in a residential campus, and a city with public transportation (since he couldn’t drive with some of his medications) and they gave him scholarships sufficient to make up for us having spent his college fund on his medical bills.

And when he went off to school, I decided that maybe it was time for me to go back and finish my education, too.  Mostly, I’d been under a lot of stress, and just needed to succeed at something for a while.

I got a teaching assistantship and set out in search of someone who could speak to all the things I read and studied in the background of this life, and was eventually sent to the only person the campus could recommend to direct my studies.  He and I started talking — and have never stopped.  Instead of getting a Ph.D. — I got married again.  And the conversation and quest for new and interesting ideas has never stopped.

I have addressed the neglect I’d been raised with.  I have addressed the insane diets I was told to go on for all the wrong reasons when I was young.  I have worked to unravel the twisted hunger/satiety responses that diet drugs and deprivation worked to destroy so effectively.  I have laid awake nights trying to untangle the bizarre expectations of others and the surrender to no expectations in myself.

For years now I’ve focused on my ideas, my mind, my creative endeavors, and the people I love and who love me.  I stopped wearing makeup over a decade ago.  I stopped wearing the expensive clothes in my closet and drifted to a wardrobe of denim skirts and t-shirts / sweaters.  I dissociated from my family of origin.  I have read what I wanted.  Studied what I wanted.  I have slept nights from beginning to end without cold sweats or nightmares.  I am not nearly so loud as I once was in conversation.  I have stopped demanding and directing  those who cross my path.  I have worked hard to discover what I believe and why.  I have become a much nicer person than I ever was in my youth, and I ever gave anyone indications that I could be.  Many of these things can be traced directly to marrying a wonderful and kind man who loves me and who I get to love every day.

And I haven’t gained weight since my husband and I married.

This is a clue.

At one time, a couple of years ago, I’d just about worked out a healthy way to live and eat that helped me lose about 35 pounds.  Just as this was becoming habit, 2 of my closest family-friends had outrageous difficulties in their lives and needed all of their family-friends to be on call; to sit in hospital waiting rooms; to be available on the phone as the listening ear; to be available on short notice as the helping hand –and my momentum was shoved to the back burner — and right off the stove.

But now, things are slowing down, cooling down, and calming down.

And I have re-gathered my notes.

A couple of things have changed in 2 1/2 years.  One of the things I did then (to help up my menopausal metabolism) was exercise with resistance bands.  It was a great discovery — but is now completely impossible due to the state of the arthritis in my hands.  I can no longer grip the bands to do the exercises.  My thumbs and wrists just won’t take the pressure.  I can’t even take the torque required to open a jar of spaghetti sauce!

So that’s off the table.

Another thing that has changed also has to do with my hands — I really loved playing all the sports games on the Nintendo Wii.  I still do.  Buy the selection is being limited by which sports/games require me to grip the Wii-mote controller in a way that hurts my hands.  I’ve given up cooking in cast iron and stopped knitting just so I can keep painting — so it would be outrageously stupid to ruin my hands by using a game controller that insists I hold it tight and bend my thumbs into awkward positions to hit the buttons.

This is also what keeps me off twitter and from sending text messages.  My thumb-joints just won’t take it.

So I am in search of Wii games that are easy on my hands.  I’m hoping the mats and balance board will provide enough choices.

And instead of resistance bands — I’ve invested in a pedometer.

2 problems — 2 patches.

And I’ve got a well-organized kitchen where I can hopefully compose meals that don’t require cast iron or other heavy pots and pans, or heavy lifting of any kinds.  I can’t stir a pot constantly (hardly at all,) so I am experimenting with my bread machine, rice machine, slow cooker, microwave, counter-top grill, and pressure cooker.

I’m sure more problems will appear — and more fixes will be required.

So I’m going to keep new recipes here.  I’m going to talk about Wii games and exercise available to those of us with seriously degenerating joints.

And if I can put it all into words, I’m going to talk about outrageous parenting and my own lack of ambition, independent thought, and self-direction when I was young.

What I know for sure is that there’s a lot of crap and nonsense floating out there on the airwaves and in cyberspace about weight, dieting, obesity, health, beauty, and self-image.  When I come across it — I’ll name it for the s#!t that it is and try to explain why it’s s%*t.

When I come across a useful tool, a good idea, a great recipe, or a clever idea about those same topics — I’ll post that here, too — and name it “treasure.”  (Or maybe I’ll call those things “Shinola” (which actually was a really useful thing, once upon a time, before popular culture cast it onto the dis-ambiguation heap.)

I don’t intend to weigh myself often.  In the end, my weight is not nearly as important as my health.  I’d like to re-start that momentum I had going a couple of years ago — but I’m a little older — and my metabolism has undoubtedly changed.  Those were very stressful months we’ve all lived through, (even more for others in our circle of friends) and so there is some repair to do.  There is also the chance that other joints besides those in my hands may begin to deteriorate as well – so we’ll see.

But I will post progress from time to time.  Milestones.  The round numbers.  The revelations that I haven’t gotten to yet.

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