Sweet, blessed apathy

It’s January, New Year’s resolution season, and a number of my coworkers have a diet pool going, with weekly weigh ins and a cash prize for the winner.  I’m moving to another office on Monday, and you would not believe the whining when a coworker brought in goodbye donuts.

The best thing about this for me was the realization that I. Do. Not. Care. I don’t feel like maybe I should join in, or wonder what people will think about the lunch I’m eating.  It just rolled past like any other workplace chatter that I wasn’t interested in.  That all by itself is kind of freeing.

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Baby Diet Purgatory

TW: Dieting and intentional weight loss (no numbers or specifics)

I just spent the last couple weeks on a diet. Which, as committed as I am to FA, feels kind of like saying “Hey, I changed my voter registration to Republican, signed up for an atheist conference, and joined the Justin Bieber fan club.” I’ve been going through fertility treatments, and there’s an arbitrary BMI cut-off for intra-uterine insemination, which I was just barely under at the start of the last cycle.

Now, there may well be perfectly valid medical reasons to not want to do IUIs on patients over a certain weight or body fat percentage, but I stand by my statement that the cut-off is arbitrary because it’s BMI based, and that’s arbitrary by definition. The awesome (not really awesome) thing about these limits is that they encourage either doing risky or harmful things to make sure the weight comes off, or pulling tricks out of the high-school wrestler’s play book in order to “make weight.” (For example, I estimated that my hair weighs 2 ounces, and if I’d been close enough to the cut-off for that to matter, there was definitely a pixie cut in my future. And I was also planning on not eating or drinking the morning of the procedure.)

Fortunately, they *aren’t* actually going to weigh me the day of the procedure and pull the rug out from under me if I’ve gained weight. I wish I’d known that *before* I spent two weeks eating way too many salads and feeling lousy all the time, but I’m sure the weight loss I did get will look good to them. Yay, I’m pretending to be an obedient, compliant fat chick.

I have to say, it’s a very weird mental place to be on a diet, while thinking it’s complete BS. There’s an extent to which it’s easier, because I wasn’t shaming myself for being hungry or for “needing” to lose weight, but I also didn’t have all the warm fuzzies of a “positive lifestyle change.” I was actually a lot more successful in sticking to my plan than I’ve been on other diet attempts, which I mostly attribute to a mix of sheer stubbornness and a fixed end date. Kind of like that episode of Voyager where the holographic doctor is being an ass to everyone about their various complaints, and he gives himself a simulated illness to prove that they’re all a bunch of crybabies. He handles it just fine until he reaches what’s supposed to be the end time and he’s still sick. At which point, he loses it. And Kess tells him that she added a couple hours to the simulation because it’s not accurate if he knows when it will end. That was pretty much me on the diet. As long as I knew it was temporary, I could slog through.

And there was still that weird feeling of being “good” when I stepped on the scale and the number was lower, and the lingering thought that maybe I could keep this up indefinitely and lose significant weight. (Yeah, probably not.)

The one real positive of the experience was that giving up diet soda (out of concern that it would lead to more sugar cravings than just “no sweets ever” by itself) dramatically reduced my fibro pain. Note, there’s no scientific evidence that aspartame causes fibromyalgia pain or cutting it out fixes it, just some anecdotal evidence that some people report that it helps. (The third study gets serious side-eye for determining that “aspartame-induced fibromyalgia” is a thing that exists based on a sample size of *two.*) There’s also this one, which sounds like, oh, yes, MSG and aspartame totally cause fibro, but I also can only read the abstract, so I can’t tell if they did anything to rule out the nocebo effect.

I feel better, so I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I also don’t want to misrepresent it as some magical cure. Particularly since I’m definitely not “cured.” I still have random pain, and the trigger points are still very much an issue (and my cat Haley is awesome at jumping *right* onto them). But I haven’t had a bad pain day since I stopped drinking diet soda, so I’m going to call that a win. (I had heard the suggestion about cutting out artificial sweeteners for fibromyalgia, so it could totally be psychosomatic, but pain is largely subjective anyway, so what the heck.)

Holidays and Body Image

I just got back from visiting my parents for Christmas. It’s over seven hours’ drive between our place and theirs, so we don’t see them nearly as much as I’d like. I had a fantastic Christmas in pretty much every respect except the fact that I didn’t go to church. (Yes, I am a slacker. Yes, I have one excellent idea for a New Year’s Resolution, not that I ever actually keep those.)

My dad always makes a ton of food, because he loves feeding people. And there were no comments about this or that food being “bad” or judgment about who was eating what. Well, we did give my brother a little grief over his love of stuffing, but not in a “You shouldn’t eat that” kind of way. More in a “pass the stuffing to him *last* so the rest of us get some” way. And I ate what I wanted, not to the point of feeling gross or overfull afterwards.

And my mom, when she asked what size I wear for clothing gifts, didn’t say anything negative about the fact that I need a plus size. She just went out and bought me a gorgeous sweater (which I love).

I feel really blessed that my holidays weren’t a weight-related minefield, like so many people’s are.

It made me a little wistful to look at all the old family photos and see myself five, or ten, or twenty years ago. I thought of myself as a fat girl in high school, but when I look at my homecoming pictures, I see someone who’s a pretty average size. Kind of chubby arms, and a round face, but not what you would call fat. Probably wearing a size 14 at the time, so very average. And the pictures of me in college, I’d actually call thin, although I never felt that way at the time.

It’s strange to look at pictures that don’t reflect what felt like reality. But then, it’s not like I manufactured that feeling of “too fat” in my own head. That was what bullies said to me (among other insults, of course) all through later elementary and junior high school. I got called a whale, and all the usual insults. And my parents tried to help me with my “weight problem” and encouraged me when I dieted, and when I lost weight. So even when I wasn’t fat, I was viewed that way. But when I look back at actual pictures, I see a slender child become a chubby young teenager, then an average teen and a slender young woman (who then became an average, then chubby, then fat woman, helped by both regain after dieting and my thyroid throwing in the towel).

It seems like the negative messages are always louder and more prevalent than the positive ones. I’m sure I heard, implicitly or explicitly, that I was fat, or ugly, or weird, or gross, much more often than I heard that I was beautiful, or special, or loveable. Which is not to say that my parents messed up my self-esteem. Heck, my mom always had plenty of positive, encouraging things to say to me–they were just drowned out by the overwhelming onslaught of negative. The fact that I emphasized and magnified the negative and took it to heart, while discarding most of the positive, didn’t help.

I also think this ties into sexism. Our culture spends so much time teaching girls that their only value is a very narrow sort of beauty and that they can never be pretty enough, so of course when you’re told you don’t meet the standard, it hurts worse, and it sticks with you.

I didn’t mean for this to be such a depressing post, because I had a wonderful Christmas and am still having a fantastic vacation. But remembering how much I used to hate myself for not looking the way I thought I was supposed to look, well, it just seems sad. So much wasted time, so much needless pain. And I think that if we could figure out how to build a culture that doesn’t teach people, particularly girls, to hate themselves, that would be pretty awesome.

Restaurant Portions

Kate Harding wrote a post about restaurant portion sizes, and how you don’t get to go “OMG, that’s why ur all so fat hur hur” in the very same breath as you’re noticing that people take leftovers home. That is, they’re generally *not* finishing that ginormous portion. Though, to be fair to the person who posted it, lots of people *here* fail to grasp the same concept and go on and on about the evils of portion sizes–yes, you get a freaking boat ton of food at a lot of restaurants; that doesn’t mean you have to eat it all. Honestly, I’d rather get too much than not enough, because I can almost always take leftovers home–if I’m still hungry, I have to order (and pay for, and wait for) something else.

I know they’ve done studies where people’s sense of how much they’ve eaten varies dramatically based on things like plate size and whether you’re eating out of a big communal bowl (of chips or popcorn, say) or an individual bowl or plate. The thing I have to wonder is how such an experiment would turn out if you controlled for dieting behaviors or an eating competence score. My theory is that the more you focus on external cues, whether that’s a calorie count or the amount of food on your plate, the less attention you pay to your own satiety signals. So, I’m thinking that people who have been doing intuitive eating for a while would be less affected by things like plate size than someone who hasn’t.

Granted, distraction plays a role too. One of the things that I’ve been working on lately is trying to take time at work to just sit and eat, rather than multitasking, especially if I’m eating something particularly filling. Because if I’m just eating and not paying attention, I go past comfortable and straight over to stuffed before I even notice. Though I will say that on the occasions when I do that, it’s a relief to think of it as a learning experience, rather than an “I’ve wrecked my diet and I’m a horrible person” experience. And it doesn’t happen often.

A Medical Rant

A friend of mine has a medical problem that has nothing to do with her weight, but her weight means doctors refuse to treat her. She was in a car accident and had her knee replaced years ago. the replacement is now shot, though it lasted much longer than it was expected to.

The orthopedic surgeon she sees wants her to lose *130* pounds before they’ll replace her knee. Not just come down under 250 pounds or out of the “obese” BMI category. They want her to drop more than half her body weight and get into the middle of the “normal” category.

Keep in mind that she can’t fricking exercise because her knee is shot. She’s doing good to walk around a mall or amusement park for an afternoon without needing a scooter.

The kicker, though, is the reason they give for not doing the surgery. It isn’t that she’s at a higher risk of complications or anything like that. No, it’s that the replacement will wear out a little faster. Really? Seriously? So you guys are okay with having her in continuous pain for the next couple *years* (assuming she can maintain what’s considered a healthy rate of weight loss, a pound or two a week) because otherwise she might need another new knee in twenty years rather than twenty five?

Not to mention how they can really think someone who can’t exercise is going to lose weight without pretty much starving.

It just boggles the mind that doctors can see someone in pain and instead of helping, basically go “Oh well, sucks to be you.”

Reasons Aren’t Excuses

A trolly comment that crops up pretty much any time the difficulty of losing weight, or impediments to eating healthy, or fat acceptance as a whole is discussed–“But you’re just making excuses!” To which my most coherent response is usually “Thbbbbbbbbbbbbpt!” (that is, a big old raspberry)

Sure, I could explain and give evidence and cite studies and provide counter-examples, but they’re never going to be good enough. If someone is sincerely curious about my individual situation and how I ended up the weight I am without stuffing my face with donuts at every conceivable opportunity, maybe I’ll share. But not only are trolls not worth my–or anybody’s–time, I think trying to explain is conceding and doing ourselves a disservice.

To me, an “excuse” is an explanation for not doing something you’re obligated and expected to do. The note from home explaining that you were too busy puking your guts out to come to school, that’s an excuse. Because you’re supposed to show up.

I don’t need an excuse for not dieting. I looked at my available options and made the decision, as a grown-up, that dieting was a bad choice for me.

I don’t need an excuse if I don’t exercise on a given day, or if I eat a cookie, because I’m not obligated to meet someone else’s unreasonable standard. I’m not even obligated to defend my view of the standard as unreasonable.

I don’t have excuses for being fat, I just am. The days I exercise, I don’t need an excuse for not running instead of walking, or not going three miles instead of one, or not getting up to a higher speed on the bike. The days I decide I don’t feel like it, I also don’t need an excuse. As the person who lives in my body, I’m the one who gets to decide how to meet its needs.

Every day, people make decisions. They weigh the pros and cons and they do what works for them at the time. Other people are entitled to their opinions on those decisions, but they’re not entitled to expect anyone to actually *care* about those opinions. You’re entitled to your opinion; I’m entitled to ignore it. Just as you’re entitled to ignore my opinion about your life and your decisions.

When you try to defend your life and your choices, you’re ceding the other person authority that they don’t really have. You’re implicitly saying that they do get to tell you what to do. There might be times when explaining your reasons is useful, but I think it’s important not to let jerks and fat-haters set the tone by trying to prove that our reasons and choices are valid when we’re accused us of “making excuses.” The answer to that accusation is, “I don’t answer to you.” It should probably be phrased more politely than that to family members and friends than to random buttheads who troll FA blogs, but the point is the same: This is my life, not yours, and I have to choose how to live it.

A Little Is Never Enough

Lonie McMichael over at BFB has a good post up about how the odds of diet success don’t change because you’re doing it for your health. Regardless of your reasons, you’ve got a 5% chance, if that. And as she points out, a lot of those 5% gained weight due to pregnancy (or illness, or meds, or a number of temporary causes). These aren’t people who’ve always been heavy, for the most part. They’re people who dieted once, and probably stopped when they came back to their natural set point.

She also touches on the addictiveness of weight loss.

This is the thing: we have a tendency to fool ourselves. We tell ourselves it’s for our health. However, if that were true, then HAES would actually be a better option. We tell ourselves we only want to lose 10%. I have found (a phenomena noted in Hirshmann and Munter’s When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies) that I don’t want to stop until I’m what society thinks is perfect. A little weight loss almost always leads to the desire for more.

I’ve been there. I occasionally want to smack the Kelly of 10 years ago upside the head for thinking I was still “a little fat” or “had 5-10 more pounds to lose” when I was average, not even overweight by body fat percentage. (I don’t know about BMI, but that’s a crock anyway, so who cares?) And while I’m okay with my body just as it is most days, I do wonder if I might be less fat now if I hadn’t dieted so much before my immune system decided to start picking on my thyroid.

But if I’m smacking past Kelly upside the head, I can also smack the folks at the gym, who even as they were telling me I was in the “normal” range for body fat percentage, continued to encourage me to lose.