Monday, March 31, 2008

skewed perception

The other night, I was looking through the photo galleries at The Judgment of Paris. My boyfriend, as he often does, plopped down on the couch next to me to see what I was doing and if he could do it with me (sometimes he's very high-maintenance).

"What are you doing?"

"Looking at pictures of plus-sized models."

"Can I look, too?" (Pause.) "Wow...she's HOT!"

As we looked through the photo galleries, I commented that most of the pictures don't look "plus-sized" to me. They look normal size. Not big, not small — normal. For instance, this cover from the dearly departed, sorely missed MODE absolutely doesn't look "plus-size" to me. I mean, what would make it "plus-size"? Her boobs? There's nothing about Natalie Laughlin on that cover that — to me — looks larger than normal.

Almost every photo we came to, I said, "In what world is THAT 'plus-sized'? I don't get it!"

Finally, T. said to me, "You don't read fashion magazines, do you? I mean, I've never seen you reading anything other than Health and Macworld."

I said that no, I don't read fashion magazines, because I'm not terribly interested in them, and they generally feature clothes that I could never afford anyway.

"Well," T. said, "I think that's why these models don't seem 'plus-size' to you — you just aren't used to seeing the very skinny models in fashion magazines these days."

Huh. I hadn't even thought about that. He's right, though. The models in Vogue, et al., aren't on my radar these days. I used to read fashion magazines like Glamour and Mademoiselle years ago, but I haven't for a long time. And when I see photos of plus-size models, who are my size (or smaller), they look normal to me, because they look like what I see in the mirror every day.

And even though I have my own struggles with accepting my body, I'm glad — I'm THRILLED — that I've internalized a standard for "normal" beauty that truly IS closer to the average woman than most advertisers would have me believe.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Non-Specific Intuitive Eating

I tend to make things harder than they should be. (Never, EVER ask me to give you directions. I write paragraphs just to get someone 2 miles in a straight line. I feel more detail is always better.) Apparently, I've been doing the same thing with intuitive eating.

I've been walking around thinking that intuitive eating means that, whenever I'm hungry, I'll know PRECISELY what I want to eat. Like, Trader Joe's chicken-and-apple sausage cut up into scrambled eggs with finely shredded asiago cheese, with a hunk of toasted sourdough bread from the tiny indie bakery down the street.

And sometimes my stomach DOES get that specific, and I honor that request to the best of my ability. (The best Thai food I ever had was in London, at Thai on the Thames in Richmond. Since I live right smack in midwestern America, I seriously doubt that my stomach will ever get Thai on the Thames again, so when it craves Pad See Ew, it's got to be from the Thai place around the corner.)

But sometimes my stomach just says, "Hey, I'm hungry. Do we have any protein?" Or, even more vaguely, "Hey, I'm hungry. Put something in me soon, or there's going to be fallout." I had assumed that "real" intuitive eating involved honoring the craving for specific foods, not just honoring your hunger in general.

That's silly, isn't it? At its most basic level, intuitive eating starts with the non-specific idea that if you're hungry, EAT! And from there, if your stomach requests something that's within your power to provide, you eat that instead of a substitute that will inevitably be less satisfying.

But since I make things harder than they need to be, I've been stubborn and not eating when I'm hungry UNLESS I know specifically what it is that I want to eat. This has led, unsurprisingly, to low blood sugar, headaches, crankiness, and, ultimately, eating way past full because I waited too long to eat and my hunger became overwhelming.

Yesterday, it was 11:30-ish in the morning. And I was undeniably, stomach-growling HUNGRY. I kept looking at the clock and telling myself to just hold on and wait until noon. Why? Because noon is when you're "supposed" to eat lunch. (For the record, no one at my company has to follow a rigid time schedule, so some people eat lunch at 2:30, some eat at noon — basically, we can eat whenever we want.)

After about 5 minutes of telling my stomach to stop growling, the sheer absurdity of it suddenly hit me. What the HELL? I'm an adult with a flexible schedule and a turkey sandwich in the refrigerator. There was no reason I couldn't eat my lunch at 11:30 instead of noon.

My hunger wasn't for a specific food; it was just general mealtime hunger. And that's when it hit me that the foundation of intuitive eating is the simple act of eating when you're hungry; from there, it can be more specific, but it doesn't have to be. The Rotund talks about this in a recent post, saying, "The day I realized that I felt better and was happier and far more pleasant to be around when I actually, you know, ate food instead of ignoring my hunger cues, was a hugely important day."

The best part was that, because I finally came to my senses and ate when I was hungry instead of forcing myself to wait, I stopped obsessing over how soon I'd be "allowed" to eat, and just got on with my day. Non-intuitive eating just creates an obsession — when you're allowed to eat, what you're allowed to eat, the amount you're allowed to eat of the approved foods...and then when you'll be allowed to eat AGAIN.

Eat when you're hungry. It's the simplest damn thing in the world. So then WHY is it so hard for so many people?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Medication-Related Weight Gain and Loss

Seeworthy has a recent post about an article discussing the possibility that medications are making us fat. Specifically, medications for psychiatric conditions.

Speaking for my own fat self, I've gained about 50-60 pounds since I started Zoloft about 10 years ago. And just googling "zoloft + weight gain" leads to a hell of a lot of anecdotal stories about people who, after starting Zoloft (or other SSRI antidepressants), began to gain weight even though their diet and level of activity was unchanged.

My whole adult life, I've been overweight by all external measures. Through college I was a size 14, and after college I settled at a size 16 for years. And no matter how much exercise I engaged in, no matter how little fat I ate (remember the 1990s, when fat was the demon and carbs were good? Mmmmm....pasta!), I always stayed at a size 16.

(Of course, it never occurred to me, back then, that maybe the fact that nothing made my weight budge might be an indication that that was the size my body wanted to be. I was still in the mindset that losing weight, being the smallest size possible, was a goal worth achieving at all costs.)

Then I started taking Zoloft, and despite exercise, despite Weight Watchers, despite fervently embracing low-carb when it came around (bye-bye, low-fat diet beliefs of the 1990s!), my weight crept up. And oh, how I hated myself. It had to be *me,* didn't it? I just wasn't exercising hard enough, or long enough, or maybe it was the oatmeal I had for breakfast instead of eggs and turkey bacon.

Truly, it didn't make sense. And, 10 years ago, all the information available about Zoloft and other SSRIs was that they could actually cause weight *loss.* The fact that it didn't, for me, made me hate myself even more — it was like my body couldn't even get the side effects right!

Now, I don't exaggerate when I say that Zoloft literally saved my life. Even if I had known back then that it was causing me to gain weight, I wouldn't have stopped taking it. And now I'm up to a size 20-22.

I've been tapering down my Zoloft dose since last summer — but before I made that decision, I had NO idea that Zoloft can cause weight gain. I made that decision based on a lot of reasons, all of which had to do with my mental health, not my weight. That never entered into it.

But the tapering of my dose caused withdrawal (which I expected) bad enough that I started researching ways to deal with the withdrawal, and THAT led me to tons of the aforementioned anecdotal stories about people gaining weight on SSRIs.

I admit that I'm extremely curious to see what happens to my weight once I'm totally off of the Zoloft. Anecdotal evidence is not clinical evidence, certainly, but anecdotal evidence CAN lead to clinical studies, which can then verify or disprove the anecdotal evidence. In any case, if I don't lose weight, I won't be disappointed, and if I *do* lose weight, I'm not going to view it as some praise-worthy accomplishment on my part. Let me offer an example:

I was at a party over the weekend, and one of the women there was crowing about how she'd lost about 3 or 4 sizes after stopping some medication she was on. And the thing is, I get that. Medication can do weird things to your body, in terms of hormones and metabolism and all kinds of other processes.

It's just — she was SO fucking proud of her weight loss. It was all she could talk about, in a fake-self-effacing way: "The biggest pain about LOSING ALL THIS WEIGHT is that I totally have to buy all new clothes! My old ones just literally FALL OFF ME! Look at this waistband!" Here she pulled her skirt away from her waist, to demonstrate her incredible shrinking midsection. "I bought this after I started LOSING WEIGHT, because I never dreamed I'd LOSE THIS MUCH MORE! Now I have to get rid of this skirt, too!"

People were praising her, and congratulating her, and telling her how tight her butt looked, etc. And I just wanted to say, "You didn't DO anything! You stopped taking a medication — that doesn't mean you starved yourself or jogged holes in your Nikes!" (Not that *those* are praise-worthy, either; my point is that people were treating her like she worked SO hard to lose weight, when all she did was stop taking one medication.)

When people tell me I have pretty eyes, I don't think "Thank you" is the appropriate response, because I didn't DO anything to get them, you know? But I'll pass the compliment on to my parents and their good DNA. And losing weight because I stop a medication falls in the same category.

Sure, stopping a medication can, obviously, lead to weight loss. But don't expect me to fall at your skinny feet with admiration.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I Love my Doctor

I've been seeing the same primary-care doctor for 15 years, since I graduated from college. He is truly outstanding. He's very thorough, very attentive, extremely funny — and never blames my fat for causing illnesses. In the 15 years I've been going to him, I've probably gained 50 pounds, and yet he never brings up the topic of losing weight. About 5 years ago, my blood pressure was — for the first time in my life — consistently high. And *I* brought up my weight, asking if I should try to lose weight to lower my blood pressure.

Do you know what he said? "It might help, but it might not; there are a lot of skinny people with hypertension, and a lot of fat people without it."

I could have kissed him. (And, eventually, after taking blood pressure meds for a couple of years, my blood pressure went back to normal, so I could stop taking the drugs. That was despite the fact that I *gained,* not lost, weight. So my kick-ass doctor was right!)

Anyway, I saw him today, because I'm fairly sure I have an ulcer, and after the appointment was over and I was driving back to work, it occurred to me how utterly fucking lucky I am to have such a good doctor who truly feels like he's working *with* me, who never ever falls for the "But don't you know FAT IS UNHEALTHY?!?" trap.

I wish everyone could have a doctor like him. We all deserve it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"You're losing weight!" — and — "Good Enough" Fat Activism?

Yesterday, one of my co-workers said to me, "I just wanted to let you know — I can really tell that you're losing weight!" And she gestured towards her jawline, and then her general abdomen area. "Here, and here."

And I agree with her; I'm pretty sure that I have lost some weight recently. After spraining the same ankle twice — in November and again at the end of December — my ability to exercise was extremely curtailed. But at the end of January, my ankle had healed enough that I could get back to the gym.

After 3 months of virtually no exercise, apparently the past 10 weeks of exercise (moderate though it is) has moved my body back in the direction of the shape it's in when I regularly work out. Set point? Equilibrium? Whatever you want to call it, there's a shape/size/weight my body settles at when I feed it well and move it frequently. Not being able to exercise for 3 months, quite understandably, skewed my size upwards. And now it's skewing back down.

The reason I've gone back to the gym is NOT to lose weight; it's because my ankle is healed enough to handle working out. I like the endorphin buzz. I like feeling — being — strong. I like watching the kids' basketball games in the gym that the walking track overlooks.

It just happens that, because of the period of inactivity before I went back to the gym, I *am* losing some weight as my body settles where it wants to, based on how much I move it and what I feed it.

So when my co-worker said "I can tell you're losing weight!" my reaction was, "Yeah, I think I am." Because I didn't realize at first that she was couching her statement as praise. So when I affirmed that there was less of me, she said, "Good job! Keep up the good work!"

And for the first time in my life, I didn't react by being self-effacing ("Oh, well, it's hard, but I'm trying!") or self-hating ("Well, if I just lose 50/75/100 more pounds, then I'll be happy!"). What I said, when she told me to keep up the good work, was, "Actually, I'm not *trying* to lose weight; I'm just exercising more than I had been able to do since before Thanksgiving."

Her response to that? "Well, you *are* losing weight, and that's GREAT!"

Honestly, it was almost 5:00, and I had no desire to start a long, drawn-out thing, so what I said back was, "Like I said, I'm not trying to lose weight; I'm just enjoying being able to exercise regularly again. It feels good."

Should I have said more? Maybe. But I'm still so new to fat activism, and I'm still feeling the boundaries of how much education to offer people in different settings. I'd say much more to a friend or some family members, but at work, I don't feel that it's my place to sit someone down for a long discussion with charts and graphs and Web links.

Does that make me a "bad" fat activist? I don't think so. Others might, and that's their prerogative.

I also have to confess that there's still part of me — the part that went to WW, the part that exercised compulsively in college, the part that was always told that I have "such a pretty face; the boys will line up for dates" if only I lost weight — that *did* feel a momentary thrill at my co-worker's recognition. I'm *not* trying to lose weight; that never was the reason I started back at the gym. But over 20 years of wanting to lose weight, trying to lose weight, believing I should lose weight, believing I *can* lose weight if only I "try harder" — it installed a lot of bad beliefs that I'm having a hard time erasing. One of those is the desire for recognition of my "accomplishment."

Does THAT make me a bad fat activist? I've read some fatosphere blogs recently where the sentiment has been expressed that anyone who wants to lose weight can't really be a fat activist. I believe it was expressed something like "I don't want you accepting my fat if you can't accept your own." Well, does that also include people who are pleased that someone noticed their weight loss, even if they hadn't been trying to lose weight? Despite that contradiction, can *they* (and here I mean *me*) not be fat activists? I don't think that attitude takes into account the reality that fat acceptance is a process, and not even a one-way process.

For me, it was a HUGE step forward that the reason I went back to the gym was NOT because I wanted to lose weight, but ONLY because I wanted to move my body. I missed working out, missed the endorphin buzz, missed the feeling of physical exertion.

That's one step. Maybe the next step is not feeling that momentary flush of accomplishment if anyone remarks that I seem to have lost weight. But I obviously haven't hit that step, and what I'm wondering is: where do I have to be in the fat acceptance process before my fat activism is legitimate to others in the fatosphere?

I'm not perfect. I'm deeply flawed. I thrill to *any* acknowledgment of my accomplishments — good grades in school, a promotion at work, having my writing published — so, yes, over 20 years of trying to lose weight instilled in me the desire to have weight loss acknowledged. And even now, when I *am* able to look at it and see that weight loss isn't an "accomplishment" any more than weight gain is a "failure," my old, ingrained reactions still kick in, even if it's only for a moment.

I want to get past that. And I believe that I *am* getting past that. Is it good enough for the fat acceptance movement that I'm on the continuum, even if I'm not as far along as others?

I figure, as utterly ridiculous and damaging as hating myself for my weight is, it's just as ridiculous to consider myself a "bad" fat activist for not being at the same stage of fat acceptance as others. Why trade one form of self-hatred for another? I won't do that.

Where I am is where I am. *I* recognize that it's a much healthier frame of mind than I've ever had, even if it still has contradictions in it. And I intend to keep moving forward, to get past those contradictions.

That's good enough for me. It HAS to be.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Listening to My Body

I mentioned in my previous post that I sprained my left ankle — badly — twice in the span of 5 weeks. Sprain #2 happened on Christmas Eve, and since sprain #1 hadn't even totally healed at that point (I was wearing a [crappy] ankle brace when I re-sprained my ankle, as a matter of fact), it's taken a good 8 weeks for me to feel like my ankle is well on the road to recovery. I still wear a brace (a much better one than the one I was wearing for sprain #2) when I work out, but for the most part it feels pretty good.

Because of my ankle's self-destructive streak, from early November through the end of January, I didn't exercise at all. So when I got back to the gym at the end of January, I wasn't able to do very much at first, partly because my ankle couldn't tolerate much exercise, and partly because 10+ weeks of inactivity left me extremely out of shape. It almost felt like I was starting a "fitness regime" from scratch. And, I guess, in a way I was.

At first, all I could do was walk around the track for 10 minutes, at a fairly slow pace, before my ankle screamed in protest. I limited that to twice a week in the beginning. And then as my ankle got stronger, allowing me to increase the time and pace and frequency of workouts, the rest of my body screamed in protest. My body at rest wanted to stay at rest.

I'm up to 3 times a week, 30 minutes of walking or stationary biking at a time, and I feel pretty good about that. I mean to say — my body feels good with that level of activity. I love the endorphin buzz I get when it's all over, and I love that I'm starting to feel stronger and more energetic.

Adding more activity is making me hungrier on a daily basis, which makes sense. And I'm doing pretty well at not berating myself for needing more food to fuel my activity, which is a nice mental change.

However, adding more activity is also leading to muscle fatigue when I increase the amount of time or intensity of my workout. This also makes sense. And yet, when I decided to skip my workout yesterday because my legs were sore and trembling, I felt like I had just committed a HUGE sin. Like the equivalent of eating a puppy. A cute puppy.

But here's the thing: despite the guilt, I still listened to my body and actually gave it what it needed. I didn't try to push through the fatigue and get in a workout because I "was supposed" to. I went home, pulled out my MegaYoga book, and did some yoga poses for about 20 minutes to try to alleviate the soreness in my legs. And then I ate a good dinner because I was hungry, watched some TV with the boyfriend, and got a good night's sleep.

Today, I don't feel one bit of guilt about not going to the gym. And it's weird, but I can feel my body thanking me.