Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Truth About Weight Loss

I've experienced a few changes over the past few years, many of which cannot be seen with the naked eye. But, the fact that I have decreased in size has become obvious, and has become a topic of conversation with which I am not comfortable. I don't like talking about weight, or weight loss, dieting, exercise, deprivation, discouragement, depression, devastation, disease, death. You see where I'm going with this.

Like most females of my generation, weight has been an issue for most of my life. Even in grade school, the 'fatties' were noticed, and separated into their own social class. I'm not proud of my participation in the shaming, but I cannot deny that it happened. We were kids, and differences were noted and called out. Even now, I think there are few things more painful than a fat kid seeking acceptance amongst her thinner peers, and being relegated to the sidelines of life. It seems to me that fat has always been an acceptable prejudice, and it starts early.

At about 13, my body began to change. That summer, my oldest brother worked as a lifeguard at a pool in Idaho, and we didn't see each other for about 3 months. When he returned at the end of the summer, he looked at me with some surprise, and said, "Boy! Your butt sure got big!" I was humiliated, and devastated. His observation left it's mark on me, though in later years he denied any recollection of his comment. But it was my first experience with shame associated with my body. And it hurt.

Throughout my teens, I paid attention to my peers' attempts to control their weight, and took a variety of stabs at it myself, mostly unsuccessfully. The teen years are emotional ones for the majority of us, and I dealt with my stress by eating. I remember once, as a high school senior, I participated in a fundraiser for the high school choir in which we sold candy bars to earn money for a trip to New York City. Instead of selling the candy and raising the necessary funds, I ate it, several boxes worth, and donated the money I'd earned working at McDonald's. That was some good chocolate, and it went well with the stacks of books I checked out from the library. There's a snapshot of my teen years: me, shut away in my bedroom, devouring books and candy, and ignoring the contention just outside my door. I instinctively knew that my binging was unacceptable behavior, and I kept it behind closed doors. But it was comforting, and stilled the anxiety I couldn't seem to calm any other way. It was a bad habit that would dog me for many years afterward.

As a young adult, I became what I jokingly referred to as a 'dysfunctional bulemic': I'd binge, but not purge. Many of my binges were in the company of friends; we'd get together for Thursday night TV, and enjoy my famous rice krispie treats, or brownies, or chocolate cake, or sometimes all three, combined with ice cream. Whatever was causing me stress could be forgotten, or at least set aside for a few hours, as I got high on various combinations of fat and sugar. Followed by pretty deep lows, as I'd roll around on the floor in gut-busting agony, regretting the choices of the previous few hours, and berating myself for my complete and utter lack of self-control and discipline. Occasionally, I'd take a break from the self loathing, and vow to become the person I most wanted to be: thin, and in control. I would read a magazine article that promised the secrets to weight loss, or I'd buy a book touting the latest approach in weight 'management', and I would get excited at the prospect of shedding the pounds that were masking my 'true self'. I am well acquainted with the euphoria that accompanies any new weight loss plan. And the utter and complete discouragement and despair upon realizing that there was no secret, no magic formula or pill, no spell that would transform my pudgy self into a slender, sleek, desirable beauty worthy of my own, or anyone else's, respect and admiration. And then falling victim to the next big idea, the next revelation in the dieting industry. It seemed to be an endless cycle of triumph and tragedy, though maybe not so dramatic as that. But, anyone who has followed this path knows of what I speak. High highs, low lows. Accompanied by depression and anxiety. And being forever a slave to a number on the scale, whether it was attainable or not.

As I progressed into marriage and motherhood, I found food to be an even more endearing companion. But not a very good friend. Pregnancy wreaked havoc on my body, and made a mockery of any vow I'd make to eat for health. Even the thoughts of the young ones I was nurturing within the womb weren't enough to stop the cravings and binging. I tried, I really tried, but I'd become overwhelmed with exhaustion, hormones, emotions, fears, etc, and I'd eat to dull the feelings. And it worked. I look back at those years, and they are coated in a chocolate haze. Between each pregnancy, I did manage to lose a bit of weight, and I basked in the attention I'd receive. (I've always wondered why thin is considered more beautiful than fat. Why wouldn't it be acceptable to say, "Wow! Look at you! You've put on some weight, and you look positively radiant!" I imagine that would go over about as well as broccoli ice cream.)

Throughout my 30s, I managed to lose weight a few times, coming close to my goal on occasion, but always, always, returning to my previous weight. Or higher. Sometimes it was the result of another pregnancy, sometimes it was just a return to my old friend food. Because food is always there, at the ready, prepared to comfort and coat, soothe and sustain. Food was my best friend, and my hated enemy. I couldn't run fast enough to escape the cravings. Depressed? Eat. Sad? Eat. Lonely? Eat. Angry? Eat. Happy? Eat. Excited? Eat. Whatever the emotion, food was the answer. Accompanied by bouts of self-loathing, followed by commitments to try again. It was an emotional roller coaster, and I was getting sick of the ride. The head-spinning, nauseating, vertigo-inducing up and down of it all. I wanted off.

I had my last child at 40, and I assumed that, once I was through with any possibility of a future pregnancy, I'd be free to pursue my life's dream of achieving and maintaining my goal weight. Which, by the way, was higher than my starting weight the first time I attempted Weight Watchers. So, once again, I joined WW, feeling the excitement and enthusiasm that usually accompanied the beginnings of a diet. I lasted a couple of months, I think, then life got in the way, I got discouraged, and I quit. Again. And then I got mad. Mad at God, mad at biology, mad at physics, mad at chemistry, mad at thin people, mad at my parents. Mad at reality. And I really quit. I got off the roller coaster. I turned my back on the entire weight loss industry, and I walked away.

One of the ideas I'd found sprinkled throughout a few diet books was the notion of 'letting go', of divorcing oneself from the calorie-counting, scale-watching, numbers game. I'd read of people who finally found success in the battle for weight control when they stopped worrying about the 'how', and just accepted themselves as is. Their claim that their weight normalized after a time off the dieting roller coaster was appealing, and I had attempted to follow this advice on several occasions. However, letting go as a method of weight control is contradictory and counter-productive. How does one go about consciously 'letting go', with the idea in mind that the situation will resolve itself? It doesn't quite work that way, much to my dismay. I found that I couldn't 'let go' entirely. It was always there, always lurking, the scale always taunting me. In the back of my mind, the hope of weight loss lingered, and I'd find myself back in the game, discouragement and depression dogging my every step. It was the hardest fight I never won.

Until the day I was well and truly done. I could not take the ups and downs any longer, the highs and the lows. I have observed many of my friends' and acquaintances' numerous attempts to control their weight, and have cheered them in their successes, and kept quiet about their eventual failures. Because it seems that everybody eventually fails. It just feels like an unwinnable war. Humans against biology: humans-0, biology-6,000,000,000,000. And counting. I knew I could not take it on again; I just didn't have it in me. I don't have it in me.

So I got off the treadmill. I stepped out of the race. I decided, once and for all, that I would never diet again, and I would never speak of diets again. Weight became a verboten topic, and I began to avoid conversations that center around it. Like the plague. Or I try to, anyway. Dieting and weight loss are popular topics everywhere I go, and it is hard to avoid. But I generally find a way to change the subject, or walk away if that fails. Because I just don't want to talk about it anymore, and I definitely don't want to do it anymore. I can't take another roller coaster ride. I'm out of Dramamine.

So, how have I managed to finally lose some weight? When asked recently, I said that I got here by allowing myself to just be myself. But that's only part of the story. The rest involves letting go. Really, truly letting go. Refusing to give it a place in my life. And meaning it. My letting go is not an attempt to fool my body into thinking I'm not looking, that I'm not paying attention, that it can go ahead and shrink if it wants 'cause I'm indifferent (wink, wink). I honestly had no intention of ever losing weight again, and no illusions about what my future weight would be. I had come to accept that my casket would be a double-wide, and that it would take a crane to lift it into place. And I was okay with that. I was okay with me. I could move on, and fill the extra space in my brain with other things, more interesting pursuits. And, gradually, as the years have passed, the weight has slowly come off. It was disconcerting at first, losing weight without trying, and I even consulted my doctor. But, I'm as healthy as a horse (albeit as big as one!), and the only explanation for the weight loss is that I stopped trying. That's it. I dropped my weapons of war, and walked off the battlefield. Done. Finito. I will fight no more forever.

So, if you see me out and about, and you congratulate me on my weight loss, don't be put off by the awkward smile, and the stammering acceptance of your compliment. I'm not quite sure how to reply to such statements, as saying, 'Thank you", implies that I had something to do with it. And I'm really not sure that I did. All I did was let go.

(And, just to be clear, this is my truth about my weight loss, not the truth about weight loss. Just so we're clear.)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Agnes and Adelaide

I went for a walk through the cemetery yesterday. The Logan Cemetery is one of my favorite spots in Cache Valley. It is peaceful, obviously quiet, and calm. Being there quells any anxiety I might be nurturing. Life can be very anxiety-producing, and everybody needs a getaway spot. I just happen to like hanging out with dead people. Don't be nervous; I don't see dead people, I just enjoy walking through their final resting place, soaking up the ambience.

Walking around looking at headstones gives me perspective. I think, as I walk, about all of these people for whom it is done. Whatever it is that they intended to do with their life, whatever plans they had, whatever worries rested upon their shoulders, exist no more. Gone with them, into whatever comes next. I don't wish my own life was over, and I don't relish the thought of joining my friends there in the cemetery. But it does help me to realize that most of what I worry about is temporary, and trivial. It reminds me to pay attention to what matters most in my life. Who matters most. The people I love.

Because love is what I feel when I walk through the cemetery. I am not a very spiritual person, meaning that I am not much in tune to what others have described as 'the spirit'. If it isn't concrete, I struggle to get it. Except in the cemetery. I read headstones, with their birth and death dates, and usually some clue to the relationship that existed between loved ones, and I'm moved by the emotion that went into creating that memorial. I'm moved by the connections that were formed, bonds that continue on after death. Some move me to tears. One in particular.

I stumbled across an old marker a couple of years ago, one that I feel compelled to return to, again and again. It is made out of cement, and shaped like a podium, with words etched into the top and sides. Across the top it reads:

To the
 Ever blessed memory of
Adelaide Cochran Barrett
 November 2, 1842 
January 20, 1910
This spot is forever dedicated by her friend
 Agnes C. Cassidy

There are other dates etched into the sides, presumably death and birth dates of Agnes. On either side of the podium, there are small headstones, each with only initials etched into the stone. ACB and ACC. And no other clues as to the relationship that existed between the two women. The first time I saw it, I leaned on the podium itself, read the words, and cried. My husband was with me at the time, and he remarked, "This must be the first feminist gravesite in the cemetery", because the site was dedicated by a woman. Maybe. I tried to research the names, using my friend Google, without any luck. I don't know who these women were; I don't know the relationship between them, whether they were sisters, sister-wives, neighbors, or best friends. Or lovers. All I do know is that Agnes loved Adelaide, so much so that she declared her devotion in stone, for all the world to see. And when I stand in front of it, I feel that love, and that connection. I take a regular route when I walk through the cemetery, pausing for a moment each time in front of this monument to two friends, reflecting on the relationship between Agnes and Adelaide. And vowing to love my own friends and family with the same devotion and dedication.

My religious journey has led me to an entirely unexpected place. I'm not fond of labels, but if I had to apply one to myself, it would be agnostic atheist. Meaning that I don't believe in God, but I don't know that one doesn't exist, and I'm not all that concerned with the question. I don't believe it is a knowable proposition. For me, anyway. Others claim to know, and I can't refute their testimony of their truth, because it is just that, their truth. And this is mine.

This week, a friend asked me about my morals, now that I no longer count myself amongst the religious. She had been in a conversation with another friend, who asserted that those who have lost their belief in God have also lost their moral compass. And she was interested to know what I thought, and where my beliefs came from, if not from God. I replied that I believe in integrity, and compassion, and in applying the Golden Rule in my relationships with others. What I left out was that I believe in humanity, in people, and in the deep, mysterious, powerful forces that connect us with one another. I believe in love. (And not just as a song lyric.) I believe in time spent nurturing those connections, and making sure that the people in my life know how much they mean to me.  Because, some day, I'm going to be six feet under (or sprinkled in the ocean, or mixed into potting soil for a tree), and it will be done. I will be no more. And the only things I will leave behind are the connections I made with the ones I love. Memories of our lives together, and maybe a headstone marking the spot of my final resting place.

I already know what I want that headstone to say. In the words of one of my favorite entertainers:

I'm so glad we've had this time together
Just to have a laugh, or sing a song.
Seems we just get started
And before you know it,
Comes the time we have to say,
So long.
Good night, everybody
That's it. That says it all. I had a great time, a few laughs, sang a goofy song or two, and it's over. And I hope that when people read it, especially my posterity, they will smile. And remember the love.