Monday, July 13, 2015

Can we talk about my weight?

I'm fat. Really, really fat. I recently had a blood draw, and while I was at the lab, they weighed and measured me.

I lost a half-inch of height in the last two years. I really had no vertical dimension to spare, given my body shape and weight. Still, that's gone, and my weight, well, at 61 inches, I'm within less than 10 pounds of hitting 200. Let that sink in. That's a special kind of obesity. Well, I mean, it's still not fat enough to qualify for bariatric surgery, but definitely so fat that I'm officially socially unacceptable in the USA.

I live in a culture where more than 50 percent of adults are overweight, yet being fat is considered a sign of exceptional personal failure. That message is everywhere and I can't get past it.

I've struggled with my weight my entire life. As a teenager, my siblings were embarrassed by me and were merciless in their bullying. My sister couldn't tell me enough how I was ugly, fat, and weird. My mother kept trying to get me to diet and even enrolled me in a program when I was 15. My brothers were relentless in chanting it at me: Fat, fat, fat. The shame of it was crushing to my spirit and I lost any confidence or positive self-image that I may have built up as a child. I weighed 135 pounds throughout high school. Yes, 135. The horror. My family would have rewarded me had I become anorexic, but I didn't have the discipline.

I really had no idea what actual obesity was at that point. I probably would have killed myself at 17 if I knew what I would allow myself to become as an adult.

For me, my weight represents the very essence of all of my failures and squandered potential. Certainly, I have accomplished some things as I've gone along. I've always worked, I got a college degree that Ipaid for by myself, and then, at 41, a master's degree. My MA GPA was 3.99 and it feels like a failure because I know I got what I deserved, much like I have the body I deserve due to my own mental deficiencies. The blame is squarely on me. It should have been a 4.0 and the fact that it wasn't was entirely because of my inability to do what needed to be done to make that happen, much like getting thin (or not). The shame of this is never far from my mind whenever I even need to mention I have a master's degree.

What I eat, whether or not I exercise, the ability to control myself, starve myself, get myself to a skinny place, I've just failed. It doesn't matter that I help people build better lives. It's irrelevant that I've mentored others on their path. There's no merit in being highly competent in my work, or that I learned to fly a hot air balloon or that I started and still run a nonprofit business in addition to my other responsibilities. I've worked my ass off my whole adult life, but nobody sees that. They can't get past the fat. Maybe most wouldn't say it to my face, but I know that in my family, in my American world, being fat cancels out any personal accomplishment.

At 54, my weight shouldn't matter, right? I've reached the age of cultural invisibility. Women essentially disappear from advertising, from media, from being taken seriously once they cross the threshold of 50. Still, it matters to me because I know how hard it is to buy clothes, to look nicely dressed, to fit comfortably anywhere, to be judged. And I do assume that the silent judgment is never-ending but I can't stay sequestered in my house, so I'm subjected to that judgment every day.

Of course I know that changing this is in my control, but it's so hard. It's hard to be hungry. It's hard to say no every time I'm offered something. It's hard to exercise when my body is always in pain. I should push myself, but I lack the drive. I have yet to find an exercise activity I enjoy--and I have tried many. Exercise in all its forms is profoundly boring. I have been known to wander off mid-workout or to simply start crying from the effort and tedium.

My eating habits aren't terrible, but they aren't great, either. I don't drink soda or anything carbonated (my four beverages: one cup of coffee daily, unsweetened iced tea with lunch on the weekends, wine daily, and 64 ounces of water a day. No juice, no soda, no energy drinks, no Starbucks, no milk). I love cheese. I have a serious cheese habit. Frank cooks very carb-laden meals, and I don't complain because I'm too lazy to do the cooking myself. I like to drink. I drink a lot, in fact. Typically, my red wine consumption comes in at about 12-14 ounces a day. That's a crapload of empty calories. But I'm as taken with the after-work/dinnertime wine-drinking ritual as I am with the calming effect that liquor has on me.

Maybe that's what's at the core of my problem: I find cheese and wine to be comforting in a way nothing else is. Exercise has never done anything for my mood or sense of well-being. Salad is unappealing to me and something I must force myself to eat. It's cold and wet and there's nothing satisfying about it. Ditto for fruit.

My weight problem is the biggest, most important failure of my life. If I can never get it together to weigh 105 (yes, that's the appropriate weight for my height and bone structure--look it up), then it really doesn't matter what else I do with my time, skills, and talents. I'll never get hired for a different job. I'll never get any kind of social approval. The fat and how I did it to myself are really the only things. I conceded defeat at some point. I gave up the calorie counting, I stopped going to the gym months ago, I stopped ordering takeout salads that I hated, and I gave up. I gave up because putting in a lot of effort still turned out to be not enough effort and I don't think I have the energy to live on 800 calories a day and work out four to six hours a day. I mention that because that's what the contestants do on the television programs The Biggest Loser and Extreme Weight Loss. On the show "My 600-lb Life," the patients get 1,000 calories a day, no carbs.

I wish my brain could get in this game and I could learn to love life on 800 no-carb calories and six hours of daily exercise. Maybe then I'd have more money (because I could get hired into a better job), I'd have more friends (because everyone loves a thin person), I wouldn't be so exhausted all the time (I work a minimum of 60 hours a week and sleep about 5 hours a night, but I know it's the fat that's wearing me out), and maybe I'd get a little more respect in my day-to-day life.

For now, I am BMI 35, the biggest failure I could ever have brought on myself. In America, if you're not thin, you have failed everything by default. How can I ever be seen as worthy of anything if I'm fat?

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