In the last few months I’ve been working out more and eating less, which has resulted in a fairly predictable weight loss of almost twenty pounds to date. A noticeable amount, and suddenly I have people mentioning it on a pretty regular basis (which is totally welcome, btw, I appreciate this hard work being acknowledged). I’m about halfway to where I want to get, which means at least another four months of diligence at the gym and in the kitchen – something I am feeling pretty motivated about despite my overbooked schedule. And you know, despite the fact I rarely talk about it, this *is* a big deal to me.
But, even when I’m feeling good about what I’m doing, I have always found it difficult to write or talk about weight loss issues openly. Raised as I was, by a mother who struggled with weight issues, being fat is infused with a particular brand of shame that has me using euphemisms for it if I have to discuss it at all. And I am pretty sure I’m not the only one out there who finds this subject a difficult one given the number of people I know who say they “need to get in shape” when they really mean they want to lose weight, or who talk about “eating better” rather than dieting.
Unlike other health issues (and despite the claims of fat acceptance activists, excess weight is indeed a health problem as evidenced by my own mother’s sleep apnea, weight-aggravated arthritis, high blood pressure and type two diabetes), being overweight is so clearly seen as an individual, personal failing. Oh yes, we all know that corporations peddle poison in the form of fat-laden foods and large portion sizes, and that we are subjected to thousands of these messages per day, but should you succumb – it is clearly your fault. And for that you should be taunted, harassed, depicted as grotesque and/or humourous, and lectured on an almost continual basis as though you were a bad child. It’s no wonder that most people who struggle with their weight tend to keep their thoughts about the matter private – why expose ourselves to the ridicule we are (secretly) sure we deserve for not controlling ourselves better?
It’s pretty insidious, and of course the shaming that society places on fat people does absolutely nothing to encourage better eating habits or more exercise. For people like my mother who have emotional eating triggers it has the opposite effect, and if you’re convinced your body is the butt of other people’s jokes then why subject yourself to jiggling your fat in public on a treadmill? It takes tremendous courage in a society of fat-haters to a) admit that you struggle with your weight and b) do something about it. Trust me. And I’ve only started with 35 pounds to lose – I truly applaud those much heavier people who I see sweating away on the elliptical trainer at the Y.
This isn’t my first time on a weight loss kick (fortunately I don’t have as much weight to lose as last time since I managed to catch things before I went too far in the wrong direction), so it’s not the first time I’ve confronted the profound emotional jumble that comes with the process. Even with a supportive partner, I wouldn’t barely talk about what I was doing for the first two months despite the working out daily and meticulously tracking my food and fitness using an online tool (sparkpeople.com). Even now that I have made noticeable and significant progress and am feeling somewhat more confident about the whole endeavour I find myself feeling like a “loser” for “allowing” the weight gain in the first place. It’s a weird emotional mix – to feel both pride and shame over the same course of action – and even now I am self-conscious with what I’ve written here.
From when I was very young my mother counseled me to watch my weight because I didn’t want to grow up to be fat. She put me on diets at the age of twelve and told me that if you were overweight then everyone could tell you were mentally ill (ie: suffering from depression) because your external self was a reflection of your internal state. She told me that you could only pretend to accept yourself as fat, but really could never be happy in your true heart about the matter. And I don’t blame her at all for any of that given the way she was treated by first her mother, and then her husband. How could you love and accept yourself at any weight if you were ridiculed once you got past a certain point? As a child, I felt my mother’s shame and struggle as acutely as if it was my own. But all this warning and hectoring didn’t stop me from carrying extra weight for much of my adult life. It’s something that just happens to many of us when we stop paying attention to it, we all know how that goes.
And so to add to the emotional stew – beyond pride and shame – I’ve got some other stuff going on from childhood that involve a lot of anger and sadness too. (No doubt this is hard stuff to write about).
It should really be no surprise that my main motivator this time around has in fact been my mother’s deteriorating health. I mean, she’s not dying or anything, but her weight has clearly contributed to a number of health issues in the past few years and as she gets older, the effects have become increasingly apparent. And I don’t want to be there at sixty-five. I don’t expect to be in perfect condition or anything, but it would be nice to sleep without a Cpap machine and exist without regular insulin injections – which are both realities if I get this last twenty pounds off and then keep myself that way.
Hm. So if you haven’t noticed, this is as big an emotional process as anything – but one that I’m feeling equipped to handle and very supported in. It’s been exciting, this reconnection with my physical body, while at the same time working on putting some bad habits (and mental processes) to rest. We’ll see where this goes, but I’m hopeful that with support I can keep myself in check for the sake of my future self and health.