This post is about obesity. Not obesity, in the general, "America is the fattest nation in the world, please be ashamed while looking at all this headless, faceless video footage of wide behinds and bulging guts walking down city sidewalks" way that you see it reported on the news. Do you think those folks realize their butts are being videotaped for segments like that? I would be really irritated if my butt ever showed up on the evening news unwittingly, but I digress.
Today I'm writing about my obesity. The obesity I am living with today, in October 2014. This version is different than the one I lived with last year, or five years ago, or even a decade ago, when I was pregnant and much, much slimmer and healthier, but still, technically, obese.
If you do not want to read a truthful, sometimes upsetting account of my current experience, I get it. Come back tomorrow. Tomorrow I will be doing a giveaway, the tone will be light, and if you live in the Chicago area, you will be able to get a discount for house-cleaning.
I have written about this subject before, both here at Koritelling, and at my previous blog, Mommylu's World. I will likely write about it many more times, too, since obesity is not an ailment that disappears quickly, even with the best care.
Alrighty, disclaimer done. Do you feel better? I do!
Let me be clear about why I am writing today.
- I am not seeking pity. To keep an honest blog in which I tell personal stories but do not include occasional updates on obesity would be ludicrous, given the role it plays in my daily life; that said, I don't write this for any particular response from others. If you reach out to me, you may want me to know that you care, or that you wish this could be different. Thank you. I wish that, too. Support = yes. Pity = no, thank you. I got a terrible shake when it comes to weight, but I am fortunate in so many other ways, pity is never required.
- I am not seeking diet or fitness advice. You want to know about calories? The latest "good" food versus "forbidden" food? The increasing variety of couch-to-5K program? Whether carbs or fat or gluten or dairy or sticks or twigs are the best to have for breakfast while slimming down? ASK A FAT PERSON. I'm pleased your nutrition and work-out routine work for you, or your sister, or your aunt, or this lady that you knew growing up who was "so overweight, it was so sad," but has recently lost so much weight you "could barely recognize her" when you ran into her at your hometown hardware store while looking at paint swatches. I promise I have people to call when I need ideas of how to address my weight. And if you ever catch me at a cocktail party and want to hear some hilariously funny stories of how well-meaning, but incredibly rude, acquaintances have approached me to tell me about weight loss strategies at the most inopportune/humiliating times, I am happy to provide you with at least 20-30 minutes of uncomfortable laughter.
- I am not seeking blame or shame. I do not feel to blame for my current condition, but I do feel responsible for my choices and their outcome. I do feel shame, regularly, and I work hard to address that feeling. Shame is horrible, and it accomplishes nothing toward behavior change.
- I am not seeking consensus. I can only speak for myself, but if what I say resonates, I hope that you will use it to act with compassion to those in your life who may be in the same situation.
- I am seeking connection. When you read this, you will know an obese person. If this seems like a bad idea, please return to the disclaimer at the top, and I'll see you tomorrow, friend.
Another year has gone by with more doctor's visits, more feeling awful, more trying to address my diet and exercise, and always feeling like I cannot outsmart the weight-creating machine.
Does it feel like a fight? Heck yeah. It is the worst kind of fight, a fight with the vehicle in which I rely to carry me in this world, the vessel that I wish to praise and to treat with tenderness. It is a reluctant, terrible fight to survive.
I wish, just for a moment, I could transport others into my skin, to feel the physical weight of the sensation of getting bigger and bigger, of always feeling both hungry and nauseous (and often getting sick), of bumping into things and not fitting into restaurant and movie-theater chairs. The worry that comes with "not fitting" is now almost constant: if I come out to attend an event with you, or travel to see you by plane or train, please know how very much I value you, because I am putting my worry (and reality) of not fitting in my seat aside to brave the experience, understanding that I may be embarrassed and physically hurt (as often happens) if the chair I must sit in has arms that squeeze me in.
I wish, for just one doctor's visit, I could make others a fly on the wall as we discuss test results. A pre-fatty liver. Worries that cholesterol could get high. Insulin-resistance. Headaches. Backaches. Sore joints. Irritable bowel syndrome. All with the doctor's shoulder shrug that says, "I don't know how to fix this, either, I don't know how to put all the pieces together." The discussions about the miracles of weight-loss surgery, and my perfect candidacy, with its accompanying risk of killing me or creating life-threatening complications. The reality that, sadly, my insurance will not cover the cost, so I cannot even consider surgical options, the only treatments (so far) that appear to immediately change the gut flora for obese people, eliminating insulin resistance, digestive problems, and hormone-controlled constant hunger. I wish folks could see my face drop and my shoulders slump as I am told, once again, by my concerned physician that I should meet with the hospital nutritionist—yes, I have done this before, but will try again, as it is the only help provided.
I wish, just for one nutritionist's visit, others could be there as we use antiquated dietary recommendations for weight loss—skim milk, no eggs, only diet bread, cottage cheese (YUCK) on everything, etc.—as the start of our discussion, but then try to navigate the complicated waters of my own personal digestive struggles.
- Avocado is healthy fat, but it makes me sick. No, I can't sub avocado for other things with this food plan we are working on, I just have to give up that fat, but of course, I won't feel very full. That won't work? The other fats I suggest are actually trigger foods? Yikes.
- Crunchy vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower make my stomach so upset, I can't sleep. Too much salad is bad, too. Nutritionist suggestion: blend all my vegetables. Sure, I guess this can work, but that is pretty limiting outside my home, especially if those are the main foods I'm supposed to eat. Also, is this a forever solution? It doesn't seem very sustainable.
- Beans: if veggies bother me, the nutritionist wants to know about beans. Beans are straight-up off the table now, as I eat them and quickly appear to be food poisoned. Yes, I'm sad about it. I love beans. I love their taste, I love cooking them, I love how inexpensive they are, I love that my husband and daughter like eating them, too. Yes, I can eat them blended, at least in small amounts. Sure, I'll give it a try.
- Fruit is delicious, but it leaves me hungry; when I eat it at restaurants, I have to be very careful, as I'm allergic to one of the preservatives put on it to keep it looking so fresh and appetizing. Yes, the nutritionist has heard of this, and wants to know, does this preservative irritate my throat? Yes, my throat, lips and tongue balloon up, and I have trouble breathing. Nutritionist suggestion: continue not to eat fruit at restaurants, try to "make the best choices I can."
- In summary, what's my diet supposed to be? Low-fat or high-fat dairy? Lean protein with blended vegetables, but no carbs? Fruit at home, but with some low-fat protein to fill me up? What can I eat that will both make me healthier and also feel okay every single day?
I wish, every once in awhile, I could share the discussion with the nutritionist, the doctor, and the trainer in which it is suggested that I keep a food journal, with meticulous notes, even though the therapy I have sought to address potential psychological factors of my obesity has suggested that keeping a journal just like that encourages obsessive thinking, shame, and as a result, resistance to behavior change, binging, and feelings of hopelessness. If only I were a robot, and we could just download all my data in an impersonal way.
I have believed, for a long time, that my obesity has not been simply the result of a lack of disciplined self-care on my part, while at the same time, I have understood that my choices have hastened my weight-related suffering and worsened my overall health. These ideas are in conflict, and I must hold onto them, together, all the time, one not canceling the other out. Much as I wish, I can't have others feel how it is to be in this body, or attend health care visits with me as I struggle to describe my symptoms and attempts to ameliorate them, or be in my brain as I try to anticipate size-appropriate seating options everywhere I go. I cannot see the clear solution that gets me out of this situation, but I also cannot seem to get the team I need to help me figure it out, despite trying, despite love and support and access to quality medical care. I know that my solution is not simply lowering calories in and increasing calories burned—the best docs have said that this equation is only a part of the disease for awhile—but all the while, I try to do better with reducing intake and increasing activity.
It is difficult. It is sometimes overwhelming. It is so damn lonely.
I routinely seek ways to escape my situation. I laugh with friends. I exercise. I look fear in the face and go out into the world. I travel with friends and family who mitigate some of my limitations. I play with our new puppy. I try making a new recipe. I'm always in my body, though. Everywhere I go, it is there, and this year, it has felt more encumbering than ever.
For me, obesity is a prison I take everywhere with me. Even during the fun times it is there, in the sweaty feeling in the fold of my neck, or the arm rests pressing painfully into my hips. If vacations fortify our spirits, giving a necessary break to life's struggles, what I wouldn't do for just a few days reprieve from obesity—a brief vacation from being locked inside this body—so that I could feel stronger in my fight to be healthy.
I want to be hopeful. I want to feel like, this year, this will be the time I get a handle on this, turn the boat around, and through sheer will and hard work, reverse my body's current course. I want to believe that I have that kind of power, even as I know that it takes more than just me and all the resolve and dedication in the world to cure a disease like this. I want to know that there is a set of keys waiting for me to unlock the prison doors. Though each year I feel this disease killing me a little more, make no mistake: I want to live, and I will continue to fight for my life, even as it looks as if nothing has changed.
As much of a downer as the current state of my obesity can be, there is an odd freedom to living outside the edge of normal, to knowing that we are more than our bodies, and we must deal with the struggles that come with them. While I certainly try to to look my best, with some semblance of fashion-sense, I no longer worry about my looks. I just can't. It is fruitless, and requires energy I don't have. All the shirts in the world will show that I am heavy, all the pants will need to fit both my larger stomach and my thighs, so none of them will be very trendy. All the hairstyles will still expose my double chin, so I might as well just get the one I like the best, and feel great about showing it off. The little wrinkles of vanity truly don't worry me anymore. Maybe this is just the effect of age, but even in this body—maybe especially in this body—I like getting dressed up, I like wearing bright colors, and I like not worrying about every single stitch of clothing being flattering.
Is that a hopeful ending? Gosh, if you stayed with me this long, I can at least end on a reassuring note, right?
Here goes: Before you know it, we will all venture into the holiday season, cold weather creeping in, with baking and parties and family meals, no matter what your diet. Soon the sunlight will diminish, and my body will take a cue from the season by getting slower and more tired, but even exhausted, I will be grateful to wake up with my family surrounding me, as I hope you will be with your families, too. We will all face our struggles. I will face my obesity for another year. I will hope for more answers. I will pray for more joy, even with the restrictions that accompany it in this shell. And should any new breakthroughs come around, I will keep you posted.