So… I’m fat. Depending on what charts you like to believe, I am anywhere from 20-50 lbs overweight for a person my age (35) and my height (5’3″).
I’m also one of the few people I know my age who hasn’t struggled with seriously unhealthy, disordered eating behaviors at some point. I’ve never starved myself by skipping more than one meal in a row. I’ve never made myself throw up. When I was single and living alone I engaged in some mildly shameful overeating; a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or an entire frozen pizza for dinner, perhaps. But I never starved, never did any serious binging, never took diet pills or laxatives, never stuck my finger down my throat, never tried to compulsively exercise any extra calories off.
You’d think that would matter, but apparently it doesn’t.
Do I exercise regularly? Not at a gym, no. I go for walks, do laundry, carry my 20+ lb baby all over the place, put groceries away, collect garbage, clean toilets, cook at the stove, sweep the floors, organize clutter.
But “formal” exercise? No way. I’ve tried it a million times, a million different methods: Tae Bo in my apartment, a membership at the YMCA, yoga DVDs, a Tai Chi kit that was never even opened, a cheap manual treadmill that took up my whole living room and rocked back and forth so noisily I couldn’t watch TV while I tried to run, and, more recently, sessions with a personal trainer that I couldn’t afford to keep seeing.
I won’t exercise in public, won’t even so much as go for a brisk walk wearing any item of clothing that might be considered exercise clothes. Because I know what people think and I know what people say: look at the fat girl exercising. Look at the fat girl trying to get skinny. I’ve told people this and they say “Who cares what people think?” I care. I don’t like being pitied or cheered on for something that I hate doing. I’ve had random trainers cheer me on at gyms and my reaction is always rage, which I feel is actually pretty appropriate. I didn’t ask for their attention and I didn’t ask for their condescending encouragement. They know nothing about me or my health or my background other than what they see: a fat person attempting to do pull ups.
About 15 years ago, when I was about 40 lbs thinner than I am now and comfortably wearing size 12 jeans, I tried working out regularly at a fancy gym. I had a few sessions with a trainer who showed me how to use the equipment, then I went on my own and used the machines. One day I was on a machine that simulated cross country skiing- I have no idea what those things are called- and the machine overlooked a basketball court where a group of middle-aged to senior citizen men played. One of the men; white-haired, wizened, but fast the court, looked at me and made a comment about how I was going too slow on the machine. I was going slow because the trainer had told me that long, slow movements were the ones that really worked the muscles and gave you more of a workout. But old, wizened, white-haired, basketball man was making fun of me.
If I remember correctly, my twenty year old self was usually pretty sassy. But not this time. I will never understand why I let a strange old man make me feel ashamed, but I did. I climbed off the machine and never tried it again. I started going to the gym only to get manicures and use the steam room. Then I stopped going entirely.
Do I eat too much? Sure. I’m your friend who tries in vain to hide her disappointment when nobody at dinner wants to see the dessert menu. I’m also really hungry most of the time. Like Jennifer Weiner writes in this incredible essay, I have no “off switch”. The only time I ever ate like a “normal” person was, oddly, when I was pregnant. My appetite is so large under normal circumstances that I had always thought I would gain a ridiculous amount of weight when I got pregnant. I was floored when my midwife ordered to gain a bit more weight. Being told to gain more weight was as exciting as my increasingly cute sonogram pictures. Despite my efforts, I only gained about 22 lbs when you’re supposed to gain 25.
In the past few years I’ve made an effort to greatly reduce the amount of processed food I eat. Part of this is due to the influence of the oft-referenced Zero Waste Lady, part of this is for health. I’ve also eaten less processed food since I stopped working: there are no more spontaneous candy bars or bags of chips on my lunch break, no more chicken wings and cocktails with colleagues. I’m not perfect. I still eat too much at meals and I eat too many sweets in general. But I’m pretty sure I eat better than most people and it took a long time to get to a place where I am almost always eating actual FOOD.
The first time I did Weight Watchers I was 30 lbs thinner than I am now and I lost 20. My doctor at the time, (a chubby lady herself), complimented me on my weight loss and was conscientious enough to ask if I was eating. I was eating and I was eating regularly. But what was I eating? Mostly aspartame. Bran flakes and skim milk with Equal liberally sprinkled on it for breakfast. A Balance bar and a can of diet Pepsi for lunch. Lots of fat-free processed food: yogurts with aspartame, diet cookies, 94% fat-free microwave popcorn every day, fat-free Fudgsicles and Popsicles.
That’s a difficult routine to sustain, especially when you’ve fallen in love with the boyfriend who will later become your husband. When someone treasures your body and tells you every day it’s beautiful, it’s pretty hard to feed it lettuce and fat-free dressing on a regular basis.
I gained the 20 lbs back within 6 months. I was pretty horrified with myself, but mostly at the loss of all of my new clothes with the size 8 labels.
Over the years there have been as many diets as there were attempts at working out. Some lasted 2 weeks, some 3 months. I never sustained a weight loss and have gained more and more.
There have also been more and more humiliations at the hands of callous doctors. There was the gastroenterologist I saw to treat my acid reflux. I don’t recall him asking about my stress levels, but he told me to lose weight. He prescribed me Nexium and scheduled a follow up for some months later. I went to my follow up appointment and asked for a refill of Nexium. He scolded me like I was a naughty kindergartener, saying “I thought I told you to lose some weight.”
Because of course it’s just that easy. And of course there are no thin people with acid reflux? None at all, right?
I had a physical with a new doctor 2 years ago. Everything was fine but my cholesterol was a bit high. At the time I was smoking fairly regularly (which I had done for about 6 months prior to my appointment), and working at a very stressful job. This doctor didn’t make a big fuss about my weight, but gave me a photocopied sheet detailing nutritional guidelines to help lower cholesterol. I remember commiserating with a thin friend who had also recently had high cholesterol come up in some tests results. We wondered what more we could possibly do, since we were both already pretty much eating like the doctor’s photocopied hand-out instructed us.
A few months ago I went back to that doctor for my first physical in 2 years. He asked what was new. I told him about the baby.
“Oh, congratulations. Any complications?”
“Just gestational diabetes but I controlled it with diet so I didn’t need any insulin.”
When I went to sit down in his office after leaving a urine sample and having an EKG and my blood drawn he said “You’re very healthy…..Lose some weight…Weight Watchers is probably the best way to go.”
I didn’t get it together to tell him I’ve done Weight Watchers at least 4 times, but I must’ve given him a filthy enough look for him to immediately change the subject and ask if I’d had my skin screened for cancer by a dermatologist.
As he asked his receptionist to give me a dermatologist’s card, he had the nerve to ask if I wanted the number of a nutritionist.
Again, I didn’t get it together enough to remind him that I had just told him I had controlled my gestational diabetes through healthy diet, which would indicate to anyone with basic inferential skills that I have some knowledge of what a healthful diet consists of. I angrily shook my head and left.
Did he really not hear that I had told him I controlled the diabetes with diet, or did he not believe me?
I bet he didn’t believe me. When you’re fat, people rarely believe you.
So, what’s next? Back to the fake food of 12 years ago? Should I finally start starving myself or making myself throw up like all the other girls were doing back in ’92?