Friday, August 24, 2012

Blubber Soul

 When I was growing up there weren't many other fat teenagers. Now I see fat girls all over. Fat jokes are still OK. Obesity, in popular culture, seems to be one of the few human conditions that is exempt from the rules of political correctness. Still while there's lots of evidence of fat bashing on TV, real life seems more accepting of the overweight as there are so many more real fat people. The obesity rate in the U.S. was about 17% in 1962. It's over 35% now. Fat teens wear the same fashions as thin girls, have boyfriends and get knocked up even. During high school I yearned for anything other than the matronly apparel that was available in large sizes and for a boyfriend. I would have known better however then to get knocked up. Because nearly 1/3 of teenagers are obese these days it's sort of Darwinian that sexual proclivities have adjusted to compensate for the mathematical imperative of lowered standards. Sadly, my own aesthetic,shaped by a lifetime of self hatred, hasn't evolved. When I see a fat girl I think exactly the same unkind thoughts that I always suspected people were thinking about me. Especially if she's wearing shorts.

The why of skyrocketing obesity is controversial, as is the cause of obesity in general. I know intellectually that karma is not a factor but have trouble accepting this on an emotional level. Genetics, brain chemistry and lifestyle all make good cases. In 1962 however there were indeed far fewer fast food franchises, portions were smaller and there were no drive-thrus. I drive home past a big McDonalds on San Fernando Road. Usually the parking lot isn't very full but the drive-through line overflows into the street. Gas is more than four bucks a gallon but people will idle in line for twenty minutes rather then get out of their friggin' cars. I managed to get fat without drive-thrus and supersizes but I imagine that these luxuries would have made me even fatter.

Theoretically, I laud the fat acceptance movement and find much of their work affirming and comforting. Unfortunately, my own life as a very fat person has conditioned me to look at a fat person and feel pity, revulsion and moral superiority. When I see a fat woman at the supermarket I always sneak a judgmental glance at the contents of her shopping cart. “Coke! Ben and Jerry's! Milanos! Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. What a weak and pathetic person you are. I bet that jumbo bag of M&Ms won't even make it home...” I suspect too that very few advocates for the Fat Acceptance movement, despite their professions of being fat and happy, would reject a magic thinness pill.

I have not been thinner in my adult life than I am now. I am about 15 lbs from reaching my Weight Watchers' goal weight. I've been dicking around with the same five pounds up and down for about three months though. Weight Watchers encourages you to track what you eat and ascribes a point system. I am lazy about tracking. I don't eat anything, except perhaps a taste from someone's plate, blatantly junky but I sometimes overdo it with “healthful” food. Weight Watchers has also introduced a sophisticated sort of pedometer called an Active Link which tracks activity level. The device costs about $40 and the monitoring service is $5 a month. It's been quite hard sell. I attend a weekly meeting with a group of girlfriends, all of whom have had life long struggles with weight. We have all decided, for different reasons, that we are not interested in purchasing the Active Link. Meetings however for the past six weeks have revolved around the product and the minutiae of operating it. I walk for at least 8 hours every week. I don't want the damn contraption buzzing at me every five minutes to remind me that I have a weight problem. I've wasted enough of my life on that already.

I like our Weight Watcher's leader. She is smart and funny but she toes the party line,  an employee but also a sincere and true believer. She reminds us frequently that we can eat as much fruit as we like. I don't buy this and weight gains on the weeks when I have overindulged are a testament. I am shot down when I mention this at a meeting. Our facilitator has lost only 30 lbs. Chump change. She has no idea how very much fruit a person with a history of super obesity can consume. I know that the Weight Watchers Points Plus Plan is based on scientific investigation. I suspect though that research subjects were overweight but not morbidly obese. I further antagonize our leader, when after endless discussions about the Active Link, she asks the group if anyone has any questions about the device. The room is silent. I gleefully high five my girlfriend. The leader's peripheral vision is way better than I'd estimated. My punishment is another twenty minute spiel about the Active Link.

One might wonder why I pay for my Weight Watchers membership and slavishly attend the weekly meetings if I don't fully adhere to the program. I go back and forth on this myself. I admit that breakfast with the girls after the meeting is one of the major selling points. I walk a lot. I consume, and enjoy, for the first time in my adult life, breakfast. I eat what I like and eat frequently. I am not completely cured but I have made headway with regard to mindless eating. I may or may not buckle down for a couple of months to reach the higher end of what Weight Watchers considers my ideal weight range.

I struggle to straddle the line between being comfortably full vs. too full. A lifetime of radical dieting makes this really challenging. I worry sometimes about going completely out of control and gaining back weight. My current regime is tolerable. I don't have ESP but it seems realistic for me maintain my current exercise and diet routine indefinitely. Because it's been a life long pattern, I'm concerned that an even stricter routine might make me snap. Maybe if I can keep it together within a five pound range I shouldn't waste additional physic energy on my weight. So much of what I lost out on in life was because I was fat and maybe it's OK to accept a few extra pounds and get on with it.

The editor revising a manuscript advises me to downplay the family saga and focus on the degradation I was subjected to as a fat person. I tell him that I hate writing about this which convinces me that he is right. Tapping out this current piece makes me uncomfortable. Before my enrollment in Weight Watchers I ate a protein bar mid-morning, in lieu of breakfast. The Think Thin is reputedly developed by a bariatric surgeon. The bar is very low in calories but loaded with enough protein power to produce a feeling of almost uncomfortable fullness. The bar is filled with a coarse powdery substance that tastes like glue and carob and coated with an emollient intended to resemble chocolate only in appearance. I forced one of these down every morning. I figured out pretty early on that that filled me but didn't satisfy me and that as soon as the fullness wore off I'd do some serious damage. Unfortunately they were purchased at Costco so I had to choke down the whole big box before swearing off the disgusting things. I see a mom, and her teenage daughter who appears dangerously anorectic, at the protein bar section of Fresh and Easy. The teen points her spindly arm at the Think Thin bars. “Those are absolutely fantastic.” Anorexia was never my problem but I used to wish it were. I have no worries about becoming too thin. I do relate however to all of the girls and women who undergo surgery, starve, binge, purge or exercise themselves into a coma because they hate their bodies.

I've lived most of my life knowing that the first thing about me people would register is “fat.” Now I am only about fifteen pounds overweight so this is probably not the case. Of course, now for the first time in my life when the quick read on me isn't “fat,” it's “old”. This makes the quandary, about if staying thin will seize as great a hold on my life as being fat did, even more poignant. Obesity, I try to tell myself is not a due to a deficit in character but a disease. But will being a slave to managing the symptoms guarantee the best outcome? Will I really live longer if I start tracking my food meticulously and hang a device that measures my activity around my neck? Or will it just seem longer?


FionnchĂș said...

I am curious (orange if not yellow) about fruit's toll. I wonder about the sugar vs the fiber and which wins the battle for nutrition or bulk. After all the decades WW has been around (I recall my dad trying to deal with some frozen meals or packaged dinners my mom found him, and you can imagine his disdain), you'd think they'd be able to target causes and effects better. But then, the NYT touts this week a bestselling diet book touting no veggies, no fruit, and all the meat or carbs you can load: this proves the folly or profit in hucksterism.

Shades of Melville's "The Confidence Man" and the chapters of the Duke and Dauphin in "Huck Finn." Funny how Great Republic tends to be ground zero for whatever fad boosts our spirits and empties our wallets. A student spoke this week about ShakeWeights.

I'm proud you've got a contemporary, L.A. (if not, say, Hometown Buffet) version of sitzfleisch: getting up off the duff to exercise, and sticking to it no matter what. I am not alone in noticing how pretty you look, and I have been the proud recipient and interlocutor of such plaudits from others to your way. So many of your friends and those who see you marvel at how your regimen has enriched your beauty. I am happy you are committing to this; I repeat you "look mahvaluss"!

And think of the dawns you and a panting Corgi or sleek pound dog get to view! Taffy's trimmer too. xxx me

My own Damn Blog said...

So much of the funky weight bullshit came from my parents who told me I was "putting it on" when I was in high school and weighed what would be look a bit anorexic on me now.

What I've learnt about weight (personally): If I'm super skinny, that's pretty much a sign that I'm very ill and don't know it yet. I could say that I'm about 15 lbs over my goal weight, but doing 1 1/2 hours of exercise daily plus walking the puppy at half hour intervals is getting me FIT. I could care less what the lying bastard bathroom scale tells me. It's how do I FEEL? Am I getting more limber? More endurance? Am I effectively convincing myself that I actually LIKE this regimen? I've been all over the weight spectrum, and I just want to be healthy. PERIOD.
(And yes, certain fruits are high on the glycemic scale, no better than Jolly Rancher candy.)

Mike Maginot said...

Do not buy anything that will break up your personal time into small units of self loathing. It is self defeating and unhealthy. Your Weight Watcher Wacko is not a nutritionist, she is a living breathing commercial in the rogue style previously referenced in these comments. It sounds like your editor wants you to narrow rather than expand your market share in regards to your literary focus. That's bullshit. Get a second opinion. Tell stories. Let the undertone hum in the background. Don't let it become a drum solo that goes on for the entire album.