I Am That Girl Now

Friday, June 03, 2005

The other side of that communications gulf

Okay, I love y'all. I do. I seem to be far from alone, to say the least, in my frustration with people who just do not get why the decision to lose weight ain't an easy one. Glad to know you guys liked it!

You may like this one less well. Because there are two sides to everything, and that includes this particular argument.

First off, I'm not saying they're right. Keep that in mind. I stand by my previous post, although as the full roar of the frustration fades a bit, I might take back a few of the obscenities.

However... I don't know about the rest of you, but I get terribly uncomfortable when it comes to discussing weight issues, or diet, in real life with real people. I feel the need to get away from the topic as soon as possible, and so when people want to talk to me about How I Did It, I tend to smile nervously and wave my hands a lot and say some vague things about diet and exercise. It was easiest when I was just on WeightWatchers, because then I could haul out the party line and it wasn't about me, it wasn't about my choices-- what I was doing was valid, see, because there was a corporation behind it! Either way, I have a terrible habit of trotting out the easiest possible answer to those questions so that I can get out of the spotlight as soon as is humanly possible.

BethK said it best in a post from April: I have much shame about my excess weight so calling attention to it, lost or not, isn't something I do easily. I hadn't recognized the pattern of my own actions until I read that, but when I did, I felt like a tool. I was part of the communications gulf between myself and my dad (oh, there's a post there, someday when I've had a few beers): part of the reason that he has a tough time grasping just what a big thing my weight-loss and fitness journey was, is that I've been trivializing it myself. Not here, of course (but hey, we're among friends, eh?), but in the "out loud" zone. I'm guilty of trivializing my accomplishments to others, and I'm guilty of trivializing them to myself.

There is a cultural myth of painless weight loss, a myth which people desperately want to be correct: the existance of tons of snake-oil pills and potions and of thousands of gimmick diet plans is evidence of that. Clearly, we know better-- but even in the television shows that show weight loss by the correct methods, there's a disturbing tendency to gloss over it, to give it that "now, wasn't that easy?" spin. In this day and age of science and information, when the basic knowledge of how to actually make weight loss work is at our fingertips, this is a mind-boggling thing. What the hell is up with this myth?

I think I got it figured out. The myth of easy weight loss exists because it has a sister. It goes hand-in-hand with another myth that is dear to our culture's heart: the myth of the lazy fatties. If weight-loss is easy, then the only reason that people can possibly be fat is that those people are lazy and unwilling to put the work in. That means that everyone else is right to look down on them. I think the reason that these twinned myths have skyrocketed in importance over the past half-century is because everyone, everyone is at risk. People don't want to admit that we're a walking example of there but for the grace of God go I, and those twinned myths work very well to protect them from that knowledge. First of all, it couldn't happen to them because they're not like that, and second of all, if they did get fat, they could un-do it in a snap, because it's easy.

[It's easy to fall prey to this when maintaining a weight loss, too. Really, really easy. Because we just don't want to admit that it could happen to us again, we end up clinging to the idea that the people who fail or the people who fall or the people who never try are very different from us. We fear that failure-- and so it's far, far too easy to fall into that pattern of thinking that there is something wrong with those other people-- but not us.]

On the other side, there's us: the folk who are currently fat, the folks who are losing weight, and the folks who are (as JuJu of SDP once put it) "in remission". I think we've bought into the myths ourselves.

My friends who need to lose weight (and lord knows I did the same) make all kinds of excuses: their metabolisms, their genetics, their frantically busy schedules, yadda yadda yadda. All these excuses are born, I think, out of the fear that if they say the real reason-- "Dude, this is going to be a lot of work, and I can't face it quite yet, okay?"-- that they'd be worse than fat, they'd be a lazy fat person. Worse, I think that at heart they might have bought into it, and that they really believe that the reason they've failed in the past is because they're lacking something, that they are that damn lazy. That the mean skinny bitches were right. And you know, that's something that can scare people away more than the fear of failure-- the fear that failure would prove those fuckers right. (More on that later.) The fear that they are, really, one of them-- one of the mythical lazy fat folk-- or just a step away from it.

Those of us who are currently in the process, in the zone, in the "losing" phase... well, to build on BethK's remarkably insightful statement, it's not just that we don't want to draw attention to the fact that we were once fatter-- there's also a weird need to downplay how hard it can be. For one thing, it's kind of depressing to dwell on. For another thing, I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't want to admit just how different my weight-loss lifestyle was from what I had been doing before. I certainly didn't want to admit how hard it was, because that would mean that I was actually still one of those people-- that I hadn't been fat just because I hadn't bothered, or because I hadn't gotten around to it, or because I'd been too busy, but because I was fat and lazy.

Oh, and then there's those of us "in remission." Really, of all the people who you'd think would be willing to step up and tell the truth about it, you'd think it would be us... and yet, we end up demurring, hand-waving. Not just about how hard it was to lose the weight, but how hard it is to keep it off (leading to that other great myth that I've ranted about before, the myth of easy maintenance). At heart, I think we're scared that if we stand up and say, "Yo, this was a GIANT PAIN IN THE ASS, but I did it, and I managed it, and I'm still doing it, because I am the baddest badass there is," that people won't believe us. Even though we've experienced this ourselves, we get this fear-- that maybe we're wrong, that maybe the whole reason it was hard was that we are lazy and that we deserved to be fat. That if we actually find this to be difficult, it means we're still weak. That we're still one of them.

Folks, THERE IS NO THEM. I've talked to a hell of a lot of people over the past two years who are in this-- those who are still overweight, those who are losing, those who are maintaining-- and not a single damn one of us is "one of them." They don't exist. It's a damn myth. There are a lot of fat folks out there who are in this situation because fast food and junk food are really tasty, or because we learned early to treat our emotions with food, or because we never were athletic or active as kids, or because we never really learned to cook, or because we got overwhelmed by life and are now overwhelmed by the idea of turning life upside-down to lose weight. There are a bunch of fat folks who are embarrassed, a lot who are scared, a lot who are in denial, a lot who are angry, a lot who are overworked and just desperate for a break. There are people who use their fat to protect themselves from their sexuality; there are people who use their fat as a way to protect themselves from intimacy; hell, there are a lot of people who are using fat as a way of distracting attention from other parts of themselves that they feel inadequate about. There are people with real, honest-to-God metabolic problems, and there are people who were born to fat parents and raised in a fat household and never knew anything else.

There aren't "those people". Just people.

I think that part of me has a lot of trouble believing that little old me could actually accomplish something huge and drastic and life-changing, and since I bought into those damn myths myself, I couldn't really put my experience together with the perception that this should have been easy. And because of this, I have trouble standing up to my father and telling him that it was hard for me, that it's still hard, and that he shouldn't look down on my mother for not losing weight because God, who can blame somebody for not being ready to deal with something like that?

I need to, though. I need to talk to him, and tell him that. God, look at the facts: eighty percent of people who lose weight re-gain it, and that is because it is hard damn work and a rough damn ride. We shouldn't have to spend our whole lives apologizing for being fat and then apologizing for having to lose weight and then apologizing for ever having been fat in the first place.

Yes, we made our own problems, dug ourselves into those holes with knife & fork (and that precious ice cream spoon), but the condescension that people say that with is undeserved and, again, goes back to the distance that people want to put between themselves and fat people so they can go on believing that it couldn't happen to them. Weight gain is far from the only problem we make for ourselves; if you look close, every problem is like that to a certain extent, it's just the ones that involve going to an extreme, that involve losing control-- to a substance or to another person or to inertia or to the rush of life-- that people feel the need to distance themselves from and so they blame the victim.

So you know what? Fuck 'em. Yes, we got ourselves into this. That doesn't take away from the fact that taking your life in your own two hands and saying "This is going to change; this is not who I am going to be" is an awe-inspiring feat. The fact that this is a situation of our own making ought, in fact, to make it even more amazing.

So yes, it's hard. Say it loud and say it proud, folks: this is a stone bitch to deal with. Nobody mocks people who try to climb Mt. Everest and only get half-way up, because they understand that it's a feat and a half just to attempt it: in my mind, weight loss ought to be the same. We should be feared, and respected, and even our failed attempts should be lauded as we plan another attempt at the summit. We are not lazy. We are not weak. We are mountainclimbers.

And here's the biggest part: It is hard, but we are up to it. Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's scary. You know what? You're up to it. So am I. We're all of us stronger and more bad-assed than we give ourselves credit for. Fear of this thing is harder to face than the thing itself, really; if you can get past the fear, there's really no stoppin' ya.


Now. There's another part that goes with this. It's the part from my other post about the power struggle-- that for every person who's pushing, there's another person pushing back.

For years, my father pushed me to lose weight. He withheld his approval and his pride over this one thing, even when I was achieving tons in other parts of my life. He was ashamed of how I looked. Hell, I found out later that the first time in years that he put a picture of me in his wallet was after I lost weight-- when it was a picture he'd want to show to people. There really aren't words for how much that hurt.

My father made it clear, through his actions toward me and toward my mother, that in order for me to deserve love and respect, I would have to "fix" myself. I resented that. I resented that a lot. (And for good reason, I should think.) It was a bastard thing to do to a shy kid who was plenty short on self-esteem in the first place. I would occasionally diet and exercise, but I fell back every time. What has become painfully clear in retrospect was that it wasn't the food that was my problem, it wasn't the exercise-- no, at the heart of my failures was that I just could not bear to prove my father right.

If I got thin, he'd be happy, and he'd be proud, but he'd win-- he would have never had to get his head out of his ass where my weight was concerned. On some level, I think, I was trying to wait him out-- I was trying to force him to love me the way I was, to respect my other accomplishments, to let go of the damn weight issue.

It didn't happen. I have to tell y'all, letting go of that one was the hardest battle of the war. When he found out I'd lost weight, he was delighted, and after I got off the phone with him I was so angry that I started crying and couldn't stop for a long, long time. I was furious that he'd "won". I was furious that he still didn't understand that he had been mean to me, and he shouldn't have, because I had not deserved it. I was furious that he still didn't respect anything else I'd accomplished, that in his eyes it hadn't mattered because I had been fat. I wanted him to love me and respect me in spite of my weight, not because of my weight loss. I didn't get it. And to be honest, that nearly de-railed the whole thing.

The only thing that got me through that was my Hub, who informed me that there was no way in hell I should let my father's approval, of all the damn things, screw up everything I'd worked so hard for. (He's smart, my boy, oh yes.) So I let go. I had to. To this day, I cringe when my father gives me compliments or gushes over how proud he is of "what [I've] accomplished"; it really does nothing but piss me off.

I still haven't told him. I should. One of the things about my dad is that when he is proven wrong, he re-thinks his position and repositions himself to incorporate those new facts into his worldview. I need to stop being angry, for my mother's sake, and get my dad's head on straight about this.

The reason I'm telling this horribly personal story is this: I'm not the only one out there with this problem, and I don't want my posts about the hard truth about hard weight loss to become a weapon in a similar power struggle.

If you're in a situation like this, let go. Disengage. Any points you're scoring on the other person are nothing compared to the body blows that you're taking, and I do mean body. With some people, there's no fixing their point of view; there's only learning to live with the fact that they're unfixable.

Let go. Maybe they won't. Maybe they'll keep harping, keep making stupid suggestions and slyly handing you weight-loss tip articles. There's no winning that particular war. Disengage; it's distracting you from the real battle. And maybe that's part of it, too-- that as long as it's a power issue, it's not a weight-loss issue. The power part is a distraction. It's giving you an excuse to avoid the hard work.

Yeah, there are a lot of people out there with a lot of skewed ideas about weight loss, and about us, and about how hard this journey really is. We can't control them. We can only control our own lives. And we can, because despite what we've been told this thing isn't hard because we're weak or because we're lacking something; this thing is hard because it's hard, and dammit, we are up to the challenge.

12 Comments:

  • Umm...do we have the same father? It's not possible that you're my half-sister, is it? Because I swear I had this same power struggle with my own father (and mother), even when I wasn't overweight. I became overweight and I really showed them, didn't I? I'm shuddering from the parallels to my own life, here. And you (and BethK) are sooo right about being uncomfortable talking about our weight. I had to just say these very words to my mother-in-law the last time I saw her: "I'm uncomfortable talking about this." Of course, I said it after she asked me to tell her exactly how much I weigh now (WTF?) and telling me that I'm "too thin" now (I'm BARELY within a healthy range for my height), but the bottom line is that I'm uncomfortable talking about it to anyone in real life. My reasoning is, though, that it took me sooo friggin' long to learn that I have to be my own judge of when I "look good", how much I should weigh, and what's healthy; this, not coincidentally, goes back to a lesson learned from the power struggle with my Dad. I didn't like being judged when I was overweight, and I don't like it now, either! Now I'm the only one who gets to decide if I'm healthy. So I can see that I need to save this for one of my own posts before I completely hijack your comments, but just wanted to say...I UNDERSTAND. All of it. Every word. Thanks for writing it!

    By Blogger Zara, at 6:03 PM  

  • Hijack away!

    The stuff with my dad could fill post after post, honestly. It's only since I got together with my Hub that I've managed to sort through all my Dad issues and-- in a very weird way-- end up discovering that I like him a lot more than my mother, which is such a complete reversal I don't know what to do with it.

    I keep wondering if I'm pursuing this idea of explaining things to him because there's still a part of me that thinks I'll be able to win that argument and get some retroactive respect for my old self. If so, it might not be a good idea; I get let down an awful lot when I expect one kind of response and still get the same kind.

    By Blogger Meg, at 7:27 PM  

  • Wow, powerful entry Meg. I'm kind of dumbstruck, from a macro perspective. But I do want to comment on a component or two. First, the father-approval thing. This was an amazing discovery, to see how deeply rooted this was. And, maybe I'm just stating the obvious here, but it seems to me that, maybe it was so deeply rooted because you had actually adopted his standards (reluctantly, sure), and refused to give yourself approval, either. It's pretty meaningful coming (or not) from a parent. But it's even more so when coming (or withheld) from yourself. What do you think about that?

    Also, the shame about the fat thing (BethK). I see this as very closely related with my epiphany over the past couple days (OK, I'm late to the party). I think that shame is a deep, deep part of us. It's a sore spot in our mouths that, even though it hurts, we can't stop poking. Even though it hurts, it's a hurt we're used to. the devil you know is better than the devil you don't, and all that. Does this make sense? I think we (some of us) make the shame flesh - in the fat - and it's a dose of that same shame that some of us crave when we crave unhealthy foods. I'm still working this out but I think there's a connection.

    Finally, your two myths? Brilliant, girl. You have hit this DEAD. ON. This should be an article in all major magazines and newspapers.

    I'm so glad I found your blog, Meg!

    By Blogger Wendy, at 9:12 AM  

  • Wow, Meg... this is very powerful and insightful. You really did hit the nail on the head, in terms of so many things. I think what especially is echoing for me is the idea that it's such "hard work". I think of that often... that's one of my big "issues", if you will. I realize that I am afraid I will bust my ass to change my life... and nothing will change, and all the work will be for naught. But that's not an excuse to not try.

    I also realize that the screwed up metabolism is, in some part, my own damn fault for all the yo-yoing I've done over the past few years. I used to lose easily enough (it was the doing what was needed to lose that was hard!)... now it really is a struggle, and that increases my frustrations.

    Anyway, I was really glad to read this because it's nice to know someone else has as much as I do to say :P and also, it was just so freakin' insightful.

    BTW, I had a similar experience... being with my husband made me realize that I actually like my mother a lot more than I did, and my father a lot less. I was excusing a lot of my father's behavior... and I don't anymore. :)

    By Anonymous Maeander, at 3:43 PM  

  • Mae, I can't even imagine what a daunting task you have at hand. It really is hard work, and after a while you can end up with a stronger fear of failure than fear of the work itself.

    I think the ray of hope in all of this is the nature of the human body itself: we're built to adapt. Not just our behavior, but the body itself. The weight, the fat, the metabolism-- those are all adaptations our bodies made to accommodate our circumstances at the time. The fat is proof that our bodies can adjust and adapt. If the body can adjust in that direction, it's possible to make it adjust back the other way.

    Your body can change. There's no way it can't: that's what it does, that's what life is composed of.

    I think the main thing is to realize that this is going to be a long campaign, and plan accordingly... but I'm going to pop over to your blog for that. ::hugs::

    By Blogger Meg, at 4:26 PM  

  • Have you ever considered doing this (writing about weight loss issues) professionally? You may not have any formal training, but you're really good at it. I'm sure there's someone out there who's pay you for this.

    By Anonymous Alison, at 4:50 PM  

  • Thanks for this, Meg--for your clear thinking and your honesty. It's making me think about things I tend to shut out, and about behavior that I pretend is okay (why exactly do I lie about why I'm not eating dessert or pretend that I'm going to eat some later, and why am I so afraid to admit how much I have changed my life for this weight loss, and why do I think my friends would think less of me for having done so). There's a lot that I would like to write about--but I'm still not ready to post it on my blog where people who know me would read it.

    In the meantime, I will continue to come here, and learn from you. :)

    By Blogger Noames, at 9:55 AM  

  • Hi Meg - I have been lurking in your blog for a while now and I thoroughly enjoy it and completely understand what you say. I have been reading some of your back issue blogs and am exploring the transition to a BFL lifetsyle, and very much enjoy how you write about your experience and I can relate completely for your need for planning - I am the same. In my preparation for BFL and in reading other blogs I frequently come across Canadian bacon and eggbeaters. As someone who lives in Australia where we only have regular porkers (ie pigs) (although some shops bacon is definietly better than others) I am curious to know what is special about this bacon, particularly that which makes it acceptable to BFL plans. My partner is willing to assist me and even come along for the ride on BFL but he is vehement about not giving up his bacon!! And as for eggbeaters - I am assuming they are not the implement for beating eggs? I do not even know where to look in the supermarket - are they a powdered egg or something? Your assistance would be much appreciated.

    I wish you all the best and hope I can be as positive as you about it. Unfortunately I have to weights train in the evening as I must (read - to avoid garden carnage) walk my dog in the morning (she does not seem to mind 6.15am starts though) but it ceratinly gets the blood pumping on frosty mornings.
    Take care
    T

    PS (Sorry about being anonymous - but I do not have a blogger account or a webpage)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:32 PM  

  • T: Hi, and welcome!

    EggBeaters is the name of a product which is essentially egg whites in pourable form, with nutrients and whatnot added back in. It's a lot more economical just to buy regular eggs and separate the whites out, but... well, the convenience is very attractive.

    Normal bacon is made from meat (and mostly fat) from pig bellies; "Canadian" bacon (which in Canada, I hear, is called peameal bacon) is made from boneless pork loins-- a very lean cut, very tender. It's smoked like regular bacon, and it's still pork, but it's a LOT less fat.

    Hope that helps!

    -Meg

    By Blogger Meg, at 6:27 AM  

  • I SO empathize. Just the other day I told my mother I was going to the movies and she said don't eat too much popcorn. Then I said I don't eat popcorn and she said good, you don't need it anyway. I almost forgot that I really don't like popcorn and almost bought and ate a bucket lathered with butter.

    Also, talking about weight honestly or at all is in the class of religion and politics to me. I figure people just won't like what I have to say and I might just burst and unleash my anger upon them.

    This was an excellent post.

    By Blogger Nikki, at 11:34 AM  

  • Hi Meg

    T here again. Many thanks for the information. Alas, we do not have either of those products here. I am okay with not having eggbeaters, although I can certainly appreciate the convenience, but the Canadia bacon sounds absolutley marvellous. I too am rather fond of bacon but do not east it beacuse of the high fat content. I suspect I will not be able to find it as I believe Australia does not import fresh pork products, but I am certainly going to give the search a go.

    Once again - many thanks.
    T

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:02 PM  

  • Heyla!

    I loved this post too; and can totally empathize with the angst around weight maintenance and other people in the family - in my case it's a mother in law that constantly says I'm both anorexic AND fat. She's even suggested that my husband get counselling for me since I go to the gym so much, and wondered about things like my commitment to him / marital fidelity - i.e.; "Are you SURE she's actually going to the GYM every time?".

    In regards to the question you ask about why people don’t talk about how hard it is; or share the details with strength, I’d like to throw out some theories I have… Just as food for thought…
    - Since weight loss is often considered a “female” driven problem; and females still have the stereotypes to contend with of the June Cleaver variety; how much of not tooting the horn is due to women not feeling like that is acceptable behaviour? I see it listed all the time in magazines oriented toward helping women improve their careers – women STILL tend to under emphasise the wonderful work they do, or their accomplishments.
    - Another point that pops straight into my head is how defensive people get about weight in general. Your post highlights the emotional knots that often go hand in hand with weight issues. Now, if you have a friend, and you know that the topic of weight makes them sensitive; it can seem like taunting or cruelty to even mention anything. Especially if you are currently “successful” at managing this weight thing; you don’t want them to perceive you as rubbing their face in it!
    - How about the issues you posted around how NO ONE can try and help anyone get to the point that they want to make these changes in diet and lifestyle? People are self motivated, and what from one person is meant to be “here’s how I did it” can seem like a soapbox to someone else. ESPECIALLY if their defence-o-meter is pegging when the conversation occurs. Having been on both sides of that conversation, I know I wouldn’t get myself into it again readily! 
    - I’d also say that until it becomes second nature to someone to eat healthy, another part of the problem is that people are scared. I know when I started BFL; even after my first challenge where I “donated” 20 pounds in 12 weeks – I was PETRIFIED that it would just come back. That I’d wake up one morning and be back in my ‘fat self’ – the one that I could still sometimes see in the mirror; even though no one else apparently could. Why would I want to mouth off about how hard it had been when I felt like I could fall off that tightrope at any time? It felt like asking for trouble – If I talked about how hard it was, would that mean I’d suddenly just stop? Or that the ice cream vendor would just follow me around taunting me?
    - On the flip side of that – once you’ve been “healthy” for a while, so it’s now (mostly) second nature; no one wants to listen to you about it. I’ve had people tell me that it was “easy” for me to totally turn my life upside down and lose weight. Why? Well, when a friend and I had an emotional heart to heart about it later, it was because I HADN’T fallen off the wagon and blown up to bigger than when I started. If I succeeded; it couldn’t be because I just out-stubborned it, or really worked for over a YEAR to get steadily better. Because in her mind, the only acceptable solution that would work long term was to say that it was easy for me, and hard for her; and then she could pile on the OTHER excuses that I used to live with. The ones about no time, or too expensive, or how gross – sweat… That way she didn’t have to deal with the fact that it can be done, or that it takes work.
    - And the big one to me (which comes right out of the above.) No one seems to want to hear that it will take work. We live in a culture that really wants everything cheap, instant and permanent. People want to believe that once they ‘lose’ the weight, they can go right back to having dessert with every meal and eating junk food with no exercise ALL THE TIME. Work is not something people seem to inherently WANT to do; so pointing out that its HARD work only gets you more resistance to the whole idea.

    By Anonymous Shayananna, at 7:27 PM  

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