Cross posted at Carla Spataro’s blog.
So, it’s a new year–2010! And what seems to be on everyone’s mind is resolutions. Honestly, the only thing I’ve ever resolved to give up is abstinence–in all its forms. Okay, so this is an old joke from an old college friend, but still it seems apropos.
What’s on my mind in the New Year? What else–my weight. Back in July, right before competing in the Danskin/SheRox Philadelphia Triathlon, I hit my lowest weight since I was a junior in high school. I weighed in at 161, which put me 110 pounds lighter than when I first joined weight watchers in July of 2006. Hooray for me–at least that’s what I thought. The great thing about hitting that weight was that I was completely distracted and focused on the triathlon. My weight at that point was somewhat (not completely–come on now!) secondary. That August I also ran in two separate 5K races, both in Michigan, and both with my sister by my side. This was huge for me–almost as big a deal as finishing the triathlon, which I trained for and ran with my good friend Marleen. More athletic challenges are in store for 2010, the first of which is the Broad Street run. But this is not what I’ve been thinking about lately, not really.
It seems that I everywhere we turn now, everyone is talking about weight. Not just losing it, but keeping it off, too. Look at what kind of compelling television this makes: The Biggest Loser on NBC, Ruby on the Style Network, and a whole host of one-hour documentaries on Discovery Health and TLC. You know the shows I’m talking about right? People who are so huge they can’t even get out of bed to go to the bathroom. People who need a crew of firefighters and EMTs to cut them out their homes and take them to the hospital. People who are on the brink of suicide because they can’t stop eating. These programs are all sobering reminders of the almost endless limits and adaptability of the human body.
Recently, Discovery Health showed a documentary that highlighted Erik Chopin, the Season Three winner of The Biggest Loser. He lost 214 pounds in nine months. An unbelievable feat. I can’t imagine what he had to do to achieve that kind of weight loss. Remember how long it took me to lose half that? Three years. Of course the reason Mr. Chopin is back on TV is that he’s regained over 100 lbs. Every week my Weight Watchers leader tells us a new horror story about someone she’s seen who’s regained his or her weight. (She, however, is an inspiration, having lost over 120 lbs and has kept it off for almost 40 years.) The most frightening of all these gain-it-all-back stories is that of Michael Hebranko, who with the help of Richard Simmons, the famously flamboyant weight-loss guru, lost over 800 lbs and gained it all back. That’s right–800 lbs. No joke.
Then, of course, we have the most famous example of all: Oprah Winfrey. After having been the national poster child for yo-yo dieting she seemed, back in 2006, to have finally hit her stride. Weighing in at 160, she had run a marathon, was looking svelte and sexy, and even showed off her bare midriff on a cover of O Magazine. She was an inspiration to all of us over 40, big losers everywhere. If we hadn’t already hailed her as our de-facto queen, then we sure did now. Then, steadily but surely, she started to regain some weight. We all saw it happen, how could we not? And for her, she didn’t just have to face herself; she had to face a legion of fans. She says her weight got away from her when she developed a thyroid condition. (Not to sound too cruel, but what fat person hasn’t wished for a thyroid condition to blame their weight on. I used to ask for a thyroid test every time I had a check up!) She says that her busy life finally took its toll. She admits to weighing 200 lbs again, and that sucks. Like millions of other Americans, I kept wondering if Oprah, with her limitless resources, personal chefs, trainers, life coaches, and physicians–if she can’t keep it off, how can any of us?
If I think about this stuff too much, it really starts to make my head hurt. Even though I’ve spent so much of my life overweight, I’ve started to forget what it feels like to be that big. When I first reached my goal weight, and for months afterward, I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror or in a photograph, and not recognize myself, but now, the opposite is starting to happen. I see old photos and I can’t believe that’s who I was. My denial was so strong and so deep that I never really believed I was that fat person in the mirror.
So is this all I have to look forward to? Like Oprah, and Michael Hebranko, and Eric Chopin, am I fated to regain all or nearly all that I’ve lost? I’d like to say absolutely not, but I know better. I think a more honest answer is I don’t think so. I’ve been down that yo-yo yellow brick road more than once. I used to joke in my WW meetings that if you looked up yo-yo dieting in the dictionary, my picture would be there. But I did something this time that I had never really done before–I made a commitment to myself. I wasn’t trying to lose a few pounds to fit into a dress for a special occasion, or to look good at a reunion, or even to win $250,000 while America rooted me on to weight loss glory. (Although, I did audition for The Biggest Loser, but that’s a story for another blog.) At one point during Erik Chopin’s documentary special, Confession’s of a Reality Star Loser, he made a comment to his wife that he wasn’t sure what his purpose was on this earth. Could it be that this was why he regained so much weight? I think it’s a pretty significant statement.
I decided to tackle my weight, for what I hope is the final time, about half way through my MFA program. I don’t know what happened exactly, just that one morning I woke up feeling as if I had found my place in the world. I was a writer, I’d finally accepted that role for myself, and I was happy. And that was no small thing. Then, feeling the strength of this newfound inner confidence, I took a long hard look the outer part of me. For the first time I could feel the disconnect. How I was presenting myself to the world as a 271-pound woman no longer reflected the way I felt about myself inside. I didn’t need to hide anymore. I was scared but also determined. And I had a lot of help and support from my husband, who had always seen the real part of me, even when I couldn’t, and my friend Barbara, who was and still is, my weight loss partner.
I also realized early on that my problem was chronic, not unlike someone with asthma or diabetes, and that like someone with a chronic illness I was going to have to monitor myself everyday. I also had to admit that I was, and am still, an addict, but unlike an addiction to alcohol or drugs, a food addiction would not allow me to go cold turkey. I had to learn to live with my addiction, figure out a way to manage it. Can you imagine telling an alcoholic that they had to have one shot of vodka everyday–but that’s it–just one. This is why so many people regain their weight. The triggers and temptations are endless and addicts are weak–this is the nature of our disease.
Should I be so nervous? Maybe not. I get on the scale almost every day. I have to hold myself accountable. I know that for me, denial is too, too easy a place to live. Does my obsession with the scale and the 3-4 pounds my weight fluctuates every month mean I’m neurotic? Probably! But then anyone who knows me also knows that this neurosis is nothing new. So what am I left with at the fresh, minty edge of a new decade? The same things I had in the previous one: setting new and more challenging fitness goals and dealing with my eating disorder one day at a time.