Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Cheeseburger in (Suburban) Paradise" or "Two (Thousand) Steps Forward, One Step Back"

Today, I had a cheeseburger.

I saw it coming. I even thought about "willing" myself over the craving, but I caved.

And, sadly, it wasn't even a decent cheeseburger. I had high hopes, since it was from one of those cute, small town drive-in places that often have actual hand shaped "real" hamburgers, but when it arrived, wrapped in silvery paper, it was one of those frozen, pre-shaped affairs. COMPLETELY un-noteworthy.

Of course, I still scarfed it down like deranged wolf with a serious case of Prater-Willi syndrome.

A male friend of mine -- not a boyfriend, mind you, just a male -- once said, "Pizza is kind of like sex. Even when it's bad, it's good."

This guy's twisted love life aside, I think the line applies to cheeseburgers, too. And, incidentally, given the choice, I'd rather sleep with bad pizza, bad cheeseburgers, or even moldy brussel sprouts than this particular friend. Let's just say I wouldn't let him date any sane woman I know.

Anyway, back to the actual -- non-perverse -- cheeseburger. I ate it. The WHOLE greasy, nasty thing. In about two minutes flat.

And then, there was the fried cheese. What kind of nutritional masochist decided it was okay to take little balls of cheddar fat, slather them in refined carbs, and fry them in boiling, artery clogging, death grease??

They were amazing.

So, I dove off the dietary wagon, fat-arse first, and drove my chubby carcass the rest of the way home. By the time I got there, I felt like there was a boulder lodged firmly between my floating ribs and my currently unoccupied uterus. Seriously, it was like my small intestine had suddenly sprouted a five hundred pound internal torture device.

I. Thought. I. Was. Going. To. Die.

In COMPLETE honesty, I laid down on the bed, said a decade of the rosary (that's my penance for the sex talk, Mom), crossed my arms over my chest and waited for the light.

While I waited patiently to enter the great hereafter, my mind started to wander. (Clearly, I'd never make a good Buddhist.) "I could lie here," I mentally mused, "and wait to die. OR I could get up out of this grease-laden death heap, and get back on that damn wagon."

This thought process, my dear Internet, is PROGRESS.

Two months ago, I would have come home after slamming the cheese burger/balls fest, launched into a round of self-loathing and mental battery, and cracked open a pint of Chubby Hubby.

WITH my chubby hubby.

Instead, I got up. I put on some ugly gym socks and a pair of barely used running shoes, and I got my schlumpy self outside. I walked the neighborhoods surrounding my house for a full hour, at a pace swift enough to get my heart pumping, my arms swinging, and my fingers swollen to the size of Polish sausages.

(Mmm . . . sausage.)

Anyway, on my recovery walk, I noticed a few things about my neighborhood:

A: There are apparently some folks in my neighborhood who have SERIOUS mail box issues. Starting with the 1.5 million dollar uber-casa (Yes, I realize I'm mixing linguistic heritage here. Relax.) on the corner, my neighbors mailboxes are encrusted in individual brick fortresses apparently designed to withstand nuclear attack or an insurgent uprising. I realize I've never been the highest brow lady on the block, but, seriously, what gives with the mailbox forts?

B. There are significantly more houses for sale in the wealthy part of my neighborhood than in the early 80s multi-level peasant-ville paradise block on which I live. I have no idea, of course, whether or not my McMansion-ite neighbors are really that wealthy, but I start to get nervous when I see the mailbox fortresses and the little security system signs designed to make burglars opt for the next house down the street. I'm betting Mr. Rodgers would love those. Nothing says "Won't you be my neighbor??" like a sign screaming "Rob the next guy's 80 inch flatscreen, not mine!!"

C. There is, however, at least one house in my 80's big-hair "hood" that is apparently in foreclosure. Sad. It's a cute house, too, but it's getting to be an eyesore. (Wow. Did I just use the word "eyesore?" When did I get this old??)

D. One of my neighbors, a short, portly man probably in his sixties, likes to work on restoring his classic car, in his driveway, with no shirt on. Now, I'm really not one to judge, but he really should NOT do this. Aside from obvious burning and chaffing hazards, the aesthetics are just downright creepy.

And, that was when I stopped checking out my neighbors' houses . . . .

By the time I got home from the walk, the boulder was gone. I kicked off my shoes, ran 64 ounces of water into my daily "jug," and put the rosary away.

Dylan Thomas would be proud. I did not go gently into that good night.

Of course, a girl my size can't really go gently ANYWHERE.

So, what were my lessons in all this??

A. I should never go all day without anything to eat but a six am apple. By the time five pm rolls around, willpower and rational thinking are a thing of the past.

B. "Working through lunch" is an evil, destructive concept.

C. I hope NEVER to resort to topless car restoration in my driveway as a hobby. Seriously, if it ever comes to this, PLEASE, someone, force me to join a homeowners' association (BLECH!) and have me arrested by the beige siding police.

PS: My apologies to Jimmy Buffet and Paula Abdul (the early 90s version) for the heinous title.

Clearly, It's been a rough night . . .

Saturday, July 25, 2009


So, I'm down 18 lbs.

My husband, on the other hand, has lost 32.

I have to admit that there's a part of me that would like to begin spiking his morning coffee with bacon grease.

But I won't.

Together, we've lost 50 lbs.

That's like an above average second grader, right?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I'm down 15 lbs total.

And that's good.

But it's always about this point in the process where I begin to get impatient. The water weight is gone, so there are no more five to seven pound weeks. Now, it's down to the real work.

It's also this point in the process when I begin to consider all the strange "tricks" used to lose weight. Here's a few I've tried, unsuccessfully, in the past:

  • Pills. You name them, I've probably tried them. Most of them just made me feel like I was vibrating all the time and prevented me from stringing together a coherent sentence. Since I have trouble with both of these skills WITHOUT the use of pills, I promptly discontinued their use.
  • Severe calorie restriction. I have tried this in various incarnations since age five, when, along with my two year old sister, I wrote my first "diet plan." My mother keeps this document in her memory chest, and one of my sisters was kind enough to read it aloud at my high school graduation party. It begins with the line "Only 1 mayonnaise sandwich per day." I'm not sure that qualifies as "severe" calorie restriction, but the framework for later starvation diets was clearly in place. Needless to say, this technique was unhealthy, and it usually only worked until I caught sight of a doughnut or chocolate cake.
  • Giving up ALL bread products. Mike and I did well on the Atkins diet for about a month. At that point, I found myself seriously considering vehicular homicide on a woman I saw walking down the sidewalk with a loaf of bread. Thankfully, I remained rational enough to keep the car on the road, but I decided this probably wasn't a healthy approach, either.
  • Fiber laxatives and over-the-counter diuretics. I'll leave this one to your imagination, which can't possibly be as bad as the reality.
  • Strange exercise techniques. I've tried all the CURVES equipment, some of which I believe must be designed by orthopedic surgeons trying to drum up business. I've tried the Gazelle Freestyle, on which I resembled, much more closely, a seizing moose than a graceful gazelle. The Thighmaster very nearly resulted in an involuntary tubal ligation, and, since this was before I married and had children, I discontinued its use. (Hmm. Perhaps I should think about that one again.) The AbWorks, the NordicTrack, the Big-Ass-Rubber-Ball that, only later, I realized doubled as a device women can torture to relieve the pain of contractions during childbirth. The exercise "bands" which, luckily, did NOT result in my loss of one or both eyes. Step aerobics. Sweatin' to the Oldies. Jane Fonda. (I have a trunk full of aerobics videos, each one of which helped me produce at least one self-inflicted injury. I'm still healing, psychologically, from the Richard Simmonds era.)
  • Strange clothing. Rubber suits (I actually still use this every once in a while, so I guess old habits die hard, but, yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds.). Spandex in every possible format. I once actually had a doctor ask if I was "abusing myself" after witnessing the resulting chaffing. While I do consider full body girdles (along with panty-hose, rogue under wires, ALL corsets, and high heels) to be the clearest example of modern masochistic torture devices, I was still a bit uncomfortable trying to defend my own mental health to my concerned physician.

This time I think I'll just try patience. A balanced diet and patience.

I'm trying to stay focused on the fact that it took me 34 years to get to this point, so it's going to take me some time to get to a healthy weight.

At this rate, by the time I turn 70, I'll be HOT.

Do they run beauty contests in nursing homes??

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Alabatross.

According to

Albatross (al buh traws):

any of several large, web-footed sea birds of the family Diomedeidae that have the ability to remain aloft for long periods.

a seemingly inescapable moral or emotional burden, as of guilt or responsibility.

Meet the albatross. My albatross. She is blessed with this moniker based on the second of's given definitions, of course.
Some days she is more of a "moral or emotional burden" than others, but, more and more, I am trying to look at her simply as a responsibility, and an increasingly satisfying one at that. I force myself, each day, to do at least 20 minutes. This is a remarkable feat, given the fact that three weeks ago I could not remain standing upright on the thing for more than thirty seconds at a time.
Each morning (or occasionally, afternoon or evening) I climb aboard the albatross with just one goal: to keep moving. The first few steps are free and easy. So free and easy, incidentally, that I usually begin fooling with the resistance knob, realizing, in short order, that a level "3" is all the "burn" my butt and thighs can handle right now. I started at level 1, though, after gaining the ability to avoid toppling over into the adjacent treadmill (my perpetual nemesis and the only motivation needed to learn this particular skill), so progress has been made.
By five minutes in, I still usually wish I was dead. But it IS getting easier, and this small fact, alone, gives me hope. I've started playing mind games to distract myself from my discomfort. I'll look out the windows, onto our back lawn, and try to force myself not to look at the timer for one full minute. This has been an excellent means of gauging just how radically out of whack my perception of time is. I may last ten seconds, max.
If there is wildlife on the move in our backyard, I concentrate on that. There is a cadre of squirrels that run a frenetic loop around the yard before skittering up the trees to perform a hostile takeover from the local bird population. Red breasted something-or-others and a sundry mix of local avian residents explode from the leaves like feather flocked fireworks, which reminds me, ironically, of the first, more literal, definition of albatross.
The birds aren't web-footed, of course. Nor do they remain aloft for long periods of time, but they do fly. And they make me wish I could. For the briefest of moments, I feel the tiniest bit lighter, and I forge ahead with renewed resolve to just keep taking those single, small steps, one after another.
Interestingly, an albatross of the bird variety, figured prominently in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It seems these birds are considered good luck by sailors, and some poor, fictitious schmuck in this epic poem has the bad taste, lack of sense, or perhaps simply the poor marksmanship to shoot one of them. He is forced by his fellow sailors to wear the bird's corpse around his neck as an indication of his singular responsibility for the grave offense against the bird, ostensibly sparing his ship mates the wrath of the sailor gods.
This image appeals to me, and it seems to fit with my current efforts to get honest about my weight and take responsibility for my health. I have finally come to realize that my body is MY responsibility -- my FAULT, really -- and I have no one to blame but myself for its current state of disrepair. Nobody did this TO me, and no one but me is going to get me to a better place.
Even if they wanted to, they couldn't.
I was lamenting my long history of obesity to one of my sisters a few days ago, via email. I was in a pretty low place, emotionally, at the time, kicking myself for "cheating" big time at a buffet dinner with my in-laws last weekend. She had written about her own struggle to keep up a workout routine, and I replied with a long self-pitying, somewhat resentful response about NEVER having been "thin" and how she, one of the "skinny girls," couldn't possibly understand a LIFETIME of fat jokes, catcalls, animal noises, and sub-zero body image. I revealed that I was even considering bariatric surgery, even though I know its long-term success rates aren't always great, and I don't really have the money for it. "I just want to FEEL what being thin feels like ONCE," I whined, "even if it only lasts a moment."
She wrote me a simple, beautiful reply, that brought tears in only the way a sister's deep and abiding love can: "I'd give it to you on a platter, if I could . . . "
(I trust, by the way, that the choice of the word platter was NOT a thinly-veiled fat joke. My use of the word thinly, however, is the worst kind of bad pun.)
But she can't hand it to me on a platter. Or in a bowl. A cup. Not even in the most spectacularly healthy of non-out-gassing workout-diva water bottles.
This is my body. My fat. My blood sugar and cholesterol counts. And it is up to ME to get them under control.
I'm confident I won't be hanging my albatross around my neck in order to take this responsibility seriously, though such a spectacle might make for an interesting workout.
Of course, that doesn't mean I'll never shoot the damn thing.
* Note about the formatting: For some reason, the post was not recognizing my paragraph separations, so I used the asterisks for readability. Please let me know if they are more annoying than helpful.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Killing my Best Friend.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

"Good writing is about telling the truth." -- Anne Lamott


I did forty minutes of cardio today, and, as Lamott suggests, I'll tell the truth.

It sucked.

As is the tricky case with most exercise, I felt fabulous afterwards.

But it still sucked.

I'm now two weeks into the "move my body everyday" pact that I have with myself, and it is getting easier.

But it still (mostly) sucks.

I've developed a strange little routine to my workouts. I get up in the morning, make sure the kids have eaten something, and then force myself to exercise before I've done anything else. I don't even brush my teeth first. I know. Gross. But I don't care. If it doesn't get done first thing in the morning, it won't get done. On the days when I allow myself to get distracted by something (like the beckoning computer, for example) or, since complete honesty is my aim here, when I'm really just DREADING the exercise, it's just that much harder to start, so I've been trying to get my body moving FIRST thing.

I put on socks and shoes, get out the iPod, and get on the albatross. There is exactly one song on my iPod, "How You Live" by Point of Grace. It's exactly 4 minutes and 25 seconds long, so I force myself to just KEEP MOVING through at least five repeats.

By two minutes into it, I'm sweating from every pore of my body. By the third repeat, I'm exhausted but, mentally, feeling pretty good, a little cocky even. By repeat number five, I'm usually sobbing.

He would never admit this, but I can tell that my husband worries when he sees me go through this strange, emotionally draining process. I assure him that I'm fine, even though he knows not to ask. And then I tell him there's a reason I don't exercise in public or within sight of anyone except him and our kids.

There comes a point in the workout when my legs are throbbing, and my heart feels like its ready to explode, and there are tears streaming down my face. I'm convinced, at the very core of my being, that I can't go on. But I do. Often, almost involuntarily, I find myself muttering "just one more" under my breath. One more step. One more breath. One more second.

Sometimes I'll even implore the women singing to keep me going, "Come on, girls. Just one more."

And gradually, all the "one mores" add up. And the five repeats of my theme song are over. The endorphins kick in. I wobble, weak kneed and light headed, off the albatross, and I take a long, deep drink of water.

And I feel, in a way I have rarely experienced, truly fantastic. This has to be what keeps fanatical workout divas coming back. This feeling that I have, at least for today, beat back the demons and, to manipulate (slightly) another quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, "done the thing I think I cannot do."

Now, I'm sure there are those out there thinking, "What's the big deal? It's only a little over twenty minutes??" I've had many a well-meaning, athletic, fitness minded friend offer me advice on how to REALLY get a workout, and I can hear them snickering as I type this. But, let's remember here, that I weigh almost 300 pounds.

I used to marvel at the stories my brother, a national title winning wrestler in the early 1980s, would tell me about their training. It seems that while attending practices with the Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling Team, Coach Dan Gable would have the atletes run the stairs of Carver-Hawkey Arena while carrying another wrestler on their backs. It strikes me, as I write this, that this is akin to what a 300 lb person is doing when they exercise. They are hauling with them, essentially, the weight of two fully grown adults. It also strikes me that, having never been an athlete in ANY sense of the word, my attempting to workout AT ALL is a little ludicrous. To employ a metaphor closer to my own area of expertise, my efforts at exercise seem as ridiculous a proposition as my asking a functionally illiterate or a non-English speaking adult to write a critical analysis of Tolstoy's War and Peace. Well, maybe that's a bit dramatic, but, I'm confident the point has been made.

Most of this workout process seems reasonable to me. Except the tears. I don't have those completely figured out yet. They truly come out of nowhere, and I can no more summon them voluntarily than I can stop them once they arrive. They really just happen.

And I don't really know why.

I've been wrestling with that question lately. Why, when I am doing something I KNOW is good for me, does some deep, nameless part of myself that I rarely reveal to ANYONE, suddenly hurt so much? Of course my legs hurt, of course my muscles strain. But where are the tears coming from?

The only thing I can figure so far is that this journey is, and will be, as much a spiritual and personal transformation as a physical one. I know that I am challenging some notions about myself and my place in this world that are firmly rooted in 34 years of habit and self-image. I was, after all, first diagnosed as "mildly obese" at just nine months of age. So, my fat has been with me from the beginning.

And, in many ways, as ironic as this may sound, my fat has been my best friend. A manipulative, co-dependent, ultimately bad-for-me best friend, but a best friend nonetheless. My fat has NEVER left me for someone or something more interesting or more advantageous, as other friends and lovers have. It has put up with my mood swings and irrational behavior, as other friends and lovers have not. It has stood faithfully by my side, despite the cussing and the hatred and the pure, deep loathing I've showed it in return. This is not a trait easily found in a friend.

My fat has, without question, helped shaped my identity. I was the cute, chubby kid who made friends and family members smile or giggle, especially in times of trial. I was the funny fat girl in high school and college whose quick wit and sarcastic cynicism helped her separate smart, loyal friends from dull, shallow acquaintences and enemies. I was the big, strong, vociferous English teacher who could wrestle a classroom under control through sheer bulk and attitude. I am, now, the paunchy middle-aged wife and mother of two, whose harried life and hectic schedule give her an excuse to find solace in cheesecake and sanity in the McDonald's drive-thru.

On the other hand, my fat has caused me deep sorrow and self-loathing. It's undermined my confidence and circumscribed my life in a way nothing and no one else ever has. It has made me rule out countless goals and activities I might truly have enjoyed by insisting that its mere presence disqualified me from aspiration and participation. My fat is the reason I don't take my kids to the swimming pool on a regular basis. It's the reason I don't dance in public or feel at ease in any room of more than five occupants. It's the reason I gave up the stage and no longer find pleasure in singing at public events. There are countless, tiny ways in which I've allowed my fat to control my life, and I am not one that is easily controlled.

My fat has caused me obvious health problems and serious self-image issues as well, but it has, strangely, been my protector, too. My fat allows me to explain away the rejection of others, to place the blame at their feet for their inability to look past my appearance and get to know the "real me." My fat has made me really unattractive, which has, at times, acted as a filter for those whose motives I presumed shallow or dishonest. My fat has been a physical barrier against the cold, a cushion for my many falls, and an emotional shield in times of sorrow and pain.

Now, with each new step and drop of sweat, it feels as though I am trying to kill that friend. It's as if I am purposely trying to rid myself of something that has been a central part of my identity since infancy. And this is incredibly draining spiritual work.

My relationship to my own body has been a complicated one, to be sure. I have, for most of my life, hated the vessel that houses my soul. I've mistreated and abused it, accordingly. At times, though, I've been completely astounded at its capability and resilience. I've admired it's willingness to heal from illness and marvelled at its ability to grow and birth and nurture two living, breathing, miraculous human beings.

So, I suppose it stands to reason that an aggressive endeavor to rid myself of between 1/3 and 1/2 of this place my soul calls home might be fraught with some degree of angst. Hence, the tears.

I will continue to workout, of course, and it's quite likely the sobbing will stick around for a while. But I'm confident it will get better. As Roosevelt suggests, I will look this fear in the face, and I will gain strength, confidence, and courage in return. I will live through this "horror" and, emerge, ready and able to "take the next thing that comes along." As this process continues in the months and years ahead, I will adapt to a shifting sense of self that is sure to challenge a few of the notions central to my current identity. I will do the physical, mental, and, perhaps most importantly, the spiritual work, and I am confident that, in the end, this journey will leave me a stronger, healthier, more resilient person, in body, mind, and spirit.

But for now, I'll take the tears. And the throbbing legs, and the sweat.

I'll take them all just one more

just one more

just one more