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You can also find more of my writing at three great websites: Large in Charge magazine, Fierce, Freethinking Fatties, and More of Me to Love. Links are below.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pete Townshend and Fat Girls: What Do We Have in Common?

What is it like to live “behind the eyes” of a fat girl? What do we see? What do we feel? What is it like to walk in our shoes every day?

The classic song “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who really answers the negative aspect of this question. It’s quite a downer, a very sad song about a man who feels cut off from the world, suppresses his emotions (especially his anger), and yearns for someone to just show him a little kindness. Unfortunately, that’s the way we fat girls feel a lot of the time, and Pete Townshend’s lyrics really hit the nail on the head as far as what it’s like to be us (change a couple of the words around and he really could be singing our song):

No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man, to be the sad man
Behind blue eyes
No one knows what it’s like
To be hated, to be fated
To telling only lies.
But my dreams they aren’t as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance that’s never free.
No one knows what it’s like
To feel these feelings like I do
And I blame you!
No one bites back as hard on their anger
None of my pain and woe can show through.
But my dreams they aren’t as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours only lonely
My love is vengeance that’s never free.
When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool.
And if I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
And if I shiver please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat.
No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man, to be the sad man
Behind blue eyes.

We definitely feel hated – and fated – sometimes. We tell lies a lot. We expect to get hurt. When someone makes a comment or does something that hurts us, how often do you lie – either to yourself or the other person – that it didn’t really hurt you? How many times has someone asked you, “How are you doing today?” And you feel like shit, but you say, “I’m great!” Granted, this can be the case for anyone, fat or thin, but I think we have a tendency to cover up our feelings more than average. We’re told that we’re “weak” because of our supposedly insatiable appetites, and if we let ourselves appear weak by expressing our emotions, we appear even weaker – so we keep our mouths shut.

Some of us do spend very lonely hours alone … and very often, our anger at the way we are treated does build up to a feeling of vengeance, like you just want to unleash all that pent-up frustration on someone, anyone! We blame others … we blame society, the stranger on the street who looked at us a certain way, or a lover, friend or family member who did us wrong, and we hold on to that blame rather than forgive and move on.

And a lot of us do yearn for that smidgen of kindness from someone else, that feeling you get when someone not only accepts you, but who expresses their love in even the smallest way … we want it, but we’re afraid to open up and receive it, because of past betrayals.

This is no way to live your life.

Sooner or later, we have to decide that we are in control of our own lives, and that it simply doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If we let it matter, they are the ones in control of our emotions. We are allowing them to be the “thermostat”, if you will, the regulator of our body’s reactions, whether it’s being hot with anger or cold with resentment.

Be your own thermostat. Learn how to keep your mental temperature at a warm, comfortable level. Whenever you start to notice the little red “needle” of your emotions going either up or down, take a deep breath, and remind yourself: You are in control of how you react. No one can make you go either too far up or too far down without your cooperation.

Let’s all start singing a happier Who tune: like this one!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Practice Vigilance

The other day, when I went for my daily walk in my favourite park, I was finishing up and on my way home when I decided to sit on a bench by the large pond and just relax for awhile. I was enjoying the sunshine, listening to my iPod, and pondering life. It was one of those days when the water was so still that you could see right through it, and I was sitting by this little marshy area with a shallow puddle. As I sat there, I could clearly see a whole school of little fish swimming around in this little area, looking for food, or just hanging out.

One fish in particular caught my eye. I noticed it because it stayed in this one spot right by my vantage point. At first, I thought it was hovering over some food source because every time any other fish would come close, it would immediately swim right over to it aggressively, nose first, and shoo it away. It was pretty amusing, because this little guy or girl was relentless. And it was busy. It never got the chance to sit there for more than a few seconds before one or more other fish would swim close to it, and it would immediately shoo them away again. It didn't even make any difference if an approaching fish was bigger or more intimidating; it showed no fear and went right at it. And the other fish got the message and took off right away. I realized that it was probably guarding a nest, because it wasn’t eating. I watched this little fish for quite awhile, admiring its tenacity, and when I left, I couldn’t help but smile to myself.

We large people could learn a great lesson from this little fish. The determination it exuded in the way it protected its nest and future descendants was a fine example of the way we need to protect ourselves against interlopers, people who try to sneak their way into our minds with their nasty comments, negative feedback, and snarky attitudes. We need to regard these people as threats or enemies to our self-esteem, and we need to be as vigilant as that little fish in chasing them away and letting them know that they are not going to steal anything precious to us.

A lot of the time, we’re kept as busy as that little fish, constantly having to stand up for ourselves and fight for our rights … and I know it can be tiring. It is so tempting sometimes to just say to yourself, “You know what? I’m just tired of this. Let them say whatever they want about me, I don’t care. I’ll just keep quiet and pretend to go along with them and then I can have some peace.”

But the fish just keep on coming … it doesn’t matter how quiet and passive you are. Believe me, they don’t care. They just want what they want, and even if you’re nice to them about it and don’t fight them, it won’t change their attitude toward you. So you might as well fight.

Once you get used to it, it really does become second nature … just like that little fish’s natural instinct to protect its young. Protect yourself. Be vigilant. Don’t let even one of those little bastards slip by, because it could very well steal something so dear to you that's impossible to replace. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gastric Bypass

Very heartfelt video by a successful WLS patient remembering a woman who died after surgery.

I just read an incredibly sad story about a woman in the U.K. named Kim Swan who recently died from complications due to gastric bypass surgery. She was like many of us: merely chubby as a teenager, she gained a lot of weight after having her children, until she weighed nearly 300 pounds. She went on a crash diet and lost over 100 pounds, but gained it back, and more on top of that (sound familiar?). Apparently, she was too embarrassed to leave the house, and made the decision to have the surgery, believing it was her only hope for a normal life. It ended up killing her.

Gastric bypass and “less invasive” surgeries, such as the lap band, have become incredibly popular, and they are generally considered the “cure all” for obesity. Just last night, I was watching a couple of shows on TLC – one of them was called “Half Ton Mom”, another incredibly sad story about a woman named Rene. Apparently, at approximately 900 pounds, she was the heaviest woman ever accepted into Renaissance Hospital in Texas, a hospital that specializes in weight loss surgeries. She had been bed-bound for years, had two young daughters, and believed the surgery was her only hope.

At 900 pounds, she was warned about the risks she faced just surviving the surgery itself, but opted to do it anyway. She ended up dying two weeks afterward, after an initial “all clear” from her doctors. She suffered a fatal heart attack, while Kim died from an infection she was too malnourished to fight off.

Undeniably, there are also many people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery, and it has definitely improved their lives. My question is: Did their lives improve mostly because of the serious health benefits that resulted from the weight loss? Or did their lives improve mostly because they were treated better by other people, and felt better psychologically as they got smaller?

In cases like Rene’s, where someone is so seriously overweight that it definitely threatens their life, I can see the necessity of drastic measures like gastric bypass. If I weighed 900 pounds, I would probably have opted for the surgery also, even though it would have solved only half the problem. When someone gets to that size, clearly it is not food that is the problem. It is the person, the addiction, and their environment. If you’re restricted to a bed and can’t get up and move around, clearly someone else is giving you the food that is keeping you anchored to that bed. However, if Rene had simply gotten some serious help learning how to eat properly, dealt with her food addiction, and had positive, well-educated, encouraging people around her, who knows how long she would have lived? It certainly would have been a lot longer than two weeks … she might have even lost enough weight to get out of her bed and participate in life.

I believe that gastric bypass is being touted as a “solution” far too easily. How big is too big? It’s really relative. In my opinion, someone like Kim, who “only” weighed about 300 pounds, did not have to resort to gastric bypass. It is perfectly possible to weigh 300, 400, even 500 or 600 pounds and live a relatively normal life.

While I’m not about to divulge my weight to anyone except my maker (because it’s nobody’s business but mine), I will say that I weigh more than 200, but less than 300 pounds. I went for a physical recently, and all my blood tests came back normal: normal blood sugar, cholesterol was normal, no thyroid problems … my heart is fine, breathing is fine. No problems. But my doctor is one of those guys who thinks that weight is the culprit for every physical malady. He’s constantly hassling me about my weight, and he has mentioned gastric bypass to me on more than one occasion. I told him in no uncertain terms that I would never have the surgery. I am healthy. I walk every single day for at least 45 minutes, more often for 60-90 minutes. When summer comes around, add swimming on top of that activity. I don’t know too many thin people who exercise daily, but I do. I don’t crucify myself at the gym, but I take care of myself. Yet it’s never enough for this guy, or others like him, who believe that fat is simply a death sentence.

There has been a concerted effort in the past few years to actually try and scare us into believing that unless we lose weight NOW, we will die. It is complete bullshit. It is perfectly possible to be large and healthy. And gastric bypass is not even a guarantee that you will lose the weight and keep it off.

Remember Carnie Wilson? She went through a very public airing of her whole weight loss drama – had the surgery, lost so much weight she ended up victoriously posing for Playboy – and ended up gaining a lot of the weight back. I remember seeing her on Dr. Oz about a year or so ago, pleading with him to help her lose the weight. She was only about 200 pounds. I felt a combination of sympathy and irritation with her. Why don’t you just fucking accept yourself the way you are, lady? Wouldn’t that be healthier? But no, she had to go on Dr. Oz, humiliate herself, and beg for his supposedly learned help. From what I’ve seen of him, he’s a total quack, pulling all kinds of scare tactics on his show just to get ratings. He’s a fearmonger, another one of these “fat is evil” types, constantly pushing diets and such. It pisses me off.

The medical profession has done a sorry job of treating large patients. They have no idea how to deal with us. They blame our weight for this and that, but seem to have no clue that weight affects each one of us in very different, individual ways, and it’s not always unhealthy. I wonder if the day will ever come where we large people will ever be treated as more than just the example for what everyone should “not” be. From what I’ve seen, I’m not holding my breath. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Take A Deprivation Vacation!

Have you ever found yourself saying “No” to what seems like everything? I believe that large women are prone to perpetually depriving themselves of a lot of the simple pleasures that everyone else takes for granted.

For example, say you’re strolling in a mall and you happen to pass a spa-type place, and they have a special advertising a manicure or pedicure (or both), or a massage, or something equally pampering and luxurious. Some of us are so good at depriving ourselves that we don’t even think twice. Stuff like that isn’t for us, we think. I’ll do that when I’m thin, when I feel like I’ve "earned" it.

Or how about getting your hair done – a cut, highlights or colour, the works. Again, many of us think: Why should I spend money making my hair look great when I don’t like the look of my body? And along the same lines, what if you're in a department store and you pass the cosmetics section and you sample a perfume that you just absolutely fall in love with. Do you buy it for yourself?

Maybe you wake up on a sunny morning, reveling in the sunshine streaming through your windows. You might think to yourself, Today would be a perfect day to take a drive out to some little village in the country, and just spend the day browsing the quaint little shops, and enjoying the peaceful, rural ambience. But you think: No. I’m too busy, I’ve got too much to do. Maybe another time. But that time never seems to come.

How about something as simple as going to see a movie you want to see, or buying a book that really looks interesting to you? Some of us can’t even do that. We tell ourselves it’s a waste of money.

And what about the worst deprivation (in my opinion): depriving ourselves of romance? A lot of us believe that until we lose the weight, we’ll hold off on that. Love isn’t for us. We’ll wait until we look the way we want to look, and then we’ll look for Mr. Right. Then years go by, and we still look the same – or maybe even larger – and we’re even less confident about finding the love we deserve.

One reason I believe that many large people turn to food for pleasure is that very often, it’s the only pleasure we allow ourselves. There is so much more out there, but we cut ourselves off before we even get started.

We women are sensual creatures. We need to surround ourselves with beautiful things. We want to look good, we want to smell good, we love being in the company of people we love and enjoy. It’s what makes life worth living.

Think about a few things you’ve wanted to do for a long time, but put off because you believe that “until” you’re thin, you don’t deserve them. Then do them. You don’t need to be thin to enjoy life. The only “qualification” you need to enjoy life is the breath that comes out of your lungs.

I’ve always wanted to take a ride in a hot air balloon. Hmmmm … summer’s coming up, and I’m sure there’s all sorts of hot air balloon ride providers out there. Guess I’ll have to get on the internet and do some research!

So until next time … practice saying yes to what your heart desires. Whether it's something as simple as taking a long, hot bubble bath ... or something as daring as talking to that guy you've had your eye on for the past six months. Get into the habit. Feed your senses, feed your mind, and feel the joy of just being alive.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Anatomy of a Binge

Before I begin this post, I’d like to make one thing perfectly clear. I love myself. My weight does not diminish my appreciation of my beauty, my character, my intelligence, or my abilities. This post is for those of us who -- even though we value ourselves no matter what our size – see the connection between binge eating and our weight, and may not want to get any larger for various reasons.

Many large people have a problem with binge eating, and many large people would probably pinpoint it as the primary cause of their “weight problem”. Binge eating disorder is extremely common, and it’s not exclusive to large people. Many thin people binge as well, but due to their genetics or metabolism, it’s not readily visible. We all know someone who can eat like a horse and still look like a toothpick. For some of us, however, it seems that all we have to do is look at food and we gain weight.

What triggers a binge? Something happens. Maybe someone says something that upsets you, and it stays in your mind all day. Perhaps you have a nasty argument with your significant other, a family member, or a friend. Something you have been looking forward to or envisioning a certain way doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would. You might just have a horribly stressful day at work, or perhaps you’re a student and a grueling exam is coming up. A lot of the time, we don’t even know precisely what it is that triggers a binge. All we know is that something unpleasant is going on in our heads, and the only way we can get rid of the discomfort is to eat.

An alcoholic in a similar situation would head for the bottle, the drug addict for their drug of choice. Why do we choose food?

There are many factors, and everyone has their own unique psychological reasons. However, food universally symbolizes comfort. When a baby is born, one of the first things that happens is that mommy puts baby to her breast. When baby is crying, few things can quiet baby down like the comfort of that nurturing breast. That’s where the association of food and comfort begins. 

Binging is a very effective method of distracting us from our problems, for one main reason. Your subconscious mind can handle a multitude of different tasks automatically -- physiological functions such as breathing, your heart rate, etc. However, your conscious mind is very different. It can only handle one function at a time – such as eating, or thinking about a particular problem. That’s why binging temporarily takes the “edge” off your discomfort and numbs it. However, as soon as a binge is over and the thoughts return, you begin to think about what you just did. That’s when all the guilt and shame flood in, and you start to beat yourself up. How many times have you found yourself thinking something like, “Why did I just eat that cake/ice cream/chocolate (insert binge food here) when I wasn’t even hungry?” By then, of course, it’s too late. Unless you’re bulimic and decide to purge (which is another complication to the problem), or work out like a maniac, you’re stuck with those calories you just ingested.

It’s not so bad if you only do this occasionally, and everyone does, to some extent. If you binge on a regular basis, however, that’s when it can become a real problem. That’s when you can really start to gain a significant amount of weight.

I remember so many situations that led me to binge. One particular event that’s always stuck in my mind took place many years ago. I was a regular contributor for a magazine at the time, and I was a favourite of the publisher. He seemed really worldly and intelligent, and struck me as quite sexy. I was interested. So we flirted back and forth quite a bit. He was in Alberta, and I was in Toronto, so all our communication had either been by letter or phone. Then he wrote to let me know that he was coming to Toronto on business and would I like to get together for a drink? Naturally, I said yes. I was dying to meet him, and I was hoping it would lead to a more personal relationship. (The long distance factor didn’t even enter into my mind at that point.) I had my reservations, though. As I said, he seemed worldly and sophisticated, and I was a fat chick – a very cute one, but still fat.  I’d been through enough disappointments with men in the past to know that I needed to be leery. But I decided I was going to meet him anyway, and see what happened. No harm in that, right?  

Yeah, right.

When the fateful day of our meeting arrived, I must have spent two or three hours getting ready and making sure I looked just right. We had arranged to meet at a mall downtown, and when I got there, I spotted him first (he told me he’d be carrying a particular briefcase). I took a deep breath, got ready, and approached him. And you know that moment – that awful moment – when you meet someone for the first time and they look at you -- and you just KNOW in the microsecond that your eyes meet – that there is no way in hell it is ever going to work? Well, that is exactly what happened when I stood there in front of him, and even though he smiled and acted friendly, I just knew … no fucking way was this ever going to get any more personal. So, we went and had this drink and barely made conversation. I guess we were both extremely disappointed, for different reasons. When we parted ways soon afterward, I headed back for the subway, and before I even got on the train I was already planning what I was going to eat when I got home. I had bought broccoli and chicken breasts for dinner, and I decided I was going to make pasta when I got home, which I did. When I ate it, I barely tasted it, but I had plate after plate. I just wanted to forget, or change what had happened, and I knew I couldn’t. It’s that feeling of powerlessness … the feeling of a reality that you just don’t want to face slamming you in the chest. I couldn’t cry. All I could do was eat.

(Notice that I didn’t binge on junk food in this instance, although I definitely have in the past. One reason that junk food is the perfect binge food is that it’s so convenient and instantaneous – you just rip open the package and go.)

The most ironic thing of all about that day was that there were two different guys I crossed paths with who openly gawked at me and flirted with me. One of them was a bus driver who chatted with me, and the other was a guy who crossed paths with me in a subway station. It was obvious to me that both of these men thought me attractive and would have absolutely no objection to getting to know me better, but did that help me out one bit? Not in the least. It meant nothing, because all I could think about was this man who didn’t want me. He was foremost in my mind, not them.

When I look back on this incident today, with the benefit of hindsight and perspective, I can recognize all of the factors that led me to that downward spiral of the binge – and it’s the same with any binge, regardless of the trigger:

1. Expectation of a Certain Outcome – even though I told myself I wasn’t expecting my dream to come true, I was still hoping that it would, and relying on that outcome. When it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to … downward spiral.

2. Focus on the Negative, Ignoring the Positive – I crossed paths with a couple of other men who did find me attractive, but I completely discounted it and ignored it. Who knows if that bus driver or guy at the subway station might have been great for me? I was so focused on what I thought I wanted, I’d cut them off before even giving them a chance.

3. Feeling Like You Can't Stand the Negative Feelings – the pain and disappointment were so great that all I wanted to do was avoid them, therefore … the binge. If I had just been able to sit tight and think about it, I would have realized it wasn’t such a tragedy. This guy wasn’t the be-all end-all of my romantic life! As a matter of fact, I’d learned that he was a superficial asshole! Pretty important information! How is that a loss?

Life is unpredictable and full of challenges. Things are not always going to work out the way we want them to … and that’s okay. One phrase that has always made me feel better when situations like this occur is:

If not this … something better.

There are so many aspects to any given situation. Nothing is ever 100% negative or 100% positive. When something negative happens, we need to really think about it and ask ourselves what portion of the situation is positive. Once you find it, focus on that instead. Staying focused on the negative will only foster more negativity in your life.

Do your utmost to stop fearing your negative emotions, whatever they are. They will not kill you, and they won’t last forever. If you can just be aware that this particular feeling, or combination of feelings, is what is driving you to the food, then you are one step ahead.