I tried to lose 40 pounds on Jenny Craig in 1989 and became severely eating disordered. I called up my best friend - also a severe calorie restrictor and over-exerciser at the time - and said I needed to go have something sweet in a controlled fashion or I was going to binge. No fat, caffeine, sugar, sodium or appreciable protein in two months will do that to a girl, it turns out. I was to the point where I would circle my apple - my afternoon snack, prescribed according to Jenny on the menu sheet - and, like, wait for it and think about it until I could eat it. It was not a happy time. I thought about food constantly, constantly. I did nothing but drink obscene amounts of water and live in step classes. But the boy I'd loved for two years had recently started looking at me at work, really seeing me, it turned out, or so I thought. I was insane, and starving, but I was validated, by a 6'2", 150 pound soaking wet dude who could plow through a medium pizza and burn it off riding his bike to campus.
Anyway, my friend and I went to the mall, where we were also going to see the re-release of Fantasia. It was the fall, so I got a pumpkin frozen yogurt with granola on top at TCBY. I can still see it sitting on the counter, it's that kind of memory.
We walked through the mall afterwards, and what happened next can only be described as burnt karma on my part:
I heard a shriek, and my weight loss "counselor", Shireen, was running towards me (no joke, running) with her very hot, very tall boyfriend. Shireen was nice and actually very sweet to me, but she was a former cheerleader utterly obsessed with food, the type who'd make announcements at work (I also worked at Jenny Craig, the worst job I ever had, bar none) like "I need to walk to Safeway and get a bagel or I'm going to binge." She was way better than Susan, the nasty saleswoman who would sit at the counter and laugh at fat people getting out of their cars in the parking lot, but Susan wasn't the one in my face in the mall.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?????" she yelled. "You THROW THAT IN THE TRASH RIGHT NOW."
And she marched me over to the trash can and made me throw my beautiful pumpkin yogurt in. Listening closely, one could hear Wicked Witch-style "melting! melllllllltttttttttttt--innnnggggggggg," both from the trash can and from my brain. Hello, shame, humiliation, and no fucking frozen yogurt.
I don't know what happened afterwards, not on that day anyway. I do know that I made it to the end of November on this diet, which probably amounted to a couple of weeks. I lost 30 pounds all told in the two months I was on it. I would also, every week, after I got weighed, eat my way all night long through a gallon of Breyer's vanilla ice cream combined with peanut butter, peanut butter sandwiches (peanut butter was my trigger food for the longest time), pizza and Oreos. I'd eat like this - a classic binge - and then have the rest of the week to burn it off plus whatever else I managed to knock off my totals in six days. It was a horrible cycle.
What would turn out to be the last night of the diet was before a final exam. I ate, literally, all night long. I couldn't stop. I've never felt more out of control in my life. I've been a wine and beer drinker for my entire adult life, but never touched a drug like heroin or cocaine and when I hear people describe the feelings associated with them I always think of that night with the food and what it felt like to absolutely not be full, and to absolutely not be able to stop putting a substance into my body - in this case, a substance I absolutely couldn't live without in reasonable doses.
The next morning I went to the health center at school to talk to a counselor. I missed my final. I was strung out with a fat and sugar hangover, and I was also terribly afraid. The first thing she told me was that I absolutely needed to quit the diet, so I did. I gained seven pounds back in a week, just eating normally. I worked at the place for a little while longer, and that was the end of it.
I think Jenny Craig is evil, but that's not the whole moral of the story. The moral of the story is tied up with the mall and Shireen and the intrusion of someone else into a process that for those of us who have strong issues with food is really challenging on a good day. The deal is that in order to change your body, or anything about yourself really, you must have the will and the wherewithal to do so. Since that time I have lost a significant amount of weight once through a focused and concerted effort to improve my diet and work out several times a week, hard. I gained the weight back when I came back to Maryland and got into a relationship that took up all of my time until it wrecked my heart and head.
Four years later, I'm doing it again, because I feel mentally and emotionally healthy and at the same time physically motivated to do it. I keep telling people that I have no idea how I got back on this track again, because I was fully convinced that I was going to be the weight I was forever. I didn't see how I could do it or fix it. I didn't have the energy or the will. And now, it does take all of my will, and much of my concentration. I am finally ready to do it. But I can tell you that someone else following me around and telling me about myself - particularly how gross and disgusting or out of control I am - will not do it. And I will never starve again, and as a grown person fully aware of my starvataion mentality that only leads me back to what I tell myself I can't have ten-fold, if you tell me to throw away my frozen yogurt profanity will ensue and you'll not enjoy it.
I believe that America hates fat people. Hates. The vast majority of men here do not pursue overweight women. Many women judge each other to some degree based on appearance and body size. I occasionally, shamefully, think bad things about overweight people, and I AM ONE OF THEM. Call it projection, reflection, whatever, it is what it is.
There are movements based around fat acceptance and rejection, and I don't really engage in them at all beyond understanding what they are and why they exist, for the most part. Because for me it's not about a movement. They don't mean anything when it comes down to you and your mirror and your knees and the way you feel about yourself every day. We each get on this train alone and that's how - in my case anyway - I choose to roll, although working out with people at my workplace has turned out to be a pretty great, low-stress way to stay on track.
The weight loss industry and culture is predicated, for the most part, upon people feeling like shit about themselves. It took me 20 years to cut through the bs and decide, to have a moment earlier this year, just about a month ago, actually, where I decided that I was concerned about how I felt and how I looked, and for whatever reason my head was in the right spot to do something about it.
This happened in spite of - IN SPITE, not BECAUSE - of the not-thin ex-boyfriend who tried to shame me into going to the gym on a regular basis and questioned my every move while I was there. Shouldn't I be doing intervals and not stepping like I was? Shouldn't I be lifting more? Shouldn't I do more abs? This happened in spite of the countless times I know my weight has been judged in social situations (Overheard, of me and aforementioned frozen yogurt friend: "Look, there's a big one and a little one.") and the few times that comments were made directly to me about it. This happened in spite of the time I went to a party in graduate school with my roommate and her friend, and one of the guys who lived there put "Big Girls Don't Cry" on the stereo and laughed when I walked in the kitchen. This happened in spite of the request from my ballet teacher 30 years ago that I only take half a sandwich to school because I wasn't one of the kids who could take a whole. This happened in spite of my male relatives comments in my teen years, like "You sure are packing on the Ell-bees." (My family is not for the faint of heart. I have forgiven, but you don't forget. They would never do such a thing now.)
Because if you want to make a fat person go into her hole and eat more of that food that she's not supposed to put in her greedy, ugly mouth, throw some shame on the fire. Kick at an already potentially fragile self-concept with steel toes. Do it. Because you, obviously, you're better, even though you may not even be exceptionally thin, which always makes me laugh.
Seriously, who the fuck are you? Who is "they?" (This is really underlying a lot of the Susan Boyle stuff taht I haven't had the nerve to write about yet. It's too hard, but maybe this will help it come out. Stay tuned.)
The positive feedback you get when you lose weight is a double-edged sword of weirdness. I'm already starting to see it again because I've lost probably close to ten pounds in two weeks and what isn't losing is getting whittled down because I spend over an hour at the gym most days a week right now to get the metabolism in gear. The "Hey, Skinny!"s and the "Wow, what are YOU doing differently?" are rejections of who you've been while it's a welcoming of this person who was waiting inside who, while still you, is obviously deemed better. (Not sure I'm explaining that one right on the fly - it's complicated.)
I would like to say that I accept myself equally well when I am heavier, but I don't. My face gets puffy and I don't like it. I don't like how I walk or look in clothing, mostly because it doesn't match up with my inside vibe. But more important than that, my knees are complaining and this is a frightening prospect for someone as obsessed with the concept of mobility as I am, having watched my morbidly obese grandmother become completely dependent on other people and depressed through two knee replacements and years of cortisone shots.
I don't want that kind of life for myself, and I'm at a place where I'm feeling like I'm in control enough to do something about it. But for much of my life, I have not felt that way. I have been tired, and depressed and - I'll say it - HUNGRY. Facing a pile of 50 pounds you want to lose is one of the most daunting feelings in the world, and the intrusive judgment from others does not help. Had I not reached the point again where I felt able to do something about it, where exercise felt like something I needed to do to regain my lease on life, where I decided taht it was worth trolling through my diet to find ways I could cut down reasonably without embarking on some insane plan that would have had me back into the peanut butter and Breyer's after a 20-year break, no one could have made me do it.
I think people would be a lot better off if everyone would shut up and stop judging, but that's just me. I follow Jillian Michaels and watch The Biggest Loser, yes. I'm as fascinated by it as I am some of the other reality show trainwrecks I've gotten sucked into over the past five years, which if I'd have avoided them would equate to reading War and Peace probably five times over by now. But this kind of sick-ass premise, where a man follows overweight women and confronts them and tells them how to live their lives - is just not acceptable. It's probably produced to a stupid degree. They probably know he's there. It's probably no surprise. But what it is is just not cool.
No one else can really save your life when it comes down to it unless they've got a tourniquet when you need it most. And the act of making lifestyle changes that amount to any kind of appreciable weight loss or body change is so difficult and requires such intense commitment and - indeed, yes - self-love that it's gotta be you. And I'll go ahead and say that when you do it, if you do it, you should be able to look directly at yourself and be able to say "I kicked my own ass. I saved my own life." People can pitch in. They can love you through it or be your gym buddy or show you the best way to do an interval workout. But they aren't the real drivers.
They - especially some creepy guy in a car on a low-rent reality show - shouldn't get the credit. If there's any to be had in this case, you have to carry it with you or it just won't stick. And yes, I'm biased here - incredibly so - not much I can do about that now.
Oh - and somebody get him a sandwich.