Sitting on Your Set Point

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

This will be my last post on obesity and weight loss for a while. I have plenty more entries in my food journal to draw from, but I feel the need to move onto other less self-focused topics.

I’m writing this last post of the series in case anyone is struggling with weight loss but suffering from disappointments. I know that feeling so well.

Dealing with Disappointment

 Let’s say you’re doing everything right in your eyes. Yesterday, you went to the gym, where you lifted some weights and did half an hour of aerobic activity. 

Then you came home and went to work. You ate a sensible breakfast (oatmeal), lunch (Minestrone soup) and dinner (chicken and salad), and avoided eating after dinner after an apple for dessert.

In other words, you did everything right.

You’re kind of eager to weigh yourself, wanting to find out how much you’ve lost. After all, if it’s as much as a pound, you can redo the calculations in your head to assure yourself you’ll be svelte by Christmas or whenever.

But how does the universe respond to your good deeds?

Well, it turns out you’ve actually gained a couple of pounds since yesterday!

“I don’t deserve this,” you think to yourself. This reminds you of the movie Unforgiven, the scene in which Little Bill (played by Gene Hackman) tells William Munny (Clint Eastwood), “I don’t deserve to die like this.” Munny, who is about to blow his head off with a shotgun, says, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” 

Okay, comparing your slight weight gain to getting executed on a barroom floor is a tad dramatic, but you get the idea.

Then you talk yourself down with a hundred truths, tropes and tiny deceptions. 

It’s just a bathroom scale and isn’t all that accurate. Besides, you’re going to naturally swing a bit day to day. Besides, your body strives to maintain equilibrium. Besides that, muscle weighs more than fat. You just have to have patience. No one said it was going to be easy. You’ll get there. You just need to double down on your efforts. You can do it!

A lot of that’s true. Still, there’s that inner child within saying “It’s not fair!” The child that wants to take his ball and go home. The child that thinks they might as well have some ice cream because it just doesn’t matter one way or the other. 

The child isn’t the Dogman, but the child may aid and abet the Dogman. Maybe not intentionally. “Don’t you let that dog out the door?” you yell, a parent from a bedroom, your voice already scolding but muffled. But, the Dogman, sensing an opportunity, muscles its way past the kid when the door is open just a crack, and out he suddenly flies, free to chase squirrels, crap in the neighbor’s yard, bark at strangers, or even knock over a trashcan and scour it for anything resembling food.  

Does the kid care? Maybe a part of them does, but the other part says, “Life’s not fair. Let the dog go have some fun. Somebody ought to, and it’s definitely not me these days.”

Patience on the Set Point

One of the reasons it’s so easy to suffer a series of what can feel like “crushing defeats” is because your body seems to have what’s sometimes called a “set point.” This is the weight around which your body wants to hover. It’s not so hard to lose weight if you’re five pounds above that set point, but trying to lose it once you’ve hit the set point can be brutal if you come at it with the wrong attitude

My set point as I’m writing this is in the range of 224 to 229, by the bathroom scale (higher if you use the mechanical column scales found in doctor offices and gyms). If I’m at 233 or higher, it’s not so hard getting back to that set point. But getting below it can be pretty rough.

This proclivity of your body to “want” to maintain a set point makes a lot of sense for two-legged nomadic hunters and gatherers who went through periods of feast and famine. After all, you might get pretty hungry while you’re waiting for the fruit on certain trees to ripen or while tracking down that wily wooly mammoth you’ve been pursuing.

As you’re waiting, your body tries to conserve energy and fat as best it can. It’s a survival mechanism. Without it, we probably wouldn’t be here to begin with.

But in an age when there’s plenty of food around, that set point mechanism can be a bummer.

My advice is to be patient. Keep your meal servings sane. Keep getting the right amount of exercise. Remember that eating in a healthy way is its own reward. Weight loss is often just a bonus.

On the Margins and in Good Time

In my experience, weight loss happens around the margins. You won’t gain weight if you have one sausage for dinner, for example, but having two of them? You won’t gain weight if have a handful of nuts, but having two or three handfuls? 

This is the hardest thing for me. I mean, I’m not “pigging out.” I just want two burgers rather than one. How much worse can that be? “It’s just protein,” I tell myself. “After all, a lot of diet books out there are recommending staying away from carbs and eating meat.”

But it doesn’t work that way. Not in my experience, anyway. Having that extra burger or sausage repeated over days and weeks messes me up.

For lots of people, avoiding that extra burger doesn’t sound hard. But for me it’s been brutal in the past, especially if my other primary meals are a bowl of oatmeal with fruit and a nutritious salad for lunch. Don’t I deserve a couple of helping of real meat?

No, not necessarily. It depends on a lot of other factors. You need to be listening to your own body. “Deserves’s got nothing to do with it,” my inner Clint tells me.

So, I need to be better around the margins. Maybe just one helping, not two. Not three. How about a chicken strip? Okay, two helpings, but not three. Or four. The gains or, I should say, the losses are made around the margins and they take a long time to happen.

Again, be patient. Learn as you go. Eat and live well. Eventually you’ll probably get by your current set point. (Though keep in mind there may well be other set points in your future.) Don’t get distressed by not being able to hit some ideal goal. Don’t let some socially constructed ideal of a “right weight” define you or make you unhappy.

So what if you’re a work in progress?

I’ve got news. We all are.

Featured image by Diane Krauss (DianeAnna); Diane Krauss put it under GFDL and CC-BY-SA-2.5. The German tennis player Tommy Haas at the public training for the World Team Cup in Düsseldorf, Germany, 2005. Wikimedia Commons.

Weighting for Godot

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

Wait a little longer, you’ll never regret it.

–Samuel Beckett

The good thing about eating healthier is that there’s no end to it. It’s not like a diet that you do for six weeks or whatever. It’s not a matter of waiting to hit some goal; it’s a lifestyle choice.

These days, I weigh around 226, which means I’ve gained some weight back since I was at 217 or so. I’m still technically overweight according to the BMI scale. But that’s okay. This is a process. As long as I’m not binge eating, I’m pretty happy with the ways things are going. I continue to maintain the habits I outlined before.

Do I need to tweak some things? For sure. In fact, I’m trying some different lunch and snack alternatives these days. But I feel no need to go on a diet or starve myself in order to hit some numerical objective.

My main goal these days to get in better aerobic shape. I ran a 5K recently and am trying to balance running against keeping the Achilles tendonitis in my right heel tamped down.

I still plan to get to 195 lbs or so but, even if I achieve it, there will be no moment of triumph when I can suddenly go back to eating  Barbecue Lays Potato chips on the sofa while watching a string of Sunday football games or a long chain of Marvel movies. I’m hoping those days are permanently behind me. I certainly don’t miss them.

But I know that nothing is certain in this game and that maintaining a healthy approach to food requires constant upkeep and vigilance. My ultimate goal is to continue eat in a healthy and happy way until the day I die, or at least until Godot finally makes that long-awaited appearance.

Featured image from Waiting_for_Godot_in_Doon_School, by Merlaysamuel

Walking Through the Pandemic

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

#WEIGHT 217 lbs on November 16, 2020

After changing my eating life in September 2019, I’d lost around 30 pounds by November of the following year. There were ups and downs during that time, and there continue to be today, but I was feeling better about my eating habits.

By November of 2020, of course, we were well into the Covid-19 pandemic and I couldn’t go the gym any longer. So, I took up walking in a major way. Here’s what I wrote in my journal at the time:

A few weeks ago I downloaded a few of the many pedometer apps off Google Play. They all seem to do about the same thing: track how far you walk or run in a given length of time, but I did find out the hard way that some are more accurate than others.

Anyway, my process is to download a number of my favorite podcasts onto my phone, turn on the pedometer app, and walk around the neighborhood for a few miles. It’s usually not less than two and often more like three or four.

I live in Florida, so I’m definitely not getting much (or, by the standards of most hikers, any) altitude on my walks. But there are a lot of lakes (some more like retention ponds) in my neighborhood, so I’ve developed a series of walks that take me past several different bodies of water on any given day or night.

One of the virtues of an app is that it tracks my progress for me, digitally celebrating as I rack up the miles and even allows me to share my progress with friends if I want (which I don’t). In short, there is a minor positive feedback loop via the app and a more significant positive loop via the well-being of body and mind. For example, I tend to sleep much better when I go on leisurely, long walks in the evening (though, oddly, the opposite tends to be true if I go jogging or power walking, the stuff that really amps the body up).

It’s not that I was in terrible shape before, but getting exercise, especially of the aerobic type, was not something I especially looked forward to. I’ve found the walks, however, tend to be fun in a low-key way.

As I’ve taken up walking, I’ve been listening to podcasts about the 2020 election and the subsequent political and cultural fallout. The walking, I found, seems to balance out all the disturbing news, allowing me to take that news in without freaking out as much as I otherwise would. 

When the political podcasts shake my once-deep faith in U.S. democracy and the wisdom of our US population, I listen to something else. Sometimes it’s silly stuff such as Fake Doctors, Real Friends, a rewatch show for the old television series Scrubs. Sometimes it’s more highbrow entertainment, such as The New Yorker Fiction podcast. Other times I’m looking for middle-brow stories, for which I turn to science-fiction story podcasts (e.g., Lightspeed and Clarkeworld) or one called Myths and Legends, which includes humorous retellings stories from folklore and mythology.

Sometimes I don’t listen to anything, just take in the world or try to solve some writing or work-related problem. Sometimes I walk to prepare for some speaker event (I do a lot of webcasts these days). 

The trick, if it’s a trick at at all, is to just enjoy myself. It’s much easier to exercise if I derive some actual enjoyment out of it, just like it’s a lot easier to stick to a food plan that includes foods I love, as opposed to foods that trigger me to want to eat more. 

So much of trying to get lose weight comes down to enjoying the process, even if I’m not able to eat a pint (or a quart) of ice cream in a single sitting. 

They say “virtue is its own reward.” Well, it can be, as long as you enjoy those virtues at some level. Taking a self-punishing approach doesn’t work, at least not for me. The point is to train myself, and the Dogman lurking within, with positive reinforcement.

Featured image: Walking man in Munich-Schwabing, by Jonathan Borofsky. Photo by  Berreu 

In the Habit of Eating

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

In my last post, I discussed my change in food habits, especially my new abstentions. Here I just want to elaborate a bit.

Warning: I’m not saying any of this will help others facing similar challenges. Everybody’s different. But I’ve gained knowledge and inspiration from the stories of others, and so I’m sharing my own here.

Breaking the Chains of Habit

The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.

Samuel Johnson
  1. Let’s start with my abstention from processed sugar. This keeps me away from a lot of the things that trigger bad eating behaviors, especially foods that combine sugars and fats, including ice cream, baked desserts, milkshakes, etc.
  2. I now eat more salad and vegetables in general. By eating more salads (with lots of good stuff on them in terms of avocados, olives, regular dressing, etc.), I get better nutrition in addition to more fiber and roughage, which reduces feelings of hunger. 
  3. I don’t eat anything after 8 pm. This used to be hard for me. Now I’ve internalized that I won’t starve between 8 at night and the morning. (Sometime I vocalize this to myself, saying something, “You are not gonna starve between now and breakfast, so just chill out and work your plan.” When I first started down this road, I allowed myself a piece of raw fruit after 8 if I was truly hungry. The idea was that if I’m not hungry enough to eat a piece of fruit, then I know it’s my compulsion talking; that is, I’m not actually hungry, only craving food to fill some psychological need. Nowadays, I simply don’t eat after 8.
  4. I strive to eat three square meals a day with only a piece of fruit between meals and after dinner. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule yet. Sometimes I’ve been known to eat other things between meals, such as seeds or even cold cuts. But experience has shown me that if I can follow this simple plan, I’m more likely to lose weight or maintain my current weight.
  5. In the morning, I’ve tended to consume rice-based carbs (usually Rice Chex) and fruit. For some reason, rice carbs don’t make me crave other foods as much as other carbs do. There’s some science to this but I pretty much go with what works. In recent months, however, I’ve been able to eat shredded wheat without developing any other cravings.
  6. No eating in front the TV or other media playing device. This is a major one for me. I can’t break the chains of overeating without breaking the bonds between eating and television.

For a while, I kept a spreadsheet with checkboxes that I used to track my meals, daily exercise, abstinence from TV, etc.. It was kind of satisfying to check the boxes after I’d done something (or not done something). That helped me get through the first couple of months of more sensible eating but I stopped using it after that as the habits became more engrained.

Some Resources That Helped

Nearly every moment of every day, we have the opportunity to give something to someone else – our time, our love, our resources.

S. Truett Cathy

One thing that helped a lot when I first starting go down this road was listening to Overeaters Anonymous (OA) speakers because they share a lot of stories in which they tell of their own challenges and lessons learned. One app I found especially helpful was OA Speakers Free, which I downloaded from Google Play Store. I listened to these speakers quite often for a period of several months. There are a lot of interesting speakers (at least for me), many who have some version of the same problems I’ve suffered.

I also listened to the audio version of Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book”, which is like the Bible for AA members. No, I’m not an alcoholic, but part of the thinking behind OA is that some of the same principles that apply to alcoholics can apply to people who are overeaters. This book was written in another era from ours, but it’s a seminal work and I’m glad I listened to it.

So far, I’ve never been a physical OA meeting, partly because the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in early 2020. But I know how to locate local meetings and other resources, and I joined the Overeaters Support group on Facebook. That said, I’m not a traditional 12-stepper (so far), though I see no problem with that approach if it work for folks.

The Whole “Higher Power” Thing

There are some things you have to give up to the higher power.

Jimmy Smits

One of the tenets of OA is that you turn to a “higher power” to help support you in sticking to your abstinences and better eating habits. This originally stems from the religious component of AA. The idea is to pray to God (or some other “higher power” for the more secular-minded) to help alcoholics refrain from drinking. One of the tenets here is that a person’s unaided willpower is not enough to keep them abstinent.

So, how does an agnostic or atheist deal with this part of the tradition? There are various alternatives. One is to just ignore it, though this means not truly following one of the mainstays of the philosophy. Another is to visualize something aside from the traditional idea of God or gods as your higher power (that is, a power “greater than ourselves”). This could be nearly anything. The universe, the Earth, the network of humanity, love, etc.

Personally, I’ve found the higher power tenet to be useful. There’s something about taking the emphasis off ego-driven willpower that makes the transition to healthier eating more achievable. Is this just a bit of psychological judo? I’m not qualified to say. I only know that it’s helped me.

Food Journal

Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive.

George Bernard Shaw

Part of my approach is to write a food journal, though I don’t typically track food in it. Rather, I use it to write about my personal “food journey,” which is a fancy way of saying I write about how I approach food today and in the past. To put this journey into a larger context, I also research and write about obesity-related topics.

The journal helps me understand my own relationship to food and how my issues and habits reflect those of the larger culture. It turns out to be a surprisingly deep topic that goes well beyond the topics covered in a conventional diet book. I don’t really believe diets work. I believe healthy eating does.

In the end, no one gets out of life alive, no matter how healthy their diet. So, healthy eating is, above all, enjoying the life you have while you have it. If better eating happens to extend that life a little, that’s just a bonus.

Featured image by Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party; Français : Le déjeuner des canotiers

No More Sugar for You!

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

#Weight 246 lbs or so September 2019

Bad Name, and That’s the Point

Overeaters Anonymous (OA) had been on my radar for a few years. I can’t remember exactly how it got there, though I think it just occurred to me one day that, since I had a kind of addiction to food, maybe someone had started applying the lessons of Alcoholics Anonymous to foodaholics. 

I do remember thinking, when I first uncovered the name and existence of OA, “Really? That’s the name? Whomever came up with that awful name was definitely no marketing genius.” Organizations such as Weight Watchers and, more recently, Noom, definitely have less insulting brands. In fact, I used to be a Weight Watchers member some years ago.

“I’m not an ‘overeater,'” I thought, “just someone who has a bit of a problem stopping eating sometimes.” So, what’s the difference? Well, really, in my case, there is none. I was, in fact, a person who ate too much, who binged at times, who, once I got on a real roll (i.e., a binge) had a hard time stopping. 

But as I learned more about OA, I realized that the terrible name is, in ways, part of the point. If you can get past the name, then maybe you’re actually ready to get serious about your condition. You eat compulsively, and therefore you overeat.
Now, there are other types of related eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, and OA helps with those conditions as well. But, in my own case, I exactly fit the bill of the organization: a guy who at times just plain ate too much.

Tell like it is.

The Virtual Member

I’ve never officially joined OA and, as of this writing, haven’t attended an actual OA meeting, either real or virtual. Yet, if not for the resources created by OA, I doubt I would have lost any real weight. 

Okay, so what were my steps as a kind of stealth OA member? Well, I started by going to the OA website, figuring out when and where the local meeting would take place, and put some of those meeting on my calendar. Did I go? No. I had every intention of going…someday. But I was always too busy, or too tired, too reticent, etc.

Things went on this way for a quite a while. I added the “Find a Meeting” page on the OA website (oa.org) to the home screen on my smartphone. Even then, though, I didn’t go.

What I did do, eventually, however, was look for OA-related phone apps. The first one I found was “OA Speaker Tapes & Workshops.” It’s one of those freemium apps that have some free stuff and then, if you want to get the premium stuff, you buy a subscription.

This was the app that taught me the basics of the OA philosophy and methodology. How? Mostly via the recordings of multiple OA speakers, all suffering from the same kind of “insanity” (their word) as I have had during periods in my life. Their stories are often darker and more dramatic than my own story, but I recognized them as fundamentally the same.

And it gave me my first experience with the common threads and concepts that run through OA talks: 

  • the idea that we collectively suffer from a kind of compulsion that makes us do things (such as binge eat) that are consciously and explicitly bad for us
  • the controversial (to me) notion that there is a “higher power” that can help us accomplish things that we couldn’t accomplish on our own, a concept inherited from Alcoholic Anonymous
  • the (to me) fantastically useful idea that there are certain foods from which we must entirely abstain because, otherwise, they send us into spates of binge eating in the same way a first drink can cause a true alcoholic to lose control of their sobriety.

Eventually I found another app called “OA Speakers Free” which contains scores of speakers telling the stories of how they began eating compulsively, how they eventually sought help at OA, and their ongoing journeys toward recovery. Like the members of AA, the members of OA seldom claim to be “cured” of their disease/compulsion/anxiety or whatever you want to call it. They know they’re only one good binge from going back to compulsive eating.

Don’t Pull that Trigger

For me, I think the single most useful insight I gleaned from listening to all these speakers is the concept of abstinence from “trigger foods.” What’s difficult to understand, at first, is that everyone has their own trigger foods that, once you consume, lead you down the road of eating ugly quantities of other foods. For me, ice cream is definitely a trigger food in that, once I start, I have a hard time stopping.

It isn’t just that I have a hard time stopping from eating ice cream itself. It’s that consuming ice cream makes me hungry for everything else in the fridge and cupboards.

Why ice cream? I think it’s the combination of fat and sugar. Either very fatty food or very sugary foods are profoundly tempting to me. Put them together in the form of ice cream, cake, pie or lots of other baked goods, and I’m lost. So, I decided to abstain completely from those kinds of foods.

I eventually went further, abstaining from processed sugar generally. That includes, of course, any type of candy. I also try to avoid foods with high fat content. For example, I don’t eat buttered popcorn because I know that’ll set me off (and I don’t eat unbuttered popcorn because, well, what’s the point without the butter?) Same goes for junk foods of all kinds. That combination of salt, fat and carbs (perfected in the form of a potato chip) is my road to ruin.

And Lose the Boob Tube

My other trigger is not a food at all. It’s the activity that, from a young age, I’ve associated with food: television. TV is, as I’ve already made clear elsewhere, a psychological trigger for me. Abstaining helps me read more and do other stuff worth doing. When I do watch TV, I won’t allow myself to eat in front of it. Not ever. I know where that road leads.

My one exception is when my wife wants to eat dinner in front of the TV, which seldom occurs. This is dangerous for me and there may come a time when I find I can’t even do this, but so far I’ve walked that fine line.

That’s Madness!

Now, you may be thinking, “Why that’s madness! Gain some self-control, man!” But that’s exactly my point. My self control is in NOT eating things that make me lose control. For other people, if they have a eating disorder at all, it may have nothing to do with TV or ice cream or sugars. Instead, they may have other triggers such as bread or rice or butter or potatoes. But I think every compulsive eater has a trigger.

I’ve had people make fun of these abstentions, which have been my rule for the last two and a half years. I just smile and roll with the ribbing. Heck, it sounds a little silly to me sometimes. I think about Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi and think about myself as the Sugar Nazi: “No more sugar for you!”

Still, I know I just need to live a different way from most other people. The good part is that it has made my “food life” so much better that it can be hard to describe. In essence, I’ve largely been set free from the Dogman, and I’m willing to give up any dessert on the planet for that freedom.

Of course, it’s not really that simple. I developed more of a plan than that, which I’ll get into in the next post.

Featured image: V.O. Hammond Pub. Co., Chicago - Postcard scan. Children in Chicago surround an ice cream vendor in 1909.

Do I Look Fat?

In August of 2019, I had some work-related headshots taken by a professional photographer friend of mine. The photos were fine but it was clear, just from the headshot, I was fat. Fat in the face. Not abysmally fat, mind you. But when just a headshot indicates reveals you’re overweight, then there’s no denying it.

The Unlikely Virtue of Ego

Ego. I’m not usually a fan. Ego has caused me to make all kinds of mistakes in life. Anger, depression, anxiety, social blindness: they’re all tied to ego. There’s a reason that Buddhism teaches one to abandon one’s ego. It comes with way too much baggage.

But this time, for one brief shining moment, my ego served me well.

Mind you, I’d been writing in a food journal for well over half a year but had made precious little headway in the weight loss department. I guess maybe I’d lost 5 to 7 pounds from the time I started.

On the other hand, I’d been giving a lot of thought to my family history, personal attitudes and behaviors related to food, and the modern epidemic of obesity in the US and elsewhere. I guess you could say I’d be doing the groundwork for a while.

But there was something in those damned photos that make me think, “That’s it, dude, time to get serious.”

Not Stupid Serious, Mind You

I’ve attempted weight loss enough times to know I wanted to get serious but not what I call “stupid serious.” When it comes to weight loss, stupid serious comes in many forms. Fasting is one I’ve used before. Any fool can fast for a few days and lose weight. But that weight will come back with a vengeance once the fool starts eating normally again.

Blame it on the wisdom of the body, which automatically tries to conserve your fat reserves when it believes you’re going through a starvation period. Your mind says, “Get off me, fat!” but the body says, “Dude, my job is to keep you alive in the lean times. I need to slow down your metabolism so you don’t burn through your fat reserves too quickly. I’m trying to keep your dumb ass alive!”

So, fasting doesn’t work in the long run. Not for me, anyways. Maybe not for anyone.

The Dangers of Eating Disorders

In fact, if taken too far, fasting can lead to anorexia nervosa, the condition in which people avoid food, severely restrict it, or eat tiny small quantities of only certain foods. Sometimes people suffering from this condition binge and purge, which means consuming a lot of food quickly and then purging it through vomiting or laxatives.

Anorexia nervosa can be deadly serious. People can develop  medical complications associated with starvation, and this too often kills people. Moreover, the NIH reports that “suicide is the second leading cause of death for people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.”

There are other deadly eating disorders as well, including:

  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder
  • Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

I’m no doctor and won’t pretend any expertise in these areas, but I do have enough experience to know I want no part of them. The goal–or at least my goal–is to get healthier, not wind up in the hospital.

Move Past the Ego and Study Up

For me, getting serious meant studying the attitudes and practices of people who have had success in losing weight over the long term while staying mentally and physically healthy. I wanted to be shed not only of the extra pounds but the cravings and self-loathing of the Dogman.

I knew that this jolt to the ego wouldn’t be sufficient. Not by a long shot. In fact, it could lead all kinds of bad eating decisions. My ego may have been tweaked, but I knew by then that the only way to really make progress was to deal with my big, fat-loving brain. I needed a better plan, and I thought I knew where to look. That’ll be the story of my next post.

Featured image by Orazio Gentileschi, Two Women with a Mirror (1620)

Say It Loud, I’m Fat and Proud

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

#WEIGHT: 245 LBS IN July OF 2019

I exaggerated when I said nobody wants to be in the big, fat club. Some folks don’t mind. In fact, they embrace their identity as a fat person, decrying fat stigma and working to raise awareness of how socially toxic fatphobia is.

This is great. I’m all for it. But, it also raises a confounding question. If I want to lose weight, is it because I’ve been brainwashed by all the fat-shaming so common in our culture? After all, one of the reasons people deny that they (or their family members) are overweight or obese is because so many cultures stigmatize fat folks.

Fatty Fatty Two by Four

In the United States, fat bias starts when we’re just kids. In 2010, researchers at the University of Michigan started publishing research on the topic after following 800 kids in 10 US cities. They surveyed the kids, their teachers, and their parents and found that “kids who were obese were 65% more likely to be bullied than their peers of normal weight; overweight kids were 13 percent more likely to be bullied.” 

I know, shocker, right? When I read that, I thought, “Only 13%? Today’s kids must be a lot more civil than when I was a kid!”

I wasn’t an especially fat as a kid, but I do remember chubbier kids getting called “lard ass” or “fat ass” or “double wide.” I’m old enough to remember some kids using “Fatty Fatty two by four.” In case you’re not familiar with that little ditty, here’s how it went:

Fatty Fatty two by four fatty couldn’t get through the bathroom door, so he shit on the floor, wiped it up and did some more


Sometimes the fatter guys had to prove they were willing to fight, and some of them really could. In those cases, the fat comments started to fade away but no one forgot they were fat. If they football players, they were “a truck.” If they wanted dates, no “regular-sized” girls were available.

Speaking of which, I think the girls had it tougher than the guys, enduring insults like “cow” and “fat bitch.” As we got older, the implication was that overweight girls were happy just to be asked out on a date. Those were the not-so-good-old-days.

So, yes, fat shaming is real, and it starts when we’re kids. 

“Have You Lost Weight, Guy?”

Kids might be obvious about their fat bias (aka, weight bias, aka obesity stigma), but I don’t think it ever really goes away, not even when you hit the workforce.

One 2017 survey indicates that fatter job applicants are less likely to be hired because hiring managers sometimes associate fatness with laziness. And fat employees tend to be compensated differently even when they are hired, earning $1.25 less per hour than other employees. 

This happens throughout careers. Occupational Medicine & Health Affairs reports, “Qualitative reviews have concluded that individuals who are overweight face weight bias and discrimination at every stage of the employment cycle. These reviews have identified evidence for weight bias across a variety of evaluative outcomes, including selection, placement, compensation, assignments, promotions, assessments, discipline and termination.”

The employment bias can show up not only among employees and bosses but among human resources (HR) professionals who are often trained to be sensitive to discrimination issues. One computer-based study investigated workplace-related weight bias by using a sample of HR professionals who regularly evaluate and make career decisions about other people. These HR pros were asked to evaluate a group of people for whom they had standardized photos. 

They were asked to rate people in regard to recruitment, work-related prestige and achievements. 

The authors found that the HR professionals showed strong weight stigmatization in terms of hiring. They also found that “participants underestimated the occupational prestige of obese individuals and overestimated it for normal-weight individuals.’ Individuals who were categorized as obese were also less often nominated for supervisory positions. Lastly, they found that weight-related stigmatization was most prominent towards obese females. Findings from this study support previous findings that weight-related stigmatization and discrimination exist in hiring and evaluative outcomes in the workplace. 

“Weight Bias in the Workplace: A Literature Review”

Speaking for myself, in the workplace it’s hard to know when somebody is biased against you because you’re fat. Unlike when we’re kids, hardly anybody will come out and say it, of course. Instead, during my heavier years, I’ve tended to live in a minor but chronic state of paranoia. 

For example, say my boss is rude to me. Is that because he’s having a bad day, or because I did something to make him mad? Or because is it because I’m fat and he’s cool with bullying the fat guy. It brings back all that old playground bullying of the fat kids. 

Am I that kid, just bigger and on a different kind of playground?

Sometimes, however, it isn’t rudeness that makes me paranoid. It’s compliments. “Have you lost weight?” is something I’ve heard too many times. Sometimes it’s just a friendly greeting among the guys. Kind of a new “hail, fellow, well met!”

But thin guys never ask other thin guys that question.

Often the query is followed up with, “Looking good!” or “Keep up the good work!”

This all sounds innocuous to people who are not and never have been fat. In truth, I don’t take it to heart. It’s not intended to offend. Quite the opposite. It’s just that it grates on the ears a bit because it indicates that people are always looking, always judging, always weighing you in their minds without even consciously knowing they’re doing so.

The US Civil Rights Act does not protect against the discrimination of fat people. Nor does the Americans with Disabilities Act unless an employee has a disability that results in their being obese. 

If you live in the US, you probably live in a so-called “at will” state (because they’re all at-will except Montana, last I heard). This basically means your employer is legally able to terminate you at any time for any reason (except an illegal one such as race or gender) or, in fact, for no reason at all. 

My Doctor the Fat Bigot

Maybe even worse is that a lot of doctors aren’t impervious to fat bias, not by a long shot. In 2003, one study found that half of primary care physicians viewed obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant.” 

Yikes. Yet, as the son of a doctor, I have a little sympathy for them on this score. Unless a doctor has personally struggled with weight issues, it’s probably easy for them to get frustrated with patients who don’t lose weight even when those patients seem to be suffering ailments caused by or associated with being obese. My guess is that some doctors feel as if a fat patient is just ignoring their advice or even sabotaging their treatment plan.

But these doctor biases can be deadly. In an interview with Healthline, Dr. Lilia Graue, MD, LMFT, said that doctors often “fail to provide adequate and timely diagnosis and treatment due to all kinds of assumptions, [which] affects patients along the full weight spectrum.” For example, 

These biases can have a deadly impact on fat people because whenever they seek medical attention, doctors and other healthcare professionals assume overweight patients’ health issues are weight-related even when their symptoms are unrelated to weight. As a result, fat people often shy away from doctors, having learned that “doctors repeatedly advise weight loss for [them] while recommending CAT scans, blood work, or physical therapy for other, average-weight patients” who display the same symptoms. 

This means that fat patients sometimes needlessly suffer or die simply because their doctor can’t see past their weight issues and so misdiagnose them.

 The Fat Acceptance Movement

Given the well-documented bigotry against fat people, it’s little wonder that the fat-acceptance movement (aka, fat pride, fat empowerment, and fat activism) has emerged. I’ll delve more into this movement later, but for now I’ll quote a small section of of the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

Fat activists argue that anti-fat stigma and aggressive diet promotion have led to an increase in psychological and physiological problems among fat people. Concerns are also raised that modern culture’s focus on weight loss does not have a foundation in scientific research, but instead is an example of using science as a means to control deviance, as a part of society’s attempt to deal with something that it finds disturbing. Diet critics cite the high failure rate of permanent weight-loss attempts, and the dangers of “yo-yo” weight fluctuations and weight-loss surgeries. Fat activists argue that the health issues of obesity and being overweight have been exaggerated or misrepresented, and that the health issues are used as a cover for cultural and aesthetic prejudices against fat.

This debate about health versus social bias is one that arises again and again in discussions about about the stigma against overweight people. And it’s a topic that I’ve wrestled with in regard to my own attitudes toward weight loss. At some point in the future, I’ll try to craft a more cohesive stand on the topic.

Featured image: Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger

I’m Not Fat, You’re Fat!

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

One of the reasons I said that nobody wants to be in the fat club is because they often don’t view themselves as fat even if they technically are.

The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research reports:

While the CDC may classify more than one-third of Americans as obese and another third as overweight, the public don’t see themselves that way. In a 2014 Gallup poll, just 5% say they are very overweight, while 35% say they are somewhat overweight, and 56% believe they are about right. These numbers are comparable to the results of a 1965 Harris poll, long before the rates of obesity began to climb rapidly, which found 38% of respondents considered themselves overweight, and 55% about right. In a 2013 Gallup poll, 51% said they would like to lose weight, a number essentially unchanged from the 52% who said so when the question was asked in 1990, despite an 11 percentage point increase in the obesity rate in that time frame.

But this it’s not just ourselves we have blind spots about. It’s also our family members. A 2009 Ipsos-McClatchy poll found that only a third of participants said weight was a minor problem for their families, while about half (49%) said it was no problem at all. 

So, fat is in the eye of the beholder. That unknown kids on the playground over there? Yep, that kid is definitely overweight. But my kid? Nope, no way. Sure, maybe he has heavy bones, but that’s not the same as being fat!

Feature image is Watkin Fat Cat by Allen Watkin. Wikimedia Commons.

The Weight of the Dogman

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

#Weight 247 in April 2019

Back in the first half of 2019, I was getting frustrated by my inability to lose more weight and wrote the following:

What I hate most about the Dogman, aside from his combination of dominance and weakness, is his weight. Today, I am 247 lbs. This means that I am, literally, carrying around an extra 52 lbs, which is not much less than the average weight of a fully grown Labrador Retriever. 

Think about that. Ever tried to pick up an adult Lab or some other big dog? Yeah, umph! Now try doing it day after day after day, every time you get up. How much harder is it to rise in the morning? How much harder is it to pick yourself when you’ve fallen? 

It makes life so much harder. So much heavier. If only I could get out from under the weight of the damned dog. When you think about like this, why does anyone get overweight? How can they even stand the thought of it? It’s like some Black Mirror nightmare. 

Yet, we do. We do. Because the Dogman exists in so many of us. He’s a monster, yes, but oh so attached to us, hard to resist with its girth and big, brown, pleading eyes that want so badly to stick around. So hard to resist even if we do need to pick it up day after day after day.

Featured photo from Labrador on Quantock; IDS.photos from Tiverton, UK

Food, Family and Weekend Eats

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

#WEIGHT: 246 LBS IN MARCH OF 2019

The Weekend Father

When I was a kid, weekends were for eating. My father was a doctor who was often ghostlike on the weekdays, rising early in the morning before anyone else to make his hospital rounds. He didn’t even grab breakfast, just dressed in the dim morning light (or total darkness in the winter) and disappeared behind the wheel of his latest Buick. 

When he came home in the evenings, he seldom ate with us kids. He’d chat with our mother for a bit while changing his clothes, then pour himself a Scotch or two. It was often after having his drinks that mom would serve him dinner. After dinner, he’d go up up to bed and read books, usually the latest blockbuster thriller, until falling asleep. The next say, he’d do it all again, again and again. This routine didn’t allow for a lot of conversation, or even interaction, with the kids.

But the weekends were something different. Yes, he’d again disappear in the early mornings, though this time to play golf. But in the afternoons, something grand would happen. Dad would arrive bearing a feast in white paper bags, big cardboard buckets, and towers of sprawling, savory smelling boxes. 

The Santa Claus of Carbs

It was the best part of my week, when the old man–still wearing his tan bucket hat and dressed in an Izod golf shirt and plaid golf pants–came home like the Santa Claus of Carbs. The first boxes to flip open were the ones from the Di Camillo Bakery and Top’s Supermarket.

Oh… My…Lord.

Glazed donuts, donuts dripping in chocolate sauce, cream-filled donuts, maybe a buttery croissant if you wanted something “healthy.”  And those were just the appetizers!

Then there were the cinnamon buns, the chocolate chip cookies, the oatmeal raisin cookies, apple turnovers, raspberry turnovers, bear claws, puffs, Danishes, and, the pièce de résistance, chocolate eclairs.

Oh, I’m sure there were other pastries in there whose names I didn’t know but whose redolence and appearance would transport me to those blissful Saturday afternoons.

After raiding those boxes, there were still the glazed sugars and chocolate icings and custard creams stuck to the bottoms of bakers papers, doilies and of the cardboard boxes themselves. I would lick and suck the sugary remnants off the paper. I would try to draw up what I could from the boxes with licked, wet fingers.

Finger-Licking Fast Food Feasts

Then would come the fast food feast. I remember two primary versions: Kentucky Fried Chicken and Arby’s. Both were a treat, partly because in Lewiston, NY there were none of the traditional fast-food chains in those days. My father, fresh off the Niagara Falls Golf Course, would score our main course up in “the city.”

Keep in mind that the Falls, as we called it, was well-known to our father but something akin to a foreign land to my younger brother and me. That’s partly because Mom, who had a phobia of driving up Lewiston Hill or across any bridges at all, almost never took us there.

So, in those days, a big bucket of KFC seemed blessed by the gods brought down from the escarpment to us low-lander Lewiston mortals by the typically remote, almost Zeus-like figure of our old man.

The family tore into those these wonderfully greasy, finger-licking-good capon carcasses as if they were sacrifices to familial bliss, which in a way they were. It was a bit of a joke in our family that we’d leave nothing left but the barest of bones.

Food and Family Bliss

Only later in life did I discover that “normal people” didn’t eat chicken down all the way to the nub like that, the way that piranha ate hapless human victims in all those reruns of old Tarzan movies we watched on the weekends.

But why am I going into such detail about our family’s weekend eating habits? Because this is how food becomes part of our mental and emotional makeup. It isn’t just about the food itself but about our memories of family gatherings, times of euphoria and a sense of belonging, a time when we could put away our little sorrows and insecurities for a time and thoroughly enjoy one another’s company.

This is what food means to us. Or, at least, to me. Bonding, harmony, warm recollections, peace, laughter and joy. 

It isn’t only food we get addicted to. It is everything the food represents, both consciously and subconsciously. It is little wonder, then, that we eat when we feel stressed, lonely, or just sad. We not only crave the pleasure of the food itself but all the other pleasures associated with our family and friends, celebrations and holidays. At least for some of us, food itself is happiness.

Featured image: Pastries at the Bellagio Patisserie at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada from Calgary Reviews, Wikimedia Commons