Friday, May 9, 2014

Being Fat

Being fat is not least, not for me.  I know there are some people (male and female) who prefer large women, or prefer being a large woman.  But I am not one of them.  I don't like it.

I am uncomfortable in my own skin...have been for many years.  When I look into the mirror (which I'd rather avoid, to be honest) I see a woman who does not reflect the person I am inside.  The woman I see is large, unattractive (yeah, with a nice enough face, but large people get tired of being told that they have a lovely face), someone to be given a second look by others, and simply not me.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and feel like I'm looking at a stranger.

I don't hate myself any more, which is a good thing because I spent a lot of years in that state of self disgust.  Usually I am grateful to have a body that functions and gets me around and enables me to get done all of the things I need to get done in a day.  And I am thankful that I am healthy, and that I don't often get sick.  I feel relatively ok about myself most of the time these days...and there's nothing like having a daughter to force one to deal with these issues and get over oneself.

But still...

My weight is my achilles heel.  My weak point.  My vulnerable point.  The thing that still privately defeats me emotionally or psychologically a little too frequently.

I'm the heaviest I've ever been, over the past couple of years.  I'm a few pounds lighter than I was in January, but just a few...and by coincidence rather than by design.  I gained most of my weight during a few specific time periods of my life when I was going through difficult times...that's when I was mostly out of control from emotional eating, and eat I did.  I've never been the fabled person who eats a dozen doughnuts at one sitting, but during those difficult periods of my life I would think nothing of eating french fries a few times a week and having dessert later in the day, too, if I wanted to.  Because I have a very slow metabolism with a borderline thyroid issue, these periods of my life saw me gaining a lot of weight fairly quickly; those same issues make it very difficult for me to lose weight, from a physical perspective (not to mention the psychological issues).

I have children now.  And I am a fairly self aware parent.  Thus, I'm careful about how I talk and act about my body/weight/appearance around my kids...particularly around Lizzie.  We talk about weight from time to time, and I've forced myself to become comfortable talking about the parts of me that I think are particularly lovely and I try to present a balanced view between thinking that it's ok not to be wild about certain parts of our body while highlighting other parts that are attractive.  I fling my hair around to make Lizzie laugh and let any of the kids comb it into their version of beautiful; I dance freely and wildly with any of my kids; am happy to be silly in my bodily antics with the kids, despite my bulk; they see me in various states of dress and undress; and I never act ashamed of my body in front of them.  And, of course, we talk a lot about the priority of being beautiful on the inside regardless of how good/not we think we look on the outside.  We talk about people who look different than us, and we talk about people who act differently than us.

So far, I think it's working.  So far all three kids seem to have a healthy view of their/our bodies, and I am hoping that our openness in talking about everything (including weight and being healthy and eating healthy foods and healthy eating habits, etc etc) will be helpful in the long run.  I have a lot of baggage tied up in my weight, and I'm so hoping not to pass it along.

There are so many reasons that I don't like being this large:
  • First, the perception out there still is that fat people are lazy; that hasn't changed much over the years.  I've read about that (fairly recently) and have heard the comments.  Once, shortly before I got pregnant with Matthew and while I was still employed full time, I was working with a vice president of my company to recruit for the position of her executive assistant.  That wasn't a part of my regular job - the recruiting aspect of my job was at a more senior level.  But I agreed to help her out because she was newish to the city and I had established a good working relationship with her.  I found her a fantastic candidate:  Perfectly experienced as an EA for over a decade; perfect performance reviews and attendance records; fabulous references; well spoken; etc etc.  She interviewed great and was in need of a new job for all of the right reasons.  She was great.  However, when I introduced her to the VP and sat in on the VP's interview of her, I had the impression that the VP took an instant dislike to her.  I was puzzled.  This was a very exacting position and I'd found a great candidate.  Later, when talking with the VP, I noted my observation and she answered that I was right - that she didn't like the candidate.  I asked her what the issue was.   "She's overweight, that's it," was the answer.  I was stunned - in part because I wondered who still thought those kinds of things, and in part because she was admitting that to the overweight person sitting in front of her who'd spent the past year+ working long hours with her on many issues.  The VP went on to say that fat people were generally lazy and took a lot of sick days and that she couldn't afford that in a busy position like this one.  I was incredulous.  She was talking to me, an overweight manager in a position of considerable responsibility, who had a near perfect attendance record, fantastic performance reviews, and who worked darn hard.  And she was talking about a candidate who'd received only glowing references from her previous employer.  But that was and is the perception people still have of fat people - that we're lazy and unmotivated.
  • I'm uncomfortable in an airplane seat...find them too snug.  I love to travel and this is an uncomfortable aspect of it.  This also applies to some restaurant seats and to some waiting room chairs.
  • I don't like knowing that when people, strangers, see me, they are more inclined to dismiss me based on my appearance than they would someone who is thin and attractive.  I don't just guess at this...I've experienced it.  First impressions matter.
  • I get tired of my size being a stumbling block to doing things that I would otherwise like to do.  I don't like appearing in my bathing suit around people I know (though I'm happy to take the kids swimming in a pool with a bunch of strangers); I'm uncomfortable bike riding after about ten or fifteen minutes because the weight of my body on my hands as they grip the handle bars starts to numb my fingers; it's a little harder squeezing into places (eg. turnstiles) that my inner being thinks should not be a problem; etc etc.  I wish I could just participate more actively in some things I enjoy or think I might enjoy.
  • I don't have quite as much lap as I'd like to have for my kids.  They're all over me all of the time, including on my lap, but sometimes I wish I had just a little more space for more of them at a time.
  • People regularly make assumptions that I don't understand healthy cooking or healthy foods.  This is a pretty common assumption.  The reality is that I cook very well and, for the most part, very healthily, and my kids are all (thus far) thin and fit and well fed with great quality food and healthy...a significant accomplishment given the potential two of my children have for food issues.  I understand nutrition, am fairly current on product/food knowledge, and cook accordingly.  We eat very few processed foods and a lot of fruit and veg; for seven or eight years already, the only meat and eggs we eat are pastured (grass fed; no antibiotics; no meds; not grain-fed); we don't have things like chips or pop or juice in the house at all unless for a special occasion (birthday parties, Christmas, etc); I don't snack at night unless occasionally out for coffee with a friend, etc etc etc.  The fact is that although I do many things right when it comes to preparing and eating healthy foods, I have little credibility with others in this area because of how my body looks.  I understand this and so I tend to shut up when this is the topic of conversation.
  • I hate meeting people for the first time because I know what I must look like to them and because it feels like we're starting off on the wrong foot because they're seeing someone who's not the real me...and yet who is.  I don't know if that makes sense.  A couple of years ago, when the kids and I traveled to visit a friend I'd been 'talking' to online for several years, I was petrified to meet her face to face because of how I looked.  On route to her house, the kids and I stopped at a highway rest stop for a full hour and the kids climbed trees while I paced and tried to gather my courage to meet her.  The same thing happened at Christmas in Quebec a few months ago when I spent the day with a friend I've been wanting to meet for five years - I was anxious almost to the point of vomiting before she walked through the door.  Similarly, I know my anxiety will only increase again the closer we get to making a trip to Ontario this year, where I hope to meet numerous families I've corresponded with online, in some cases for years.  I refuse to let this anxiety alter my plans (at least I'm that smart) but yeah, the anxiety leading up to those initial meetings is considerable.
  • It's tough for me to find clothes that I like.  I like virtually no clothes in my wardrobe; it's just not the style that I'd like to wear were I thinner.  Most stores that carry clothes for larger women tend to have a lot of 'old lady' clothes rather than clothes that I would consider fashionable for someone in their forties, or at least suitable for my personality.  I don't want to wear large floral prints or dowdy tent dresses and so I have to hunt more, and in a limited variety of stores.  I rarely end up finding what I want, but rather compromise on something acceptable.  I want to wear chic, layered, vibrant clothing that is in colours I like and I don't want to have to pay a fortune for them.  I used to wear a lot of all black, simply because that was the easiest thing for me to find in stores that wasn't totally horrible; but since Lizzie entered my life, I've been trying harder to find and purchase clothes that also have bright and beautiful colours.  As a result, I have a small wardrobe that I'm not crazy about, but it's at least a little more colourful.  She inspires me to want to show off the brightness that exists on the inside by wearing it on the outside!
You might be thinking at this point, well, then, if you don't like it, why not just lose the weight??

This is a reasonable question, and yet a hard one for me to answer.  I wonder if you have to be overweight in order to be sympathetic to the complex issues involved.  I've been told many times that 'all' I need to do is expend more calories than I take in.  Well, gee, thanks, is how I feel like responding...I never would have guessed that.  I've been to therapy around the psychological aspects of my weight and I still can't entirely figure it out.  I understand some of the roots of my weight and food issues, but not so much the reasons for being unable to succeed in weight loss.  I know that weight loss itself (and the efforts it takes to achieve it) triggers anxiety in me; anxiety that is so pronounced that, even unconsciously, it cannot easily be surmounted by my desire to lose the weight.

And I also know that my metabolism is extremely slow...always has been.  A piece of rice crispie square will readily have me gaining weight!  As a result I know that exercise, for me, is critical.  And I'm not exercising.

A number of years ago I joined a gym for a year and lost a few pounds...though I always felt not nearly enough given how hard I was working at the exercise!  More important than my weight, though, was the fact that my fitness really improved - at the beginning of the year I was able to do an embarrassing three minutes on the elliptical machine and by the end of that year I could finish up to 75 minutes on the same machine!

But then I had a small accident that has had huge ramifications for me.  About four years ago, I tripped on some stairs while on vacation in the U.S., and when I stumbled down the last two steps, I ripped some of the achilles fibres in my left heel.  I was in incredible pain for the next number of months, have seen several foot doctors and physios since, and it's never fully or properly healed.  I still rip new fibres in my achilles if I'm not continuously careful; I am in almost constant discomfort or pain as a result of it (even at night, when pain occasionally wakes me).  Walking downstairs is embarrassingly hard for me at times when my achilles is particularly bad, because the motion of flexing my foot as required when walking down stairs can be painful and/or result in more fibre rips.  As a result, my ability to exercise was/is severely limited.

To compound the problem, I hate exercise...other than the elliptical (oddly).  Even during my year at the gym, I hated it every single time I went.  I did it, but it never got easier.  I'm not one of those people who finds new energy as a result of exercising.  I just get tired...and I hate sweating!  Undoubtedly my hatred of it is one of the things that makes me reluctant to find alternate forms of exercise that wouldn't aggravate my achilles.

But I know, given my metabolism, that exercise of some type is a key to weight loss for me.  There are certainly a few changes I could be making to my eating habits - I'm by no means near perfect in this regard and suspect that, despite relatively healthy eating habits, I should consider tracking how much I eat because I think I need less than I consume...even healthy food is unhealthy if too much of it is consumed.  But exercise is the key for me.

I've been trying, over the last month, a new method of treating my achilles issues and am seeing some signs of improvement for the first time in the extent that I'm contemplating a visit to a local gym to experiment again with an elliptical machine.  When my brother was in town recently, he also gave me a tip about a local gym that offers child care for children up to the age of 12 - critical in my case because I always have my kids with me and I have a partner who works hours that exceed most gym hours.

For a long time I hated talking about being overweight.  Maybe it was denial - if I don't talk about it, maybe it's not real.  Perhaps I'll regret posting this, or another post that I'm contemplating.  I don't know.  But whatever, I weight is a part of my daily reality and, given that so much else in my life is fair game for my blog, I guess my weight might as well be, too!

So here goes...pressing "publish."  Now.  OK, now.  OK, really, now.


  1. I, too, am fat, I can identify with a lot of what you are saying. I have stopped trying to diet & have tried to focus on eating healthier, less processed foods. One thing that I have found that really helps me is cutting out grains, I'm not sure if that would work for you. Clothing-wise, Old Navy has some really cute, affordable plus size clothing (it's only available to order online) - I've bought lots of clothing from them & have been pleased with almost everything I've purchased. ASOS (they are located in the UK but shipping is free!) also has some cute/funky plus size clothing (if you're on their website, the plus size clothing is in under the Curve department).

  2. I appreciate your honest, up front, truthful post! It takes courage!! I married into a large family which has given me a whole different perspective on weight issues. I know understand that for some people it is extremely hard to lose weight! I have children that may deal with weight issues and like you, I am trying to teach them realistic views on healthy eating, self control, self esteem, etc. I also find it interesting that some times our "emotional baggage" or mental state can have everything to do with our physical state. In saying that, I am in no way saying that is your case, but I just want to be careful for my children (esp one of my children adopted from ET with severe trauma issues) that the mental health issues get dealt with as well!!

  3. Confession, I am not considered by most people to be fat. I am heavier than I have ever been before, but...
    But I really get the first impression part. For the first almost forty years of my life, I had a large mole on my right cheek. Not the "nice" flat kind that looks like an over-grown freckle, but big dark, and protruding a good distance. I have dealt with the stares, the avoiding looks, the rude questions (yes, a lot from kids, but definitely adults too), my grandmother trying to wash it off, and lots of kids poking at it. But then came the day I was told by my doctor that it needed to go. Despite my loathing of this part my appearance, I realized it was part of me. I had totally irrational thoughts/questions about how life would be without it. I knew how people reacted TO it, would they recognize me without it? (Uh, duh! Yes!) I felt that part of me identity was being ripped away from me, even though I too wanted it gone. But I was panicked.
    So, despite the fact that I was more stressed and crazy about having that short little surgery than I was leading up to having major surgery that many would stress about and it didn't bother me, the only people who have commented on it have been those who saw me with the stitches in my face and the surgeon who actually did it when I saw her today for something else. Not even my brother who pokes fun and comments about absolutely everything.
    So am. I facing the same challenge as you? Nope. But I can relate. And I can also say that I realized through this detested but loved piece of me going away that it probably was not an issue for as many people as I thought it was.
    And just so you know, if your trip to Ontario does work out so that we can have that face-to-face, don't stress before seeing my face. The book is not all about the cover, and I have read enough about the inside to not care what the outside looks like.
    And by the way, I'd prefer to wear my bathing suit around people I know than people I don't.
    Your words spoke well for for something so caught in emotion.

  4. I have only a second to respond at the moment, but just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to leave me a note, and for your thoughtfulness. All of your comments mean much to me.

    I have kids to put to bed, otherwise I'd probably ramble on for a while yet!

    Thank you.


  5. I'm so glad that you posted this, Ruth. I heard about the fat shaming of Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette on the way home from work today and, as a fat person, found it very upsetting. It was nice to turn on my computer and find a different perspective and one that outlines the complexity of being fat so well. I can't think of any other physical characteristic that is so targeted for outright judgment (and where people think they are justified in their criticism because it is about "being healthy") and I identify with many of the points you make. The reality is that no one has much control over what their body does, regardless of what they or others think. It might be metabolism or it might be confused hormones or a confused brain telling one to eat more than one needs. Regardless, it is biological, not a moral failing.

    A book that has really helped me, and may help you, is Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, two nutritionists. It is not a diet book. Instead, it discusses the reasons people gain weight, what happens to your body when you diet and why diets cause more problems than they solve. It has helped me understand why weight is an issue for me and has helped me to feel a lot more sympathetic towards myself and my body. This is especially important to me as I (hopefully, one day) become a mother to a daughter. I never want my daughter to feel the way about her body the way I feel about mine (regardless of what it looks like), but at the same time, I really wish that I could be a thinner/prettier/fitter mother. I've now come to the realization that those two things just don't add up. I need to unconditionally accept my body (which means not counting calories or beating myself up for how I look), if I'm going to teach her to unconditionally except hers (this is not a comment on you and Lizzie, just a comment on the current lens I'm looking through). I want my daughter to be able to follow her own body cues, not any "rules" of eating or diet fads. So, I'm going to try to do that too.

    It's not easy though! Like you, I have a lot of anxiety around diets and they trigger a lot of deep rooted negative feelings for me, but I also feel very good when I am on a (successful) diet because I feel like am taking control of something that often feels out of control for me. However, when I think of dieting now, I remind myself that those good feelings are just an illusion because being rigid about things is not real control (maybe there are people out there who can diet without becoming rigid, but I become rather obsessive).

    Anyway, that's enough on me. Here is a little video sample to give you an idea of the Intuitive Eating book:

    Oh, and I'd love to hear about your achilles cure. I have the same issue and it won't go away!

    Sending some kindness to you (and your body), Melissa

  6. Thanks Melissa...lovely comment to read! And I will check out the link you sent about the Intuitive Eating book - thank you.
    I'm sorry to hear that you, too, have achilles issues. It's nasty, and I've spent far more time over the past 4.5 years in pain than not! Until the last several weeks! I don't think I've cured my achilles issue, but it's incredibly improved - the best it's been in years. Last night the five of us went for a walk on a lovely spring evening and it's the first time in a very long time that I was a bit less worried than usual about ripping another fibre with the wrong move, etc etc. I don't know the link any more, but I found a self-massage technique on youtube, featuring two physiotherapists who were discussing exactly the problem I was having and showing new massage techniques for untangling the achilles fibres in the back of the leg/foot and, hopefully, bringing about some healing. The massage works in a cross-the-grain method. It's simple (though my fingers get tired from having to apply a lot of pressure for 15 minutes or so/day) but the most effective thing I've tried in years...and I've been to physios and doctors and specialists. I can't yet do the stretching exercises that the physios recommend, but the massage part seems unbelievable helpful for me. I'll see if I can re-find the link.
    Re: having a daughter (which I so hope you do in the not-too-distant future!!), it's been amazing to me how having Lizzie has helped me to improve my self-image. She (and my boys, but especially her) thinks I'm beautiful and my progress began with having to learn simply to say 'thank you' to her when she was flattering about me and my body. Though it killed me to have to acknowledge what she was saying, I've only ever let her hear me say a warm and enthused 'thank you.' That led to other things/conversations where I've had to step up (internally as well as externally) and force myself to really focus on the important things...and it's helped me in the process! I have realized as a result of Lizzie that I have carried my internal baggage far too long and allowed it to affect too much who I am on the inside. It's hard to explain, and she has zero idea of the impact she's had on me, but it's been really quite profound.
    Anyway, thanks for the encouragement and warm words, Melissa!
    We journey on together!


  7. Have you tried swimming for exercise? The kids can sit and watch while you swim for 15 minutes and then you can all swim/play? Three times a week? I'm your cheerleader!

    1. You ARE my cheerleader...I know it!

      You know, I'm a good swimmer but I don't enjoy it, other than when I'm playing with the kids. I don't like the germs and stuff, I don't like showering at the pool, I don't like the cold wet bathing suit feel when out of the pool. Shudder. It's just not something I really enjoy (unless with the kids). Also, my kids would never ever sit for 15 minutes and watch...I'd never get anything done...they'd either be talking my ear off or wrestling on the pool deck and getting themselves in trouble with the life guard!

      I need to do SOMEthing, I know it. I'm getting there. I just wish you could be waving the cheerleading flag when I do.

      Hugs my friend!


  8. This will ring a bell with many of us, I think. I too still think of myself as a thin person despite the 60 pounds I've put on since college, and am constantly startled to bruise my hip on a corner I expected to clear. I recently discovered eShakti, an online site that custom sews very cute dresses (with POCKETS!). I heard about them from a friend who is quite a bit heavier than your photo appears, and who always looks great. I have also developed rosacea in the past 8 years, and get very self conscious about my skin, especially in photos and when meeting people. My daughter, adopted 2 years ago, comments on it pretty often, usually something like, "Even though you're not pretty Mama, you are beautiful inside and I am glad you're my mom." So hard to respond to that well.

    1. Thanks Wendy. It's interesting how one can think of oneself as being other than what one sees! And that must be a real 'ouch' when your daughter comments like that...I felt the ouch from over here.
      And I've never heard eShakti...I'll check them out...sounds interesting.
      I've received a few emails over the past couple of days, as a result of my post, and it seems like many of us have some of these things in common.

      Thanks for being here, Wendy.



  9. Thanks for sharing your vulnerabilities... you are a very cool person.

    1. Big compliment from one of the coolest, hippy-like people I know!!

      See you Friday!


    2. Oh Ruth, you were so brave to post this. I've long admired your honesty in what you share with the world, but this takes it to a new level. Obviously, everyone's struggle is different, but my goodness there are some similarities. I feel the exact same way as you do about first introductions. I want to tell them that I'm different than what they see. That I am active. That I have maintained a decent level of strength and agility. That I'm not eating bags of fast food secretly in my car. I also don't want them to think that I am okay with being unhealthy. Lastly, I want to tell them that I have opted out of my membership to "The Pretty Face Club". I've longed believed that they comment on the face because they don't dare to acknowledge the rest or that the "she has such a pretty face" comes with an unspoken "but she should.." or "if only she could..." statement too. I certainly don't blame them. I'm not sure that I would know what to say either. In fact, I'm pretty sure that some of my weight issues have been delivered to me by karma. I can recall in my average-sized youth thinking that I was all that and feeling a certain disdain for people I perceived as unhealthy. Darn karma! :) Truthfully though, I'm likely a result of less activity, more calories, and some fairly catastrohpic life events where I opted out of positive coping strategies. While my fiance fought a losing battle with brain cancer, I waved the white flag in the weight battle. Likely wasn't my best choice and I'm paying for it now, but sometimes you just don't want to show up to the battlefield. I have time now and I'm trying, but I'm not certain that I'll ever get to where I'd like to be. Instead, I'm working to just be more comfortable. By the way, I think the people you're going to meet are extremely lucky. I have no doubt that it'll be hard for you, but hang in there, your readers will be cheering you on! You're lovely, Ruth, plain and simple.

    3. could I just say that you brought tears to my eyes? Thank you for such kind and supportive words, are a gem! You have gone through so much, and I don't know that anyone could have coped with what you have coped with. I'm amazed that you're still in the battlefield at all.

      I did feel brave posting this post, but I have no regrets. It is what it is. I am who I am. And I am glad to have people like you in my life who continue to cheer me on!!

      Thank you, and hugs coming your way!!