(For our more somber first take on the art of losing, go here. Trigger warning for heartbreak and existential angst.)
Can a queer, feminist, middle-aged, middle-class broad write about weight loss without subjecting herself or others to fat-shaming? That is the question. Let's see if Moose can come up with an answer as she updates my readers on the progress of the Lifestyle Adjustment Program she recently began. Take it away, Moose!
After years of complaining about my increasing weight and decreasing fitness, I began a Lifestyle Adjustment Program in mid-January that has resulted so far in a loss of nearly 27 pounds. Yes, I have been surprised at how quickly I have been losing. My Lifestyle Adjustment Plan is evidently concerned about my success. A couple of weeks ago, I was awarded with a key chain for reaching a particular milestone in my weight-loss journey. (You are forgiven if phrases such as "weight-loss journey" create a mild burning sensation in the back of your throat. I feel it, too.) This week, when I recorded my results in the convenient online weight tracker, along with the "Congratulations, you lost weight this week!" message, I got a little lecture about the risks of losing more than two pounds a week as well as a recommendation that I slow down my rate of loss. I rolled my eyes at how seamlessly the technology of affirmation got blended with the technology of nagging in this instance, a blend that clearly has more to do with protecting my LAP from liability than with protecting my health. Indeed, I am cynical enough to think my LAP would just as soon slow down my rate of loss in order to prolong my membership in the program, but that is another story.
What is the story, you may be wondering? I am not writing this post because I want to turn Roxie's World into another technology of affirmation, committed as we are 'round here to a glass-half-full practice of optimism in life and politics. You don't need to feel obliged to congratulate me on my weight loss, though I would likely grin and say "Thank you!" if you felt moved to do so. I am also, I swear to dog, not writing it to turn the blog into a technology of nagging or shaming that might make anyone feel bad about her or his own weight or body or fitness or health. Lord knows there is plenty of body fascism in the world and in American culture and history. I have no desire to add fuel to that nasty fire, but lately I've noticed that my food choices can make other people uncomfortable about their food choices, that my visibly thinner body makes them feel self-conscious about their bodies. I laugh when friends tell me they have signed up for my LAP because my success has inspired them, but the truth is I feel a little uncomfortable in that role. Holy crap! I want to say, Do you not realize that I am one Cheeto and a dry martini away from being in the same mess I was in two and a half months ago? That's a slight exaggeration, of course, but my point is serious: I am no expert, and I have a considerable way to go on my weight-loss journey. My weight is not yet in the healthy range for my height on the Body Mass Index scale. (Yes, darlings, I know that BMI isn't perfect and "healthy" is a tricky devil of a term, but it's a helpful gauge and I am using it. Keep reading.)
Like a lot of women and a fair number of non-women, I have struggled for most of my life with weight and body issues. From childhood, I've been tall, which meant I was always heavier than most of the girls in my peer group. As a kid, I felt self-conscious about my size, which perhaps explains why you don't see a smile on the face of that girl with the pigtails, third in from the right on the back row, standing with all the other tall kids in my second-grade class portrait:
The messages I got from the culture and my family of origin intensified the anxieties I had about my body, the feeling that there was simply, always too much of me. I wasn't particularly physically active as a child, in part because I wasn't skilled in games that required a lot of eye-hand coordination or the pixie-girl elasticity of a gymnast. I was an endurance athlete, but it took me twenty years to figure that out. My mother sought to reassure me about my weight by telling me it was "just baby fat," but she also put me on diets when I was as young as 8 or 9. As adolescence approached, my father weighed in, as it were, with words that I am sure he hoped would inspire rather than wound me: "You are so beautiful, honey. Boys would be flocking around here if you would just take off some of that weight." Oh, Papa, I know you meant well.
Our bodies are not ours alone. They are enmeshed in familial and cultural history, histories in which gender, race, class, and sexuality play powerful, shaping roles. We inhabit them, but we do not fully own them in weird yet fundamental ways.
Nonetheless, as 2010 wound down and I found myself weighing nearly twenty pounds over my previous record-high weight (a weight that had sent me into another Lifestyle Adjustment Program in the fall of 1989), I knew that a moment of truth was approaching and that, come the new year, I would find myself among the legions of resolution makers determined to shed pounds in 2011. I spent the first week of 2011 in Los Angeles, at the MLA convention, eating and drinking with giddy abandon. Goose and I flew home the day before my first weigh-in. I was the one who suggested we order a pizza when we got home. We ate most of it along with a nice bottle, or two, of wine. I warmed up the last slice of pizza for breakfast the next morning and then headed off for my reckoning. What the hell, I thought, no point in having a poached egg now.
I have a lot of questions about what I did leading up to that moment and what I am doing now, but I am not prepared to ask and answer most of them here. What I can say is that by early January I had come to a place of feeling miserable in my body and was willing to do anything to get out of that place. People have told me they admire my discipline. Thank you, but please understand that for me the hard part was getting my a$$ on the scale for that first weigh-in. Everything since -- and I do mean everything -- has been easy. Once I have made up my mind to do something like this, temptation is not an issue. I am a rock. You cannot move me. Give me a rule, I will follow it. Give me a Cheeto, I will eat a banana. Tell me to exercise, and I will get a new dog to inspire me to hit the trail.
You see, I am as good at losing weight as I am at gaining it -- and that is part of the problem. I tend to be all-or-nothing, black-or-white, feast-or-famine in these matters. My goal this time around is to find a happy medium, something I can sustain over the long haul. (The last time I lost a substantial amount of weight, I actually succeeded in keeping most of it off for many years, but I was a lot younger then. My metabolism, never a fast one, is even slower now, so I am trying to be realistic about my goals.) I don't have a magic, target number in mind. I don't want to be rail thin, and I don't aspire to run (another) marathon. I want to feel fit, comfortable, able to do the things I want to do: a 4-mile run, Adho Mukha Vrksasana, a walking tour of Portugal or Scotland or Norway with my beloved queer pack. I am on board with the idea that our culture should be far more accepting of bodily diversity than it is and that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. All I'm saying is that the body I was in two and a half months ago wasn't feeling healthy or pleasant to me, so I decided to change it in an effort to feel better.
Here are a few questions I am willing to answer for those who might be interested to know what has worked for one middle-aged broad looking to get a little less broad. (With apologies to Goose, who hates my fondness for the word broad.)
1. Are you going to meetings? Why or why not? Yes, I am going to meetings. I like the accountability of weigh-ins and the camaraderie of hanging out with folks with a similar commitment to losing weight. I also really groove on the kind of non-expert wisdom you pick up at gatherings of this kind. As academics, we tend to over-think things and make them vastly more complicated than they sometimes need to be. I go to a meeting and the leader says, "You know, it isn't rocket science. Eat less, move more, and you will lose weight," or "The thing about this program is, if you kinda work it, it kinda works, but if you really work it, it really works." I walk away thinking, "Holy rice cake! It really is that simple, isn't it? I can so flipping do this!"
2. Are you tracking points? Do you like this whole PointsPlus thing? Yes, I am tracking points, though somewhat less diligently than I was in the beginning when I was learning the system. PointsPlus -- or, as I like to call it, the All the Bananas You Can Eat Diet -- has obviously worked well for me, but I have nothing to compare it to, never having used the old system. Still, I love the idea that all fruits and most vegetables are zero points. That quickly trained me to reach for a piece of fruit whenever I felt hungry. (If you're curious, here's an article that mentions the PointsPlus system in connection with new research on calories, nutrition, and metabolism.)
4. What's working for you food-wise? Short answer: Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. You can do a million things with them really quickly, and they are unbelievably satisfying. Longer answer: I've been keeping breakfast and lunch pretty simple and saving up points and ingenuity for dinners that are varied, delicious, and decadent enough to satisfy our foodiest friends. My favorite magazine, Food Porn for the Conscientious, has been enormously helpful in this regard. I'm fortunate in that I've never been a big snacker or lover of sweets, so it works for me to hold onto about 15 points for a substantial dinner. Believe me, I have never gone to bed hungry on this routine. Oh, and my go-to lunch for days when I'm stuck in the office and dying for something hot and healthy? Amy's Bowls, especially the (7-point) Brown Rice and Vegetables. I'm tellin' ya, kids, it's why dog invented microwaves.
5. Are you exercising? Yes, but not as much as I thought I'd have to in order to lose weight. That was one of the things that made me reluctant to commit to any LAP. I was convinced I would be sentencing myself to a lifetime of small salads and torturously long workouts. As with food, though, I have tried to make activity adjustments that felt realistic and manageable. That has meant doing what I can when I can, which so far has been a mix of yoga, stationary biking, and walking with interludes of jogging out on the trail. So far, so bueno, and I am secretly hoping that the jogging becomes running by mid-summer, if my lumpy, achy feet will cooperate.
6. Are you sure you aren't going to turn this blog into a technology of affirmation or, worse, a fricking diet blog? Because, you know, a lot of us would really, truly hate that. Also, please don't cut out the booze jokes. We like imagining that Moose and Goose are a couple of boozed-up, big-shouldered broads taking on the patriarchy one martini at a time. I know, darlings, and fear not. Your fantasies are safe. We'll always have Ishmael's, the seedy yet cozy bar around the corner from the global headquarters of RW Enterprises, LLC, and there will always be a frosty beverage and a fat-packed mozzarella stick out on the bar just waiting for you.
Peace out, my pretties, and remember: In Roxie's World, we love you just the way you are. Sing it, Piano Man.