Those who have seen me recently may notice that there is significantly less of me than there was 8 months ago. In fact, there’s a whole 50 lbs less of me. I feel better than I have in a long time. Most people are happy for me. But there are some who choose not to be.
When I first decided that I was going to drop the weight, someone whom I cared about greatly, and considered family, made a very public declaration that she simply would never support my, or anyone else’s weight loss, because losing weight was a form of fat shaming, and wishing to lose weight, or supporting anyone in making decisions that would lead to weight loss, was just vilifying fat people. This could not be further from the truth about my motivation.
As I have mentioned in a previous entry, my muggle job is in health care, mostly working with seniors and the disabled. I started to notice some very clear trends among my clients. Not including my clients with degenerative, usually genetic, musculoskeletal diagnoses, (ie MS, ALS, Huntington’s, etc) or injury due to trauma (spinal cord, brain injury), my clients tended to fall into two categories. There were the clients who needed a little bit of help into their 80s and 90s, but still went for daily walks, took part in swim clubs, went on ski trips. These clients sometimes grew their own vegetables, had steel cut oats for breakfast every morning, enjoyed many fruits and vegetables every day, and only ate fried and sugary foods as a rare treat. And then there were the clients who lived entirely sedentary lives in front of the television. They were sometimes in their 50s and 60s, consumed a regime of fried and starchy foods, required help for the most basic of tasks, were far more prone to strokes, diabetes, joint pain, Alzheimer’s, and were generally unhappy people. In talking with these people, if became clear that these patterns of food and exercise were well correlated with physical, mental and cognitive health in later years, and usually started earlier in life. It really started me thinking on what kind of person I wanted to be in my senior years.
This isn’t new research. We’ve known for decades that living a sedentary life with poor eating habits greatly increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and other illnesses. We’re also starting to find out how linked the brain is with the gut and circulatory system, and that lack of diet and exercise increases risk of age related dementia. Not only that, but common sense shows that having an extra hundred pounds on the joints, is hard on the body. Being overweight increases pain on the joints and muscles, and risk of sore knees, back, hips and ankles are common. Lack of exercise is hard on the heart and lungs.
Doing my job was difficult. I was always out of breath walking up stairs. My back was always sore, and my hips and knees were starting to feel the effects of neglect. I was constantly getting bruises from having to squeeze into smaller spaces. This was not the life I wanted. This was not the body I wanted. I needed to take action.
I was always very critical of men who said things like “I want a woman who takes care of herself”. I would scoff and say that it was a polite way of saying “No fat chicks”. But I see that statement differently now. I look at some of my clients who are still married after 50 or even 70 years, those who are still in love. And since lifestyle is so correlated with longevity, I totally understood how, if someone had made healthy living a priority, they would want someone who was committed to growing older in the best way possible. I also saw how, if someone was passionate about fitness and nutrition, they would want to share those activities with their lover. They would want to go on bike tours of wineries, go mountain climbing, run marathons together. They would not be compatible with a partner who was content to watch TV all day and eat junk food. What kind of relationship did I want?
In the past, I saw how so many people around me had excuses for being overweight- my PCOS, my thyroid, my genetics, my big bones, my ADHD. But I also noticed that their lifestyle supported being overweight. When your diet consists of french fries, and your exercise consists of a mad rush to find the remote, and this goes on for years, maybe it’s not the physical condition? Maybe it’s learned helplessness?
I also see people around me who are changing their lives and making better choices. My sister has PCOS, and with the help of a dietitian, and daily exercise, she has also lost over 50 lbs. My friend Deb has lost over 100 lbs! Mostly by walking and eating sensibly. My roommate’s sister is getting in shape with the help of a personal trainer. Changes are possible.
Look, I know that weight is an incredibly personal thing. For years, I was not ready to lose the weight. And some people never are. I get that. They are still morally and ethically good people. Yes, it is possible to be obese and still be healthy. But over time, this becomes more the exception than the rule. I am trying to make up for lost time so that I can avoid the health issues and probably early death that comes with being obese. I am trying to reprogram my entire life- mind, body and spirit, so that I can enjoy my senior years, and be active, happy and healthy. I am trying to teach my child how to best care for her body- not because being fat is naughty and evil, but because I love my daughter enough to want her to avoid preventable serious health conditions. All bodies are good bodies, but not all bodies can wipe their own butt, or shower themselves at age 65.
So, if someone in your life is trying to save their life by losing weight, if they are eating better and getting fit for all the right reasons, this is hard. The best you can do as someone who loves them is to support them, encourage them and recognize their progress. The least you can do is not try to actively sabotage them because of your own insecurities.