Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Be kind to yourself."

Back in July, when I started trying to change my life and lose weight, I posted about it on Facebook, and my friend Ilona said, "Just remember to be kind to yourself." At the time, I appreciated the support, but not the message. Hadn't I spent a lifetime being kind to myself by pouring milkshakes and donuts and Cheetos into my mouth? Wasn't being kind to myself more the problem than it was part of the solution? I'd been so kind to myself every time I passed the display of Little Debbie Snack Cakes in Kroger that I weighed 295 pounds. Maybe what I actually needed was to stop being kind to myself, right?

I didn't get it, but we'll get back to that.

Another friend, Anna, said, "During times when I have wanted to lose weight/get healthier, I've found it better to say I have fat instead of I'm fat." This, to me, sounded like the worst sort of semantics game, a way of prettying up my problem, like saying that I have glasses rather than that I'm legally blind. Not only did I not see the difference, but it felt like a way of sugarcoating things, saying that I was a little heavy rather than that I was morbidly obese.

I didn't get that at the time, either, but I've learned over the past four months that words are important.

I had a realization this week of how much things have changed since I started this, and it got me thinking about how much of this journey is changing myself. I was checking my Fitbit stats and my weight because I wanted to see how many more pounds I have to lose before I stop being morbidly obese, and I realized that being overweight is now my goal. How weird does that sound if you say it out loud?

"I really look forward to being overweight someday."

"I can't wait to be overweight!"

I even tweeted it, because the idea struck me as being somewhat absurd. It's like I've entered a weird Bizarro World where words no longer mean the same thing. Overweight is something that I now aspire to. It's not the end goal, but it's a milestone, and I've spent most of the week, when I think about this, trying to wrap my mind around that. After a lifetime of being a big fat person, referring to myself as "hugenormous" and "Joelba the Hutt", I've now somehow become a person who wants to be overweight, who is working toward being overweight, who is going to be so excited when I actually am overweight that I will begin booking a trip to Venice.

And that's when I realized that I have spent my entire life not being kind to myself, because I have spent my entire life calling myself fat. Even now, in writing this entry, I keep having to go back and correct my words, because keep typing things like, "The first time I realized I was fat," and then thinking, "Except that I didn't realize I was fat. I decided that I was. There's a difference." My whole life, I've been using the word "fat" both to label and to injure myself, and if I'm going to make the kind of permanent change that will keep me at a healthy weight and in a healthy mindset, then I need to stop doing that. I have to stop it, or at some point down the road this whole adventure is going to fail. I'm going to settle back into my old ways, because I will decide that it's totally ok to bake and eat a cake for myself over the weekend because hey, I'm fat, and that's what fat people do.

I can't do that anymore, and I can't be that anymore.

The first time I decided that I was fat was in the seventh grade, in 1987. I was 11 going on 12 when the school year started, and that was the year when we started getting a lot of puberty-related education in science classes. I don't remember all of the curriculum, but it was the usual things they tell you in non-"abstinence education only" states, which Alaska was at the time: you'll begin to grow hair in weird places, girls will start to develop breasts, and boys' voices will deepen and they will become more muscular. So I rolled into seventh grade, waiting for these muscles to appear (because no one told me that you had to actually exercise to get them; I believed they would just show up on their own with the rest of the physical signs of sexual maturity), and that was the first year that we had a gym class that I had to shower in afterward. That meant it was also the first time that I was around a bunch of guys my age with their shirts off a lot, and I realized something: many of the other kids had muscles (ropy little kid muscles, but they still looked like muscles), and I had a little round belly.

I didn't have any muscles, so I must be fat.

I decided.

For reference purposes, here's a photo of seventh grade me. I'm on the right:

grade seven

I don't look fat in that photo. I'm not sure what I weighed, but I bet the waist of my jeans is under twenty inches, rather than my current forty-plus. In my head, though, I was fat.

Let's fast forward about ten years. Here I am in 1998, on the left:

old photo

I thought I was fat when that picture was taken, too. I had a thirty-two inch waist at the time. I went to bars and guys thought I was cute, and we went home from bars together. And still, I thought I was fat. I was excessively enamored of guys who had abs, because I've never had any.

I'd kill for that thirty-two inch waist, now.

I'm grinding myself down on the treadmill and the Greenway and the beach and wherever else I can get some steps in so that I can be that "fat" again.

In 2004, when I was a hall director, this was my building:


That's a twenty-two story residential tower, and there was a lounge called the Penthouse on the top floor. Sometimes I took the stairs to it, from the lobby. It may have taken me twenty minutes or so, but I climbed twenty-two stories worth of stairs if the mood struck me, and doing so didn't kill me. Not surprisingly, I thought I was fat then, too. My entire adult life I have considered myself a fat person, and I realize now that it's an identity that I assigned to myself whether it happens to be true or not.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because words have gotten away from me, and no longer seem to mean what I thought they meant. "Fat", whether I have it or am it, is an amorphous concept that I can't seem to hold onto, and it's not the only word I'm having trouble with. People keep telling me I look so thin, but I'm not thin. I'm thinner, but people only think I'm thin because they know me. Strangers aren't looking at me and thinking, "Wow, that guy is so thin." They're looking at me and hoping (if they think anything about me at all, which is probably actually kind of unlikely) that I don't sit next to them on the plane because even though I fit in my own seat and can buckle the seat belt without the extender, some of me is still going to spill over into their space. I still weigh over 200 pounds. I'm not thin.

But I'm trying really, really hard not to say that I'm fat.


Jeannie said...

This is lovely, Joel. I have been incredibly impressed by your entire weight loss life change, and this is one of the best parts about it. Losing the weight will make you healthier physically, but it will also make you healthier emotionally. I am so happy for you. Keep it up!!

Marcheline said...

Joel - I can relate to everything you've said here. I thought I was "fat" back when I was just healthy looking (but not as skinny as the "pretty girls" in school). Now, I'd do a happy dance to be that "fat" again. I'm also over 200 pounds, and working my way back down.