Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Everybody Talks

Since I started talking (or, more accurately, writing) about my weight loss journey, people have wanted to talk about it with me. I'm fine with talking about it, especially if you want to talk about my steps. You could even say that I invited people to talk about it by being so open and sharing it with the internet, which is the same as sharing with the world. Despite all of the talking, though, I've discovered over the past few weeks that some of my friends (I'm not naming names, because I hope we're still friends after I write this) are still a little unclear about why I am dieting and exercising.

One friend said to me just yesterday, "This is really a lot of effort just to wear smaller clothes, isn't it?"

Another said last week, "You wrote this blog entry about how you're big and fat and now you hate yourself and I think you might need to talk to a therapist because you're obsessed."

This is partially true. I did write a blog entry about being big and fat, and in that entry I mentioned being depressed about my weight and about not fitting in chairs and having to buy a lot of bigger shirts and using the seatbelt extender on an airplane (which may be the most humiliating thing that's ever happened to me, at least from my perspective; I felt completely without dignity and fully ashamed even though the flight attendant was very nice about the whole thing), but I realize now in rereading it that I didn't talk enough about what else is going on, so I wanted to take a moment to clarify.

In July, when I wrote that first blog entry and started all of this, I weighed 295 pounds. I was leading a mostly sedentary lifestyle where I spent most of the day sitting down and, based on the first day I wore my Fitbit, walking less than two miles over the course of the entire day. I was using less than 2000 calories a day, total, including the number of calories that you burn just sitting and being alive, but eating between 5000 and 7000 calories a day based on the food diary I kept for a few weeks last spring. Just to help you conceptualize what that looks like, 5000 calories is about 16 Dunkin' Donuts Boston Kreme donuts.

Occasionally, especially if I was stressed or sad, I stopped at Dunkin' Donuts on my way home from work (after eating breakfast, candy all day, and a lunch that included a 32 ounce non-diet soda) and picked up a half dozen of those and ate them for dinner over the course of the night while I lay on my couch reading and playing video games.

Back to the point, though, I was eating about 3000 calories more a day than I was burning, which is how I ended up weighing 295 pounds.

And I was still gaining weight.

I mentioned in that first blog entry that I was having trouble just walking across campus. Walking up the flight of stairs into my apartment was leaving me short of breath if I was carrying something. I haven't been hiking in the Smokies in over a year, because I no longer had the stamina to walk the distance required for any of the trails. (I probably do now. I need to try that.) At the end of the day, my feet and ankles were swollen to the point that I could not see my ankle bones, and every night I had to put my feet up so that the swelling would go down. And then there's the thing with my shins:

my shins

See those brown spots? Those are not freckles. That's venous stasis. It means that my heart can't pump blood down to my legs and then back up to my heart. It's an early warning sign for diabetes. It can also lead to ulcers on your legs, slow wound healing, and amputation.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I let myself get so fat that I might have to have my feet cut off someday because my heart couldn't circulate blood to them.

I say "let myself" because I do not have a medical condition that makes me gain weight. I do not have physical limitations that prevent me from exercising, other than my weight. I just didn't feel like exercising. I was lazy. I enjoyed being lazy, and making jokes about it, and this is what happened. I didn't talk about a lot of this because no one wants to admit that they partially destroyed their own health through sloth, and also because my mom has a nursing license and I didn't want her to worry about me more than she already does. Everything in that first blog entry was true, but I left out discussion of the actual health issues and focused instead on the self esteem. This has, as I said at the beginning of this entry, apparently led to some misconceptions about what's going on here.

So, in July, I weighed 295 pounds.

I was presented with four options:

1) Become eight and a half feet tall. My doctor said this in jest as an option if I wanted to stay at my current weight. The height is actually a guesstimate, as most human height and weight charts top out around seven feet. I'm obviously done growing, so this option was off the table.

2) Die. Maybe I was going to finish developing diabetes. I'd already started, and people hate a quitter, right? Why not go all the way? Or, maybe I was going to have a heart attack. Or a stroke. Maybe I might even get my feet cut off. Or I could go blind. Something was definitely looming on the horizon, and it was a tombstone. I was eating myself to death, and it was only a matter of time before that caught up with me.

I haven't turned 40 yet. I want to go to Venice someday, and when I do I want to walk around and take photos and eat Italian food. I want to outlive several people.

In short, I'm not ready to die.

I reject Option 2.

3) Lap-band or gastric bypass surgery. I am not judging anyone who has done this. If it worked for you, and it was the best choice for you, then I salute you in doing what needed to be done. I rejected this option immediately.

Doctors scare me. Surgery carries risk. There are a number of frightening possible side effects.

Mostly, though, I rejected it because I was horrified by the idea that I was eating so much, and possibly so incapable of changing my habits, that the only way to keep myself from eating too much food was to surgically alter my body to physically prevent it. Coming to a point where that wasn't just an option, but was apparently considered my best option, was frightening and filled me with shame and disgust. I did this to myself.

When I said no, my doctor offered to put me in touch with patients who had the surgery and could "help with some of your fears and concerns", and I realized that my doctor did not believe that I would be capable of Option 4:

4) Serious commitment to diet and exercise. If you've been reading this blog for the past couple of months, you know how that's going. I am walking about 7 miles a day on an average day, and last week I was down 35 pounds. Part of that weight loss is the exercise, but part of it is also that I am on a 2000 calorie a day diet, which has been a struggle for me. I am now confined to a fraction of what I used to eat in a day, and I am extremely careful about my 2000 calories and where I allot them. I say things that sound terrible to other people, because I am focused and, many times, because I have to say it out loud to myself to remind myself that a 750 calorie milkshake from Cook Out is almost half of what I am allowed to eat for the entire day.

"I can't eat that. It's too many calories."

"I can't go to lunch. I want to have dinner tonight."

"I had a Slim Fast for breakfast."

"I wish I could have that donut, but I'm fat."

Five of my friends in the last month have accused me of developing an eating disorder.

I would like to reiterate that I am eating 2000 calories a day. I am not starving myself. I haven't cut out everything I love to eat. I have been to McDonald's. And Pizza Hut. I've even had the potato skins at Calhoun's, which are stuffed with pulled pork and then topped with melted cheese, bacon, and sour cream, and I have enjoyed every bite. I can stick to my diet without denying everything I enjoy about eating, but I have to make wise choices. At McDonald's I had two cheeseburgers, but only a small fries. If I get a personal pan pizza and breadsticks, I don't get a brownie, too. At Calhoun's, I put half of the potato skins in a carryout box, and when I ordered the banana pudding afterward I only ate half of it. I still get to eat things I want, but I have to plan my entire day around it if I really want something, and sometimes I get a much smaller quantity.

Last week, for example, I explained very excitedly to a friend that I had eaten half of a single serving ice cream cup one night with dinner, and then I ate the other half the next night. I got to have ice cream, two nights in a row!

My friend was horrified.

Let's look at this, though. See this ice cream?

single serving

That little tiny ice cream cup is 310 calories. That's more than I give myself most days for breakfast. That's three average sized apples and some calories left over. Ice cream is nice and all, but it's not worth 300 calories to me when I only get 2000. It is worth 150, though. After dinner, I got to have five spoons of ice cream. It was cold, and sugary, and sweet, and good. I carefully spooned out each bite and let it melt on my tongue, and thought, "Jesus, this is awesome."

Am I aware that obsessively counting calories and creating elaborate rituals to eat my food are warning signs for an eating disorder?


So let me reiterate, again, that I am eating 2000 calories a day. You can get a lot of food out of 2000 calories, and feel very full, if you are careful about what kind of food it is. And I have to be careful, or I am going to die. I have to change a lifetime of eating habits, or I am going to die. If I choose the ice cream over the apple, that's fine, but I have to understand that the ice cream is an indulgence rather than something I can sit with a pint of and eat directly out of the carton with a spoon, or I am going to die.

And I don't want to die.

I want to go to Venice some day.

I've come a long way in two months. I've walked over 500 miles. I've increased my walking speed from a thirty minute mile to a twenty minute mile. I've lost 35 pounds. I can do this, but I'm not even close to finished. The 35 pounds I lost? I have to lose that much weight again. And then some more weight on top of that.

I'm going to Venice.

Even if I have to walk the entire way there with a Goddamn rice cake in my mouth.


Lauren P. said...

Amazing writing Joel. I read most of this out loud to Mike. We appreciate your excellent writing and your brutal honesty! (I also love the two cheeseburgers and small fries at McDonald's-my favorite option from there!)

Keep fighting the good fight-living in the South throws its own curve balls at you. You painted such a clear picture.

Justin Bower said...

This is not an eating disorder. This is a rational approach to a healthy diet. If anything, the majority of Americans have an eating disorder; the standard American diet itself. You're not concerning me, you're inspiring me.

leonor said...

Joel. I am super proud of you!

will you let me know when you hit 50 pounds?

I am going to buy you a book every 25 pounds!

Marcheline said...

I want you to post that photo of you in Venice on this blog in the largest size Blogger allows! You rock, Joel. You are doing the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons. That's something I don't think I can say about many people.

Anonymous said...

Hi joe ... Thank you so much for your story. I'm in the similar situation. How is the weight loss going? Did you make it to Venice ? You have inspired me ..thank you so much!