Monday, May 18, 2009

The Comfort of Obesity

When I started losing weight, it was fun. It didn't take a ton of effort to start seeing changes: I ate more watermelon, my pants sizes went down. I ate less sugar, my zits went away. Within weeks, I could walk farther, do more, fit more places. The benefits of losing weight were rolling in, and my life got happier and more comfortable as the pounds dropped. I went from hobbling around in pain to walking and hiking and mopping the floors. I could wear cute, comfortable clothes instead of slinking around in shame in stained, baggy tee shirts and black stretch pants with the inner thighs worn out. I was reveling in the delights of a whole world of fresh fruits and vegetables and focusing on moving my body in new ways: lifting weights, biking, doing situps and wall pushups. When I went to the doctor, I no longer had to go through the ritual of them trying to take my blood pressure with a too-small cuff, then acting surprised, then waiting endlessly while the nurse went rummaging around in every other room for a Size Extra Large cuff attachment for my gigantic upper arm. I no longer had to endure the embarrassment of having a radiology nurse try to stuff my overflowing leg fat into a brace for special knee x-rays and cringing as she tried to get all the rolls and folds into the plastic housing and snap it shut without pinching my plentiful skin in the seams. All of the discomforts of being morbidly obese melted away with the fat as the scale went down. Down, down, down the weight went. Down 64 pounds to 214. And then things started getting uncomfortable in a whole different way.

My clothes didn't fit anymore... which was great, you'd think, until you go to wear your favorite dress and it hangs on you like a sack of potatoes, or you try to wear your deceased mother's sweater because you miss her and wearing it always brought you comfort... but it's now so big it looks ridiculous so you sit on the edge of the bed just holding it, tears streaming down your face. Looking in the closet and suddenly finding that you have nothing to wear is disconcerting. But it's okay, right? You get excited and go out on a shopping spree. It really IS fun buying clothes in smaller sizes...

I remember the day I went to buy myself some new clothes. I couldn't wait to get some fun things to wear to reward myself for losing 64 pounds! Off I trotted to my favorite store... Catherine's! It was rather surprising, but all the clothes were too big! They had nothing in my size. So I went to my other favorite place, JC Penneys. I always find great clothes there. I started in the Plus Sized section, but once again, nothing was small enough. THAT was a great feeling! I happily pranced downstairs to the "normal" sized section... but when I got there, it was an ENTIRE FLOOR of clothing. There were "normal" sizes stretched from one end of the store to another! As far as the eye could see there were clothes. I wandered and wandered through section after section of clothes and I started to feel *really* overwhelmed! This was definitely NOT the tiny 10 by 10 space of clothes choices I was used to in the Fat section, where I could easily grab the one shirt that looked decent and fit. The number of clothing choices in the "normal" section was astounding! I had no idea how to shop in the normal section. I spend a half hour just wandering around staring at all the choices. And then I went home with nothing.

When I went to the mall, I didn't know what to do with myself. Instead of walking from the food court (for pizza) to the chocolate store (for fudge) to the Cinnabon store (for a giant cinnamon roll) to the Starbucks (for a mocha frappuccino), I just walked around wondering why I came there. I didn't really *miss* the junky foods... I just missed knowing what to do with myself. When I got together with my fat friends, I didn't know what to talk about. Instead of bemoaning how impossible it is to lose weight together, there was uncomfortable silence as they stared at my new body, and offhand comments about hoping I was not going to "get too skinny." No more sitting on the park benches together with Big Macs. When one of them brought Kit Kat bars for us to eat together at the park and I said no thank you, you could have cut the uneasy silence with a knife it was so thick. And at home, instead of my husband lovingly running his hands over my body and telling me that my butt was perfect, I was hearing "I am not attracted to skinny women." My world was getting less comfortable by the minute.

And that's not all. There was a strange comfort in the misery of not having to *do* anything all day... or rather, being too fat and out of shape to accomplish anything physical. Sure, I cared for my children. I did the basic cleaning. But I never went out much. I was too tired to vacuum often or carry in my own groceries or walk the dog. I didn't have to play with my kids or mow the lawn or do any major yard work because I was too fat. But when I lost weight, the expectation increased... not only from others, but from within. I *knew* I was capable of doing all those things, and I no longer had an excuse not to.

But the single most difficult thing to deal with as I lost weight was the emotions. When I weighed 278 pounds, I medicated myself with food *constantly.* Sad about something? Have a cheesecake. Angry at someone? Bury it in a bag of chips. Stressed out? Eat a pound of chocolates. All of the painful emotions could be taken care of with food. I didn't have to be angry or sad or lonely. I was always happy because I had yummy food in my mouth. Who can feel anything but happiness when they're delighting in an entire bowl of brownie batter? At least, that's what I thought.

It's definitely not healthy to stuff down your emotions with food, but it sure is easy... and comforting. Just sit on the couch and eat ice cream and stare at the computer screen all day, and you don't have to deal with all the *crap* life is throwing at you. Ignore it! It'll go away with a box of Little Debbie cakes! No more problems. Just drug up with the food and life is dandy.

When I took away that lifestyle, it got a little scary. Okay... maybe a lot scary. Suddenly, I had to actually *deal* with emotions and problems instead of stuffing them down. That is NOT comfortable at all. It's no fun having to *feel* angry or sad or lonely or upset. It's not easy to break old habits of *avoiding* life and start living it. That's why losing weight and keeping it off is tough for many people.

There is a comfort in being healthy and thinner that surpasses anything I can get from food, though. I just *love* the way my body feels when it is lighter, stronger, healthier. I feel more confident and capable at 214 pounds than I do at 278 pounds, by far. Even now, at 238 pounds, I am far better off than I used to be. But I want more. It was comforting for awhile to turn back to food to block out the bad stuff, but now it just doesn't feel good anymore. I don't like how I am starting to feel. I have a sense of uneasiness and irritation at the way I am living my life.

Being obese has its benefits. If it didn't, there wouldn't be so many people living in bodies that they can't really enjoy. But I want the comfort of strength and confidence that comes with being fit and healthy. I can find peace in my own power instead of in the false security of a a bag of chips. Real comfort, for me, is the pride and happiness that comes from being able to bike 7 miles, lift 15-pound dumbbells over my head, and carry my child easily. That's what I'm going for now. The real thing.

38 comments:

Hanlie said...

Dr Phil calls it the pay-off. And it's very real... Good for you for no longer buying into it!

Ria said...

Wow, this post really speaks to me. You've definitely hit the nail on the head - new & different emotions combined with the loss of old methods of dealing with emotions is a dangerous combination.

Congratulations on your better day yesterday, and as you say, on aiming even higher today!

Susannah said...

Hi Lyn,

Great post, very insightful and honest. This is such a process, isn't it? My mantra is "small steps, consistently taken, lead to big results". We're talking teeny steps, one hour, one morning, one afternoon at a time to change these incredibly stubborn habits. If I could go back in time, I would change to change my coping mechanism to hot tea and meditation rather then cookies.
Have a wonderful day!

Terri said...

Oh yes, you hit the nail right on the head! I'm going through this now. I just now feel good, though I have a very long way to go, but it's scary because now, I don't lay on the couch and watch days of our lives, I use my gazelle now! It was much easier "before" when I could watch it and eat a bowl of ice cream....BUT why do I want to live that way? And do I want my kids to grow up and live that way? The new lifestyle is much better and I'll take it over the old one anyday!

I love this post.

dropdeaddusty said...

I have been reading your blog for quite awhile via RSS in my Google Reader, and have decided to finally stop lurking and tell you that your blog posts really hit home for me, and more and more I look forward to them every day. I am also a stay-at-home mom, struggling with weight, and I just wanted to say your blog is inspiring me more every day. Thank you so much for such honest and helpful posts! :)

Jenn said...

Wow, what a wonderful post. I was really touched by your candid discussion about what is left behind when we lose the weight.
It is a scary thing, isn't it? My biggest fear is that if someone doesn't like me, I won't be able to play the "fat card" anymore. If they don't like me, it will be because of ME, not because I'm fat (which is what I've blamed it on in the past).
I'm going to post a link to your post on my blog - I think its an important one!
Thanks,
Jennifer @ Watch My Butt Shrink!

Michelle said...

Great post! It could be me writing that post I have the same feelings. I know you can get to your goal we are here cheering you on.
Michelle

Tami said...

Amazing post! It really touched me and got me teary eyed.
Thanks for sharing it!

Fat[free]Me said...

Oh, you have found out my hidden fears have you? How did you know? Did you hear my honey, say those self-same words?

Seriously, I was content to let it go on until my health really began to suffer beyond what was acceptable and into the danger zone.

I want that lighter, trimmer, fitter, healthier body to last me a bit longer than their bodies lasted my parents.

I will have to cope with those emotions "drug" free most of the time!

Well done you for taking control - you can do it and the payoffs will be much greater!

Ruby Leigh said...

Lyn, To be honest I really can't imagine what you are going through. However your words are descriptive that you really help me to understand the emotions you are going through and that come with losing weight. (Especially significant amounts.) I wish I knew how to help you feel more connected and not so alone in this journey. Also, I think your husband needs to be more respectful. Is he overweight too - perhaps he feels intimidated? I probably am speaking out of turn, but it was just my thoughts.

Ruth said...

I have been following your post for some time now..I'm not obese, but I have your blog as my home page, because I struggle with my weight too. I'm a size six, yet I feel many of the same things you do. Remorse when I crash a pint full of Ben and Jerry's, the belief that people would like me more if I was a size two and didn't have a dimply butt, the anxiety when eating out with friends because I don't want to be "that girl" who isn't fun because she only eats salad.

I also read your blog because you inspire me to take care of my body, so that when I have children and a husband and go through difficult issues, I can come through on the other side healthy and happy.

It's like you're talking to your 22-year-old self and telling her, "If I knew then what I know now." Thank you for shedding light on your issues so that when I see/meet someone who is overweight I can say "I have no place to judge."

Don't you ever give up!

PatriciaW said...

As you can see from other commenters, it doesn't matter where you began. If you lose significant weight and gain strength, you also shed bad habits and faux barriers. You have to get real...with yourself and others.

This is hard stuff. I remember poo-poohing Oprah 20 years ago when she did her first diet/health oriented book and talked about the need to work on the "emotional stuff" in order to truly be successful. Now I realize what she meant, as I try to get past dieting and into life changing. Have to deal with the stuff -- why, when, and how to prevent/avoid.

I'm glad you're so in touch with yourself during the journey. You are inspirational.

Linda said...

Lyn,
You take my breath away. You are so eloquent. Thanks for putting into words what so many feel.

Lynne said...

Come on Lyn! Climb out and get busy!!! I have faith that you can (and will) do it!

There is no failure except in no longer trying!!

clickmom said...

You know, I am at the same weight as you are on my down from the same weight you were too! I feel the same way, not being the fat person I have hid behind for so many years feels absolutely naked.

Kek said...

Those other people? They're deasling with their own insecurities and issues. It's never about you, it's all about THEM. I've experienced it too, and still do. Family and old friends still don't get my "new" lifestyle, even after 6 years.

They can come along for the ride, or they can be left behind, but don't risk your health and happiness, just to make them feel better about themselves.

Well written, Lyn.

Hope said...

Even now that I have lost a majority of the weight I need to lose, I still have huge problems with medicating myself with food. It is and will probably always be for me.

Scary thing for me is, that they say that emotional eating never really makes you feel better, but for me, it seems like it really DOES make me feel better. I'm still trying to figure it out.

Hope

Anonymous said...

i love reading your blog but have always wondered if you have are a working Mom...

Stephanie said...

"That's what I'm going for now. The real thing."

Amen, sister. I'm right there with you. *hugs*

Erin said...

Another excellent post. As if changing your life weren't hard enough, your husband seems to be a huge obstacle on your path to success. I may have missed a post, but it seems like he is back?! Have you considered going to therapy (with him or solo)? There are a lot of sliding scale clinics that base their fees on how much you make - so it could be affordable for you and give you a weekly place to focus on yourself and the emotions that you are feeling. You are an excellent writer and I know you are going to reach your goals.

MargieAnne said...

So much thought and straight, honest thinking at that.

I'm thinking about why I did not continue when I was on a roll a little over 18 months ago. Silly things .... TWJ saying I felt smaller in his arms .... Why did that freak me out? The deflated balloon of a belly. I don't understand myself. You are getting a good handle on things and helping me at the same time.

Thank-you and Bless you.

Ang said...

excellent post..thank you so much!

mommie2lea said...

You certainly put so many things about this journey into words that make real sense.

I saw so much of myself in your words... the same feelings going from 301 down to 199, and the back up to 260, and now back down again. I experienced the temporary comfort of overeating again, and now I am back for more of the healthy pleasures.

Excellent post!

Blossom said...

What "benefits" does being obese have? I really haven't found any...

Krista said...

Thanks for naming this for me. Wow, this is a wonderful post.

Foodie McBody said...

I can't tell you how much I related to this post. I was thinking many of the same thoughts myself recently.

Diana said...

Oh Lynn, a really, really good post. I can totally relate to all of it.

It sounds like you've found your diet mojo again and are back on the wagon. Good for you!

Karen in Tennessee said...

Dr. Phil says we wouldn't be fat if there wasn't a pay off. I love the way I feel when I am even 10 pounds lighter than I am now so I don't THINK I get a pay off from being overweight...but you have give me stuff to think about. Thanks for another amazing blog entry. :)

Blah*Blog*GirL said...

Hi Lyn,

Thanks for this post. I know what you mean about the benefits of obesity. Very few of us can say that our obesity is "out of our control," so we must be getting some "payout" from getting ourselves in such a state. I know I have used my fat as protection. It's complicated, but in short I was like the funny, smart, fat best friend - totally out of touch with my own sexuality and with what it meant to be a woman. My light bulb moment was when I thought - this aint good enough anymore. I need more out of life. I'm ready for the next phase! Looking forward to reading your blog. I'm at dazetodirty.blogspot.com if you ever want to stop by...
x T

"Jedopi" said...

I loved reading this post. You are so open with sharing your feelings. I have been trying to lose the same 50 lbs for about 17 years now and it seems that every time I lose about 10 of those pounds something happens and I end up right back where I started. I have a health condition that makes it more difficult to do a lot of exercise (sometimes any at all) but I love hearing success stories of others even if I haven't had one myself YET.

moonduster said...

Excellent post!

I've been big (272.5) and I'm so much lighter now (174), so I could relate to the descriptions you gave of both.

I still find it hard to FEEL as though I'm any skinnier now, even with smaller clothes.

Salted with Shadows said...

I appreciate this post...hoping to get there someday.

Megan said...

Lyn,
I've really gotten so much out of your posts the last few days I feel bad for not commenting. First of all, thanks for sharing your slip up and your 'back on track'. I found this post really interesting, I haad never thought of it that way. I read on another bloggers page (I think Dawn from Fixing myself thin?) something about getting stuck at particular weights for emotional reasons (like you were at that weight during another difficult part of your life). I've been stuck so I've been giving this a bit of thought and I noticed you've been stuck in the 214-235 range for a while. Might be worth pondering. Anyways, so glad you're back on track, keep up the great work!
Megan

Vickie said...

didn't read the comments - so it might be that other's have brought up this same point -

I thought this was very well written and honest.

And it made me realize how easy it is to transfer from one addiction or set of behaviors to another.

It also made me think about the fact that many of us don't know HOW to deal with the emotions - because the coping mechanism has been not dealing.

I think that one of your greatest strengths is that you recognize your husband's issues are HIS.

Mike579 said...

That last paragraph is awesome. Way to go visualizing your goal. The trap many (I) fall into is worrying about DIET instead of nutrition and BURNING FAT instead of EXERCISE and ABILITY. Thank you!

jae said...

I'm such an emotional eater, you could have described me. It's so easy to give into eating instead of feeling the emotions and that's what I'm working on as well. We can do it, Lyn. I know we can.

wonderloveandpraise said...

please tell me that you're planning to publish this. this is outstanding in content, but is also marvelously written. thanks for taking us with you.

beerab said...

I know how you feel- I used to eat when upset, sad, angry, happy, etc. Now I have to not go to food anymore so it's harder to deal. Last week something upset me so bad I did what I hadn't done in a LONG time- I ate a whole bag of funions and a slice of chocolate cake. After I was done I realized I still felt like crap and the food didn't help like it used to..