Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Ghost of Future Fatness

Like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, I have just been given a glimpse of what my life could be like if I don't finally get my eating habits under control.

Last weekend I landed in the Emergency Room with chest pains.  It was not my first trip to the rodeo.  I've had "episodes" a few times in the past  year, but usually by the time I get to see my regular doctor, the pain has passed.  Each time I half heartedly promise  Dr. G  (who is clearly frustrated with me)  to lose weight and follow up with the cardiologist.  I  make resolutions like it's New Years Eve and swear to myself  that THIS TIME I will get my act together, lose weight and lower my risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

However, this past weekend the worried, adorable faces of my husband & two young sons  drove me to the ER after experiencing 36 hours of burning, stabbing pain right on top of my heart. This time I was truly scared that I'd waited too long and played Russian Roulette with my health one too many times.

While I was waiting for my bed to be ready, I stared my future right in the face.  I was sitting on the gurney looking directly at a woman who was hovering around 400 pounds (a weight which I am now able to recognize, thanks to all of those "Extreme Weight Loss" shows).

My heart broke for her. Although she wore an oxygen mask and had a green oxygen tank sitting next to her,  she was still audibly gasping for breath.  I surreptitiously glanced up as five big, strapping men struggled to move her from a wheelchair to the bed. 
A few hours later, as I was waiting my turn for the X-Ray tech, I could hear someone struggling to get into a position where they could take the obligatory ER chest X-rays.  They had to roll her from the stretcher, onto the X-ray table and it was not easy for anyone involved. When the patient came out of the room, I realized it was the same woman I'd watched being hoisted into bed.  I sat face to face with her, in our respective gurneys, each in our own quiet Hell.

I tried hard not to stare, because I didn't want her to think I was judging her. I truly wasn't. I silently prayed that she gets whatever physical and emotional healing she needs. But I wanted to make sure that her image was burned permanently into my brain. Because there but for the Grace of God, go I.

I've been thinking about her all week. Wondering how she's feeling. Wondering how she got to that place in her life. And mostly, when I've been tempted to make an unwise decision (skip my workout? Eat cookies for dinner?) I've been remembering the pained look on her face, the way the  tubes from the oxygen mask tangled around her, the rolls in the skin of her arms and legs, the classic hallmarks of diabetes and heart disease written all over her body. She was my  "Ghost of Christmas Future",  warning me of the dangers of  food addiction instead of monetary greed.   

We could actually re-enact all of A Christmas Carol  with any number of vices substituting for monetary greed. Whether our addiction is food, alcohol, drugs, gambling or too much Facebooking,  it affects our lives in the past, present and future. If we don't change our ways, we all travel down roads that end in sadness.

Whoever the lady in the blue muu muu  was, I'm grateful that we crossed paths. Her image (and the memory of my own miserable 8 hours in the ER) are keeping me on the straight and narrow. I finally saw the cardiologist this week. I dragged myself out of bed at 5:00 am to exercise. I made better choices most of the time.
As Tiny Tim would say..."God Bless Us, Every One!"

Monday, September 2, 2013

Attention All Smokers - I'm Sorry!

Smokers of the world, I owe you a huge, fat, fucking apology.

For  years, I was smug. I couldn't understand why smokers would knowingly  "take 7 minutes off their life" with every cigarette. I  arrogantly smirked at the stupidity of spending  thousands of dollars on a habit that would  eventually kill you.

School drilled the dangers of smoking into my head.  DON'T START the teachers and books would scream.  Smoking  is  a dirty, nasty habit that is almost impossible to quit.

 I watched in horror as family members who started smoking in their teens were barely able to walk at age 65 due to circulation problems in their legs and emphysema.  I would complain that Aunt Jane's house smelled terrible.

Ah, little did I know that the vice I was  addicted to was every bit as evil and insidious  as cigarettes.

My  Mother was my first enabler.  As a teenager, when I would voice a concern over my weight she would try to reassure me by saying  "Honey, it's true, you are  15 pounds overweight, you hate vegetables, you eat  too much sugar... but at least you don't smoke!"

Every visit to the doctor, I proudly answered  NO in capital letters to the obligatory "Have you ever smoked?" question.  I thought if I didn't smoke,  my health must be  OK.

I was wrong.

Now, in 2013, the U.S. is finally waking up and smelling the sugar.  The public  is beginning to get the message that being obese and addicted to junk food is just as dangerous as smoking. (Maybe even more dangerous and destructive, but I'll  leave that for experts to debate)

So to every smoker that  I  gave the stink eye  as you were standing outside, quietly killing yourselves...I'm sorry for judging you.  Frankly, I was doing an equally good job of killing myself, only I was hiding in my car ordering  fries at the drive through.  Being fat seemed more socially acceptable than smoking, since second-hand smoke can kill adjacent non-smokers, but eating a sleeve of Oreos for dinner only hurts myself.

But  the idea that  "Being fat doesn't hurt anyone else" isn't really true either.  The financial toll of America's  food addiction DOES affect everyone. We all pay for it in higher health insurance premiums and higher taxes to cover Medicare and Medicaid clients with diabetes and  heart disease.
My health problems certainly hurt my kids and husband. If I don't feel well, or we have to spend  extra money on medical needs or God forbid something horrible happens to me, my family suffers.  It's no different from second-hand smoke.

I'm now 42 years old, significantly overweight,  with several risk factors for diabetes and heart attacks.  I'm  feeling the physical effects of too many candy bars eaten in my youth.  I've lost sensation  in my right foot.  I've made more than one trip to my doctor and the ER due to chest pains that should have scared me straight. 

I am scared. My eating habits have definitely improved in the past few years, as I've matured and can now see and understand how bad choices affect my health.  I eat more vegetables and much less sugar. But, like all addictions, it is very difficult to go cold turkey and all too easy to slip back into bad habits after starting with an innocuous piece of birthday cake at the office party.  Next thing I know, like a smoker who has been on the patch for 3 weeks only to return to their pack-a-day habit,  I've eaten 1000 calories in a 30 minute binge after a stressful day.

I'm sure the smoker standing next to me on line at the grocery store  is wondering why I'm wasting my money on junk food  that will kill me eventually.  I couldn't agree with him more.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Quit the Gym and Lost Four Pounds

Sometimes you need to chuck conventional wisdom aside and just figure out what works. Like many other people, I've been "donating" at the gym for years. I'm not one of those people who hates to exercise.  I actually like it a lot, once I finally stop making excuses and lace up my sneakers. But my gym membership was breeding stress, guilt and the downward spiral that comes with them.

Once exercise becomes "a thing", the excuses breed like cockroaches. If I'm going to drive fifteen  minutes to and from the gym, I feel like I need to stay at least an hour, which means I need to carve ninety minutes out of my crazy schedule. I don't like to go if I haven't showered, but showering before working out seems crazy. So instead of offending the person next to me on the treadmill with my "I have two young kids and haven't showered in 36 hours" funk, I just skip the workout. My optimum time to exercise is right after I drop the kids off at school, but that's when the gym is jam packed with other Moms who all have the same idea.  If I wait until later in the day when the gym is less crowded, it's too easy to get side tracked with errands. Sometimes the stars align and I'm ready to go to the gym, but I don't like the class offered that morning. Or my iPod isn't charged. I forgot to put my contact lenses in. I feel like a stuffed sausage in my workout clothes. The dog ate my homework.

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

Thankfully a friend of mine finally talked some sense into me. She said "Don't try to carve ninety  minutes out of your day. Just walk ten minutes in one direction. Then turn around and come home. Done." This idea sounded like heresy. Just walk? For only twenty minutes? What about the strength training? The yoga? The cross training? All of the things that have been drummed into our heads about exercise? But the truth was I spent a lot of time thinking about going to the gym, and not a lot of time actually AT the gym. Twenty minutes of actual exercise trumps zero minutes in the gym every time.

So I decided to give it a try. I forgot about the gym. I blocked out the $40 per month I was paying. Instead, I committed to myself that on the days I didn't work, I would exercise IMMEDIATELY after dropping the kids off at school. It didn't matter if I did a video at my house or went for a walk outside, I would do it at 9:00 every Tuesday and Thursday. Both the "too crowded" and showering excuses were cured - it was only me and my dog at my house and frankly he smells worse. I can't complain about the class offerings because I control the DVD player. If my iPod isn't charged, I can plug it in. I can't feel self conscious because there are no mirrors in my living room.

A funny thing happened. Once I found a routine and a way to quiet my usual excuses, I wanted to exercise more. I started bringing sneakers to work so I could fit in a quick walk one or two days each week.  After a few weeks I dropped four pounds. Without the gym. Without the blaring music and  overly cheerful instructor. Without the guilt.

Then I finally did the unthinkable. I wrote a certified letter and officially quit the gym.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Mom, Why Are You So Fat?"

Oh Lord. My son's innocent question felt like a sucker punch in my zaftig stomach. Only I knew that, unlike adults or teenagers who have hurt me in the past, he had absolutely no idea that those words could hurt my feelings. He was just geniunely confused about why my biceps have the circumference of a Progresso Soup can.

I decided to go the honest route. I matter of factly answered him with "Because Mommy made a lot of bad decisions." I tried my best  not to put any emotion into it, but reminded him that there are consequences to the choices we make.  As a recovered bulimic and recovering compulsive eater, I know that there is a fine line to dance between teaching kids the importance of eating right and pushing them towards a future eating disorder.

I'm all out of  answers tonight, but wanted to share this story because it felt so universal. I'm sure similar episodes have played out in other American households. How did you handle it?

Monday, February 13, 2012

What the Diet Industry Doesn't Tell You

Fitness magazines and diet books have taught me a lot over the years, but I always felt like they were leaving out a giant piece of the equation. After devouring the latest dieting tome, I would excitedly plot out menus, shopping lists and exercise plans for the week. Yet two days later the plans would fall by the wayside and I'd be left feeling guilty, ashamed and frustrated that I couldn't seem to follow through.

In recent years the diet industry has added more discussion about healthy behaviors . In addition to the ubiquitous lists of approved foods and ever shifting focus from fat to carbs to protein, attention is now being given to habits that naturally thin people have. Advice like sticking to the outer perimeter of the grocery store (to avoid the packaged garbage in the center aisles), eating every few hours to regulate blood sugar, never skipping breakfast and not bringing trigger foods into the house are all excellent suggestions, but a major component is still missing: even after learning all of these tricks, many of us still have difficulty following through.

There have been many times where I’ve had an almost out-of-body experience, mentally screaming at myself to put down the 11th cookie and step away from the kitchen. I would get so fustrated. I knew what I should be eating to fuel my body properly, yet I continuously made terrible choices, even when I desperately wanted to change my diet.

After years of searching, I’ve finally found the missing link. I had to determine WHY I ate the wrong things (besides the fact that they taste delicious!) Like a detective, I recorded everything that was happening while I was eating, then scoured my emotional eating journal searching for clues. What were my triggers? What situations led to compulsive eating? What did I truly need, because it's not really about the food, it's about something in my life pushing me over the edge and feeling spiritually disconnected.

As I learned to solve my issues and become more spiritually awake, my compulsion to eat the wrong things honestly subsided. Notice I said "subsided", not "disappeared." Maybe someday I'll be able to be neutral about my favorite trigger foods, but for now I'm just thrilled with the progress I've made and the feeling that I'm finally on the right path.

Our emotional and spiritual health is the missing link that the diet industry rarely talks about. I understand why they don't. It's complex, it's ugly and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. “Learn to feel your emotions, communicate with your loved ones and process anger, fear and resentment like a mature adult” is not quite as sexy and simple as “Eat This to Have Rock Hard Abs!” But it's a vitally important part of the weight loss equation.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Are you a Compulsive Over Eater?

For years I've felt like an alcoholic who ate sugary confections instead of drinking tumblers of vodka. After decades of fumbling around in the dark, I finally found a program that addresses the compulsive nature of my disastrous diet. I finally have hope that I can get my life back on track and stop letting myself be controlled by food. This is the quiz that changed my life:

  1. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
  2. Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason?
  3. Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating?
  4. Do you give too much time and thought to food?
  5. Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone?
  6. Do you plan these secret binges ahead of time?
  7. Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone?
  8. Is your weight affecting the way you live your life?
  9. Have you tried to diet for a week (or longer), only to fall short of your goal?
  10. Do you resent others telling you to “use a little willpower” to stop overeating?
  11. Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet “on your own” whenever you wish?
  12. Do you crave to eat at a definite time, day or night, other than mealtime?
  13. Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble?
  14. Have you ever been treated for obesity or a food-related condition?
  15. Does your eating behavior make you or others unhappy?

I'm sure many of you think these questions are crazy and can't begin to fathom how some of us can think like this. Please don't judge - this post is not intended for you.

But if you feel like you can answer 'YES' to at least three of the above questions, let me introduce you to the program that is saving my life: Overeaters Anonymous.

It is a sister program to Alcoholics Anonymous in the same vein as Narcotics and Gamblers Anonymous. It is NOT a diet program, it is a program to help you learn how to make peace with whatever has power over you.

I don't want to speak for OA, they describe the program far better than I ever could. I just wanted to provide a resource for those who are seeking it. My life was out of control for far too long. I wish I'd found this program years ago.

If the quiz above had you thinking "Did she put a Nanny-cam in my house? How did she know!?", then let me reach out my hand and tell you hope is nearby. In addition to the traditional "face to face" meetings, OA has a long list of phone and online meetings also. The online meetings are a great way to test the waters and get a feel for the program. I have learned a tremendous amount in just a few weeks.

Check out
Good luck and welcome home.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Benefits of Temporary Blindness

What do you do when reality threatens to derail your progress?

Yesterday was an unbelievably gorgeous day here in the Northeast. It's not too often you see the temperature hit 65 degrees on January 7th. As I raced around completing errands in the morning I mentally calculated that I had exactly 75 minutes to fit in a walk outside and a shower before taking my oldest son to a birthday party. After grocery shopping I burst through the door, rapidly told my husband the plan and was dressed and out the door within five minutes.

Forty five minutes later my lungs were full of fresh air, my head was clear and I felt  really happy. I was proud of myself that I had made the time to exercise  - something that is easily pushed off the agenda when life becomes busy.

The smile was quickly smacked off my face, however, as I caught an unexpected glimpse of myself in the mirror while climbing into the shower. I sucked in my breath as I remembered "Oh that's right, I'm still 50 pounds overweight." I felt the air leave my lungs, my stomach lurch and tears rise in my throat. Two seconds ago I had felt so good! My body felt strong and healthy. How could there be such a huge disconnect between perception and reality?

I was suffering from what I call "Dieter Dementia" - that unrealistic voice in my head that says "I've eaten vegetables, resisted the siren call of sugar and exercised for four whole days - shouldn't I be a size six by now?" It's easy to forget that it took me thirty years to get my body into this state. It's not going to magically morph in a few days' time.

Normally this frustrating moment would turn into a death spiral of emotional eating. But this time I decided that the best thing I could do for myself would be to pretend I was a racehorse and put some temporary blinders on. If my body felt strong, than I was going to stop looking in the mirror and focus on the fact that I was feeling physically stronger than I've felt in a long time.

I'm not advocating for ignoring reality, that's not healthy either. We need to be honest with ourselves about the state of our health. But if the image in the mirror is going to destroy a groove of healthy eating and exercise, than it's better to put some blinders on until the moment passes.