Archive for psyche

Step #1: Like yourself a.k.a. what makes me different from everybody else

196 pounds

I realized the other day that there are some basic things I have yet to say on this blog, so I’m going to try to say them over the next few weeks.

When I started this blog, I began by slowly outlining my belief system and the ways which we can all lose weight without dieting. But I only got through five of those steps (which are are still included below right—scroll WAY down—under the title, “How to Lose Weight without Dieting”), but I need to get back to those steps and finish them.

Tonight I want to start filling in those gaps by addressing a question that has been posed to me lately: how is this blog—and my approach—different than any other program that proposes a change in lifestyle?

1) First of all, I want to say that in many ways my approach is NOT drastically different than any weight loss program that advocates lifestyle change. The way to lose weight and keep it off is by making a lifelong commitment to being healthy—yes, that includes exercising and eating healthy foods, but it also means doing those things in moderation AND giving into indulgence from time to time.

2) But, more importantly, the number one thing I advocate on this blog is accepting ourselves the way we are. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I believe we have to like the way we look before we can even begin to be healthy and/or lose weight. And that’s what makes this blog and my approach different from everyone else out there.

Because I believe that most “healthy living” programs are predicated on the belief that if people find themselves unattractive, they will want to change their lives, they will want to diet.

And I just don’t buy it.

(On top of that, I think it’s an ugly kind of fear-mongering.)

I believe, instead, that only people who truly like themselves can make that change.

So if you haven’t yet figured out what you like about the way you look, it’s time for you to do us all a favor: put on your favorite outfit, go look in the mirror, and find something to like.

I know that if you look hard enough, you can do it.

It’s time for everyone to start watching Glee

194 pounds

A few weeks ago, my cousin Jennifer asked her Facebook friends if it was weird that, at the age of 43, she was in love with a television show about teenagers called Glee.
Since I have totally and completely adored Glee and everything about it since the very first seconds of its premiere last spring, I didn’t think it was weird at all. And I told Jennifer that immediately.
Because Glee isn’t about teenagers—it’s about all of us. Who we were in high school and who we still are now.
It’s about the nerdy girl who just wants to be liked, the jock who just wants to sing about his feelings, the kid in the wheelchair who wants to dance, the closeted gay boy who wants to come out, the overweight girl who wants to feel pretty. It’s about doing what you always dreamed of doing and being your best self.
And in that way, Glee perfectly embodies the message of this blog: that we should all accept—no, love—ourselves the way we are and sing about it from the freakin’ rooftops.
And did I mention that the kids on this show spend a good portion of their time singing?!
They sing like Maria in The Sound of Music, like Satine and Christian in Moulin Rouge, like Sandy and Danny in Grease. I mean, these kids can belt it out. And when they do sing, you feel like you could do anything. If you don’t believe me, watch this clip, and you’ll see what I mean:
And before another second passes, do yourself a favor: set your clocks for the next episode of Glee, airing Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. (EST) on Fox.
I promise that you won’t regret it.

Mirror, Mirror

195 pounds

I’ve had a bad day.

A really bad day.
Like many women, I suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and what that means is that a lot of time I can’t get rid of what I need to get rid of, if you get my drift. When this happens, I get really bloated and feel a million times bigger than I normally do. Even when I’m not backed up, I struggle to feel good about my body, so on days when I am extremely bloated, positive thinking is about as unlikely for me as winning a karaoke contest in a room full of American Idol finalists. In other words, it’s impossible.
And that’s obviously why I’ve had a bad day. Every time I looked in the mirror today, my morale dropped a little bit further. To make matters worse, I had to go back to school tonight to help some of the students set up for the department book sale tomorrow, and because I was going to play tennis immediately afterwards, I showed up at my place of work in a pair of ratty old sweatpants and a bleached-out t-shirt. I had expected the halls to be deserted, but I think I ran into more of my colleagues tonight than I do most afternoons. And the cherry on the sundae occurred when I was standing in a coworker’s office and caught a glimpse of myself reflected in her window.
Needless to say, the image I saw in the window appalled me. I didn’t look anything like the person who’d been staring back at me all day every time I glanced in the bathroom mirror. I looked much, much, much worse. My stomach was a perfect half-circle, emanating from the area beneath my chest that I used to think of as my rib cage and disappearing somewhere above my knees. It was an version of myself I had never seen before—not at home, not in the bathroom at work, not anywhere—and without thinking, I let out a little cry of defeat.
I’ve had this kind of thing happen to me before, usually when I visit my parents’ house where it seems that every wall is plastered with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. And it’s always the same experience—when I catch a glimpse of myself in an unfamiliar surface, I am shocked (and often horrified) by the unique perspective it offers me. Afterwards, I am left to wonder how it is that I’ve allowed myself to go through my days with such an incorrect picutree of myself in my head. Have I been in denial about the person staring back at me day in and day out? Or am I just catching myself at a bad time? Inevitably, I find myself returning to the scene of the crime—the mirror or reflective surface that so surprised me. And nine times out of ten, I find that it has not played tricks on me. My body really does look exactly as it did the first time—much different than I thought it did. Which again takes me back to my first question—how is it that I’ve allowed myself to have such an incorrect perception of the way I look? And how long has it been going on?
I worry that one of the side effects of having a positive attitude about my body most of the time is that the image I have of myself is not always entirely accurate. Sometimes I feel like I have what I like to call “Shallow Hal disease.” If you’ve ever seen the movie, you know that Hal (played by Jack Black) is only attracted to insanely gorgeous women until he is hypnotized in a way that makes him see a person’s inner beauty rather than her physical attributes. The end result is that Hal meets and falls in love with an obese woman who he sees as thin and beautiful because she is such a good person. (This character is played with grace and subtlety by Gwyneth Paltrow.) So I wonder if having a good attitude about my body makes me act like the hypnotized version of Hal: do I look at myself and see the whole me, the me that I know is on the inside, rather than just the surface me? And what on earth can I do to stop that???
I know what you’re thinking right now because I’m thinking it too—is that really such a bad thing? Maybe not, but it means that when I catch my reflection in unexpected place, the result can be jarring, almost debilitating.
I know I’m the one who wrote about the fact that we need to realize that people focus on our attributes not our flaws, but some days—days like today—it just seems impossible to do. I guess I’m writing this post to let you all know, then, that like anyone else, I’m as human and fallible as the rest of us. And I only hope that in doing so I haven’t completely let you down.

The glass has to be half full

195 pounds

At the end of my post called “Are you still with me?”, I mentioned some advice my friend Al gave me, and I think his comments bear repeating.

As I explained before, Al is a psychologist, and I know him from St. Andrews College in North Carolina, where we were both members of the faculty before Dave and I moved to Kentucky.

One day Al came by my office and listened to me venting about the fact that I had eaten way too much the night before. I was basically going off on my bad behavior, and Al told me that beating myself up for a mistake I’d already made and couldn’t undo was causing me twice as much harm. He said that, instead, it would be healthier to own up to my bad behavior and move on, focusing on what I could do right in the present rather than what I’d done wrong in the past.

Of course, Al was right, so right that his words have stayed with me since that day nearly four years ago. Not only that, but his advice has helped shape my new and much healthier attitude about the way I see myself and the way I approach weight loss.

Unfortunately, there are still so many people who don’t see it that way.

I was talking with my friend Laura recently about her weight. Laura is really unhappy about her body and completely down about the fact that she hasn’t been able to drop any pounds even though she has wanted to do so for a while now. At one point during our conversation, she told me that she knows that her problem is that she eats too much.

I hate it when Laura is hard on herself, and on top of that, I know she was wrong so I immediately took issue with what she’d said. Since her weight gain occurred before I met her—and I’ve known her for over a year—I know she really doesn’t eat too much anymore. It’s possible that she ate too much in the past—when she picked up the pounds she’s now trying to lose—but I know her well enough to be sure that she is no longer eating more than anyone else. Besides, if she really were overeating, she would be gaining weight rather than maintaining. So the fact that the number on Laura’s scale hasn’t gone up recently tells me she’s actually doing something right.

But rather than give herself credit for not gaining weight, Laura is only able to see that she’s not as thin as she once was. Because she has to look in the mirror every day and see the extra pounds she’s still carrying with her, she truly believes that she’s still eating too much.

In this way, Laura is equating the size of her body with her current eating habits . . . even though that’s not an accurate equation. In a sense, she is beating herself up every day for something she did years ago, and I wish there was something I could say or do to get her to understand what Al told me back in North Carolina, but my words don’t seem to help.

What worries me is that I don’t think Laura is alone. I think many people who are unhappy with their bodies do the same thing. They look in the mirror and see something they don’t like and think, “God, I’m such a pig!” Or “Why do I always have to eat so much?!” even though the reflection they see in the mirror may have nothing to do with their eating habits for a long, long time.

I know that other people do this because I do it too. Yes, I’ve learned to control how hard I am on myself most of the time, but every once in a while I still slip up, go back to my old ways, and see myself through that really harmful lens.

The problem with continuing to beat yourself up for things you did months—sometimes even years—ago is that doing so doesn’t allow you to give yourself credit for what you’re doing in the present. Because if, like Laura, you’re not gaining weight, that means you really deserve praise, not criticism. Unfortunately, it’s one of life’s cruel realties that it usually takes a long time for our hard work to pay off. If life were really fair, we’d all look like Heidi Klum the morning after we spent a whole day sweating it out at Boot Camp and crunching our way through bags full of celery and carrot sticks. Or we’d resemble the Bride of Frankenstein after a long night of downing plate after plate of nachos and spinach dip over half a dozen whipped cream-topped strawberry daquiris and two packs of Kools. Unfortunately, it takes much more time to see the results of our hard work (or the consequences of our mistakes), which is why we have to look for the positive rather than wait for it to be pointed out to us in the mirror.

I’ve been working hard at trying to lose weight for almost five months now, and I’ve really only lost a handful of pounds in all that time. And I’m also not sure that my body looks any better than it did back in March when this whole thing started. It would be really easy for me to get down on myself about this, but what good would it do me? If I had spent the past five months thinking about how little I’ve accomplished, I think it would be very difficult—if not impossible—for me to stay motivated and keep working on being healthy. And that’s the reason it’s crucial that we all take Al’s advice and focus on what we’re doing right in the present rather than what we did wrong in the past.

It’s a revolution! Why Lizzi Miller could change everything

196 pounds

Holy stomach roll, Batman!!!

I just found out (thanks to my cousin Jill) that a “plus-size” model is featured in Glamour this month (the September issue). Not only is it impressive that a magazine like Glamour featured a regular-sized women in its pages, it’s revolutionary!

Lizzi Miller appears naked in a Glamour article about self-esteem looking both confident and real (see the pic on the right), and the web is buzzing about it. Apparently, readers are falling all over themselves to say how much they love Miller’s very real stomach and legs, a sign that we are all ready to see women who actually look like us rather than woman who look almost as unreal as Barbie dolls.

And this isn’t even the first time Miller has graced the pages of Glamour. She also appeared in their April issue wearing nothing but a flesh-colored bikini bottom. (See the pic on the left.)

So who is this beautiful but normal-sized woman?

Lizzi Miller is an absolutely gorgeous 5’11”, 180-pound, 20-year-old “plus-size” model, and I think she is going to have to be my new hero and the patron saint of I will not diet. Miller says she wears clothing that ranges from size twelve to fourteen, and she’s been modeling for seven years. How she managed to not give into the pressure for models to be rail thin, I’ll never understand, but I admire the hell out of her for it, especially since she’s only twenty! Let me repeat—she’s only twenty! And yet she is stronger than women I know who are twice her age. It would be a huge victory if a middle-aged woman with a real body was featured in a women’s magazine, but a twenty-year-old with a real body? That’s like winning the lottery.

(By the way, I’m putting the words “plus-size” in quotation marks because I don’t understand how she can be a plus size model if she wears between a size twelve and fourteen, which, as well all know, are not plus sizes.)

Just think how models like Miller could change the way young women feel about their bodies! My ten- and fourteen-year-old nieces already claim to be watching their weight even though they are mere skin and bones, and I love thinking about them accepting themselves for the beautiful young women they are if models like Miller were to become the norm.

The best part about Miller is that she is exactly what I’ve been saying we need: a happy medium, a woman who is not a size zero and not a size twenty. Not only is she an average size—because the average woman in America wears a size twelve to fourteen—but she’s also gorgeous, happy, and comfortable in her own skin. This is exactly the kind and size of women we need to see more of in the media: she’s not only someone we can admire, she’s also someone we can aspire to look like.

This is a huge victory for those of us who are lobbying for more healthy role models, and I think we should take it as a clear sign that things are changing. This change also means that we must keep insisting that the women staring back at us from our pages and our screens look more like we do. How do we do this? We do it by voting with our dollars—by buying the September issue of Glamour in record numbers (and asking for it if it’s sold out) and by paying to see movies that feature real-sized women (see the list on the right side of this blog). We can also Google Lizzi Miller so many times that women’s magazines will have no choice but to get the message. Because the truth is, how can we possibly feel good about ourselves if we don’t embrace women like Miller?

This is a good day for average-sized women everywhere, and I honestly couldn’t be happier about the attention all of this is getting. I don’t know about you, but I needed this. I say we all celebrate this coup by putting on something sexy this week and feeling good about our gorgeous—and real—bodies in honor of this brave twenty-year-old.

One more thing . . . way to go, Lizzi!!!!!

Addendum: I just found this amazing health and fitness blog by Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive—Vitamin G—which contains more info about Miller (she’s a belly dancer!) and other related issues.

Are you still with me???

196 pounds

As I mentioned in my discussion of the recent Time magazine story on exercise, my grandfather had a massive stroke Friday, August 7th and died a few days later on Monday, August 10th. As soon as we heard about the stroke, Dave and I got in the car and headed for Ohio, where we spent Grandpa’s last three days, staying until we had to leave in order to get back to Kentucky to teach our last few days of summer school. Hours after we left for Kentucky, Grandpa died, so as soon as we were finished with our classes on Thursday morning, we got back in the car and returned to Ohio for the viewing and funeral, a trip that was extended with side trips we had to make to Indianapolis and Cincinnati on the way home.

When all was said and done, we were on the road for three days, home for the next three, and then on the road again for five more days, meaning we were traveling eight of those eleven days. It was obviously exhausting, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so happy to come home.

The day before Grandpa’s stroke, I weighed 194 pounds, and the day before that, I’d bottomed out at 193—a full ten pounds less than where I started back in March. Since I hit 193 on a Wednesday, I didn’t get to post that number with my blog. I also knew full well that the first time you hit a low number like that, you’re bound to go back up the next day and fluctuate numerous more times before that low number becomes a reality. So I didn’t make a big deal out of it on the blog—though I was happy to mention it in passing.

But now that I’m back from the trip, I find that my weight is back up to 196 pounds.

Sigh.

I don’t spend a lot of time talking or complaining about the numbers on the scale because, as I’ve said before, one of the goals of this blog is to demystify those numbers, to send the message that the numbers don’t matter as much as how we feel about ourselves and how healthy we are.

On the other hand, I also started this blog to document my weight loss. So when I have to admit to the world that I weigh 196 pounds almost five full months after I started trying to lose weight, I feel more than a little bit frustrated. I guess in some ways I feel like I’m letting you all down.

I don’t want to send the message that my only goal is to lose weight because it’s not. And I definitely don’t want anyone to think that I believe that losing weight has to happen on a timetable because I believe that’s one of the worst things we can do to ourselves. In fact, for years, I’ve believed that as long as the numbers on the scale are going down—even if its only by one pound a year—instead of up and the doctor says I’m healthy, then I’m doing well.

At the same time, I have to admit that I first hit 196 pounds back in April, only weeks after I started trying to lose weight, which makes me feel like I haven’t accomplished anything in months. And if this is frustrating to me, I imagine it must also be frustrating to the people who tune in merely to see how many pounds I’ve lost.

(Mom, are you listening?)

Seriously, if you read any of the weight loss columns in women’s magazines—or, God forbid, watch shows like The Biggest Loser—you’re used to seeing the pounds drop pretty quickly. And if you’re disappointed by how long it’s taking me to get back to a healthy weight, I apologize.

But at the same time, I don’t want you to give up on me. I want you all to believe me when I say I know my plan will work. It’s worked in the past, and it will work again. Yes, I’ve had some setbacks this summer—first with my knee injury, and then with my grandfather. We all have setbacks (that’s how I gained 27 pounds in the 18 months before I started this blog), and I don’t want to use them as an excuse, but I do want to acknowledge them.

And maybe that’s all I—or any of us—can do: acknowledge that sometimes the unexpected happens, and we can’t blame ourselves if we are forced to backtrack a little when dealing with the unexpected.

A few years ago, my friend Al, who’s a psychologist, listened to me flagellating myself for eating far too much after a long day at work, and he wisely pointed out that if I beat myself up for making a mistake, then I’m only causing myself more misery. Better to let mistakes go than to rehash them, Al said, and it was this advice that eventually led to my belief that we must allow ourselves indulgences from time to time.

Obviously, the important thing is to keep going, keep improving. During those eight days I was on the road, I only exercised twice, and I ate a lot more crap than normal—visits to Skyline Chili, Graeter’s Ice Cream, and Frisch’s Big Boy come to mind. But I’ve been home for three full days now, and it took me two of those days to get back to the person I want to be: a person who eats delicious home-cooked meals, a person who gets plenty of rest, and a person who exercises like a kid let loose in the schoolyard. I’ll keep doing this until the next setback comes, and maybe, just maybe, in the meantime the numbers will prove that not dieting really can help people lose weight.

I believe. Do you?

What’s wrong with this picture?

194 pounds
I’ve had a break-through this week—dipping below 195 pounds for the first time since I started this blog four months ago and even hitting a low of 193 yesterday (though I’m back to 194 today, a fluctuation which is obviously to be expected). I wish I could take some credit for this improvement, but in truth I’ve only exercised the bare minimum this week. Still, I’ve been trying to be more conscious of what I eat and how much I exercise for four months now, so maybe this accomplishment is more about the long-term investment I’ve made in my health than anything I’ve done just this week.


Of course, I’m thrilled about this dip, and I’m feeling more motivated than ever. Over the next week, I’m hoping to spend even more time exercising and cooking lots of healthy food than I already am.

At the same time, I’ve been feeling a bit more insecure about my body than normal. I suppose I simply just feel less confident about it than I would like. When I was going swimming the other night, I worried about the way my arms looked in my new bathing suit—did they look flabby or ridiculously out of shape? Would the other swimmers look at them and wonder what the hell I was doing there? Shouldn’t a person who swims lap on a regular basis have incredibly buff upper arms?

But on the way home, I asked myself why on earth I would ever worry about what the other swimmers said about my arms, and why I was holding myself to such ridiculous standards. Are my arms really any worse than anyone else’s? I don’t think so. Are they even bad looking? I doubt it. But, nevertheless, I had felt temporarily defeated by the fact that they did not meet the standard of arm beauty in our society.

And that’s when it hit me . . . the problem wasn’t me. The problem was the standard. Even I have to constantly remind myself that the standards we hold women to in our society are simply unrealistic. I mean, how many women do you know with Halle Berry’s arms? Or Heidi Klum’s legs? Or Kate Bosworth’s stomach? Or Scarlett Johansson’s cleavage?

Let’s face it. For the most part, real women don’t look like that. Maybe, just maybe, you know a woman who has assets to rival these celebrities in one of these areas, but all four of them? I doubt it.

So why then do we idolize and feature women who are this obnoxiously perfect? After all we have learned about how idealizing impossibly perfect women hurts our self-esteem, why do we still continue to do it?

I really wish I knew.

On the other side of the spectrum are the “plus-sized” celebrities. The women who are routinely cast as the goofy sidekick or the “fat girl.”

Have you ever noticed that we almost only ever see these two extremes—the plus-sized sidekick or the impossibly thin glamazon? I don’t look like either of these kinds of women, and I don’t know anyone who does. So why are these the only two options we get? For God’s sake, where are all the real girls???

You might have seen the advertisements for a new television show called Drop Dead Diva. The premise of the show is that “a thin but shallow woman’s soul lands in a larger woman’s body” and must come to terms with this change. (The two actresses who star in these opposing roles are pictured above.)

Let me say first and foremost that I am flat-out thrilled that this show is taking on the issues of fattism and body image and that it’s featuring a gorgeous plus-size woman in the lead role. I hear that actress Brooke Elliott gives an amazing and believable performance, and I’m rooting for both her and the show.

But what bothers me is that we still don’t have any television shows or films that feature women of average size—women who don’t wear a size twenty or a size zero, women who have a body I can realistically aspire to have. (I’m not sure Ugly Betty counts since the only reason Betty has a normal sized body is because she’s supposed to be “ugly.”) Again, I can’t help but wonder why these women—women who look like me and almost everyone I know—are all but absent from film and television. Why are we so afraid to show women in this middle group? Why is it so important for every character on screen to fit into one of these two extremes—overweight or underweight? Are we simply that opposed to complexity? Or, on the other hand, do producers think we’re simply too thick-headed to judge a female character based on her actions or words rather than on her extra small or extra large dress size?

If that’s the case, it’s time we started letting those in power know that we’re smarter than they think we are. We need to talk about the kinds—and sizes—of characters we want to see staring back at us from our television and movie screens. I’m not sure how exactly we can communicate this, but I’m hoping that this blog—and the women I feature on it—will be a step in the right direction.

Earning their wings


196 pounds

Flight attendants are probably one of the most maligned segments of our work force. We treat them like servants, they’re repeatedly used as comic fodder in movies and television, and—worst of all—they’re required to dress incredibly well and appear both attractive and happy on the job.

I’ve always been bothered by the latter—the fact that flight attendants have to dress so fashionably and act so perky. It seems somehow unethical to require a person to seem so perfect day in and day out. Isn’t that asking too much? And is there any other respectable job—being a Hooters’ waitress does not count as a respectable job—that asks its employees to smile and be supportive throughout their workday and to do all of that while also wearing a pencil skirt, panty hose, and fabulous heels?

I don’t think so.

And we all know all too well that, in years past, the flight attendant industry has been plagued by instances of discrimination based on a woman’s looks or weight.

For this reason, I’ve always felt like a friend to the flight attendants of the world, a supporter of their rights if you will, so when I saw a headline about flight attendants challenging an aspect of their uniform, I immediately clicked on the attached article.

As it turns out, some of the flight attendants Delta acquired in their takeover of Northwest Airlines are fighting for their right to wear the uniform recently designed by Richard Tyler. Apparently, these fashionable red dresses were only made in so many sizes, thereby making it impossible for the curviest flight attendants to wear them. To add insult to injury, the flight attendants claim that the sizes of the dress are not even close to accurate, meaning that if you normally wear a size fourteen (like Meryl Streep), you’d need a size eighteen in the Tyler dress.

(The irony of this slight is that the Tyler dress appears to be a knee-length wrap dress, which I have found to be one of the most flattering things a curvy woman can wear.)

In my opinion, this move reeks of fat-ism and is another example of our society trying to send the message that larger women are not as attractive as smaller women, which we all know is simply not true. (Please see my gallery of gorgeous women to the left if you need proof of this fact.)

And if we let this go, I have to wonder what’s next. Will Delta start making flight attendants who don’t have perfect upturned noses wear masks??? Will getting a Delta boarding pass become as difficult as getting into the hottest New York dance club??? Will there be a red velvet rope and discriminating bouncers lined up to inspect your ensemble and makeup at the gate???

Of course, none of these things would ever actually happen, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s wrong to tell one group of employees that they can’t be treated the same as their peers, that they don’t have the same rights or perks.

Thankfully, the Association of Flight Attendants is having none of it. They’ve filed a grievance with Delta in order to make them offer the dresses in all sizes so that every flight attendant can wear them—no matter what their size. And I applaud this organization for standing up for the right of ALL of their members to wear this fashionable uniform.

Unfortuantely, Delta’s only response so far has been to say that they don’t know why the dress isn’t available in larger sizes and that there have been “few complaints.” The message is that if only a few curvy women are being kept from wearing the dress, then it’s not a big deal. But from my point of view, if one female flight attendant is not allowed to wear the dress, then all of us—men and women alike—suffer because of the dangerous precedent it sets, which basically sends the message that it’s acceptable to discriminate against larger people.

So I propose that we all let Delta know that this practice is unacceptable, upping their complaints from a “few” to a few hundred. To do that, go to this website:

http://www.delta.com/emailus/servlet/EmailUs?cmd=go

Your complaint doesn’t have to be long. Just tell them that their practice of making the Richard Tyler flight attendant dress only available in smaller sizes is unacceptable and needs to be changed. (Feel free to copy my words if you’d like.)

The bottom line is that ALL of Delta’s flight attendants should have the right to wear Richard Tyler’s amazing red dress. After all, they’re the ones who have to deal with Sharon Stone when she starts screaming at them about wanting to bring an oversize bag on board. Doesn’t that earn them the right to this one little luxury?

The 650-pound virgin

195.5 pounds

I talk a lot on this blog about how women need to accept their bodies no matter their size, but I don’t intend to exclude men from this discussion. In fact, I think men suffer from the same kinds of issues as women. Let’s face it, we all have trouble accepting ourselves the way we are.

So when I heard about a documentary being aired on TLC about a man who lost 400 pounds, I immediately couldn’t wait to hear his story. (If you’re interested, this show will be airing again at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15th and 1 a.m. on Thursday, July 16th.)

Thirty-two-year-old David Smith, the “650-pound virgin,” finally decided to do something about his weight when his doctors told him that if he didn’t, he would die within the next few years.

Smith told himself he had three options at that point: he could have gastric bypass surgery, he could change his diet and exercise habits, or he could kill himself. If seeing the incredibly depressing video and pictures of Smith at 650 pounds hadn’t already been enough to make me feel completely horrified by his situation, his admission that he seriously considered taking his own life—and his graphic description of his plan to set himself on fire—certainly would have.

The truth is that Smith’s story is heartbreakingly sad and, at times, almost too difficult to watch. He was so unhappy that he nearly ate himself to death. But no matter how hard it was to watch, I still think it’s important for us to talk about people like Smith in order to avoid letting what happened to him happen to more people. I often complain about how we try to hide people who are overweight in our society, and Smith’s situation proves how dangerous that can be. The more Smith was ridiculed for his weight, the more uncomfortable he became going out in public, and the more he stayed at home, the more he ate. At his worst, he described himself as simply sitting at the window of his house every day and watching the seasons change. His obesity was like a prison he could not escape.

Fortunately, Smith decided to change his entire life rather than end it. He reached out for help, and a selfless local trainer took on his case, initially having Smith do simple at-home exercises—like stand up from the sofa, lift water jugs, and climb the stairs over and over—to get in better shape.

In the end, Smith lost over 400 pounds, having surgery to remove the excess skin and repair other problems caused by his weight gain. And now, despite the scars left over from surgery, he looks like a regular guy.

Everything might sound fine for Smith now, but the problem is that while he was hiding away in his house, he missed crucial opportunities to develop as a person, specifically missing the chance to learn to interact with and date women. And Smith’s desire to meet a woman, fall in love, and have sex for the first time in his life is how the show ended up being called “The 650-pound Virgin.”

The catch is that he still sorely lacks the skills to approach women, much less ask them out on a date. And, to be honest, this was the saddest part of the documentary: when I realized that not only had Smith missed so much of his life but that he had also missed so much of the learning that happens when we experience life. Smith couldn’t simply lose the weight and re-start his re-enter the world. He had to lose the weight, have major surgery, and only then could he even begin the difficult process of learning how to be a functional member of society. And he’s still trying very hard to learn to do that.

Ultimately, what I think we can learn from Smith is how important it is to talk about our body issues before we let them get out of control. Smith dropped out of high school because he couldn’t handle the constant ridicule from his peers. As it turned out, that was the worst decision he could make because once he disappeared from the world, he ate even more. It’s also notable that things turned around for him when he found someone—his dedicated personal trainer—with whom he could talk about his problems, including being molested as a child and losing his mother at a young age.

When I saw the pictures of Smith as a boy—pictures that were described as showing him having problems with his weight at a young age—I honestly didn’t think he looked that bad. But from Smith’s point of view, he looked awful. And that makes me wonder if he saw himself as obese long before he could accurately be described that way. Did he initially stop interacting with others because of his own negative perceptions of himself? And this makes me wonder whether or not things would have ever gotten so bad for Smith if he simply lived in a society that was more accepting of people of all different sizes and shapes.

I guess the only thing we can do to help prevent this from happening to others is to simply try to be more accepting—not just of others, but also of ourselves.

Running for the border

I’ll face the scale again next week!

I just finished visiting my family in the Chicago suburbs, and as I prepared to leave this morning, there was one thought that kept coming back to me—how important it is to let loose and have fun.

I’ve written before about the importance of allowing ourselves indulgences in our our diet from time to time—in other words, giving in to those cheeseburger and brownie cravings when they come rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist (which only makes us want them even more). But I realized today that having a sound mind in a sound body also means that we have to do the same with our behavior—indulge ourselves by sometimes giving in to the crazy things we want to do in life and not just the crazy things we want to eat.

I was thinking about this today because it feels like no one ever lets loose or does anything wild or out of the ordinary in my family. Clearly, this is partially the result of the fact that my sister has two little girls. Whenever the girls are around, it feels as if everyone is walking on eggshells—instructing them on how to behave, carefully answering their never-ending questions, and gingerly guiding them through their daily routine. In this way, their lives seem totally prescriptive: there is a certain way to eat, a certain way to sit, a certain way to be . . . there is a time to practice piano, a time to work on penmanship, a time for swimming lessons, a time to eat meals, a time for bed, a time for everything. And everyone—my sister, her husband, and my parents—follows this world order as if deviating from it might lead to the loss of life or limb.

The effect this has on me is the opposite one it’s supposed to have on the girls: rather than being reassured by this carefully crafted routine, I am honestly driven to the brink of insanity by it. In fact, my response to the lessons and the practices and the organic food is to want to blow off the entire schedule, pack the girls into the backseat of my car, roll all the windows down, crank the Abba, and drive them all the way to Mexico—stopping only for candy and purple hair dye before we get to the border but saving enough money for tequila and tattoos after we arrive in Tijuana.

Of course, I don’t do that. But that’s not the point. The point is that I want to do it.

And when I left my sister’s house this morning—windows down, an old Pink Floyd anthem screaming from the stereo—it hit me that my response to the girls’ claustrophobic schedule is the same response I have to dieting.

To put it simply, I did not want any part of it. And just the thought of it, just being around other people living under such a tight regimen, makes me want to give into my very worst cravings.

Hand in hand with my response to being exposed to the girls’ overstructured lives was my second viewing of The Hangover, which, believe it or not, I saw last night with my mother and my husband. Even though I find the idea of strip clubs wholly objectionable, I found myself agreeing with one of the characters when he defended an out-of-control trip to Vegas with his buddies to his incredibly uptight fiancee.

And when I thought about these two experiences side by side, I understood very clearly that it’s just as important for us to give into our cravings for adventure and a life without rules as it is for us to give into our food cravings. When push comes to shove, we all need our trips to Vegas or Mexico . . . or even just a wild night of drinking and dancing now and again. Because if we don’t give into these desires, we’re not really living, are we?

At the end of Stephen King’s novella, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” the character of Red is released from prison and, on his way to Mexico, thinks about what he is about to do. (If you’ve seen the movie adaptation of this novella, you’ll remember that Morgan Freeman played Red, and his thoughts were included as a voice over while he rode a bus south to Mexico.) It is Red’s words I will leave you with today since I think they best epitomize why being free to do what we want is so incredibly important.

I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope I can make it across the border.

I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand.

I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

I hope.

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