The word fat has been in my vocabulary since I was a child. I’m sure there was a time when I was small in size, but I don’t remember it. I was never a wisp of a girl, it’s not how I’m built. When I see pictures of myself in preadolescence, the first word that comes to mind is stocky. I’m reminded of an impish boy pointing at me on the playground, his eyes flashing, as he sang, off key, the popular, Ball Park Frank’s jingle, “They plump when you cook ’em”. He wasn’t inaccurate. Plump. That’s me, for most of my life anyway.
I was a picky eater (read Gag me with a Dessert Spoon here) and gravitated toward sweets, salty, starchy, and fatty foods early on. I was introduced to diet and exercise for the purposes of weight loss in late elementary school by my mother and older sister. This was the beginning of my obsession with food and my weight, one that I’m still grappling with to this day.
I’m petite at 5′ 2″, but this word does not describe me other than my height, hands, and feet. I sported a Double D cup before hitting high school, not so sporty though, as my voluptuous Gals nearly slapped me in the face when I ran, something my younger brother told me was must see entertainment for the boys in my gym class. For most of my existence, my stomach, back, and hips have been swathed in soft, jiggly, marbled flab. (Read A Reflection on Flab to see the progression of my thoughts on this subject, written 20 years ago here.) One of my strategies for holding my tattered self-esteem together in a culture that glorifies the slim was to stop looking at my body altogether. When I looked at my body, not only would I feel bad, but I would berate myself. A harmful practice, I decided it was better not to look. Consequently, I had no sense of my size, other than when I had to go shopping, a dismal activity I strenuously avoided. I’ve had periods of thinness, but because I’d developed the habit of not looking, I couldn’t recognize myself as thin and so never marked the occasion. Even though I swore I’d never return to my former fat self, giving my biggie-size clothes away, as so many experts suggest, I still ended up worse off than I started, a poster child for the truth that dieting doesn’t work.
I’ve been on the Cabbage Soup Diet, Weight Watchers, the Low Fat Diet, the Zone Diet, the GI Diet, and the Suzanne Somer’s Diet. I’ve also paired these diets with the latest exercise craze: walking, jogging, cycling, aerobics, jumping rope, BodyFlex, strength training, pilates, yoga, swimming, and Spa Lady, a women’s fitness club. I’ve read everything there is to know about nutrition and exercise, searching for that one magical way of eating, that one transformative way of moving that would dump the blubber, the key that would unlock the smothered, thin girl inside of me.
After one traumatic period of my life, when I had eaten a hedge of protective heft around myself, up from an off-the-rack size 6 to double digits in a plus size store, even resorting to purchasing maternity clothes in an effort to get comfortable, I gave up. I resolved never to diet again, never to deprive myself of the foods I loved to look a certain way. Oh, I was on a diet; “the eat what you want, as much as you want, when you want” diet, my favorite diet thus far! It was during this time, when my life had seemingly blown up, that I decided a career change was in order and I trained to become a health care aide. I know. This choice makes no sense with the shape I was in, but, as you’ll see, it was truly a lifesaver.
I was hired fresh from graduation to work on the geriatric wing of my local hospital. It was there I realized that the body I fashioned out of sleeves of chocolate-covered shortbread wasn’t going to work for me long-term. Nursing is a physical profession. There’s a lot of walking, bending, and crouching with heavy use of one’s arms and hands. It’s also a very intimate work, where one comes close to others to wash stinky places and move body parts. I had patients commenting about my weight. I reached over one woman to roll her over in bed and she grabbed a generous handful of my “beef”, as she called it. Another women did the same and quipped, “You got a couple a spare tires there” to which I gamely replied, “They’re all season”. With all this jabber about my excess combined with the exhaustion I felt at the end of a shift, I embarked on another exercise program, thinking I better limber up and strengthen my body fast or be out on the injured list. I chose pilates, because there’s something so comforting about lying down to exercise, but even doing this, my knee started to give (read A Post on Pain here). My body had always worked well for me, but I’m getting older and this was the first painful yelp of complaint, the first sign that my body would not tolerate my disrespect any longer.
Yes, my body malfunctioning and the unfiltered comments from my patients were nudging me, but it was what I saw that spurred me to action. When obese, sedentary people enter the hospital, they can be as helpless as the frailest old person, even though they are younger by a decade or more. Unlike lean, fit folks who move with ease, obese, sedentary folks are weight lifting all day long, but they don’t have the muscle to do the job. I’ve had people ring me to move things on their side tables because they couldn’t or didn’t want to lift their arms. I’ve watched them walk 20 steps to the dining room using a walker, winded, with the coordination and balance of a toddler. I’ve hoisted their middles to soap them up in the shower and noted the chafed, rashy skin. I’ve wiped their bottoms after helping them off a jumbo commode, because they could no longer fit on a regular toilet. I’ve rolled them in bed to clean them up with the assistance of two or three others. What I saw drove home the point that I didn’t need a mirror and the willingness to look at myself anymore. I saw myself and my future, regularly, in full, fleshy colour and, I’m not gonna lie, it shook me up.
I do understand that there are active, overweight people that are healthier and fitter than sedentary, slim people and I’ve been one of these a number of times, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Some of you may be okay with being fat. I heard one pudgy lady say she’s “made peace with her body.” I’m not judging you. I’m speaking for myself. This is my story. For me, overeating, taking more than my body needs to function and thrive on a regular basis, is sin and this is the first time I’ve uttered these words, the first time I’m admitting that what I’ve been doing to myself is wrong. I’ve been abusing my body with food for over 40 years. I’ve allowed food, largely a dead thing that has limited ability to help, to replace God in my life. When stressed or distressed or down, I don’t go to the one who made me and loves me. I don’t get on my knees, decompressing in the assurance of God’s omnipotent, benevolent presence. I bow down to the fridge or the pantry. I’ve been worshipping the created rather than the creator. I’ve taken that which should be used to nourish and fuel my body and turned it into an idol. I’ve dreamt about it, obsessed over it, measured, counted, and manipulated it, only so I could consume more and more. I’ve been eating and, subsequently, wearing my uncomfortable emotions instead of facing and feeling them, instead of giving them to God and it’s been weighing me down, holding me back, and killing me. I need a savior and it’s not food.
Certainly, I believe I should love myself as is right now, just as God does, and be gentle with myself, but I won’t accept my fat or tell myself it’s beautiful, as some are inclined to do. Nope. Not gonna happen. I’ve seen what it does to people. Obesity isn’t good.
Now, I don’t believe anyone should be shamed for being fat and I’ve tried to meet the many rude comments I’ve received with wit and forbearance. Nor, do I believe that anyone has the right to tell another person how to live. My flab is none of your business and vice versa. I’m choosing to forsake my flab, to fight it at every step, you may be choosing to embrace it. It’s up to each one of us to forge our own paths. So, to those who may be reading this who feel like it’s their duty to set all of us fatties straight by telling us to lose weight, please, keep it to yourself. Kindness is the order of the day and it’s mercifully calorie-free.
In the last three years, I’ve lost over 40 pounds. I still struggle with overeating. I long to experience healing in this area, but, at times, I feel it’s hopeless as the compulsion to stuff myself is overwhelming. I attribute any losses/gains I’ve made in this respect to God and his grace. Jesus died to release me from self-loathing and idolatry, to present me to himself, whole and healthy in every way, a fit vessel ready for service. I’m so grateful He made me look. I’m trying to nourish my body first, before I eat the junk food. I don’t believe any food is evil when it’s consumed as it was intended to be, with thanksgiving and in moderation. I’ve also started exercising regularly again, building up my strength and stamina. When I was younger, losing weight was always about how I wanted to look. Now, it’s about how I want to move. Yes, something has finally trumped food in my life and it’s movement. I want to move freely, gracefully, without pain for as long as possible. My goal is simple and easy to remember. “Keep going”, I say to myself, as I stretch, walk, run, bike, lift weights, dance around my kitchen, hike up mountains, and help my patients. I echo the words, on a much smaller scale, of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:13-14. I’m electing to forget my flab and move forward, straining toward what’s ahead, what I hope for, a future light on my feet full of glorious movement in all its forms, pressing on, always pressing on.
Posts come out when I feel like it. 😀 Scroll down to the bottom of the page to receive notifications of my posts via email. I’m in the process of closing up shop on Instagram to focus on my blog and will be setting up a gallery page to showcase my photos. Thanks to those of you who’re reading this who followed me so faithfully, who liked and commented on my photos. Thanks for giving me some of your precious time here. Be blessed!