Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cheeseburgers and the importance of indulgence

198 pounds
I still have not answered the question, how is it possible to lose weight without dieting, and it's time for me to begin to address that question. (I say "begin" because it's going to take me a while to get through the many ways my non-dieting approach works, and today's post only covers one aspect of that approach.)

As I said in an earlier post called "What is a diet?" for me, dieting is something people do for a set period of time, something that has a definite beginning and end. And my main problem with dieting is that most diets ask us to deny ourselves the foods we crave (and even, often times, foods that are good for us), causing us to seek those foods with abandon once the diet is over and ultimately gain the weight back.

Instead of dieting, I believe that any changes we make to our "diet" must be both permanent and doable. For instance, it doesn't do anyone any good to say that they are going to cut dessert or carbohydrates because it's simply not realistic to give those things up forever. I remember one time hearing that Oprah gave up white foods—sugar, flour, etc.—in an attempt to lose weight. So that means that she didn't have any bread or sweets the whole time she was dieting??!!!!

That sounds like a recipe for disaster.

No, I do not believe in giving anything up. If you crave a brownie sundae, then you should have a brownie sundae. Or if you're like me and you would like to do nothing more than cozy up to a nice greasy cheeseburger, then you've got to do that too. But the key is doing it from time to time rather than ALL the time. I try to get a really big cheeseburger at least once a month, and I think that once a month is a good goal because it's both doable and not going to kill you.

The other thing that's important is not feeling bad about allowing yourself to eat that cheeseburger or brownie sundae. Because the worse you feel about it, the more you're going to want to do it again and again.

It's kind of like the things we weren't allowed to do as a kid—stay up late, go out on dates, drink, smoke, the works. The more we were told we couldn't do it, the more we were told it was bad for us, the more we wanted to do it. It's just human nature to crave what we can't have.

But don't get me wrong—it's not going to be easy to allow yourself to eat something as indulgent as a brownie sundae or a big greasy cheeseburger and feel good about yourself. Because I promise you—I promise!—that almost everyone you know will try to make you feel bad about it: your parents, your sister, your in-laws, your co-workers, everyone. (Okay, maybe those are just the people who try to make ME feel bad about it, but you get the idea.)

And why is this? It's because in our society, people are O B S E S S E D with diet and exercise. You would think that would be a good thing, but I'm not so sure. In truth, I believe that our problem with obesity in this country is the direct result of this obsession. That doesn't mean that fast food and processed foods aren't also major culprits that need to be addressed, but I do think that our cultural fascination with dieting and being thin—demonstrating by the anorexic-looking women in our movies and the runaway success of TV shows like The Biggest Loser—has an incredibly negative effect on our collective psyche: the more we obsess over every last morsel that goes in our mouths, the more we want to eat and the less healthy we become.

It's like the whole country is the most rebellious teenager to have ever lived: we tell that teenager that she's not allowed to eat cheeseburgers and brownies, so what's the first thing she's going to do after we go to sleep? Sneak out her bedroom window, drive her moped full-speed down to the local Dairy Queen, and order six greasy cheeseburgers and two brownie sundaes. With fries. And an extra large Oreo Blizzard.

And like that teenager, the whole country is giving into their cravings in a big way, late at night and in the dark, sneaking out the metaphorical window after midnight so no one else knows what we're doing. And then what does said teenager do when she goes to school the next day? Chomp on a celery stick and make fun of the kids who eat the cheeseburgers and Twinkies from the school snack bar. In other words, act like she is better than everyone else.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think our entire country is suffering from a severe case of dieting. As a people, we deny ourselves the foods we went, make a big show of the fact that we don't eat sweets or red meat or carbs, and then gorge ourselves on those same foods when no one is looking.

This is why I think people in other countries—countries where cheese and bread are a part of of every meal—don't have the same kind of obesity problem that we have in America. They don't have a problem because they don't pretend to deny themselves the foods they love. They don't obsess.

Ultimately, what I'm advocating is that we all start eating the foods we love—yes, in moderation, but also in public and without shame. If brownie sundaes are your thing, why not make it a monthly event? A special night that you really enjoy. Go to your favorite restaurant, invite your friends, and truly relish that ten-dollar pile of ice cream and chocolate.

And if you see me sitting at the next table holding a cheeseburger dripping with grease and mayo, please don't hesitate to say hello.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

198 pounds
In my last post, I talked about how my husband and two friends have changed the way I see myself, but there's another group that needs recognition as well—the folks at TLC's What Not To Wear

I watched this show pretty religiously during the time when I changed from seeing myself as a monster to seeing myself as a unique, attractive individual. And a big part of the reason I made that leap was because that's exactly what they do on What Not to Wear—they take a regular looking woman and help her see how beautiful she really is.

If you've never watched this show, it's time you did. Hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly (pictured above) work with the schlumpy, the frumpy, the overweight, the underweight, the overdone, and the underdone. But rather than try to fix what others might see as wrong with these women, Stacy and Clinton accept them for who they are and make them look fabulous without any mention of losing weight or changing their bodies—instead they focus on their assets. In other words, like Mark Darcy, they accept them just the way they are. 

And when you see how fabulous these women look after they get a new wardrobe, new hairstyle, and new makeup, you will be amazed. The message is that with only a costume change, we can all look that good, and I love that What Not to Wear gave me that gift.

There are some people in my life who think I worry about my clothes too much or dress up too often, but what What Not to Wear taught me is that paying attention to these superficial things can make me feel good about myself in much deeper ways. And that's a lesson I'll always treasure. 

If you haven't watched the show, it airs at 8 and 9 p.m. EST Friday nights on TLC. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Monster Slayers
(a.k.a. The Patron Saints of Not Dieting)

196.5 pounds
I've talked a good deal about how important it is for all of us—and by all of us, I really mean ALL of us: curvy women, thin women, short men, tall men, bald men, curly-haired people, straight-haired people, etc.—to focus on what is good about ourselves, especially what is good about our appearance, rather than focusing on our so-called imperfections. But I haven't yet talked about how I learned to do that. Because, believe me, I have not been this positive about my appearance all of my life.

In fact, anyone who knew me when I was growing up can attest to the fact that I was a mess of insecurities and awkwardness for many, many years. 

I was a tall child—five-foot-four and 125 pounds by the time I was ten—and always in the back row of school pictures and church processionals. It isn't cool to be tall when you're a ten-year-old girl. In fact, it's the opposite of cool because it means you're taller than most of the boys, which, of course, is not the goal if you want to be popular and well-liked. 

All the popular girls—Chris McGinn, Janie Church, Rosie Kearns, you know who you are—were short, adorable pint-sized versions of the beautiful women they would eventually become. These were the girls who winked at the judges as they walked off the stage during cheerleading competition, the girls who wore ribbons in their shiny hair, the girls who stalked the school halls in high-heeled boots on class picture day. And I was not one of them. (Tall girls, obviously, can't wear high heels if they have any desire at all to fit in.) 

In addition to being tall, I also had curly hair, which was kind of like drawing the short straw back in the late '70s and early '80s when girls ironed their hair with an ACTUAL iron and modeled themselves after Charlie's Angels (none of whom, I might add, had curly hair). Having curly hair still isn't cool—anyone who's seen The Princess Diaries knows that—but it was an even bigger social faux pas when I was young and society was even more white-washed than it is now. The bottom line was that I spent a lot of time trying to straighten my curls and pretend to be someone I was not.

Like most people, I became more confident when I got older (college does wonders for our psyches, doesn't it?), but I still felt mostly uncomfortable in my own skin. 

And when I gained 33 pounds the year I turned 28, I tuned in to this discomfort and began talking about my body in ways I am now ashamed to admit: I called myself fat and gross on a regular basis, and, if I was with people I was really comfortable with, I would refer to myself as a monster. Sure, I would make a joke of it. That's how most of us do it. We say things like, "God, I'm so gross" or "What a fatty I am," and for the most part, this kind of talk is considered acceptable in our society. 

Now I know it is precisely this kind of talk that is at the root of our self-esteem and obesity problems, but back then I was still willing to dis myself every chance I got. I suppose it's a kind of defense mechanism: you think that if you call yourself fat before anyone else does, no one else can hurt you. After all, in our society, what is worse than being called fat? It's hard to think of an insult that cuts more deeply than that one.

But something positive came out of all this, something very positive. It turns out that the people I was most comfortable with—the ones who heard me calling myself a fat monster on a regular basis—were totally uncomfortable with me talking about myself that way. I'd make a jokey comment about my weight—like saying that my thighs could win a cellulite contest—and my friends would go off. They would insist that I not talk about myself that way and swear that I was not fat, I was not ugly, I was not gross. 

They got so angry with me for getting down on myself so many times that I was actually forced to change my behavior around them. I taught myself not to make fun of my body or call myself fat when I was in their presence even though I was still doing it in my head and around other people. It wasn't easy—sometimes I'd start to call myself fat and stop just before I finished the word only to be greeted by a sharp look from Peggy, a retort from Kristin, or a roll of the eyes from Dave—but I learned that with these three people I was not allowed to see myself as unattractive.

And then something miraculous happened: I started to see myself as attractive even when they weren't around. 

I wasn't even aware of it at first. Dave and I had just moved to North Carolina, and as always seems to happen with moving, I changed without even realizing it. Some of the changes were superficial. For instance, since I was no longer a grad student, I had to start dressing nicer, and dressing nicer immediately made me feel better about myself. And other changes were more profound—my weight bottomed out at a healthy 176 pounds, which of course made me ecstatic. And sometime after the move—I'm not sure exactly when—I actually began to see myself as attractive. I even began to feel attractive. God help me, I even started to feel the way my husband has always described me: beautiful. And, to my surprise, I would feel this way even when the three Monster Slayers were nowhere to be seen. 

It wasn't long after that when I noticed how much I hated it when other people criticized themselves by calling themselves fat or ugly. It really started to bother me, and I found msyelf saying exactly what Kristin, Peggy, and Dave used to say to me: "Don't talk that way about yourself! You're not fat. You're beautiful." 

And the more I said it to other people, the more I believed it—about them and about myself. And that's why even though I've gained weight—as a result of another prolonged and difficult move—I have never gone back to that old way of seeing myself. Even at 196.5 pounds, I still feel fabulous. Because, honestly, what's the alternative? To feel bad about msyelf all over again? No thanks.  

But it's more than just positive thinking that has changed my perspective. It's that I've learned that it isn't hard to see the good in each other. No, none of us are perfect, but we are unique. And isn't that what makes us beautiful? Isn't that what people see when they look at me? The things that set me apart? They don't see the pounds I have to lose, the size on my pants, the nose that's a little too big. They don't see any of those things. No, I really believe that when people look at me—at any of us—they see our best qualities. They see my large blue eyes and my long curly hair (which I now love). They see my joie de vivre and my warm personality. 

I know this is true because I know that when I look at Kristin, I see her flawless skin, her sculpted arms and shoulders, her long shapely legs, and her astonishing mind; when I look at Peggy, I see her perfect little nose, her lovely golden locks, her tight little tushie, and her unyielding passion, and when I look at Dave, I see his strong jawline, his full lips, his intense eyes, his unflappable drive, and his acerbic wit. When I look at all of them, I see how much they mean to me.

So I want to say thank you to the three of you, my monster slayers. I wouldn't be who I am today (and this blog wouldn't exist) without you, and I appreciate what you've done for me—for all of us—more than I can say.  

Monday, May 11, 2009

Off the list

196 pounds
Last week, Kirstie Alley's picture was splashed across every People magazine in America. 

Why was her picture on the cover of People magazine? Why???? Did she cheat on her husband? Was she caught drinking and driving? Does she have a drug problem? No, it was none of these things. 

Kirstie Alley was on the cover of People magazine because she had gained weight.  

I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I believe gaining weight should be national news. And maybe the fact that People magazine thinks it is news is part of the reason why we all have trouble maintaining a positive attitude about our bodies. Are we secretly afraid that if we gain enough weight, our "after" picture will suddenly appear on the front of every trashy magazine in America?

Not only is it problematic that People is willing to use Alley's weight gain to sell magazines, it's also a problem that Alley describes herself in such unflattering ways. 

In the article, Alley says, "I was so much more disgusting than I thought!" I simply cannot tolerate this kind of talk. It does no one—not Alley, not us, not anyone—any good at all. In fact, all it does is reinforce the notion that there is only one way to be beautiful: by being ridiculously thin. And, as we all know, that's simply not the case. 

(If you don't believe me, look at the gallery of gorgeous women I have included on the right side of this blog. All of these women are beautiful and not one of them could rightly be described as thin.) 

Alley admitted that she's gained over 83 pounds since she stopped being the Jenny Craig spokesperson a year and a half ago. Okay, fine. She slipped. We all slip. I know that as well as anyone since that's the reason I started this blog. The thing for Alley to do is to re-focus on what right's in her life (and with her body) and eventually her weight will likely go down again.

But Alley is unwilling to do that. Instead of focusing on what's right with her appearance, she has called herself "schlumpy" in a national forum. What Alley seems completely oblivious about is that her words aren't just about her—they're about all of us. Because if Kirstie Alley sees herself as "schlumpy," how are the rest of us supposed to feel????? 

And that's where I draw the line: I will not stand by and let the Kirstie Alleys of the world bring the rest of us curvy women down. I will simply not put up with it. So until Alley has a better attitude, she's off the list. She's dirt to me. I'm done with her. 

Incidentally, I want to point out that it was after Alley stopped doing Jenny Craig—in other words, after she stopped dieting—that she gained all of this weight. And that's because diets don't work. 

Alley is now saying that she's going to "toss the butter" to get back to her ideal weight, but that just tells me she still doesn't get it: if she cuts out butter now, what's the first thing she's going to do after she's lost the weight? That's right. Load up on butter. If you didn't believe that diets don't work before hearing Alley's story, I hope you believe it now. Alley's weight has been up and down for years. She's the the epitome of why diets don't work.  

And speaking of her ideal weight, Alley says that she has to be below 140 to really look good and that 128 pounds is her ideal. 128 pounds?!!! Is she kidding? I haven't weighed 128 pounds since before I stopped growing! Alley is a  five-foot-eight, 58-year-old curvy woman, and she wants to weigh 128 pounds?!!!  That's less than five pounds from being underweight according to the National Institute of Health! 

And how did she come up with this magic number? When she was in her thirties, Cheers executives pushed her towards this weight. 

I don't know what's more disturbing—the fact that Alley, at 58, wants to get back to her thirty-something weight or the fact that she would allow television executives to dictate what her ideal weight should be. I would think that after all those years in Hollywood she would know as well as anyone that the standards TV and movie execs hold women to are both unnatural and unhealthy. 

So I say, shame on you, Kirstie Alley!!!  Shame on you!  

You are an absolutely stunning woman at any size, and if you cannot see that, then it's time you looked at the world around you. Most women would KILL to look like you! And unfortunately, many women undergo painful plastic surgery to have a face—or breasts—as beautiful as yours. So it's time you stopped dumping on yourself and reinforcing the incorrect notion that beautiful women only come in one size. I, for one, won't stand for it. And I don't believe my readers will either. 

We need famous curvy women to be proud role models for the rest of us. And if you can't do that, Kirstie Alley, then please keep your negativity to yourself. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Another hero

196 pounds
If you don't know who Susan Boyle is by now, I'd be shocked. Since giving her scene-stealing performance on Britain's Got Talent last month, Boyle's moment in the limelight has been all over YouTube and the entertainment news. And rightfully so—the woman can sing! And how moving is it to see someone like Boyle—a 48-year-old, average-looking woman—steal the hearts of people all over the world? 

If you haven't watched her performance yet, I highly recommend it. Moments as surprising and moving as Boyle's don't come around often enough.

But I don't want to write about her performance.  I want to write about something she said afterwards. 

In an interview with the London Times, Boyle delivered another knockout punch to those who might define her as frumpy. She said, "I'm happy the way I am, short and plump." Let me repeat: Susan Boyle said she's happy the way she is! Only nine words, but her message is so profound, so important, that she might as well have written an entire dissertation on why it's necessary to be happy with ourselves before we can expect to accomplish anything. I'm thrilled that Boyle has revealed this crucial detail about her psyche, and I hope that more American women will model themselves after this amazing Scot. 

Next time you look in the mirror and feel disappointed with what you see, think of Susan Boyle. If she can be happy with yourself, why can't you? 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Comfortable in their own skin

196 pounds
So many wonderful curvy role models to write about, so little time!   I'll write about one today and at least one more—who may really surprise you—tomorrow. 

Dave and I went to see Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville last night. The show was outstanding, a thing of perfection and even better than I expected (and my expectation were high), but what I want to write about is one of the female performers.  

If you're familiar with the show, you know that Keillor's cast always includes a wide range of characters and performers. Last night's performers included country music star Brad Paisley, Bowling Green-born bluesman Sam Bush, Grand Ole Opry regular little Jimmy Dickens, and musician and songwriter Andra Suchy. 

I immediately admired Suchy's look—she appeared both gorgeous and relaxed in a long flowing top, worn-in jeans, and cowboy boots, but I was even more pleased when Suchy played the role of the alluring woman in many of the show's skits because, though Suchy is easily defined as an ethereal beauty, she's also one who has real curves.  

What's most impressive about this is that Suchy is in the entertainment business, specifically the music business, which is a business that glorifies abnormally thin women like Amy Winehouse, Madonna, and Ashlee Simpson and villifies female musicians who appear more womanly (the recent attacks on Jessica Simpson's body come to mind).

I don't want to act like the music industry is totally averse to curvy women because it's clearly more open to them than other aspects of the entertainment world. After all, music superstars include Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson, and Jennifer Hudson (though it' notable that the latter two of these women gained fame through a reality show and not through the traditional channels). 

But I do want to give Suchy credit where credit is due. We all know that it's never easy for women in our soceity to feel good about themselves when they more than 110 pounds, but Suchy did just that last night. When she took the stage, she appeared to be totally comfortable in her own skin. I admire any woman (or man for that matter) who has that kind of confidence, but I admire people who don't fit the very narrow Hollywood definition of beauty for it even more.  

And this brings me to my final point about last night's show. 

Suchy wasn't the only one who inspired me. Garrison Keillor did that as well. I've loved Keillor's work for a long time and that alone inspires me every time I hear it, but it hit me last night that Keillor's success is a bit of a surprise given that he too does not fit some narrow Hollywood definition of beauty. Keillor is crazy tall and a bit rumpled and nerdy. Despite this, I have always found him attractive, and last night I figured out that it's his easy confidence I'm drawn to. Keillor, like Suchy, lacks self-consciousness or pretension. He is simply his own person. He makes no apologies for who he is, and instead revels in his uniqueness—all the way down to his trademark red sneakers. 

I hope we can all aspire to Suchy and Keillor's kind of confidence. I know I do. 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pepsi Throwback and the non-believers

196 pounds
For some reason, I have trouble getting the idea across that this blog is NOT about dieting.  A few days after I started the blog, my mother called me and said, "So how's the diet going?" I could have killed her, but instead, I said as calmly as I could, "It's NOT a diet." 

The next time I talked to my mother, I asked if she'd been reading the blog, and she said no and asked how much weight I'd lost. Is it just me, or is she completely missing the point????!! Yes, I'm the one who originally made a deal to lose twenty pounds in twenty weeks, but if you think that's the reason I've created this blog, then you're not getting it! Because the main point I want to convey here is that we should not obsess about the number on the scale, that we cannot let it define us, and that when we do, we are the ones who suffer.  

I was reminded of my mother's comments last night after I got an interesting response to my Facebook announcement about Pepsi Throwback. 

You see, I'm really excited about Pepsi Throwback because it doesn't have any high-fructose corn syrup. Instead, the people at Pepsi Co. have gone back to the old days when most sodas used good, old fashioned cane and beet sugar. (Throwback Pepsi uses a combination of both). We've known for a long time that high-fructose corn syrup is one of the worst things for us, and some people even speculate that it might be the leading cause of obesity in America. This is because "consuming too much fructose at once seems to overwhelm the body's capacity to process it" and ultimately causes overeating, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.* 

I'm glad that we now know how dangerous this stuff is, but what good does that knowledge do us if it's so difficult to avoid? I mean, do you have any idea how hard it is to avoid high-fructose corn syrup? It's almost impossible! Because that stuff is freaking everywhere! Of course, it's found in nearly all name brand soft drinks, but can anyone explain to me why they put it in ketchup? Or stuffing? Or cottage cheese?!!!! For God's sake, it's even in our bread! It's nearly impossible to avoid the stuff.  In fact, "about 10% of the modern diet comes from fructose."*
For a list of products that contain high-fructose corn syrup, go to:

Sugar isn't really good for us either—if we get too much of it, it still causes the same health problems as fructose. But call me crazy, I feel more comfortable drinking soda made from a natural product like cane sugar than I do drinking soda made with something invented in a lab. That's why I've been drinking expensive natural soda—like Hansen's or Virgil's—for years. But both of those products are pretty expensive, adding $4 or $6 respectively to my grocery bill each time I buy them. So obviously I was thrilled when I saw a Pepsi Throwback commercial last night. Do I think that Pepsi Throwback is as natural as Hansen's or Virgil's? Not a chance. But it's kind of like when they first rolled out the first mass-market hybrid car (the two-seater Honda Insight): it's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction. 

You might be wondering right now why any of this got me thinking about my mom. And it's because right after I praised the new Pepsi Throwback on Facebook, my friend Debbie emailed me and said, "Girl! Drink water!" Of course, my friend Debbie is right—we should all drink lots of water. I've been drinking water all week. I drink it ALL the time, but sometimes I like to treat myself with a good old-fashioned soda. I don't think I'm alone on that one. And I do believe that if I don't give into that craving every once in a while, in the long run it's worse for me than allowing myself that small indulgence from time to time. I suppose Debbie's comment reminded me of my mom's because it made me think that she's not exactly getting my point about not dieting.

And when Debbie then told me that she's been on a diet for two year—TWO YEARS!!!—and that she's miserable because she keeps losing the same weight over and over, I knew for sure she wasn't getting my point. Hearing Debbie's story absolutely broke my heart, and it reminded me again why I created this blog—to get all of us to stop denying ourselves normal indulgences, to learn that it's okay to have a normal body, and to recognize that losing weight in a lasting, healthy way takes a LONG time.  

Come to mention it, I really think twenty pounds in twenty weeks is pretty unrealistic. As I've mentioned before, I lost weight—about twenty-four pounds—over the course of eight consecutive years before my recent weight gain.  That's three pounds a year on average! Sure, I lost more pounds in the beginning—probably around eight a year the first two years, and then a pound a year after that. But the point is that I still believe that slow and steady is the only way to do it. Better to shoot for five to ten pounds a year than to try to torture ourselves into losing 40 pounds in one year—eight pounds a year is manageable, it's something we can do without making ourselves so unhappy that the first thing we do when it's all over is reach for the ice cream and potato chips.

Debbie—I feel for you! I really do! I say stop dieting RIGHT NOW, decide to appreciate your body RIGHT NOW, and in a month or so, let us know how you're doing.