Thursday, July 29, 2010

I always feels like somebody's watching me

198 pounds
Dave and I just got home from a two-week trip to visit family . . . first his family in Cincinnati and then mine outside of Chicago. Two weeks is a L O N G time to be away from home, and we were feeling a bit weary by the time we returned.

I've always been an emotional eater. It's not something I've talked about much on this blog, but it's a fact of my life.

When I'm moody, I eat.

When I'm stressed, I eat.

The only emotion that doesn't make me eat is extreme sadness. For some reason, when I'm really and truly down, food does nothing for me, which I think makes me pretty average. True misery can't be solved by a gastrointestinal feast, but a temporary bad mood can be pretty much wiped out with a quick trip to Jimmy John's.

So when I came home from our exhausting trip the other day, I wasn't surprised that all I wanted to do was eat.

I wanted to eat cheese and crackers. I wanted to eat sliced tomatoes. I wanted to eat roast beef. I wanted to eat salad. I wanted it all.

(I never said I wanted to eat crap; I just said I wanted to eat).

The whole time I felt this way I was aware that my hunger was really about my emotions. They were saying, Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

But when I really thought about it, I was surprised that the emotion I was feeding wasn't a typical one. Rather than eating because I was down, I was eating because I felt like I hadn't been able to eat in peace for days . . . even weeks.

That's because whenever I eat around other people these days I feel like I'm being watched. Don't get me wrong—I don't feel like my friends and family are consciously watching me. I just feel like I don't get enough privacy during meals with others.

Every time I looked across the table while we were on the road, there was someone else looking back at me. It was maddening.

And, as a result, the entire time I felt like I couldn't eat what I wanted to eat. I was reluctant to go back for seconds, I was anxious about big servings, and I certainly didn't want to indulge in any high-calorie meals while I was around family.

Seeing someone else across the table may seem normal to you, but I live with just one other person. And he's usually got his face in a book or his eyes on the TV while we eat. He certainly doesn't watch me consume my three daily meals.

So when I got home the other night, I felt as if I'd been freed from culinary prison—finally I could eat whatever I wanted and not worry that anyone else was paying attention. Finally I could go back for seconds or pick up food with my fingers or eat a little of something and then put it back without finishing it. I could eat any way or however much I wanted.

It was liberating. Truly liberating.

But now that all that is over, now that I've returned to my quiet routine of being the only person who pays attention to what I put in my mouth, I can't help but wonder why I don't feel as comfortable eating with other people and what that says about me—as an eater and as a person.

All I really know is the answer is probably more disturbing than I'm willing to admit.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Read all about it

198 pounds
My husband and I have just finished editing an amazing collection of stories about commuting and travel called Commutability: Stories about the Journey from Here to There (pictured to the left).

Though the theme of this book isn't directly related to this blog, there are several outstanding stories that relate to body issues, and I want to mention those here in case any of you are interested in buying the book—which is available for pre-order at the low price of just $9.00 until this Saturday, July 31st.

These stories include the following:

"Lactational" by Sara Holcombe—I think it's safe to say that many women feel like their "girls" are lacking in some way. Some of us think they hang too low, others think they're too small or too big, and many of us wish we could change them in some way. It's one of the few body issues that I find women of all sizes share, which is one of the reasons I find this story—about women who sell their breast milk to health food stories for an impressive sum—so entertaining. FINALLY, we can make a profit from our bodies at any size.

"Scream Queen" by Ed Gorman—What would happen if Lindsay Lohan disappeared from society and showed up at your local video store? This story imagines just that by following a geeky twenty-something video store clerk who figures out that one of his regular customers is really a famous B-movie actress who has recently disappeared from the public eye. Though he is initially disappointed in her obvious weight gain, the clerk—and his loser friends—eventually become infatuated with her, proving that beauty really does come in all sizes.

"Who Loves You" by Eric Goodman—There is a long history of stories and novels about adultery—Anna Karenina anyone?—and this story continues that literary discussion from the point of view of a woman who has recently decided to forgive her husband for cheating on her. But her willingness to do so is challenged when she and her husband spend time with an old friend and his new—younger, thinner—girlfriend, challenging her belief that her husband still finds her attractive and wants to be with her.

"Outbound Bus" by Yelizaveta P. Renfro—If we are being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that it's difficult for any of us to look at someone who is severely obese and not judge them in any way at all. Yes, we know intellectually that obesity is caused by many things besides over-eating—such as genes and chemicals—but this is also an issue people still struggle to comprehend on an emotional level, which is why Renfro's story about a woman who was once married to a severely obese man is so profound. We all know what it's like to try to hide our so-called flaws, and this character's attempts to literally hide her entire husband is both moving and chilling.

"Strawberry Fields" by K. Terese Pampellonne—This touching story begins with a familiar premise: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, but in this version, rather than lose the girl, this teenage boy gets his girlfriend pregnant, causing the two of them to run away together. As the story progresses, we find out that he is less interested in his girlfriend once she becomes "fat." Sure, his attitude is completely offensive, but that's why it's good to read and share stories like this—so we know why this kind of perspective is so wrong, making it a great story to have all your guy friends read. I tell my students that the best characters are the ones we like despite their flaws—think of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs—and the protagonist of this story is another outstanding example of a wonderfully flawed character.

There are more moving stories that deal with body issues—"Completo" by novelist Faye Moskowitz comes to mind—and much more, but I'll keep the other stories a surprise for those who decide to buy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Photoshop of Horrors

198 pounds
In case you haven't heard, I want to tell you about the latest controversy surrounding "plus"-size supermodel Crystal Renn (pictured above).

As you may remember from my "Real is the new sexy" post, Renn wrote a memoir called Hungry about her early years in modeling—how she struggled to stay below 100 pounds when she first started modeling and how she now rejects that time in her life as unhealthy.

Because of this, the fashion world was a bit taken aback when this photo of Renn appeared a few weeks ago . . .

I have to admit that when I first saw the photo, I was angry with Renn who battled anorexia during her early days as a model. I felt like she had given up on her promise to live in a healthy manner and accept herself the way she is—curves and all. But I was wrong to blame Renn, and it didn't take long for the truth to come out.

In reality, Renn is actually not as thin as this photo makes her look. The photo has actually been altered to make her look much thinner.

Here is one of the the original photos from that shoot (in color) and the altered photo (in black and white). . .

(If you'd like to read a detailed analysis of how this dramatic change occured, go to Jezebel.)

What's most appalling is that the photographer, Nicholas Routzen, defended his decision to shrink Renn's thighs and waistline. He said, "I'm paid to make women look beautiful."

Uh, what did you say???!!!

Crystal Renn IS beautiful. You don't need to do anything to "make" her look beautiful.

And, besides, hasn't this guy heard that beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes? Or that thin does not necessarily equal beautiful?

Simply put, what an ass.

Renn clearly agrees. She told Glamour magazine, “When I saw the pictures, I think I was silent for a good five minutes, staring with my mouth open . . . I don’t know what was done to those photos or who did it, but they look retouched to me. And listen, everybody retouches, but don’t make me into something I’m not.”

She's obviously right—we have simply got to stop making models and celebrities into something they're not. And this side-by-side comparison proves that magazine photos are altered WAY more than any of us realize. I think it's safe to say that most of the images blasted at us in the media are about as real as Jessica Rabbit. Something to keep in mind next time you're flipping through a celebrity-laden magazine at the checkout counter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The way we're meant to be

198 pounds
In the August issue of Glamour magazine, there's a wonderful article by Dr. Julie Holland called "The Cave-Woman's Guide to Good Health."

One of the article's main tenets is that we all need to "eat real food."

As Holland explains, "Women aren't meant to be bone thin, as many of my patients strive to be. So don't kill yourself trying to get there. Plus, guys are drawn to your body at its most natural. Some brain scans suggest that men go gaga over curves, which, after all, signify fertility."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The best of times, the worst of times

198 pounds
Dear friends of ours had a baby yesterday—what a great gift his birth seems during a time of much sadness in our household. (One of our parents is very ill and dying.) Whenever things get to be too much these days, I think of the new baby getting to know the wonderful world around him, and it's hard not to feel at least a little bit better.

Because I'm "middle-aged," I have dozens of friends and family members who have young kids—all of them so adorable and enjoyable that it's hard not to think about taking their kids home with me whenever we visit. And during one of those joyous visits this year, a good friend of ours confessed something to me that is both hilarious and frightening.

She told me that when her daughter was still a toddler, she sometimes worried that people would think her baby was too fat. She said this while at the same time admitting that she knew it was completely messed up for her to worry about her little girl's weight—according to the doctors she was well within the normal range—but confessed that knowing this didn't completely stop her from worrying about it.

And what worried her even more was what it said about her—about all of us—if she worried about the weight of a baby. Because what it said was that we are all really, really f***ed up if we are so body conscious that we can't even look at a toddler without thinking, "Maybe I should put my eighteen-month-old on a diet."

As I think about this and wade through one of the saddest periods of my life—and because of our friends' new baby, one of the most joyous—I find myself thinking more and more about what's most important in this life. And I know with certainty that feeling bad about ourselves because we're a few pounds overweight is not one of those things. So I hope that we can change things for all of our children by creating a world where beauty comes in more than one size.

Let's make it happen.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Take a compliment wherever you can get it

197 pounds
Today I went to a nursing home to visit a loved one.

It's possible that one of the worst things in the world is seeing so many elderly people who are sick and dying. And, as we all know, these things make any issues we have with our bodies seem both silly and embarrassing.

And even if I were thinking selfishly about my own issues today, I wouldn't have been able to feel bad for long because within an hour of arriving at the home, something happened to make me feel good about myself.

I was walking down the hall not long after we got there, looking for an extra chair, when I heard a voice coming from one of the rooms.

"Help me!" the voice said. "Please help me!"

I thought I was hearing things, so I stopped in the deserted hall and listened more carefully. "Help me!" the voice cried again. I moved toward the open door and saw two people—one rolled over towards the wall in the fetal position on a bed and another sitting in a chair on the other side of the room. I was sure that the person rolled into the fetal position was the one yelling, and as I got closer, the voice got louder: "Help me!"

"Do you need help?" I asked the rolled-up body, but it didn't answer or move.

Then I heard it again: "Please help me!"

It suddenly hit me that the voice was not coming from the person on the bed. I swiveled to the other side of the room and looked at the person in the chair—a man of about seventy-five with impossibly dark hair and big glasses. As soon as I turned to him, he said it again: "Help me!"

"Do you need help?" I asked him rather ridiculously, but I didn't know what else to say.

"Please help me" was his only response.

"What do you need?" I asked, knowing full well that his request might terrify me.

"I need help."

"What is it?" I asked.

"I'm scared," the man said.

"What are you scared of?" I asked as I imagined all the things he might say—being alone, getting sicker, living in a nursing home for the rest of his life . . . dying.

But he didn't answer my question.

Instead, he asked another: "What are you wearing?" And the way he said it—his head tilted to one side as if trying to get a better look at me, his voice as skeptical as my mother-in-law's the day she found out that I was marrying her beloved baby boy—told me that he thought I might be insane because of my choice in wardrobe.

I looked down at myself and laughed—what choice did I have? I was wearing a light blue jersey dress that even I sometimes think is a little odd. "A blue dress," I said, anxious to hear what he would say next.

"I like it," he said. "It's pretty."

I wasn't expecting that.

"Why thank you," I said because that's what you say when an old man in a nursing home tells you that you look pretty.

And then the man spoke again: "Will you help me?"

"Yes," I said without thinking again about what he would he would ask me to do.

"Will you tell the nurse I need something—something to keep me calm? Tell her Anthony needs something to keep calm."

"Yes, I will," I said. And then because I didn't know what to do next, I moved forward and shook his hand. "I'm Molly, Anthony."

"How did you know my name?" he said, and I let out a little laugh.

"You just told me your name, Anthony."

"Oh," he said.

"I'm Molly. Nice to meet you." I was still shaking his hand. "I'll tell the nurse."

"Thank you," he said. And then it was all over. I was in the hallway, searching for the nurse, so I could pass on Anthony's request.

And all I could think is how lucky I am to be alive, to be young, to have an old man tell me I looked pretty. Nothing could be better.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Monkey see, monkey do


198 pounds
I just started reading Hungry by model Crystal Renn, and to be honest, so far I find the whole thing pretty terrifying. I'm about one hundred pages in, and I cannot believe the things Renn did herself to be a model. I'll write a full review of the book when I finish it, but for now, I want to talk about the effect that reading the book is having on me.

As I confessed here last year, I went through an incredibly brief period of starving myself when I was fourteen. My attempt to become anorexic only lasted two and a half days, but I ate next to nothing that entire time. So much so that I almost passed out on the third day, and then, thankfully, gave up my "dream" of becoming anorexic.

Why did I do it?

Many, many reasons, but most of all because of a desire to be more thin and more attractive. But another big reason I did it was because I was reading about it all the time—in countless magazine articles and in dozens of young adult novels.

In fact, there was one specific book that outlined in full detail how the narrator learned to starve herself without detection, and, for a brief time, this book was my bible. I didn't really think about not eating until I read it, and while I did, I got caught up in the protagonist's obsession with losing weight. I was supposed to be disgusted by her choices, but instead I found myself rooting for her. And, eventually, hoping I could become her. I guess in some way it all seemed very glamorous to my foolish and naive adolescent self.

Scary, I know, but what's even more frightening is that as I'm reading Hungry, I find myself thinking the same things. I find myself wondering if I could lose weight if I tried some of Crystal's tricks—like working eight hours a day or eating lettuce every meal—and then I think to myself, What the hell is wrong with you??? You have a blog called "I Will Not Diet," and you're sitting here fantasizing about dieting in incredibly unhealthy ways!!! You are really messed up!!!

I also, just as disturbingly, find myself rooting for the sixteen-year-old Crystal to lose enough weight to have a "gap" between her legs, and then I say to myself yet again, What the hell???? Why do you want her to be that thin???

I think the reason I find myself rooting for the young Crystal to become thinner is because I want her to become the model she dreams of being, and that is almost just as messed up. Shouldn't I want her to be something more healthy like a lawyer . . . or a college professor????

As it turns out, there is a still a part of me—at the age of forty, no less—that can relate to the adolescent desire to be thin and beautiful and . . . wait for it . . . famous. I'm disgusted with that part of me and also incredibly ashamed to admit it to you.

But I am admitting it because I think we can learn from it.

If someone who thinks dieting is so unhealthy that she blogs about it twice a week can start rooting for an adolescent model to be anorexic and even consider trying some of her f***ed up weight-loss techniques, what chance do young girls have of not parroting her choices?

The answer is almost none.

That is, without our help.

While I was walking today, I was thinking about this frightening epiphany I've had while reading Hungry, and I realized that the only thing we can do is talk to the young girls in our life about these issues. We can't stop them from reading these books and articles—first of all, they're ubiquitous and, second of all, the last thing we want to do is tell people what to read. But we can talk to them about what they read.

And once I'd figured this out, I also had to admit to myself something else that's pretty scary, and it's this: I would have NEVER felt comfortable discussing those YA books about anorexia with my own mother.

I'm not sure why—maybe it was because my mother always struggled with her weight, making me nervous about broaching the topic with her and hurting her feelings. More likely, though, it was because we never talked about body issues. I was always fit. (I hesitate to say "thin" only because I've been trained all my life not to think of myself as thin, though in truth, I was thin until I was twenty-six years old.) Because of this, there was no obvious reason to talk about my body. But my brief foray into anorexia proves that there really was a reason to talk about it. I should have been talking to my mom about my body issues all the time, but I wasn't.

Instead I was reading a novel about a young woman who almost killed herself trying to be thin, and I was trying, rather desperately, to be like her.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This is your body. This is your body on exercise.

198 pounds
As you may remember, I started the summer in a frenzy of activity—walking, running, biking, playing tennis—but a few weeks ago, I went back to my normal routine of exercising just once a day: my one-hour walk every day with Dave.

Don't get me wrong—walking an hour a day is amazing, and I'm proud that I've done it for so many years. And I also know that it's the reason my doctors love me. But it isn't enough to lose weight. It's enough to maintain, but not to lose.

And I want to lose.

So yesterday I decided it was time to get back to two- and three-a-days. And I'm not screwing around this time or not fully committing. I walked for an hour in the morning, ran and jumped rope for 30 minutes in the evening, and ended the day by lifting weights and doing sit-ups for all thirty minutes of The Daily Show—the latter of which I plan to do from here on out. When Jon Stewart is on the television, I'll be on the floor doing leg lifts and crunches and curls.

All that exercise is great, but what's makes me even happier is how good I felt at the end of the day. I mean, I felt amaaaaaaaaaazing. Truly amazing.

And that feeling didn't stop last night. It lasted through the majority of my day today, fueling me to meet my three-a-day goal yet again. And after I finished playing a brief but rewarding fifteen minutes of basketball tonight, it hit me how quickly you can turn things around and start feeling good again.

During the weeks that I'd only been walking an hour a day, I had been starting to feel sluggish and—God forbid—fat. But thirty-six hours after re-dedicating myself to more frequent exercise throughout the day, I feel fit and energized and—my God, I know it's a cliche but—like I could do anything.

My brother-in-law always says that he feels sick if he doesn't exercise every day—an excuse, from my way of thinking, for allowing himself daily trips to the gym that my sister doesn't usually get. But the more time goes on, the more I think he's on to something.

I've known for a long time that we all feel better—or less sick, as brother-in-law says—if we work out every day, but now that I'm immersing myself so fully in exercise, I am reminded how much of a drug it is.

The more we do it, the more we want to do it, the more we need it.

I'm starting to crave biking as much as I crave cheeseburgers. I've given up planning dinner for planning my next bike route. And when I've finished my jog, I can't help but want a little more, to go a little bit further.

And this is the kind of addiction we should all want.

Two days ago I was having trouble getting motivated to do anything but the minimum sixty minutes on the walking trail. Now I'm like a junkie—jonesing for my next fix.

What a difference a day makes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thankfully you never forget how to do it . . .

198 pounds
This week The New York Times published an article about how biking is a more effective way to lose weight than "slow" walking.

First of all, I'm THRILLED to have this information.

I always have the sense there are things other people know that I don't—like which foods burn more calories when you eat them or what time of day you should exercise for maximum effect. In my weakest moments, I suspect that super thin people keep this information locked up in their closet full of skinny jeans and mini-skirts.

Also, as some of you may know, I am a BIG walker. Dave and I make it a point to walk 50-70 minutes every day. This doesn't always happen seven days a week during the school year, but it does happen about 90% of the time.

For this reason, it's been really frustrating to me that even though I do this pretty regularly, I haven't lose any weight lately—meaning over the past six months.

And this is unusual for me.

In the past, if I was walking and eating pretty well, I was losing weight. Maybe only a pound a year, but I was losing. The first year I started walking every day, I only walked thirty minutes a day, but the pounds still came off. But not anymore.

So when I heard about this new study about biking, I was intrigued.

I absolutely love biking, though I really only get on my bike once every other week or so. But if it's going to help me drop a few pounds, I'm more than happy to do it more often.

I'm not going to lie though--I have to wonder about this study. It says that biking helps women lose weight more than slow walking. Well, my first question is what exactly do they mean by "slow"? They also mention that brisk walking is as good as biking.

So let me get this straight. . . slow walking doesn't help you lose weight, but brisk walking and biking do? What are they reallly trying to say? That if you move like a turtle, you'll also be a little tubby? Come on! Tell us something we don't know. What I can't believe that is that people get PAID to do this kind of research. I think I could have figured this out myself, and I certainly didn't need a bunch of Harvard researchers to tell me.

But, okay, I'll play along and get my bike out, hoping that what I normally do is too slow to make a difference.