You don’t just pop on 100 pounds. You don’t just sit and eat it all on. It’s rarely a matter of stuffing yourself silly. It’s not very often a sudden or even creeping moral failure. It isn’t about being lazy. It isn’t any lack of discipline.
It’s a subtle thing. It may begin early on with a lousy metabolism. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing. Your brother may burn that 2,000 calories a day we keep hearing is common for healthy adults while you burn 1,200, or only 1,000 calories. Some of us need to eat less than others, but we’re all served the same sized portions. And if you’re in a big family that competes over food, rewards with food, forces food, restricts food, you can become food centric, liking it rather too much. Getting more than simple nourishment from it.
And now you’re set up for it. Ready? You need only 1,200 calories a day, but you get 1,700. 500 calories too many. That’s like a bagel with cream cheese too much. Or it’s two bottles of pop too much. Or one slice of pecan pie. Within a week of overeating by that much, you’ve gained a pound. In a couple of months you’ve put on 8 -10 lbs. Your pants are tight. You decide to diet, making yourself hungry. You get tired of it and reward yourself the way you know how, with food. You have a bad day, you eat more. You rock up and down and up and down, and soon you just give in and get the bigger pants. They’re not that much bigger.
You graduate from college, you fall in love, you learn to cook. You taste things as you go, because you’re serving somebody you care about and you want it to be right. So you get another 100 calories per meal more than you need. Maybe 200. Those extra calories bring the weight on faster. You gained 10 lbs. this year. Five of them just over the holidays.
You get ever more responsible jobs, because you’re successful, even an over-achiever. You work not 40 hours a week, but 50, maybe 60, and maybe you’re taking classes on top of that, raising a child. You have a few free hours each week, and you give those to your family, your community, your spouse, your pets. You sure don’t exercise anymore.
You either cook and eat or don’t cook and eat terribly.
You get stressed, you eat.
You feel sad, you eat.
You are happy, you eat.
You win, you eat.
You lose, you eat.
You gain a pound or a half a pound a month, for a few years.
You slowly lose touch with the way your body feels. Fat dulls your senses, insulates you from the world. If you got too much attention for your looks when you were younger, fat will turn down the volume. If people got too close, fat will put up a wall. If you are a woman in a man’s world, fat will ease the tension, neuter you. You will be the jolly eunuch. You will be safe. Your spouse will not be jealous, your boss will not have to apologize to his wife for giving you a raise.
But you get bigger than that. So you go on a diet. You lose most of the weight, or all of it. And finally, at last, you arrive at something close to the weight of your youth. Phew. You’re done. You check weight loss off your long To Do list. You go off your diet, stop working out.
And the next year you put it all back on and 10 more.
And the next year you diet some off and put it on and the net gain is 20 lbs. The year after that 5. The year after that 10.
And 20 years go by. You’re 40 years old, and you’re 100, 120 lbs. overweight.
It happens like that. It happens while you’re behaving responsibly, working hard, contributing to your world, raising wonderful children, helping other people, contributing to charities, and paying only occasional attention to your body.
And then it all turns on you. Your joints suddenly can’t take the strain. You hurt. You’ve gotten too fat, and now people think you lack discipline, you don’t look good in the group photo. You look old. If you can’t manage your weight, how can you manage that department? You are not paid as much as thinner people. You can’t get a raise, a transfer, a break.
Your doctors don’t take you seriously. Your family doesn’t take you seriously. Your clients don’t take you seriously. Your fat’s in charge. Your metabolism has shifted. Your body isn’t responding to insulin now. You’ve dieted so well, so consistently, so successfully, that your low metabolism has lowered some more. And the diets stop working. You join Weight Watchers and GAIN weight.
The weight is coming on faster now, but you swear you’re not eating much. You feel crazy. You are scared. Your feet swell up when you walk. Your hip gives out. You can’t exercise enough to take the weight off, you can’t eat any less without feeling sick and dizzy. You’ve tried every diet, every pill, every supplement. Everything.
And that’s how it happens. And that’s how it feels.
Working your way out of it takes serious medical help and a real leap of faith, incredible focus, and a determination to change your life completely. An overhaul. It might mean quitting your job. (I did.) It might mean giving up your cooking habit. (I did that too.) It may mean upsetting all the regular meal habits your family has established over the years, the holiday traditions. Cooking foods you’ve never tried, and eating a lot less of the ones you’ve relied upon for sustenance and comfort. (Did that and ditto.)
You begin to move your body again, and you never stop. (That would be me.)
And it takes a long time. But your body, your miraculous body, responds. It responds slowly, surely, tentatively, sometimes reluctantly, but it does respond. You learn things you didn’t realize about the way it works. Like about that slow metabolism. About insulin and its effects. About how your body responds to food, about how food and emotions have gotten all mixed up over the years.
So much to learn. So much time to learn it.
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