Call Me What I Tell You to Call Me

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Vanity Fair’s July 2015 issue features a glamorous woman on the cover with the words, “Call me Caitlyn.” Inside is a 22-page article about that woman’s journey to trans-womanhood. If you didn’t know any better, you would have no reason to suspect that this woman used to be a man. But because of the media coverage (hysteria?), almost everyone knows better. The irony is that Caitlyn Jenner probably would like nothing better than to be left in peace to be the woman she’s always longed to be. But because she’s a celebrity, she will probably never have that experience.

And yet I think her decision to “come out” in such a public way was actually quite brilliant. Stories about her “fluid” gender identity have been circulating for quite a while now and I applaud her decision to tell her own story. Less than two months ago, Jenner gave his last official interview as Bruce, with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, in which he explained his struggle to become and accept the person he believes he was really meant to be. The Vanity Fair feature is her first public appearance as Caitlyn. And, in his words, “As soon as the Vanity Fair cover comes out, I’m free.”

As you might expect, the public’s responses have been all over the place. Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” made the astute observation that now that Jenner is a woman she is going to have the unfortunate experience of being treated like one; in other words, as if the only thing that matters is her appearance. Many other people have applauded her bravery. Still others feel that she is, at best, in need of some soul-saving, and at worst, an abomination. And then there is the transgender community, which might well see her as its ambassador.

There is also a fair amount of cynicism leveled at Jenner’s actions. She has been accused of doing all this as a publicity stunt and a way to drive traffic to her reality show, which is set to debut this summer on E! Network. She laughs at the idea that she would go through all this (including surgery to feminize her features) just to pay the bills. On the contrary, she sees this as an opportunity to educate the public about what it means to be transgender as well as offer hope to other people who are transgender.

Many people believe that it’s impossible to be “born in the wrong body,” that saying you’re the opposite sex (from the one you were assigned at birth) doesn’t make it true; and that being transgender is a choice. But even the DSM (the manual  used by clinicians and researchers to diagnose and classify mental disorders) recently revised its terminology from “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria” to remove some of the stigma and enable trans men and women to get help with their “profound state of unease or dissatisfaction” about the gender they were assigned at birth. It’s not exactly saying that transgender is as “normal” in its way as heterosexuality or that it’s just one of several ways to be gendered in our society, but it has backed off from treating it as a mental illness.

We need to stop treating being transgender as a disease or a sin and start listening to the people who claim it as their gender identity. There must be some reason why they feel the way they do; it’s not likely something they would make up as a lark. Imagine having others tell you that you’re crazy or perverted just because you’re trying to express who you feel you are at the fundamental core of your being.

When I first saw the Vanity Fair cover, I thought “Call me Caitlyn” was a plea, for understanding and acceptance. But the more I thought about it, the more I hoped that it was a command instead. We all have the right to tell others what to call us and we need to exercise that right without apology. To do otherwise is to lose who we are.

 

 

Obesity and Mental Illness: Are They Linked?

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Depressed Overweight WomanWhen the upcoming 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was being put together, a proposal was received that obesity and overeating be included as mental illnesses. Although this proposal was rejected, it does raise some interesting questions about the mental health of obese individuals.

Weight loss is a complicated process. People who have never had problems with obesity tend to think that losing weight is merely a matter of eating less and moving more. When obese people have trouble losing weight, others think they’re just not trying hard enough. This is the main reason for the hostility that is directed at obese people in our society: they are seen as lazy whiners who cost the health care system billions of dollars a year because of health problems that “they bring on themselves.”

The fact is, it’s not that easy to lose weight. There are myriad factors that play into weight gain. Some people inherit the tendency to gain weight. Others become heavy from poor eating habits, often instilled in childhood. Still others gain weight because of medications they’re on. Certainly lack of exercise plays a role as well. But the main reason obese people have trouble losing weight is that their obesity is all mixed up with mental health issues.

That’s not to say that obese people are mentally ill. But they are often depressed, have low self-esteem and lack confidence because of the way society judges them. If you were constantly being beaten down by “normal” weight individuals who see you as inferior, you’d have trouble mustering the courage and motivation to embark on a weight loss program, too.

That’s why it’s extremely important to have a mental health assessment if you find that you’re constantly trying and failing to lose weight. Clinical or bi-polar depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, even ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) can cause overeating. Sometimes medication and/or therapy can bring you up to a healthy level of functioning which in turn can be critical to your success.

This can be a two-edged sword, however. Most psychotropic medications cause weight gain, making it that much harder to accomplish your weight loss goal. Your doctor or therapist needs to be sensitive to the mental anguish this can cause. And you need to be aware that this is not your fault.

Even talk therapy can bring up issues that upset you and make you want to turn to food for comfort or to alleviate anxiety, further complicating your efforts to lose weight. It’s important to not get caught in a cycle of self-recrimination when you have these setbacks. It’s all part of the learning process.

In at least one study, obesity was associated with a 25-50% increased risk of lifetime psychiatric disorders (depression, mania, panic attacks, social phobia, agoraphobia), any lifetime mood or anxiety disorder, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. These issues must be dealt with or the obese person will find it nearly impossible to lose weight and maintain that weight loss, let alone be a fully functioning individual.

For more information about the DSM-5 and eating disorders, see this report by the American Psychiatric Association.

See also this article by Dr. Arya Sharma, “Obesity is Not a Mental Illness.”

 

 

 

 

 

What Losing 160 Pounds in a Year Looks Like

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When Julia Kozerski decided in 2009 to lose weight she started taking cell phone photos of herself trying on clothes in dressing rooms. After losing 160 pounds in a year, she published her photo series. You can see it here. (The first photo is to the right.)

This is an amazing feat, all the more so because she was a newlywed, a first-time homeowner, a full-time college student and a caretaker for her ill parents during the same period.

How did she lose the weight? She stopped eating junk food, started walking and biking daily, counted calories, and weighed and measured her food portions. (You can see a BodyBugg armband in many of the photos.)

It’s interesting to me that this article about her describes her motivation as wanting to “drastically change her lifestyle.” It was not specifically to lose weight, although I’m sure she was hoping that would be one of the results.

This is an important distinction. Losing any significant amount of weight requires a complete lifestyle change; anything less will not produce lasting results. The main reason that people regain weight after a weight loss is because they didn’t change their behaviors or they only changed them temporarily. Often the entire time they’re dieting, they’re dreaming of the day when they can go back to their “normal” way of eating. What they don’t realize is that they have to create a new normal.

One thing that surprised me about these photos was how good she looked even before she lost all the weight, especially when she wore the right clothes. The lesson I learned from that was that there is no such thing as “before” and “after,” with nothing good in between. We have a tendency to think that we won’t look good until we’ve reached our final goal.

We need to celebrate ourselves at any weight and not think of ourselves as incomplete or unfinished just because we still have weight to lose.

We also need to remember that losing the weight isn’t the ultimate goal. Changing our lives should be our primary motivation.

 

Fasting as a Weight Loss Technique

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Recently I heard about a new weight loss technique called intermittent fasting. The interesting thing about this technique is that the fast can be for as “little” as 16 hours. That leaves you eight hours a day when you can eat. You could fast, for instance, from 6 at night till 10 the next morning and then have a normal breakfast, lunch and dinner in the time between 10 AM and 6 PM. Of course, you’d still want to eat a healthy diet and not just pig out for eight hours. But you don’t have to starve yourself during your eating hours, because you’ve already done that during the night.

I hit upon a variation of this technique when I was making the rules for my new eating program. In my last post, I listed these rules as:

  1. Practice mini-fasting.
  2. Only eat at set meal and snack times.
  3. Cut down on portion sizes.
  4. Weigh-ins once a week only.

I had never heard of intermittent fasting. But I was familiar with the practice of fasting because as a Muslim I have fasted during Ramadan. The goal there is spiritual, but it occurred to me that I could use the same technique for those stretches of times between meals when I get especially hungry.

I’ve always failed at diets because I don’t handle hunger well. All I can think about is not being able to eat. But when I apply fasting techniques to a diet plan, I find that I can get through those periods relatively easily. All I do is remind myself that if I could fast for anywhere from 12-17 hours a day during Ramadan, then I can surely fast for four to six hours between meals, especially if I allow myself a very small snack somewhere in that period. That’s what I mean by “mini-fasting.”

Four to six hours may not seem like a “fast.” But when you’re eating 1200-1500 calories a day, the time between meals can seem like it will never end. Telling myself that I’ve gone longer—and asking God for strength to get through it—takes the edge off and makes the whole diet plan possible.

It works for me. I’m not saying that it would work for everyone. But I have found it relatively easy to implement and not as taxing as a 16-hour or longer fast would be. Combined with the other three rules above (and a few more refinements I’ve made along the way), I’ve been able to lose fourteen pounds in ten weeks without exercising.

My goal has never been to lose weight as quickly as possible. I just wanted an eating plan that was sustainable; that I could follow for the rest of my life even. Because my main goal has always been to get control of my eating so that it stops affecting other areas of my life. As long as the number on the scale keeps going downward, I’m happy. Because I know that I can keep doing this until I finally reach my goal weight.

For more about intermittent fasting, go here. This is an article geared toward men. Please be aware that there is some question about whether women should fast intermittently. I myself don’t see the necessity of extra-long fasts (like 16/8) since I’ve seen that “mini-fasting” as I practice it is effective enough for weight loss.

 

The Obesity Epidemic – How This Fat Person is Losing Weight

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I am one of the statistics of the obesity epidemic. When I was younger I weighed around 125 and I’m only 5’3″, so I was never skinny. But as of last May 26th, my weight had topped out at 204.

Since then I’ve lost thirteen pounds.  I’m not following a specific diet and I rarely exercise (in fact my lifestyle is basically sedentary). But still I’ve been able to lose almost a pound a week. What changed? My attitude.

First, what made me fat in the first place? 1) I stopped working; 2) I started taking medications that can cause weight gain; and 3) I went through menopause. A triple whammy. But I had also been overweight as a child and my mother struggled with obesity all her life, so I had a predisposition to gain weight. I just never expected to gain so much.

I used to have nightmares that I became so fat I couldn’t hold my arms down to my sides. Even after I slimmed down in the 6th grade, I thought of myself as fat, especially once my body started to develop. (I have a “womanly” body, which means I have more curves than angles.)

Still, when I really started to gain weight, I barely noticed at first. My first inkling that something was up (my weight) was when I tried on my winter coat and it felt tight. I thought it had shrunk. I know it’s hard for thin people to believe, but weight can sneak up on you, especially if you haven’t been weighing yourself. It wasn’t until I went to the doctor’s that I was hit with the awful truth: I had gained a total of forty pounds. But at that point I wasn’t even as fat as I would eventually become.

A few months later, when I started taking courses at the local university and started doing a lot of walking, I lost thirty pounds. But after I graduated, my weight started inching up again, literally. Especially in my waist, which got as wide as 44 inches. (Yes, I have the infamous “apple” shape.)

It’s funny how once you start thinking of yourself as really fat, it almost doesn’t matter how fat you get. Fat is fat, you figure. What’s ten more pounds? I kept thinking that way until I hit 204 and my 40DD bras started getting too tight.

Around the same time, I started going to counseling about my eating problems. (I have a tendency toward bulemia.) And during the course of that therapy, I realized that I had the means to do something about my weight. In fact, I was the only one who could do it. My therapist helped me to see that I was putting the blame for all my faults everywhere but on myself.

This tied into my religious beliefs which emphasize personal responsibility. (I converted to Islam three years ago.) If God holds us accountable, then we, too, have to hold ourselves accountable. We have to face who we really are and assess our strengths and weaknesses. But that doesn’t mean putting ourselves down, which is what I’d been doing.

I had settled into the “fat person” mindset: No matter what I was when  I was younger, I’m a fat person now and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m old, my meds make me gain weight, and I’m post-menopausal. What’s the use of trying to change?

One day I was writing in my journal about how my parents’ deaths had affected me. It seemed as though once I made it through the grief experience, I wasn’t the same person anymore. It was as if I had died with them and been born again as a new person.

I realized then that I could use that process to reinvent myself. I could die to the self who was keeping me from attaining my goals. All I had to do was pinpoint the most negative things that person was doing, and resolve to turn them around.

And because my preoccupation with my weight and over-eating was the worst culprit, I decided to start killing off those attitudes and behaviors first.

I sat down and wrote a list of things I do that contribute to my eating and weight problems.

  1. I hated going hungry.
  2. I ate all day long (also known as “grazing.”)
  3. My portion sizes were out of control.
  4. I judged myself by what I weighed each day.

Then I made up some rules that would counteract those behaviors and attitudes.

  1. Practice mini-fasting.
  2. Only eat at set meal and snack times.
  3. Cut down on portion sizes.
  4. Weigh-ins once a week only.

I made up my mind that I would stick to those rules no matter what.

See my next post on “Fasting as a Weight Loss Technique.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Anti-Aging, Anti-Ugly Beauty Product

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Fotoshop by Adobé from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.