The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl

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At the age of twenty-three, Shauna Reid weighed 351 pounds. That shocked her so much, she made a fateful decision. She would do everything possible to lose weight and she would blog about her experience as a way to keep herself in line. Her blog, “The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl,” is still online. And the book of the same name covers the first 250 weeks of her journey.

What I love about the book (and the blog) is Shauna’s honesty and humor. I also really enjoyed going through her experience with her as it unfolded. The reader is there with her when she didn’t know whether she would be successful or not and follows all her ups and downs through the next five years of her life. (Don’t worry; the book is a quick read.)  She doesn’t try to gloss over the hard parts (there really were no easy parts) and makes it clear that losing that much weight requires a complete overhaul of one’s lifestyle and attitudes.

One thing that was interesting was that Shauna kept her blogging identity secret until for most of those five years. And she was very private about her accomplishment even with her friends. When she emigrated to Scotland after having lost a lot of her weight, she never told anyone how big she used to be. Now, however, the cat’s out of the bag, and she’s proud to acknowledge what she went through and to share the details of how she did it.

Now thirty-three, Shauna is characteristically honest about the fact that she has gained back 50 pounds. But she obviously hasn’t given up the fight. She isn’t the same person she was ten years ago, and the best part of the book is reading about her evolution from timid and insecure to a young woman who isn’t afraid to live life to its fullest.

Shauna writes this in the epilogue:

And that’s when I knew I’d found my Perfect Ending. I actually found it a long time ago, but it’s taken me a while to see it. I always thought I needed that number on the scale to prove that I’d earned this happiness, but from the moment I looked in the mirror and began to appreciate the view, I was already winning the prize.

I don’t know where the scale will end up, but after 333 weeks and a lifetime of angst, I’m not going to waste another minute worrying about it. My journey was never about what I weighed or the size of my jeans. The true reward is finding peace and acceptance and embracing my own skin, with all its quirks and charms.

“What to Expect” Books Giveaway! Get Yours Free!

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What to Expect Cover Almost thirty years ago a young mother-to-be, frustrated by her search for a good basic guide for pregnancy, decided to write her own. With the help of her mother and her sister, Heidi Murkoff wrote What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Originally published in 1984, and now in its fourth edition, the book consistently tops the New York Times Best Seller list in the paperback advice category, is one of USA Today’s “25 Most Influential Books” of the past 25 years and has been described as “the bible of American pregnancy.” According to USA Today, 93 percent of all expectant mothers who read a pregnancy guide read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. [Source: Wikipedia]

There are now over a dozen books in the “What to Expect” series, covering everything from what to eat while pregnant to the preschool years. I’m excited to announce that WhatToExpect.com has generously donated two copies each of What to Expect While You’re Expecting, What to Expect: The First Year and What to Expect: The Second Year for Femagination’s first giveaway!

All you have to do to qualify for the giveaway is leave a comment telling me the following: 1) Any thoughts or suggestions you have about Femagination; 2) Which of the books you prefer; and 3) Why you want the book. You must also leave some kind of contact information so that I can get back to you.

The giveaway comment period will last until September 30, 2011. Shortly after that I will announce the winners and send out the books, free of charge. All your information will be held strictly confidential.

As I Understand It: Basal Metabolic Rate and Weight Loss

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Note: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. What I am, however, is a currently fat person who has been dieting on and off for forty-seven years. Lately I’ve become frustrated with my futile attempts to lose weight and I’ve gone on a quest to gather as much information as I can about the mechanics of weight gain and loss.

People who have never gained a significant amount of weight have no idea how it can sneak up on you. Thin people don’t see how you can’t feel every extra ounce and go into furious activity to get rid of it. If you had only done that when you were one pound overweight, they think, the other pounds wouldn’t have followed.

But gaining weight isn’t like that. For one thing, the fat doesn’t show up immediately after eating the extra calories. Nor does it disappear as soon as you cut your calories. It’s not a mere addition or subtraction scenario. Calories go through a complicated process on their way to becoming whatever they’re going to be. And the one thing that makes it somewhat unpredictable is something known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR).

BMR is the rate at which your body burns up calories when you’re not doing anything. In an ideal (and just) world, everyone would have the same BMR. If we did, we’d all burn calories at the same rate no matter what age we are or body shape or size we have. If everyone’s BMR was suddenly the same (say somewhere in the middle) then skinny people would gain weight and fat people would lose weight. (BMR calculator here.)

That’s one reason why I get disgusted when weight loss “experts” state that gaining weight is merely a combination of too much food and too little exercise. They’re only partly right. It also depends on things like body type, age, sex, amount of muscle and fat on your body, and yes, basal metabolic rate.

Many, if not most, experts will tell you that your metabolism has little to do with weight gain. That may be true when you’re measuring like individuals (same age, same body composition). But tell that to a person who never had trouble maintaining her weight until she went through menopause. Or who eats and exercises exactly the same as her friend who has a smaller body type.

One thing they don’t usually tell you is that because muscle burns off more calories than fat does, you’re better off to do anaerobic than aerobic exercises. Aerobic exercises are important for improving cardiovascular fitness, but they’re not going to help that much to help you lose weight over the long haul. You can have great lungs and a healthy heartbeat and still be fat. Which is good news for fat people. But not so good for people who have been relying on the treadmill to help them to drop pounds.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it isn’t beneficial to move. For one thing, cardiovascular exercise makes your blood flow more efficiently throughout your body. But people who insist that you’re not going to see any benefits unless you exercise a half hour, or even an hour, every day are just setting the bar too high and making people feel like it’s pointless to exercise at all if they can’t meet that standard.

One thing that doesn’t raise the rate at which your body burns calories is eating less calories. In fact, when you do that, your body automatically lowers your BMR in order to save energy. Your calorie needs are only 1.2 times your BMR, so you’d have to undercut your calories well below your basic physical needs in order to see any significant weight loss. And guess what? That’s just not good for your body!

I know a young woman who lost 50 pounds in a half year by eating only 800-900 calories a day. Her only exercise was a lot of walking. She lost the weight but she stopped having a period naturally for several years afterward. (She had to take birth control pills in order to get her body to approximate having a period.) And she only did it for a few months. What happens to women who do it repeatedly or for a longer period of time?

Dieting works the same way addiction does, except that it takes less, not more, of the substance (in this case calories) to get the same result. So ultimately dieting is self-defeating behavior. Eat low-calorie, low-fat, low carb diets if you want to, but none of them stay effective forever. That’s why dieters go through so many diets. There is no one diet that is guaranteed to have results over the long haul. You can go on a starvation diet and your BMR will just keep going down until your body stops metabolizing food at all (and before that it metabolizes your own body until you’ve damaged it beyond repair).

The bottom line:

Don’t over-diet or you’ll lower your basal metabolic rate and have to eat even less calories to get the same result. (Over-dieting is my term for taking in too few calories or completely cutting out certain foods that are essential for your body to operate at peak capacity.)

Do exercise, but don’t feel that you have to meet someone else’s unrealistic goals (for you)— and make sure you emphasize building muscle mass.

If you find yourself yo-yoing (i.e., gaining and losing, gaining and losing in a vicious cycle), stop what you’re doing and find a sensible diet and exercise program that you can live with over the long haul.

Recognize that the heavier you are, the more calories you burn, so exercise is definitely not pointless.

Take into account your age, body type and composition, sex and medical conditions (or medications) that may slow down your metabolism. If you have any of these markers, exercise, not diet, is the key.

Be proactive: do your own research. There’s plenty of information out there, but be careful of websites that are just trying to sell you something.

It’s always a good idea to get a medical check-up, including a blood work-up, as soon as possible when you are planning to start an exercise and food modification program. Get your doctor to take you seriously. I can’t tell you how many doctors I’ve gone to who have completely ignored the fact that I’m fifty pounds overweight. Check with your health insurance to see if they cover visits to a nutritionist or memberships to a gym.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sex Ed Hall of Shame (reprint from Salon.com)

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In light of NYC’s mandate, we look at states with the worst policies when it comes to the birds and the bees
The sex ed hall of shame

iStockphoto/Salon

This week people were abuzz over news that New York City had mandated sex education — and some were simply scratching their heads at the realization that this wasn’t already the case. Seriously, it took this long?

Well, seriously, there are still 24 states that haven’t mandated sex education, including New York state.

That’s too many states to cover in any detail, so I’ll narrow it down to the worst of them. These are states that not only fail to mandate sex ed, but require that when it is taught, abstinence and the “importance of sex only within marriage” are stressed. These states make sure to defend “traditional” values, but they don’t protect scientific ones: Unlike some states, they don’t require that classes provide medically accurate information. Without further ado, the embarrassing eight that meet this criteria:

  • Alabama has “among the highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis of any state in the union,” according to youth advocate Amplify, and has the 15th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Another not-so-fun fact: It bans schools from teaching anything positive about homosexuality.
  • Arkansas has landed on some unfortunate top-ten lists: When it comes to STI rates among young people, it ranks 5th in terms of chlamydia, 7th for gonorrhea and 10th for syphilis. It also has the 8th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.
  • Florida has the sad distinction of ranking 1st in HIV infections and 12th in teen pregnancies.
  • Indiana fares well in terms of teen pregnancy and STI rates — relatively speaking — but the state’s teens “are among the least likely to report having used condoms the last time they had sex,” according to Amplify.
  • Louisiana has the highest syphilis rate among young people in this country. It’s also in the top ten for both chlamydia and gonorrhea, and 11th in terms of teen HIV.
  • Missouri was given a “C” rating on teen health by Amplify — while most of the states on this list received closer to a “D” — but, still, “the state has higher than average rates of STIs and lower than average rates of condom use among sexually active high school students.”
  • Texas has several claims to sex-shame: It ranks 5th for teen pregnancy, 3rd in young people with AIDS and 4th in terms of syphilis among teens. A whopping 96 percent of Texas school districts teach abstinence only, according to a study by the Texas Freedom Network.
  • Virginia has the 8th highest syphilis rate among young people. While it’s seen a decline in unplanned pregnancies, a study found that between 1991 and 2004 teen births still cost taxpayers roughly $3.1 billion.

The good news is that there are 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, that currently mandate sex education. But that’s a very basic achievement — it says nothing of the requirements and restrictions that are made on curricula across the country. Guttmacher reports that “26 states require that abstinence be stressed” in sex ed classes; meanwhile only 19 states insist on any mention of contraceptives. And we wonder why the U.S. has the highest teen birth rate in the developed world.

My Big Fat Story

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"Ellie the Elephant" (far right)

The word to describe me these days is obsessed. But then I’ve always been obsessed about my weight. Ever since I was in the third grade and some of my so-called friends called me “Ellie the Elephant.” (Yes, kids can be cruel.) I was definitely chubby, but not obese. And I slimmed way down by the sixth grade, partly by my own efforts (I distinctly remember refusing to eat desserts) and partly because I outgrew my baby fat.

As soon as I became a teenager however, I started to get fat again. At least that’s what I called it. What was really happening was that I was developing a figure. I looked at my flat-chested, skinny classmates and felt like a cow next to them. Because, except for that brief period between elementary and middle school, one thing I never could be called was skinny.

I managed to stay around the same weight all through my adulthood. Which to me meant that I was continually fat. Kim Brittingham in Read My Hips (see previous post) talks about finding a picture of herself as a teenager and being dumbfounded. All her life she had thought of it as her “fat picture.” And here it turned out, she wasn’t really fat in it at all.

That’s what I experience when I look back at all the pictures of myself as I passed through my twenties, thirties and forties. At the time I was convinced that I was gross and disgusting. The few times that I dipped below 120 just served to convince me that the rest of the time I was pathetically overweight. And to make matters worse, I was obsessed with food. I couldn’t go anywhere without thinking about food: what I’d eat, what I shouldn’t eat, how I was going to sneak all the food I wanted to eat without anyone realizing what I was doing. Because I was convinced that people would judge me for eating anything when I was obviously already losing the battle with food.

If only I’d been able to accept myself as I was! But at least it’s a comfort to know that I probably wasn’t making people vomit when they saw me. My secret obsession with weight and food was safe with me.

Until … dum da da dum … I started to go through menopause. At first the weight gain was incremental and I settled into a niche about ten pounds higher than I had been when I was younger. My parents died around this time and I went through a debilitating period of anxiety and depression. I began to take meds that made me gain weight. And when I had to quit working, I gained even more weight from not being as active.

Once menopause was complete I had a terrible time taking and keeping the weight off, but I did have small successes here and there. I was “only” 20-25 pounds overweight for several years. But in the last three years my weight has steadily risen even though I haven’t changed my habits. I now weigh close to 200 pounds and I’m only 5’3″.

I hate being thought of as that “fat” lady. I hate fitting the stereotype of the middle-aged woman who gets “matronly.” And I hate the thought that I might be fat in my coffin. But the fact is, I am fat and I have no choice but to deal with that reality.

 

 

“Fat” Books: Two Reviews

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I’ve been on a fat spree lately. I don’t mean that I’ve been eating fat or making fat (at least no more than usual), but that I’ve been reading about it. Specifically, I’ve been reading books by women at different stages of “fathood.”

The first book, Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help by Abby Ellin may sound like it’s only about kids, but in reality it’s about what we do to our kids to make them obsessed about their weight. Some of the kids whose stories are in the book are genuinely obese, but many of them are not even fat, or are only a little overweight. And yet they still have the same anxieties as the children who are struggling with being grossly overweight.

The author herself was probably never more than “chubby,” but that was enough for her grandmother to refuse to allow her to visit her when Ellin failed to lose the weight her grandmother thought she should lose. Ellin went to “fat” camps several summers in a row, in latter years as a counselor. She takes those experiences and adds to them from interviews she’s had with other “fatties” to flesh out a complete picture of what it’s like to be fat and fail to lose weight in this society. It’s not a pretty picture.

Ellin doesn’t end up making recommendations for how to combat childhood obesity other than that each fat person has to do it for herself. But there’s a lot of food for thought in this book and I recommend it even if you aren’t a parent with an obese child. We all need to look in the mirror when we start looking for someone to blame for the obesity crisis we have in this country.

The second book I read was by a woman who has come to terms with the fact that she’s fat. In fact, she celebrates it. In Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large, Kim Brittingham shares her philosophies about how people get fat, why they stay fat and why it shouldn’t matter. I loved her description of what it’s like to have a full belly:

When my belly is that full, it feels like I’m being hugged—from the inside … like someone or something else is “with” me … And being that full makes me feel anchored and substantial … Every occasion of overstuffing myself has been a subconscious tug-of-war between wanting to feel that full and dreading it.

What I like about Brittingham’s book is that it is not a book with the happy ending we’re expecting. The author doesn’t lose weight in the end. And yet it is still a success story. I don’t know if I could ever feel as comfortable about being fat as Brittingham does, but she makes a good case for accepting yourself at any weight and body-type.

I have several more “fat memoirs” on hold at the library, plus books about Overeater’s Anonymous, how French people don’t get fat and the Mayo Clinic Weight Loss Diet. Obviously I’m a little obsessed right now (can you be a “little” obsessed?). So I’m going to start a series of posts on the “fat” problem, including my own (look for the next post). Please comment from your own experiences, either as a person who also has a “fat” problem, or as someone who cares about those who do.