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.
I hated going hungry.
I ate all day long (also known as “grazing.”)
My portion sizes were out of control.
I judged myself by what I weighed each day.
Then I made up some rules that would counteract those behaviors and attitudes.
Only eat at set meal and snack times.
Cut down on portion sizes.
Weigh-ins once a week only.
I made up my mind that I would stick to those rules no matter what.
The math is simple – of the one in five adults in most Western countries, who are now considered ‘obese’, very few of them were obese as kids or even as young adults.
In fact, most obese adults are 40 or older. And, despite the alarming increase in childhood obesity (now affecting about one in twelve kids), obesity rates in younger adults remain at about 10% or less. Indeed, the greatest increase in obesity is seen in 45-54 year old men.
These numbers alone should tell us that most obese adults (and thus, the vast majority of obese people alive today), developed obesity as adults – not as kids!
This is not to say that excess weight in childhood is not a major predictor of excess weight in adulthood – many of my patients recall being teased and bullied about their weight 30 years ago, when they were growing up in rural Alberta, helping with chores around the farm, riding their bikes to school everyday, and playing shinny hockey on a frozen pond all winter.
But the majority of my patients did not have a weight problem till well into adulthood.
Why do I bring this up?
Simply because, I believe that better understanding, or even fully preventing, childhood obesity is unlikely to have a noticeable impact on adult obesity rates anytime soon.
The problems that lead to obesity for the vast majority of obese adults occurred during their adult years.
Their obesity was not caused by lack of phys-ed classes, poor school lunch programs, hallway vending machines, or parents too busy to cook dinners from scratch.
Their obesity was probably also not caused by too much video gaming, too much TV watching, or not playing outside till the lights came on.
Remember, the demographic group with currently the highest obesity rates (almost one in three) were kids in the 50s and 60s – an era, when a 6 oz serving of pop was considered a rare treat.
Why is any of this important?
1) Focusing all of our efforts solely on better understanding the drivers of childhood obesity and trying to prevent it likely means continuing to ignore the drivers of adult obesity, which account for the vast majority of obesity in the population.
2) Even if we successfully eliminate childhood obesity, by say, changing our kids’ lifestyles back to the lifestyles of kids in the 1960s, we may still see obesity affecting as many people in 50 years as it does today.
3) Adults with obesity today will live another 30-40 years (or longer) – many more adults not obese today, will become obese tomorrow – this is why preventing and treating ADULT obesity must be the most important priority for any health care system.
4) While childhood obesity is certainly a risk factor for adult obesity – the main driver of childhood obesity is ADULT obesity – having just one obese parent markedly increases the risk for childhood obesity – having two obese parents is virtually a guarantee. Thus, any solution to childhood obesity must focus on the ‘root cause’ of kids’ excess weight, i.e. having obese parents – these parents need treatment.
5) As far as I can tell, the strongest ‘halo’ affect of treating adult obesity is on their kids (the most extreme examples of this come from the kids of parents who have undergone bariatric surgery). Simply stated: successfully treat the parents and you ‘automatically’ prevent obesity in the kids.
I am not implying that childhood obesity is not a concern and that improving the lifestyles of all our kids (irrespective of their shapes and sizes) should not be an important goal.
All I am saying is that we need to stop ignoring the adults if we hope to make any dent in the obesity epidemic in our lifetime.
Imagine if the obesity epidemic was due to a virus that mostly affects adults – would we just be vaccinating the kids?
Dr. Arya M. Sharma, MD/PhD, FRCPC is Professor of Medicine & Chair in Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. He is also the Clinical Co-Chair of the Alberta Health Services Obesity Program.
As many of you know, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the subjects of weight loss and obesity for a few weeks now. (Can you be “a bit” obsessed??)
I’ve been reading books and blog posts by women who have won the battle (either to lose weight or to learn to love themselves the way they are). One thing they have all have in common is that there is no easy fix, no magic formula for becoming slim. (How I love—and hate—that word “slim.” Like “svelte,” it conjures up an image of a woman gracefully gliding through life, which is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do, no matter how “slim” I become.)
On the contrary, losing weight requires discipline and sacrifice, no matter how you do it. And even after losing the weight, like an alcoholic you have to be ever vigilant against falling into the bad habits that caused you to gain weight the first time (or second or third or fourth—you get the picture).
Today I’m happy to present Marilyn Polson, author of the daily weight loss blog, Wait for the Miracle. Marilyn inspires me to keep going and work harder to attain my goal. Marilyn has lost over 50 pounds since May of this year and she accomplished this mainly through diet and exercise. (She still has approximately 30-50 pounds to go.) It may seem like she’s discovered a quick fix, but believe me, she has worked hard to get this far.
Marilyn has given me permission to share her “fat” story. Maybe you’ll see some parallels to your own life. At the very least, I think it will help you to understand the mindset of a person who struggles with her weight. Although everyone is different, there are some things that all fat people can relate to.
Here, in her own words, is Marilyn’s story:
I grew up in the Twiggy era, where stick thin was in. I was not stick thin nor was I ever going to be. I wasn’t fat; I had curves and a rear end larger than it should have been, but I was still able to wear my bikini and hold my own. I wore a size 10 most of the time until my 20s. I was normal; I didn’t stick out in one way or the other.
Food however, was an issue for as long as I can remember. I felt like our dinner table was a battlefield. I was a very picky eater and my father had no tolerance for that. What Mom cooked we ate. There were no special meals prepared and you sat there until you finished your meal. Usually Mom cooked two vegetables and you had to eat one. As long as there were peas, carrots or corn I was fine. When those were not an option, I knew it was going to be a long meal. I made a vow that when I had my own home I would eat what I wanted and when.
When I married at 19 that is exactly what I did. My mom had never taught me and my sisters how to cook, but luckily my husband’s mother was a woman before her time and she taught all her kids how to cook. From day one my husband took on that chore. Even though he was a good cook, most of the time we ate junk. Mac and cheese was a constant because it was cheap. We ate a lot of casseroles because they were also cheap and easy. KFC was a steady pick; we both loved fried chicken and neither one of us ever learned to make it right. I loved my chips, Cheetos, ice cream and chocolate. One thing I could do was bake so there were always cookies, pies and cakes to enjoy. I was happy.
I always used to hide my M&M’s; even then I didn’t like to share. My nieces would come over and think it was a game to find where they were hidden. If they found the M&M’s they could have them but I didn’t help in the search, secretly hoping that my stash wouldn’t be found.
My husband joined the Army and off we went to Oklahoma. We didn’t have much then so food became an even greater issue. Some weeks mac and cheese was all we had because it was all we could afford.
I battled with problem pregnancies. Whenever I started to bleed heavily, I was not permitted to eat for 24 hours, sometimes longer, in case I had to have surgery. Mentally I would eat all I could when I could because I never knew when the fast would begin. That was the start of binging behavior. By the time I was 24, I had had four miscarriages and was told that I shouldn’t get pregnant again. I did manage to lose enough weight to be “normal” again; my average size was a 12. That wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, but I still felt fat.
My husband was a very jealous man and Army life made matters worse. He was never violent toward me but if a man was talking to me he would punch first and ask questions later. It was humiliating. I consciously decided to gain weight because I thought I would then become invisible. Men would no longer talk to me and that issue would resolve itself. Only it didn’t work. I have a personality that people find easy to approach and the problem persisted.
By the time I was 30, we were living in Texas. I was an apartment manager and we had a problem at the family pool with a drunk who had unacceptable behavior. I went out to ask him to leave the pool area and he said to me, “I bet you were a fox when you were young.” I was crushed. I was already not taking turning 30 well. Now I felt old and fat. So I ate more. It got so bad, the girls in my office started emptying my desk drawers and throwing away the food. I just went to the store and bought more.
My husband was now a full-fledged alcoholic and life was getting too big to handle. Food was now my best and only friend. He worked late, I ate. He came home, I ate. The cycle was non-stop. The more he drank the more I ate. Even then I was a size 16 and at 5’4” I was certainly overweight but felt that it was still still manageable.
In 1990, my husband left the military. Life was hard but at least I was home again. I joined a diet program and lost most of the weight. I was 140 pounds and back to a size 12. I even became a group leader part time. We needed the money and I enjoyed the meetings.
At 40 I was healthy and at a good weight but then I decided to quit smoking. I started to gain weight. The doctor told me to do something I couldn’t do if I smoked so I started running. I worked up to two miles a day but I didn’t stop eating. I ran right up until I got too fat to do it anymore! My metabolism was shattered.
I started every kind of diet you can imagine and nothing worked. I was injected with urine from pregnant women; I took diet pills, drank protein shakes, and ate odd combinations of food that were supposed to complement each other (as long as there were no vegetables involved!). Adkins worked for a short time but I couldn’t stick with it. I moved from diet to diet getting more and more frustrated.
I was divorced in 2001 and all my friends told me to lose weight or I would never attract another man. I told them all I didn’t need any man who didn’t want me as I was. I was self-sufficient and I was going to enjoy my life. After all, I went from my daddy’s home to my husband’s home; I had never lived on my own. It was about time I learned to please myself. This was actually a great excuse to binge even more. I hid my pain in food. Still not a cook, I had take-out on the nights my mom didn’t cook for me. Snacks were staples; that sweet and salt cycle. I ate until the pain went away.
I found myself hovering around 200 pounds and was mortified. I started another diet program in 2003 and lost 35 pounds and felt good again. I started going dancing for the exercise and socialization. I needed to learn to be around men; I hadn’t dated since 1974! Dancing was great; I could get used to being close and not have to deal with any other issues. And then I met John.
John liked me just the way I was. He was kind to me and affectionate. I didn’t know how much I craved that until I received it. He was constant motion and another alcoholic. (I never learn the first time!) We had a ball; we went dancing and bar hopping all the time. I rarely drank so I was the DD (designated driver). We both found what we needed. And then binging reared its ugly head again. We ate out almost every night: wings, pizza, steaks, junk, junk and more junk. We married in 2005 and the cycle continued. When I tried to diet it was useless. Our lifestyle did not support any kind of moderation.
In 2007, John had a spiritual awakening and stopped drinking cold turkey. What I prayed for became a reality. Our life slowly started to make sense and change; except I was not able to stop binging. I joined other programs and learned about eating addictions. I ate for the very reason alcoholics drank. I learned that binging was a behavior, not an emotion. That helped me to gain some control. I also learned that most diets had built-in binge food. Once I figured that out I was able to view dieting differently. I didn’t lose weight but my attitude started to change. I was not ready for the total surrender yet.
In May of 2011 my physician told me that if I did not lose weight I was headed for diabetes. That scared me silly. My dad had food-related diabetes and while it didn’t lead to his death, it certainly didn’t help. I did not want to become a diabetic. I was ready. I was also 241 pounds and miserable.
I decided to Google all the diets in Central Florida and one by one eliminated the programs that I knew I would not work. I read and I made phone calls. Once I found the program that I felt was right for me I made the appointment and got started. June 1st, 2011 was the beginning of a new life.
I follow this new program even when I think I cannot. I also added all the things that every diet I ever used told me to do. I use small plates and silverware, I corralled a support system, I exercise, I journal (blog), anything I can think of I do. Now it is working. I feel better than I have felt in years. There are no more excuses; I must lose the weight.
I don’t have a goal or target weight yet. My doctor and I will decide that when the time comes. Right now I am just going to focus on day to day and not worry about the long term. I set small goals for myself and give non-food rewards when they are met. I pray constantly to my God for support and strength. I believe this is important. I never allowed God to be a part of the process before. Now I can tell when I am leading the way and when I surrender. It is amazing. I don’t know how long this will take but I am willing to keep moving forward and live my life. I am doing this for me. I want a life worth living today.
Read my own “fat” story here: “My Big Fat Story.”It has a lot of similarities to Marilyn’s except that at the time I wrote it, I hadn’t started to lose weight. If you have a story of your own you’d like to share, just go to “Contact” and drop me a line.
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.
There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about recent instances of gay teens who committed suicide after being bullied by their peers. But gay teens are not the only ones who are being bullied to the point of suicide (although they are the most at risk for it: four times as likely as straight teens to commit suicide). Salon.com recently printed Rebecca Golden’s account of the bullying she received as a fat child, of her thoughts of suicide by the age of 12 and the continuing cruelty she has had to endure into her adulthood.
The thing is, I know some people are going to read that first paragraph and think, “Big deal! How does that compare to what gay teens go through? And besides, being gay is not a choice but being fat is.” And that attitude makes me crazy. People are fat for a variety of reasons, most of them complex and, without outside help, out of their control. The jury is out on whether or not fat people are more likely to commit suicide than normal weight people. Some studies have even suggested that they are less likely to do so. I’ve even heard it said that fat people have trouble committing suicide because of their weight. (Ponder that for a moment.)
But if the link between obesity and suicide is tenuous, the link between obesity and depression is not, at least not in our society. Fat people know what “normal” people think of them and that knowledge contributes to their depression. Maura Kelly, a blogger for MarieClaire magazine, only came right out and said what most people think when she wrote:
I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.
Kelly caught a lot of flak for her comments and she later apologized in an update. But it was too late: the cat had been let out of the bag. When fat people read her words, they knew that she was speaking for most of the (non-fat) people in America. And it hurt.
It always hurts, no matter how thick your skin. Even when people are well-meaning, their remarks can cut deep. “You can do it. All you have to do is eat a healthy diet and get more exercise.” If it was that easy, there simply wouldn’t be that many fat people. Fast food and hours in front of the television or computer don’t completely explain why people are fat. It’s not that simple. But slim people don’t believe that. And the media merely reflects what most people think.
I’m crushed. I just found out that my favorite dessert in the world is incredibly bad for me. (Okay, my favorite after cheesecake, but I knew that cheesecake was bad for me.) Apparently ice cream contains high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which has been found to cause significantly more weight gain than regular sugar, calorie for calorie. In a recent story on the Care2 website, Melissa Breyer explains that excess fructose is metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles. And a study released on March 18, 2010 reports that HFCS not only produces body fat, but that this fat tends to accumulate in the abdomen, which has been connected to a higher rate of heart disease. It also causes a rise in triglycerides (circulating blood fats), another contributor to heart disease.
Why am I picking on ice cream? Because it’s such an insidious source of HFCS: it’s everywhere and people eat it by the buckets. Ice cream is not the only food that contains HFCS; staples such as bread, ketchup, mayonnaise, cereal, fruit juice, soda and yogurt do, too. But ice cream usually contains high levels of HFCS. When the choices were few–chocolate, strawberry and vanilla–ice cream was tempting enough. But now the choices are astounding and they’re loaded with ingredients that weigh in heavily on the HFCS scale. Take, for example, Baskin Robbins’ Heath® Shake.
Beside the fact that this junk food abomination is so filled with corn syrup that it should (holding true to the rules of ethanol propulsion) be able to power a small vehicle, it is also loaded with 266g of sugar (more than a cup of sugar) in a single 32 oz. serving. On the positive end of the spectrum, it contains a whopping 35g of protein, but this comes at a cost of 1560mg of sodium, 64g of saturated fat, and 295mg of artery-barricading cholesterol, with a total caloric intake of 2,310 calories per shake (roughly the entire recommended daily caloric intake for an adult, all in one serving).
I usually stay away from shakes, but they can’t be much worse than Dairy Queen Blizzards®, which I love. (A small Heath Blizzard contains 600 calories; a large contains 1260!) And in case you think you’re safe with a simple vanilla cone, Dairy Queen’s medium size is 330 calories. [I found a very complete–and eye-opening–nutrition calculator on DQ’s web site.] I may never eat at DQ again. But that’s targeting DQ unfairly. From what I can determine, all ice cream is bad for you. Even a low-calorie version is easily 100 calories per half-cup (and who stops at a half-cup? Have you seen four ounces of ice cream?).
The truth is, anything with milk in it automatically has a lot of calories. If you’re looking to add calcium to your diet, even skim milk contains 90 calories per cup and provides less than one-third of the recommended daily amount of calcium. That makes it a viable alternative to ice cream (or yogurt or cheese), but it certainly doesn’t satisfy like ice cream. You’re better off to get at least part of your calcium from supplements. (You might want to check with your doctor first.)
So, the bottom line is, I’m just going to have to convince myself that I really, really hate ice cream, at least until I lose forty pounds and 10 inches around my middle! Good luck with that, Ellen.