Monday, January 28, 2008

And it only cost me a pound!

Like most topics that crop up in this blog, I vowed I wouldn't write about my weight and now here I am doing it, even though I could be anything from the width of a stick to the side of a house and it wouldn't matter as far as my internet presence is concerned. However, as this has been a significant preoccupation for all of my adult life (and most of my adolescence), it's remarkable that I've failed to mention it at all.

By medical and social definition I am obese, not quite 'morbidly obese', but with a sufficiently disproportionate height to weight ratio for that incredibly ugly word to apply. Honestly, I'd rather be called fat, chubby, tubby, lardy, pudgy, chunky, cuddly or anything than 'obese'.

I've experienced many phases of 'obesity': first there was the puppy fat stage, which coincided with puberty and in retrospect is somewhat more than coincidence, in that every epochal change in my weight has occurred at the same time as a significant hormonal event. Being a social scientist is not a good thing when it comes to trying to explain these changes. Adolescence is a trying time for almost everyone and mine was not exactly a smooth transition into adulthood, to say the very least. In other words it might have been the hormones but there are too many other factors that may account for my weight in stones matching my age from 12 to 16.

The next change came in the form of a pregnancy that ended at thirteen weeks. Again, my activities were such that I was walking a mile or two a day, hardly eating at all, so hormones alone can not be thanked for the sudden decrease in weight - 3 stone in two months this time. By the end of this phase I was 11 stone, my lowest weight since childhood and, eye witnesses tell me, rather gaunt-looking. Some sensible adjustments in diet put me back up between 12 and a half and 13 stone, which was where my weight stayed until after the birth of my first daughter.

There's not much can be done to control appetite and diet when caught between breast-feeding and pregnancy, so I tried once (appetite suppressants prescribed by one GP and later condemned by another GP in the same practice) then gave up. My second daughter was born, my weight was 16 and a half stone and stable - until the hysterectomy.

Bear in mind I was mid-degree study, consuming vast amounts of college canteen cappuccinos and quick meals. It wasn't that I didn't notice my weight increasing; I chose to ignore it. No scales in my house or anywhere else I frequented, so it was easy done, other than my discarded clothes poking me vengefully every time I shuffled them across to fit in the next size up.

Finally, after expanding from UK size 16 to size 26 over seven years, several factors worked together to cajole me into doing something about it. I was losing hours of sleep due to backache, Nigel had lost his fitness due to illness and a colleague asked me if my ankles were swollen. Well, yes, they were - with fat. I went to a fitness centre, weighed in at 19 stone 4 and decided it was time to gain control.

There are many bizarre rituals that I share with my fellow travellers on this terrible journey. I recall with much amusement (now it's so long ago) a time when my mum and I were dieting. It was serious starvation of the body at 750 calories a day, drawn from dry salad, brown rice, pasta and low calorie bread. One evening we jogged from home to the town centre, bought chips, went to the pub where my dad worked, had a drink and got the bus back home. I think that might have been the end of that diet, although my loathing of most things wholemeal and boring, bare salad harps back to that time.

Another thing we do to ration the calories is miss meals, usually breakfast, which any dietician / nutritionist will tell you is one of the most likely ways of failing to lose weight at all. Breakfast gets the metabolism going and stops severe bingeing later in the day. Us fatties, however, often see it as the one meal we can forego because it occurs when we are least hungry and therefore we can save the calories so we can have a decent meal fit for more than a rabbit at teatime. Eating breakfast pretty much every day was one of the 3 big changes I made to my lifestyle six years ago.

'Shape Up And Dance' with Felicity Kendal. Oh, what profound hatred I have for that poor woman because of this particular ritual. We've all done it - one of my colleagues uses a DVD that requires her to be aerobic with Patsy Palmer and she despises her too. The theory, I imagine, is that with just a little investment in one of these products we can fit a decent workout into our daily routines without too much effort. The reality is yet another piece of abandoned clutter in our fat-fighting lives, with the added bonus that we get to dust it and feel guilty at the same time.

I said that 6 years ago I decided I had to get in control of this weight issue, but this is not necessarily about losing weight and it's most certainly not about being the ideal weight for my height, which by all accounts is between 7 and a half and 9 and a half stone. At my lowest weight of 11 stone I was, by all official measures, still 'overweight'. I would be more than happy to be 11 stone again. My family would worry about me if I was though, as they did last time.

What I needed to control was the total obsession with my weight - not easy when every medical professional deems it necessary to pass negative, usually threat-loaded comment. Then there's the fact that clothes' shops don't stock my size, people commenting with a smile of encouragement when it looks like I might have lost some weight. I was sick to the back teeth of all of it. Being overweight makes you feel guilty about eating, causes you to judge other overweight people when they're eating, destroys your self confidence and leaves you convinced you're a failure.

When I had sinus surgery a couple of years ago I was the fittest I'd ever been in my life. OK, I was still about 16 stone, but my pulse rate was normal and when I told the nurse who took it that I had been working out, changed my diet etc. and lost 3+ stone. The response? Nothing. Hooray!

It's a work in progress, which is a wonderful freedom. I have this thing with the house that if it looks half-decorated then that is far better than in need of decorating. I'm doing something about it, getting there slowly. I'm still fat, but I'm not over-eating and I'm exercising regularly.

And I know I'm not over-eating because I signed up to a free online calorie counting service two weeks ago, more to check that this was true than to get all fixated on how many calories are in the things I want to eat. Amazingly, even with the pizza, kebabs and lager I've consumed during that time I've still stayed at 2000 calories or less a day.

Having lost only a pathetic, singular pound in the past week (with concerted effort on the exercise front) I am a little miffed that things aren't progressing faster, but I will not allow this aspect of my life to be the thing that controls everything else. It did so for far too long. I know that I, like all abnormally thin or fat people, will never be free from monitoring my weight, diet and exercise levels. There are many who are lucky that they will never understand how difficult this is to live with.

Perhaps a little truth can be found in the old adage that inside every fat person there's a thin person sometimes striving, often giving up on the possibility of ever getting out. I for one do not want to be thin. It's just not right for me.

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