Saturday, June 19, 2010

The weight of the world

Since my last post, a lot has happened. I went to my college reunion, where I had the shocking realization that I'm one of those people who put on a significant amount of weight since college. I noticeably surprised at least a few former classmates, including one who pinched my abdomen and said, "What's going on here?" (I wasn't upset; he's a good enough friend that he gets to do that without incurring my wrath.) I walked around Oberlin in the muggy summer heat feeling like a big mound of fat. Many of my classmates seemed quite fit, and some looked younger than they had during college. I felt unappealing, regretful, and confused -- how had I let this happen to me?

Then I went to New York, where I began reading Frank Bruni's excellent memoir, Born Round. In it, the former New York Times food critic talks about his struggles with bulimia and compulsive overeating. I felt like I was reading my own story. In New York, I was walking a lot every day, much more than I do in Seattle; the same had been true in Oberlin. In both places, I had no other affordable transportation option. I huffed and puffed at times, but I survived. At the same time, I managed to eat more moderately than I had in many, many months.

The result: I lost weight. Even so, by the time I got to Virginia for an old friend's wedding, I once again felt fat and unattractive. It probably didn't help that Richmond was even muggier than Ohio and New York, and that the temperature was around 95 degrees. Also, weddings are a merciless indicator of how I'm feeling about my romantic prospects; in this case, I felt suddenly as though I'd be single forever unless I found a way to sustain my experiment in moderate eating. Being thin isn't the key to attracting a mate, but reining in self-destructive overeating would do wonders for my self-esteem (I know from past experience). In fact, I think getting a handle on my eating habits, and finding a way to exercise, would improve all areas of my life. Nothing can substitute for hard-won confidence.

I managed about five days of moderate eating after returning to Seattle, and then Shabbat dinner at the Kibbutz knocked me for a loop. (I wrote about this phenomenon recently for Carbs and sugar may not be the devil, but to someone looking to kick binge eating, they're diabolical enough. William Leith, in his food-addiction memoir, The Hungry Years, points out that carbs are many people's binge food of choice. Avoiding them entirely may not be practical or necessary, but cutting down, especially during communal feasts, is vital.

Focusing on fruits, vegetables, and protein has helped me feel healthier during the past couple weeks, and falling off the low-carb wagon last night was, well, instructive. I'm currently reading a book called 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, and it helpfully addresses the black-and-white thinking that can doom a moderate eating regimen. People trying to change their eating habits make mistakes. There's almost always something to learn from them, provided you're able to spend a few moments not emotionally beating yourself to a bloody pulp.

As Bruni points out in his book, one screw-up can lead to the following logic: "Well, I messed up; might as well get it all out of my system with a nice, long binge! Then I can start my diet again in the morning." When this becomes a daily pattern, any hope of actually returning to moderate eating begins to fade. As I told my mother in Virginia, what I have trouble holding onto is that essential thing, hope, the intangible quantity that keeps people doing and trying, day in and day out. Wanting to give up? It happens. Actually giving up? A bad idea. In that spirit, I've enrolled in a "Couch to 5K" running class that takes the out-of-shape and gets them ready to run a 5K without stopping. The process takes six weeks. My ex-girlfriend Kelly is taking the class, and she looks and feels great.

I'm not much keener on running than on any other kind of vigorous exercise, but the gradualness of the Couch to 5K program appeals to me, as does the fact that it caters to people who, like me, aren't very fit. Also, the group runs will probably make it easier for me to handle the solo ones (the class involves homework). I thought about trying the program earlier this year, but going it completely alone, without a coach or fellow runners, was just too daunting. That's the thing about change: It's harder in isolation.

Dane likes to remind me that I hate change, and I've recently started correcting her more fervently. I don't hate change as much as I hate feeling worthless and ugly and empty. I just hate not knowing what to do to achieve the kind of change I want. I hate not knowing where to put my energy. And I hate being depressed, because it undercuts the part of me that loves change, that craves it, that desperately needs it to survive. When people learn how to change while being gentle with themselves, they love it. That's all I want, and I don't think it's an unreasonable goal.

1 comment:

Melon said...

A) In some cases, the Obie reunion just came at a really good time - if it had been last year, I could have been your Fat Buddy (grad school sedentariness in a place where we needed a car for the 1st time, depressed job hunting, celebratory job-acquisition feasts, etc.), but it happened to be this year, when I've lost 40lbs.
B) You can do anything you actually, really want to, whether you hate change or not. It's got nothing to do with it. Change you start yourself isn't the same as change forced on you.
C) I totally wimped out of Couch to 5k - god, I hate running. But I like lifting weights! :)