The one question I kept asking myself:
How in hell did I get this big?
We all live our lives by labels. Those governed by birth are immovable. Whether you’re a baby-boom, Gen-X or millennial, you’ll be one for the rest of your life, even if you lie about it. Some birth labels, like nationality, look permanent but can be changed, and some we have even more say on, at least in theory. I’ve lived with one label too long.
If there is a word in the language I hate, that’s the one. Clinically, it means someone whose Body Mass Index is higher than 30; when the extra weight can really starts to compromise someone’s health. But to the many non-medical people, obesity is a character flaw, not evidence of a health problem, a weakness in someone else that can be exploited.
60 lbs. down and
I’m still OMG obese
And that kind of thinking can be hell to live with when you’re obese.
See, part of the pain of being really big is how that kind of treatment undercuts your confidence. Graduate with honors? Yeah, but you’re still obese. Complete a 5K? Doesn’t matter if you’re big as a house. Lose more than a hundred of those extra pounds? Well, that’s a really good effort darlin’, keep up the good work, but don’t think that you’ve earned my respect. Only thin people qualify for that.
For the last 30 years or so, I’ve listened to that old song while I rode the roller coaster of weight gain. And, as the scale numbers went up, my sense of self-worth plummeted. Like lots of other overweight people, I tried to compensate for my size by being smarter, funnier and nicer. Inside, I just got more tired, sadder, and fatter. So, instead of learning about getting healthy, I learned about the degrees of obesity. I watched myself morph from an obese woman into severely obese one, then morbidly obese, and finally super obese.
Overweight, yes, but,
I also learned all my compensation efforts didn’t work. Those who liked me liked me at any weight; everyone else turned away. Eventually, my fat almost became an invisibility cloak. See, many people don’t like to look at fat ladies huffing and puffing along, so they turn a blind eye to us. Even when we get into trouble. Part of me hated becoming invisible but, to tell the truth, by that point, I was working hard not to notice myself. Between that and turning a deaf ear to anything that sounded like negative criticism, I didn’t realize how my health was deteriorating until I was in very bad shape. When I couldn’t look away any longer.
Funny thing was, my visibility as a person started returning (along with my physical strength) as I slowly descended the obesity ladder. All of the sudden I could walk long distances again, run and cross my knees. But, for all of the improvement, I still was measured by that old label: obese. It felt like a death sentence.
Then, a few weeks ago, the scale numbers dropped again, and my Body Mass Index fell below the dreaded 30. If you looked at me, I doubt if you could tell the difference but a burden’s been lifted. I’m still too heavy but that label with dread connotations no longer applies to me. After 30 years, it’s the sun just rose and it feels like a whole new day.
“I’m just a Summer Girl, Living in a Summer World…”
The only thing is, Summer is ending.
That much is obvious, even without the store displays of Halloween Costumes and Football gear. Days are shortening, outside light is yellowing, and the trees have begun their annual game of pelting our metal roof with nuts. (it’s amazing how something that small can make that large a noise!) Autumn is coming again, and it’s time to take stock of what did and didn’t happen this Summer.
See More of Friends and Family: Well, yes and no. Sadly, I missed my High School Reunion again, and I only hope my classmates and hometown will forgive me. On the other hand, my nephew came to see us in June, and I talked with my sister almost every day, which is very good. Our folks would never have believed we’ve learned to be sisters and friends.
Learn to DIY on a Dime: Check. So, I’m a slave to all of those H&G/DIY shows/pictures/ideas, a truth that frightens my husband no end. (His lawn and garden dreams involve Astroturfing the yard.) The only thing is, we haven’t got the budget for hiring Home Improvement teams. So this summer I became less afraid of power tools and more conscious of a penny these days, and I’ve put that to work around our house.
After restoring a trunk and subdividing a Five Dollar Fern into Four, I used $25.00 in paint, cloth, and misc. to update the rest of front porch furniture. My Porch is important to me: it’s a fourth of our home’s entire footprint and more relaxing than a pitcher of martinis but, decor-wise, it needed some help. The old desk I had out there left long ago, and the porch swing’s cushions didn’t fit the swing. So I restored the surface of the old, white, resin, patio table, and added a painted and recovered, thrift-store chair to make a tea-and-snacks spot at one end…
…and used the rest of the fabric to cover the severed sections of the chaise-lounge cushion covering the Porch Swing at the other end. Granted, I’m no pretender to the Fixer Upper Show, but the Porch is, once again, a comfortable, sweet place to be and I did it without breaking the bank. Next, I’m turning a felled tree into rustic pavers for a stepping stone path.
Continue to Work on Health and Weight: Yup, although I think my days of faster weight loss are done. I’ve got a much lower BMI and resting heart rate now, so I really have to work to get the calorie-engine going. Luckily, this summer I re-discovered one of the physical activities I enjoyed as a kid: swimming!
For 27 years, I’ve lived within a stone’s throw of a beautiful community pool and never used it! That changed this year and, once I got over my bathing suit inhibitions, I realized (a) no one at the pool was looking at me, even when I accidentally wore my suit inside-out and (b) swimming is too much fun to give up, just because of age and flab. At any rate, it helped me drop and keep off another 10 pounds. Blouses I bought, but couldn’t button, back in April are suitable for public wearing now!
Re-entered the work force: Not yet, although I’m still trying. Well, the ideal job, like the ideal weight, doesn’t just appear; you have to go out and get it.
Actually experiencing Summer: This was my greatest wish. For years, I always seemed to miss participating in Summer, either through circumstance or choice, and I’ve felt back about that. After all, each of us has only so many summers in a lifetime, and it’s a shame to skip any of life’s rides. So I participated in Summer everywhere that I could, gardening and grilling, getting a tan and even jumping off the High Dive. (Which only gets more frightening with Age.) And, now that it’s September, I plan to enjoy Fall to the Fullest. I hope you have a Great Autumn too.
Ever been slapped upside the head by a forgotten Memory?
I’m not talking about the memories with short-cut, easy-access triggers. Those are the ones you use from every day, stuff like your computer password, social security number and how to drive a car. Other recollections get misfiled in dusty cranial drawers so when you need the information, you walk around feeling stupid for five minutes, saying, “I know (fill in the blank) like I know my own name, what is it?” I’m talking about the memories that pop up out of nowhere and surprise the heck out of you. That happened to me today. You could say it was a random accident or because Father’s Day is coming up soon. Personally, I think the culprit is cake.
See, dense sugar/carb sweets are like cocaine to me and I’ve been trying to live without them for the last 14 months or so. I’ve been doing pretty well with that too, not even missing the pastries I couldn’t live without before. At least until a couple of things that happened lately….
See some friends did us a wonderful favor. I mean HUGE. And nothing says “Thank You” to a friend like bringing them a great, big, gorgeous, dessert you’ve made yourself. But nothing will get me in trouble faster than getting my fingers near cake batter So, I purchased and froze one angel food cake, two cartons of ice cream, some strawberries and whipped topping. The frozen angel food cake was sliced into three layered rings, ice cream was spread like mortar between the layered rings, the whole thing was frosted with topping and strawberries and the result?
One “Thank You” cake pretty enough for the cover of Southern Living that still managed to avoid the perils of temptation…barely. But then, there came the cookout.
Cookouts are almost an obligatory component of summer, like visitors. Since we were hosting the latter, we had the former. And (because you can’t host a cook-out without dessert), pound cake and fruit were on offer for dessert. A dessert no one had room to eat. So after the cook-out, I’m stuck at home with a pound cake.
Does anyone remember Richard Pryor’s routine about the cocaine pipe? He swore that the pipe talked to him when he was actively freebasing. Now, when I first heard it, I thought he was a brilliant comedian, during the misery of addiction into performance art but I didn’t really believe the pipe talked. Well folks…the cake started talking.
VOICE IN THE KITCHEN: Lessslie. Oh, Lessslie… I’m heeere.
ME: Shut up, cake. I don’t want you.
VOICE IN THE KITCHEN: Now, we both know that’s a lie. You liiiike me. Come on over here.
ME: No. Go Away.
VOICE IN THE KITCHEN: You want me to go away? You know how to get rid of me.
Cake wouldn’t stop talking until I left the room and went to bed. Right after I cut out one thin slice.
Next morning, I’m back in the kitchen and cake’s voice is stronger than ever, which makes no sense since there’s less of him now on the plate. I’m actually considering eating a slice for breakfast when I heard one of my dad’s favorite records playing:
You came…and I was aloooone
I shudda knooown
You wuz Tump-TAY-shun
This was a speeded-up, country version of the old standard Red Ingle and Jo Stafford recorded. Dad loved because it sounded so silly. I hated it. I hadn’t heard of or thought of the recording for years, but here it was, plain as day.
I stood there, looking at Cake and listening to Stafford moan and yowl her way through the lyrics. When she got to,”Take it Away, Take it AWAY” the memory meaning clicked in my head. That cake was Tump-TAY-shun and I had to take it away or, succumb.
Well, somewhere in this favored land, 95% or more of a pound cake lies in wait, looking to seduce some other poor chump jonesing for sugar. But not in my house. And I have the memory of Dad’s music choices to thank for this. And I’ve decided, no matter what the occasion, I’m not bringing cake back into my house for awhile. It’s one dessert that doesn’t know when to shut up.
Me at the Beginning: Hair washed, earrings in place and a pan-fried disaster
This time, a year ago, I weighed 285. I’m not whining about this, and I’m certainly not bragging; I’m just stating a fact. A year ago my extra weight brought my life crashing to a halt. This seems like a good time to take stock.
If you had asked me, back then, if I could lose 100 pounds in a year, I would have cried and told you “No.” It takes energy to burn extra pounds off, and I didn’t have the “oomph” to clean my house or keep up at work, much less exercise. My house and yard needed cleaning and maintenance, my in-box was 7 inches thick, and I was in the middle of the disaster area, exhausted and overwhelmed. Get my life and my world back on track? I wasn’t sure how to begin!
That’s me on the left at 30 pounds down. I can tell even if you can’t!
I couldn’t have made it through those first few months without the help of Weight Watchers. They didn’t judge me, they taught me to consider what I ate, and they rejoiced over every ounce I dropped. They’re still there today, full of helpful hints and encouragement and I look forward to seeing “my gals” at every meeting. My writing teacher, Javacia, says we each need to find “our tribe” and when we do, love them hard. Weight Watchers is my tribe, and I love Y’all. You keep me focused.
Fitbit was my sister’s idea, just what you’d expect from an athletic, skinny woman. (Actually, she’s perfect, but don’t tell her I said so!) Fitbit gets me up and keeps me going, always looking out for ways to cram in more activity. I cleaned my closets to increased my Fitbit steps. I sanded and repainted my porch for the same reason. Each activity improved my health and my world, and because Fitbit always zeroes out at midnight, I can never rest on my laurels. Between Fitbit and WeightWatchers, I dropped the first 60 pounds. By then, I was ready for bigger measures.
1-month post surgery: 2 chins still but now a hint of a waist.
I don’t think weight-loss surgery is for everyone, but it’s been a wonder for me. Over the years, I had overeaten so much, my stomach had stretched, and I never felt full, even though I chased food like it was going out of style. Dr. Cameron Askew‘s gastric sleeve operation gives me a new lease on life, especially whenever we eat out. Three bites and then I start getting full; five bites and I’m done. I still have the curse of the emotional eater; the mindless drive to graze when I’m unhappy, but the surgery has done its work. I’ve dropped enough pounds to tackle bigger projects like replanting the garden and cutting back the trees that grew up while my weight tied me down.
1 year later
Now, none of this has been “easy” weight loss so far, and the journey is far from done. I can tell you what it’s like to lose 30 pounds, walk into a store and find nothing large enough to fit me; about waking up stiff and sore from yesterday’s workout to find the scale numbers went up, not down. I’ve outlasted at least two weight-loss plateaus. And it turns out I’ve got an ungodly allergy to poison oak. But on Tuesday, the reading on the scale was 184.5. One hundred pounds in a year. All of the sudden, I wasn’t tired or itchy.
I still have fifty pounds to drop, bald spots on my lawn, and a second career that has yet to take off. But I’d be lying if I said life isn’t better or I’m not a healthier or happier person. And, after everything’s been said and done, I’m thrilled about what can change in a year.
I’ve never been an athlete. I was raised in a family that sat whenever they could. Sitting was our clan’s favorite pastime, and our endurance in couch-potatery would have qualified us on the Olympic s if they could have turned it into a competitive sport. The fact that many of us were overweight was no surprise. The surprise was my sister, who ran for fun, and competed in track as a girl. Although she could sit, my sis could also move, and she was unafraid of competition. I was proud of her drive and talents, and she knew that. But neither believed I’d follow her example.
The Infamous Fitbit
All of which made my sister’s offer to buy me a Fitbit last May a bit of an awkward phone call. To her credit, Sis knew I was trying to lose weight, and she’s never pressed me to get active. Her suggested gift would help me lose weight. But that doesn’t mean I wanted to take it.
The few times I had tried exercise before, I’d ended up with sore joints and a lousy attitude. But it’s hard to turn my sister down, especially when her thought is well-meant. So, I said yes, thinking once I accepted the gift, that would be the end of the story. “Great, then we’ll both have one!” she said. “When you get your Fitbit account set up online, we can keep up with each other!”
Days later, I strapped on Sis’s gift, feeling like I’d stepped into a bear trap. The program had suggested goals, like 10K steps a day and 250 for each daylight hour. I doubted if I’d reach any of them, but I had to keep trying, at least until I saw my sis at an upcoming family visit. So, I started walking. I walked to the mailbox a dozen times a day, I stepped on the porch when it rained. I learned to read books and watch TV with my eyes on a computer screen and my legs pumping, up and down, in place. Yes, my sister frequently out-walked me but there were times when I triumphed as well, and the weight-loss plateau I was expecting didn’t appear. And each new day, the Fitbit zeroed itself out, and I began again which made activity a rule of life instead of the exception. And I found I could compete.
Every group of Fitbit friends can create challenges to outwalk each other during specified period. Once I joined a challenge or two, I found I didn’t like to lose. If someone posted a total of 12K steps before work, I didn’t give up, nor did I believe them. I just started stepping, determined to go further by the end of the day. According to Fitbit, I won 13 trophies last summer because I didn’t want to be out-stepped. And I continued to lose weight.
Fitbit even came to my rescue this month when my weight loss finally stalled. Fitbit’s records showed while my walking was adequate, my heart rate wasn’t rising enough to prompt weight-loss any longer. This led to new exercise choices that raised my heart rate and broke the plateau. And because each new day began at zero, I didn’t realize how far I’d walked.
Then came the email with this graphic of how far I walked with my unwanted present. With Fitbit, I walked off 60 pounds in half a year and covered the distance from my Alabama residence to my hometown in Kansas! I’ve changed from a “Sedentarian” to short-distance Forrest Gump because of my sister and Fitbit!
So, yes, I love my Fitbit. It only comes off for recharging or when I’m going to get wet. It keeps me coming back and reminds me what I need to do. And Sis, as far as I’m concerned, this is one of your best presents EVER.
This almost covers the distance I walked in 2016 – Imagine how far I’ll get this year!
There’s an ugly, dead tree at the bottom of my yard and I want it gone.
One very ugly, dead tree
Now, before you decide I’m some nut who wants to ruin the environment, let me admit the tree is dead. Also, I live in a place where Mother Nature needs editing more than encouragement. So, I’m not some terrible industrialist laying waste to the earth. But I am someone who lost control of my world. And I’m fighting to get it back.
Our house sits at the back of 4/3s of an acre on the crest of a low-lying hill. Because we live on a slope and my husband does not love lawn care, much of our yard belongs to the wild things. Trees and brush grow at the corners of the lot where birds and small animals make their homes. As long as the foliage didn’t obscure the view or road to our house, that’s fine. But then the ugly tree came along.
It came up during one of our 48-hour springs that seem to launch straight into summer. In March, it was a straight little sapling that hugged the edge of the road. By fall, it was too big for my loppers to cut down. Soon, insidious vines twisted around the tree, warping the trunk and obscuring the view of the house. Still, I never seemed to find the right moment to cut it back. Either I was dealing with some career or personal issue, or working on something for school, going to or recovering from my full-time job, taking care of the house, or writing. All of that is hard to do, especially when you’re carrying an extra 130 pounds in weight. So, every year, I missed my chance to cut back the tree and its vines during the dormant season. And every year, I gained more weight and my health got worse.
Why won’t this thing fall down??
I finally realised the tree and my weight both belong to me: they are my problems, my responsibility. I started losing weight, not all the weight I need to lose, but enough to go after that ugly, dead tree.
And I can tell you ugly dead trees don’t give up without a fight. First off, the vines around it are still living and fibrous and it takes work just to get them away. Also, the tree is surrounded by a ton of kudzu, stickle-briar and urushiol-bearing plants, all equipped with their own thorny defense systems. And the tree itself is a particularly dense hardwood. Yes, this would have been easier if I had a chainsaw but powered tools aren’t good for klutzes like me. Instead, I brought my small hatchet, a hand mitre saw and my inadequate 2″ loppers to the job, as well as a pair of gloves and 911 programmed into my cell phone. (I am very accident prone.) I hacked away with the hatchet until I quit making headway and then swapped to the saw and loppers, trying to slice through the trunk of that tree. Twenty-five minutes after starting, I was sweating, breathless, blistered and the ugly tree was still standing. (I’d also picked up a winter case of poison ivy but I didn’t know that at the time.) I was ready to quit. Then I realised the tree was more than a tree and I was working on two problems at once.
I’m not lying when I say my unhealthy weight is a problem that I’ve fought for decades. Decades. Like the vines on the sapling, it’s grown and tightened a grip on my life until I was almost as bad off as that tree. Over the last nine months, I’ve whittled away a lot of pounds through exercise, healthier choices, and even surgery, but, like the tree, the rest of my extra weight hasn’t fallen yet. My unhealthy life patterns aren’t giving up without a fight. And, if I turn my back on them now, those unhealthy vines will start creeping back. So, in spite of the cold, the rain and the poison ivy, I’m determined to keep hacking until the tree is down and the vines are ground up for mulch. It’s become a symbol of something else I want gone from my life.
Yes, the tree isn’t giving up easily. Then again, neither am I.