Category Archives: forty years of diets

Why does the opinion of my clothes matter to me?

So I have a ritual that I engage in periodically. I should rephrase that: I usually do this only when I’m feeling good in my skin after weight loss. I’ve written previously about my diet and exercise history and how I’m now attaining slow and steady weight loss while not actively dieting (but consistently working out). With weight loss comes the inevitable need for smaller sized clothing. Only I don’t need to go shopping in a store. I go “shopping in my closet” because I have full wardrobes in storage, with sizes ranging from 10 to 24. They are carefully labeled by size classes: M-L-XL-XXL-XXXL. There is no box labeled “S.” I don’t think I’ve ever been a size small. Perhaps when I was in fourth grade? Maybe not even then.

My ritual goes something like this: everyone is out of the house, and I’m feeling puckish with new weigh loss. I likely have noticed that some of my current clothes are a little loose. That’s the signal that it is time to try on garments in the next size box. My heart literally races with excitement to see what may now fit. This is such fun, but it also strikes me somewhat sad that I enjoy this so much. 

Why do I take such delight in becoming smaller? 

I pull out the box and revisit my old friends neatly folded within. Pants, blouses, sweaters, jackets are all there. I unfold each item to assess whether I want to try it on. I don’t waste time on something that is clearly not ready to be brought back into circulation. It’s only a “score” if it fits and then it gets placed into the active closet. Items in the current closet that have become too loose get folded and placed back in their respective size box, hopefully to never be seen again.

My ritual can take an hour or so to perform. I hate being interrupted in the middle of it.

Does this sound familiar? Does anyone perform such a ritual? Or is it just me that does this because I own so many clothes in such a wide range of sizes? Clothes that reflect my history of years of disordered eating and failed diets. My sense of worth gets tied up in the “box” that I currently fit in. Why should the opinion of my clothes matter so much to me?

Of course, there are the times that I need to revisit the boxes in the next larger sizes. There is less joy in this process, but I’m grateful that I have something to wear, even if I feel shame in returning to those larger sizes. At that point, I’m unable to deal with the mental fallout of purchasing anything new. It’s best for me to hang onto those boxes with the bigger sizes for those upward cycles.

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My use of this ritual doesn’t mean that I never buy new. Things wear out or are so grossly out of style that it’s not sensible to keep them. I only return garments to boxes if I would ever wear them again. I guess this is where the “sparks joy” rule comes into play. If I no longer love a piece, it goes to Good Will. If it’s too worn out, it goes to trash.

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Sadly, so many of my clothes are intended for work, and I won’t really need them in the next year, outside of a few dressier items. I may need a new suite of rules to determine what stays and goes in the boxes. I suspect that my size will stabilize once the stress and anxiety of my job are gone. Hopefully, there won’t be so many boxes in the closet in the future.

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

On being fat: the present (part 4)

I was at lunch with a friend a couple of months ago — ah, those carefree, pre-pandemic days. Remember those? Anyway, my friend commented that I looked like I had lost weight. I pondered for a bit and thought, yah, I think I may have lost a few pounds. I had noticed that my clothes were looser, and not in a stretched out way. But I hadn’t weighed myself in ages because the bathroom scale stopped working last year and I never bought a replacement. One of my steps in this recovery is to avoid continually weighing myself. Not having a readily available scale supports this step.   

But then I became curious. Could I be losing weight and not realize it? And how does that happen for a person with a life-long obsession with weight? I decided to buy a new scale in early March to see what was up.

I was surprised to find that I weighed 20 lbs less than I did while on a bike tour last summer. Much to my disappointment, I had actually gained weight while training for that tour. While some of that difference could be from comparing weights from different scales, 20 lbs is more weight than what can be attributed to miscalibrations alone. I took my measurements and found that I lost inches all over, which confirmed the scale numbers. 

It was slow, but it happened. How could I be losing weight without an ungodly effort? But wait….unexplained weight loss is a symptom of several diseases. Am I sick and don’t know it? Or is my body responding to 1) my working through some long-held emotional issues and to 2) an increased effort to feed myself well? I’m hopeful that the answer is the latter.

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Fat as a protector: I’ve often thought that I used fat as a protector. Maybe not consciously, but having a lot of fat served a purpose. There was safety in those folds and lumps. As a child, food was comfort, and eating provided relief from torment at school and a discomfited home life. I could hide from some of that in my fat. Later, fat protected me from unwanted sexual attention and harrassment. It made me look bigger, tougher and I felt less attractive. I was perhaps less vulnerable.

At work, fat protected me from overload in a field where I received little support. You want the best on your science team — the fat lady who cannot control her expanding waistline may not be your first choice. In a sense, my fatness kept me out of the fast, stressful science lane. While I wasn’t happy about being overlooked, fat protected me from taking on too much. Fat justified my lack of success.

In the past year, since I’ve made the decision to retire early and leave my field, I’ve felt a sense of strength and calm that I’m not sure I’ve ever had as an adult. My decision allows me to say no to taking on new things. No new panels. No new assignments. No grant writing or administration. I am focused on finishing up a couple of projects that have dragged on for years — things I should have been working on all along. I’ve begun to feel less resentment toward my work group as I begin this wrap-up. And, perhaps coincidentally, my weight started going down, on its own. I might not feel the need to be protected any longer.

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Slow and steady progress: My newer approaches are helping me deal with my food issues, dieting past, and various adversities along the way. No more restrictive dieting plans. No food groups are off-limits. I eat what I want, in quantities that satisfy me to the point where I’m no longer thinking about food. While this may sound as permission to overeat, I found that once I removed restrictions, the unrelenting appeal to binge left. I now hate the discomfort that comes from too much food. I can recognize foods that don’t agree with me (e.g., too much protein). Since I eat what I want, I don’t feel like I’m missing out anymore.

Most of our events planned for this summer have been canceled and the pool is off-limits, so I’m not actively training for anything. It’s certainly less stressful, and I appreciate the break. I still get some exercise daily — even just walking the dogs for a couple of miles. I go for bike rides to get out of the house and take in some scenery when the weather permits. Since I can’t swim, I’ve recently toyed with trying to run. But it’s all more of a “want-to” than a “have-to.” I’m not sure how that will change when things begin to open back up, and my gym becomes accessible. I still struggle to find a balance between training and getting stressed about “performance.” That’s probably because I felt so ill-prepared because of my on-going struggle with weight.

I’ve also changed my attitude toward rest. For so long, I believed that serious people in my profession didn’t have the luxury of sleeping late or weekends off. Now I’m embracing sleeping past 6 am and for more than 7 hours a night. I still work on the weekend occasionally, but I take time off during the week. I’ve stopped believing a lot of the bullshit thrown at me over the years about how we need to spend inordinate amounts of time dedicated to our jobs, to the detriment of everything else. Knowing that I can retire at any time has been enormously helpful in this regard.

I’m also actively working on stress reduction. This probably should have been listed first. Writing, reading, and journaling are my methods to reduce emotional stress and strain. I’m working on understanding my fears, beliefs, experiences relative to my diet history — and to how I do my work.

I still have a lot of old rules in my thinking. For instance, the other night, I thought that I’d better hurry and eat because it was almost 7 pm — and my Intermittent Fasting plan had called for not eating after 7. And then I realized that that was stupid.

No more stupid, stupid rules.

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Modern-day and the pandemic: So — kind of weird — I’ve lost another 9 lbs since I bought that scale in early March. This coincides roughly with the beginning of the stay-at-home restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m wonderng if I should be concerned about this, or just embrace the result. I’m eating better and stressing less, and that clearly seems to help. The forced self-isolation has allowed me to focus on the work I need to do to get to retirement. That pathway is clear. Every week, another item drops from my plate. Projects delayed or called off, conferences and meetings canceled or transferred to on-line — all freeing up weeks of my time and focus. Each time another item drops, I feel my shoulders lift, and I breathe easier.

How does this translate to weight loss? Is the sense of feeling safer, more secure, and readiness to move on all a part of the slow, gradual release of fat?

I need to see how this plays out over the next few months. I’ve become my own test case. 

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

On being fat: the last diet (part 3)

I kept trying: By the time I hit my 50’s, I was back up to about 240 lbs, despite my on-going dieting efforts. I turned toward endurance exercise, along with weight-lifting. I joined gyms, took Les Mills classes and spin classes, did weight-training, swam, and hired personal trainers. I trained for a triathlon with a friend but didn’t end up doing it due to injury. I weight-cycled the same 10-20 lbs for a few years. The fat hung on. 

My thinner-sized clothes from my protein shake days were quietly packed away in a box, waiting for another opportunity to be sprung free. They joined the clothes that I bought as “incentives.” Those are the ones that I would buy to keep me motivated to lose weight to fit into a pretty garment. How long did it take me to learn that this didn’t work? Some beautiful pieces in that box still have the tags on them, waiting for me to become smaller. Good thing I’m not worried about fashion trends.

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My last diet: About 18 months ago, I decided to try a Keto diet (high fat/low carb). I know some swear by it — the same way I’ve sworn by other diets for nearly 40 years. Would this one really be different for me though? After reading The Obesity Code, I decided to pull out all the stops and go full force into Keto, along with periodic Intermittent Fasting. A ten-week experiment ensued, undertaken at the height of the eating season that included my birthday and Thanksgiving. I was damn dedicated and stuck to it because this seemed like the answer. I studied recipes and bought high-fat foods. I tracked macros. I consumed things that I didn’t even realize were food. And I fasted often — typically 16 hours at a stretch, several days a week.

The experience? It was stressful. I didn’t feel well. I was low energy and slowed in thought — both things I can ill afford. It was nearly torturous to workout because I felt like hell. At one point, I was arguing with my personal trainer over the weight that she thought I should be lifting. I may have thrown something during that session. That’s not me — that was the diet talking.

I get that it takes time for the body to adjust, but I kept feeling worse and worse. Keto flu? I never was able to get past it. My GI issues flared without carbs, and my hair started falling out. To top it all off, my net weight change in over two months was zero. All that effort and expense for what was virtually a draw in terms of benefit. It was an abysmal failure.

Or maybe not. 

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That last diet might not have been a failure because, by the end, I felt like I was over with all of it. Done with dieting. I cannot/will not do this to myself anymore. My first diet was nearly 40 years ago, and I’ve been dealing with this nonsense my entire adult life. I’ve read enough and lived through enough to understand that drastic restriction with food — or elimination of entire food groups — simply doesn’t work. I’ve lost hundreds of pounds in that 40 years — all under constant stress and worry about what I was eating and whether I exercised enough. I’ve avoided doing so many things because I felt too fat and unworthy — putting them off until I became thinner. I lost a lot of living in all of those years.

I have to change how I deal with food. This isn’t by choice — I just cannot restrict anymore. 

To be continued…..

Photo by Kelly Neil on Unsplash

On being fat: the endless diet years (part 2)

The vegetarian years: I worked as a technician for a few years after college, before starting graduate school. I began dating the man who I would later marry. My job and my relationship were both pretty relaxed. I maintained my weight, although I still felt that I was too heavy. In hindsight, this was probably my most normal eating period. Our jobs were physical, involving a lot of hiking and packing equipment to remote locations. We’d then go running after work and hiking or skiing on the weekends. I followed a strict vegetarian diet because of ethical concerns over eating animals — and also because of “fewer calories.” I still binge-purged, but with far less frequency.

So why did this magical time end? Probably because this approach took an ungodly amount of time and effort. My job would soon become less physical and more desk-bound. Life began to interfere with my constant vigilance with my weight.

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Graduate school years: Wow, did things go downhill rapidly once I started graduate school, both with my weight and my psyche. I felt so out of my league, in over my head, and out of control throughout most of my graduate school years. I never figured out how to traverse this intensely competitive environment. Being a woman in a male-dominated field in the late ’80’s and not feeling particularly welcome didn’t help. My old ED habits resurfaced. Only this time, it was far more difficult to restrict. The less I tried to eat, the more I ended up bingeing. I gained so much so fast and was extremely embarrassed about my rapidly expanding body. I may have tried to stay active, but that proved difficult with my massive workload – a theme that kept repeating over the next years.

Looking back, all the signs were there that I was not cut out for this career. Perhaps the panic attacks were a clue. One reason I went into the field was that I felt challenged. But there’s a difference between being challenged and “left in the dust, limping just to keep up.” There is no winning with the latter. I kept at it, hoping things would get easier, but I would never really feel competent and accepted here. Perhaps that’s by design, and many scientists feel this way. Most aren’t eating themselves into oblivion though.

I did much weight cycling between getting my Masters and Ph.D., but I never got back to my lower weight. I always felt judged for being too fat — who wants to work with a fat field scientist? I was a “moderate fat” when I started my post-graduate position in a science agency, taking on more responsibilities, and feeling further out of place. I continued to eat to combat the stress, which led to additional weight gain. At one point in my mid 30’s, I estimate that I was about 300 lbs. I never got on a scale to know that for certain, but I was substantially heavier than my highest known weight (260). I wore men’s XXL shirts and sport leggings nearly all the time. I remember ordering some new clothes to wear to a conference — they were a size 22 and didn’t come close to fitting. So I was at least a size 24 or 26. I remember standing in front of the mirror in those clothes, buttons unfastened, feeling aghast at how large I had gotten.

I had to fix this. But how?

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The commercial diet years: I spent most of the next 20 years trying various ways to reduce and control my weight. Like most dieters, I’ve done the usual suspects: Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Atkins, and some less well-known plans in between, some of my own creation. They worked at first. I’d lose 30 lbs or so and go on a clothes buying spree. The joy weight loss brought me was unmeasurable.

Inevitably, I’d go off the plan because I got so hungry or felt terrible. I’d promise to “start again” the next morning, the next week, or the next month. I’d “be good” in the future if only I could have some food now. As people who study weight loss have begun to understand, such diets simply aren’t sustainable in the long-run and have been shown to wreak havoc with one’s metabolism (looking at you, Biggest Loser). In my case, nearly all of the diets exacerbated my tendency toward disordered eating — because they really are forms of disordered eating themselves.

Perhaps the worst example was a period of years in my mid-40’s when I did a high protein “shake” diet — 5 packets of chemical conglomeration a day along with one small meal. If one followed this correctly, the total calories were about 1000-1200/day. The pitch was that the body would go into ketosis, and hunger would just fall away. I’ve been in ketosis. It did nothing magical for me. I was still flipping hungry.

I did lose a lot of weight though and got to about 160 at the lowest. I was also barely functional. I remember sitting in my office and staring at my computer screen, unable to form words on the page while trying to write my papers. My brain had stopped working. Don’t get me started me on the GI issues that accompanied this approach. I was also prone to binges where I’d snarf carbs until I almost exploded, thinking that I could never have them again. Still, I got thinner, at least for a while.

As I started the inevitable regain, I tried even harder to follow this ridiculous plan that had brought me some weight loss success. I was dropping $300 a month on those dreaded packets, but it was getting more onerous to consume them. The taste was making me gag and I’d try to find ways to make them more palatable. I’d read the social media boards set up by the company, searching for ideas and inspiration. They were there, along with the requisite before and after pictures. Lots of people having lots of success. What was wrong with me?

What I didn’t realize was that the company shilling these products took down unfavorable comments and banned negative users. I discovered off-site boards that reviewed this diet and found people who were having the same struggles that I was. I began to realize that the problem wasn’t me, it was this dumbass approach to weight loss.

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A few years later, when we moved out of that house, I found boxes of expired packets in our basement and briefly thought about restarting that diet. I decided that I’d rather stay fat than do that again.

To be continued…….

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

On being fat: the early years (part 1)

I swore I wouldn’t make this blog about being fat and endless diets, but here I am with it. 

I feel like I need to write this series to provide context — where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and the serious, potentially health-robbing mistakes that I’ve made. Feeling heavy or being abnormally fat has been a part of my existence forever and, therefore, impossible for me to ignore. My adult weight has ranged from 150 to an estimated nearly 300 lbs. A huge range, I know. I lived it.

One thing I’ve learned is that my weight is directly linked to what is going on in my life at a given point in time. More stress equals more pounds. And while my weight gains were often due to stress eating, I know that this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes, my body just hung onto fat, no matter what I did. I suspect that this may be the case for others, as well.  

I can’t write about my current outlook towards my pending retirement and future athletic pursuits without acknowledging this background. While it was the cause of much pain, fat also protected me. I’m still working through the emotional aspects of my diet and weight history, particularly as it relates to my career in an esoteric field that perhaps wasn’t the ideal one for me. 

This series of posts was challenging to write, and I’ve reconsidered posting them several times. But all signs point to the necessity of going through this history if only to point a way forward. 

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The harsh beginning: I’m the youngest of 3, with 2 much older brothers who were 10 and 17 when I was born. I was definitely not planned, arriving a decade after my parents decided to stop having more kids. I came along at a less than ideal time — strained health, financial distress, caretaking of grandparents, one son out of control, and (later) death of that son by a drunk driver. It was an anxious environment to grow up under, as my parents were pre-occupied with just surviving. There was much tension whenever they were together, manifested as either yelling or silence. I learned that my role was to stay out of the way and not make trouble. I spent a lot of time alone while growing up, often away from the house. I’m pretty certain that I sought solace in food through all of that. This led to weight gain, enough to be ridiculed by other kids for being too fat. Yah, I was the fat kid that everyone made fun of. Which led to more solace in food. A bitter cycle.

My family did try, really. They were doing the best that they could under some stressful circumstances. I think that we all were dealing with some trauma in that household, although from different sources. I wasn’t neglected, but I felt like I was an afterthought much of the time. But my primary torment came from bullies at school. My fat body made me an easy target, and I couldn’t walk down the hall without some dimwit pointing out my round belly or thick thighs. Facing that every day was unrelenting and harsh.

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My first weight loss and athletic goals: I lost weight when I left high school and got away from my bullies. I went on my first “diet” the summer before my freshman year in college. I cut back on food, swam, and walked daily. The results were pretty dramatic. I lost 60 pounds and started college looking much different than my senior high school picture. The difference in how people treated me was startling. Unfortunately, I also attracted attention that I simply did not know how to handle, after years of being ignored or targeted.

I had been a casual swimmer in high school, even swimming on a junior “training team” at a local swim club. I also worked at a sports facility as a swim instructor and lifeguard. Yes, I did that even while fat. Now, newly “thin” and starting my freshman year, I decided to try out for the collegiate swim team – a huge leap. While I wanted to do a sport, I also saw this as a way to burn enough calories to stay thin. But, I knew very little about sports nutrition and the need to adequately fuel for strenuous workouts. I kept austere eating habits while trying to swim 1 to 2 practices a day. I was an okay swimmer, but certainly not exceptional. I wonder how I would have done if I had simply eaten enough food.

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The ED period: I tried to eat as little food as possible to stay thin during my early college years. That approach soon turned into a raging eating disorder — fast-binge-purge. The thing about bingeing and purging is that while it’s brutal, you generally keep enough food to maintain yourself. Most purgers don’t obtain super-thin levels — much to the disappointment of many purgers.

Ironically, nearly all my friends (collegiate athletes in swimming, soccer, and cross-country) had eating disorders too. One roommate would fast all day, run a cross-country practice, and then hit up an ice cream shop for their largest serving (topped by cookies) after her daily workout. A fellow swimmer was bulimic and forced herself to puke nightly. Still, another swimmer practiced severe eating restrictions, such as having only a bran muffin in the morning and only a big bowl of air-popped popcorn at night. In a way, we sought each other out to justify our behaviors — and maybe feel normal in the process. We were all crazy around food but were surviving, so it must have been okay. Or so we thought.

I eventually sought help from a psychologist for my eating disorder. My shrink suggested that I use purging as a tool for those occasional times that I might overeat. He didn’t get that I was doing this multiple times a week. I’m not sure if he was clueless or that eating disorders were a relatively new thing that he was seeing in his practice. This was in the ’80s, and there was less understanding of these behaviors and the accompanying impacts. Instead, he seemed more interested in discussing my relationship with my boyfriend at the time. I ended up leaving my shrink after he started hitting on me.

Later, I was part of a newly formed eating disorder group organized by our student health clinic. There were 8-10 of us in that group, with a range of disorders. We talked, but there wasn’t much trust or support amongst us. Instead, it became a competition to see who was most disordered. I found that I wasn’t even good at disordered eating because I wasn’t super thin like some of the others in the group. I recall one girl pointing this out, saying that she was surprised that I purged because I was so large (!). I wasn’t fucking large. The group was disbanded after a few months because everyone’s behavior was getting worse.

It quickly became evident that I was on my own with this.

To be continued….

Photo from author