Monday, September 22, 2014

Magic pills and skinny elbows...

What are those? Hips? Why are they sticking out like that?
Are you starving? Eat something!
Photo by LimeBye via Flickr
Well, I did it.

This summer, I lost thirty pounds of fat from my body. It was easy; I hardly tried at all. That's because I took a magic pill. It's kind of a funny story really so I'll tell you about it.

I had trouble with my weight for a long time and at some point within the last few years, I stopped weighing myself. I put the scale in the closet and said I wasn't going to obsess about that number anymore. The scale didn't help, anyway. If anything, it made the struggle worse.

I was teaching Zumba but having trouble with my feet. When I finally had to stop and found out I had plantar fasciitis, I didn't do anything for a year but sit around in pain eating macaroni and cheese. (I ended up having surgery and being cured! All hail Dr. Garrow!) I gained a lot of weight that year. I knew I did, not from the scale but because...okay, I'm not going there. I was just really fat, let's put it that way.

I was dreading two upcoming doctors' appointments because I knew I'd have to get on the scale and I really didn't want to know how much I'd gained. I was prepared to ask not to be weighed, but I bucked up and just did it. The first doctor's scale told me I'd gained twenty pounds. Twenty pounds in one year! The second doctor's scale, three weeks later, said I'd lost a few pounds. Three pounds down, seventeen to go...only to be the normally overweight I was before.

Not that there's anything wrong with that...
Photo by Jenn (Yana) via Flickr

Truth: I wasn't that upset about it. I'd gotten to the point where I was starting to just be okay with myself. I'd been telling myself that this was the way my body was and it wasn't so bad. It was round, that's all. And anyway, I like brownies. And chocolate candy and fudge. And cake. And cookies. And ice cream. That's what I like so I should accept the body that comes with it.

Nine months later, I'm back at doctor number two for a regular check up (When you're old they make you go in more often) and unfortunately, I'd gained three pounds back instead of losing them, despite the fact that I'd gone back to dance fitness, at least as a student.

So, the doctor said, "Would you be interested in taking something to help?"
And I chuckled and said, "Well, there's no magic pill for that."
To which he responded, "Actually, there is."

And he gave me the magic pill. [Cue Pilot, "Magic."]

After about a week and a half on the magic pill, I decide I should weigh myself and keep track, to see if it's doing anything. So, I clean off the old Weight Watchers digital scale, hold my breath, and step on it.

What the hell?

I'm only about five pounds up from where I thought I was when I put the damn scale in the closet! There is no way I gained twenty pounds that year. No frickin' way! The way I figure it, even though I'm still not completely sure what happened, is that I lost some weight after putting the scale away, then when I was injured, I gained it back and then a few extra pounds, about ten total. Not twenty.

Wen I went back to the doctor after two months on the magic pill, his scale was now fixed, and he was flabbergasted. He was like, "wait...what?"

I told him his scale was wrong. Simple as that. And the other doctor's too. Wrong. I did not lose twenty pounds in two months. But I did lose twelve.

Anyway, I have to wonder now...would he have suggested the magic pill if the scale hadn't been wrong? I didn't even know this magic pill existed. I'd never have asked about it. There are some people who would call this a supernatural intercession of a sort. I call it wacky good luck.

There are problems with taking a magic pill, of course. First problem: I didn't have to work at controlling my cravings. So...what happens when that last pill is taken? So far, nothing. I'm eating about the same as I was when I was on it. But in the long term, I don't know. I'm worried about it. But one thing I do know is that the old saying, the one I've hated (partly because I've never been fond of sayings) is true.

It's true goddammit!

This isn't the first time I've realized that a saying I hate is true. Remember the Nike motto: Just do it! That always pissed me off. "Some people can't just do it," I'd say. And that's true enough. We poor, damaged, frail creatures can get bogged down with a lot of baggage in our lives. Some of us can't "just" overcome addictions, depression, weight gains, or loss. Life sometimes beats us up and we stay down. (Up, down, up down.) The last thing you should be saying to someone in the midst of any of that is "just" this or "just" that.

But in the end, I had to admit that "Just do it!" is, actually, the only way to get it done. You have to just do it, or stay down. If you have to stay down, okay. But if you can manage to get back up, just do it. Sure, you have to just do it over and over again until it actually works, but often enough, it does end up working.

The new no-longer-hated saying is: "Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels."

I used to think that saying was smug and snide. I'd be eating chocolate-iced brownies with a few scoops of vanilla ice cream, all topped with some hot fudge and thinking, yeah...right. I don't think there is anything better than this. Not a thing. Not a trip to Europe. Not sex. Not a really good book. There is NOTHING better than brownie a la mode.

But, as it turns out, there is something better and the smug, self-righteous thin people were right all along. Except I don't think people who have always been thin say that because when I grew up--thin--I don't recall ever noticing how good it felt to be thin. Being thin wasn't good or bad, it just was.

I started gaining weight right out of high school. I still remember the day I sat on the edge of my bed naked, just out of the shower, and I turned my head toward my mirrored closet doors. I caught a glimpse of myself and startled. For a split second I thought someone else was in my room. (There was a fat naked girl in my room!) I didn't recognize myself. As it turned out, I'd gained thirty-five pounds. I was horrified.

Mind you, at a weight gain of thirty-five pounds back then, I was only five pounds heavier than I am now. I am now just barely below the tipping point for being considered overweight for my height. So when I say I grew up thin, I'm mean I was a tiny little thing. I don't plan to even attempt to get down to my high-school weight (when the Bloodmobile came to our school, I was turned away. You have to be at least 110 pounds to give blood. Who knew?). But I do plan to lose a few more pounds and work to maintain my weight below that tipping point.

So, why am I talking about this? Because I was surprised. Really surprised to find that I'd forgotten how good it feels to be in my body without so much fat on it. Only, like I said before, I guess I didn't forget--I never knew. I took it for granted.

I look back now and I remember liking my body well enough. I wore my jeans so tight I had to lie down on the bed to zip them up. And I don't remember being uncomfortable in them. I liked fitted and tight. (I also wore my mascara a la Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, so I'm not applauding this choice...just sayin'.)

So here I am, fat by my just-out-of-high-school self's standards, amazed. I feel better in my clothes. I feel better walking and dancing. I feel better sitting. Everything feels better and I like it. I reached for my own elbow the other day and was amazed at how tiny it felt. It was like I had missed my elbow--I hadn't seen that elbow in so long! I know it sounds silly, but it's true.

I missed myself.

I understand that people who did not grow up thin have trouble seeing themselves in a new thin body when they lose a lot of weight. I get that. I think I was always looking in the mirror and seeing myself as hidden in there somewhere and now I feel like I'm back. I can see how it could be the opposite for someone whose image of himself is not particularly (relatively?) thin. Still, I was overweight for more years than I was ever thin. But maybe that self-image is struck when we're young.

So, I'm really happy to have found that magic pill, but now the real work starts. I read recently that they did a long term study that basically found that the best way to keep the weight off is to never gain it in the first place.

Evolutionarily, or biologically, speaking, we're made to keep that weight on. We're not made to gain it, though (although studies seem to show that some people gain more easily than others). If you've gained weight from a thin starting point, you've probably realized that gaining the weight took a long time. You have to train your body to keep eating more than it needs. Some of us get that training very early, unfortunately. Some of us train ourselves later.

But once we get the pounds packed on, our biology tells our bodies to keep it on. You never know when the regular famines our ancestors endured will return, after all. Losing weight is, for your body, suffering through a really long famine. And once the famine is over, it freaks out with joy and wants nothing more than to fill the fat cells again, in preparation for the next famine. And if you tortured it enough, it will want to put on even more weight--you know, to try to ward off what happened last time.

This study found that after people lost significant amounts of weight (thirty or more pounds, I think), for years after, their bodies released less of the hormone that tells you you're full and more of the hormone that asks for food. To put it simply, putting on weight and losing it changes you--it makes you tend to stay fat, whether you like it or not.

Losing weight isn't the hard part, as it turns out. Keeping it off is where the work is at. I've never been all that fond of work. I've always thought of myself as something of a misplaced princess. (Did you ever wonder why Disney princesses are always so thin? I can see Cinderella, sure; she was basically a servant. But you know what I mean. They're princesses, what do they do all day?)

If you put that biological love of fat with a negative body image (seeing your thin self as alien), the American tendency to eat meat at every meal, our tendency to eat fat and sugar every day, our ridiculous portion sizes, our hectic lives and stress, the constant bombardment of food advertising, and the fact that we really just like food, the fight is sometimes just not worth it.

But for me, at least, my new mantra is, "It's true: nothing tastes as good as this body feels right now!"

I guess I have that one thing going for me--that I grew up thin and see myself now as normal, not alien. That in itself doesn't mean I'll be successful, but what have I got to lose? (Aw, I made a pun.)

I'll just grab those elbows and hang on...