In May, when she could still hold a lengthy conversation without veering off into another world, my mother mentioned in passing that my brother once told her that she was responsible for my being overweight. (How we got to that point in our conversation is a very long story that I will spare you.) Or, rather, that she was responsible for my not losing the weight once I had gained it.

(I should explain. This particular brother has never had an excess weight problem. Not as a teenager and not as an adult. Like my sister, he’s always been one of those people with a need to be physically active. When we were younger, he and I looked alike enough to be twins. But we do not have the same interests or the same minds or the same outlook on exercise. He’s always been a bit of an exercise freak. He worked out all the time, ran even more, and was continually on the go. As a result, he’s always been kind of wiry. Me, on the other hand, I’m more cerebral, more indoorsy, sedentary. My pastimes were things like reading or painting or writing poetry, while his were judo, running, and suntanning.)

I’m not sure my brother actually understands my mother or where she comes from. Oh, he knows the dry facts of her early life, but I don’t think he really understands what that early life has done to her. Still, that’s his issue to deal with and really  none of my business except as I try to clean up the damage his comments leave behind.

But when you start blaming my mother for the road my life has taken, you’ve crossed the line well into my business…which, interestingly enough, is none of his concern. He has no idea why I’m overweight, or why I do or have done anything in my life. We really hardly know one another as adults. I’m not privy to the details of family conversations about my size, though I’m sure there has been one or two, but the fact of the matter is that no one involved in those conversations knows anything about me that I haven’t shared with them (or that isn’t several decades out-of-date). And I may or may not have shared the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some days I don’t even know what the Truth is with respect to my life and my internal motivations. Humans are complex creatures.

I don’t really care if family members talk about me, behind my back or in front of my face, or speculate to their hearts’ content about my life and my future. But I have a huge problem with people deliberately making my mother feel bad — adding to the guilt she has been carrying since she was ten years old — on my behalf. It’s mean, and it’s cruel.

Dude, look after your own house. Mine is none of your beeswax.


Pet peeves

I watched parts of Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s Eat to Save Your Life” program last Sunday night on the Food Network. At first I was a little bored by it, but it was actually pretty good. (If you missed it, you can watch it on Youtube.)

It got me thinking about some of the things that non-obese people do/say to obese people that really annoy me. OK, I know that kind of list could be reeeeeeeeally long so I’ll only pick the top three annoyances (you’re welcome):

  1. “You’ll lose weight if you just eat less and exercise more”

    My sister and I are opposite sides of the food issues coin: while I binge eat, she’s an exercise addict and, at times in her life, has been a borderline anorexic. She came to visit me for a couple of weeks several years ago, at a time when her body image issues were quite obvious. After she admitted to exercising rigourously in my bathroom because she caught a glimpse of her “fat legs” in the mirror (she’s a runner so she has a runner’s muscular legs but she sees the muscle and thinks “fat”), she and I had a long discussion about eating and food issues during which she pulled out the old “You’ll lose weight if you just eat less and exercise more”. It’s an arrogant naivité. Whatever an obese person might say in public defense of themselves, we all know inside that eating less/better and exercising more will make us lose weight. We’re not stupid. But you don’t become obese without there being some underlying mental or emotional issues that need to be addressed. Just losing weight won’t make those issues go away, and in fact that’s just likely to make people switch to a different addiction. (My food addiction and my sister’s exercise addiction are both manifestations of some deep, underlying emotional issues — and neither is healthy in the long-term.)
  2. People who think they must critique your food

    My mother worries about my weight constantly and has done so since I hit puberty. Every conversation with her invariably turned turned to advice about what I could be doing to lose weight. A couple of years ago, I told her and my father that they were no longer allowed to raise the issue of my weight — if I brought it up myself, it would be to share, not to start a dialogue. They’ve been good about accepting that.

    They’re not the people I’m talking about in this peeve, though. They’re just being parents, and I understand that. I’m talking about people like this guy I used to work with who, whenever the team was out for lunch, felt he had to comment on how unhealthy whatever I’d ordered was, and offer me tips for losing weight. I eventually had to tell him to shut up.Most obese people know what they need to do — or not do — to lose weight. In fact, I suspect that many obese know a great deal more about nutrition and health-related topics than the average person. We don’t need you to preach to us, to attempt to educate us with unsolicited advice. Unless we’re eating food off your plate, it is none of your business. And unless you’re asked for your advice, keep it to yourself.*

  3. Doctors saying “I’d be happy if you just lose x pounds”

    Liars. They wouldn’t be happy. They’d be happier than they would be if you lost nothing, but the instant you reach that goal, they’ll come up with a new “Well, if you only lost x more pounds, you’d [gain this benefit]”. They won’t truly be happy until you are within the acceptable range and/or meet their criteria for ideal size/weight. Don’t get me wrong. I understand why they do it. But it’s a little hypocritical, a little patronizing, and a lot annoying.

*Just to clarify — I’m talking about one-on-one communications here, not articles, blog posts, books, etc. Advise away in your own personal space. You may reach someone open to your advise. But when you’re talking to someone specific, be they friend or acquaintance, keep it to yourself unless you’re asked for it.

Obesity and flying

Airlines to accommodate obese (November 21, 2008)

Disabled travellers — including the morbidly obese — must be given an extra free seat on domestic flights as of Jan. 10 after the Supreme Court of Canada refused Thursday to hear an appeal by the country’s biggest airlines.

I’d started to post about this back in November when the news first broke. Coming as it did only a few months after my parents forked out well over $1000 to fly me home to Halifax for a weekend family gathering, I was both elated at the news and a little annoyed that it hadn’t come earlier. I wanted to research the idea a little more before commenting on it — it was such a new development that airlines hadn’t quite figured out how they were going to deal with it (what kind of proof  will be required, etc) — so the post languished in my Drafts folder. Continue reading “Obesity and flying”

Via, montiam su la’, Panniculi Panniculus

One of my concerns about losing weight, especially in this age of quick weight loss shows like the Biggest Loser, is loose skin. I have a lot of weight to lose, much of it in the form of an abdominal panniculus. As bad as it looks filled out with fat, it would lookalmost as bad as a sagging empty pouch.

Janice Elizabeth Small offers these tips:

1. Lose weight slowly
2. Eat nutrient rich foods
3. Preserve your muscle tone
4. Keep skin hydrated
5. Lose weight sooner rather than later

The Web site of Ron Brown, author of The Body Fat Guide, includes an article called The Myth of Loose Skin that offers some interesting ideas…and a little more hope than the usual advice given, which usually involves (ultimately) a tummy tuck. The article asserts that, by paying attention to body composition, ensuring that you maintain maximum lean body mass during weight loss, you can avoid much of the problem of loose skin. I might be tempted to buy his book except that (a) it’s out of print and (b) I refuse to pay an extra $4 to buy an electronic version of it using Paypal on his site. It’s the principle of the matter.

While poking around on the subject, I came across a February 2008 Globe and Mail article by Irving Gold called “Stop judging – obesity is about more than gluttony” that I found interesting. Here’s a snippet:

It’s also a complex issue, and we crave simplicity. Obesity is about much more than food and individual willpower. It is about the way we organize society, the way we build our cities, produce food, eat, shop and work. Grappling with obesity in a serious way requires us to look at ourselves and how we organize as citizens of a prosperous Western industrialized country. The obese don’t need our scorn — they need our understanding, support and protection. Obesity is about food, which we all require to live. The alcoholic can swear off alcohol, the diabetic can avoid refined sugar and the celiac can eliminate wheat. But the obese don’t have the luxury of swearing off food. Every meal presents a challenge.

Some of the reader comments are particularly insightful. Some are are, well, complete piles of crap. Most are somewhere in between. The crux of the matter is that obesity is more than just eating too much and doing too little. Not many people comprehend that if they haven’t experienced it themselves or don’t at least know someone who has experienced it. I’m not talking about overweight. In my natural state, with a happy, healthy mind and emotional centre, I’d probably still be overweight by 20 or 30 pounds. *That* you can definitely blame strictly on eating too much and/or doing too little — some of my favourite non-pure-junk foods are still high in fat (mmmm, cheese) and/or sugars and I hate to exercise. But 20-30 pounds overweight is not obese. Obesity doesn’t happen easily or comfortably. Dealing with the overeating and/or lack of physical activity without dealing with the underlying issues that drive that person to overeat just results in them replacing one crutch (food) with another (frequently exercise).

Think of obesity as the physical manifestation or symptom of an underlying mental issue. The comparison to alcoholism is very appropos. Both are using a substance as a coping mechanism. My sister is addicted to exercising (denying her the ability to jog for a day results in an angry, frantic jonesing as bad as any drug addict). It’s her method of coping with stress and problems that she can’t deal with any other way. It’s more acceptable socially than my coping method but, either way you cut it, we both have serious mental issues that we’re not dealing with in a healthy way.

It’s funny that I came across that today. That particular article was written shortly after a ruling that airlines couldn’t discriminate against obese passengers by charging them extra. Yesterday, a friend and I were talking about the very subject of overweight people and airplanes. As an overweight person, I would have no problem paying for two economy seats — if I could actually make use of the two seats. Unfortunately, airlines here use planes for short hops (e.g. Toronto to Halifax or Calgary to Vancouver) that have immovable armrests between seats so you can’t turn two seats into one large one for an obese passenger. (Hell, as a thin passenger, I’d love to have the option to buy two seats so that I could have some decent shoulder room.) Expecting an obese person to pay for a business class seat, though, which frequently costs four times or more than an economy class ticket, is unreasonable.