Thursday, October 22, 2009

When did food become the (my) enemy? "I just want to be healthy!" is that a lie?

Is this little girl a butterball?

Several things that have recently occurred prompted this post, which sat in my drafts because I was too chicken to post it. But, apparently I just had to write about it, because it’s still a thing that keeps people doing things and thinking things in secret, and its also something talked and talked and talked and talked about (and not always honestly or in a realistic way), but is it ever really understood?

I just read “The Wife’s Tale” (Lori Lansens, release date Feb 2010), which centers around an “obeast” (the character’s word for obese) character; I saw on the news where here in North Carolina state workers who are overweight (and/or smoke) may have to pay higher health insurance; as I write Secret Graces, I notice how my character Virginia Kate loves to eat, but her friend Jade fights food, and that facinates me: which one is me or is both me? I just had that thought just now! huhn....I never made that connection, but I wonder now if I'm writing about my own food struggles between these two characters. On Dr. Oz the other day, his guest was a woman who secretly binges; then as I’m walking out of the gym, there is Jennifer Love Hewitt on the front cover of this month’s Shape Magazine with a caption that reads, “I don’t care about my dress size, I work out to be healthy and feel good about my self—”

Okay, Ms. Hewitt, I bet I know what you are really thinking, deep inside yourself. I know because I’ve said the same thing—I just want to be healthy, that’s why I work out, that’s why I watch what I eat (and by watch what I eat, I mean be vigilant, don’t I Kathryn? Oh yes…let’s be honest here); who cares what my jean’s size is?, I say. But, Ms. Hewitt and I both know, deep inside ourselves, that if we went up a couple dress sizes and still were healthy and fit, we’d be working our asses off (literally) to get back down to the smaller dress size. We’d be panicked. We’d be going, “Oh oh oh oh shit oh shit, I’m gaining weight – oh oh oh no, what to do, stop eating stop eating stop eating ALERT ALERT DANGER DANGER DANGER WILL ROBINSON!”

Oh yes, we would—that’s the big lie we tell everyone: we just want to be healthy. On the flip side of the magazine, shown here, is another cover photo of the beautiful Ms. Hewitt in a bikini—she looks lovely and is not emaciated as many “entertainers” have become, but, still, she is shapely and lovely and thin—yet, she just wants to be “healthy” right? And she doesn't feel any poke to be what hollyweird and her peers and her ‘fan’s’ and whomever else her voices are say is “beautiful and sexy?” Huh? What do you think?

On the Dr. Oz show, when the secret binging wife said, “I’ve gained 60 pounds since we’ve been married, but he hasn’t said a thing…” And, the husband says, “I don’t care if she weighs 600 pounds, I just want her to be healthy.” Oh really? Do we believe him? I believe he loves his wife and wants her to be healthy and that he believes what he says to be true, I really really do. However, how many times have we seen “make over” shows or weight loss shows where the wife walks onto the stage all spiffied up and pounds lighter and the husband’s eyes light up and he’s all over her, “Ooohhh boy! She looks great, sexxx-yyyyy….wow! wooowee!” *beat* “Um, but I’m just glad she’s healthy.” How many times have we lost a few pounds and everyone says, “Oh, hey, you’ve lost weight, wow, you look great…” *beat* - “Um, you looked great before, but, yeah…!”

I am here to tell you right now, in all my honest honesty that I lie about food and weight and how I feel about the two all the gawd-damned exhausting time. I don’t always do it consciously; I mean, I usually mean it when I say it. And when I was a personal trainer and gave advice, I meant it—I truly did. But, did I always follow my own good advice about being fit and healthy versus being “thin?” Nope, nuh uh, not always.

This woman thought she looked a bit chunky in this photo, so she decided she best not eat any "bad" foods for a while...and thus lost a few of those horrid nasty pounds . . . she hates the photo; should she?

I have been fighting the enemy food for years and years. Since I was a young girl. Since the time someone first called me “butterball” and yes, I STILL recall that day—I was maybe in first or second grade and it was school photo time and the photographer said, “Okay, little butterball, hold still….” I still remember how I felt—at that young an age! Back then, in the 60’s, there weren’t as many overweight children, or overweight people in general, as there are now, so if you were even just a little bit chubby, or had a round face as I did, then, well, Butterball!

Is this little girl a chunky chubs?

I have battled Enemy Food since the time my brothers got snickers or other gooey treats and I got a peppermint patty, since the time someone looked at me and called me fat or or chunky or chubs, since the time a friend was tall and willowy and I was shorter and rounder—full hipped and full breasted at too young an age to be full hipped and full breasted.

When I was 17-18 years old, I took the weight loss too far. It didn't start that way. But, I remember I began to lose weight. People began to comment on it. Huhn. Okay, I thought, maybe there is something to this. And I lost a little more. People commented more – oh, don’t you look gooooood. And a little more. Wow! Look at you! And a little more. Boy, look at Kat, she’s so sexxxyyyyy and thinnnnnn! Soon, every time I stepped on the scales, I NEEDED to be lighter or I was a failure. The last time I weighed, and yes, the year 1975 and I actually remember stepping on the scales and watching it go down and down and actually remember the day I was 92 pounds—and I know I lost more after that. Did anyone tell me, “Oh my god Kat, you are getting too thin! Eat something! You are losing too much weight!” Nope.

Fast forward a year and a half later. I guess I was hungry—imagine that? I began gaining weight—I was so hungry, so very hungry! I couldn’t get enough to eat. All that year and a half of starving myself took its toll. I needed food. Food was good. Starving, hungry, hungry hungry. I was the biggest I’ve ever been in my life. Not “obeast” by any means, but overweight for my height of 5’2”. What do you think happened? I bet you guessed it. I was called a “fat hog,” I was told, “Boy you sure are getting fat!” I was told, “You need to lose weight, eyeww…” you get the idea—people were disgusted by my weight gain and told me how I used to be “sexy and pretty, but now you are just fat.” Huhn.

It was okay to be starving, eating practically nothing and living on alcohol and bites here and there of—what a lettuce leaf or two? But, it was not okay to gain weight, even if I was healthier at some point in the higher weight than I was at the lower. Oh believe me, I shed that weight and became even more vigilent: Not paying attention and relaxing means gaining weight. Must be vigilent.

When I turned thirty-five, I relaxed because I'd been the same weight for a while, and I put on about eight or nine pounds. My gawd! You'd have thought I'd committed a mortal sin, at least in some people's eyes. I weighed just over 130 pounds. Not overweight by any means, but, people couldn't stop discussing my weight gain. Geez. And I didn't find out that until I'd lost the weight, then it was, "Oh yeah, boy, you look so much better. I thought you were going to explode out of your clothes!" "Oh geez, I bet you feel better now!" "Oh, dear, we didn't want to say anything, but you were getting, um, healthy..." *sigh*

So, food is the enemy. . . Can't relax . . . Relaxing means weight gain, weight gain means people turn their judging eyes on my body . . . and I play games with food just as someone who has an enemy does. I love it and I hate it. I want it and crave it and then detest that I want and crave it.

I playfully tell friends, “Oh boy, I can’t wait to eat a big ass piece of cheesecake after I have French fries and (insert something ‘fattening’ here)” – but, when it’s time to do that, to have those foods, I can feel the stress in my innards—the feeling of, “Oh no…if I eat this, I’ll be fat. If I eat this, it means I’m out of control. If I eat this, bad things will happen.” And, when I do eat it, there is that stress in the background, hovering there—taunting me. There is seldom a time when I completely enjoy myself with food, and that’s a damned shame. Now, sure, there are times I eat something unhealthy and gooey and fattening and deee-lish and don’t obsess (liar) and then the next day I just get back to my healthy eating (obsess over what I ate and try to atone for it). Entering menopause has caused a tug-o-war with myself. On the one hand, I am more accepting of myself—my body image. On the other hand I just told a lie.

Instead of “Do these jeans make me look fat?” I should be asking, “Do those inner voices make me look fat?” Whose voices are they? Who set the seeds inside a young girl who would grow up afraid of food? Why, many things and many people! Was it the photographer who first put the seed? Someone else? No one at all but only me? Did I receive mixed messages: Eat all the food on your plate because there are starving people somewhere- - don't eat that because you'll gain weight. . . Or . . . Just be healthy . . . but if you gain weight we'll judge you. . . Or . . . Looks do not matter -- oh my god, did you see how so and so Let Herself GO?

And what of you? Is food the enemy? Or, is food your best friend? The comforter—where food is your friend and lover and soothes and heals and is a balm for your wounds.

Surely there are people in between us. Normal people in between those of us afraid of food and those for whom food is their salvation and friend?

Who are you?

(I'll be back with more on Baton Rouge and the Book Fest - but, I'm posting this before I chicken out - because today at the gym, I got on the scales and said, "OMG! I gained almost 2 pounds while in Louisiana! oh oh!....*sigh* oh dear. Let's not go there, Kat....)


Rick said...

I never spend any time thinking about food, Kathryn, and that sometimes makes for uncomfortable conversation with people who do think about it. The lady who lives next door to me has a constant battle with this issue as does most of her family. Whenever food comes up in conversation, I end up having to find a good reason to back out of the room and head home, before they get upset with whatever I say or do not say on the topic. It seems to be a terribly emotionally charged issue that hurts so many nice people. Thanks for discussing this. I'll tell others about this posting because it is important to talk about. Nobody should ever be hurt by others due to body weight issues.

Harlem's A Hatin said...

I hate how society has made it so that healthy women feel fat. I hate how a size 2 is not considered too thin.

Susan R. Mills said...

I've battled food my whole life too. I was a chubby kid and when I got older, I did like you and lost a ton of weight, and yes, got too skinny. I'm not skinny now, but I'm not fat, and I'm happy where I am. Food is no longer my enemy.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

First off, you look fabulous in your photos! That photographer was a total %@!#.

It ticks me off that we’re conditioned to feel this way—damn those evil advertising and marketing machines. I know, there are health issues to consider, but I’ve been 105 lbs and living with dizziness and fatigue is not healthy.

I’m an overall eat to live type. For me it’s seasonal, when I’m busy in the summer my size drops and in the winter—up it goes. I keep three sizes in my closet…

I’d like to lie and say age has made me comfortable with who I am—and for the most part that would be true--but if the phone rings today and we’re invited to some swank affair *snort* I’m afraid my first reaction would be “OMG I’ve got to lose 20 lbs!” Ugh!

Karen said...

How brave to open up about this. I have battled weight since forever. I hate it. But love food. I constantly remind myself that, I need to eat to live, not live to eat. (yeah, right) See, you're not the only one.

Hey, we're not all so much diff.
I think writing this with your characters will make them relate to a host of people!

Sandra Leigh said...

1. Find that photographer and slap him upside the head.

2. You look great in all those photos. No, you were/are not a butterball.

3. Re: the people who made negative comments on your weight gain -- some people should learn to mind their own business.

4. Thank you for this post. It's like a mirror.


Kathryn Magendie said...

I was so nervous opening up the comments - what did I expect? That people would be aghast that I opened up about this subject? *smiling* I guess opening up about something personal like this is difficult - especially for someone as private as I am . . . but, just as Rick says, it's such an emotional issue and I've been watching and listening and experiencing for so long--and lately, it seems to have morphed and grown -the issue of weight and looks (aging, included--we're not allowed to age now, we must stay young forever! geez!).

I wonder if women view this differently than men do? It would seem that way. Hmm, I asked the same thing about kids who are abandoned or given up - are women treated differently than men? -- I suppose in all areas men and women are treated differently: aging, weight, children, the way a house looks(inside and out), work, play . . .

Doreen said...

many parts of your post I can relate to very well, for I have done the same thing. you are not weird or alone in this struggle at all! I go up and down alot, just had back surgery in May so I have put on weight, about 15 pounds. my weight is not really the problem, I need to tone up, so yes that means exercise. I always feel better though when I exercise(physically and mentally) and sleep better also.

Janna Qualman said...

Kat, the words I associate with you are thus: talented, deep, vivacious, thoughtful. Never once chunky. And not in any single photo. Butterball? Never! That ridiculous man was in the wrong business, if you ask me.

It's an important topic, and the honesty is even moreso. Thanks for tackling this in a post!

smiles4u said...

Thank you for being so open and honest. I have had a battle with food for as long as I can remember. While I have never in my life been obese, food and body image haunt are a continuous issue. I lie, and I say that now that I am older that I don't have this battle. I lie and say that I accept my menopausal weight gain and that I'm working on being healthy. Most of the time it's my silent secret battle but today you opened the door to talking about it.

This is a great post that many women need to read. Thank you. You've given me much to ponder on tonight! XXOO

A Cuban In London said...

Who am I? A normal bloke who exercises and eats as much as he can. I completely understood and sided with you on this post because food is an issue, mainly for women. I think I am one of those lucky guys who is married to someone who doesn't give two hoots whether she puts on weight or not. And she has because she has had two children. But you know what? It also comes from confidence and the self-belief that hey! even if I am a bit over what is considered 'normal' people will still like me. And I believe that.

Great post, it was serious and light-hearted in equal measure.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Anonymous said...

food=weight gain=enemy (FWG=E) has been my enemy since my 'first love'. prior to him, i had normal thoughts about food. post-ahole, normal thoughts converted to FWG=E.
theorum background: "if you weren't so fat, i wouldn't have X" (fill in: lied, cheated on you, beat you, humiliated you, etc). at 19, it's not so hard to understand internalizing/accepting blame, even when you shouldn't. but accept it i did in order to try to fix the problem (me) and save the "love".
somehow, that early seed has burrowed in and remained a nasty tentacled weed at the core of my self image. natch, the man in my life has 3 non-negotiables. number one is "do not get fat".
so, FWG=E is wrapped up in securing/keeping a man/feeling worthy of love.
...but that aint all of it.
FWG=E has worse roots. somehow through the traumas and dramas of the years, my "fat" (another name for food inside my head) has often been the one thing in my life i seemed to have any control over. failed marriage? (lose twenty-five pounds). rebelling teen? (3 day fast). a terminally ill parent and dealing with a pathological pill-head sibling at the same time? (GET THE HELL OFF ME, DAMN FAT!). and on and on.
i've learned that satan-fat just means another bad surprise is on the way. i've let my guard down and gotten comfortable when i know better.
at 50, the battle's getting harder. the enemy is gaining. (no pun intended). it takes more to outrun it, and lately i'm losing the war. not the weight.
when (if)(WHEN) i ever reach that magical size 4, will i be able to find a replacement control-formula? i dunno. scary thought, go away.
i refuse to be fat forever. i want to for once feel sexy and inshape. healthy? ok, added bonus. i want to know i can accomplish my inner vision. i want to live the reality of my dream. (and i no longer feel being thin holds all the answers or blame). i just want it for the control factor. and i want it for me.
thanks for having the balls to share your private thoughts. that's a fat-ass leap of faith for us private folks.

Barry said...

I never used to think about food. Well, no that's not true. I used to think about food all the time and eat all the time and go back for seconds and eat anything I wanted and never put on an ounce.

Until I turned 50.

Since then I still think about food all the time but gain weight just by sniffing a pie baking in the oven.

Life is strange.

Michelle H. said...

This woman thought she looked a bit chunky in this photo, so she decided she best not eat any "bad" foods for a while...and thus lost a few of those horrid nasty pounds . . . she hates the photo; should she?

No, she shouldn't hate the photo. I wish I looked that good in a black dress.

Never be afraid to open up, because so many people can give you helpful insight on such things.

I agree with Sandra Leigh. The photographer needs a good belt upside his blind head.

Kathryn Magendie said...

I am reading all your comments -

Someone somewhere said that attitudes towards the overweight was the last area where there is not "protection" -- or "politically correct guidelines"... so, they said, we take care of how and what we say to other races, or genders/gender blends, or sexual orientation . . . but, somehow it is still "allowed" that people can insult and berate the overweight...somehow, they are not afforded immunity from insult....

huhn...what do you think of that?

Suldog said...

I almost never give any thought to how healthy some food is. I only want to know if I like it or not. Thankfully, my tastes do not run to melted cheeses, cream sauces, and other things that put weight on in small doses. On the other hand, I love carbs. Breads? I can eat a loaf of good bread, with butter or jam, in one sitting, washing it all down with a couple of big glasses of milk.

Women obsess about weight much more than men, obviously. A guy will look in the mirror, see a little sag or a bit of gut and say, "Huh. Not bad for a (fill-in-the-age) guy.", whereas women become devastated.

So much of that has to do with women's own reactions to other women. Sure, men will be hideous in their comments sometimes, but women are much more likely to insult someone else (female) because of their body looks, in my experience. Your mileage may vary, but that's what I've found.

Anyway, I think you look sexy and cute in the photo, if that helps.

Linda Leschak said...

What a fantastic post. Lots of places to go with it, lots to think about, lots to be angry about if we let ourselves. I think of the many, many images of the Jennifer Hewitts we’ve been shown throughout our lives, the subliminal suggestions that we should strive toward that kind of look, the notion that only “thin” is considered sexy. Our self images have been kidnapped and culturally contaminated. It’s no wonder we try ridiculous solutions to live up to those impossible images. It’s seeded so deep in us that, even if we don’t suffer from some ridiculous comment made by some idiotic jerk (or photographer, ex- husband, whatever), then we end up sabotaging ourselves. It’s crazy. It’s got to be one of the many reasons why eating disorders are an epidemic in this country.
I share your love/hate relationship with food. But for me it started in my late teens when I realized that my body was a little rounder than others. I don’t even remember how the notion came to me .. maybe some marketing ad, likely some attention from the opposite sex (or lack thereof). But up until then, I’d been pudgy, happy and healthy. And man did I love mom’s country cooking! But something snapped and I got myself pretty wrapped up in it. I did some ridiculous things to control my weight (insert plethora of eating disorders). And then there was the time I had my wisdom teeth pulled the day before Thanksgiving intentionally rendering myself unable to eat. I was that freaked out about gaining a little weight. Sure the teeth had to come out anyway, but wouldn’t any normally balanced person have scheduled it for another time of year? And how I loved being pregnant! Those were the only two times in my life when I could be “huge” and be totally okay with it.
There’s an older and wiser me now whose learned some hard lessons from all that maniacal behavior. I have a completely different relationship with food and a greater acceptance for what I am, naturally. Now I pay more attention to quality and don’t do anything squirrely to try to control my size. I do what I think is wholesome and leave the rest to nature. Hell, it’s taking over anyway! And I try to avoid three things: 1) negative self talk, 2) thinking I should have the same body I did ten years ago, 3) being naked in front of the mirror (just in case the first two don’t work).
As for men, I think you’re right, they do see this issue differently. I think there are many reasons for this but I wonder how much of it comes from the fact that they haven’t been objectified as long as women.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I must have more testosterone than most women because my obvious weight gain over the years doesn't bother me very often...even with the addition of having a super thin identical twin. Maybe I'm meaner, and will not allow some scabooble-headed person from my child- or teenhood define for me what is good, right, nice looking.

Food has always been a good and faithful companion, but not one that dominates me or my life.

It breaks my heart that two of the people I love most on this planet both war with food and both think that controlling it (food) lets them control other bad/negative areas of their lives they cannot and never will be able to.

Great post.

Love from the chunky monkey who loves herself!

Deb Shucka said...

It makes me mad for you that the picture taken on one of the coolest days of your life speaks fat to you. And you were so not a butterball.

I can relate to everything you've written here, and really appreciate your reflections. When I was a kid there was a clothing line/size range called Chub Deb. I thought it was named after me and putting me in those clothes was one of my mom's standard threats.

Even in menopause, it's not easy loving my body, but it's one of my primary goals these days. She's taken a lot of abuse and neglect and carries me miles every day. And I want her to continue to carry me for quite a few more years.

Analisa said...

I wrote a long response and then it hit me, I can't even talk about it.

Analisa said...

but i didn't see a butterball in any of the pics, no chunky no chubby just a little pixie :)as my mom would say.

Katrina Stonoff said...

No. You shouldn't hate the photo. It's fabulous, Kat. You look beautiful and happy and shapely. Heck, you look fantastic. Your body looks fantastic.

I never did the yo-yo thing. I just haven't been willing to go there. I'd rather be fat. And yes, I am fat, by anybody's standards.

Two years ago, I was even fatter. I was morbidly obese, and I was miserable. Heartburn, carpal tunnel, and gall bladder problems were daily issues, and I slept on an incline to keep from inhaling acid reflux in my sleep.

Then I had a health scare (turned out to be high cholesterol, but I thought I had diabetes). I changed my diet and started exercising. I lost forty pounds and three jean sizes. Within three months, I'd brought my cholesterol down about fifty points. The heartburn, carpal tunnel and gall bladder issues are gone (once in a great while, if I eat fatty foods, I'll get a short-lived ghost of the discomfort I used to have daily).

It's been a year since I've lost any weight, though I've maintained the lifestyle changes. Though I haven't regained any weight, I'm still fat. I wear plus-size clothing, and I'm officially obese (defined as having a BMI higher than 30).

But here's the thing: I don't care. I feel great. My body works really well. I sleep well, and I'm strong and healthy.

I don't say "I just want to be healthy." Truth is, I'd LOVE it if I lost and lost and lost. Heck, I'd be delighted to comfortably wear a Size 14! But I don't want it badly enough to obsess over it enough to get it.

I like my body. Sure I'd freak a little if I started gaining, partly because of the specter of those miserable nights of heartburn and partly because I have really cute clothes in this size (really cute!). But if I spend the rest of my life obese, active, and happy -- with reasonable blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels -- that's sooo more than OK.

No, I don't "just" want to be healthy. But I do want to be healthy, and if healthy for me is obese, then I can live with that.

Heck, I can rejoice over it because whether or not I "just" want to be healthy, I AM healthy! And that's worth celebrating.

Jill of All Trades said...

I could have written a good part of this post. I have been on the weight roller coaster most of my life. It is a bitch I can tell you but you know, I workout, I feel great, I eat fairly well and most of all my blood work and blood pressure are great. I don't get my panties in a bunch anymore over it like I used too. When I met The Hubby I wore a size 1 and that was unrealistic for me. Actually, I didn't eat and when we started dating well that was it. He introduced me to take out food. There was none in my little town. The battle then began but I'm okay with me now. Don't worry about it much. Just keep plogging along. Lots of "food" for thought here.