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Deleting old files and the nonsense of dieting

Over the years I have collected a ton of articles about diet, exercise, and weight loss in general. I had printable PDF food diaries, mood and food journals, spreadsheets where I tracked everything I ate and calculated how much of various RDAs I got from that food. My collection included recipes, lists of carb counts, low-calorie swaps for various foods, scholarly articles, government publications, and poorly researched web pages that I copied the text from and pasted into a word processor document. I collected tidbits of “useful” information into a huge word document, organized by headings, which I called a “compendium”. Low carb, low GI, low fat, low whatever. I had bits and pieces of everything on my hard drive.

Today, as I sorted out a folder that had become a bit of a dumping ground for random documents, I deleted almost all of it. There were a few useful things in there, related to PCOS and HAES, so I kept those. Less than 10 documents out of over 300. It feels good to dump them.

I never really implemented any of their advice. I am probably never going to go on a “diet” in the conventional sense of the term again. I think the last time I actually successfully followed a diet plan for any length of time was a good 20-something years ago. All of those documents were just taking up space in my mind as well as my hard disk, reminding me that I’m a lesser person because of my excess size.

Well, as they say, bollocks to that. I still wish I were thinner but I hate the process of dieting. And I’m not going to feel guilty about that.

If this were a newspaper article, the ending paragraph would have some obligatory bullshit about how “this isn’t a license to eat cake and sugary drinks all day”, or “don’t let your reduced sense of guilt lead you into thinking it’s ok to eat chips for dinner every night”. But you know, I don’t do that anyway. So that annoying, finger-wagging voice can just F. R. O.

Themes of despair: fat

I rarely post anything here because I just don’t feel like I have that much to write about. Which is a bit odd given the constant chatter in my head, but it’s all just so, well, boring. But since nobody reads this except me, I thought I’d try using it as a platform for working through a couple of self-help books that I’m reading. I have tons of these and they never seem to lead to lasting change, but hope springs eternal.

Sometimes I feel that I have not progressed emotionally at all since I was 17 (and I just turned 40 a few months ago!). The same themes crop up again and again and again, with mind-numbing frequency and repetition. Maybe that’s a feature of depression, or maybe it’s just part of the human condition. All I really know is that I torture myself with the same harsh thoughts over and over, despite various rounds of cognitive behavioural therapy, anti-depressants, counselling, and self-help books. I often feel that I have finally moved to a place where I don’t worry so much about finding “the answer”, and then I’ll have an unexpectedly bad day which starts the cycle all over again.

The main themes that run through my head are fat, health anxiety, depression and misery, unemployment, immaturity, and clutter. Fat is the big one. Being fat has tainted my whole life. I used to think that I was somehow above being obsessed with my appearance, that only shallow and vapid women worried about their looks. But this really was just a screen, a way to cope with the fact that no matter how I dress or do my hair and makeup or whatever, I’m still fat. And fat is code for ugly and rejected.

Perhaps ironically I have never really dieted, except for a short stint in WW when I was a teen and a few years spent as a half-hearted vegetarian. I constantly fantasize about dieting down to a “normal” size but I never seem to manage even a day. Partly this is due to a fundamental realization that dieting leads to insanity, at least for me. During my time on the WW program I was the only person in the family on the diet and I felt singled out and ashamed, even though my family is generally very supportive and never taunted me for my size or anything horrible like that. It was just the feeling of being restricted, cut off, and just… different, in a bad way, that bothered me. And then there were the WW meetings themselves. As a high school student in a room full of middle-aged women I was out of my element to start with. The amount of body-shaming talk and glorification of strange, restrictive eating patterns in the meetings was unbelievable. I always felt uncomfortable, especially when my dedication was not reflected in changes on the scale and I’d be chided for cheating. Many years later I found out that I have PCOS, which in part explains why I didn’t lose much weight. But that accusation still stings, and it led me to later compulsive eating.

In one meeting a group of women who worked together described the scientific precision with which they worked out exactly how many millimetres of a fun-size Snickers bar they could each have without blowing the diet. The whole episode was like some kind of theatrical performance. A group of four or five women stood in front of the room, very animatedly detailing the postal scales, the callipers, the extra-sharp knife, and the fight over who got the end bits with the most chocolate covering on them. Everyone else in the meeting was laughing hysterically but even then I found it very unsettling. I’d probably never heard of anorexia or bulimia at that point but it struck me as very unhealthy, and I quit the program soon after.

I wish I could say that this episode was the moment that I realized my body was fine the way it was and that I merrily skipped into the sunset and into a life where I exercised because it felt good and ate when I was hungry and not when I was sad or bored or whatever. Sadly it’s never that easy. I’m far larger now than I was then. I’ve spent countless hours berating myself for my size in the harshest, cruellest terms imaginable. I have allowed my weight (and more importantly, lack of fitness) to damage my career — I’m not fit enough to properly do the job that I am best qualified for, so I avoid applying for jobs in that field. My size slowly creeps upward. I’m now at the very top end of the range of women’s clothing, and I will soon be restricted to shopping in horrible catalogues because my size will simply be unavailable in any bricks and mortar stores. I have a person in my life who I always thought of as being a step too far. I have often thought to myself “I may be big, but I’ll never be as big as them”. Yeah, well, I’m bigger than they are now.

In recent years I have been doing my best to embrace the Health at Every Size and Fat Acceptance mindsets. On a logical level they make perfect sense to me. Dieting has such an incredibly low success rate and such a high risk of encouraging the development of disordered eating and excessive weight gain that it seems foolish to start a program of deprivation and self-flagellation, knowing that it is likely to lead to even more weight gain. But I still desperately want to be thinner. Not really “thin” in a conventional sense, but I want to be a middle-of-the-road, average size (like a 16). I want to be a person who goes out hiking or does Pilates or goes dancing because I want to and I enjoy doing it, rather than someone who is obsessed with burning off X number of calories. But I avoid exercise because I am extremely self-conscious of how my body wobbles, my face gets red and sweaty and disgusting, and how I gasp and struggle for air. All of which would be improved with more exercise, I know, but I just feel so overwhelmingly ashamed that it’s hard to make myself get out there and do stuff.

This is one reason why I have avoided getting a job in my field. It involves a lot of manual labour that I’m just too weak and out of shape to do quickly and effectively. Being sweaty and puffed out distracts me from the job at hand and triggers so many destructive thoughts that I can’t think straight. The last few field jobs I had, I was hardly thinking about the actual work I was doing because my head was so full of horrendous insults and vitriol. I was often on the verge of tears because of the nasty things I was telling myself. On the last job one of my supervisors did make a comment about how slow and out of shape I was, which led me to assume that everyone else who worked with me was thinking the same thing.

Since that time my fitness has only declined further, and despite my terror of further weight gain, lack of physical fitness, imagined health problems, and so on, I seem to be simply paralyzed. At the moment I am in a limbo of self-employed/housewife hell, which means I have tons of free time. But I can’t seem to find the motivation to use this freedom to make improvements. I sit on my rear, surfing the internet, reading self-help books, constantly nibbling on whatever comes to hand, wallowing in fear and despair.

Long time, no write

I hardly ever post anything here, usually because I’m thinking about something else.  It’s not really a blog as such, just a place to occasionally stick thoughts that for whatever reason I feel should be “out there” in public view.  As far as I know nobody actually reads this but me, but somehow putting it out there makes it seem more like a dialogue with the universe.

Anyway I have been reading some old blog posts about fat acceptance this morning, and some of the comments that have been made when fat people have the audacity to just exist in a public way. Over at Obesity Timebomb I read an older post about some comments made on a portrait which showed the OT flashing passerby. The thing that struck me in particular was that the commenter claims a punk identity and an interest in things that are ugly, repulsive, or gross, yet is completely hung up and disgusted by the idea that the portrait could be in any way considered beautiful because the OT is fat and presumed to be unhealthy. The commenter completely failed to see how rejecting someone for their alleged grossness is completely contrary to a punk aesthetic which delights in the shocking, the ugly, or the jarring. Actually, come to think of it, I experienced this same kind of rejection back in my goth days. Although the community, as it were, liked to think of itself as being a refuge for the rejected, I was still a reject even in this group because of my size.

I came to the conclusion myself some years ago that being “openly” fat is actually a very radical thing to do. I say openly, because of course there is no way to conceal my body size as one might, for instance, conceal their homosexuality. But the concept of openness applies, I think, because while I can’t claim to be truly free of shame over my body (something that I will probably be working on for the rest of my life), I do think I have made enough progress on accepting myself as I am that I am not as acutely aware of or ashamed of my fatness as I once was. Despite my occasional posts on dieting and my history of thinking about diets, I don’t think I have actually made any kind of concerted effort to lose weight since I was a teenager. I’d like to be a bit smaller but really that has more to do with my consumerist greed and desire to buy lots of clothes. And although part of me still thinks of my concern with fashion and style to be reprehensibly vapid, on the other hand it can also be seen as a manifestation of the radical-ness of accepting my fatness. I don’t want to wear frumpy clothes and appear as if I made no effort in my appearance, in part because that reinforces the idea that I cannot be seen as aesthetically appealing, that I don’t take care of myself, that I am a slob.

Of course these things can be more or less true depending on how much I have procrastinated on the housework, but really, I think that my unwillingness to take care of myself and my habitat is less a cause of my fatness and more a result of it. I seem to have absorbed the message that because I am fat I must also be lazy and slovenly, and not worthy of taking care of. Which is something that I would really like to change.

And on that note, I’m off to clean up the bedroom.

HAES and the attempt to improve my health

So, although I have been vaguely interested in fat acceptance and HAES (health at every size) for many years now, I have always had a fundamentally ambiguous relationship to both concepts.  On the one hand, I am now thoroughly convinced that diets, in the conventional sense, are pointless in the long term.  In fact I declared at age 18 that I was never going to go on a diet again, after a surreal and unpleasant experience with Weight Watchers. On the other, I remain desperately unhappy with my size and my fitness levels.  So far I have failed to make any sustained changes to my daily habits which would have an impact on either.

Accepting the pointlessness of diets as a fact has not really kept me from toying with various diets and eating plans, including a long stint as a vegetarian, attempts to go low-carb, and an interest in the low-GI concept.  But every time I decide that I am going to follow a diet I fail, usually within the first day or two.  This is usually the product of laziness and a lack of planning but it has occurred to me recently that in part I am sabotaging myself through some combination of fear of change and perfectionism.  A big underlying issue for me is a long-standing belief that I am not worthy of happiness and do not deserve to take care of myself.  Hence a tendency to frumpiness and constant self-recrimination.  In the last year or so this has really improved, thanks to medication and participation in a local women’s mental health group as well as the excellent YouLookFab.  But I still don’t take very good care of my physical health.

This is where the ambiguity towards HAES and fat acceptance comes in.  It has been difficult to accept the message that I am not likely to ever lose a significant amount of weight.  In the back of my mind I have always had the fantasy that I will someday slim down to a model-worthy size and instantly become beautiful, stylish, healthy, and successful.  Unravelling this idea is still a work in progress, but in truth none of these things are dependent on being slim.  My DH (and my friends and family) already think I look fine — and what’s so bad about being ugly, anyway?  Having an unattractive appearance does not make you a bad person.  Style, health, and success can all be achieved without losing weight.

My eating habits, in all honesty, are not really that great.  I have a tendency to eat on the slightest whim and am not very good at resisting hunger, however transient it may be.  I eat more fruits and vegetables than many people, but I could eat more.  We tend to have big dinners very late in the evening, which is not only associated with weight gain but also exacerbates my acid reflux problems.  I follow my DH’s lead in eating cookies and candy far too often.  We clearly have very different metabolisms, as he is very much within a normal weight range despite eating more sweets than any other adult I have ever met.  I know that I have significant hormonal problems that not only contribute to my weight but also put me at a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.  In general I feel unhealthy and sluggish, and I’m scared that I have begun to cross the line toward serious issues.

With all this in mind I have decided to start a new health improvement initiative. This time, however, I am ignoring my weight and size.  If I lose a bit, fine, but I am not going to intentionally restrict calories or cut out food groups or any of the other things that have failed me in the past.  To a degree I want to follow the No-S diet, mainly the principles of no snacking and no seconds.  I would like to re-train myself to recognize true hunger and learn intuitive eating, so I will probably go back and listen to some Inside Out Weight Loss podcasts on the subject.  But the main thing to change is to start a program of regular exercise.

NHS guidelines call for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week as well as muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week. My goal is to work up to this gradually, perhaps over the course of the next 6 weeks.  Eventually I want to take on the Couch to 5K program and develop a habit of going for a short run every day, but I don’t think I am fit enough to attempt it at present.  For now I want to get into the habit of going for a 20-minute walk after lunch every day, excepting of course days that I can’t do this for whatever reason (in class or on a plane) or when I am already doing something physically intensive (out for a hike or working on an excavation).

One problem I have had with the No-S diet in the past is keeping track of success and failure when I am not at home, but really a vacation counts as a “special” day, so I am declaring that it is ok not to track myself on days when I am out of town.  I’ve had fairly good success in establishing a habit of eating two eggs for breakfast every day, which does seem to have had an impact on my snacking for the rest of the day.  I really notice it when I have had something like cereal instead — I am ravenous within an hour or so, and find myself nibbling a lot more frequently.  So I will stick with this habit, as well as eating a substantial lunch to stave off late afternoon snacking.

The real challenge will be sticking to this plan.  It is not particularly difficult or challenging, but developing new habits is always problematic. Hopefully this time will be better.

Back to the closet ponderings

I got fed up with thinking about my closet and personal style, so I have just ignored it over the summer.  This year I have been a bit busy, too, in that I wrote a paper for a conference overseas, took a 3-week vacation and then another 1 week, and decided to start tackling some of the many DIY projects that have been neglected for the past few years.  We have also had fantastic weather this summer and I have a friend who just happens to be on maternity leave, so we have done things like  going to the beach and out to lunch more often than I would have normally.

But, since fall seems to have fallen with a particularly sickening thud this week, I’ve found myself thinking about clothes again.  I need to decide whether to pull the trigger on a jacket that I have been eyeing but before I do I’d like to get a better understanding of what I have available and how that fits with my style goals, however dim those may be.  I started with a quick and dirty closet inventory yesterday, which does not include things that are in the laundry, the “holding zone”, or waiting to be altered in some way.  The results:

  • Trousers: 3
  • Shorts: 2
  • Jeans: 3 (not counting my scruffy pairs I wear for gardening and such)
  • Skirts: 9
  • Dresses: 11 (not counting formals)
  • S/S tops: 18 (not counting scruffy ones that never leave the house)
  • 3/4 sleeve tops: 2 (I was sure I had more than this, but maybe I got rid of them?)
  • L/S tops: 18 (not counting layering tees)
  • Sleeveless: 1 (not counting camisoles and super basic tank tops)
  • Sweaters: 7
  • Cardigans: 11
  • Swimwear: 2 (swimsuit and a cover-up)
  • Jackets: 18 (including sweatshirts and fleeces)
  • Coats: 7 (including lightweight trenches)

I haven’t counted shoes or bags yet, and there are a couple of jackets and such hanging around the house that aren’t included here.  What strikes me right away, though, is that I have far more skirts and dresses than I need since I almost always wear jeans.  The trousers include two office-appropriate pairs that I know are rather ill-fitting, but they are the only ones I have.  So even though I don’t currently have any job prospects, it would probably be a good idea to shop for a decent fitting pair of “office” trousers that I could wear to a hypothetical interview.  It would also be useful to apply the “capsule” concept and identify what will actually go together.  It seems like I have tons of clothes but my experience of staring into the closet and being totally frustrated with what I find shows the reality that I have a hodge-podge of items that don’t really form outfits, and most of my tops only work with jeans.

Tops and bottoms

(No, not the S&M kind).  😉

In googling for “wardrobe planning” I came across this blog post, which references yet another one in which someone lists all the tops that go with each of the bottoms in their wardrobe.  The latter post is private, so I can’t read the details, but the idea seems basic enough.  If I really aim to ever have a decent wardrobe, I should start doing the same thing.  I have far too many orphans.

Importing an old blog

I was going through my bookmarks today and realized that I still had a few posts on an old abandoned blog.  So, I decided to import them here so that all my angst is in one place.

Hopefully the dates are preserved!