Monday, November 23, 2009

Dancin' Queen

I have written a lot about the side of my struggle that involved isolation: the fact that isolation was in many ways both the goal and the cause of my skyrocketing weight. My body saw that I was feeling invaded, that I needed to push people away, that I needed my space, and when I had trouble setting my boundaries it did the job for me. It got fat to protect me, but when I was safely behind my first thirty pounds I longed for companionship and gained weight from loneliness.
The problem stems from the same thing it does for many: my personal experience. For reasons I will reveal when I have a full, Russian Literature sized tome to fill, I kind of thought humans, well, humans sucked. They are generally untrustworthy, inconsistent, disengaged often unreasonable, and - in my experience totally out to lunch.
That does not change the fact that I really, really want to be among them. You could say it's as if there were something in the DNA, and in fact there is. A lot in the DNA. Humans are designed to take care of one another. When you are out of commission with an injury, I take care of you, that way when the same happens to me.... But that hadn't been the way it had worked for me. I had been raised to believe that independence and self sufficiency were what humans should strive for, and this whole mutual care thing was just burdening others unnecessarily. If something was wrong with you, you were supposed to shut up and figure something out because everyone else was quite busy sorting out their own lives.
And in the name of self sufficiency I had accepted a sort of distance between myself and anyone I loved. Indeed I had coveted that distance. It wasn't anymore just about the fact that I longed for boundaries I could enforce, but that the ideal distance had a buffer zone of several hundred acres, or in a more tangible sense about 14 extra inches around my hips.
So I longed for distance because I feared disappointment, but I longed for intimacy because that was built into my nature. For years I had done the drawing near, pushing away dance that had reflected my weight fluctuations like a mirror. I was getting too close to someone, my weight would go up. Then again I was alone and it would drop magically. This culminated in my ultimately giving up on the idea of intimacy. I would be isolated forever. I would live life with more than a foot of extra space between me and everyone I met. I would never have to share what was troubling me. I would never have to answer the question "how are you," honestly again. I would never again have to suffer the kind of disappointment I had when I went to the trouble of loving someone only to be demeaned, neglected or abandoned. Or just plain terrified.
I would read a lot.
I would get another cat. Or maybe a hamster.
Gramma was the first person I allowed past my 14 inch barrier. Then Laura, my house mate. A few others began to trickle through. And then I did the unthinkable.
I had begun to study the non-physical causes of weight gain, isolation weighing heavily among them. In an effort to become more social, to learn to trust others, perhaps meet new friends, at the very least get the heck off my treadmill and out among those humans I was famously attempting to make contact with, I decided to go dancing. Not just any dancing. Salsa dancing.
Back in college a Peruvian friend of mine had taught me the basic steps, set me loose on a gritty, dark dance floor and I'd danced and spun and laughed the whole night through. I hadn't needed a partner. You could just dance. And for the partner stuff the club in town offered a lesson before the dancing started. So off I went. I got my refresher. And soon after I got my first dance invitation. Keith, an instructor, steered me around the floor like he steering a mule through an agility track.
"Don't step that way." Keith frowned.
"Stand up straight."
"Count the steps - 123-567- 123- 567. See?"
He might as well have added, "you big oaffish nincompoop." That's how much fun I was having.
Fortunately some of the Latino patrons had thought it such a novelty to see a blond lady by herself in a salsa club that they asked me to dance just to find out what my motives were.
I had a blast. I had met human beings. Many of whom were friendly. None of whom seemed to be waiting around the corner trying to sneak up on me with disappointment and heart break in tow. Keith had been a bit of a shmo. I wished I had been asked to dance more. I was afraid people were talking about the strange lady who sat by herself drinking a diet coke at a dance club. I considered not going back. I decided to go just one more time. On the way there I considered turning the car around twice.
When I got there it was virtually empty. There were only three people there for the lesson. I thought I should just leave and grab a soda on my way home. Or maybe some ice cream.
After the lesson a computer programmer, Bryan asked me to dance. He'd been taking lessons for two years now. I should take lessons, he suggested. They teach you how to count. They teach you the moves.
And clearly Bryan knew how to count as he had been doing it under his breath the whole time.
I was exhausted from my dance, or rather from my talk with Bryan. Trying to think of something to say. Trying to keep up with his counting. Trying to absorb all the fascinating dance tips Bryan had given me. I sat down. Bryan went to get a drink and threatened to come right back.
An older man approached, stretching out his hand to me.
"You like to dance?" He was dark skinned and had a thick accent. He was scary. He was.... Hispanic.
And we were in a crowded, well lit night club. And anyway, he had the kindest look in his eye. If I were looking for a friend he would be the type. Hispanic or no.
He introduced himself as Arturo. I gave him my name. He lead me out onto the dance floor.
"You take the lesson?"
"Yes." I replied.
"Forget everything you learned." He waved a hand over his left shoulder. "Listen to the music. I'll show you the rest."
And he did. Unlike Keith he did not drag me around the dance floor like a wet rag doll whilst rolling his eyes and wondering how much longer the song would go on. Unlike Bryan he did not bore me with trivial conversation whilst pointing out the clear flaws in the footwork I'd learned that afternoon.
He just danced. We danced. And by the end of the night I was spinning and turning and taking up half the dance floor. Unlike all the other dancing I'd done, dancing with Arturo had not been an exercise to be borne, it had been a pleasure.
Instead of telling me what a schlemiel I was for not counting or taking too big steps or ... Whatever...
Arturo had just smiled at me when I kept count. Waved his hand and shrugged when I didn't. He had smiled every time I completed a turn and blamed the other dancers when I stepped on their feet.
"Sweet!" He would say every time I completed a turn. "Sweet sweet." He said when he dipped me and I held a long, high heeled leg, a foot or so over the floor.
And that was it. He hadn't needed to cringe or roll his eyes or remind me how to count. Just there on the dance floor he had made me into a good dancer. In my head I was a veritable Ginger Rogers. I kept coming back. I danced with Arturo most, if not all the time. Just a few weeks later I was chatting with the bar tender.
"Your a great dancer." He was a great liar.
"No, really. You look great out there." He nodded at the crowd of men standing around the bar. "They talk, you know. They think so, too."
"Sweet," I said. "Sweet sweet."

Over the next few weeks Arturo and I became great friends. I made other friends, too. I got to know the bar man. And the club owners. Dance teachers. Dance students. Another IT professional who not only took lessons and counts well but routinely writes new moves he learns in a notebook. Some of them are even people I have begun to call friends.
I have been learning to answer the question "how are you?" Honestly, and sometimes I don't even cringe. A few of them have become good enough friends to be scary. When I think of them I can see my old vision of myself as a little girl on a street corner screaming so loudly I had attracted a crowd of strangers while my own family had disappeared into one of the shops without me. I can see myself beginning to depend on their support and friendship and company and wonder if I can put my faith in them and if it is too late to run back to the safe and consistent arms of a chocolate sundae.
Unwittingly though, my friend Arturo has taught me not only some of the hottest dance moves I've ever seen, but something about friendship I would otherwise never have known: the more faith and confidence you are willing to place in a person, the more likely they will be worthy of it.
It works like this:
I have no evidence that you are waiting to do something disappointing.
I have a little faith in you.
You recognize my commitment to you.
You have a little faith in me.
My commitment to you grows. Pretty soon I have a friend I can actually talk to. And a few moves that even the bar tender with the bulgy biceps thinks make me look good.
I have friends. I do not spend my life torn between wanting distance out of sheer terror, and wanting closeness because of a clear design flaw.
And I do not bust out the potato chips every time I have a lousy day. I do not run to the candy store when I worry someone is getting too close.
I just decide whether I want this person that close. And then I have a little faith. In them. In my ability to survive disappointment and thrive in closeness.
And life is sweet.
Sweet Sweet.

Whole Health Renovation Specialist

I can do anything and I intend to take as many people with me as I can

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ghost Food Realization

So now we are well on our way on our journey from welter weight to wellness. We began at a whopping 277, hovered around there for a while until we finally decided there was no use trying to start out anywhere else but here because that was the only place we could start, and ventured down the flying monkey ridden tarnished yellow brick road of diet and exercise.
In my general frustration with diet programs and fitness gurus (not to mention constant state of perpetual brokedom) I had decided to do this right. I was not going to subscribe to some program only to watch my hard lost weight com slinking back the moment I turned thought I was done. I was going to do my own homework this time and find The Cure. I was going to do everything everyone prescribed to get my metabolism going, and follow all the prescriptions for eating minimal calories, and I was going to be thin and nothing would stop me from getting there and staying there.
And by gum, four months into the plan, I'd already lost 35 pounds. 35 pounds! That was more than most people ever have to lose in one go, and I had done it in a measly third of a year! As I entered into month 5 I knew in my heart I was going to exit it at least ten pounds lighter. Ha ha! Perhaps 15! Or 20! I was unstoppable! I was invincible! I was stuck. That's right. One whole week nothing had budged. I had done just as much exercise as usual, by this time a long evening walk with some trampolining mixed in during the week.
I had not over eaten. No really. I was eating the exact same things I always ate.
Another week passed.
I was still the same size. I would have to eat celery for the rest of the month if I wanted to make my 10 pound goal now. There must be something wrong with my metabolism.
I went to the health food store. I got a bunch of "supplements" which looked a lot like "pills" but couldn't be because they came from the health store and smelled like catnip. They came with a little diet book full of things I wasn't supposed to eat in order to "detox" and get my metabolic ship back on an even keel. Not to mention starve for a week.
And then the third week nothing happened.
I went back to the store.
I got something called "the Master Cleanse." Which involved lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup for a full two weeks.
I lost one pound the first week and gained it back the next.
I knew I had a tumor. Maybe I was gaining water weight. Maybe I was doing too much exercise and gaining muscle.
I went back on Google. I found an article by one of the Biggest Loser trainers. It did not suggest I'd added a lot of muscle, or was retaining the Mediterranean Sea, or even that I had a tumor the size of a small island nation.
It suggested something I have since decided to call, ghost food. All those foods we eat which Do Not Contain Calories by virtue of the fact that they do not really exist. They do not exist, of course, because we eat them while standing in front of the fridge in the form of a nibble or a bite. Perhaps they do not exist because they are in liquid form, like the famously calorie free pumpkin spice latte. Or because they are good for us. Everyone knows salads have no calories, and that little bit of blue cheese? Only balanced out by the fact that we just ate a salad, so are now at zero balance.
The article suggested I write down everything I ate.
I put it all in my blackberry calendar.
So every time I found myself in front of the fridge with just a slice of apple or a sip of low calorie soy milk or a spoon full of yogurt poised and ready to enter my mouth I had to whip out the calendar and write it down. Which meant putting the stuff down. And thinking about how many calories the tiny morsel contained.
And doing some quick math in my head.
And generally putting the spoonful back down before I hurt myself.
I lost 3 pounds that week.
I also felt like some sort of hapless glutton. This, I realized was where I had gone wrong all along. All those years, and I could suddenly see them stretching out behind me, year after year, trips to the fridge, stops at the 7/11 or the ice cream store or the Starbucks or whatever. All those times the food I'd been eating wasn't food at all because I'd eaten it where no one could see, on the road somewhere, in the middle of the night standing at the fridge, out of the carton. It hadn't, in my mind been really food at all.
And now, as if they were old soldiers standing at attention, I saw them: the candy bars, the ice cream sandwiches, the beer, wine, martinis, the whipped cream from the can, the last slice of yesterday's pizza I had because it wouldn't be enough for a whole meal and neither were the 2 doughnuts I'd picked up at the AMPM but the two together would just about be enough as long as I finished off the meal with a salad and some garlic bread after.
Suddenly I realized that I did not have a slow metabolism. I had never had a thyroid problem. I didn't retain 130 pounds of water and there was no amount of muscle mass that would get me into as size 24W. It was a sudden, painful burst of reality.
Society, our American fast food culture, hormones, genetics, all these things surely played a role in my weight gain; had I been 20 or 30 pounds overweight I may have even been able to hold those things totally accountable.
But no. 130 pounds were 130 pounds. And those were pounds that Evan down at the 7/11 with his display of Drumsticks and cheesy burritos did not actually Cause me to gain. The cause had been the fact that I, myself had put the drum sticks and the burritos into my very, very delighted mouth.
I was responsible. I was guilty. I was completely ashamed of myself.
And now that I was unable to solve the problem by going to the fridge and poking my finger into some non existent, calorie free peanut butter, and filling a napkin (not a plate, plates contain caloric foods) with grapes (which, have the advantage of being healthy are thereby non-calorie bearing), I had to instead sit down and examine the problem. Or rather walk around with two rambunctious, barely leash trained dogs thinking about the problem.
And I did. I reasoned that I was going to have to face reality and hold myself accountable for all those years I'd abused my body. All the things I'd put in it to soothe my mind which then had wrought havoc on my body and brought unrest to my soul. I would have to see that I had done this to myself.
The shame and self loathing made me want to eat. I had been so out of control, so lacking in discipline that I had almost killed myself - for that is what is meant by "morbid obesity," endangered of death by weight related health problems- with food I didn't even realize I was eating.
And now I really needed a piece of cake.
And maybe a martini.
Probably ice cream, too.

Fortunately I live in a town where the nearest supermarket is a 3 mile drive away. I had to really want that cake and ice cream. And I was in the middle of a walk that would take half an hour just to get home from. So all I could do was carry on walking and thinking and stewing in my own guilt and shame.
I started to cry. Because I had so mistreated myself, and because I had been so mistreated by the very person who should have taken care of me: me.
I had had so little love for myself, so little respect for myself that I had not been able to take time to make a meal, had not seen myself as worth the effort of cooking nor the time of shopping or the care it took to get out and find something active I would enjoy doing.
I had been sorely hurt. And at my own hands.
It would be a matter of months before I came to the life altering conclusion about how I really needed to feel about my hand in my own demise. There were months when I felt ashamed and had to focus on how I was going to "shape up my act" now I was fitter.
It wasn't until I was nearly finished with my weight loss that I finally decided what I really felt and needed to feel about what I had done to myself:
I needed to feel sorry, just as I would if I had done wrong to anyone else.
I needed to look myself in the eye and apologize. Not for over eating. Not for being lazy, or gluttonous or any of those things I'd spent the better part of a lifetime accusing myself of being.
I needed to be sorry for not loving myself enough to do for me what I would do, indeed frequently had done for countless others in my life:
Take care.
I had taken care of friends and family who had been sick.
I had comforted strangers who looked sad when I'd stumbled upon them on the street.
I had let myself go through all manner of pain and heart ache and given myself nothing more than the fleeting comfort of chocolate and beer.
I was soooo sorry. I was no longer ashamed. I was no longer steeped in guilt and self loathing. I was only sorry.
Sorry and overjoyed.
All my life I had spent my time striving to be loved by friends, by family, by various and sundry men. And I had had some level of success with all of them.
But I had never even thought to pursue the love of the one person most responsible, most able to provide care the care I needed: me.

Whole Health Renovation Specialist

I can do anything and I intend to take as many people with me as I can

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Q+A interval

Ok, so today is actually not a post day, but I had this great question from a very important person
And I thought a lot of people might benefit from hearing the answers, so I have pasted them below.

I suck at weight maintenance:
You do not suck at weight maintenance, you just don't have the right tools. Like me, you have a non-hunger eating aspect to your weight problem - truthfully I think most people do. But ours is something that makes it difficult
to keep weight off because dieting is only a temporary fix. It's a lot to explain, but I'm going to be working with it in my blog a lot and will make sure you're the first to see any new writings on the subject.

What exactly did you do when you were first starting out? 
When I started the trampoline I was doing about an hour - just bouncing around and dancing. I found workouts on youtube that were fun, but mostly I just put on music I liked and danced - it worked and I had a blast.

Is it best to workout before or after you eat? 
It doesn't really matter. You shouldn't exercise when hungry or stuffed. That's about it. It only becomes important when you start training - like my marathon stuff. Then it's actually best to do both. Lots of protein and sugar before and after - for longer runs even during.

Any good eating suggestions?
Eat with self love. Don't eat anything that's not worthy of you. You deserve something that was prepared with care, that is properly seasoned and just what you enjoy eating. I have been really successful meddling about and experimenting with whatever's in season: asparagus and broccoli in spring, summer squash all through summer, pumpkin and autumn squashes in fall... I had no idea the world was so full of flavors - I had completely narrowed everything down to whatever was easiest to make. Now I cook for myself and never say things like, "it's too much work just for me." I'm worth the effort. I can make the time. I'm not going to die while I'm waiting for my food to be chopped, cooked and served.
When I'm done with that I'm going to love what I'm eating and so is my whole mind and body. Studies show the more flavorful your food is the more likely you'll be satisfied, the less you'll need of it. I have found that 100% true, and what is more, I don't snack as much when I know I've just had/ soon will be having something fabulous to eat.
Eat lots of veggies - prepared well you'll never want anything else - but don't make yourself a salad, salads won't satisfy you even if they do make the hunger go away.
You are more than just the bodily function that is hunger, and it's much more important that you get fed than that your tummy gets filled with random stuff.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Isolation-Ice Cream effect

When I first moved to Amador county it appeared that everything was divinely ordained. I had a job I had found, interviewed and been hired for after 1 solitary application. A staff member I had met at the interview had a house she was leaving to go to New York and I could rent it well within my price range. The house was beautiful. It even had a yard. And a perfect sized doggy door for zippy the wonder beagle. It was as if God had descended from heaven for the soul purpose of setting me up with a decent paying job with regular hours and a landlady that didn't mind noisy beagles and didn't worry about the smoking so long as I didn't bring it inside.
It was divinely orchestrated. It was guided by arch angels.
The job fell through in six weeks.
My landlady hated the place in New York and decided to return. With her dog that looked as if he regularly had beagle as an afternoon snack. We had made provisions in case Laura wanted to come back, we would go from land lady & tenant to roommates. But she was a) a stranger and b) a roommate.
No job. House full of people I hardly knew and something that for all I knew might have been a cross between a pygmy elephant and a rabid dingo muscling my 15 inch high, flop eared friend out of the way of the tailor made doggy door.
Great. I could see God's descent from heaven had been a mere jaunt rather than an actual habitation.
I had another job in no time though, one that even paid rent and bills and wasn't unpleasant. I had good hours and was locked away in a slow paced office most of the day. It was the perfect venue for a 277 pound woman; I wouldn't have to be on my feet all day and would never be seen wading through cubicles, pushing people's chairs in so I could get through the aisles.
The key to my workplace bliss though was that I would be left alone. I had loved being around people in thinner days, gave parties, had been a professional trainer and had even done some public speaking. When I had come back to the states after college and work abroad I had discovered I had almost no friends left. I was so disconnected from my family some of them had to be reminded who I was. I soon got used to being isolated. I told myself I was tired of human companionship. Maybe it was that my countrymen were as shallow as my foreign friends had accused them of being. Maybe I just didn't like the ones I was meeting. I suspected people were just becoming jerks. Meanwhile the thirty or so pounds I was putting on a year had not exactly motivated me to get out and socialize in places where people might wonder how I'd gotten to be that size, or how I lived with myself, or what I must eat to get that big.
So when, a year later, Laura finally did follow through on her threat to return from the hated New York State, I was terrified. By this time I was about half a year and 50 pounds into my weight loss regimen. From my memory, roommates were people with the pesky habit of getting in the way of things like eating or drinking too much, forgetting to exercise, or just being a slob sometimes. They watched you like hawks. They knew when you weren't sleeping enough or were working too hard or forgetting to clean your bathroom for too long, and the really annoying ones went around mentioning it out of something they disguised as concern.
Roommates were a pestilence at best. A plague at worst.
And who knew what Laura and her boyfriend Don and her Rabid Dingo-Elephant Chance would even be like.
It had been years since I'd shared a home with anyone. Since the time I'd lived with my mother just after arriving back in the states. Back then I had gained the weight in order to become isolated from people I felt were letting me down. Then the weight had served to further isolate me. By the time Laura got back from New York almost a year after I'd moved in I was so deep into my weight loss program I was once again utterly isolated by that, too.
I would come home from working out at 7:30 or 8 at night, eat my pre-cooked, simple meal and head upstairs to watch TV for what remained of the night. I dealt with having a roommate mainly by pretending I didn't.
Laura meanwhile made an effort to relate to me in a way I had given up doing with others. She stopped by my door to chat every night, even when America's next top model was on and I was transfixed. She sat at the table while I was eating even though she was long finished with her meal. She chatted with me about exercise, the only thing I seemed to be interested in. She extended dinner invitations to Gramma which I of course never passed on.
She was kind to me. And before I knew it I began to become attached to her. At Christmas time she and Don went to visit his family in the San Francisco bay area.
I planned to blast the heater, run around in an overripe bathrobe, eat ice cream and drink beer.

Instead I just missed them. Every time I heard a noise I turned around to say something and there was no one there. I didn't eat all the ice cream. The beer didn't taste very good.
I had to wash the bathrobe.
As much as I wanted to be isolated, I wasn't any more. I had people around and I liked them. I no longer felt they were an invasion of my privacy just for breathing.
They were suddenly very... dear.
What was more there were things I felt the undeniable need to tell them. What had happened to me at work. Funny gramma anecdotes. My dog tried to eat the mail man. Their dog ate another sponge.
I was happy. I was sad. I was angry.
And I felt inclined to listen, too. I heard the sound of Laura's voice when she was anxious and when she was relaxed and when she was stressed out or hurt or excited.
And I was really glad to be part of that. It had been a while since I'd been a good enough friend to anyone to know what mood they were in, let alone trust them to know mine.
Over the year and a half of my weight loss adventure Laura sat at our kitchen table helping me sort through all the problems I would have eaten in the past. She proposed solutions to things I only wanted to rant about before digging in to a giant pizza and piece of chocolate cake. She even tried to help me learn to knit when I quit smoking and needed to put something in my hands so they couldn't put anything in my mouth. I swore afterwards that I hadn't actually been Trying to poke her eye out, and miraculously Laura seemed to believe me.
With Laura's help I had learned to be around people again. I had begun to reestablish my faith in friendship, to trust that someone other than myself could actually be genuinely concerned about me. I began to want to be a part of things where other humans were present.
I took up salsa dancing. I joined clubs and associations. I stopped running away the moment church let out and actually stayed to talk to people.
I had a friend at home and I began to make more all over the place. Friends I could tell things to when I felt like just forgetting everything and knocking back a days worth of calories in one chocolate shake. People who could help me solve problems instead of just paving them over with chocolate flavored mortar.
Slowly but surely I was being cured. I was becoming more able to reveal who I really was because I could be more and more sure the people around me weren't going to let me down. And that, if they did, I would always have help picking myself up again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Everyone needs a Gramma: sorry mine is taken

In a small ranch style home on a small, out of the way street in the almost imperceptibly small town of Jackson, there lives a small Croatian woman with a very, very big range of talents. She is a mistress of the garden, home and hearth, she cooks, she sews, she reads, she writes, she is an active financial advisor with portfolios that would make Wall Street financial gurus come looking for advice if only they knew. But her greatest talent lies in what we in her inner circle have decided to call, wielding the persuasio-ray gun (she is also a dab hand with the briliant-suggestobot-5000, the embarrassing-anecdotator and of course, the guiltron-beam-generator).
Her name is Amelia. Many call her Mellie. I am fortunate, OK blessed to call her Gramma. I actually moved to my current home to be nearer to my family, and by family of course I meant Gramma. Manteca, where I had been living was to say the least, the pits. There was a train that ran through town east to west and one north to south and there might have even been one north by north west for all the stupid things barreled through any and every neighborhood at all hours of the day and night.
It was boring. There was a bar called The Rusty Hook which was as appealing as its name suggests. There was a defunct water slide park, a set of broken monkey bars (fun for the whole family) and of course, a fast food restaurant not merely on every corner but occasionally crowding multiple burger/ taco joints on any one corner.
That was the recreational offering for the area, the next major city being about an hour's drive, the next nature park/ open space/ unpaved surface about 2 hours to the east. So the moment the window opened I squeezed through and moved myself and beagle up to beautiful Amador county, jewel of the California Motherlode.
The air here smells like hot oak and fresh grass. Traffic jams happen only when old Mrs. Onetto drops a jar of home made persimmon jam in the cross walk. There isn't any fast food where I live in Sutter Creek, unless you count the ice cream shop where the food is ready fast but you'll build up an appetite waiting for the line around the block to subside. There are no trains. The whole place is a nature park.
From my doorstep I can hear the cheers from the high school football games on Fridays, and the music from the ragtime festival, or the blues festival or the cutesy-little-old-west-themed-festival that's taking place on any given Saturday.
The place is, in total contrast to Manteca, utterly wholesome.
And in this wholesome environment with its high school football games and its cutesy festivals and its persimmon flavored traffic jams, right in the middle of that lives Gramma.
Gramma, an immigrant from 1920's Craotia, grew up mainly in the town of Jackson. There she learned her mother's favorite Austrian dishes like strudel, traditional Croatian fair, policinkas, and cevapcici, and a hodgepodge of local cuisine brought from all over the world by the miner's families who peopled the place.
Having grown up surrounded by people from every country and continent, Gramma can knock out a gulash to please Atilla the Hun himself; she can whip up a chicken curry in no time flat. She can do a Cornish pasty, Italian gnocci and ravioli, borscht, pot roast, barbecue, you name it.
And so, as I sat at her kitchen table chin in hands, bemoaning the fact that I had nooooo time to cook, that I was Forced to resort to Fast food and prepackaged frozen food (which of course I did not like, not at all, no really, I'd so rather eat healthy) Gramma buzzed around the kitchen stirring pots and turning meats and adding spices and flavors and chopping and crushing and....
"Why don't you pick out a few things you'd like to eat and we'll learn how to make them," she suggested as I launched into another diatribe on my lousy cooking skills.
Ah, the brilliant-suggestobot 5000. I might have expected it. And it was air tight and perfectly aimed as usual. I was going to spend at least a couple of hours a week at Gramma's place, I might as well spend them learning to cook. And no, it was no trouble. She'd be cooking anyway and would be glad for the company. No, we wouldn't do anything complicated until I got better at it. No there didn't have to be any brussels sprouts and you could use cauliflower almost anywhere it called for broccoli.
As usual with the suggestobot (and it was even worse when the guiltron beams were released and I was reminded how much she missed me and thought I should have more incentive to visit) was bullet proof. All my excuses about time and energy went right out the window, and half the ingredients would come from her garden, so no, there'd be no real expense.
I was trapped, like being trapped against your will in a dentist's office: it would be good for me I knew. It would even probably be fun, all that hanging around with Gramma. But as that fresh from the dentist feeling eliminates any excuse you may have for not smiling, so cooking with Gramma would mean one less thing in my I-can't-lose-weight-because litany of lies I told myself.

As usual, despite my misgivings the persuedo ray gun won out in the end. Gramma and I spent a day or two a week cooking stuffed cabbage with dill, Cajun Jambolaya, something French that required several extra arms to prepare (that had been my suggestion from my one and only cooking book), turkey soup, spicy chili, and anything else we could make 7 servings of for me to eat during the week. And because we had no more than 7 servings I knew exactly how much I could eat per day and not have to cook again the rest of the week.
And before I knew it I no longer worried about depleting my I-can't-lose-weight-because litany; I no longer needed it. Cooking with Gramma, combined with a quick if uninteresting walk every morning, ensured that in just 2 weeks I lost six pounds. And I hadn't even meant to.
And then instead of doing the thing one in my condition would reasonably expect of pounds that come off, they stayed away. In fact within a month even more of them had gone. And they kept going.
And all because someone who cared for me had taken the time to show me what she knew: not merely how to cook, but how to join her in caring for me.

I have a friend who always texts me at our mutual lunch hour. "What's for lunch?" I ask.
"Tuna on wheat, lettuce, pickle. You?"
"Calamari fajitas with black beans, red and green bell peppers, onion, zuchini and yellow squash sprinkled with gorgonzola cheese on white corn tortillas."
"Show off."
I'd invite him to my extraordinary feasts but he seems to have his mind made up to eat healthy.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lifestyle Schmifestyle. How about a complete brain change?

Having once discovered that the best place, indeed the only place to start from was here, right where I was, 100+ pounds overweight, cholesterol count just beginning to outnumber red blood cells and blood sugar surging and pulsing like a swimming pool full of frisky sperm whales, I had to begin the most difficult step of all: the Things I would do to lose weight. Whenever I say overweight people know more about weight loss than most medical specialists, people nod their heads. At least the overweight ones do. Everyone else crosses their arms and raises their brow as if to wonder why, if they Know so much, wouldn't they do it?
But what you know isn't always what you DO. You know that you should never drive while holding the cell phone in your hand, and yet invariably the stupid blue tooth gives out or the headphones echo or you have the top down and the speaker phone is just picking up a sound like in a hurricane, and bingo, you're driving with your elbow holding the phone and talking with one hand and trying to reprogram the GPS with the other.
And that is how, knowing all they (we) know, we nonetheless remain overweight.
We know we are supposed to do as the TV doctors instruct and get at least a half hour's dull, unchallening exercise a day. We know we are supposed to eat what seem to us to be tree frog sized portions of things with more green than white and brown combined. We are supposed to starve and torture ourselves and otherwise suffer for our sins. We've earned it, we tell ourselves, that's what we get for all that indulgence. All that lack of self control. That's our comeuppance.
And so that is what I did. Every night in the dark after work, middle of January, rain or shine, I would saddle up the dogs and traipse through our unadorned, hilly, suburban neighborhood, up something I called "Heartbreak hill," (because it was so steep I had to have my cigarette After climbing it to avoid giving myself a heart attack).
Then I would come home and do crunches and leg lifts all through the final round of Jeopardy. The first leg of the fitness venture was dull enough to put me to sleep if it hadn't been sub arctic autumn out. The second leg would have put me to sleep but I can always survive Final Jeopardy, even if those obnoxious chopper, hacker, slicer, dicer commercials come on.
Then one day, half way through leg lift 317, I spotted it. It was dusty. It was dismantled and stuffed behind an unfashionable, puffy, down coat (the one that made me look like the Michelin Man ate the the Pilsbury Dough Boy for lunch). But there it was. And now that I was a svelte 260 I just barely exceeded the weight limit.
I dragged the mini trampoline out from behind the stay-puffed-marshmallow coat and screwed the legs into the body.
It was pretty sturdy. I stepped on and nothing went sproing. I did a few lunges and nothing went ping or ricocheted off the converted park bench I used for a couch.
I turned off Jeopardy and turned on "Take It" by Janis Joplin. Pretty soon I was Dancin' With Myself and Shaking' My Booty and actually collecting songs from iTunes into a play list I called "Trampoline Non-Torture music."
And that was when I took the first giant leap from punishment to reward. I don't know if, having lost a few pounds I now felt that I had human dignity again (a thing I clearly did not believe I possessed in the old Heart Break Hill days) and had earned the right to not spend half an hour to an hour a night paying my penance, or whether I was just sick and tired of huffing my way around a neighborhood full of Mount Everests at sub-human temperatures I'll never know. Whatever the case, that night I pulled out the trampoline from behind the Incredible Bulk's coat I committed an act of such pure, if unintended self love it would change a whole, ingrained, lifelong, deeply held and very nearly worshiped view: that exercise was a means of paying the piper, a release for all the shame I felt at having indulged, let go, lost myself.
I began to believe, as I ducked to avoid hitting the ceiling while belting out "take it! Take another little piece of my heart now darlin' yeah!" that, if exercise had to be torture, moving my body didn't have to be exercise. I could burn calories singing and dancing, and since no one was home at that hour, no one had to know I wasn't doing any drudgery.
I didn't even have to feel guilty; I could still do some crunches later if I felt the need for something more punitive.
It also helped me do something that would start me on the one road I believe everyone must find a way to if they are to ultimately succeed at managing their weight: the abandonment of self loathing, and the first, tiny glimmers of self love.
I had, instead of my usual switching from hurting myself with food to hurting myself with foul tasting fitness food and tortuous exercise routines, stopped hurting myself altogether.
I had begun the process of helping myself, and that out of real, natural, healthy love. The same kind and amount of it I would show toward anybody else.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No you really are better off starting somewhere else

Just after college I was dating an Irishman named Liam. Liam was such a friendly, open person that everywhere he went he would get asked for restaurant recommendations, advice, directions; he was like a walking information booth. Either because he was tired of being asked or because the Irish just like to have a good laugh at the expense of lost tourists, Liam had a pre-programmed response he would use whenever people asked him for directions.
"Excuse me," a hapless visitor would ask in an American accent, "Can you tell me how to get to the Octoberfest?"
And Liam would answer in an exaggerated cross between west country Leprechaunese and genuine Dublin brogue: "Aye," (wink, nod), "but your best not startin' out from here."
There would be a nod and that special computing look people get when they are deciding whether what you've just said is the wisest, or indeed the stupidest thing they've ever heard.
And the answer would invariably be, (I am not making this up, and really no one ever, ever had a better reply than this, no matter how much computing had clearly gone on in between)
"Well, could you tell me where I should start from, and how to get there?"

There is, of course, no sensible answer to the question "where shall I best start from and how do I get there from here." When you are staring down years upon years of built up food issues, muscles that don't want to carry your weight further than the distance from the couch to the freezer full of ice cream, and a 100+ pound journey ahead, you can't help wondering where on earth you might ever start.

Whether you are losing 10 pounds or a hundred, the task ahead always seems, and in increasingly more cases is next to impossibly big. The difference between someone who has 10 pounds and someone who has 100 pounds to lose often lies in the willingness to make a start despite all odds.

I remember the moment I decided that I was going to start down the long, long road to health from where I was. The vision I had was not of a shiny, yellow brick road peopled with little people singing the days away and colorful inanimate effegies coming to life to protect me. The road I saw ahead - and perhaps just because I have that sort of imagination it was photographically clear - was of a dark, dingy road, veiled in half light of something not hopeful enough to be dawn and not lovely enough for dusk. My road was peopled with scolding health professionals, smug fitness gurus with waists the size of pencils and taunting fit people giving me their unsolicited, often ill informed opinions on the secrets to successful weight loss (doctors and gurus and skinny people, oh my!). The road I saw was long and winding, dirty and painful, just like all the other times only worse, and longer. And now I was a lot older, too.
And I was convinced I would walk that road on my own. There would be no scarecrows, mindless or otherwise to accompany me, but there would be no end of flying monkeys (in the form of big pieces of chocolate cake) and witches (doubting friends, and family. The heavy ones would say I was looking too thin and the thin ones would say I'd gain it all back. My family, I was convinced, would eye me suspiciously every time I put food in my mouth; everyone who knew me would roll their eyes and marvel at my futile attempt at yet another fitness kick).
So I'm standing at the edge of this dark road with all the monkeys and witches and treadmills and eliptical machines and free weights and God only knew what manner of torture devices, and it occurs to me, as if all that weren't bad enough, that I was going to be on this road given my condition, for a very, very long time. At a stretch I could lose 70 pounds in a year (without the snickers and coffee diet or the eat only raw papaya diet) and I had almost twice that to go. Two years on a diet was going to be an eternity. I was of course going to die.
Which was fine.
Because I was dying anyway.
And I might as well die trying to live instead of trying to die.
So in my vision I saw myself, dressed in my favorite dress (pictured in the before shot above), taking a first step onto the road as if testing out the water after someone slipped a small iceberg into the swimming pool.
And sure enough there really were monkeys and witches. Some of my old friends really did get angry with me, even stopped talking to me. They would spread gossip about how I was fitness obsessed, how I was anorexic, maybe bulimic, sick, unhealthy.
And then there were Patty and Kitty. Patty and Kitty were roughly my size but nonetheless each for her own reason, one of the most beautiful people I've ever known. Patty and Kitty did not get swept away with the fitness fever as I had, but they watched and cheered me on as I did. They told me I looked great. They told me they were proud of me. They told me to keep going and joked that soon they wouldn't be able to let me turn sideways because I'd disappear.
But they never once doubted I could do it. Or made snide comments about eating disorders. Or passed judgment every time I ate a meal that involved more than one grape.
These were the people who really loved me. They were on my side.
As it turned out, my dark, long and winding road was not peopled only with monkeys and witches and agonizing remnants of the Spanish inquisition.
My road had Patty and Kitty. And, I would later find dozens and dozens of people, better than any scarecrows or tin men or even the bravest lions.
And just like in the story, they had been there all along.
And they loved me just as much thin as they had fat. And it turned out they even loved me a little, OK maybe even a lot more than I ever thought they had.

Liam was right. You're best not starting out from where you are. It would be a lot easier to start out from 5 pounds or 10 pounds or how about just a few ounces away from your goal. But that's not where you are right now.
But Dorothy was right, too. There really is no place like home. And wherever the road home leads, you are bound to discover, and as a bonus even learn to better love and appreciate, all the people who will come out of the woodwork in droves (and they really will) to lend you a hand you never asked for.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Instructions for how to begin not being doomed

1) Purchase several hypnosis tapes by certain cockney hypnotists and go around repeating the phrase, "eat smaller portions of healthier food." All day. 2) Buy masses of exercise equipment and gear, but only purchase it if a) it's either really cheap or really expensive and b) it says " just minutes a day..." AND "...No Back Breaking _____" somewhere on the box. 3) Buy a whole library of books that tell you not to eat carbs. Or not to eat fats. Or not to eat anything but cookies. Buy a book that will help you learn portion control by keeping a food scale in your coat pocket. Sign up for 15 different web sites where you can track your calorie intake, record your calorie output, read articles about the best ways to burn, limit, eradicate or banish calories from your life.
4) Give up and get yourself a bucket sized portion of triple chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips and chocolate sauce.

That is how it all began for me, anyway. That and Facebook. I had joined a group and made a comment, to which someone responded despite the fact that I looked remarkably like a certain over sized, pack bred, scent hound in my profile picture. It turned out Fred (or so I will call him) was a really nice fellow. We chatted amicably. He friended me, I accepted. I liked him. I started wondering what it would be like to be with him, and that thought was immediately followed by another question as to what Fred would think if my 277 pound self actually posted a picture - and not the one I'd taken during the New Year's Eve party that year I turned 25 and was on the grape fruit tomato juice diet for 6 months.
What would happen if he ever actually Saw a picture. He would surely stop flirting with me, maybe even unfriend me. So I took matters into my own hands and stopped flirting with him before he had the chance.
Then I went on a trek. It was the first trek I'd made since my failed attempt to lose weight with foot long Subs and a palates video. I was going to change my body if it killed me. Heck, I was already on the road to perdition - or at least an early grave - things couldn't be much worse.
So it started with the hypnosis CD. And, although I found it helpful, it did not, in fact cause me to lose weight immediately and irreversibly. What it did do was plant a picture in my head of something I remember seeing (not as if in a dream but in fact clear as day) - a visualization of me, about a size 6 or 8, standing in front of the mirror in a red dress. I can't say what, if anything that CD did for me, but it did put that image in my mind: me, size 6, red dress. I could see it so clearly it was as if it were reality.
And then I discovered it actually Was reality. That was the way I really was inside. I was beautiful inside. I was radiant and happy and friendly and all those things I'd seen right there in that mirror. And I'll be darned if my inner self wasn't wearing that red dress, too.
When I reached the mid point of my healthy BMI range I went on a quest to find that dress. The after picture on this blog shows me wearing it. It is a size 8. I wear it all the time, even though I've had to have it taken in.
I will probably wear it until it falls to pieces. After that I will have it taken apart and replicated.
What I learned from the red dress in the mirror, though, was that if I could make the long, long stretch of the imagination from what seemed impossible (i.e. that I would ever lose so much as a pound again) to the fact that it might not be impossible (i.e. The belief that it would be difficult, require a lot of hard work and sacrifice not to mention time but was, nonetheless, however distantly, possible), it was a short hop from not-impossible to possible.
And as the pounds began to come off, and I on my trampoline pictured me in my red dress, and on my walks and while I was standing in front of the fridge and at the grocery store and wherever else, conjured up the image of me in my dress, I began to think more and more in terms of not merely possible but probable. And from there to certainty.
And then I bought the dress. Right off the rack. From a designer boutique.
And it was real because at some point I began to expect it to be real. At some point I knew it would. And it has stayed real because I do not expect it to disappear like a wisp of smoke.
So it all began, as I have learned as if I had learned no more than one thing on this whole journey: that what you get is what you expect. And if you expect a size 6 red dress you will, one day, find yourself wearing one.

I am going to be buried in that red dress. No matter how out of style it is 80 years from now.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Not Doomed

My name is Alyshia Davies and I used to be doomed. If I were starting a twelve step program for recovering doomed people, that is how it would start.
It wasn't long ago that I was living in Manteca, a place which is so hot in summer you have to keep the refrigerator door open to keep the air conditioner from having a nervous breakdown. In winter, Manteca is bathed in a steady fog so thick any hapless rays of sunshine that penetrate into visibility (about 3 inches from the end of your nose) are so exhausted all the vitamin D has been drained right out. Manteca (which is a Spanish word meaning pork lard) is a reasonably sized city, but surrounded on all sides by fertile, central California farm land, which is, in some place or other in any given wind direction, constantly being fertilized. You probably put two and two together just now, but in case you haven't, the math goes: round-the-compass-farmland+hotter-than-a-dessert-gorilla's-underarms = a smell that would keep the four horsemen of the Apocalypse at bay. Well, at least someone will survive the end times.

What was worse, I had come to Manteca to escape living with my mother after having been unemployed for over a year. I had a job that barely paid the bills and sometimes didn't, and which, when I told people what I did for a living I had to smile extra brightly to distract them from the little wincing motion I involuntarily did with my shoulders (I saw it in a mirror once. It looked like someone had stuffed a small, wet sea turtle down the back of my shirt).

I didn't know anyone.
My family were hours and hours away.
I was, to say the least, utterly devastated.
So I did what every red blooded American does when cornered. I ate. I ate whatever was available, which in Manteca usually amounted to various and sundry fast foods (there is an Applebee's in town but at least at first it was out of my price range).
And if you had asked me back then, I would have told you that I hardly ate at all. I never ate. And I had witnesses to that fact. No one ever saw me eat. I didn't have a single meal all day (I was too busy to sit down and eat); why, it was all I could do to get to the drive through on my break just to stop my tummy rumbling. Sometimes I even had to resort to a candy bar from the gas station across the street. Which wasn't so bad because the people there were friendly and even knew my name. The only thing I could imagine might be a problem was the occasional beer I had with my occasional ice cream which I only had when I worked the late shift which in turn was no more than 4 times a week.
In short, I gained 35 pounds a year the first three years in Manteca. 35 pounds. I was now 105 pounds heavier than I had been when I started, and I hadn't started small either.
I'd never been a string bean. My extra pounds showed up when I was about 10 and hung around all my life. There were one or two at first. Then in my teens I'd been so miserable I'd gone out and found a few more. Pretty soon there were 30 or 40 and they were getting a good party going just as I went off to college.
I immediately went on the have-to-live-off-$72-a-month crash diet and lost all 40. And that stayed good and gone, too, until my boyfriend went off to Germany and I had to wait 3 months to join him. Then a few of them realized how much they'd missed me and started to creep back. I put a stop to that, though. I went on the eat-only-snickers-bars-and-coffee diet. And that showed them.
Then there was the time my boyfriend (a different one this time) decided I needed to be domesticated and decided that a) I needed a whole set of pots for Christmas as motivation to learn how to cook for him and b) I needed to start sitting around the house more whilst he went out with his friends. This resulted in a) another 30 (40? maybe even 50) pound weight gain b) the whole grain cereal and non-fat-milk diet and c) a new boyfriend.
Over the years my weight did this 30 or 40 pound trapeze act with such regularity you didn't need a calendar. In fact no one back home ever needed letters, I would just send them a picture and they could guess with 99% accuracy how things were going. If I was thin, I had a new guy and it was 1998. If I was fat, I was living alone or in a relationship that had seen brighter days and, jeez, where did the time go, it must be 2001 already.
In Manteca though, the 30 pounds turned into an annual 30 pounds, or rather 35. There were no new boyfriends to keep my weight in check. I was just lonely, and depressed (clinically even for a while) and fat.
I was 277 pounds when the "before" picture on this blog was taken.
277 pounds of which about 130 were now giving a bash to beat the band around my hips, thighs and waist. I tottered around that weight for a while, taking off 10, 20, even 30 pounds. But I must have been a heck of a hostess because they just kept coming back. And sometimes bringing friends.

And I, who ate out of misery, put my brave face on, and said all was well. I wasn't unhealthy, really. The achy feet were from my job. The knees, too. The leg pain. The fact that the moment the temperature got above 69 degrees Fahrenheit I started sweating so hard people asked me if it was raining out. It was all because of something else.
And I wasn't unhappy, either. By gum. I'd rather be fat and happy than thin and hungry any day.
I had seen a Dr. Phil episode once where an obese man had said he had no health problems, no high cholesterol, no blood pressure problems. And Dr. Phil had said, "Just because you don't now doesn't mean you won't soon. You will." And I didn't believe him any more than the man in the chair across from him did. And then my blood pressure really did start to creep up. And my cholesterol. And everything. As quickly as if it had been damned up somewhere and was just now starting to flood out.

But it didn't matter. Because I was doomed. In my mind I was doomed. I had had to lose as much as 50 pounds before, and that had been difficult. 130 was going to be impossible. I was doomed. And if doomed, I might as well just wait for the blood pressure and the cholesterol and the joint pain and the sleep apnea and whatever else... I might as well just let that do its work. If I was doomed, I was probably better off dead anyway.

And I was no dummy. That's pretty solid reasoning. The math worked.
And then I moved out of Manteca to live in Amador county, near Gramma.
Gramma, herself a veteran survivor of unbeatable odds, was telling me one day about her upbringing: Poor immigrant family, her father an alcoholic, her mother a cruel tyrant, an untreated paranoid schizophrenic. At 85 Gramma is a stock broker. She went to business school and was a secretary back when that was what girls did. And then she took an interest in finance and got her brokers license back when that was what girls didn't. She's been practicing her trade with remarkable success ever since. Has two kids, a bunch of no-good layabout grand kids, and a husband she's been married to since practically the dawn of time.

I wondered aloud one day how Gramma had beat the odds the way she had, why she hadn't turned out to be a tyrant's victim, perhaps herself a tyrant, or worse.
"I chose what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do."
You never ask Gramma an idle question because you will get a real live answer and that will start you on a life long journey.

At least that is what happened to me. Gramma's reminder that you choose what you want to be, made me realize that 130 pounds, despite being almost impossibly difficult to lose, was not actually impossible. That pack a day of cigarettes I was going through? My choice, too.
And all those things I thought about myself? That I was helpless? I had help. I had Gramma, who was a cheer leading squad, a cooking instructor and overall motivator. I wasn't strong enough? Not strong enough? I carried 130 pounds around on my back all day - If that's not strength what is? I wasn't tough enough, I'd go crazy dealing with all that anguish every time I had a setback. Not tough enough? I listened to people snicker behind my back every time I went out in public. I dealt with the humiliation of not being able to fit in a booth at a restaurant, and having to ask people to push their chairs in so I could get to the bathroom. I dealt with that every day and I wasn't tough enough to face a bathroom scale?
And finally, I had no self control. I was so fond of saying this I had even begun to believe it. But I knew that wasn't true. Every hot day I resisted the urge to go outside in a pair of short shorts. Every weekend I sat home wishing I could go dancing or to a concert or .... out some place where I wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen. I had no self control? It suddenly dawned on me, I had self control in spades.

18 months, countless gallons of blood, sweat and tears later I was a 110 pounds lighter, no longer overweight but in now in a healthy BMI range. I was also infinitely wiser. From the beginning I had decided to to this right this time. There would be no $72 budget to help me avoid eating, and at 33 I could no longer metabolize snickers bars and coffee without being awake for several weeks afterwards. I had to do my homework. I went on line, I read books, I talked to people. I researched how to lose weight. And when I was done, I researched how to keep it off.
And I did. Both.
And then I quit smoking as if daring myself to gain the 20 pounds or so smokers usually put on. I lost 20.
And now I wasn't just normal weight. I was kind of hot.

And things went south with my boyfriend. And I didn't gain or lose anything.
And things went south and then north and south and north in other areas of my life as things often do, and none of those things killed me even though I no longer had food or even cigarettes to help me cope. I had learned to cope without them.

And then I decided to train for a marathon.
And next spring I am taking up mountain climbing.
And right now, I am learning to dance.
And I can do anything.
And I intend to take as many people with me as I possibly can.
My name is Alyshia Davies and I am not doomed. And neither are you.