I Am (Not) Fat

August 4, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Posted in Catholic sisters, Health | 3 Comments
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In case you didn’t know, being overweight is a big issue in the United States these days (no pun intended). The Centers for Disease Control report that in 2013-2014 37.9% of Americans over the age of 20 were obese and 70.9% over the age of 20 were either obese or overweight. That’s more than two-thirds of the population.

However much a threat this epidemic poses to the health of a great many people, the response to it is something less than unified. This weekend,  a long article  in the New York Times Magazine called “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age” explores a number of the complexities. Apparently, there’s a lot of push-back against dieting, against trying to lose weight. It’s tacky. It’s discriminatory. It’s anti-feminist. There’s a “fat acceptance movement.”  Researchers disagree about whether dieting actually works, whether there’s even any point in trying. The article also includes lots of info about Weight-Watchers and Lean Cuisine and Oprah and companies that deliver healthy food to your door. No mention, of course, that a large percentage of overweight and obese people are poor and cannot possibly afford the various consumerist dieting regimes.

I read the whole article with interest. I did so, in large part, because when I was a young person, I was fat–overweight, I guess I should say. When I graduated from high school in 1965, I was 5 ft. 6 in. tall and weighed. 160 lbs., which is slightly over a normal Body Mass Index. And believe me, I knew it.

I had not always been fat. There are photos of me before kindergarten looking tall and thin. But when I was five, my beloved grandfather, “Poppie,” died suddenly from a heart attack. My parents and I had lived with him and my grandmother, “Dommie,” till I was two-and-a-half, and visited them often after we moved to our own house. Indeed, the first thing that was ever said about me, after I popped out of my mother’s belly, was “Oh, she looks just like Daddy.” My grandfather’s  death was devastating. Even Dommie’s moving in with us afterwards didn’t remedy things; she was never herself again. I can still hear her sighing as she walked me to the drugstore for an ice cream cone.

The next year I entered grade school at St. Joseph’s in Collingdale, just south of Philadelphia. It was 1953.

Over the years there has been a lot written about how dreadful the Catholic sisters were who taught in the kind of post-war urban parochial school I attended–how they hit kids, and screamed at them, and so forth. Let me just say that there were three separate first grade classes when I started at St. Joe’s, and my class had 106 kids in it; three kids in every two desks.  I am surprised that the nun didn’t kill a few of us. One of my happiest memories from those days is buying an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen on my way home from school.

Then, when I was seven, a sibling was born with a rather disturbing birth defect. I will not go into detail, specially as said sibling will probably read this post.  But we shared a bedroom for the next seven years, and it understates the case to say my parents were not very good at dealing with emotions.

Presto! Fat Marian.

My overweight, if not obese, situation continued till my early thirties, when I was living at Grailville, a Catholic feminist commune in southwest Ohio. For some reason, I took up running, and continued running for years following. I lost thirty pounds.

I gained the weight back in the 1990s: I unintentionally lost ten pounds after I had surgery for colon cancer in 1994–getting a chunk cut out of your colon does not facilitate eating–and it scared the bejesus out of me. I began eating ice cream between meals. Soon I was approaching the big 160 again. In 2000, however, the psychoanalyst I was workingwith  suggested that I might want to lose some weight, and I did. Since then I have been absolutely determined to keep the fat off.

The weird thing about these experiences is that I have never stopped thinking of myself as fat. I recently had occasion to lose a serious amount of weight–I got down below 120 lbs–as a result of a gastrointestinal bug and then my annual colonoscopy. So I needed to eat more, to get up to a normal weight. But  I don’t have a mental category for “I should eat more.” The only thing I understand is “I should eat less.” Maybe this is only true for people who were fat as kids, when your self-image is being formed. In any case, I have been following a rigorous eating schedule and am now back up to 119 pounds.

Finally, I have a  recommendation for people who are trying to lose weight, and that is to walk. I read somewhere that walking is the best kind of exercise because you can build it into your schedule and then just keep doing it, for example, walking three or four subway stops on your way to work, and then doing the same thing on the way home. The other good thing about walking is all you need is a pair of shoes and some sun block. No paying gym fees.

If you live here in Brooklyn, perhaps I will pass you on my walk today in Prospect Park. I’m leaving as soon as I post this blog piece.






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