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Truth In The New Year

January 3, 2011

During this period of post-holiday bloat, we have 2 choices when dealing with our bodies. For those of us who are fat, but want to be less fat, the first option to getting less of you is seeing how you became somebody whose body causes shame. The second option is to grab some self-medicating comfort food and avoid mirrors.  Almost three years ago, I realized that it wasn’t just the mirror that had to be faced, but acknowledging the absurd crap I would eat, and then rationalize…

I was a fool for the surreptitious bag of flavored potato chips when I was on the road.  It’s bad enough that plain potato chips have the wonderful combination of salt, fat, crunch and sublime lightness of being that, in and of themselves, represent a mightily compelling presence, but when combined with fabulously faux flavors of sour cream and onion, jalapeno pepper, cheddar cheese, or any number of other designer spicings, it was the crack of snack foods – a cheap, instant and fleeting high.

It was so easy to grab fistfuls of dried fruit or nuts, especially if the nuts were “dry roasted” (in other words, self-basted in their own fat).  How could those sweet little, often organic, whole and unprocessed morsels of goodness be bad for me?  Easy.  Nuts are pellets of fat congealed by plant life and dried fruit only had the water removed, not the calories.

Cheese was a constant seducer of the spirit.  Soft, unassuming, with a melt-in-your-mouth ability to be bite-sized, schmeared and congealing, cheese effortlessly becomes a passively aggressive fat bomb.

Steeped in the mini-psychodrama of my family history and my own manic over-focus on my immediate family, I let the lie of my theoretically ethical eating reinforce itself over two decades.  Nevertheless, I had the growing sense that the jig was up as I entered my mid-40’s.  Some aspects of my physical state were impossible to rationalize or ignore.

I began to find that when I reached down to pick something up from the passenger side floor of my car as I was driving it was if someone had put a beach ball in my lap.   I had to roll sideways to my knees before I stood up from sitting on the ground or a low chair. My body memory of a pre-fat weight guided the movement of my bloated mass in ways that caused me to bump into, tip over, disrupt, and perhaps even break objects that surrounded me in day-to-day life.  Wiping, scratching, or washing any part of my body that was not directly visible had come to require a brief wrestling match with a gelatinous subcutaneous “pal”.

Every time I booked a flight, I thought about which carrier to choose, given that some airlines’ seat belts are shorter than others (US Air caused me to cringe in anticipation) –and is there a single request more embarrassing in Western civilization than asking for a seatbelt extender?

When visiting construction sites, I felt both studs as I tried to slip between the 14½ inch space between them.  I quietly and automatically checked out the structural status of ladders, chairs, and beds before I used them.  At 75 degrees Fahrenheit I would sweat when immobile if there wasn’t a breeze.

My tightie whities fit me like a Speedo, and pants either blew out at some seam, or the clasp/button hole got enormously distorted as it restrained my girth, or the cloth at the inner thighs turned into gauze.  My wedding ring became embedded into my finger; the last time I was able to remove it was during the Reagan administration.  I would almost asphyxiate myself buttoning my collar before putting on a tie, and my fingers sometimes got all tingly when buttoning my shirt cuffs.

I realized that I was dangerously close to not being able to find pants that fit me even in the fat-friendly Land’s End Catalog, which tops out at 48” waists. I added the dreaded extra “X” to the “XL” that had been my MO for unsized clothing for decades.

During cycles of rapid mass increase, I always found solace in the fact that there were one or two pair of pants who’s outsized and billowing architecture allowed for unrestricted, guilt-free expansion.  Unfortunately, even those accommodating proportions were always finally exceeded, leaving me with the only ultimate fallback position – sweatpants.  In the final full fat years, sweats became my default for long pants when not attending some serious function.  Given the fact I wore shorts 9 months a year, this consequence had limited impact.

But I knew I had passed some bodily Rubicon when waitresses automatically assumed I was going to have dessert.  I found myself gravitating towards the corner seats at any dining table to allow for lateral spread.  The car salesman didn’t even bother to show me the compact car, and I started to choose cars based on how much (or little) they impinged on my bulk.

The indignities multiplied as the belt holes became ever more stressed.  Crossing my legs did not mean an “X”, it meant a “T”.  My armpits filled.  The top-down lighting in motel bathrooms illuminated a terrifying naked stranger before me.  Given the fact I have never been pregnant and hadn’t power-lifted since the ‘70’s, those boldly present stretch marks about my tummy sides lacked any unembarassing explanation.

Despite the comforts of my self-indulgence, I was sick of feeling incapable of keeping up with my kids in their athletic pursuits.  I knew that I had become a fat klutz, but it was unacceptable that I had become a fat weakling klutz when it came to tossing the ball and running after the dog.

Like whining gnats circling my head, these clues were relentless, but tolerated, until I was forced to with a mandatory weigh-in before contemplating a helicopter ride at the Grand Canyon, where the gross tonnage of the cargo is a safety issue. A surreptitious scale-tipping revealed I was ever so close to 300 pounds, so I resolved that I should probably dip my toe back into the world of exercise.

I decided that if I was going to be fat, I was going to be “fit and fat”.  I bought a small recumbent exercise bike that fit under the stairs and I began to use my body in a sustained regular way for the first time in over 20 years. It’s clear to me now that this new commitment was facilitated by my boys growing into pre-adolescence where their ability to kill themselves was somewhat diminished. Exercising 15 minutes a day three days a week is better than exercising no minutes a day no days a week.  But I knew that that was not enough to transform my aging sack of flesh.  Adding minutes and days over six months, I was exercising almost every day for many more minutes a day.  Even at my quiet approach, I soon obtained an hour at a clip 6 or 7 days a week, a pace that would occasionally turn my hamstrings into beef jerky.

I had to unlearn the paradigms of being physical in my pre-30’s.  My previous attempts at jumping into a personal exercise regime invoked the same fervor I had when I mowed the lawn or coached – and it’s that level of infantile intensity that virtually doomed the effort to failure.

Beyond potential cardio crises, my gears and hinges were on the ragged edge of viability as I left my 30’s. Not even $300 running shoes could replace the cartilage I’d lost by the grinding trek between the TV and the fridge during several hundred thousand journeys to fully load my ever bloating frame with unneeded calories. My rotator cuff has had to accept any number of repetitive tasks from mulch tossing to child hoisting and was getting as frayed as my pants crotch. Thus I repressed the urge to aggressively grab for a body that long ago became a bag of diminishing returns. I had to get moving (and avoid the need to horizontally heal), and so I had to accept my feebleness but press the effort in ways that did not invite tissue blow-out.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. kimwim permalink
    January 4, 2011 12:24 pm

    I am ever so grateful to Duo for putting into words what I’ve been feeling, and to my son for the gift of a Nordictrac treadmill for Christmas.

  2. January 6, 2011 11:07 pm

    What a great story Mr. Dickinson,
    You have inspired me to keep trying to lose those few extra pounds…after I put the potato chips down!
    Have a fun week,
    Mike

  3. duo permalink
    January 7, 2011 11:19 am

    never ending struggle….

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