The other day I got my already short hair cut even shorter - a crew cut. When I told my aunt T. about it, she requested a photo. This morning before I left for work, I had Mr. P. take a few pix of me. The first one was focused on my chest (funny how guys focus on that part of the female anatomy, even after 25 years of marriage), so I made him take 2 more shots. The 2nd is me in a classic BBTB pose (born-to-be-bossy). The 1st one makes me look scrawny, which is hard for me to wrap my mind around. A few weeks ago I had gone down to 12 lbs below my goal weight, but now I'm back to 10 lbs below that. When I look at myself in the mirror, I don't see the thinness any better than I used to see my fatness. It's a bizarre situation for a former fatty to find herself in.
What do you think?
The other thing I keep focusing on is my turkey neck. Fortunately the bossy pose minimizes that!
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Until I turned 50, I never had a sense of my own mortality. My elderly mother had been reminding me that she wasn’t going to live forever, but somehow I thought that she and I were both immortal despite the fact that I was morbidly obese and troubled by a host of health problems. I had undergone more surgeries, medical procedures and treatments, and taken more prescription medication, than my mother had in her entire life.
In the years that followed that milestone birthday, I lost a lot: my job, my 90-year-old mother, 100 pounds and my old lifestyle. At the same time, I learned there is truth in the old saying, “You’re only as old as you feel.” That truth wasn’t always rejuvenating. I often felt lost and confused. I had attained an age that was unimaginable to me as a 20-year-old. Other than perfunctory contributions to 401K and IRA funds, as a young woman I had made no plans for my middle and later years. That might be just as well, because in truth, my expectations for myself at age 20 were far smaller than my expectations are now, as I hover on the edge of my 60th birthday.
A few years ago I told a young coworker that I was 56 years old. Now I don’t remember why I shared that information with him, but I hope I never forget Garrett’s response: “You are not 56!”
I offered to show him my driver’s license. He shook his head and said, “You don’t act like you’re 56.”
Although for much of my life my mother had admonished me to act my age, I took Garrett’s comment as a compliment. One benefit of being 50+ is that I care a lot less about what other people think of me, not because I want to act outrageously but because I want to be true to myself, because I trust myself enough now to worry less about the mistakes I might make, and because I know I will learn from them as they happen.
Friends, family, and business associates who’ve known me for 10, 20, 30 years tell me they’ve been surprised by my new lifestyle. I shut the door on a high-paying, high-stress, mostly sedentary business career that sent me all over the globe as I worked 70- to 80-hour weeks and ate myself into obesity. I joined a fitness center; took a low-paying, lower-stress, part-time retail job; wrote and published five books; and recently joined the board of directors of OutsideIN, a new non-profit business that provides jobs and training for chronically unemployed workers who rely heavily on public resources for their survival.
My non-profit work pays me not in monetary income but in what Mom used to call spiritual income. Although we welcome volunteers of any age, I believe I have far more to offer now, at 50+, than I did in my youth. It’s work that draws on all my past work experience and allows me to use my unique talents, some of which had lain dormant for decades. It also requires me to stretch and learn new things. I’m especially happy about that because I believe that the moment we stop learning is the moment we’re ready to go home forever.
The photo below shows me at the fitness studio wearing a favorite t-shirt. Its imprint describes my new identity at 50+ years. One of the most surprising things about being 50+ is that I’ve evolved from being a fearful, pessimistic Miss Rainy Day, to an upbeat, optimistic Little Miss Sunshine. Even as the aging process challenges me, often slows me, and sometimes pains me, I wake up every morning eager for the new day. Perhaps time is becoming more precious to me as my fund of new days dwindles, but for now I’m going to go on believing that I’m immortal.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
C’mon down! Let’s make a deal!
But not a deal for a new refrigerator or a Florida vacation. Let’s make a deal to stop trash-talking ourselves.
A study done at the University of Arizona found that men and women whose self-talk is negative (such as “My butt is so big,” “I’m so ugly”, or “I just can’t stop overeating”) experience more depression and lower self-esteem than those who don’t indulge in self-denigration. That kind of self-talk adds to your sense of helplessness, not just in eating but in every aspect of your life.
Trash-talk is hard to avoid in a society that deifies thin celebrities whose weight is often higher than their IQ (Aach, Jean! Talk about trash talk!). I don’t know about men, but conversation amongst women tends to stray into fat talk all too often. I know I've commiserated with friends who’ve gained enough weight that they can’t fit into most of their wardrobe…a problem I've faced myself many times, both before and after weight loss surgery. We could moan about that kind of thing for hours, time that would be better spent on coming up with a solid action plan to deal with weight gain, and end the trash talk with a pep talk.
In my job as a bra fit specialist, I hear women slam their own bodies day in and day out. Their breasts are too big, too small, and/or one is bigger than the other. Their breasts sag from weight loss, weight gain, pregnancy, nursing, aging – all perfectly ordinary life events that somehow end up damaging the woman’s self-esteem even if everything else in her life is going well. From time to time I’ve heard briskly myself tell an unhappy customer, “OK, now that I know what you don’t like about your girls, let’s talk about what we can do to make them look better,” because I just couldn’t bear hearing another word of self-hatred.
Maybe you feel as helpless to change your thinking as you feel about changing your eating behavior. The field of cognitive behavioral psychology is based on changing maladaptive thinking in order to change your behavior. Maladaptive thinking is thinking that seems to help you adjust to a problem. So if your 42DDD bra is too small, you think, “There’s nothing I can do about it, it’s all because of having those three babies in just three years.” Cognition is the process of acquiring knowledge and understanding (about yourself, your world, other people, events) through thought, experience, and your senses. If you can shift the way you interpret all that data, you can begin to change the way you react to it (your behavior).
That’s different from the good ol’ Freudian psychodynamic approach that places blame (or gives credit) to your unconscious mind and personality for the things (dysfunctional or not) going on in and around you. I’m not against that psychodynamic model, per se, but it seems to me that changing the way I interpret data has got to be easier and more successful in the long run than trying to change the innermost, essential Jean. I’m not sure I even want to change her, and I don’t have the time or money to spend 130,000 minutes a year (50 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 10 years) musing about the meaning of a random dream. That weird dream could be full of important symbolism, sure, but it could also be the random result of tired and jangly nerve endings as my tired old brain tosses a mixed dream salad (ask me for the recipe!) out of disparate moments of the day that just ended.
In the context of weight and eating management, the difference between these two psychological approaches is that the cognitive behavioral one asks, “How do I eat?” while the psychodynamic one asks, “Why do I eat?” I’ve benefited from psychodynamic therapy in the past, but none of the insights I gained about why I eat has done much to change how I eat. In other words, you can change your behavior without knowing all the why’s and wherefores that led to that behavior. They’re interesting, even fascinating, to know, but that knowledge doesn’t necessarily make the work of behavioral change easier or more effective or longer-lasting.
First, here’s a short example of cognitive change. In my fat days, I loved to eat. Eating gave me great pleasure; all too often, it was my only pleasure. Nowadays, I love to eat. The food still tastes good (my experience of it), but the way I think about that food (my cognition of it) has changed. Now it is only one of many pleasures in my world. The change in my cognition of food has changed my behavior around it. I’m less likely to overeat it because it’s competing with so many other good things for my time and attention, things that are also important to me and interest me and are often healthier for me.
Now I’ll give you a different example, ever so slightly exaggerated for the purpose of making my point crystal clear. After 9 years of intensive, twice-weekly psychodynamic therapy, you come to understand that you overeat candy because your mother spanked you for wetting your pants at church during Easter service when you were 5 years old, thus shaming you and sending you right straight to the delights of your Easter basket, all of it consumed in just 15 minutes as soon as you got home and raced into your bedroom closet to suffer and gorge in peace, which of course made your sore bottom feel sooo much better. Of course, since then you’ve several times been tempted to smack your own child for misbehaving in public, and you’ve come to see that your own mother was actually a saint compared to your evil sister-in-law, but here you are on Good Friday evening, gazing with rapt delight at the contents of your children’s Easter baskets and wondering if they’ll notice that all the chocolate crème eggs are gone come Sunday morning. Is thinking about your mean mommy going to stop you from unwrapping one of those yummylicious treats and popping it into your mouth while you remind yourself that crème eggs only come once a year and how can you possibly survive a whole year without eating at least one?
So in conclusion to an article on a topic that pretty much has no end, I will paraphrase Camilla Mager, a clinical psychologist in New York who specializes in the psychology of women and eating disorders. Mager suggests the following steps for improving body image and self-esteem:
1. Avoid reading magazines or looking at images (on television, online, billboards, etc.) that reinforce your body image problem.
2. Pay attention to the tone you use when talking to or about yourself. Would you talk that way to anyone else? Probably not. Try to be less critical of yourself. That doesn't mean you should pat yourself on the head, say, "There, there, honey," and dish yourself up a gallon of ice cream. That means something more like, "Try, try again."
3. Focus on what your body is capable of - your strengths - instead of weaknesses (often more perceived than real) or what it's not doing.
4. When you find yourself in a fat talk conversation with friends, commit to not engaging in that kind of discussion. Change the subject, give a friend a pep talk, or announce that it's time for you to head over to the gym.
Monday, July 8, 2013
One of my novels (unpublished) tells the story of a young woman who hates her life. She decides to change it by staging her own kidnapping and escaping to a new life with a new identity. It’s a very intriguing idea, one that has occurred to me as an option (or cop-out) for me from time to time, but there’s one serious flaw in it that my book’s heroine soon discovers.
And that is something my friend Shannon mentioned a few months ago: WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE
The wherever you go, there you are statement is so true and so inescapable that it can hurt, and until you make friends with yourself and accept your past misdeeds as past, you’ll be mighty cranky when the naughty parts seem to stalk you wherever you go. Many times in the past I’ve done something major to improve my life, like take a new job in a different part of the country, only to find myself reacting to my boss, my coworkers, and work situations in the exact same dysfunctional ways as I had in the previous job. At times I’ve wanted to tell myself, “Just leave me alone!”, but I’m stuck with me. My job now is to figure out which parts of me are worth keeping and which parts need revamping or discarding. As I wrote in Bandwagon, I will always have a short, fat girl inside me, just waiting to get out. One day, I hope to live with her in harmony. In the meantime, I sometimes ask her, “Who invited you, anyway?”
HAVE SHELL, WILL TRAVEL
Like it or not, adult humans tend to carry a carapace of beliefs and behaviors everywhere we go. The carapace thickens and hardens as the years go by, becoming a portable home that protects our soft inners from weather, injury, and predators. That shell may not be beautiful, but it’s safe. The idea of shedding it is scary: imagine a poor vulnerable turtle without its shell; but as our needs and goals change, our shells may need to change also. If an entire layer of your shell was formed on the assumption that you’re doomed to fail at weight loss, or that food is the only thing that can comfort you when you’re hurt, it’s not going to serve your weight loss journey very well.
I’ve never done well with giving up a belief or behavior all at once, cold turkey, but then, I haven’t had to deal with something the size and strength of a heroin or tobacco addiction. On the other hand, peeling away the protective shell layer by layer could try the patience of a saint. As you’ve heard me say before, I prefer to tackle the easy stuff first, so that I have enough confidence to sustain me when I get to the hard stuff. For example, instead of switching from whole milk to fat free, I switched to 2%, then 1%, before I was able to enjoy fat free milk.
It is possible, though, to make big changes fairly fast if the reward (or punishment) is significant. In the past, one of my jumbo-sized bad behaviors was speeding when driving. Eventually my speeding ticket collection sent me to traffic school, with a one-year probation period during which any moving violation would automatically revoke my Tennessee driver’s license. We live out in the country, in an area with no public transportation, so my speeding habit got a very quick makeover. Now I’m a slower, safer driver, and I still have my license.
LIGHTEN THE LOAD
Sometimes giving up or changing a negative or dangerous behavior feels far scarier than living with the unpleasant consequences of continuing the behavior. This is especially true of eating behaviors, because the basic act of eating is essential to our existence, so anything that threatens that takes on enormous importance. If I need to give up compulsive shopping, I’m going to be miserable, but I’ll survive. If have to give up compulsive eating, I feel like I’m going to die because all my eating is compulsive, and without eating, I’ll perish. Of course, to lose weight in a healthy manner, I don’t have to give up eating altogether, but it sure feels that way at times.
One of the reasons I approve of (if not enjoy) pre-op diets is that they require you to alter your eating behavior RIGHT NOW, so you can ease into the practice of healthy eating and not have to begin an overwhelming job the day after surgery, or the day after the first fill, when so many other things in your post-op life are still so strange and new. Waiting until the very last minute to jump on the nutritional bandwagon seems to me like a set-up for failure.
LAYER BY LAYER
One special challenge in changing our turtle shells is that sometimes the really tough layers are completely invisible to us, and they’re difficult to acknowledge (never mind change) even when another person, or the evidence of our own senses, finally shows them to us. I went through a period in my late 20’s during which I carried a big chip on my shoulder and did my best to be a bitch. It may have been an overreaction to the preceding period of depression and submissiveness. At the time, I lived in an apartment with an upstairs neighbor who worked at a bank every day and partied hearty every night. I wore a track into the carpet with my trips up the stairs to knock on his door and complain about the noise. After a few months of that, I was furious when this banker had his 5 year-old daughter (on loan from her mom for the weekend) lean out the window as I walked through the parking lot and yell in her sweet girly voice, “Look at the bitch! Look at the bitch!”
I happened to have a friend then who socialized with the banker sometimes. I told her the “Look at the bitch!” story hoping for insight about the banker, or at the very least a nice dose of sympathy, but it didn’t work out the way I wanted because my friend said in a reasonable tone, “But Jean, you ARE a bitch.” After which I decided I was proud of being a bitch rather than trying to find a way to get along with the banker better.
I hope I’d handle a situation like that better nowadays. I’ve been gradually chipping away at the bitch layer of my shell for years now, but it’s still there, traveling with me wherever I go.
TO GET WHERE YOU WANT TO GO…
A while back, my friend Tom quoted a wonderful post from the marcandangel.com blog. It was a list of ten daily reminders to keep your mind centered and your spirits lifted. Number 3 on the list is this:
Sometimes to get where you want to go, you have to do what you are afraid to do. You must be brave and push forward. Miracles occur when you give as much attention and energy to your dreams as you do to your fears.
In my case, the most fearful thing I had to do in order to succeed with my band was not drinking skim milk, surviving a liquid diet, or giving up bread. The most fearful thing was giving up my emotional attachment to food. In the nearly 6 years since I was banded, I’ve made a lot of progress with that, but the attachment is still there. It forms one of the innermost layers of my turtle shell. Working on that layer will probably be a lifetime job for me. At times I’m not even sure I truly want to get rid of it altogether. At times I’m afraid that if I shed my shell completely, I won’t be able to survive. On the other hand, I seem to be doing fine without that thick old bitch layer. So I’m going to pay attention to my dreams rather than my fears and pray for a miracle.