Friday, June 6, 2014

One of the Last Acceptable Prejudices?

Growing up as the fat kid, I was accustomed to being mocked by other kids and bullied by a few during my high school years. Even after high school, there was the odd jerk who would make a snide comment about me in reference to my weight but generally this mocking ended by my early 20's. I assume it was because we grew up and this openly derisive behaviour became passé. Or it might have been because I have a natural frown and with my bigger size I looked like I might thump somebody who would dare challenge me. Either way, by that time the only real reminder I had of how society viewed me was that I couldn't find a girlfriend. Or at least a girlfriend I was interested in. I wasn't naive about how people viewed me though, the difference really was that instead of mocking me openly, it was done in hushed tones. Whether that was better or not is debatable.

The mocking of fat people has always existed, in fact, it's very common for fat people to ridicule themselves, to be the clown, as a defence mechanism and as a way to fit in. I know I did this and I know many others who did as well. Fat comedians use their weight for material to great effect, God knows what they would do if they ever lost the weight. Many black comedians like to use their race for material, in fact, comedians of different races tend to go that route in the quest for laughs. Women use female issues, people with disabilities or other physical issues draw from that, the list goes on and on. It gives us insight into their lives and the permission to laugh with them about it.

But outside of this realm, the only issue that isn't really covered by so-called politically correctness is obesity. You are not allowed to make light of women's issues, you cannot say "retard" anymore or use the "N" word. And all of this makes sense for the most part. But somehow, mocking fat people continues to this day. I bring this up because of some recent stories in the news discussing obesity. I mentioned in my last post the story about the demand for bariatric surgery rising as the numbers of obese people grow, and now there is another story detailing a study that has determined that those who lose weight are destined to put it back on again. Now everybody who has ever battled their weight knows this is a very distinct possibility. Most of us who have spent our lives trying to control this demon have been up and down the scale causing much frustration and stress. Most times, it's because you have reverted back to old habits; maybe you stopped going to the gym as much or at all or gave yourself permission to have that extra helping too many times. Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that you did not sufficiently conquer those bad habits and now you are right back where you started, often, in a worse place.

As bad as that is, it is disheartening to read the comments section of stories like these. You can't have a story on obesity without the resident peanut gallery chiming in with their ignorant hateful comments and simplified pronouncements about what you're doing wrong and how to fix it. Comments such as "put down the candy bar", "get off the couch and get some exercise", "its simple math, calories in equals calories out" or "fat people just don't care enough" are not helpful and show just how ignorant and spiteful they are. Of course, the fatties show up to defend themselves but it's really just a waste of time. These commentators do not care why some people are obese, nor do they care to understand the underlying issues often involved. It is easier to just assume you're lazy, unclean and do not understand the concept of a vegetable. But its not that simple. And it truly is one of the last acceptable prejudices.

People are fat for a variety of reasons. Some of them are emotional, some are due to lifestyle choices and a very few are medically related. By lifestyle choices, I mean those who choose not to cook or make time to prepare healthy options, instead reaching for take out or the highly processed crap from the grocery store. These folks can make the necessary changes as they usually aren't damaged in some way which is feeding their habits. It's the emotional ones who have the most trouble.  These people are feeding an unmet need somewhere in their lives, they've learned to cope with stresses, abuse, insecurities or whatever with food. For them, it's not as easy as not snacking or taking a smaller more reasonable portion. I know this because this is me. Did I learn bad eating habits from my parents? Yes. There was always junk in the house and take out was fairly common. Vegetables and fruit were not the norm and processed food reigned supreme. But there was more. I never felt supported, loved or secure. I was always being barked at for something, was never hugged or told I was loved and after their divorce, my parents spent too much time expressing their hatred of one another. My father, while being a provider, was not a loving or expressive person. My mother was the same, so my sister and I grew up never having that close bond with either. It is something that affects us to this day.

Is this why I'm fat? It's part of the reason. There's more to my story but my point is that people who mock have no understanding of what is going on with us. And it's like that with anything. Don't judge a book by its cover. You don't know until you've walked a mile in someone else's shoes. How do you handle stress? What are your coping mechanisms? Some people bite their nails, some cut themselves, some drink or do drugs; we all have our thing. Can you honestly say you are any better than us? Just because you don't overeat doesn't make you the better person. I'm sure you have your thing whatever that thing may be. And I'm sure it's just as ugly in its own way.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Thinking about Religion and Overeaters Anonymous

One of the ideas I've toyed with over the years to help get me sorted out with this food thing is joining Overeaters Anonymous or OA for short. I've often thought that talking out my issues with food, listening to others relate their stories of success and failure and having some kind of support system in place might be useful as most of the people around me really don't understand or have nothing helpful to offer other than pointless platitudes and clichéd advice (yes, I have thought about putting down the candy bar thank you very much).

The idea of having a support buddy in times of temptation kind of appeals to me, the ability to call somebody and talk out what is going on with me at that particular moment might actually yield some benefit. However, the other side of the coin is having your support buddy calling you at some inopportune time when you really don't feel like listening to it. This give and take thing could be dicey, especially for someone like me who is, admittedly, a little selfish with his time. Don't get me wrong, I'm a great listener and I'm interested in people; why they do the things they do, how they think, why they think that. But I really don't have an interest in being available 24/7 to listen to someone have a crisis over a slice of pizza late at night after being out at the bar. I probably wouldn't make the best support buddy.

The other problem I'm having with OA is the religion thing. They've modeled their program on the 12 steps program created by Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm going to list the 12 steps here as presented on OA's website.

The Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over food — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters and to practice these principles in all our affairs,
Notice the overarching religious slant? If you are Christian, this is probably not an issue for you. But what if you are not? Say you are Muslim? Or Buddhist? Or *gasp* atheist? You can see how this program and its religious overtones were created back when America (and Canada for that matter) were primarily christian. With our global community now firmly entrenched, this program seems horribly outdated. And what's this crap about turning our will and our lives over to God so that He can save us from the double bacon cheeseburgers we so crave? 

Going over them, I'm okay with the fist one. I do feel powerless over food, it has a strange hold over me. It's the ultimate love/hate relationship. I love food and eating brings me so much pleasure but I feel such self loathing when I eat. The back and forth that goes on in my head when it comes to food is maddening. Numbers two and three begin the surrender and acceptance of God where Him and only Him can save us from the terrible food demons that haunt us. A problem if you don't buy into theistic thinking. Number four is fine, making a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves makes sense. Five, six and seven take us back into God country where we ask for salvation from our shortcomings and defects of character (defects of character???). Admitting to others our wrongs? I'm sorry, did we kill and eat babies in some hunger lust? Try to eat a spouse during sleep?  Steal slices of pizza meant for orphans?

Eight, nine and ten are ridiculous in this context. Make a list of people we harmed and make amends? I can see how some alcoholics may need to do this as they may have actually harmed others in a drunken stupor or rage. But fat people? Who did they harm? Too much cheese on that pizza send them into a gooey psychotic episode where lives were endangered? Was the garbage man injured on the job while collecting that enormous pile of pizza boxes stacked at the end of your driveway? Silliness. Finally, eleven and twelve return to the God thing and again, if you are not a believer in such things, well...

I did a little research (I cannot stress enough the word "little") and found out that the religious thing does play a large role in meetings with many members being quite militant in their beliefs about the 12 steps and how God is central to their success. This flies in the face of what OA itself proclaims on its website about not being a religious organization. Sure, they are not advocating a particular religion but you can't deny the Christian slant to everything they do. Some former participants reported the heavy handedness of religion and prayers ending each meeting which made them uncomfortable and they did not return. As an atheist, I know I couldn't sit there and listen to them talk about surrendering themselves to some imaginary being in the sky because they can't find the will power to make it happen on their own. A better approach might be to help people find that will power, to encourage them and teach them how to tear down their toxic relationship with food and rebuild that relationship in a healthy productive manner. Showing them that they aren't defective people with terrible shortcomings who need to apologize to others for being fat. 

I don't know what kind of success rates an organization like this actually has. I've read that AA doesn't really have that great of a success rate either, I guess it depends who you ask. I'm still curious about OA and whether it might be of some benefit to me, but I have too many questions and concerns at this time. And from what I've read about it, I'm not sure I want to find out.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bariatric Surgery On The Rise

I watched a news report this evening on the CBC about the huge leap in bariatric surgeries over the past few years and was rather alarmed at the attitudes of the doctors they spoke to. Now I have documented my experiences with this invasive procedure here, here, here and here. If you haven't read it and you are considering this operation or just want to know what it's really all about, you need to do so now.

The good folks over at the CBC added the story to their website which gave me an opportunity to look it over again and I have to say I'm disappointed in the medical establishments attitude towards this particular "fix". The prevailing attitude seems to be that since we have the technology to perform this surgery, then why not? People are fat and getting fatter and surgery has become the go to fix for just about everything that is wrong with people so why not this? I do understand that some people are in seriously bad condition due to their weight and surgery may be necessary to save their lives, but you can be sure there are others who are viewing it as an easy fix to their weight problems, much like liposuction. The medical community is supposed to have qualifiers before they okay this procedure and I hope they are followed diligently but somehow I doubt this is happening.

Bariatric surgery should be a last resort, one made after all other avenues have been exhausted. There are simply too many risks and complications and often, the underlying problems are not resolved so the patient will continue their eating patterns despite the fact that this will be met with severe consequences by the body itself. Intense vomiting, which among other complications, wears the enamel off your teeth, excessive scarring, which causes blockages in your abdomen and could result in life threatening situations (like I suffered), and painful gallstones requiring the removal of your gall bladder are some of the very real ramifications many will face. Some don't make it beyond a month or so before being readmitted to hospital with a variety of other complications and the need to perform a reversal. Some die although that number is very low.

Surgery should always be a last resort for anything. Once you open up the body you risk infection and the beginnings of other problems you probably never would have suffered from had you not gone under the knife. The fact that this surgery continues to increase in popularity as an obesity fix is frightening. Back in 1990 when I had mine done, I knew of nobody else who had experienced it. I was given no support or therapy to help me adjust to the new reality I was about to be exposed to and certainly no information or insight into what to expect. They just gutted me like a fish, stapled off most of my stomach and sent me on my way. I know the technology is supposed to be better now but is the support there? Are they treating the underlying issues? Twenty four years after my surgery and reversal, my issues remain and I'm no further ahead in getting them under control than I was when I eagerly agreed to the operation. My fear is that this is becoming just another routine procedure like lipo or botox injections. And that is sad.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Complete and Utter Failure

I can't believe it's been over 4 years since I last wrote in this blog. At the time, I had gotten bored with it and felt like I was just starting to piss and moan all the time, plus I was busier at work and and was planning a wedding and didn't really make time to write. I often thought about starting up again in the years since but could never quite pull the trigger. But a lot has happened in the past few years, most of it bad, and it seems like as good a time as any to put it into perspective and maybe find my way forward.

First off, I'm fat again. Anyone who has read my other posts knows of my endless battles of the bulge and how much I've struggled with it. While I was able to basically keep the weight off, sometimes more successfully than not, it was always like walking a tightrope. My bad habits had not changed all that much, but I was able to temporarily find the discipline most weeks, and hit gym regularly, to offset my sins. However, by the end of September 09, all that went out the window. All it took was the loss of my job.

I had set a weight goal for myself in the months leading up to my wedding but due to the stresses of planning that wedding, plus some additional stresses from work, I actually came into the wedding a full 20 lbs heavier than I wanted. After a beautiful honeymoon in Italy (I highly recommend it) I returned to work and was promptly laid off due to restructuring thanks to the economic meltdown of 2008-09. Now, I knew that at some point I could lose my job; after all, it wasn't an important job nor could it be considered a full time job. It was only a matter of time before the bean counters decided they could save the $38600 a year in salary they were paying me. At least they waited for me to get married; they could have just as easily ruined our wedding. As it was, they just ruined the honeymoon phase.

I was trained in high tech, programming to be specific, but I hadn't used those skills in over 5 years. The job I had, while at a software company, was non-technical and the skill set required to work there in a technical setting was beyond mine. So when I lost my job, I had little to sell a new employer, especially one who was most likely feeling the pinch of tough economic times themselves. I had discussed this inevitability with my wife a few times prior and we considered sending me back to school in the event that the worst happened. I did attend an IT workshop to get a lay of the land and discovered that I would have to basically retrain if I wanted to re-enter the IT industry. But sitting there with quite a number of experienced laid off IT folks who couldn't find work either didn't exactly offer a lot of promise. So I went in another direction: business administration with a major in Human Resources.

Now I didn't want to go back to school so soon after having graduated with my programming diploma, but I didn't feel like I had a choice. So the combination of being laid off with no real job prospects, a looming return to higher education yet again and a very real concern for my future put me into a funk. And when I go into a funk, I eat. My entire gym schedule went out the window; I did go once in a while but my eating was offsetting any good it was doing. Stress, depression, anxiety, my life became a mess. I became quite sedentary, I was sitting all day in a classroom, sitting all evening doing homework, going to bed and then doing it all over again the next day. As a result, the weight starting piling on.

You know what the worst part was? I could see it happening and I couldn't stop it. I felt powerless. It was like my inner fat guy had been lying in wait for just the right moment to strike and completely take over my life. And once he emerged, that was it. The guy who spent countless hours in a gym, struggling with not snacking and trying to eat properly, who took pride in the way he looked in clothes, was gone.  Everything I had worked for had disappeared. Now, not only was I fat again, I was also unemployed with no job prospects. A loser.

I look back on some of my previous posts and I see myself fretting over 5 lbs, or over some bad weekend. I would trade that for where I am now in a New York minute. It was very real back then, those few pounds either way really bothered me, consumed me. But they're nothing to where I'm at now. If I want to be normal sized again, I have a long road ahead of me. A long, hard road. When I did it before, I was focused, driven. It didn't really seem like work. I ate well and lightly and went to the gym daily for 2-3 hours. I can't find that drive anymore. I still go to the gym, but its not the same effort. 35 minutes at a mid range tension on the elliptical and another 30 minutes on a treadmill. I used to do close to an hour on the elliptical and another 30 on a bike. Then I'd hit the weights for strength training. My diet is horrible. I eat salad but not daily, I eat way too much bread and cheese. And I do buy some snacking foods here and there which are promptly devoured. Yes, I am one sad puppy. Oh, and I'm still unemployed and there are no half decent jobs out there so I'm stressed out beyond belief. And you know what I said about me and stress: munch munch munch.

So there you have it; a brief update on what's been going on. But wait! It gets better! There's a little issue of a mild ischemia that has developed. If you want to know what ischemia is about, see this. I'll talk more about this later and how it's impacted me.