Thursday, July 13, 2006

Escaping fat old lady syndrome

It isn't easy being fat. But it's almost just as hard losing weight — especially if you're a woman closing in on the half-century mark and you've got more pounds to lose than the number of years under your belt.

I don't remember being anything other than overweight, engaged in a lifelong struggle with the scale.

Two years ago, three different doctors told me to lose weight — but they were all very polite about it and not nearly forceful enough. My primary care provider, a nice young man in his early 30s, couldn't bring himself to tell me directly, even though his office scale — which I still believe to be calibrated incorrectly — said I weighed 231 pounds. He talked about how extra weight worsened my hiatal hernia. My knee problem? Well, my joints were struggling to support my body. Etc. I looked him in the eye and said, "So you mean I have fat old lady syndrome?" He winced. "Well, I guess so." "Why don't you just say so?" I laughed and left his office without even seriously considering doing something about it. So, what else is new, I thought. I'm fat. Always have been, always will be.

I wasn't always so fatalistic about it. In my teens, 20s and 30s, trying this or that diet was a way of life for me. I counted every calorie. I tried appetite suppressants. I tried liquid "meals." I joined weight loss programs. I did the low-fat thing. I did the low-carb thing. I'd lose some weight, then put it back on, plus some. I was on a weight-loss roller coaster. But no matter what I did, I could never manage to keep my weight under 150.

But I refused to allow my self-worth to be defined by the shape of the body staring back at me in the mirror. What self-respecting feminist would? I decided that my five-foot, seven-inch frame was meant to weigh 150 pounds, not 110 or 120. And I was going to be OK with that. Really. No matter what.

But I wasn't.

At some point, after having two babies in two years in my mid 30s, I more or less surrendered to obesity. The pregnancies left me almost 40 pounds heavier. Caring for two tots isn't conducive to exercise. And I found myself grazing on kid scraps all day long. An evening cocktail after the kids were down for the night packed more appeal for me. And since we'd wait till they went to bed to eat a peaceful supper, my husband and I wouldn't dine until 8:30 or 9 o'clock at night. And so it went.
I pretended to accept and love myself just the way I was. But I also refused to look. I avoided mirrors, cameras and shopping for clothes.

In January, on vacation in Florida, I didn't manage to avoid a camera while wearing a wet suit. We were swimming with dolphins, you see. And I looked like a whale. There was no escaping it.

It was like a smack across the face: Wake up! This isn't about vanity. At age 48, it's about health and longevity. "Fat old lady syndrome" would define how I'd live the rest of my life, and it would most likely even define how many years the rest of my life would have to it. Staring at the image of me in a wet suit, something snapped inside me. I marched downstairs, dusted off the scale and got on. And off. And on again. My doctor's scale was wrong, unless I'd lost 20 pounds without trying between May 2005 and January 2006 — yeah, right. But my own scale informed me that I weighed 211 pounds. Ouch.

It's been six months since the day I resolved to celebrate my 50th birthday (in November 2007) being more fit than I've been since childhood. I've lost 34 pounds since Jan. 14. On the recommendation of Andy Mitchell, Peconic Bay Medical Center CEO, I picked up a copy of "The South Beach Diet," and I am now a devotee of Dr. Arthur Agatston, the cardiologist who developed the diet to help his overweight heart patients. He explains in very understandable terms the science behind gaining — and losing — weight. He sheds light on the role of sugar in the American obesity epidemic — sugar found in many different guises in the processed foods that make up a large part of the American diet, along with nasty fats hidden in unlikely places. And how and why they pose such a serious threat to our health, especially our cardiovascular health.

Dr. Agatston sums up the principles of his diet like this: "good carbohydrates and good fats, nutrient dense whole foods, lean sources of protein, and plenty of fiber." You don't have to approach each meal with a scale and a calculator. And you don't have to eat anything weird or tasteless. The diet aims to cure you of the sugar addiction you probably don't even know you have, to fix your metabolism, and to educate you about food so you can make the right food choices. It literally allows you to eat "normal" meals and not feel deprived, while losing one to two pounds per week, the rate doctors say is best for permanent weight loss. And that's exactly what I've done.

I'm never going on another diet again. And I'm never going to weigh 200 pounds again. You've heard the saying, "It's not a diet — it's a lifestyle?" It's true. I've changed the way I eat and drink and live. It's hard to describe how much better — and younger — I feel. I've got 27 pounds to go before I reach my goal — ironically, that 150-pound mark that bothered me so much 25 years ago. I'm going to do it, and I'm going to stay there. If I need inspiration, I peek at that wet suit photo. That's all it takes. Well, that and a desire to live long enough to see — and play with — my grandchildren someday. And since my daughters may keep me waiting as long as I kept my mother waiting, I'll need to be a healthy septuagenarian. That's the plan.

3 comments: said...

I thought you were going to have more about the diet on the PC

Anonymous said...

Hi...I am sending the hard copy to my sister Mary today. She is interested in how the Dr. writes. I was infatuated with how our bodies formulate what we eat. I enjoyed looking up your writings from this paper. I will write you again. Sincerely, Irene Doherty>>>>>>PS what is a Blogger????????

Brad Berthold said...


Good for you! I'm trying (so far unsuccessfully) to remedy "fat old man" syndrome. Three months ago I joined the YMCA, and bought a bathing suit. That's it, so far!

Have to get down there one of these days and start swimming.

We all know what to do. Eat less, eat more fruits and veggies, and exercise.

Doing it, however, is another matter.

I'm still stuck in the old Mark Twain regimen:"When I feel the need for exercise, I lie down until the feelig goes away."

You are providing great inspiration to the rest of us.