Saturday, December 29, 2007

215.2 (egad)

Hey, remember that one time when this weight loss blog was actually ABOUT weight loss, and not my attempt to transcribe the Very Important Life Lessons imparted by ABC After School Specials into weblog form? Those were good times, weren't they?

So, the holiday orgies are finally over aside from a dinner my great-aunt is having to commemorate what would've been her 66th wedding anniversary had my great-uncle not died during my honeymoon (not that he was actually ON my honeymoon with my husband and I, although I doubt his presence would've made any difference in supreme awkwardness of the week itself and in fact might've improved the situation, because every "romantic" getaway really needs a cantankerous, habitual pipe smoker to add some salt to the occasion) back in 2004. I had planned to hop right back on the wagon on the morning of the 26th, but as any dedicated weight-loser knows, it's nigh impossible to just shake off the excess and embrace the semi-asceticism it takes to start shedding pounds again. It's like having to go through heroin withdrawal, except you actually HAVE to eat food. And of course, I still have like fifteen boxes of Christmas candy from my students sitting around and before I could dispose of all of them in the trashcan, a couple of those big pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate made their way into my mouth, and then I found a sack of those cookies with the peanut butter in the middle and fudge on the outside and before I knew it I had the sugar shakes and was staring at the bottom of the trashcan wondering just how disgusting I really would be if I rinsed off the coffee grounds from the remaining candy and saved it for later. (I didn't, but I'm not saying I didn't think about it for a LONG TIME)

Yesterday, I finally got my ass to the grocery store so I wouldn't have a reason for eating yet another cake donut for breakfast, and I think I'm set for a pretty decent week in terms of food. One of my goals, at least until taxes are paid, is to also shape my food lists so they're very inexpensive, but still relatively nutritious and varied. An old housemate of mine used to eat on $15 a week by sticking to a steady diet of frozen burritos and Ramen, but I don't think my body could take the nitrate invasion, so I'm willing to bump up to about $60 a week to include fresh vegetables and more expensive stuff like meat substitutes. If you'd like the grocery list, I've posted it and a kind of loose 1500 calorie meal plan for the week below.

Meal Plan for Week of 12/28/07

Grocery List for Week of 12/28/07

In exercise news, I was completely stoked to receive the Turbo Jam set from my parents for Christmas, most especially because the copy I was using before may have been just a little bit illegal and only existed on my computer in a very small Windows Media format. I could work out to it okay, but only if I squinted or put the computer on the floor and tilted the monitor up at me. I was burning calories like crazy, but I think if I had kept it up my neck would've permanently cricked into that pose Michael Jackson does at the beginning of "Thriller". I have lots to say about the BeachBody family of videos because I've used them off and on for several years, and Turbo Jam is one of the few I can say I actually really really, love. They have the long informercial on pretty much every day on daytime TV, or you can watch the YouTube informercial here.

Anyway, as painful as it is to have backtracked during the holidays, it's nice to always remember this is a lifelong process and no one's going to care whether I arrived at whatever goal weight I have on time or a week late. I hope you're all enjoying the downtime before the new year. I'm off to go make some Boca Joes.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Keeping Up Appearances

For about 45 minutes last night, I sat at my computer and toggled between two very different websites. On tab #1 I was looking at rows and rows of gorgeous leather handbags, all on sale and all still obscenely expensive. Tab #2 was my bank balance, and a calculator in the corner where I was running figures for the upcoming months before Tax Day.

I had decided, early on in the month, that I would spend any Christmas money I received on something luxurious for myself. Just one thing, but something fantastic, like some really great stilettos, or a new handbag to replace my very cheap one I had been outgrowing for the last two years. I kind of wanted a new armchair to replace the cheap garage sale one I had snagged when my husband took our good one in the separation. I needed a new kitchen table set, or a better looking comforter, or maybe just some new work pants that didn't simultaneously cling to my thighs and slip off my waist. I just wanted SOMETHING to celebrate the end of the year.

But as I sat there with all my options in front of me, I ended up coming to terms with my inevitable choice of not doing anything with the money at all. I decided to pay off the last of my college-era credit card debt early instead. And it's a choice that simultaneously makes me immensely proud and relieved, but that also makes a tiny part of me wistful for something fun.

I got to spend some time with my old high school friends this week, which was an absolute blast because we're all basically grownups, but we're also all still idiots, too. During dinner and drinks and several blasphemous rounds of Taboo, I realized that, comparatively, all of my friends are lightyears more glamorous than I am. My friend J drives the coolest sports car, and M and B have to die for wardrobes and accessories and nice cars and adorable houses, too. S and J spend weekends in Vegas, and even my little brother, who tagged along that night, has the means to spend thousands of dollars on clothes and concert tickets and trips to wherever, whenever.
I felt conspicuously, well, poor in the presence of all of these people, because nearly two years of paying off debt collectors and my ritual of gathering up all the change in my house to pay for frozen dinners the week before I get my monthly paycheck have made me a decidedly frugal person, and in comparison to my friends' expensive clothes and rock n' roll lifestyles, my Wal-Mart couture and hand me down, ginormous, '95 LeSabre looked pretty lame.

I brooded over this through most of Christmas, and spent way too much time tinkering with my monthly budget, trying to figure out some way I could accommodate my upcoming tax payment and bills and still have money left over to buy cool shit. No matter how I manipulated the numbers, I realized 2008, or the first few months of it at least, would have to be painfully devoid of unnecessary purchases. I semi-grudgingly made the call to my creditor, scheduled all my other bill payments, and pouted in my dad's armchair for a few hours while I scowled at the Style Network on TV.

The nice thing about my parents' house is that is possesses some sort of mystical quality that always gives me this nunlike sense of peace and perspective by the time my visit there is done. Even when my whole family's there, it's pretty quiet, and it's kind of dark and everything's overstuffed and comfortable and they have this nice deep tub in which my brother and I take naps and there are no cats to stare at me when I come out of the bathroom in a towel, and everything in the house is kept at almost this unreal level of cleanliness, and the combination of all these things usually means my mind relaxes and clears enough that I have these lovely epiphanies about my life. I'll wake up with gems like, "If you go to bed earlier, you'll be less tired in the morning!" or "Velveeta and Lil' Smokies belong in no federally recognized food group, so you probably should avoid them." Today, after curling up in one of the aforementioned overstuffed chairs and ruminating on what an ascetic I am, I realized something that I think I will pretty dramatically improve my outlook on 2008:

I realized that the major aspects of my life that bother me--my possessions, my appearance, my finances, my career--they're all suffering from the same killer perfectionism that causes me to backslide on my weight loss and getting healthy. I treat my house and my clothes and my car the same way I treat my body sometimes, in that because what I currently have isn't top of the line and expensive and fantastic, I don't take care of it and I let it fall apart while I sit around and dream about having better things. I get frustrated and don't exercise because I can't just go out and run a mini-marathon right now. I trash my car and I let my house get messy to the point that everything is chaos because I'm not driving a $20,000 SUV and living in the cover dwelling for Real Simple like some of my friends are. I don't try at my job, because my job isn't as prestigious or as well-paying as my classmates'. And while I sit and make lists of stuff I want and read success stories about people who've attained the things I want to, I let my own opportunities to just make the best of what I have go by, and that's really not acceptable at all.

One of the things that awed me about my grandmother was how every single thing she owned was as immaculate and as high-performing as the day she bought it. She obviously was part of the lauded Greatest Generation, and so took her Depression-era habits to some fairly ludicrous extremes in her attempt to be frugal and sustainable, but she also lived with such dignity and elegance even though she really didn't have that much money or stuff. It didn't matter that my grandmother wasn't wealthy, and it didn't matter that she was a 4'11" kind of dumpy German woman...the way my grandmother carried herself and worked and lived made her seem positively regal somehow. I want that for myself.

Unlike my grandmother, I'm not going to rewash Ziploc baggies or scrape the freezer burn off a two-year old bucket of sherbet when my grandkids come to visit, but I do want to start acting like my life, right now, is worth something on its own. I know I have things going for me right now...I bounced back from a pretty shitty financial situation, and I have no credit card debt, and my car is paid for, and I have a savings account and retirement funds, and I pay all my bills on time and I can eat and have Tivo and even get Starbucks more than once a week. And I have STUFF...some of it's even nice stuff, and actually taking care of it would probably make it even nicer. I'm not living a completely horrible life, and I really need to start acknowledging that, and working with the things I have--the body, the money, the house, the car, the clothes--instead of always dreaming about the stuff I don't have.

I know it's not quite my time to treat myself extravagantly, but at the very least I'll hopefully have enough focus and perspective in the coming year to treat myself with dignity. And right now, that's enough for me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

T'was the day before the night before Christmas

I haven't been here in awhile!

These particular holidays, far more so than the other 26 I've had have been completely brutal. Between the finger, and then a knee tear when a little kid did a kamikaze run/hug at my lower half and my knees went one way and the rest of me went the other, and then a nasty cold when I haven't been sick all year, and the millions and millions (well, hundreds) of dollars spent on stupid crap like contributions to the week-long junk food orgy at work and semi-mandated Christmas shirts and thank you notes for the presents I get from the kids and the teachers, and little token gifts I give to all my students at Second Job, and the no sleeping because you're up glitter painting the branches of a styrofoam tree for the winterNOTCHRISTMAS program and at 3 am you felt like it was a good idea to download every version of "O Holy Night" you could find on the Internet and compare and contrast Clay Aiken to Reba McEntire to Andrea Bocelli while you are polishing off a bag of mint truffles because you realized you hadn't eaten anything other than Deb's Delightful Divinity Dip and a handful of graham crackers at lunch that day because you were in charge of fitting 96 second graders for reindeer antlers in the afternoon and you wonder if this Godforsaken season of joy is ever going to come to a merciful end, and, and, and...

And honestly, in the midst of all that, about a month ago now, I forgot one day to take my meds, and then the next day I forgot that I had forgotten, and my schedule got so massively out of whack that my brain chemicals have spent the last three weeks doing the Chicken Dance instead of regulating my crazy. I thought it wouldn't be a big deal at first, and that maybe I could just stop them entirely, but reading Dooce's wonderful entry last week right as I was starting to feel my composure and my ability to deal with stuff start to crack reminded me I should probably be taking them, especially during times like these.

So I'm going to spend the next few days getting back into some semblance of a routine, and I'm going to flush out the chocolate and the salt and the bathtub of soda as soon as Christmas dinners are up (because at my family, our new Christmas dinner since my grandmother got sick consists of Ro-Tel and Ro-Tel related appetizers...fresh food is thereby banished for at least a couple of days) and I'm going to heal my knee and take my medicine and hopefully stop feeling like I am about to explode out of my body and take out a small village with the power of my preservative-fueled rage and depression.

How was that for a Christmas card for all of you? At least I didn't dress up the cats and photograph them in front of the fireplace.

Happy holidays to you all, have safe travel, and a wonderful Christmas. Love you guys.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I went to get my stitches checked yesterday by the nice doctor who sewed me up and told me to wash my hair with my hand in a baggie. She said everything was looking fine, and the baseball sized lump on my shoulder from an allergic reaction to my tetanus shot wasn't a big deal, and that I was cleared to do pretty much everything at work that I wanted to except lift heavy boxes and, you know, rub my other fingers against sharp metal trashcans.

As I was walking out I mentioned briefly that I teach music, and so I spend a lot of time playing piano and guitar and drums and various other forms of instruments where my fingers come into repeated contact with other surfaces. The doctor stopped, frowned, and then revised her "cleared for work" list to say I could do everything except play piano, guitar, drums, type a lot, or allow others to squeeze or press my left hand or finger, which basically translates into IS FULLY CLEARED FOR WORK EXCEPT FOR THE PART OF WORK WHERE SHE ACTUALLY DOES HER JOB. So, drinking coffee and picking the dead leaves off my desk plant? Check and check. Now where's my paycheck?

She also added that I can't do any physical activity that involves putting weight or pressure on my finger, which also rules out the kickboxing/weights/yoga exercising I've been doing, so my week is amounting to a whole lot of nothing in terms of activity. Still, I wanted to write, so I decided to focus on a non-scale victory type thing that I'm still currently kind of feeling out right now.

Since I can't play the piano for a week and the rest of my permitted activity revolves around sitting and using up oxygen, I decided to spend all this downtime finishing up some composition projects I'd been working on over the last couple of years. The one I wanted was saved as an attachment in my old email archive, so I had to do some serious digging to finally locate it. While I was browsing the contents of this particular inbox, I ran a set of emailed conversations a friend and I had conducted around July of 2006. This is the one "friend" from that one angsty past entry which was my epilogue to the Year of Angst during which I regularly beat myself up for not being good enough for him or anyone else. Now that I'm older, and less angsty, and have a voluntary retirement account, the mention of which I believe can make even the most raving idiot seem like they're wise and perceptive, I can honestly say I'm not only past the bad parts of that experience, but I'm kind of grateful for it, because it forced me to change a few things about myself that were pretty weak and kind of pathetic.

It was funny, as I read through our exchanges, because I felt the same sense of twitterpation reading the compliments, and the teasing, and the "Gosh, I adore you so much...I just wish you looked as great below the neck" comments as I did a year and a half ago. What made the difference this time, though, was that I saw the comments for what they were: pleasant, endearing, but ultimately empty little nothings that all had the same qualifications attached to them. I cringed every time I read my own simpering, and how I justified his own abhorrent behavior for him by saying it was biological and I totally understood because I knew how ugly I felt, so I could only imagine how ugly I looked to him.

And obviously, if you used to be doormat and you're not so much of one anymore, there's going to be this huge WTF moment where your past behaviors are revealed in the glory of your own hindsight. It's not pretty, realizing I was kind of a spineless loser, and I wonder if I had managed to acquire that particular set of self-confidence and assertiveness sooner in my life, if I'd even be writing a blog about body image and weight loss now. I'm pretty stoked, actually, to be able to look at those past emails and roll my eyes, because knowing that I shouldn't have been treated that way means I've grown a pair, and that I'm not afraid to use them when I think I deserve better. I like that about myself.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

It hurts when I go like this

Yesterday I took 75 fourth graders to a production of The Nutcracker. I had to promote it to them as "the show with the 40 ft. Christmas tree and giant rats with swords", or else I feared a mutiny from the posse of boys who I was forcing to trade in their Wranglers for dress pants and a sweater. The kids were pretty good sports about it for the most part, and as we settled into our section of the 3rd balcony I looked back at the attentive faces and was proud of them in that vaguely maternal way that teachers feel when they realize their 50 hours a week of tying shoes and lecturing and smelling like a combination of desperation, glue stick, and stale coffee actually means something. It was going to be a great day.

Apparently, the great day concluded at the intermission. During our 15-minute break, one of our teachers approached me with a sweating, trembling little boy who said vomiting was imminent. I ran to one of the security guards posted around the theatre and asked him if I could take the kid to a sick room or a first aid station to cool him off and get him some water. They said the EMT wasn't available at the moment because another kid from another elementary school had managed to burn his left thigh (?) on a hot water pipe in the ancient bathrooms of this auditorium, but that we could wait until he was available in the lobby. We went downstairs where more security guards proffered folding chairs and a glass of water for my potential puker (we'll call him PP from now on). While he was drinking the water down PP told me upchucking was an imminent possibility so I frantically ran to the nearest trashcan and aimed it near his head. False alarm, so I laid PP down across two chairs and started to put on my winter coat so I could go get him some Gatorade from the bus. A gaggle of elementary school aged ballerinas were walking out of the show with their moms, having already performed their roles in the first act, and one stopped next to me, and kind of half whispered/half shrieked, "Mom, that lady is bleeding ALL OVER THE PLACE." I looked down and realized that a puddle of blood had accumulated on the toe of my high-heeled boot, and there were streaks of red on the folding chairs and the trashcan I had grabbed for PP. I had ignored the dull pain in my hand, thinking I had just pinched a nerve on the handle of the trashcan, but when I flipped over my palm I realized I had somehow made a huge, deep cut across my middle finger, and blood just kept pouring out of the wound while I stared.

At this point the quiet lobby turned into kind a scene from Keystone Kops. The security guards rifled through their bags for band-aids, while another escorted me to the nearest bathroom to clean the blood off me. I refused to stop moving because I didn't think the cut was that bad and I couldn't abide by the idea of some other person cleaning up my mess, so I kept trying to leave to go get paper towels to clean up the trail of red dots I had made across the marble floor of the lobby. When I finally made it into the bathroom to clean off my shoe, I guess the site of all the blood in the sink and all the extra blood that just kept pouring out was kind of too much, and I got a little woozy and had to be told to sit down on the bathroom floor by some society wives and a poor, traumatized little girl whose Nutcracker experience will always be tainted by "the day that woman's finger got cut off and she asked me to bring her paper towels".

Anyway, the rest of the afternoon involved the EMT and me getting PP to the first aid room to lie down, where he proceeded to lie on an ancient gurney-type thing and moan until I told him the ballet was nearly over and it was almost time for lunch, at which point he improved miraculously and decided he was cured. The EMT bandaged up my finger, which had still not stopped splooging out blood, and told me that I probably wouldn't need stitches, but just in case I did would I please sign this form that said the owners of the complex and the old, sharp, disease-ridden trashcan that slashed me open wouldn't have to pay for the stitches or receive any publicity or ever have to look at me and my poor maligned finger again? I took PP back to the ballet, where we had missed all of the second half except the last ten minutes, and I watched the pas de deux while catching the ever dripping blood in my good hand and wiping it on the ball of gauze the EMT had stuck in my purse.

When I got back to school, our nurse ripped off my Sponge Bob band-aid/gauze dressing on my finger and promptly sent me off to get stitches and a tetanus from the workers' compensation clinic in a nearby suburb. Everyone was super nice when I got there, and extremely worried about the ridiculous amount of blood I had lost and my very low blood pressure and thought I was going to flip out and faint when they injected me with the anesthetic in my finger, so four nurses stood at my feet and shoulders and kept encouraging me to breathe. I filed that away as a Scene From What it Might Be Like to Give Birth, except at the end of the procedure I was the proud mother of three stitches, a swollen tetanus shoulder, a giant, gauzy middle finger. and strict orders to take only baths for the next two weeks and to keep my left hand in a Ziploc bag if it's raining or I'm washing dishes.

So far I've found the finger issue very gratifying in terms of getting sympathy and also being able to flip people off to show them the dressing. The only annoying parts are the fact that I can't do all the job stuff I need to be doing a lot of right now...playing piano, playing guitar, typing's even hard to, like, put my hair in a ponytail or put on a pair of pants without restarting the bleeding and swearing like a dockworker from the little jolt of pain. The reason I mention this is because I wanted to address a comment Jarrett left on my last blog, and I had been struggling for a way to make people who wouldn't get it understand. My last post was about a feeling I get sometimes of not feeling "right" on the my body is more slow and sluggish than usual, and that things don't seem to be functioning like they ought to. I wrote how for me, it's such a specific feeling that I can even stand on the scale and tell you to the tenth of a pound, just how abnormal I feel at any given time.

Jarrett wrote this very thoughtful comment in response:

For me, being active is important. I'm a year away from earning my black belt in karate, and I want to work myself up to running a marathon in 2009. Those are my goals. Completing those things will require a lot from me. I don't have some weight goal. I have a fitness goal. I want to be able to do those things. Weight goals just seem so arbitrary and self-defeating.

Why do you want to lose weight? Do you plan on being a model, where your weight - just the raw number - is important? Are you going to lounge on the beach in a way-too-small bikini all summer long?

Do something! Make the weight loss a secondary effect of some bigger goal! Make your life a physical one. And? It's really hard to be depressed after spending an hour at the gym. How can you not feel good after that?

It worked for me. It worked for my wife. I'm not saying it's perfect. Just something to think about.

I read through that comment a couple of times trying to figure out how to respond, because there will always be the 3% of me who sees a question like "Are you only losing weight to wear a bikini?" with a "Yes, please!", even though I know the rest of me thinks that's shallow.

Maybe I didn't explain myself very well in the post before: my impatience and frustration and not feeling great every single day isn't a matter of numbers, or of seeing the scale dutifully knock off a couple of pounds every week. Some days I wish it would, because it's much easier blog-wise to come back every week and report a loss on the scale than to say, "Dear Blogosphere: today my left ankle looks less fat in my work shoes than it did last week. Progress!", but I totally get that the scale isn't a desirable, or even reliable, way of measuring true weight loss.

I think my impatience stems more from the fact that when I feel my body getting icky on the inside again like it did last week, I know that'll be that much more time before I CAN start planning for marathons or more tango classes or black belts. Because, at least for me at 5'1" and just a little under twice what I ought to weigh, my body's just not ready to go out and push for a fitness goal or train for something big and grand that would make the weight loss secondary. I already am exercising, but I don't talk about it because I don't want to jinx it, and I also don't think it's something really worth talking about. I exercise so I can get into a healthy enough state where the exercise is meaningful, and not just recuperative. I have done the training stuff when I was this size before and it ended up in big injuries and setbacks, so right now I know the responsible thing to do is to take it slow, even though it's driving me crazy. Based on previous experience with all this stuff, I know when my body is going to be ready to run again, or dance without being awkward and overtired too soon, but every single time I feel my body getting stubborn and refusing to metabolize like it ought to, or just feeling run down and toxic and lardy, then that's just another day where this has to be a weight loss thing, and not a healthy thing.

It's kind of like my giant ass is the big, gauzy middle finger that screws up the rest of my life.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Feeling Dirty (and not in the good way)

Have you reached that point in your weight loss journey (I swear to God if I have to write the phrase "weight loss journey" like I'm some sort of dumbass Chicken Soup For The Dieter's Soulu author, I'm going to fuh-lip OUT. Please, please, please open your thesauruses (thesaurii?) and give me a new phrase. Good people, I beseech you) where you are so obsessed with your own weight you can actually feel how much you weigh?

And you know those amusement park people who stand by a scale and give you like a free inflatable whale or a coupon for kettle corn and three hot dogs if they can guess your weight within five pounds? If I were that person, and my doppleganger happened to be patronizing the Six Flags over Bumfuck Nowhere where I'd inevitably be working, I would wager I could guess my clone's weigh down to the ounce, because that's how freaking in tune with how fat or not fat my body feels at any given time.

I happened upon this article some mental health researchers in the UK published a couple years ago about the mental phenomenon of "feeling fat". The short version is that apparently an area of our brain controls whether or not we feel our bodies shrinking or expanding (adorably labeled the "Pinocchio Effect" and "Alice in Wonderland Effect") so, scientifically, being fat is a state of mind.

And of course I ran across this article as I'm spending another week feeling my body slowly expanding in all directions like a Macy's Parade float (if such float were 5'1" and blonde and tripped over cars and tall people as it made its way through Manhattan) It's so weird, this plateau for a couple days you can be at a new lowest weight and then one thing can screw it all up so you spend the next week fighting off those 3-4 lbs. you've already actually lost. It's kind of demoralizing, this up and down, and I'm starting to get frustrated with how quickly I plateau after a little loss. Not super angsty frustrated, but just kind of whatevery about the whole thing. I'm not going to give up, but I'm not sure exactly what I should be doing differently.

The weirdest thing about this whole "feeling fat" phase is how kind unclean I feel on the inside. Do you ever get that feeling? Where everything's kind of puffy feeling and your body is sluggish and maybe there's just this...not right feeling just under the surface of your skin? Yes? Maybe? Are you backing away slowly and not making eye contact? It's okay. I forgive you.

My friend Veggie B, who's moved to Asheville to become a professional hippy and WHO NEEDS TO UPDATE ONE OF HER BLOGS PICK ONE I DON'T CARE WHICH ONE BUT IT'S BEEN TWO MONTHS, WOMAN! would say that feeling that way means you're either filled up with physical toxins or emotional toxins and you need to clean them out somehow. I don't know how much I believe in toxins, but I do know this happens every single time I eat some less than wholesome food. Obviously, the weight gain isn't permanent, because it would've taken at least a couple weeks of making very unwise food choices to accumulate the calories to make that happen, but it's just weird how long the scale sticks up in the high numbers and then only falls a half pound or a pound each time. Wish there was a way to kind of get things moving along again.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Oh, hey look everybody...the scale finally decided to stop being a little bitch and quit pretending I was NINE POUNDS HEAVIER THAN I WAS LAST WEEK. Oh scale, you sadistic little trickster, you.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Thank you.

I'm sure I've made it pretty flamingly obvious by now that being earnest and sincere are not among my principal traits, so understand that I'm barfing a little bit in my mouth right now as I write this, but I never knew that I had such wonderful friends until this week. To everyone who sent their thoughts and good wishes, and to the ones I know who sent flowers, and ate tostada mountains, and offered to come with me, thank you very much for being my friends. I am very grateful.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How I Will Lose 230 lbs.on Thursday

I was going to save this post for Thursday, but the events of today all seem to be pointing to "Write Me!", so here we are:

On Thursday I go to court for my divorce hearing. 9:35 am at the 17th Circuit Courthouse if anyone wants to come and, like, root for me with foam fingers or something. I am to bring a copy of the final divorce decree which I must purchase off the Internet and print off tomorrow afternoon. I've been told that this isn't like divorce court on TV; it's a law day proceeding and I'm scheduled in amongst burglary cases and probation violations. Maybe one of them will give me a tattoo while I wait. There are two women at my work who have recently gotten divorced, and they both have counseled me to bring someone along, that no matter how emotionally detached I've become from my husband in the past two years, actually watching your marriage dissected and then dissolved by a stranger in a robe is one of the most demoralizing things you can go through. "Be grateful you don't have children," they say. "Yeah," I say in return.

I have been looking forward to this court date since September when I filed it, but over the last few weeks I've been developing a really intense feeling of dread about it. When people ask when I finalize, and I tell them November 29th there's kind of a "So, woot?" reaction and I just shrug in assent. Because yeah, in some ways it IS woot...I'm really, truly free and not in relationship purgatory where I get in trouble for checking divorced on legal forms because I'm still technically married, and where my taxes get better (I think) and I'm legally my own person again. But on the other hand, I will have to go there to the court room on my own and see my husband again after nearly a year and a half of not seeing him, and he emailed to say he's bringing his mother and I think seeing them together will make the disappointment and the failure so palpable and awful.

My father offered to come with me to the hearing, but I turned him down. I probably should've said yes, but I can't imagine why him losing a day of work would do any good. My father and I have a relationship built around saying as few words as possible, and somehow the idea of getting divorced and then sitting and munching a Blooming Onion while talking about hardly anything at all just doesn't seem very desirable. I took the entire day off for the hearing, because even though I have a scheduled docket time, my coworkers said that was really more of a hopeful estimation than a firm slot. Plus, they said, there will be a lot of crying and no one wants to come back and teach a gaggle of children after something like that. It looks like Thursday afternoon I'll have a date with my bed and my cats and maybe a weepy chick movie (okay, and some ice cream. I'm only human) and a good long whiny day of thinking about Being Alone.

I have, for all practical purposes, basically been divorced since July of 2006. That's the month my husband packed up about a third of his stuff and moved out as a "birthday present". I had taken an extended summer break from work to visit my family during this time, and when I came back to the house we had shared during the first, awful months of our separation, I returned home to a house he had left full of trash, and cat feces, and rotting food and all sorts of other awful things that make me feel like I can never get the house clean enough again, no matter how much scrubbing or bleach I use. The day after my birthday, when I moved back in, marked the very first time in my life I had been completely on my own...I was broke, terrified, living in a stinking pit of Hell, and completely clueless about what to do next.

I'd like to say the weeks and months following that summer were an inspiring journey of personal growth, complete with my very own Authentic Joan Cusack-style Best Friend who arrived with a bucket of margaritas and a sympathetic smile, but that didn't happen. I spent most of 2006 either drunk on Missouri wine (the shame!), or asleep, or dating really inappropriate men all because I couldn't handle the fact that I felt so completely lonely and unable to help myself. When 2007 rolled around, I knew I had to make a change or else I'd be so fat and slovenly I'd get fired from teaching and I'd have to start operating a phone sex business from my couch where I'd moan and coo in between bites of BBQ Pringles except I'd never make any money because I'm pretty sure no one calls 1-900 numbers anymore and then I couldn't pay my rent and I'd get evicted, and, and, and...

So anyway, 2007 was sort of my faltering attempt to move from being lonely to simply being alone, and I think there's a big huge difference between those two words. Because when I say I'm alone, I mean I know I'm ALONE...with my family an hour away, and no reliable, close friends within driving distance, if my car breaks down I'm screwed, and if I try to wax my own eyebrows, there's no one there to slap me back to my senses before half my forehead is burned off. But even if I'm alone, I can deal with the situation; when I was lonely all the time, the idea that my Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha never arrived along with my two dozen pairs of designer shoes after I filed the divorce papers really pissed me off, and I just couldn't handle it. But being alone made me start taking better care of my money and my house. It made me realize that I couldn't go out and try to date if I had no idea who I was and who I could potentially like. It made me learn to ask for help if I needed it, which was hard. It made me start a blog, and keep going on the blog even when I just wanted to stop writing and drift off into self-pity land. I've learned to diagnose all the worrying sounds in my car, and fix a few of them. I've repaired a garage door, and scraped a foot of ice off my driveway. I am more assertive, and willing to confront people to get things done. Being alone does good things.

I still get lonely now and then, too, though. This week--I guess because of the hearing and maybe a little bit of the Happy Couple Holiday Syndrome-- has been especially hard. On Sunday my dishwasher exploded, and as the cats perched on the kitchen table, I scrambled to the laundry room to grab every towel I could find to dam up the gallons of water leaking from its bottom. Today I stood at the top of my stairway, a pair of scissors in a shaking deathgrip, convinced by some odd sounds that a burglar was in my living room. Later that evening, my car wouldn't start. Twice. After a come to Jesus moment where I mentally went through my bank account to determine if I had enough money to pay for a wrecker and a rental car and determined I absolutely did not, I started it and it was fine. Everything that happened this week has ended up just fine, but there are just those moments where you wish you had SOMEONE...even an ex-husband so you could turn to them and say, "Maybe we should get a watchdog." Or something. You get the idea.

So, on Thursday I am going to try my best to go to that courtroom and just deal with the situation with as little guilt and regret as I can muster. It's probably going to suck a lot, and I am not looking forward to seeing J or J's mom one little bit, but it's going to be over soon and then I get to finally get to cut that one last tie to a past I'm not very proud of. I think I'm going to go do it alone, because after all that's happened in the past two years to change me, I think it seems fitting.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gobble, Gobble

I just returned from an extremely relaxing, enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend during which the following things occured:

  • Mizzou won!
  • My mother drove my brother and I 8 miles towards the Kansas state line, parked the car on the shoulder, and refused to turn around until we sang "O Holy Night" for her without interpreting in the style of a Robert Goulet and Liza Minelli duet as we are sometimes wont to do.
  • My aunt got tipsy during her birthday fiesta at our local Mexican restaurant and gave us each "gifts" from her travel bag. My brother's was a is still unclear why.
  • I saw a bunch of my very old friends from high school and was relieved to find out they're all fine, upstanding, young adults and no longer play Magic: the Gathering (at least not openly)
  • Watched my mother cook, for the first time in her life, an entire meal from start to finish without any help. While she did forget to put sugar in the pies (and quietly freaked out as I stuck the front half of my body in the oven to stir in the sugar) and she caught the turkey just a tiny bit on fire, everything turned out nicely and we had a great dinner.
And of course...
  • I'm fairly certain I ate my body weight in leftovers. And also my body weight in foods found in restaurants. And Wal-Marts. Basically I started pigging out on Wednesday and haven't stopped since. And of course, the pigging out started not an hour after I gave myself the very firm talking to about NOT letting Thanksgiving be an excuse to go crazy...oh well.
Two steps forward and one step back, no? Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fair warning, people. This post is lengthy. I wrote it for selfish reason, but of course you're welcome to read it. Please know it's long and rambling and I absolutely will not resent you for stopping in the middle because you got bored. Just putting that out there before we start.

I really really wanted to go to bed early tonight and get a decent amount of sleep so I could be industrious and show up early for work so I could actually DO some work, but the fire alarm at the very top of my vaulted ceiling in my bedroom has a low battery and is CHIRPING once every minute as I am slowlyCHIRPtorturouslyCHIRPcompleCHIRP driven out of my mind. When I read the ad for my house in the paper, the idea of having vaulted ceilings was simply too posh to imagine. I've since come to the conclusion that the only thing a vaulted ceiling contributes to your life is the omnipresent dread at the thought of someday having to either buy or borrow a 12-foot ladder to change the battery on the smoke alarm that the moron mounted 10 feet above my head and which WILL NOT STOP CHIRPING. At least being jolted awake every 59 seconds gives me plenty of opportunity to write.

Remember tango? Remember how last week tango was this incredibly therapeutic, life changing event? Also, remember how last year at a tango thing my world was crushed by a moron in dance sneakers and I turned into a hermit for a month before I finally decided it was wasn't the greatest idea to avoid sun and human contact for the rest of my life? (I would link, but I'm typing this on Google docs and I can't, so if you want to read the detailed post about it, search for "tango" in my blogsearch bar)

Yeah, well.

I wish Yosemite Sam or someone Wild West affiliated would've drawn helpful warning signs on pieces of driftwood that said DANGER, TURN BACK NOW or EMOTIONAL BITCHSLAP AHEAD and posted them in regular intervals throughout the last three weeks so I would've at least thought about the possibility that dancing with strange men wasn't always going to be puppies and unicorns. Or I wish the high school me who diligently wrote down every profound quotation she encountered (So I could whip it out to impress a date? I seriously have no idea why) with a purple glitter pen in a spiral bound journal with a picture of a cat on it would've made a copy of the "Those who do not learned from the past are doomed to repeat it" page and stapled it to one of my hands so that every single time I put my hand on a man's shoulder to dance, or I gesticulated in my efforts to explain my addiction to tango and how just WONDERFUL it is and how FREEING and la la la...that the stapled paper would've reminded me not to put myself into the same position as I did last year, and to proceed with caution.

I guess I need to preface the rest of this post with this thought: if you have lived your life as a woman who, shall we say, is more prized for her cerebral qualities than her aesthetic ones, you also live your life through a series of little disappointments that change you in very small but profound ways as you grow up. At least that's how it happens for me. I mentioned in another post that I really believe there are three categories of women: beautiful women, tragic women
(not in the La Traviata sense, but in the pageboy haircut/inexplicable interest in raising guinea pigs and playing ragtime piano sense), and invisible women--those who aren't attractive, but they aren't unattractive either. I place myself in the third category because I've been invisible dozens and dozens of times in my dances, at parties, as I walk into a restaurant with a gaggle of gorgeous girlfriends...and the knowledge and experiences of never quite being pretty enough to be worth notice kind of slowly chips away at you until the you that you could be in those situations is completely obscured because you're just the DUFF ( if you don't know what that means).

And yeah, yeah...I will inevitably get an email from a Bona Fide Pretty Girl who will remind me that supermodels have problems too. In fact, it seems my friend Doctor Andy and I were writing at the exact same time about similar issues, and he published his own thoughts from a different perspective last night. I get that beautiful women have to deal with being objectified for their appearance, and always questioning whether opportunities or attention is coming because of her intelligence and accomplishments or the way her ass looks in a pair of Levis. I know that pretty girls suffer from the pressure of always maintaining their beauty, and that it's really hard and it can make them every bit as insecure as invisible women. But here's the thing, I'm pretty certain that 100% of women would rather be objectified for being attractive than unattractive. Even if the attention is negative, it comes from a positive place; beautiful women get stared at because their beauty is pleasant to behold. Invisible women get ignored because no one really knows what to do with them. Biologically, we are useless...thank God for brains and senses of humor or Darwin would've weeded us out in favor of Victoria's Secret models a century ago.

I think if you're a woman who's spent a lifetime of always being invisible, of always being the girl about whom guys would say, "God, Erin would be the world's most perfect girlfriend if she just didn't look like...Erin." If you've spent your life as the sidekick or the Gal Friday or the girl who matchmakes your guy friends with your girl friends because you know there's no chance the guys will actually want to date YOU, then you also know that over time, the chipping away sort of stops because there's nothing left of your self-image to destroy. That's when the insecurity starts to become very comforting. You know you don't have to shave your legs when you go out to dinner with a male friend, because there's absolutely no chance that your male friend asked you out on a date because he doesn't think of you that way. You don't have to worry about staying late at a bar and having perfect makeup or saying the perfect thing or pretending to be flirtatious when you'd rather be at home watching a Will and Grace marathon on Oxygen because you know you're not going to go home with anyone that night. After awhile, you realize you have a pretty good thing going; you can relax and be yourself and as long as you don't suddenly develop an interest in rodent farming or maybe learning Bulgarian folk dances or something, then you're going to be pretty comfortable as an invisible woman.

I'm sure the three of you who've kept reading to this point will say, "But Erin...what about inner beauty and finding your true worth through who you are and not what you look like?"

Hold on, I'm getting there.

The peculiar thing that tends to happen when someone like me finally gives up trying to be aesthetically beautiful and just starts tinkering around with life is that those women usually find someTHING to give them confidence and beauty rather finding someONE to validate them that way. And we've all seen enough Tyra (Don't lie; you've at least been subjected to secondhand Tyra and you KNOW that you've been wanting to YouTube her "All About the Vagina" show for a week now) to know that gaining strength through an internal rather than external transformation is going to be a substantially more gratifying experience. Every single Jennifer Weiner book, every single Bridget Jones or inspirational strong woman movie with a Whitney Houston soundtrack and starring Angela Bassett is about this, and they've become fixtures in our canon of social tropes because that process happens in real life. People who are damaged, especially women, find something inside themselves that is stronger, more capable, more talented, and more beautiful than they ever knew, and the confidence that knowledge instills in them also makes them ultimately more attractive than the pretty girls they're friends with.

And I guess that's what was happening to me over the last month; the first two weeks of tango lessons was about me getting over my fear of touching men again, and of my fear of being rejected for my size and my looks. When my worries about resting my body weight against K, my teacher, finally faded by my third lesson, and my mind stopped shrieking in horror everytime I looked at my profile in the practice mirror he had installed in his living room, I started focusing on actually dancing and connecting and moving my body to the music. The third and fourth lessons were absolutely lovely...we walked and turned and swayed on the dance floor and at the end of our last dance of our last lesson, K stepped away and broadly grinned at me. He was very pleased with the way I was dancing, he told me; I was on cloud nine. My third lesson butted up against a little tango practice party he was holding at his house, so I stuck around and sipped wine and nibbled on apple slices while the dancers arrived. I wasn't intending to really dance, because everyone else there was pretty advanced or at least experienced and I didn't want to make a fool of myself in front of people I'd have to see at milongas or other workshops later. But K asked me to dance, and then later Rich, a honest to goodness Conventionally Attractive Male, asked me too. Rich, I found out, was 27 and a swing dance teacher who had recently developed a similar tango addiction. We danced, and it felt really nice...he was encouraging when I did well, and he was patient when I didn't know what to do next. He helped me breathe and relax, and we had a very musical, lovely dance together. When we were done he asked me how long I'd been dancing, and he was impressed when I said just three weeks.

I wish I could've written about those exchanges in more eloquent terms, but for now I'll just say that I hope everyone who's reading this knows what it's like to feel beautiful for something you extraordinary it can be to trust yourself enough to let go and make art, even if it only lasts for the length of a three-minute tango song. For an entire week I walked around like Helen of Troy; my posture changed, I smiled at more people, I was vibrant and energetic and charming, and I was SO excited for the next time I got to dance, because I had a feeling it was going to be every bit as incredible as the past two weeks had been. I think, maybe, the way I was acting and the way I perceived life after feeling so good about something made me beautiful. I still have the world's greatest expanse of thigh, and my wrist and collarbones are not so much prominent as faint suggestions, but for the first time in a long time, I managed to step outside my physical appearance long enough to be actually beautiful.

I was having a fabulous day Sunday; I woke up late, puttered around the house a little, and later met Doctor Andy for dinner after watching an opera in which he played in the pit orchestra. After dinner I headed over to the old Presbyterian church that hosts the Sunday milongas (enter my mother's voice in your head saying "Social DANCING? On a SUNDAY? In a CHURCH? I guess it's none of my business what you people do up there.") and I was secretly pleased to find out that no one else assembled in the class had taken tango before. There was just NO WAY this could be disappointing, right?

(Notice what I did right there with the foreshadowing. Pulitzer Prize, here I come.)

So, remember when you started reading this at the beginning of this post and before the ten minutes of your life you wasted reading the rest of it and will subsequently never, ever get back...minutes you could've spent inspecting your belly button lint or texting inappropriate limericks about your boss to your cubicle partner? Okay, so back then at the beginning I mentioned last year I took some tango classes at the suggestion of a friend and ended up having kind of a major depression because one of the teachers there told me my body was too fat to tango properly. And of course, the moment I looked up from changing into my tango shoes, there he was again next to a woman who appeared to be in her early thirties, and who also appeared to be wearing a homemade Holly Hobby dress and pigtails and plastic flower barrettes. I'm sorry if I step on anyone's toes, but if I meet you and you are above the age of 11 and you are wearing any combination of the above outfit and you have not just come from a Britney Spears lookalike contest or your bedroom where you were busy playing Naughty Schoolgirl and Stern Headmaster with your lover, then I will judge you. No excuses.

Apparently, the girl was a coworker of the man who hates my body and she had taken a few classes with him in September and so they spent 40 minutes of our hour-long class demonstrating how to walk, how to embrace, how to do all the things I desperately wanted to do. And while the girl was not bad, per se, she was distracting, because she bounced and tittered and fell over a lot and I just wanted to scream because all I wanted to do was actually dance like I danced with Korey and not hold onto the arms of a diminutive Welsh woman who decided to try tango because she loved the guy who played J. Peterman when he won the Dancing with the Stars challenge during the first season. As the practica ended and the milonga began, the instructor who does not like me actually asked me to dance, which seemed to be a hopeful sign. We danced one song, inexplicably going round and round the room in a weird box step that no one has ever actually done in tango that I know of, and then he stepped back and said, "I can tell you're nervous. Thank you for the dance." And that was that. I guess nervous is better than fat.

To the man's credit, he was very congenial to me when we weren't dancing, but he also didn't ask me for another dance despite the lack of female partners there. Other men trickled in, and one by one we were eached asked to dance a set. I would inevitably start the dance with "I'm a beginner, so be gentle" and they would respond with, "I'm sure it's not as bad as you think" and then we'd dance and it WAS as bad as I thought and so we'd suffer through the eight minutes together and then we'd be done. No second dance. No more conversation.

And this is where the insecurity started seeping back in, because with Korey there was never any question of was I good enough or was I doing the right things...we just danced and he taught and I listened and it got better and better and better. But while I was dancing with these new men the prevailing thought in my head was that it was kind of like having really, really awful rebound sex after breaking up with a longterm partner. It felt disconnected and stressful and just kind of disappointing and I just wanted to go hide every time it was over because there was no connection, and the reason there was no connection was because I lost my confidence more and more as the night went on. I left early, because after a small group of Turkish ballerinas (not even kidding) wandered off the campus of the nearby university and into our milonga, I knew there was no chance of me getting dances with the men anymore. None of them had danced tango before, but they just looked so gorgeous at being bad that every single man in the room gravitated toward them. In contrast, I was sweaty, dishevelled, huge, and awkward trying to hide my bulk in one of the folding chairs in the corner of the room. I wasn't beautiful anymore.

So, this was Sunday, and I went through a 24-hour period of extreme self-pity and blubbering in my car and rewatching Bridget Jones for the 312th time while eating Indian takeout from my go-to restaurant for all things comfort food, and finally tonight I managed to get some perspective on the situation. Of course, I'm going to have to go back and not let this man discourage me from doing something that made me so happy. Of course I'm going to have to deal with my size and my looks on my own terms, because permanent, sustainable change is never going to happen unless I do it for myself. Of course I'm going to have to keep reading other tango blogs that say you're just going to have to act like a goddess because tango isn't about physical beauty so much as attitude and to talk to friends who all will reassure me that tango is a horrible struggle to overcome insecurities and learn about yourself and that's why it's so addictive and because it's a lot more than just's figuring out how to live your life, too. I know all these things, and yet right now I'm really cringing from having to face them.

The saying "beauty is pain" keeps popping into my head as I write this entry, because I think it means something different based on the type of woman you are. The conventional interpretation of it is funny; we all have to go through waxings and haircuts and shaving and plucking and exercising in order to conform to the generally agreed upon definition of beauty. Maybe for the truly beautiful woman, like Doctor Andy wrote about, the saying means that your pulchritude will never give you the privacy you need or friendships that aren't also confused by attraction. What it means for me, is that if you don't have the luxury of looking like a woman every man wants to have, then you're going to have to fight for your beauty, even if you lose it over and over and over. It maybe means that you're going to have to accept your child bearing hips or your too-thin mouth or your mousy brown hair and find something else that makes you magnificent. Maybe it means that you're going to do something to change those things, but that you also have to realize that those things aren't the most important part of who you are. It means that other people, like Asshole Tango Man for me, may be able to squash your confidence in a single sentence, but it's your obligation to yourself to do the work to build it back up.

God, that's a scary, wonderful thought.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Existentialism on a Grand Scale

My work's Biggest Loser challenge will have officially ground its tedious, soul-sucking self to an end this coming Monday with our final weigh-in and awarding of prizes. At some point in the last eight weeks one of the organizers made a giant bulletin board in our faculty lounge with a progress bar for each of the teams and little car cutouts with our names and our team nicknames on it. They're supposed to look like they're racing...little Beetle Bugs frozen against the corrugated paper like a finish line snapshot from the world's most annoying NASCAR weekend. The funny thing about the little car board is that they've been stuck in the same position for the past five weeks...Team 1 is just barely inching out Team 3, and Teams 2,4, and 5 are lagging somewhere closer to the starting line. I presume our challenge organizers simply haven't had time to update the board, but it's also kind of poetic it was left that way, because I think that week three was right about when everyone started realizing that maybe this whole Biggest Loser thing was a really bad idea.

My friend Stacie, whom I've mentioned in previous posts has been starving herself to win the challenge and looks dangerously gaunt and weak as a result, plunked herself down at one of our lounge tables the other day and started shoveling the contents of a very heavily loaded taco salad into her mouth. Pausing between snarfs, she looked up at the rest of us, sighed, and said, "I'm really freaking sick of dieting, you know?"

We knew.

For me personally, the Biggest Loser challenge thing has served as little more than a huge roadblock in my own getting healthy plan. I started out the challenge weighing in at 219.5, but only because I stood on the scale with two layers of clothing, my tennis shoes, a full stomach, and pockets full of keys, my cell phone, and about three dollars in change. I went in there weighing about 6 fake pounds more than I normally would've, and I'm guessing that at our final weigh-in, even if I stripped down, starved myself the entire Sunday before, and exercised like crazy, I'm still going to end up at about 212 lbs. So basically, over eight weeks, I've managed to lose all of 1.5 pounds of actual weight. And for what? I'm going to get a 40 dollar Wal-Mart gift card if my team wins...there's no chance I'll win the individual challenge because some of our, um, more substantial teachers have shed 20-30 pounds in the last eight weeks just because they've never dieted before. So now I'm pissed because I've basically done nothing for the past two months, and not because I wasn't dieting hard enough, but because I was dieting in the first place.

I came to the sobering realization this week, as I was drinking coffee and reading about Marie Osmond instead of actually writing lesson plans, that I lack some sort of basic integrity--a central core to my character--that I really ought to have as an adult. I think I'm flakier than I was five years ago; I promise people I'll do things so everyone will think I'm helpful, I'm an overachiever, a real go-getter, and then it takes me way too long to actually deliver on the promises. I let my opinions get swayed too easily by other, louder people because I don't like the confrontation inherent in standing up for things I believe in. I do about 50% of the work I ought to be doing because I know that's really all will get noticed, and relaxing is so much easier than pushing and pushing to do extra things. I prefer to do the things that are easier and that get me by than the things that are really good for me in the long run. And having realized all this in one big caffeine-inspired epiphany really made me kind of disappointed in myself.

And the weight loss stuff, at least in the last few months, is one of the few areas in which I can say I've been acting with a consistent pattern of insight, responsibility, and care for a long-term solution instead of a quick fix, so it's a particular letdown that I've allowed myself to backslide into all the bad habits I worked so hard to extinguish this fall. I wasn't interested in exercising yet, so in order to post a loss each week I didn't eat hardly anything for the 24 hours before the weigh-in, and then I joined all the teachers in the post weigh-in binging that started with lunch in the faculty lounge and usually didn't stop until late Friday night after lots of Mexican food and margaritas. And as things tend to go, since it was so easy to eat like shit on Friday, the binge days turned into binge weekends and then I spent the better part of the week alternating between asceticism for the sake of the weigh-in and total apathy for the whole thing. (Invariably, total apathy was more satisfying if it also involved a chocolate milk shake)

It seems the only person who isn't totally over the challenge is my teammate, and infamous Atkins dieter of posts past, Gen. She's been trucking along, losing 1-2 pounds each week and doing really well, and I'm genuinely proud of her. For Gen, it's all about willpower, and I know she battles each weekend when she's with her husband and her friends. She comes back each Monday talking about how "bad" she was, and how she's going to have to be really good before Friday so it doesn't show up on the scale. I know, to her, that "bad" means she had a slice of bread or maybe some alcohol or chocolate on a girls' night out, and whenever she says stuff like that I bite my tongue hard, because to me it's just absolutely insanity to wreck a good time by worrying about one tiny slice of bread. But that's how she rolls...I think she likes the way deprivation feels and she really grooves on seeing how long she can stick to her plan, even if weekends are always just one big excuse for her to be "bad".

So in this case, I wonder whether integrity also means willpower, or whether willpower is just a crutch for not having any sort of personal rudder for how to improve your health in the long run. Does not dieting require more character than dieting, or is it the other way around? This is making my head hurt. I think I need an apathy shake.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Slowing down.

I decided to go home to see my parents this weekend, partly because I hadn't visited them in a handful of months and there were promises of homemade pie and getting some Christmas shopping done and out of the way, and also because a weekend in my hometown means I get at least 24 hours to not have to focus on bills and housework and needy cats with digestive issues, so stuff tends to get sorted out in my mind.

I drove home on Saturday afternoon after two weeks of feeling pretty nasty, healthwise. My general mental/emotional well-being has been steadily improving and stabilizing for the past several months, and I've been feeling so good that Therapist John pronounced me cured and sent me on to embrace my new, shrink-free lifestyle last week. I'm pretty proud of that, because he's told me several times that only a very small number of people actually do the work it takes to get emotionally okay, and it's something I had to really struggle with for awhile before it kind of "took", but obviously it was totally worth it.

For some reason, though, while my brain is perky and ready to embrace life, my body's kind of rebelling against anything that doesn't involve curling up on the couch and reciting every single line of Center Stage as Oxygen reruns it for their 134th time this year. I'm worn out whether I sleep for five hours or ten, and I've caught myself mentally chronicling every single headache, bout of dizziness, or muscle pain I've had in a running monologue like I'm holding court in the shuffleboard shelter at the Boca Raton Golden Years Retirement Ranch or something. You know that feeling when your body is kind of screaming out for you to exercise it...stretch it, run it, build muscle...something? I have that feeling all the time, but when I actually go out to do something about it I return in even worse shape than before. I'm going to make an appointment with a family doctor to get a check-up soon, because it's ridiculous to be this young and to be constantly feeling this old all the time. At this rate I'll be riding a Rascal through the grocery store and taking out my teeth for an afternoon nap before Bingo by the time I'm 32.

The other thing that's been really bothering me is this Biggest Loser thing at my school, because a lot of my bad habits have started creeping back in in my efforts to make sure my weight is at its lowest on weigh-in day. I skip meals 24 hours before it's time to weigh in, and then I spend the next two days pigging out on total shit because I'm so famished from starving myself to stay ahead of the other teams. I know the other women are feeling it too, but we're all so terrified of disappointing one another that we keep pushing ourselves. It's only 40 dollars...big deal...but we're all acting like this is life and death, and we really need to stop it. I heard from one of the organizers that they're going to resume the contest in January after giving us time to "be bad during the holidays", and I just got disgusted with the whole thing. What's the point of doing any of this if it's just for the money or for the bragging rights, and everything is totally contingent upon whether or not it's convenient for us to lose weight at that time? Even my one ally at school in this whole "Stop dieting, people!" campaign has become a traitor, approaching me sheepishly after a few unsatisfactory weigh-ins to ask me if I'd buy some Hoodia capsules for her so her husband wouldn't find out she was taking them. I've decided to just quit the contest after this last weigh-in, because I feel like I need to stick to my principles on this, even if no one else cares.

It's really nice to hear when people have noticed I've lost some weight, and I'm even starting to see it myself...I had to have my picture taken for an interview someone did with me for a thing on weight loss bloggers, and I've posted it here because it shows me about a quarter of the way through with the actual weight loss part of this. This picture was the first time I've noticed any change in my body, so it was good to finally be able to acknowledge to myself what people have been saying at work and at home. I don't want to get comfortable here, though, and fall into that cycle of slacking off and then over-trying to make up for it and failing because it's too hard. And that's where I am right now...I'm too focused on short-term results and not so focused on actually eating well and moving around as a part of my life. I need to get my head back in the game somehow, because I don't want to be reading this entry a year from now and realizing I've been in the same holding pattern of assing around/feeling guilty that I can fall into so easily if I'm not thinking about what's important.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

It's The Most Wonderful 16% of the Year

How did the candy consumption go for you last night? I bought my Halloween candy on Monday and filched seven snack-size Kit Kats between then and Halloween. I think that's pretty good, considering the other forty-six pieces actually made it into someone else's mouth.

Since retailers and advertisers have pushed the official start date for the holiday season up to BEFORE Halloween, (Incidentally, I sort of stopped dead in my tracks and tripped over a rug today as I walked into one of the schools in our district and saw several children, some of whom were still wearing Halloween t-shirts, gawking at a giant, inflatable snow globe with Santa's village inside it. One of the teachers said a group got together at about 7:00 am to get it set up in time for "the Christmas season". Gross.) it seems now is as good a time as any to start working on a game plan for hunkering down and enjoying the holidays without spending New Year's Day prostrate on the couch and lamenting the tens of thousands of calories you ingested during the last two months. I know the season is a magical time, full of cocoa and cookies and eggnog and those marvelous bacon-wrapped Lil' Smokies that kind of skeeve you out even as you're licking the mystery sauce on your fingers and diving for more...

I know all that, and yet I hope this year I can whittle down some of my gastronomical excess of Christmases past. Last year at my work, we had a finger food buffet for an entire work week, and so for those five days my lunchtime meal was nacho cheese. Sometimes nacho cheese with hamburger, sometimes with Ro-Tel tomatoes...but always nacho cheese on chips and for some reason even though I think my body basically went on strike and refused to function until I STOPPED INGESTING CHEESE, I thought it was my social obligation to eat that junk every single day.

So, obviously, the next 61 days are going to be tough for anyone attempting to either lose weight or be consistently healthy. So I thought I'd share this website I use a lot for motivation and focus right now, so maybe it'll do some good later when we're all slumped over in a tryptophan coma and watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with the sound off so we can mock the entries. Or maybe that's just me. Anyway, the people who've lost weight on that site are amazing, and I'm assuming they got that way because they didn't eat five bowls of nacho cheese in five days. Here's hoping their mojo works for me this time around, too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Attention, Nicole Richie:

It is now officially 43 hours after my departure from a weekend in New York, and I think this is the first hour of those previous 43 in which I've had the time to actually sit down and think. Funny how work doesn't really care that you're a fabulous jet-setter who reads Vanity Fair (okay, and People) during her flights and who gamely deals with flight delays and excruciatingly long runway taxis by chatting up the uber-suave Italian couple in the seats next to you about their vacation to (inexplicably) Columbus, Ohio. I got home Monday morning at about 2 am, hopped into bed until 6 am, hopped right out of bed and have pretty much operated on adrenaline up until about two this afternoon when I crashed and begged the nurse to hook me up to an intravenous caffeine drip.

One of the SUPER WONDERFUL quirks about my body, besides the child-bearing hips (I apparently got the "Quadruplets? No problem!" model), is the fact that any sort of narcotic that enters my system, whether it's cough syrup or Chianti, apparently takes an express route away from my pancreas and straight to my brain, thus negating any reasonable chance of normally metabolizing all the caffeine or alcohol or high-grade Sudanese opium (kidding!) I've consumed, and ensuring that the root beer float I had last Friday is going to make me feel like a meth addict until at least the following Wednesday. It's actually kind of handy for me; I don't like the taste of alcohol and I was always too chicken to try drugs in college, so I learned I could pretty much simulate the effects of a normal person's beer buzz by drinking down, say, a grande Frappuccino. On a typical Sunday morning during my first two years of college at a super-rural, super-Christian liberal arts school, most of my friends would be staggering to church still drunk (having likely gotten drunk after realizing they committed to spending four years of their lives at a super-rural, super-Christian liberal arts school) or coming down from a marijuana high, and I'd be working off the shakes from a Saturday evening bender of Mountain Dew and Twizzlers. Unequivocal lameness is my anti-drug.

So anyway, while I was sitting at my desk at work and trying not to shake uncontrollably from the cup of coffee I had to boost me back up to fighting form for the rest of the day, I happened to run across this article from the good people over at That's Fit regarding the link between childhood obesity and mothers who smoke while pregnant.

My mom is a lifelong pack-a-day smoker, or was until she gave up cigarettes last winter after visiting my grandmother in the nursing home and seeing room after room of elderly emphysema patients tied to their oxygen tanks and barely able to get out of bed before collapsing down again, winded from the exertion. My mom also smoked while she was pregnant with me and my little brother, a fact that I conveniently use to assign blame for all my faults, from being really short to having an unfortunate addiction to Perez Hilton. This article makes me wonder whether or not I can really point my finger at one of her discarded packs of Marlboro Lights as an accomplice in developing my Rubenesque figure.

At the end of the study, the scientists speculated that babies of pregnant smokers were likely nutrient starved while in utero, and so have to make up their deficiencies by eating lots and eating often as they grow. But does the fact that right now my inner voice is seductively whispering about the jumbo bag of mini candybars nestled in my plastic jack-o-lantern bowl really mean that I was deprived of whatever's in a Kit Kat wafer as a fetus? By that same logic, and as several other studies have suggested, the fact that my body was pumped full of nicotine and tar every time my mom lit up a cig means I should have the same cravings and withdrawal symptoms that an adult smoker has even after quitting for several years. Honestly, though, I think I'd prefer eating one of my Halloween Kit Kat bars that had been dipped in ketchup and dredged through used cat litter before I'd willingly suck down a cancer stick, so I'm not really buying the whole retroactive eater/smoker hypothesis.

As I commented on this blog entry, I think maybe the more plausible explanation for the link between pregnant smokers and obese children is that women who don't shrink from putting huge amounts of toxins inside their own body, especially while growing life inside it, probably don't give healthy lifestyle choices much of a thought in general. Cigarettes cost a lot of money, and if your family was like mine, paying for Mommy's cigarettes meant that we'd have to cut corners somewhere else and that usually meant we ate a lot of frozen or packaged junk food instead of fresh fruits or vegetables. My dad also smoked when I was a kid, and I remember that neither of them really had the stamina to get up and run or jump or play with me or my brother, so we usually ended up bonding as a family through movies or television instead of something more active.

I'm not entirely sure if I buy this article, but I think even if it doesn't pan out as a solid biological link between cigarettes and fat, at the very least it'll scare a few female smokers into realizing that if you repeatedly put something nasty inside your body while you're pregnant, you're a total moron and your baby will suffer.

I'm interested to know, though: Among those of you who are or have struggled with obesity, how many of your mothers smoked while she was pregnant with you?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Therapy on Three Inch Heels

I ran out of gum last night.

Now hush yourselves and your replies of "So what?", because for me, running out of gum is a BIG freaking deal. I buy gum or mints or breath strips every single time I make a trip to a store, so that every pocket of every purse from every decade in which I ever bought a purse can be overflowing with some sort of breath-related paraphernalia. I am obsessed with minty freshness. I need gum.

So, of course, during my trip up to the trendy Bohemian part of KC, in which I got lost in the interwoven, poorly marked streets and terraces and avenues, and during which I stopped at a pretentious, arty European bistro where I ate a pretentious, arty, and overpriced vegetarian crepe with lots and lots of garlic and tomatoes, I ran out of gum. I parked underneath a SURVEILLANCE IN PROGRESS sign in a vaguely seedy apartment parking lot and began frantically rummaging through every fold of the three purses currently occupying the passenger side floorboard of my car. I found empty gum packages, and discarded gum wrappers, and even the pistachio colored dust from a package of spearmint Extra, but there was no actual GUM to be found. I pondered going back out into KC Bohemia long enough to stop at a grocery store and replenish, but that would've involved maneuvering my giant boat of a car back across several pedestrian crossings and through the langorously moving throngs of college students with their charmingly sloppy clothing and their messenger bags and their beaming, unstressed faces just radiating the joy of responsibility-free living, and at that moment...driving my inherited powder blue '95 Buick Lesabre with my grandmother's United Methodist Women bumper sticker still clinging tenaciously to chrome, smoothing down the soccer mom haircut my stylist decided I needed earlier in the day, and so desperate for non-garlicky breath I would've been willing to French kiss a stranger for the toothpaste in their that moment I was just not having any of it, so I sat in that darkening parking lot and just fumed over my situation, silly as it was. It was going to be a bad evening.

Part of the reason I was so uptight was because last night was my very first time to try dancing again after this incident occurred in the fall of last year. Over the past twelve months I've mooned over tango-tagged YouTubes, browsed vacation packages to Buenos Aires, and kept a close eye on the Kansas City tango forums, all without actually doing anything about getting back into it. When I found out that our local tango teacher was going to be in town for a few weeks before leaving for Argentina, I decided there was really no more excuses for not dancing, so I signed up for private lessons with him. I was already shaky and nervous about the prospect of coming back to an activity from which I backed away to spare myself further humiliation; the idea of doing it on a private basis while breathing my toxic waste breath on a near-stranger was enough to send me over the edge.

While I was changing my shoes in the little family room of the sprawling American Foursquare manse my teacher owns, I wondered where my omnipresent pessimism had come from. If I had to fill out a personality inventory, I'm pretty sure I would've marked "optimist" if given the choice. I think, or at least I used to think that way. I have optimism for other people and situations that happen to me; I completely believe my friends and family will pull through whatever crisis they're experiencing, and when my finances are stretched or I'm faced with a problem at work I have every confidence in my ability to pull through and make the best of the situation.

But when it comes to my sense of self-efficacy in accomplishing things that would make me a happier person, or a more fulfilled person...well, I have none. I spend a few minutes each day researching ideas for a new career, but the prospect of returning to grad school or starting out on a new job path petrifies me. I make excuses to avoid social gatherings because I'm certain I'll have a rotten time. I doom new relationships before I give them a chance because I assume they'll end up like my marriage. I am an unequivocal, unabashed pessimist when it comes to doing anything that would soften my cynicism for the world and my place in it. While I was sitting in that little room waiting for my lesson, I realized that 100% of that negativity came from the way I feel about myself, and that I blame external circumstances as a way to hide the fact that I don't really think I'm worth having the good things in life. The undesirable people at potential parties or evenings out hide the fact that I'm scared that no one will talk to me, or I'll be the ugliest, most awkward person in the room. The cost of continuing education, and the risks involved in leaving one career for a completely different one are all things thousands of other people have had to conquer in their lifetime, but I refuse to believe it can happen to my satisfaction because deep down I'm really frightened that all I'll end up being is another unmotivated, underachieving employee with an extra diploma in the back of my closet. And this gum thing...well, I knew it had very little about what was going on in my mouth, and way more about what was going on in my head about my body and my appearance. Let's face it, a lifetime of being not very attractive has probably made me more self-centered about my looks than I would've been had I ended up a raving beauty. The "bad evening" wasn't going to be bad because my breath could cut crop circles so much as I was going to have to let a man put his arms around my body, legs and torso up against mine, and guide me to depend on him for movement and standing still and expressing something we couldn't do without the intimacy of a physical connection.

The first quarter of our lesson together was...rocky, I would say. We danced a song to see what I remembered, and I was so stiff in his arms I actually gave myself, like, tango whiplash from holding my shoulders tight. When he turned off the music, I silently congratulated myself for not falling over, not sweating, and not breathing, in or out, at all (although if I had, I really doubt the stank breath would've made much difference...he had a good 18 inches on me in height, so the only thing I potentially could've offended was his left nipple). He looked at me, cocked his head, and kind of sighed before he said that somehow my body managed to be simultaneously weak and rigid at exactly the same time. This was not news to me; I had nearly passed out from the combined effort of sucking in every single one of my bodyparts that had jiggle potential and also holding on to him without actually putting any of my weight on his body. I was basically a how-to on embodying every single bad tango habit in the first five minutes of my dancing career.

We spent the next hour talking about how essential being aware of where your partner's body is, being present in the moment and in the music, and being patient and trusting enough to wait for your partner to move when he wants and stop when he wants. We did lots of exercises that involved leaning into one another with my boobs smooshed into his chest and holding our arms out at the sides, and the entire time we were doing that I fought the mental image of one of my favorite scenes in cinema history ever, except mirrored by my instructor and I like a Rorschach blot of total awesomeness.

I was really surprised at how much just dancing and learning with this man dredged up all sorts of really intense, shitty reactions. Like, how I stiffen whenever someone touches me, and how I can't trust anyone enough to actually depend on them for something as simple as moving my legs to the music in the direction they want to go. It took me at least 30 minutes of the lesson to finally believe that pressing my stomach up against his pelvis wasn't going to result in him recoiling in disgust, and even though right now I intellectually believe he was fine with it, I still have this awful thought in the back of my head that he's going to dread dancing with me every single time I show up because I'm just not worth it. This whole concept of just...letting's been a problem my whole life, and a lot of my relationships and ambitions have suffered for the lack of it. I can't hold hands with a boyfriend while we're walking down the street, or lie on the coach together to watch TV without the fear of somehow crushing his body with my own. In all the plays I did or the recitals I performed in college, my performances were always marred by the fact I could never really get inside the music or the character until the very last second before the curtain rose, and then it was too late or not enough. I walk through life with my shoulders squared for battle, because the idea of just embracing the freedom abandon, even once, means I will make a fool of myself, and in my addled brain I already have enough reasons to look like a loser on a normal day; I don't need this too.

And I know that's not really true...I KNOW it's not. But I still don't really believe it, you know? My friend Veggie B! and I talk often about holistic medicine and whole body wellness because she's living out in Hippie Xanadu (Asheville) and learning about natural healing and massage. Our last conversation revolved around the idea that everything going on in your body, good or bad, is intrinsically linked to what's going on (or has been going on) inside your brain. And some of it is obvious: indigestion is related to stress, depression can cause all sorts of maladies, when you're anxious your immune system is less able to fight off infections. I mean that's all pretty duh, right? But the idea of it really got me to think about the whole pathology of why I got fat in the first place, and why I'm still fat now. I mean, I know I was a chubby kid because I ate a lot and I sat at home and read instead of going outside and playing like I should've. But after a point, when the innocent overeating turns into emotional overeating...why does your body go along with it? Why can't your brain discern that this isn't good at all, and it should be stopped. If Veggie B's theory holds true, I'm fat because something in my brain tells me I should be. And I knew, right there as I was clinging on to my teacher's neck for dear life while I learned the back ocho, that maybe I'm fat because it keeps people far away from me, and that I create the distance for myself because I don't really think I'm worth getting close to...that inevitably I'll be a disappointment to whomever sees through the sarcasm and emotional frigidity and then my secret'll be out and the world will know that I'm not much. Pasta Queen once explained obesity as kind of a superpower...that it gave you the ability to be invisible enough in society to observe the true character of the people you know. I agree with that, but I think maybe if you wanted to extend the whole Justice League theme, it's also kind of a ready-made force field too...a 100 lb. flak jacket that lets you hide from meaningful interactions and relationships because you can always assume they're going to reject you offhand, just because you're fat. Apparently, obesity is my uber-lack of gum. Or something.

When the next couple came in to dance at 8:00 pm, I absolutely did not want to go, and it only had a very little to do with the usual, "Hey, I'm getting better! Or less bad!" kind of reaction. I just wanted to stay draped around that man's neck for the rest of my life, not out of any sort of lust or crush or anything like that, but because I COULD and it was okay and he didn't start projectile vomiting when I touched him and Paraguay didn't spontaneously combust when the back of my neck started to get a little sweaty and for at least, you know, five seconds of our first lesson together there was a connection...a total abandonment of reserve and pretense and my infuriatingly omnipresent internal monologue that so easily stymies the joy I can find in truly nice things.

Anyway, I have three more lessons coming up, and I think they'll be good, and even if I end up being a totally horrendous dancer, at least I'm getting some pretty inexpensive therapy in the process. And yesterday morning before I had coffee, took a shower, fed the cats, or made my bed, I went to the store and bought three variety packs of gum, two Listerine breath sprays and a tin of Altoids. Next time is going to be a good one.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The BMI Photo Project

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about finally slipping out of the "morbidly obese" and into the plain old "obese" bracket of the Body Mass Index charts. I talked a little bit about how shocking it was to find out my size meant I was unhealthy enough to die from it, since I was pretty sure I felt pretty vibrant and lively most of the time.

If you need further proof that BMI is only objective in the eyes of the National Institute of Health or the Center for Disease Control or whoever thought it up, here is a Flickr Project devoted to putting faces to those numbers:

Check out the very compelling BMI Illustration Project.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


I should just never, ever write posts that even allude to success or well-being or self-satisfaction because they will inevitably come back to bite me in the ass.

I feel so bad for my poor, neglected blog and my shiteous posts of late, but I cannot get over feeling sick this year. This week I felt so generally ill I managed to convince myself I had diabetes, drove to an urgent care facility in Kansas, and pleaded with the staff to give me a finger-prick test. I laid on the examining table for an hour while people poked and prodded my flesh and I peed into a cup and the whole time it was going on I pretty much knew I wouldn't end up being diabetic, because whenever I get this sick there is never, ever anything specifically wrong with me.

The doctor came in after my lab results were done, and I had this brief moment of wanting to soil my pants when he sat down on his rollie-stool, pulled out my chart and said with a wry voice, "Well, your urinalysis came back and your blood sugar is absolutely perfect, but you are..."

...and I'm not exactly certain what he said at the end of that sentence because my mind's ear heard "PREGNANT" and I had a little mini-panic attack because even though I intellectually knew there was no possible, biological way I could've ended up pregnant, I am so paranoid about getting sperminated that I will run to the drugstore for an EPT if I even so much as bump into someone wrong at the post office. So, after a brief, torturous moment of envisioning my new future of Pampers and paternity suits, I realized that he was handing me a prescription for antibiotics and not prenatal vitamins. Apparently, I've been harboring a rather nasty and persistent infection in my body for several weeks and it was to blame for the nausea, and the fever, and the dehydration, and the swollen eyes, and the swelling, and the temporary anorexia, and the overriding feeling of wanting to just embrace sweet, sweet death every time I had to move my body (but, unfortunately, not to blame for my ill-advised purchase of an unreturnable fuschia print kimono dress from a Target clearance rack last Tuesday).

Since the Cipro started kicking in mid-afternoon today, I've already started feeling a little perkier, and I'm hoping tomorrow I can actually get up and move around a lot more than I have for the past month. In a way, it's encouraging to know that this bone-crushing fatigue was at least in part due to being legitimately sick instead of just sedentery or depressed, but it's also kind of a startling wake up call for me to realize that my immune system is a lazy bastard who prefers clipping his toenails and watching reruns of "The Nanny" on afternoon Lifetime to actually PROTECTING MY BODY FROM DISEASE. I was the most healthy, sturdy person I knew all the way through childhood, adolescence, and college; I'd have like one bout of flu or strep once a year and would otherwise be so vibrantly, annoyingly healthy that I'd have to fake sick in order to get to take a day off once in awhile. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that my health problems started right when my marriage fell apart, and that living on a futon and drinking myself to sleep every night for a year and a half during the "we're separated but living in the same house/shut up it's complicated" period probably wasn't the greatest choice for me health-wise, but it's been almost two years since that happened and no matter whether I get more sleep, less sleep...whether I shop at Whole Foods or spend a week scarfing down coney dogs at Sonic...whether I'm working out or napping every day after school...nothing I try or do seems to ever give me enough breathing room with my health to actually DO anything about it.

I'm not exactly where to turn on this. Should I get a full workup at my doctor's office to find out if something bigger is the underlying factor for all these illnesses I've had in the last year? Should I just keep doing what I'm doing and try to take regular baths in hand sanitizer on the side? Should I look into something more holistic, even though I'm not sure exactly what "holistic" entails?

I'd really appreciate advice or ideas, because I'm sort of stuck. I just want to feel better, be able to be active and healthy as much as possible. Because there's still a lot of stuff about life I need to investigate, you know? Like why my town's Super Wal-Mart always smells like farts, and how wide my mother's nostrils will flare when I mention that I'm thinking about going back to school for another degree. I just don't want to keep missing out on life, even though hunkering down amongst the blankets and the pillows and the cats for the past month hasn't been all that bad, either.