MEMOIR: FAT AND HATING IT
They say that when you lose weight, the actual material that you lose is expelled from your body in your breath, that you breathe it out. I found this out just recently. For years as I’ve slogged away at my weight-loss efforts, I tended to think that the material I was losing was exiting my body via urine and faecal matter. And when I had a particularly big dump, I was a proud father, you might say.
As of this writing, in late July of 2017, I’ve lost almost fifty kilograms. I could not lift a fifty-kilogram weight. A while ago we visited an Asian grocery store, and I saw they had these twenty-five-kilogram bags of rice, and they were huge, like small mattresses. The thought that I’d lost just about two of them was shocking. The thought of trying to move two of them was impossible. When I was in hospital last year I was looked after by a great many nurses, many of them young Irish women. On hearing that I’d lost fifty kilograms they’d be all, “That’s me! You’ve lost me!” As if I’d been staggering about for years with an entire person riding on my back. That was a disturbing thought. An entire, full-grown person on your back, everywhere you go, upstairs, downstairs, every step you take. No wonder I was always tired. No wonder my knees were always screaming in pain.
All my life I’ve been fat. I was a fat baby, a fat toddler. I’ve seen photos, including some that my parents still have on display in their living room. There I am smiling gamely, but already what my mum has always called “a little pudding”.
It was because I was fat that I attracted the attention of bullies in primary school. You take up more space than you’re allowed to. Than you’re entitled to. Than is fair. All my life, I’ve been “fatso”, “fat pig”, “fat arse”, and many other appellations as lacking in wit as they are numerous. I’ve had the oinking, snorting noises in the locker area as people go past me. I’ve been in the hateful phys ed classes where in athletics it’s just assumed that I’ll be the anchor for the tug-of-war event, and that I’ll of course be up for shot put.
I have always hated my fat. I think it’s always hated me right back. I’ve always felt that it has meant me harm, the way the depression has meant me harm. I would not be surprised to learn that the two are in fact directly connected, that the one is a manifestation of the other. It would explain some things I’ve seen.
It’s drawn attention to, and never good attention. It’s always made clothes shopping an excruciating experience. Reaching the point where regular menswear shops could no longer help me was dreadful, and a bracing experience in shame, and then my first and all subsequent visits to Kingsize Menswear was even worse. Yes, they had a huge range of all kinds of things in my size. They had everything. It was extraordinary. It was colossal. This was indeed my kind of store. They would have you believe your dignity would be restored here, for a price. And in some ways it was. But the simple fact of your having to be there at all. That your life had come to this. That you needed to wear clothes that might be better suited to a giant. You had become freakish and monstrous, though at least you were a stylish monster.
One of the great pleasures of major weight-loss is being able to go back to regular stores to buy clothes, and finding plenty of options either side of my size. Of being able the funny and clever t-shirts I’d always wanted but could never previously fit into.
All of this aside: I hate being fat. I hate it with a fury. I would remove it from my body with a spoon if I could. I would get the bariatric surgery if I could. At one point, before embarking on the long-way-round diet-exercise campaign,mI actually looked into the surgical option. Even with top level health insurance coverage, it would still be $4000 for the cheapest option. But one of the the things that killed the whole thing was a specific note, that the surgery was not available to patients with a history of depression. Absolutely not, no exceptions, not even if you have a letter from your doctor. Just no.
I hate taking up so much room. I hate getting winded from doing simple jobs. This happens less than it used to, I’m pleased to say, and the stairs at IKEA are much easier than they were. Though I remember when I went to see the top orthopaedic surgeon in the state, an actual professor, and I hadn’t started losing the weight yet, so it was me and my 165.5 closest friends, and they were screaming about everything I tried to do. Could help with knee reconstruction? He said no. He said my colossal weight would crush any device he might install, and I would be worse off. He suggested I come back when my weight got down to 140 kg. I never did go back to him, though I blasted past 140 on my way down to my current 117.
Ever since I was a kid, people have seen my fat before they saw me. They’ve seen me clumsy, pasty, gormless, awkward, and only too aware of not fitting anywhere. Less a round peg in a square hole than a piece of fruit being played with by a cat nowhere near the square hole. But that’s my life generally. Doesn’t Fit Anywhere Man.
Meanwhile, my current helter-skelter weight-loss efforts are paying off so well I’m having to confront the question of how to ease out of weight-loss mode once I reach my target weight of 100 kilograms. At the moment am pursuing a low-food/high-fasting regime that is not for the faint of heart, but which is working with my flatlining metabolism. I’m a hurtling downhill skiier racing at insane speeds down the slick and icy slopes of the Peak of Madness. Sometimes I’m just on the narrow edge of one ski, and sometimes I’m in full downhill tuck screaming down a slope, and sometimes I think I’m going to crash.
I’ve been doing this for a month, and it’s still working, to my amazement. I’m eating one meal a day, and some treat chocolate. The rest is fasting. Up to 22 straight hours of fasting. For real. In that time I have to keep busy. At noon each day is weigh-in. Sometimes it’s good news, and sometimes not. I brood about weigh-in. Three-quarters of my daily total thought is entirely kilojoule math. Everything I eat I first inspect to see the kilojoule cost, the weight in grams.
If I eat any more than this, I gain weight. It’s the thing I fear most. During the period when I was going up the Peak of Madness, when it all seemed out of control, I was petrified and did not know what to do. In the end what helped was adopting the 5:2 intermittent fasting program, only I just did the fasting. There were no feeding days. I tried having feeding days and my weight would jus spike up again. So it had to be all-fasting, all-the-time.
Recently Michelle cooked some sausages. I love sausages. I had two, and they were outstanding–but I felt terrible about them all day long, worried about their effect, their mass, on the scales the next day. It was bad. I obsessed about it much more than you would ever believe. (They were more or less fine, a great relief.)
And this is the thing. I have had to put aside the world of eating and food. I have to be extremely careful. Food is dangerous. Because I am close now to a goal I set almost five years ago. And even closer to getting back onto the main road of that quest. Last year in hospital I reached 114.3. Now I’m 117.1. I’ll be there soon, and then I push on to 100, and when I get there I’m going skydiving.
Because I have always, always hated being fat. Hated always having to ask for seatbelt extenders on planes. Hated never having clothes that quite bit. Hated never being athletic, or seen to even potentially athletic (notable exception: in high school I did once win a walking race, and it was seen as the strangest, most unlikely, but also most “typical” thing ever, “that Bedford would win a walking race”). I’ve always hated the weird difficulties I’ve had with food, and how that’s contributed to my being fat. I always hated with a fiery passion the way my medications has made me stack on weight. That has always seemed among the cruellest side-effects of all, when you have people who are already at a low ebb in the way they see themselves, and then you give them a drug that might save their life, but might also destroy their self-esteem.
All I’ve ever wanted, from my earliest days, was to be thin, to be normal. When in high school phys ed class, we all had to head into the change room, strip off, change into sports gear, and later have showers. I always found the change room experiences traumatising. Getting naked in front of other boys is bad enough, but with bullies in the mix is worse. Add in acute self-anxiety, self-horror. I was fat. There was no way to hide it. It made you big and pale, a white whale wrapped in a bath towel, covered in goose-flesh, and boys laughing and pointing at you.
I just wanted to be unremarkable, normal height, normal weight, nothing to see here. My current campaign is my best-ever chance at that. I just wish it was not so very nearly unendurable. The discipline required is terrible. My psychiatrist says if I can keep this going for six months (!) it will become easier because my body will reset what it’s “normal” weight is. He says that right now it’s thinking that my initial starting weight, 165.5 kg, is my normal weight and wants to push me back there. But if just hang in the with my impossible regimen, I can hack my body into thinking this much lower figure is “normal”. Is he right? I hope he’s right. But six months? Ye gods.