Friday, January 28, 2011

The Sign

This was the first incident in my life that made me think I wanted to get a blog, and be even in the smallest, least-noticeable way, an activist. Due to length and so I won't have to stare at this stupid thing every time I look at my blog, almost all of this is going under a cut.

At some point last semester at school, there went up a new sign. I'm a student at NYU, in New York City, the home of the fast-food calorie count (which I'll discuss another time, I'm sure). Evidently, this sign wasn't just going up at my school, but all around the city. It shows a stick-figure going up a flight of stairs with the text: Burn calories, not electricity! Take the Stairs! Walking up the stairs just 2 minutes a day helps prevent weight gain. It also helps the environment."

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Does anybody know anywhere that still sells at-waist jeans that actually come up to the waist?

I was at home last weekend and discovered a pair of jeans in my closet that still fit (I've been a size 16 since about 16 years old - for the longest time, I thought that your pant/dress size was SUPPOSED to correspond to your age). Great, since I'd just worn out a different pair of jeans and this meant I didn't have to buy one. So I brought them back to school with me.

And I realized, these jeans are incredibly comfortable. And finally I figured out why, in the last few years, after an entire life of size 16 at-waist jeans being the most comfortable thing in the world, my jeans have been squishing me and on a really bad day painful to wear. (barring the possibility that I've gone up a pant size, or that vanity sizing is screwing with me...)

My old at-waist jeans were from back when Old Navy made at-waist jeans. And they came all the way up to my waist. I have to wear a belt with these because my waist is a good several inches smaller than my hips. Using the same belt, on my Land's End "at-waist" jeans, I can get it to go maybe two notches in, three if I feel like squishing myself. On the Old Navy, I can get four or five with perfect comfort and ease. So I think at least part of the reason I've felt so fat and uncomfortable in my jeans lately is that they're measuring a different part of me and calling it "waist".

The faux-at-waist jeans come up about to my belly button. Which means that they basically cut my belly in half. Half of it is tucked under the belt line, and the other half muffin-tops over, which is painful in addition to making me feel unattractive. At-waist jeans come up those few inches higher and cover basically all of my belly, tucking it all comfortably inside.

Dear Fashion Industry,
I do, in fact, have a waist. It is not my hips. It is several inches higher than my hips. Please bring your at-waist pants up to my actual waist. Just because I'm fat doesn't mean I don't have a shape, and even if I were thin I happen to like feeling covered.

So, serious question, does anyone know of any company that still sells at-waist jeans that come to the waist? Old Navy stopped making them long ago, and I am sad.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I think one of the fundamental questions of the human experience is, "does this happen to other people?" So I'm curious, and I want to talk about cravings for a little bit.

This is coming into my head right this minute because, after a few weeks of having my eating all messed up due to an early class and no lunch break (been scarfing down peanut-butter sandwiches in 5-minute breaks and starving by the time i get home), I think I'm finally identifying the point in intuitive eating where my body starts telling me it needs more variety. My last couple meals haven't been very veggie-friendly, and I'm thinking later tonight I need to go get a salad. It's a great change of pace for me, to be really wanting this in more than an "I should be eating better" way.

But here's where the question comes in - I'm not craving any kind of salad flavor. I want Crunchy, and Cold.

I tend to get texture cravings far, far more strongly than taste cravings, and this is what I wonder what other people experience. I want Crunchy Cold right now, so some nice crisp stringy celery, or carrots, or baby corn, or bell peppers, would all be great. I remember a time in my past when I wanted Gooey Warm - what I had in my head was "brownies", but there weren't any even remotely close to avaliable. So I put a banana in the microwave and drizzled it with chocolate syrup. Not really all that close to being a brownie, but it was the right texture and chewiness. I  get Baked Good cravings a lot of the time, probably more often than anything else; if I'm craving Chocolate Cake, then vanilla cake will satisfy the craving better than a piece of chocolate or anything else chocolate-flavored.

So does that sound familiar to anyone? How often do you think your cravings match up to what your body is missing, and how often are they more comfort-oriented (I've got a feeling that my Baked Good moments are comfort food moments, since I get them so often)? Textures, or tastes?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Memories of Binge-Eating

Okay, this is a big one.

I think I missed the boat on actually getting any kind of diagnosis, and I can't say for sure that I had Binge Eating Disorder specifically. But I've learned about it somewhat in recent years - really recent, just the last one or two - and I know that when I was younger I had binging episodes. I have some strong memories of what it felt like to binge, and I think it's important enough to write up. Because I can't really know what someone who's never been through it imagines a binge to be. It's not mindless snacking in front of the TV and before you know it, the bag of chips is empty. And it's not a big meal. And it doesn't have to come with purges - mine didn't. But I'll describe as best as I can....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Beauty and Alienation (a ramble)

Katja's post from today goes through a new weight-loss book endorsed by Oprah. She had a good analysis of what's going on, but the part that stuck out to me was her summary of the kinds of things that the "Not-Thin-You" in the book is:

"The letter to “Not-Thin-You” (180 pounds btw) describes her as unable to do cartwheels, doomed to wear flats, shouldn’t “rock the dance floor,” only to brag  about how now she has avocados in the fridge, dreaming of 100 sit-ups and will soon say Good-bye to NTY…"

Out of all that, the bit that got my blog juices back going (after a week and a half of serious reading loads for a winter Intensive course at my school) was "doomed to wear flats."

I've never been a very beauty-conscious person. I can't tell you why. When I was in high school, I knew that there were girls who did their hair and make-up every morning and there were people who seemed to gravitate to them. But I also knew they woke up at 5am to get it all done, and I just didn't care. I knew that I was most comfortable wearing jeans every day and t-shirts. That's stuck with me so far. I wear pendant necklaces, but usually no other jewelry, I braid my hair to keep it the hell away from my face, and that's about it. I wear sneakers every day, unless I'm not walking anywhere and I can get away without shoes at all.

So I see that the hypothetical fat girl is "doomed to wear flats", and I can only blink. That's a doom, now?

It just feels so blatant, this weight-loss book. When it talks about "rocking the dance floor" and wearing high heels when you're finally thin, it just highlights that this is about fashion, and conventional beauty and girlishness and not any real semblance of health and empowerment.

But it also brings up a tangential topic, and that's that I end up feeling kind of alienated sometimes even from fat-friendly feminist spaces. It's not anyone's fault, not by a long shot, and I don't think there's anything these kinds of things could do to make it better.

For example. For a while, I was reading the blog Beauty Schooled, written by a woman as she goes through Beauty training and learns about the industry. I found it fascinating, and there were many interesting and informative posts about beauty myths and the inherent strangeness of some practices. But there was also a lot about the money and time and effort that the average woman puts into her appearance. I don't doubt that the statistically average woman does put in a lot of work, but I don't. So post after post about how wasteful these things are just kind of went over my head. Posts about "national no-make-up day" mean nothing to me - I could do a no make-up year and never notice.

I know that those posts were useful for tons of other people and I don't begrudge it to them.  But I ended up feeling far enough away from that world to stop reading regularly. I'm just not part of that part of the Feminine Experience.

Similarly, I'll see posts about street harassment and how surely every woman has been through these things. And I don't doubt that a vast majority do. But if I've ever been cat-called, I didn't realize that someone was targeting me. I've also never had a crush on a male friend (that didn't end happily) or spent hundreds of dollars on shoes or dresses or a thousand other things that plenty of women do go through.

So I suppose seeing that flats line tapped into that sense of alienation. I know rationally that I'm still a real woman even if I just never felt the pressure to dress up pretty and wear make-up. I certainly don't WISH to be sexually harassed. I know that posts talking about things that aren't my experience just aren't talking about me. But sometimes it feels very odd to see other women talking about the female experience that I've never had.

As for the book itself, as I said, it's just so blatant in my mind. I'm a little more than the 180 pounds that the Not-Thin-You is supposed to be. And sometimes I do want to lose weight. Not that I want to diet and exercise and strain myself. But that if there were a magic pill, hell yes I'd take it. I fantasize some nights about just cutting out the parts of my thighs that press together and chafe so I can finally wear skirts and actually walk around in them, or tucking that little flap under my tummy away so it's not there anymore. It's because sometimes my fat is uncomfortable, and because sometimes I still feel like I can't be pretty at this weight, and sometimes just because no reason at all.

It's never because I feel doomed to wear flats.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My (luckily, only) doctor story

About a year ago, I was at the school health clinic, and the doctor who I saw seemed if not fat-positive, then relatively fat-neutral, enough that I felt safe and at ease. I had mentioned that a medication of mine seemed to go through my body kind of fast, and she said that it might be because of my size, but immediately followed up by saying she has the same thing happen to her, and she's thin, so who knew? This was also the doctor who, after several hiccups and follow-ups about my blood pressure being slightly elevated, finally measured me with the large-sized cuff and declared it perfectly fine.

So I picked the same doctor when I went this year to get myself examined.

It was going basically well at first. Then she noticed that, yet again today, my blood pressure reading was high. And it wasn't until after a whole speech, asking me if I was watching my salt intake and giving me tips on how to do so, and bringing my weight up, only after all that did she think to ask if they'd used the right cuff. They hadn't, of course, and I get nervous enough in examinations that I forgot to insist to the nurse that she use the right size. The doctor took my pressure again, and it was fine, and we continued.

Except, my weight wasn't off the table for discussion.

"You really do need to think about your weight, would you like to see the nutritionist?"

I don't think a lot of doctors understand what they're saying when they say things like that, in the same breath, as the same question.
You are overweight, therefore, you should talk to the nutritionist.
You are overweight, because you eat too much/ the wrong things.
You are overweight, because you've somehow managed to live ten years as a fat person without anyone ever telling you how to eat "properly".
If you only weren't so ignorant and knew how to eat "properly"/ too lazy or unhealthy to follow through with eating "properly", you wouldn't be fat.

I told her that I was eating well, more vegetables than I used to, that I have too many emotional issues with dieting to willingly take on a weight-loss plan right now. But that I am focused on exercising more (easier living in NYC) and eating more nutritionally. I even mentioned the fact that, finally, I've gotten to the point of craving fruits and vegetables and nice filling starches rather than sweets and cake and candy, and explained that it was because by actively NOT dieting, there wasn't anything off-limits that I wanted and nothing that I forced myself to eat, and it took the power away from the formerly-seductive "bad" foods. And she seemed okay with it.....until I clarified that by "eating more vegetables", I didn't mean "eating less meat/cheese/sweets". At which point she kind of laughed, mumbled "that's not healthy," and finally dropped it.

It's not a horrible experience. It left me a little rattled, but I remembered to eat dinner and didn't make myself feel bad later at night when I wanted more food. I'll stick to the permission that I gave myself to eat what I feel like.  This story certainly doesn't rival anything at First, Do No Harm.

But it did kind of suck to have an initial good experience turn back into a normal-level iffy one.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Making Changes

I've been living on my own at school for the last three and a half years, and with my own kitchen for two and a half, and it's made a big difference in some of the ways I eat.

The most significant thing that happened was I became free to keep my kitchen and desk drawers stocked with candy and cookies and sweets. If I crave baked goods, I can go get a few oreos or a brownie. If I want a chocolate, I can have a chocolate. Most days, one or two candies or a similar small serving is enough to feed the craving. And then - here's the important part - I can put the rest away, and know that any other time I have the craving, I can go feed it again.

Sometimes, I do get into a mood when I want more, and I do still try to curb myself before eating what feels like too much. Sometimes an assortment of different sweets makes it better - a couple different flavors of cookie, a mint chocolate and a milk chocolate. Sometimes all I really want is to chew, and I keep plenty of gum on hand - some days it really just is about having a lot of stuff in my mouth (minds out of the gutter, please) and two or three pieces of gum makes me really happy. Sometimes a nice sweet tea will give me something sweet to taste if I'm full up and still want flavor.

These are all okay, as is, if all else fails, a few more cookies or chocolates.

One thing I've learned to do is to try not to eat desserts or sweets when I'm actively hungry. I certainly don't want to say this is what everyone should do, but it works for me. If I'm legitimately hungry, I try to go for something a little more substantial. Peanut-butter and pretzels, can of tuna fish, a serving of pasta, depending on what I'm up for actually making. The first thing this does for me is help me enjoy my sweets more, since I'm not hungry enough to eat too fast to taste. The second is, I feel it helps me fill up faster. It takes an awful lot of chocolates to feel full on.

Another thing I've gotten better at is saving leftovers. Tonight, for example, my dinner portion was pretty huge, and more than I felt like eating all in one sitting. It wasn't necessarily too much food for the night, though. And I realized, as I packed up the last third of dinner and put it in the fridge, what a little, obvious thing it is that took me so long. It stems from the same source, though: the idea that there will be more later. I can eat as much as I'm hungry for now, and know that when I'm hungry again in an hour, two hours, three, or the next day, I can go get the rest. There's no obligation to fill up at any one meal as though there won't be chances to eat again.

When I lived at home, there were stricter rules about what was allowed to be eaten at what time of day. True hunger after dinner time had to be addressed with snacks, rice cakes, fruit, general small servings. As illustrated by The Potato Incident, an attempt to fill up on a meal-sized portion of food would not be met well. But since childhood, "last snacks" were when my brothers and I were allowed to have our sweets for the day. We would get one, and only one, dessert opportunity, and it was before going to bed. So I got used to eating my sweets late in the day, when it was the most filling thing I was allowed to eat. 

That's all gone now. Part of the reason I was so angry about the potato thing was how long it took me to get used to the idea that substantial food is okay to eat after dinner time, especially when I don't wake up early enough to eat breakfast. It's okay to eat when I'm hungry. And for that matter, it's okay to eat for pleasure when I'm NOT hungry. I don't have to wait until I feel hungry again to allow myself a piece of chocolate. I'm allowed to just eat it and enjoy.

A lot of people are making diet resolutions right now, and I don't think I'm going to post about it directly. But these are some of the ways I've changed my own habits for the better.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Two Stories about Sausage

For years, and years, and years, I thought that sausage was by definition more healthy than bacon.

You see, whenever we went out to eat breakfast, itself a kind of rare occasion, my mom’s rule was that sausage was okay to order, but bacon was not. If my brothers and I did say we were thinking of bacon as a side, we were re-directed toward sausage instead.

As a kid, I thought I hated sausage. Perhaps not hated, but didn’t enjoy eating it, for sure. In all likelihood, this was simply because it wasn’t bacon. Bacon, this magical meat that everyone seems to use as a synonym for amazingly delicious, must be so much tastier than sausage if it was also so much worse for me that I wasn’t allowed to order it. Bacon was also, evidently, purely a breakfast food, while sausage was acceptable in grilled, thicker form in a bun for dinner sometimes.

It was only after I was an adult that I learned that nutritionally, they’re basically the same. I thought that perhaps sausage wasn’t fried, since I knew that bacon was, but that isn’t true. I thought sausage must not have as much fat, which isn’t really significantly true. So I started ordering the bacon that I wanted through my entire childhood.

And the magical thing is – I like them both about the same these days. I prefer bacon as part of sandwiches or otherwise other dishes, rather than by itself. Some days I do want bacon, and some days sausage is tastier. Now that sausage is allowed to be sausage in its own right, instead of “substitute for bacon”, it’s much better.

It still took me a really long time to realize how strange it was that my parents had this distinction. The only thing I can think of to make sense of it is that my mom couldn’t handle having to make a decision between two ‘equally bad’ choices. Somehow, she decided that sausage was the proper option to choose, and now it was easy. It didn’t have to be based on what she felt like eating that particular day, and she didn’t have to weigh the nutritional options each time we went to breakfast. The answer was sausage, end of story. One out of the two choices had to be better than the other for her to feel comfortable ordering it. And she passed that along to us. (And as much as this blog is going to mention my mom, my dad always supported her decisions and positions. He was just never as blatant about it.)

Speaking of sausage, have another example of food policing.

We were at a dinner with family friends, two families and a cookout, a pool, a nice summer evening. The sausage was homemade, which I don’t think I’d ever had before, and I was relaxed, happy, and eating. Dinner had gone on a good long while, too, although a lot of details have gone fuzzy in my memory by now. At some point, after having eaten a serving or two and waiting a little while, I asked my mom to please pass me the plate of sausages.

She told me no.

No, you’ve had too many already. I didn’t really know what to do, mostly because of how quickly awkward the situation was becoming. I tried not to look at our family friends to see how they were judging this interaction, and just repeated my request.

Please pass the plate, I’m still hungry. I won’t have a bun with it, will that make it okay? I’ll only have half of one, will that make it okay?

I think at that point, she relented, probably out of embarrassment because of how I was making her look. I’m sure I was embarrassing her with my gluttonous behavior. But I was 18 or 19 by then, and for the first time, she was embarrassing ME by trying to control my food intake. If we’d been at home instead of at friends’, I bet I never would have gotten the extra half a sausage. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to ask for it.