Your Struggle to Lose Weight and Keep It Off, and Your Bigger Struggle: Trying to Feel Good About It
The Fat Heads, Early On...
How to Quit Worrying About How You Feel About Yourself
“If I see myself today as I was in the past, my past must resurrect itself and become my future.” William James
(This is a very long article, more than 2700 words, so you may want to take it in pieces. Get a cookie, something to drink, and dig in…)
The Child with a Chunky Challenge
I am a true Fat Head. That means that even though I am not overweight anymore, I still see myself as a fat person. I’ve made the decision to be OK with it. There are those who say that seeing myself that way is not healthy. But I tell you this: Trying to eliminate the internal sense of being a fat person is even less healthy. It produces more anxiety than dieting. I know.
Here’s my story and I’m sticking to it…
Picture it. The year is 1954. Southern California. Cars have gotten huge; suburban houses are getting huge; TV screens are getting huge; grocery stores are getting huge. Everything in America is getting bigger and bigger—including the people. I was no exception. (You can get an idea from my picture, above. I don't seem too happy about it, either!)
Even though I was only nine in 1954 and my family was always on the verge of financial collapse, still my mother found ways to feed my father, two brothers and I the most fattening foods she could find. Her motto? “Feed ‘em full on what we can afford.” And that included cheap cuts of meat, especially hamburger, and lots of potatoes, pasta, pan-fried chicken (in lard), biscuits, floury gravies, and of course, cheese—cheap cheese. She made a kind of goulash out of macaroni, hamburger, and Hunt’s Tomato Sauce that we kids thought was the highest of gourmet delicacies. (Later, when I tried to make that stuff as an adult, I realized how awful it actually was!)
I grew up on simple carbs, fatty meats, and desperate love (Mom was fat, too). At nine, I was short and 25 pounds overweight. The kids in school teased me mercilessly. I was the ‘fat kid.’ They weren’t about to let me forget it. I cried on the way home almost every day. (I was the fat kid until my junior year in high school.)
One day, Mom took me aside, knowing I was miserable, and told me, “Son, just suck in your tummy and hold it. That way, you will look thinner.”
I bought it, sucked in my 4th grade gut, and haven’t let it out since. That was the day I became an official Fat Head. Being fat was now locked inside my consciousness and it would take a lot more than will power to ever dislodge that image from my mind, my heart, and my life. (I don’t blame Mom for it, however. She was coming from her own place of weakness. She, too, was a Fat Head. Her mother as well.)
Thus began the unending journey of up and down weight loss. By the time I graduated high school, I had already lost, regained, lost, and regained again more that 100 pounds. Then, in 1968, I discovered Dexedrine. A new world opened up. I had found (or so I thought) my Diet Utopia.
Utopia: Hell in Disguise?
Dexedrine. Benzedrine. And a list of other uppers/speed/diet pills. From 1968 through 1985, I took hundreds, maybe thousands of those little pills. I picked up smoking in 1967 and these little pills would speed me up so much that I could easily smoke a pack in less than two hours. Then, in the mid-1970s, I started a little social drinking, another big beginning. By the middle of the 1980s, I was putting away a quart of vodka a day. No kidding.
Along with all of this drug and alcohol nonsense, I also got involved in the local L.A. nightlife. The speed, the booze, the tobacco and the discos—plus, Dr. Atkins—caused me to drop from 220 pounds to 165 pounds in a fairly short amount of time. Pay dirt. I was thin (as a rail), kind of pretty (or so I was told), and fairly popular out in the bar scene. Got laid a lot, sometimes waking up in places I never would have consciously chosen under better circumstances. But, I was thin. That’s the key here: I was thin. Nothing else mattered.
Then came Denver.
A Mile High Mess
In late 1978 I moved from San Francisco, where I had moved to from Vancouver B.C. from L.A., to Denver, Colorado. I had met some folks in Canada and California from Denver and visited them a couple of times. I discovered I rather liked Denver, so I packed up and moved. Seemed like a good way to get me out of all the drugs and booze. But no such luck. Denver turned out to be a big party town and I fell into its mix almost immediately. And everyone I met loved to eat.
Enter the buffets.
It was in Denver that I discovered the all-you-can-eat buffets and pizza houses. They’d had them in California but I was always so high on pills that food was the last thing on my mind. Just vodka and Benson & Hedges. (Do they still make that brand of cig?)
It didn’t take long for me to begin packing on the pounds again. By the end of the 1980s, I was weighing in at 250 pounds easily. And then, Enlightenment…
Fat and Churchy!
In late 1988 I packed up and moved again, this time to Portland, Oregon. I gave up all booze, pills, and by June of 1989, the smokes as well. I became a vegetarian and started a three-year stint in seminary, of all things. Got ordained in 1993 and began a church, along with my partner (still another Fat Head) and best friend, who had also gone through seminary with me.
All seemed well.
I had forgotten how much church folks love cookies, cake, and potato salad. Every Sunday, after services, we all gathered in the hospitality room for coffee and treats. By 1995, I was at 260. I remained right around that weight for the next eight years.
Through many Sunday services, weddings, funerals, guest speaking gigs, seminars, and potluck dinners, I finally reached the mountaintop: 270 pounds. It was 2003. I’d finally had enough.
I joined a health club.
Interestingly enough, I had been a member of a health club in L.A. in the early 70s when my partner (at the time) and I discovered the low carb Dr. Atkins Diet. But that didn’t last long. We were back on cake and vodka before the next season of Laugh In.
But this time, I was serious.
By the end of 2004, I had dropped from 270 to 245. That was a good start. Then, I joined Bally’s Clubs in early 2005 and have been working out regularly ever since. I have increased my daily walking time and have really changed my eating habits. At this moment in time, I am hovering around 210 pounds, which is within my goal range of between 200 and 215.
There you have it. A long journey, lots of pounds, lots of mistakes, lots of pills and booze, lots of bad food and some good food. And here I am.
But I’m still fat in my head.
Five Reasons You Don’t Like Yourself
During all the previous years of dieting, getting fat again, boozing, pill popping, disco-ing, and feeling like crap about it, the one thing that has not changed is my body image. I look in the mirror today and still see a fat person. I know, intellectually, that I am no longer obese, or even overweight. I don’t smoke, drink, do drugs, or hit the hot spots. I write, and speak, and sing, and minister and do all the things I like to do. But ending my relationship with Fat Head is not on the agenda. Why, you might ask?
Losing weight was never the hard part. When I set my mind to it, the weight came off easily. Pop a pill here, starve a week there. There was always a way. But during all those years, the one thing that never changed was my sense of self-hatred. It always lurked either just beneath the surface or in many cases, right out in the open.
Over the past 10 years or so, I have made some dramatic discoveries about self-hatred.
- It appears to be ubiquitous, that is, wide spread (no pun intended). I know very few who don’t harbor a bit of ill will toward themselves, even and maybe especially the most successful ones—you know, the ones with the big houses, cars, bank accounts. The ones who sit in the big office as the CEO or corporate president. I know a couple of therapists who tell me that they, too, are in need of therapy for this very reason. They’re ashamed to admit it to another therapist, though.
- Self-hatred becomes an entrenched habit because we practice it over and over. When you tell yourself how fat you are, or how ugly you are, or how inept you are for five, ten, or even 50 years, it takes on a life of its own. It’s often difficult to even figure out how it all started in the first place.
- Once it’s a habit, it actually becomes pleasurable. We may not admit it, or even realize it consciously. And like any soothing and addicting drug, we resist giving it up. It has served us, kept us from taking too many risks, been virtually our closest ally, covered our vulnerabilities. We justify its presence. Add some cake and it tastes good, too.
- If we listen to the psychologists, the TV doctors, or other gurus, ministers, priests, or neighbors, we can turn self-hatred into an enemy, or at best, an annoyance that must be eliminated at all costs. I mean, you hear it all the time: You MUST feel good about yourself or you’re a failure, or you’ll get sick, or you’ll disappoint somebody, or… And the list goes on.
- Finally, we end up hating self-hatred. Double whammy.
So I have a choice. I can continue to see myself as a Fat Head or I can beat myself up about seeing myself as a Fat Head. Gee, let’s see. Which will it be?
I know that I am currently not overweight, at least not by much. And I also know that I still experience myself, emotionally, as a fat person. I can listen to the outsiders who tell me I should try to see myself as thin and loveable and joy-filled and successful. They mean well; they really do.
Or I can listen to myself. And I say this: I know that I will always be a fat person in my mind. No getting around it. And I also know that I am a good person. Great, actually. So, I will just accept myself as fat and go on living in this thin body. No more trying to feel better about myself. That hasn’t worked in over 55 years. In fact, it’s hindered. I wasted a lot of energy attempting to feel what I wasn’t feeling. Now, I just feel fat and have a good day.
It’s that simple. Not easy, but simple.
Have You Ever Met a Fat Vegetarian?
You may be wondering about my current diet. I’ll tell you about it, if you promise not to criticize. It might hurt my feelings (ha).
I mentioned earlier that I am vegetarian. Let me tell you, some of my fattest friends are vegetarian. I know—I really know—how to be a fat vegetarian. Oh, sure, you cut out the meat, maybe the eggs and dairy, but if you’re a Fat Head, you will find a way to get those calories packed onto your hips one way or the other. Like I did. How? Lots of pasta, bread, soda pop, chips, sugary snacks, tortillas, and any one of hundred other little tidbits that blow you up like a dirigible (blimp). And it wasn’t just the food item itself. I would eat an entire bag of Kettle’s Salt and Pepper chips (my favorite) and a bottle of Pepsi while sitting on the couch watching sitcoms and talk shows. Yes, it was like that. Overdose.
In the past five years, though, I have made some changes. Mind you, I still eat plenty of veggie foods—greens, beans, leans of all kinds. But I also enjoy my junk food now and then as well. I limit the amounts though, and that is what took the effort. My Fat Head kept insisting on filling some void. So, bull by the horns. Face the void, fill it only halfway. There’s always later.
Filling the Void(s): My Personal Menu
Mornings, I create a breakfast sandwich consisting of whole grain bread with soy-based cream cheese, some ground flax, sesame, and hemp seeds sprinkled on it, a bit of salt and pepper along with some Mrs. Dash Table Blend. Then a few leaves of spinach, topped with slices of tomato or cucumber, whichever I happen to be in the mood for on any given day. I wash it all down with black tea of some kind, usually Earl Grey or English Breakfast, sweetened with Splenda and creamed with French vanilla soy creamer. It’s a great meal.
Other mornings, I’ll have oatmeal with almond milk or a small amount of hash browns with a faux cheese and maybe some left over red or black beans.
Very healthy, very nutritious.
Then for lunch—and this is key for a Fat Head—I go to my local grocery or bakery or Starbucks or bookstore and have a nice big pastry, usually a blueberry or poppy seed muffin, perhaps a cherry walnut scone, or even a deep fried fritter, and coffee. That’s the other part of the void being filled, physically and emotionally.
Dinner is again vegetarian—big salads or Mexican-type bean and salsa dishes, or baked potatoes, or small amounts of pasta. The variety is nearly endless. (Quorn puts out non-meat, non-soy chicken, meatballs, crumbles, and turkey rolls. They do contain egg so they’re not suitable for everyone. I love them.)
Later, it’s whole grain bread with peanut butter or almond butter and either Splenda-sweetened jams or cinnamon and one more cup of black tea, this time decaffeinated.
I also consume a handful or two of walnuts, almonds, cashews, and sunflower seeds with a few raisins throughout the day. I keep a baggie of them in my briefcase. Not too many at a time, but a nice occasional treat.
Every other week or so, I buy two half gallon containers of ice cream—yes, ice cream. It’s always Breyer’s Vanilla with half the usual fat and also sweetened with Splenda, and the fudgy chocolate, with Splenda as well. I give myself permission to eat as much as I want. It serves not only as a great Fat Head pleaser, but as a laxative, too. Bonus? I think so.
I usually take a multivitamin and one B-complex in the morning.
As you can see, I am not selling myself short in the food department. I have studied and learned that eating well does not mean giving up everything sinful. I do take in huge amounts of vegetation. It keeps me humming just fine. But I also allow myself the indulgences I just described. I do not feel a sense of hunger during the day (and if I did, I’d feed it, believe me!) and I do not feel deprived of my sweets. Plus, I am 60 pounds lighter than my highest-ever weight.
Frankly, I have not overcome my emotional inadequacies. And I am not trying to. I accept who I am, faults and all. And I have plenty of faults.
The one fault that I have released, though, is the biggie:
I no longer guilt myself about not feeling better about myself—physically, emotionally, spiritually. I may never like myself completely. But now I am OK with that.
And I am thin.
No sermons. End of story. Thanks for reading.
P.S. Just a note. I do move a lot, which is important in many ways, health-wise. I’ll address exercise in more detail in a later article.