Why The Weight?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Treadmill versus getting outside, and mental health.

I prefer walking outdoors rather than on a treadmill. Obviously, a treadmill has certain advantages but, for me, it's way too much like a hamster on a wheel to be able to stick to at all. And, now, it turns out, medical science backs me up. Getting out into nature boosts mental health dramatically, both in the critically ill and in the healthy. While the warmer-than-usual early winter weather holds here in the Northeast, I will certainly be trying to take advantage of the therapeutic benefits of being in nature.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Phantom ideals.

Here's an interesting video (scroll down) that reveals how the images of women in advertising are created. There's a little touch on the weight issue here, as you'll see, but since this is really a head and shoulders shot, the weight issue is not so apparent, leaving the video to be mostly about dishonesty - that the women we all see in advertising simply do not exist. Really.

This piggybacks on my environmental factors post that is immediately below, and Lora Bora's post yesterday, too. Our environment matters. The advertising-driven visual environment matters. The fact that our visual environment is largely fictional, matters.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Environmental conditions.

I've mentioned here that I live in the suburbs, I think. The car-based, mall-based suburbs. I'm in an NJ suburb of NYC, so it's very sophisticated, as far as suburbs go, based on my experience at least. But it's still a suburb. I get into and out of the car for just about everything. Almost nothing is within walking distance or is walkable - except, of course, just going for a walk around the 'hood. But what I am talking about is that the suburban life does not naturally include, as part of the suburban environment, any exercise. In fact, the very structure of the environment, minimizes physical activity.

To get physical activity, you have to plan it in. It does not, will not, occur naturally within this environment, that is, as simply part of living your life in this environment. And for that reason, the contours of the universe seem to contract; the universe tightens around you, such that going up to the attic feels like going all the way up to the attic, or needing something in the basement when you're on the second floor is an annoyance because it's all the way down in the basement. You get really used to this frame of reference, this tight little universe that's based on very little naturally occuring physical activity.

Whenever I travel, I re-awaken to this reality. For example, when I was in Japan this summer, I noticed (how could you not?) the bicycles just everywhere. It seemed like nearly every person in Japan rides a bike, at least in Kyoto. We even rented bikes for a day, and I felt so cosmopolitan, riding around Kyoto's streets and canals, ringing my bell to alert pedestrians in front of me that I was approaching. Actually, it was riding a bike there myself that alerted me to WHY so many people on bikes were ringing their bells (duh). And when I travel, I make it a point to take as much public transportation as possible, to get as close to the people as possible. If you take public transportation, you already know that even though it's transportation, public transportation has a big on-your-own-transportation component to it also. That is, you've got to get your bad self to the station, on the platform, off the platform, out of the station, and from and to that station, to and from whereever it is you started and are ending up. Public transportation entails a lot of walking - at least a lot more than hopping in a car does.

This past Friday I took my SD on two college visits, one in Brooklyn, one in the East Village. We drove to Newark, took a train from there to Penn Station, then took subways for the rest of the day. It was a lot of walking, as every trip to NYC always is for us. And it was exhausting, because I don't do that all the time.

But it was also eye-opening, because when I got home, my perspective on my tight universe was shifted. While waiting for a take-out dinner, I walked up to the grocery store in my little village; a walk that ordinarily might seem like a little bit of an inconvenience seemed like nothing after schlepping around the city all day. This is even with tired feet and legs. When I got home, I was running up and down between 3 floors several times, again thinking nothing of it, when this would ordinarily seem like a pain to me, when I'm tired, at the end of the day, that sort of internal whine usually kicks in and says.

It's interesting to me, to consider how personal perspective is so susceptible to and shaped by actual physical environment, even in the short term. I really wish I lived in a city or other setting where exercise was just a natural part of getting through your day - like the Japanese in Kyoto, so many of whom ride their bikes everywhere, like New Yorkers who walk to get their groceries and meals, walk to public transportation, walk walk walk as simply part of getting their day done. Obviously New York has no monopoly on this, many large cities have a similar physical environment but other large cities like Atlanta and L.A., definitely don't. I really wish I had a different physical environment, where getting exercise wasn't something "extra" to be done, but rather something that naturally occurred as part of my day.

With all the talk that you hear of personal responsibility, environmental conditions get lost or, when raised, are poo-poo'ed. "It's just a matter of personal choice", people say, blaming anyone who isn't making the "right" personal choices. But this ignores the reality that every personal choice occurs in a distinct environment, and the significance of that environment. Your choice of food, or transportation, or method of communication, in the middle of a jungle is necessarily going to look very different than your choice in the middle of Manhattan. My range of reasonable and feasible "choice" in NYC or in Kyoto is much different than my range of choices in my little suburban village. I'm not blaming my environment. But I am saying it counts - I think that should be obvious, actually. And I wish my environment looked a little different.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

While the days get shorter.

I was doing Better for a while, after starting the BP meds. I was walking most days, sometimes only 15 minutes, but sometimes 45 minutes to an hour, even more. It was averaging out to 30 minutes a day, most days, which is what's recommended. I was making generally good eating choices, avoiding junk more. I was moving in the right direction.

But lately the days are getting darker for me, and not just because of the earlier approaching sundown. My husband has been laid off, effective as of the end of the month. I had suspected this was coming for a long time, which was why I was working hard on my house, so we would be ready to sell, as I thought we might need to. We got notice of this back in July, and since then he has worked hard to find a new job, but unfortunately with little real luck yet. He's had one offer, but it was cross country and the money frankly didn't seem "do-able" considering the extremely expensive location, and that the move would render me jobless and incomeless, at least for a while. So we countered and never heard anything more. And kept pursuing other opportunities.

Those who have been through a job search know how hard and frustrating and depressing it can be. It gets only more so when you're actually unemployed, which will be the case as of next Wednesday.

We've both been getting pretty depressed lately. Now, with Halloween candy around the house, I'm self-medicating with that and wine. Not to a crazy extent, but 3-4 mini-candies and a couple glasses of wine pack in an extra 500-600 totally empty calories every day. I feel totally justified as I'm doing it, though; as if, we're facing enough, can't I just relax and forget about the problems and fears and worries for a minute or two? I just can't take the battle against the food urge along with all the other mental battles I'm doing right now.

At least after Halloween, the candy will be gone. Thank goodness. I do feel like I deserve my wine, though, in this very trying and scary time.

Not to mention, our actual house is scary these days, but in a good way. My hub goes all out for Halloween; we're a well-known house in our neighborhood, along with another one down the street. It's really a lot of fun to see the kids so into it. I've actually been a little grateful to have this holiday, as a temporary diversion from larger stresses for my husband, who really does get into this. Should I really begrudge a little candy over-indulgence, in exchange for the respite we're getting? Here's some photos of our annual haunt; our photography equipment is not fancy enough to give the real true effect, but I can give you some of the flava.

W have a dog house near our front door, where "Diablo" stares out through red LED eyes, and growls at little kids who ask, shuddering, "is there a REAL DOG in there?":

Here's our graveyard, that's mostly on the other side of the yard:

A close-up of our grim reaper, that gives a little of the effect at night:

The full front yard shot, at dusk, a year before (sans Diablo). The lights are on inside during this shot, but we turn off all the inside lights and put on strobe lights inside the house for extra scary effect while the kids are going around. We always get several kids asking, "WHAT's going ON in there?!" To which we always reply ominously, "you don't want to know.":

So you can see why this is a nice diversion. Just putting these pics up made me feel a little better.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Eating smaller.

I may have to get the book described here. It reminds me of a couple of certain aspects of my own personal dieting experience that may be worth re-visiting (even though I now firmly believe that "dieting" is misguided, and causes more harm than good). The more significant experience I'm thinking of occurred while I was doing The Z0ne for a while. I was struck by how little food you get on that diet, but more significantly, I was struck by how that little amount of food often really did satisfy. In fact, this is where I got my "small apple + 3/4 ounce of cheese = satisfying snack" snack. It was a practical lesson that I could eat a lot less than I thought and not end up hungr. Which reminds me, one of the things I absolutely detest about WW is that while on that program, I was hungry constantly. CONSTANTLY. I mean that.

I see people in the weight-loss world try to get all valiant and noble about hunger, and try to talk themselves and others out of the natural urge that suggests hunger is bad, hunger must be satisfied. They say things like, "Oh, there's lots worse than hunger! Who can't deal with a little hunger?! I'm stronger than that!" Or similar, probably more inspirational and pithy little sayings. What those people refuse to acknowledge, in my opinion, is that hunger is a primal, animal urge. In a match between animal urges and intellect, well... We can overcome animal urges with intellect to a certain degree, of course. But constant hunger, experiencing the constant, animal, non-rational urge will always ultimately be a losing battle. Animal urges win. They're survival urges, and you can only pretend to ignore them for so long. And I think the 95% failure rate of dieting efforts bears this out.

Which is not to say I think efforts to exercise and/or eat better have to fail. Just ask the 5% of dieters who succeed. But I think we have to be realistic about the hurdles, and not just try to wish them away, such as with “hunger ain’t so bad” speeches or mantras. And I truly think I can eat less and not be hungry. This book seems like it kind of touches on that issue, indirectly.

Dr. Wansink, who holds a doctorate in marketing from Stanford University and directs the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, probably knows more about why we put things in our mouths than anybody else. His experiments examine the cues that make us eat the way we do. The size of an ice cream scoop, the way something is packaged and whom we sit next to all influence how much we eat. His research doesn’t pave a clear path out of the obesity epidemic, but it does show the significant effect one’s eating environment has on slow and steady weight gain.

To his mind, the 65 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese got that way, in part, because they didn’t realize how much they were eating.
“We don’t have any idea what the normal amount to eat is, so we look around for clues or signals,” he said. “When all you see is that big portions of food cost less than small ones, it can be confusing.”

Although people think they make 15 food decisions a day on average, his research shows the number is well over 200. Some are obvious, some are subtle. The bigger the plate, the larger the spoon, the deeper the bag, the more we eat. But sometimes we decide how much to eat based on how much the person next to us is eating, sometimes moderating our intake by more than 20 percent up or down to match our dining companion.

For me, and I suspect for many women who marry and gain weight after marriage, as is typical, this may help explain that weight gain. My hub ALWAYS eats a lot more than I do, but if this researcher is correct, I’ve increased my own eating simply because I’m always sitting next to a bigger eater.

Check out the article for yourself.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I have said uncle. I've given up on hiding from it, denying it, assuring myself that if I'd just do a little more X and a little less Y, it will go away. It's been hounding me consistently since I was 26. And foolishly, for 10 years, I have had my head in the sand about it.

I am now medicated for high blood pressure.

After a week on the medication, my blood pressure was almost normal, at 130/80.

This is a medically important decision for me. It resonates through me that I have been very bad about taking genuine care of myself, something I wanted and tried to do in part through my attempts at weight loss since starting this blog, but for some reason I truly cannot comprehend, really genuinely taking care of myself is something I am loathe to do, that I constantly put off, that I choose to ignore. The denial is shocking, when realized. It's something to deal with, and hopefully, resolve.

And, yes, this decision is also another step on the path of totally giving up on the idea of weight loss, though of course it's not totally given up. I told my doctor I disagreed with her recommendation to lose weight, though I agreed that I should exercise, and that I would. "Well, one follows the other", she replied, matter-of-factly. "Maybe so and maybe not, but regardless, the exercise is good anyway" said I, feeling both a little depressed that weight loss was no longer something I really believe in for myself, but also feeling that tiny twinge of hope that maybe, just maybe, she would be right. That I would lose weight. I can't completely let go of the deeply-ingrained desire to be slimmer, more fitting with the current cultural ideal of bodily attractiveness, or really, acceptedness.

But I'm also angry at the recommendation. Fixating on the idea of weight loss as the (potential) cure, instead of exercise, is misdirection if not misinformation. For starters, my physician told me - first words out of her mouth, in fact - "No one knows what causes high blood pressure." Well, if you don't know what causes it, then you necessarily don't know that weight, in and of itself, is one of these unknown causes. And so, on that point alone, recommending losing weight is obviously baseless. It smacks of the age-old problem of always blaming a fat person's fat for whatever is ailing them.

Not just that, but The Diet Myth lays out that the data in medical studies shows that re-gaining lost weight - which of course you're 95% likely to do, if you do lose some weight - actually triggers or contributes to hypertension. So if I follow my doctor's "advice" to try to lose weight, I'm 95% likely to worsen my condition. Considering I've regained almost all the weight I've ever lost, I do have to wonder if my high BP hasn't been either caused or exacerbated by my personal diet history, which my doctor is now ENCOURAGING me to continue. "Even 5 pounds can make a difference", she sniffed. Yes. Right. It can make a difference to a condition I've had for 10 years, at body weights spanning over a 50-pound difference, and at activity levels no one short of a real athlete could criticize. Right.

And furthermore, hello! AS IF I'VE NEVER LOST ANY GODDAM WEIGHT BEFORE. How could a doctor look me in the eye, eye my entire body, up and down, see my weight on the chart, and think I've never had this idea before, on my own, to lose weight? Really arrogant and frankly, stupid. I started justifying to her that I had lost weight in the past but then caught and stopped myself. I am making no apologies for myself to her. I have been down the lose-weight road, and like many others who have been down that road, find myself a bit worse for the wear, unfortunately.

But what I can and should do, and am doing, is getting exercise back into my life and improving my eating habits. I eat pretty well, but I could avoid more processed food. But the bigger key to health is exercise, so that really should be my higher priority, though it's tougher, in a lot of ways. The spirit is willing but the flesh is reluctant. I did walk both days this weekend, but I can't say I'm excited about it. I may try a dance class, which seems more engaging, if less regular. I'm bringing my mp3 player to work, with the plan that I could take at least a 15-minute walk at lunch on nice days.

Baby steps to treating my body better. Starting with a yellow pill every day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Foodie no more.

Thought I'd pass along some examples of what my food life looks like now that I am not a foodie.

My new favorite lunch is this totally KICK-ASS arugula salad from the sandwich place up the street from work. It's a ton of arugula, which I didn't even know that I just love, with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, slices of fresh mozz (found in heavily Italian-populated areas, and OMFG is it good), slices of grilled chicken and balsamic vinaigrette. Sometimes it comes with a crouton which is like a piece of bruschetta toast, but without the bruschetta topping. People, this salad kicks serious ASS. I think WOW every time I eat it. Yum!

I made fresh pesto last week with the basil growing on my back stoop. It was gooooooood. My hub found a nice almost-gemelli type pasta, with a twist and a ridge to catch and hold the pesto. Sliced grilled chicken layered on top. OMFG, yum. Then, we had caprese salad with it: fresh mozz, cut in nice fat slices, with slices of fresh tomato (grown on my rear patio), whole fresh basil leaves, and spritzed with olive oil and balsamic. YUM YUM, what a delicious dinner!

Every day I eat fruit. I am not so crazy in love with how delicious fruit is lately, as I have been at other (foodie) times, but I find the GI really does need it, so I have about 2 servings a day - sometimes 3, sometimes 1, but probably generally around 2.

When I feel like a doughnut, I go get one and eat it with absolutely no remorse or even second thoughts. It's a good thing, the donut. Not very filling, though. The last time I had one was maybe 2 or 3 weeks ago.

When I want chips, which I often eat with my lunch, I get the little single-serving bag and eat them, without remorse. I don't think about them before or after eating. They are in my stomach, not in my mind, once lunch is over.

I think about food so. much. less. In fact, I think about food fundamentally as a function - I need a meal, or I'm hungry and need a snack (rare) - and as a pleasurable to very pleasurable way to do that function.

I find I eat a good bit less at meals. I am full much faster, so I am eating slower. I am not counting a fucking thing on my plate, except perhaps the cost when I am not able to eat much of what I've ordered. Even my hub has commented repeatedly on how little I am able to eat; he's asked me if it's intentional. It's not. It's just what is natural in my non-foodie state. Having the mental gymnastics gone is wildly freeing.

A co-worker came back to work last week after a maternity leave and gasped, looking at me, "Have you lost weight?! You look so slim!" I haven't, and one of my reactions was to remember that weight loss is a shock to the body, usually a sign that something is very wrong, at least outside of the dieting culture, or maybe just the culture that diets. Nothing's wrong. I'm fine. My body is fine. It is getting nourished with a variety of generally healthy, delicious, seasonal foods. And the occasional donut.