Friday, July 10, 2009

Fat Woman Running

"Inside every fat person is a thin person trying to get out."
- attributed to hypnotist Milton Erickson

"Inside of me there is a thin person trying to get out, but I can usually sedate him with five or six doughnuts."
- humorist Pat Williams

Aside for the eighteen months I spent being pregnant, I am reasonably sure there has never been anybody else hitching a ride inside of me, thin or otherwise. But given that I weigh more at this moment than I did the morning I went into labor with my first child, and that was including water retention that made me look like an escapee from the hippo exhibit at the zoo, the actual existence of that hypothetical other person has become somewhat moot.

Because honestly, it doesn't matter how good my hair is (not bad right now), how much I like my new red lipstick (a lot), or how much of my wardrobe is black and slimming (at least 60%). Disguising this much extra weight is going to require David Copperfield, not just serious amounts of Lycra and distractingly adorable leaf-green satin high heels.

Diet Coke does not, in fact, cancel out a Hershey bar.
Lots of people have one pivotal moment, but mine has been a gradual realization. I've probably lost in excess of 200 pounds in the last fifteen years, and if most of them weren't the same five pounds, that would be so much more impressive. However, the last few years have seen a steady gain, an extra biscuit here and a second helping of totally decadent macaroni-with-three-cheeses there, and what the heck, there's not really enough of this left to make a decent lunch tomorrow so I'll just eat it at the counter while I read the last chapter of my novel, because calories don't count if you eat while you're standing up, right?

Well, it turns out they do. They also count if it's your birthday. Or your child's birthday. Or your nephew's birthday. They count if they're consumed at a totally legitimate work event. They count if you're only having a piece to be polite. They count even if the person you're with is having a bigger dessert than you are. Calories count, and this is SO unfair, even if you're at a big family gathering and everybody's having pizza and nobody's counting calories and there's so much pizza that it'll just go to waste if it sits out there all evening and you're really just doing it to be helpful.

It gets worse! All this time, the broken cookies DID have calories. Tasting the Parmesan cream sauce to make sure it had enough garlic, no free pass there either. Calories eaten after midnight definitely counted, as did calories consumed at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and (sob) Valentine's Day. A diet Coke does not, in fact, cancel out a Hershey bar. And for the ultimate indignity, it turns out that I have been wrong since high school -- if you get up in the middle of the night and leave the light off in the kitchen, and open the fridge really fast and snag the leftover peanut butter cream cheese brownies and slam the door, the calories were not actually out running around in the refrigerator while the lights were off, and those brownies did in fact have 300 calories apiece, just like they did after dinner when you ate the other three.

And the silly thing is, I can't even claim ignorance. My mother has worked in a hospital for the last twenty years, several of which were in the hospital's fitness center. I've had earnest conversations with my doctor, who is less than amused at the mumblety-three pounds I've put on since we first met in 1995. I've done Jenny Craig (yummy muffins), Weight Watchers (frozen banana chocolate treats!), and mostly vegetarian (cheeeeeese!). I know about low-fat, low-sugar, low-glycemic, low-calorie, and how sad it is that I wanted to finish that off with "cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun"? Are you seeing a trend here?

I like food. I like to plan it, I like to cook it, I like to feed it to other people, I like to eat it, and I like to have seconds of it. One of my favorite ways to spend an evening in our D&D days (yeah, shut up, I'm a child of the eighties) was to invite ten people over for dinner and dessert. While they played the first round, I'd happily cook something involving insane amounts of pasta, several kinds of cheese, freshly made cream sauce, tomatoes, chicken, and maybe a couple of loaves of that nice crusty garlicky bread that the whole party has to have or nobody can stand to smell each other for the rest of the night. They'd suspend the game long enough to eat and do the dishes, and then I'd turn right back around and bake a pie or snickerdoodles or my deservedly famous Chocolate Brownie Cookie Thingies. I cook, we all eat, they do the dishes -- life is good.

Life is good, but having to buy four sizes' worth of "temporary" fat pants is not so good. I wasn't too enthused about not being able to get my rings cleaned because they were stuck on my fingers. I don't like looking at that one perfect green dress I bought on Solano Avenue all those years ago, into which I might possibly now be able to fit one jiggly thigh. And I really didn't like looking at the lovely pictures my cousin's wife took at a recent family gathering. I saw my beautiful cousins, their adorable children, and then hold on -- who is that fat woman in the black dress, and why is she wearing my head?

I did lose weight once, quite a bit of it, and I looked good and felt good. It wasn't very complicated, either, and it was the least stressful weight-loss program I ever did. I was walking fifteen to twenty miles a week, eating very little processed sugar, trying out some vegetarian recipes, and breaking myself of the habit of having seconds at nearly every meal. I had muscle tone, I lost weight, and I fit back into pants that were a good five years out of date. And then I got shin splints, bad ones, and over the next few years that served as a wonderful excuse to let myself go completely to pieces.

I still have the shin splints from time to time, but in the last week's return to some semblance of self-discipline, I was surprised to find that I also kept more of the muscle tone than I'd expected. I've gone on a couple of cautious runs, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it did not, in fact, kill me. On my last run, an elderly lady in her garden called out to me as I slogged by, "My goodness! You're very ambitious!" Now, granted, part of me wanted to trot back there and slap her, because really? Do I look that bad? But the nice part of me decided it was a compliment and called back, "Thanks!" And I guess maybe this will require a little more ambition than I'm used to, and perhaps the added motivation of periodic prizes (like maybe those utterly fabulous patent leather Mary Janes).

I think this is possible, as long as I don't reward myself for each workout with M&M's. It's definitely necessary, whether I want to do it or not. I like noodles and bread and fried things and cheese (did I mention the cheese?), but I remember now that I also liked running. I liked the wind in my hair, the road under my feet, the rain on my face (this IS Oregon, after all), and the feeling of accomplishment.

So maybe there is someone else inside this fat woman, a reasonably fit runner who's yelling, "Why the HECK are we carrying the weight equivalent of an eight-year-old with us?" I'd prefer that she didn't start talking out loud, or ordering her own workout DVDs off the internet, but I'd like to see if I can get her to change her refrain to "Look what we did!" And maybe, with enough time, there won't be anybody else inside there -- that reasonably fit runner will be me.

Author's Note: I have lost 2.5 pounds so far, and I am cautiously optimistic. Also, all recipes are available on request except for the Chocolate Brownie Cookie Thingies ... sorry, that and my actual weight are on a need-to-know basis.