Thursday, February 10, 2011

Celebrating Six Months of Abstinence with a Long, Meandering Post on Body Image

My name is Charlie, and I'm a compulsive overeater.

::Hi, Charlie!::

I just re-read this post. It's long and wordy and meandering. And it's probably more for me than for you. Consider yourself warned.

Six months today, people. I am so grateful for my abstinence. Through the ups and downs, I have chronicled it all on this blog, and you, my faithful readers, have supported and encouraged me all the way. Thank you.

I didn't think I could do it. I didn't think I could get through Thanksgiving and Christmas. I didn't think I could get through BBQs and parties and dinners out with friends and traveling on airplanes. I didn't think I could get through my annual conference in Chicago. Hell, at the beginning, I didn't think I could do this for 24 hours.

And here I am. One day at a time, I'm here. I'm taking the 5th step tomorrow, by the grace of God, and I will be here after that too. I'm living this program, and it's blessing me beyond what I thought possible.

Oh yeah, and I have a new body too. As of January 19, I had released 55.2 pounds. I imagine I've lost more since then. And that's what I want to talk about tonight. Maybe this will be a rant, I don't know. I just want to process, and I do that best out loud. I'm definitely an external processor. Sometimes I don't know what I feel about something until I hear myself talking about it.

First off, I have always been self-conscious of my weight. I don't know why it matters so much to me, but it does. I have always wanted to be thin. I honestly don't care to be a muscled, chiseled guy. Just thin. Maybe it's the rock star wanna-be in me. I dream of wearing skinny jeans and a tight t-shirt and actually looking good in it. And I've always had to wear big, baggy clothes that hide my body. I love to swim, but I avoided it because I didn't want to take off my shirt and show my big, fat upper body and man-boobs. I was always shaped oddly, at least I thought so. Somewhat thin/skinny legs and butt and then big fat rolls on the side, barrel chest, boobs... and then kind of skinny arms... It's just my trunk, my torso that I hated. And I think hated isn't too strong a word.

I went through a good season of acceptance a while back, understanding that God made me this way... That under my fat, I have a somewhat large frame. I have a barrel chest. I will not have a tiny little chest anytime soon, and that's actually just fine. My big chest houses my powerful lungs, which enable me to sing the way I do... I can be grateful. And I am.

But now that I'm losing all this weight, I'm finding that I actually am starting to be what you might call skinny. I'm wearing jeans and t-shirts that I never dreamed I'd fit into, and I look pretty good in them. I don't want to be vain, but I look pretty good! And this makes me feel great. I love it. Do you blame me? Is that wrong of me?

And I want you to keep in mind that I have been consulting with a friend who is a doctor,  my sponsor, and my personal physician to determine my ideal weight. We have determined (In OA-HOW, we do not come up with our "goal weight" or "maintenance weight" on our own. That's dangerous. I realize that.) that my ideal weight is somewhere around 162. I actually have in my possession a printout from the doctor's office telling me that is what I should weigh. So, by that standard, I can still lose 15 pounds and not be at all in danger of being underweight.

OK, now. People's reactions. I am a people pleaser, and I allow their comments to get under my skin far more than I should. I'm a very public person. Every Sunday I stand and lead 600-700 people in worship. I can't hide. And I have been very visibly shrinking. At first, the comments were positive, encouraging. In fact, most of them still are. People always want to know what I'm doing. I rarely tell them I'm in OA unless they really push it. And I've never found anyone who thought they should do what I'm doing. 12-Step recovery, in my church, is still a little "out there," I'm afraid.

Then people started telling me I needed to stop. They asked me if I was still dieting. They asked me when I was going to stop dieting. They told me I looked fine and that I didn't want to get too skinny. They told me what I could and couldn't eat. They tried to get me to eat food I had politely refused. They said that I had been doing so well, I deserved a donut or a dessert or a bite of this or that. They said there has to be room to splurge sometimes.

I talked to my sponsor about it the day after a woman at my church said I looked "gaunt," and actually gave me some multi-vitamins she had brought for me. She said she was concerned about me and thought I needed to stop losing weight. Ugh. This really bothered me, and that conversation with the woman from church and the subsequent converation with my sponsor is what prompted me to go to the doc and get a physical and find my ideal weight. Now I had ammo. I could tell people my doctor and I were working on this together and that my weight loss was appropriate and I was perfectly healthy. As if it were any of their business.

I've noticed that no one tells you they're worried about your weight when you're fat or chubby. That's not polite.

When I was home in Indiana last weekend, I was watching slides with my mom and dad, both of whom are obese. (My mom has even admitted to me that she knows she's a food addict.) I saw a photo from 2006, when I was at my highest weight. I remember being so uncomfortable, so unhappy with myself. It was shortly after that, that I got in OA for the first time and lost 68 pounds. I mentioned something about that to them, and  then, kind of out of nowhere, my dad started saying how I looked better back then, healthier, more robust. He said I was a "good-lookin' guy." Now, he said, I look so thin... I look like I have cancer. Nice.

Today I walked into the business office at church to ask someone a question. From across the room, another woman yelled, for all to hear, "You need to stop losing weight! Are you done with your diet? When are you going to stop?" And she wanted an answer. I kind of laughed awkwardly and said, "I never was dieting. I am just eating in a much more balanced and healthy way." Then she wanted to know how much more I wanted to lose. I hate that question. But I always answer the same: "That's up to God. I'm really just trying to be healthy."

So those are my examples. A few isolated examples in what is becoming an increasing frustration. Why is it that people feel like they can comment on my body and my weight? Why is it that the thing I love so much (attention and affirmation) can so quickly turn into something I dread?

Now, some related thoughts and possible answers.

First, I think this is helping me see that my craving for people to notice and affirm my weight loss was never healthy or good in the first place. Even last week, when I was seeing people I hadn't seen in a year, I reveled in the attention and positive comments I received about my weight loss. "You look great!" "Wow... What have you been doing?!" But I have to let that go. I see now that I cannot rely on others to give me feelings of self-worth or affirmation. This is a God and me thing. I must find my value, my identity in God. I must feel good about myself whether or not people affirm me for it. And this is true no matter my weight. Fat or thin or anything in between. I am loved and precious. I am perfect the way I am. I am where I'm supposed to be.

Second, I'm learning that my sponsor is right... What people say is 90% about them. Honestly, I think it's interesting that most of the people telling me to stop losing weight are overweight themselves. What does that say about them? Misery loves company? And I have to remember that most people have really good intentions. Or they're just awkward and don't know what to say. I don't have to worry about it.

Another comment is just about our society at large (pun not intended, I swear). My sponsor and I were talking about this whole topic yesterday, and she mentioned that she has always sewn clothes for herself... It's a hobby and a thrift thing for her. Now that she's "normal" sized, though, she occasionally buys clothes, and she's amazed to fit into a size 12. This is a woman, remember, who has lost over 200 pounds. (I love my sponsor. She's amazing, and I'm blessed.) Anyway, her point was that when she sews, when she buys a pattern and makes clothes, she cannot fit into a size 12. She wonders - and so do I - whether sizes have slowly, subtly gotten larger in retail stores. Society is growing fatter by the minute, or so it seems, and retailers want to continue to meet the needs of their growing clientele. Could it be? I don't know.

In the case of my dad... The conversation continued, with my mom chiming in in my defense (Thanks, mom!). I think we all came to this point: I don't look sick. I don't look gaunt. I look like me. I look like I've always looked underneath 60-65 pounds of fat. We in our society, and from our own sick points of view really don't know what people are supposed to look like. I'm actually becoming who I'm supposed to be. I'm looking more and more like the real me.

I remember once thinking that I was like a sculpture hidden inside marble... Once Michaelangelo said (if you can believe the urban legend) that he was not creating, he was merely discovering what already existed in the marble... I'm kind of like that sculpture. Already here. Waiting for the Sculptor to find me, to release and reveal me. No one quite knows yet, truly, what I will look like when I'm complete.

And a final word. People can be too thin. People can suffer from eating disorders on the other end of the continuum from mine. But I don't. I am not anorexic or bulemic, and I never have been. To this day, I weigh and measure my food to avoid eating too much. But it also keeps me from eating too little, and I am grateful. Who knows how this disease will rear its ugly head? It's being beaten down pretty badly these days, and it's bound not to like that too much.

OK, I'm done.


recoveringanorexic said...

I read the whole entry! It was extremely helpful and insightful. And your sponsor is right, 90% of the time it's all about the other person and their own issues/insecurities. Your weight will eventually "even out" and you'll get where you are supposed to go (God's will for you). And just remember to not have any expectations of other people: acceptance of the fact that people will probably continue commenting on your weight is important. As you already know, you can't change them, you can only change your reaction to them. :-D Congrats on six months.

Will said...


I read the whole post, as well. Thank you for sharing your experience, strength and hope. I got a lot to think about from this post and I know that it is unlikely a coincidence that at 4am (my time), I ran across your post when it is time to start my day and the always helpful reminder that this is a God and me thing. I must find my value, my identity in God.

Keep on, brother!

Sabilon said...

Charlie, I, too, read the entire entry with great interest, even though it is long past my bed time... Very interesting. I lost a lot of weight in OA but through going to a slimming club and using their food plan (that I interpreted as 'binge on salads and use as little fat as possible). I did this while working with a sponsor and doing step work. I reached a healthy weight, but when I look at photos now I DID LOOK A BIT GAUNT. But I was so proud of my weight loss, and it did not take long until I could not control my food anymore. I just couldn't, and it all piled back on. I think it is really important to talk about body image bec. I think I was and am AFRAID of being slim. Like you, I felt I had now become ME. But something in me must've been afraid, but I did not really work throught it, and, even though I say I 'worked the steps' - my Higher Power had not been involved in ANY of this! I had gone on a diet, on my own, only my helpless sponsor at the time who was NOT GOD, by my side. Congratulations for your abstinence, Charlie! Am so happy for you!

Sabilon said...

My sponsor tells me that my weight is none of my business, only abstinence and working the Program are. That is really hard to live in our world. I can't stand comments on weight. But we have no control over that, unfortunately. I can get really obsessed with thinking about my weight/body shape.

Eating Alone said...

Thought that I would put in my two cents.

1st - A scale is a meaningless machine to most people. Leave that to your doc or nutritionist.

2nd - You might want to talk to a nutritionist and try adjusting your diet to a diet that a person your size needs to eat. I hate the word diet, I don't meant "diet" but just eating normal.

3rd - Your body has a set point that may or may not be what the Doctor said. Listen to your body and don't try and force it to fit a number. If you feel great and your body is working right then forget about the number and go by that.

4th - I'm very happy for you! And I too know that people can be concerned for no reason. Seeing a person loose that much weight can have a real affect on others. Just try and forget about them and focus on you and how your body feels.

I've found that when people ask me about my weight or talk to me about how much I've lost I'll respond based on how I'm feeling at the time. Most of the time I'll tell them, "Thanks for asking but according to my doctor I'm more healthy now than at any time in my life! I appriciate the concern but numbers are for my doctor not for me, he says I'm healthy and that's what I'm going with.

Sorry for writting a book. I just remember going through this, and the questions and comments can get to you.