I’ve been writing some materials at work for people who are preparing for or recovering from weight loss surgery. So the issue of morbid obesity has been on my mind, as you can imagine.
To be in the position to need weight loss surgery, you have to be in a not-so-good place. I mean, you’re considering either having a tight band wrapped around part of your stomach (gastric banding) or being cut, stitched and stapled so that the food you eat bypasses a huge portion of your intestines, after it passes through a newly partitioned teeny-tiny stomach (gastric bypass). Your body either has to be 40 percent fat, or 35 percent fat with other obesity-related problems (diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, obstructive sleep apnea). Basically, you have to be on a shortcut to an unnaturally early death.
For all the lingering confusion and disagreement about what exactly is driving the current obesity epidemic, one thing seems to be pretty clear: For many people, it’s not just a simple matter of “calories in, calories out.” The array of biochemical, emotional, social, societal and environmental factors that comes into play is enough to make your head spin.
Now, I’ve been obese. At my worst, my body mass index was 35. It’s a fact that stuns me whenever I think about it. I’m lucky for several reasons. First, I never developed any related health problems. Second, I wasn’t at or near my high weight for a very large segment of my life (which probably contributed to the no-health-problems part). Third, for me, once I was properly motivated, weight loss was as simple as “calories in, calories out.”
As I was reading up on what people need to do to make sure they don’t regain the weight that they rapidly lose in the year or so after surgery (yes, you can eat your way out of weight loss surgery, even with a teeny-tiny stomach), I thought “Hey, I wonder whatever happened to Carnie Wilson.” In case you don’t know, Carnie Wilson (of the pop group Wilson Philips) quite publicly went through weight loss surgery more than 10 years ago. She was 300 pounds when she underwent surgery, and ended up losing 150 pounds. Two pregnancies and a drinking problem later, she’s up to around 220 pounds (she admits she traded her addiction to food for an addiction to alcohol).
That’s unfortunate, but what really stunned me was the fact that she was “fired” as a spokesperson for a diet food company because they found out she had a home-based business making and selling cheesecakes. Just to be clear, it’s the making-and-selling-cheesecakes part that stunned me. That is one massive, massive act of self-sabotage.
I don’t know everything, but I do know a lot. One thing I know is this: When you’ve been obese, and you have a history of craving sugary, fatty foods, you have a choice to make. Do you want to have that kind of food close at hand, or do you want to maintain your weight loss? It may not be fair, and it may suck, but you don’t get to have it all.
I went to pastry school (Mid-weight loss, ironically…how deluded was I?), and I love to bake. But I know better than to bake often. When I do bake, I choose recipes that are high in whole grains, low in sugar and moderate in fat. I bake something really decadent only a few times a year for family get-togethers.
What would happen if I was in the habit of filling a cookie jar with fresh-baked cookies? Well, I wouldn’t binge eat the whole batch or anything, but I would end up eating way too many cookies every day until the batch was gone. Does this mean I have a sugar addiction? Perhaps (it’s a question I’ve been contemplating). But most importantly, I know I have this weakness, and I use strategy to work around it. That’s where my strength lies. All the bakeries in the world can be filled with cookies, pies and cakes galore, and I couldn’t care less. I could walk past six of those bakeries in a span of two blocks, and it wouldn’t affect me. But if there are cookies or cakes in my house, I’m going to eat them in amounts that aren’t quite healthy. I am not a “freeze the cookies and enjoy one a day with coffee” kind of girl. Wish I was, but I’m not, and it’s not likely I ever will be. Some things are just too hardwired.
Do I feel deprived? Not really. If I don’t keep sweets in the house, the lack of sweets in my diet doesn’t bother me. But if they are in the house, I will struggle mentally, and that does bother me. I’m fine with not being able to have it all. I decided several years ago that it is more important to me to be trim and fit and free of chronic disease than it is to have a constant influx of cookies.
I lost 90 pounds in two phases, with a few years in between in a holding pattern (and pastry school). My motivation for Round 2 came from breaking and ankle and having a hard time getting around on crutches. I knew I wanted to weight less and be fitter and stronger…and stay that way. Last week, I serendipitously saw two articles in two days that confirmed that good health is more rewarding than daily cookies.
One talked about the particular problems that obesity can cause as we reach retiree age. Like, if you’re over 65 and obese you are much more likely to have problems with daily activities like bathing, getting dressed and going to the bathroom! One possible reason for that was presented in another article. As we gain body fat, our muscular strength may not keep pace…which means it’s possible to become “too fat to move.”
Obesity is not fun. No one wants to be obese (at least I doubt it). It’s not just a matter of eating better or exercising more. And willpower is a fickle friend at best. It’s a personal health issue and a public health issue, and unfortunately, it’s one of the last bastions of “acceptable” discrimination. I know I’ve said this recently, but fight obesity, don’t fight the obese. If you want to pick a fight, go after the food manufacturers who are making money hand over fist preying on people’s cravings for sugary, salty food. And don’t cry about people having “freedom of choice” in the foods they eat. It is NOT that simple!