“Sticks and stones will break my bones,
But words will never hurt me.”
I remember being told this from the time I was very young… but it’s an insidious lie. Sticks can leave scars, and stones can leave bruises, but words can burrow deep into your bones, infecting your soul and festering for years.
For some insane reason, there seems to be this belief that the best way to help someone to lose weight is to shame them into it. Point out how unattractive it is to be overweight (not everyone feels that way), or how obesity will inevitably lead to health problems (not necessarily), or state how obvious it is that you don’t care about yourself.
Shame doesn’t work. If you self-medicate with food, and someone shames you about your weight, how do you deal with that?
You eat. Because eating makes you feel better.
You Just Need Motivation!
I’ve tried to lose weight many times over the years, but I was very rarely successful; until the last few years I had never managed to maintain a weight loss long term (more on that later). I tried very hard to find things to keep me motivated.
17 years old seeks girlfriend: I “knew” that girls weren’t interested in fat guys. I tried an extreme caloric restriction diet, with Allan Borushek’s little Calorie Counter book. I lost 12-15kg; I don’t remember exactly. I do remember that put it back on, and then some.
21 year old has fiancee, is getting married: Surely getting married would be the thing that finally got me on the thin and narrow? Who wants to look fat in their wedding photos? I didn’t want to, but there I am, round of face and rosy of cheek (largely due to severe sunburn from a Sydney Harbour ferry ride the day before…)
23 year old has first child on the way: Before my eldest son was born in 1997, I started in a group weight loss session with the hospital-based dietician. I didn’t want to be a fat dad; I wanted to be able to run and play soccer with my kids. I failed. All three times.
If I’m on the hook for a gym membership…: I attempted several gym memberships, but invariably I’d overdo it and injure myself or get sick. I’ve wasted a lot of money on iron-clad-no-way-out-buddy gym contracts.
This book will set you free: The Zone, Beyond The Zone, Dr. Phil’s Ultimate Weight Solution. So many books. So much mixed advice. Who do you trust?
My weight just kept yo-yoing, but the trend was always up. The depression was an extra millstone around my neck. Did my weight cause the depression or vice-versa? Does it really matter?
Rejected by the girls I had crushes on at high school, told I was repulsive by a woman I loved, I’d been laughed at and shamed, I’d failed time and time again at losing weight.
It was a battle royale; fighting myself, with each win a pyhrric victory, each loss confirming that I was a failure… every failure fuelling my self-hatred.
One day the hate exploded.
I don’t know what triggered it. I’m loathe to apportion blame, because it was just one of those things. A hormonal pregnant wife, and a depressed, obese self-hating husband.
Whatever triggered that argument in the middle of 2003, it escalated out of control. For us that kind of argument is incredibly rare, but we both crossed the line that day; the one where you forget why you were arguing and just start lobbing grenades at each other, just to hurt the other. And then she said it…
“You don’t care about your weight. You’re happy being fat.”
All the years of self-hate exploded into one moment of irrational violence. I shoved past her, grabbed a steak knife out of the drawer and screamed at her “I hate my fat! I’ll show you how much I hate it!”
One. Two. Three. Four.
Four self-inflicted stab wounds with a steak-knife. In my gut. At least once to the hilt.
And I ruined my favourite t-shirt.
I wasn’t trying to kill myself. No, really. Believe me, I had fun trying to explain that to the hospital-appointed mental-health expert. In those few seconds of insanity I felt every moment of shame, every rejection, every failure to lose weight. In that moment, the fat around my middle signified everything that was wrong with me and my life and I despised it beyond any rationality or sense of self-preservation.
Surely this would be the final motivator? Crossing that line and almost destroying my life?
No. It didn’t.
I got some counselling, and learnt how not to berate and hate myself constantly, but it didn’t take away the beast gnawing away at my insides; it could be temporarily mollified with food, but like Audrey II, it just kept screaming “FEED ME!”
The cycle continued.
In 2007 our family doctor started working with me to try and help me lose weight. She identified that I had sleep apnoea, causing a vicious cycle of sleep apnoea -> poor sleep -> depression -> emotional eating -> increased weight -> worsening sleep apneoa -> and so on. She arranged for me to see some specialists.
As a result, in July of 2008 I was booked in for surgery to remove my golf-ball sized tonsils; they had to weigh me so they could dose me with the right amount of anasthetic. I was 174.8kg (385.4lbs). It was the largest I’d ever been.
A week later I went in for surgery, which began with pre-surgery counselling. As I sat with my wife, a breeze gently cooling my exposed nether regions as in my hospital gown designed for someone half my size, the surgeon asked if anyone had explained that due to my weight there was an increased chance I could die on the operating table.
Suddenly my weight presented a clear and present danger.
My life had been on the line because of my weight, but it still wasn’t enough to motivate me to commit. I did try a little bit, and managed to lose a few kilos between then and November, getting down to 170kgs, but it was so very, very difficult, and I still felt so powerless.
Over the years, I’d experienced something that my dad had called “the shakes”. Sometimes, I’d just become really REALLY jittery, and feel like my brain was on the fritz. When he got the shakes, he’d eat something and it would go away. I tried the same thing, except I tended to eat UNTIL it went away. I never bothered seeing a doctor, but because I couldn’t identify the trigger and I felt it was too weird to try and explain.
The “shakes” came and went, but were pretty uncommon. Then, in November of 2008, I had three severe onsets in a fortnight. I felt the second one coming on, and tried to pull some cash out of an ATM to buy some food. I put my card into the machine and then realised I couldn’t work out how to operate the ATM. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity; I started to lose my temper and freak out a little, but then in a moment of clarity, remembered how to withdraw cash.
See, it appears that what I was experiencing was hypoglycaemia. People have been arrested for being drunk and disorderly during hypos. After the third attack, I finally made an appointment with a doctor, who explained his suspicions and ordered blood and insulin response tests.
Although I’d had several blood tests over the years, and my blood sugar levels were always fine, I’d never had my insulin response tested. The results were disturbing. I was producing ten times the amount of insulin I should be. I was diagnosed with “Insulin Resistance Syndrome” (aka Metabolic Syndrome) – or to put it another way: I’m pre-diabetic.
When I asked him what the chances of developing diabetes was, he looked me in the eye and said “100%. You will develop diabetes. Your pancreas cannot keep producing insulin at this rate. It will eventually give out, and you will then have Type 2 diabetes”. This was a big motivator, but it wasn’t the thing that got me on the path to losing weight.
He sent me home and told me to look up the Atkins Diet, and start doing that. His explanation was that in my case, the best way of avoiding a massive insulin response, causing my body to store all that excess energy as fat was to avoid the carbohydrates that cause that response in the first place. I went home, researched Atkins, and decided…
“Hell no. This is crazy.”
What I did do, however, was to take his idea about the carb response, and look at alternatives. I ended up with a low-carb/low-GI/high protein idea, and worked from there. I started exercising regularly, tracking my calories and eating just the number of calories I needed to eat (based on some things I’d learned from the guys on the Fat2Fit Radio Podcast). He insisted on seeing me every fortnight; on the next visit I explained my decision to him – and I’d lost weight. He felt my plan was acceptable.
It was like the weight was falling off; between November 2008 and August 12, 2009 I lost 33.2kg (73.2lbs), giving me a total loss of 38kg (83.7lbs).
And then I gave up.
I don’t know why, but I just did. I stopped doing the things that worked, and slacked off. I still did a few of the things, but started eating a lot more carbs than I should have been, and exercising sporadically and generally not caring.
Over the following few months, my weight went back up to around 145kg, and then hit a plateau. I’d go up and down within a ten kilo range, but that was where it stayed. I continued like that until January of this year. Although I had successfully maintained a loss of 23+ kgs at worst, for over 2 years, it still felt like failure.
Last year sucked, to put it mildly. I’d been toying with the idea of trying to lose weight again. My physical reaction to refined carbs was getting worse, and I just wasn’t happy with my size. I’m tired of being uncomfortable, of not having the energy to play with my children, of not being able to buy clothes without getting my credit limit extended.
For me, it was time. I knew what to do to successfully lose weight. I decided that I wanted 2012 to be a better year than 2011, and that 2012 is the year I get healthy – and for me, a big part of being healthy is losing the weight I’ve carried all these years. It’s not a New Year’s resolution, but a decision to finish what I started at the end of 2008.
This morning, a bit over ten weeks later, I’ve lost a total of 18.6kg. I am the lightest I’ve been this century. I’m starting to wear clothes that haven’t been able to wear since before my daughter was born – eight years ago.
I don’t think Fat-shaming should ever be considered part of the “solution”. If someone is happy with their body, then shaming them brings pain without purpose; if they are already ashamed of their weight and find their solace in eating, then shaming just further disempowers them and may push them to seek comfort in food.
There are a lot of different factors that play into successfully losing weight and maintaining that loss; it’s a complex alchemy of motivations, self-discipline, self-image and experience. Above all else, it requires accepting your body for the beautiful, wonderful creation it is, and empowering yourself to look after it the best way you can.
HOW ARE YOU DOING IT?
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. I’m sorry, I know it was a long read.
Part III will be the nitty-gritty of the how and what I’m doing, the theories I’m working with and some links to resources. I can’t guarantee that what I’m doing will work for someone else, but I’ve had a lot of people asking me what I’m doing, so this is the easiest way to explain.