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"Your RealAge is 38.6!" and the ugly fact about perception of obesity

Monday, November 23, 2009

DDOORN on here has an amusing tradition. Each year on his birthday he goes to realage.com to calculate how much YOUNGER he's getting, biologically, due to the improvements he's made in his health and fitness.

This is a fun idea, and I've adopted it this year.

I went there and filled out the information for approximately what I did, ate, and weighed last year (around 330) and got the answer that I was 46.1 (3 years older than my calendar age). I can tell you, I FELT a lot older than that. I was already having trouble with my arthritic knee going up and down the stairs in my house and was starting to wonder how I was going to cope as I aged further.

Things happened (you can see my Spark Page for details) and I started losing weight again in early December. I had lost 40 lbs by the time I was introduced to SparkPeople in March.

Now, 160 lbs lighter than my maximum recorded weight and approximately 150 lbs lighter than last year, my supposed biological age is 38 and a half. It feels like less than that - I haven't felt this healthy or strong since I was in my 20s. Of course, I don't actually KNOW what it feels like to be biologically 38, because I was over 300 lbs for approximately the last 15 years...

Some other thoughts about the changes since my last birthday, some of which may be uncomfortable to read:

While talking with LAFAGG on the phone this morning we discussed how the world is different for me now. One of the things that came up is how it felt to be super morbidly obese and how people treat others who are obese.

I felt kind-of cushioned and "safe" in my "fat suit." My parents were very strict and physical disciplinarians. As a child I never considered myself to be "abused," as there was always a "reason" for hitting me - with the metal end of the belt, with a heavy hairbrush, etc.

One incident that sticks out in my mind is a day in third grade when I went to school in shorts and a classmate asked why there were giant, father-sized handprint-shaped welts on my thighs. I explained that I'd done something I wasn't supposed to the previous evening, and had been spanked. She was horrified and offered to tell her parents for me (her father was on the city council). I declined, and after that wore long pants to school. Looking back on it, this strikes me as the behavior of a child who might be experiencing a degree of physical abuse.

My mom wasn't the most nurturing person in the world, either. She was extremely tightly wound, insecure, and unhappy as a homemaker. Just about the only time I felt loved and accepted was when I was being fed. I came home for lunch in elementary school. She'd make me lunch and we'd watch Split Second and Password on TV, shouting suggestions to the contestants. I remember when I was 8 or so one of my favorite lunches was Kraft macaroni and cheese. I could have as much as I wanted. It was common for me to eat THE ENTIRE POT. I still love boxed macaroni and cheese, and for this reason studiously avoid it.

Don't get me wrong - you could do a lot worse for parents; they pushed me to excel in school, provided more than adequate food, shelter, and clothing, taught me how to read at 4, bought a 1972 World Book encyclopedia and put it in my bedroom, brought me on trips (Boston in 1970, San Diego in 1975, all around the US in 1976, England in 1977), taught me how to garden and fish, encouraged me in music and scouting, brought me camping every summer, etc. They were just from a different generation where kids were brought up strictly and a fat baby was a healthy baby (he was born in 1910; she, in 1921).

Anyhow, the result was that I associated food (quantity rather than quality) with emotional comfort and felt the need to protect myself physically from the world.

Fast forward to a year ago. Although I was physically uncomfortable, the fat suit made me feel safe. There was a physical buffer between myself and the rest of the world. And it also helped keep away people who didn't genuinely like me for my mind and my personality.

What I didn't factor in is that the fat suit also attracted people who saw me (rightfully) as emotionally vulnerable and used that information to get things from me by stroking my ego. I didn't factor in the fact that the fat suit, while acting as a physical buffer, also weighed me down and made me slower and weaker physically.

And here's the part that may be uncomfortable to read. Wearing a fat suit was blatant advertising that something was wrong with me, mentally and/or emotionally. It's not just that it made me physically less able. It broadcast to the world that I had serious problems that were interfering with taking care of myself.

I am not talking about the fat that constitutes "overweight," or even necessarily "obese." These conditions are the new "normal" in the US, and can sometimes be caused by medical problems. But when you get into "morbid obesity" and "super morbid obesity" (which is where I was a year ago), it's like wearing a big sign that says "I'm a mess. I may be high-functioning and in denial about it, but scratch below that veneer, and you'll find a messy unresolved issue."

This is the ugly fact that Lisa pointed out, and I have to say I agree with her. No wonder people often give other Very Large People a wide berth. It isn't necessarily right or fair or kind, but it does make sense.

150 lbs of fat less, and "8" biological years younger, where does that leave me now? I still have a bunch of the issues that I had a year ago. With years of counseling and drugs they haven't disappeared; losing over 100 lbs isn't going to make them go away fast, either. But at least I'm no longer advertising them to the world or letting them get in the way of taking care of myself physically. And that's something.

If I have to be vulnerable (and it seems that I do, since that's basically the human condition) I can at least be in good physical shape to face it.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    "Wearing a fat suit was blatant advertising that something was wrong with me, mentally and/or emotionally. It's not just that it made me physically less able. It broadcast to the world that I had serious problems that were interfering with taking care of myself.": what a courageous and brilliant insight.

    This journey of weight loss and (most especially) weight loss MAINtenance (the main thing) absolutely requires self-reflection and unflinching self-knowledge.

    Too much is demanded of people who ARE overweight, very often because it's assumed that they will be easily manipulated into extending such services because they ought to be grateful for any attentions at all.

    If we don't deal with the cause of obesity, the chances are it will recur . . .

    1416 days ago
    Man, you’ve come a long way. I saw you on youtube before I found SP and was inspired. It’s really something to run across you again here and read such insightful and helpful posts. You are a spark!!

    Parents are rarely all good or bad. I pray I do a good job by my kids. The most important role in my life is mother. My eating habits have affected my kids. But overall, I’ve given them a lot of positive too.

    3361 days ago
    Thank you for this post. Just today, I was musing about writing a blog post on "why" I became overweight. I think it is necessary to wade through the issues and not just lose the weight. Thank you for showing me how it's done and congrats on your tremendous accomplishment!
    3361 days ago
    The fat suit is a similar theme. I don't think we need our fat suits anymore, but we do need to get use to being vulnerable.
    3364 days ago
    My "Real Age" computed to 56.1. I'm only 11 months younger than my real age. That's depressing!!! LOL!!!!

    Your story both touched me and inspired me. I have so much respect for you.
    3365 days ago

    Comment edited on: 12/2/2009 3:44:49 PM
    Thank you for sharing this. Congrats on turning back the body clock 8 years! What an accomplishment - in a society that's rushing headlong in the the other direction!
    3373 days ago
  • STEFFI264
    the fat suit is one I was very comfortable in too
    I hope I never go back to wearing it
    but occasionally I get tired of the practice of keeping it off
    I have to remind myself that it is easier to do the daily work than to take it off all over again

    thank you for your comment on my blog
    I laughed because I keep going back to the school of hard knocks expecting change
    3373 days ago
    Very moving blog. I think this is key to lasting change - to do the inside work. And to keep on doing it... I believe everyone alive are facets of messy unnresolved issues and brilliance, no matter if they are skinny or morbidly obese - but some people are just able to hide their mess better. As you said, when I was morbidly obese, I advertised some of my internal issues - they are easier to hide 80 pounds later.
    3373 days ago
  • SLCB1023
    Walking or wading through years of mental wiring on why we became obese is a lot of work. Keep up the good work and I know you will be well on your way to a healthy mental and physical self!! emoticon emoticon
    3374 days ago
    What a marvelous blog. Congratulations on your wt loss and "age" loss :).
    3374 days ago
    Wow! Through your SPARKIN' efforts you bought yourself EIGHT years of YOUTH! Woo hoo!

    For many of us there are struggles from our past which play out into our weight and turning to food for a multitude of purposes for which it wasn't supposed to be: comfort? protection? safety? validation? We all have to figure that out.

    Learning to disentangle all of that early training is such a TOUGH thing to do...! Congrats on your successes! Losing the weight alone doesn't give us a life with everything our heart desires, but we are certainly better poised to shape our lives toward that end...

    Happy birthday to you! :-)

    3374 days ago

    Comment edited on: 11/23/2009 10:58:59 PM
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