Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pudgy Me 2: My Bathroom Scale

Why is it always such a struggle?  I am sitting in the early morning light drinking coffee and wondering why I am fighting with my body, once again.  Every morning I weigh myself before I come downstairs.  Often it is an eye-opening moment - a true wake-up call if you will.  Like standing before the authorities and getting your sentence handed down to you based on what you’ve done the day before.  Gambling on how bad that sentence will be is what I have been doing lately.  My bathroom scale, in reality, is a simple slot machine offering much reward on rare occasions but, all too frequently, out to destroy my hopes with just a metallic clunk and not one plaintive beep of apology.
I sleep in light night clothes and can quickly take off my shorts and t-shirt before stepping nude onto my draconian scale.  Lately, I noticed I have been feeling my stomach first, looking at it in the mirror to quickly assess how “pudgy” it appears that day, and, in knowing what I know of my eating history over the previous twenty-four hours and my calorie-burning activities (and, all too often, lack thereof) from the day before, I find I am forced to estimate in a discourse with the scale the impact of my sins before actually climbing onto the guillotine stand and letting the blade drop.

I want a new scale, one in which I can tweak it to make adjustments.  I should be able to press a lever, for instance, with my toe and have it re-calibrate its settings to fit my needs that morning.  Do I want the “cold hard truth” every time?  No, I think not.  My scale should give me the degree of truth I prefer on any given morning -- why can’t I press “little white lie” or “complete fiction” now and then and have my results adjusted accordingly?  For example, “Feel good about yourself” should be an option that is available everyday on every scale in America, especially for those difficult days when you really need a comforting feeling to get started.  Certainly, it would be better than the “you just fucked up, you asshole” setting -- which, as luck would have it, is the calibration to which my scale has been set.

Hmmm.... now I’m thinking I should check the bottom of my scale and see if there is something I can adjust to take a pound or two away -- just for “special occasions,” mind you.  

Which reminds me of the “special occasion” of going to my doctor’s office for a physical earlier this month.  A special occasion, indeed; it had been three years since my last visit.  I literally used “the special occasion” switch on my scale mentally and was feeling good about myself and my current weight, whether real or imagined, when I walked into my doctor’s office.

Now, I have to tell you, I chose my doctor a number of years back simply because she listed herself as specializing in sports medicine on her paragraph-long bio within a list of doctors approved by my medical insurance plan, and, though the very thought of “sports” now calls forth comforting images of my television set, I actually believed for a brief period in my life that I was in a “sportsmanlike” state of being.  A doctor who could handle my aches and pains as well as the after-effects of my brief but vigorous “sporting” life would be a wise choice when there was no other discernable reason for choosing among the practitioners listed.   

This “sports medicine” decision I embraced with my new doctor was not based on any high school athletic performance (god forbid) or from kicking into gear in college, say, as a result of the guys in my house playing flag football as a team (stoned to the max) in intramural competition, or even afterward, in my twenties, when my years, looking back, were a confusing blur of bad jobs, horrible apartments, and, oh yeah, graduate school.  No, it was in my thirties, after I had eaten my way to a Masters degree and a decent job, when my wife thought she was married to a late blooming, monster child and wanted signed assurances I wouldn’t squash her in bed, it was then that I consciously determined to lose some of the “joyous life” I had accumulated and still held dear (to my waist and soul) from all those years.  

So, in my thirties I started “running” in a local neighborhood park next to our apartment back when we lived in DC and, somehow, over time, managed to leave a small gift of my girth there as well as later in New York and finally here in North Carolina.  Like sweaty scraps of wispy white trash, my caloric-contributions were dropped everywhere I could manage during that period.  Later, still in my thirties, I realized I was running just as much to keep the lost weight from finding me, like scattered fillings to a magnet, as to experience a body and lifestyle I never knew.  

I remember hanging out at 5k and 10K races with the local “in-shape ones,” with the athletes who were just like me except that, unlike me, they made the “right” decisions throughout their lives, resulting in their being fit and in shape and having the ability to wear skin-tight, running clothes that showed off their muscular midriffs and tiny butts.  The new me appeared to fit right in -- that is, as long as you didn’t look under my shirt at my pudginess and as long as no one asked me any questions about my authenticity, my history of athletic prowess, or my worthiness to stand next to them in their Asics gel-max running shoes, or rub against them in their Nike stay-dry tops and bottoms, or, even, smell their talcum powdered air.    

Before the big races, I would walk along the edge of thousands of runners, heading to the back of the field, trying to decide with what group I should stand.  Rather than clustered with runners who ran at, say, a seven-minute pace, or a nine-minute pace, or whatever pace was being touted on various shiny placards (what the hell is “pace” anyway?), I would search for that special cluster of people like me, the group that naturally gravitated to the peeling sign for “former fat people” who, it implied by default, would be discovered for who they were shortly after the race began.  When other clusters were given power bars and sport drinks, ours was given bagged lunches and sweet tea.  We were the ones caught haggling over our sandwiches and exchanging our apples for Doritos not realizing the gun gone off and the race had begun.  We were the ones who arrived at water stops long after the road had been swept clean of discarded cups and most of the volunteers had gone home for dinner.                     

On one occasion, I decided to start a race at the very front of the runners.  I got on the front line under the sign for elite runners and no one stopped me.  Some officials looked confused at me and then at the sign to see if it said anything about former fat people, but no one took my arm and pulled me aside and, most importantly, none of the runners grabbed my shorts and yanked them down to my socks.  I guess I was accepted and finally could relax.  I was standing there looking at everyone and how anorexic they appeared when suddenly the gun went off.  Wow!  Normally I would have had a few minutes to retie my shoes, adjust my shorts, smooth my shirt over my belly, but not here.  Did you know, they expect you to run when the gun goes off?  Hey, wait a minute, does anyone want my apple?  

I think they must have thought I was a street vendor caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Quickly runners were stumbling around me, pushing me to the side, crushing my tuna sandwich.  I decided, in turn, I better run on the sidewalk to avoid the river of humanity trying to get around me.  If it wasn’t for my runner’s bid, saying I wa a runner, I would have fit right in with the cheering crowd.  Several emergency medical assistants caught up with me shortly thereafter and asked if my foot hurt, if I was experiencing a heart attack, or if I was suffering delusions, but I put on a brave face and brushed them all aside.  This was my race and I was in it for nothing but the glory.

Interestingly enough, I achieved my best time running in that race.  I can remember stumbling across the finish line and nearly fainting from the pace.  Thousands had crossed the line before me, but no one from my cluster was anywhere near me.  Yeaaaa!  I went to the hillside across the way and puked my guts out.  I decided right then and there, no more Doritos before a race!  

Actually, looking back, I thought I would be zapped at the finish line, like a wayward fly, for failing to stay with my group.  Like the computer would throw away my time as a mistake, as a false reading, as an error in the system.  Fortunately, it never did.  I deceived them all!  As a result, my time was my trophy and the one I touted time and time again.  As it turns out, it was also the last time I ran in a race until more than twenty years later.  

My weight, like a demon, found me on that hillside bent over on my knees, retching from the run, and it convinced me to stop this craziness, promising it wouldn’t come back all at once but would spread itself over my forties and fifties, and I would feel good throughout and it would feel right.  My body still believes this though I know it is a lie.        

My doctor with her sports medicine background is a runner.  She looks to be in her late-thirties, she’s thin like a runner, and very pretty.  I had forgotten how pretty she was until I showed up at her office earlier this month for my physical.  She was wearing a turtleneck sweater and a short skirt under an open white lab coat, with stylish boots that went up to her knees.  She told me she runs marathons once or twice a year and has done so since she was a kid.  I immediately decided I loved runners who make the right decisions all of their lives.

Amazingly, she noticed I had lost weight.  When we met three years earlier for my checkup, she suggested I lose ten pounds as a goal.  She didn’t know that, instead, I added more than twenty pounds and, one year later, was the heaviest I have ever been.  Now nearly two years after that, I am more than fifty pounds lighter and heading to new personal records in my ongoing weight-loss.   

“Let’s get you up on the scale and see how well you’ve done,” she said, her face brightening to show a gorgeous smile.  Oh my god!     

I remember, growing up, my doctor was an old geezer who used to give me physicals for school.  He never failed to stick his hands in my pants to search out my scrotum.  “Cough, son,” he would say.  Suddenly, nearing sixty, I yearned for such a complete physical, once again.  (Please, oh please!  Let me cough for you!)  

“Sounds good,” I said to my marathon-runner-of-a-doctor with her sexy brown boots that ran up her thighs.  “Should I take off my clothes?”  

“No you can keep your clothes on,” she said, looking down at her chart on me.  “In fact,” she added, “you can get on the scale just as you are, sweater and shoes and all.”  What?  Ugh!  No way!  Not completely dressed!  I want to be totally, totally naked, just like I am each morning when I humble myself before the scale-god in my bathroom, and, besides, doesn’t it say somewhere that later you’re supposed to check my scrotum?  

Ignoring how pretty she was and those boots that lapped her loins, I mumbled to myself, secretly, as I walked over to her scale, ‘You damn well have got to be kidding me (!), and I’m wearing my “feel good about myself” body too.  Ugh!’  

Just like that my “feel good” attitude popped and hissed like a slithering snake out of the room.  In the act of walking over to the scale, I could feel my depression mounting.  I gained an extra four pounds in just those three steps alone.  The doctor’s reading of the scale, with me dying, standing there fully dressed, added another five pounds, and, when I left her office, I was no longer in love with the quack, but, rather, nearly ten pounds heavier and ready to commit suicide.  

I went directly home to my own scale and quickly turned it over.  I twirled the setting passed “naked truth” and stopped it abruptly on “complete deception in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” This is exactly where I needed it to be and, amazingly, when I got on the scale, I had not only re-lost the nine pounds she said I still was carrying, but I even dropped another twenty pounds besides.  Yahoo!  

All of which brings me to this morning and the ongoing fight I am having with my body.  Sure enough, I awoke having gained another pound and a half from yesterday, and yesterday I gained a pound and a half from the day before.  What’s this all about?  My body is clearly in rebellion.  It was only last week at this time that I was a pound away from reaching the sixty-pound milestone.  Now I’m five pounds away and looking ahead to a week of covering the same ground I covered last week, or worse...    

The pudge is winning.  Ounce for ounce, more is entering my body than leaving on any given day.  Screw this!  I have got to get my act together, once and for all!  Stay tuned.  


Friday, January 18, 2013

Pudgy Me 1: Moping Around

I have been grieving lately and though I haven’t experienced a death in my family (thank god!), or in my circle of friends (whew, you never know with that group!), or with any of the cats in my house (bummer!), nonetheless, I have been walking around in a perpetual state of bereavement.  My wife describes it more like ‘moping around’ -- as in her admonition, “Stop moping around!”

Okay, so I have been ‘moping around.’  What the heck is ‘moping around’ anyway?  I googled ‘moping around’ to be sure I understood what my wife was yelling at me in the course of my day, and, sure enough, someone on the internet wrote that ‘moping around’ means “sitting around, doing nothing, and looking miserable – i.e., think ‘teenager.’” Yes!  This definition fits me exactly: I do sit around (– a lot!), I essentially do nothing – according to my wife(!), and lately I have been miserable.  As for thinking like a ‘teenager,’ my wife says I think like a teenager all the time.  She says I act like one half the time too!  

Since I brought up my wife, she would add that I should re-evaluate my emotional priorities.  I guess that’s also true, but what are my emotional priorities anyway?  As I enter this later phase of my life, it seems to me that whatever emotional priorities I have lodged in the system must be embedded so deep that it would take a coal miner rather than a psychiatrist to get at them.  Besides, at this point in my life, my emotional priorities are not meant to be accessible anyway, are they?  Especially not to the casual reader and certainly not to me, and besides, what the hell? – Wouldn’t that be very un-‘teenager’-like?

Anyhow, as much as it seems like this is where I’m going with this blog, this entry is not about ‘moping around’ and discovering my ‘emotional priorities.’  Perhaps, I will save that for a later discussion.  No, this narrative is focused on grieving, and why I feel l have been out of sorts of late.

I went back in my hometown over the holidays and met up with an old friend who took a moment to re-introduce me to his aging mother.  I must say, she looked great.  She was in her mid-eighties and still living in their family home.  She was sharp and cognitive and progressing happily through her life with an infectious smile, a smart swagger, and an obvious thrill for being on top of her game!  How refreshing it was to sit and talk with her.

As we got up to go, she looked at me, and, as if finally remembering which one of my friend’s friends I was, she asked me, “Weren’t you the pudgy kid with the red hair back in high school?"

It had been such a pleasant conversation; her statement caught me by surprise – What?  PUDGY???  She smiled at me sweetly.  “What happened to your red hair?” she asked.  

“Oh,” I laughed somewhat stiffly, quickly glancing at my friend and then back at his mother, not reflecting on where my red hair had gone between high school and now but rather on that word, that poofy word “PUDGY!”

– Was I really so pudgy back then that she would remember it 40 years later?

– Why wasn’t she asking me where my “pudginess” is now?

– Does she still think I’m pudgy?   

Images of me as a boy, as a father, as a man in the mirror shaving that very same morning flashed instantaneously before my eyes. Am I really that heavy? I decided in a sudden flash I never liked my friend's mother, back then or now.

“Ah,” I responded, trying to stay in the moment, “My hair’s been turning white for awhile now.”   I forced a small laugh,”but, at least I still have hair! Ha, ha!”

– How pudgy was I back in high school?  Is this what the girls thought?  My friends thought?  My friends' parents thought?  No wonder none of them would have anything to do with me!

“Aw, don’t mind her,” my pseudo-friend said later as we got into his car to get some beers.  “My mom’s been going senile for awhile now,” he said, noticing my silence.  “She doesn't remember anything. Soon she won’t recognize me at all.”   

“Look,” I said, “I understand why she would wonder about my hair, but, but –“ (what the heck, I had to ask – I’ve worked so hard…)  “ – she doesn’t... she doesn’t think I’m pudgy, does she?’’

“Of course not,” my friend responded way too quickly, looking over at me as he started up the car.  “Everyone can see you lost a ton of weight.”  (A ton! – it wasn’t a ton!  No way!)

“Then why,” I asked, “why didn’t she say, ‘Where did you get that beach body?’”  I was looking at him, sort-of-like pleading for him to agree, you know, in an adult-sophisticated-kind-of-way, but he was staring at the road, speeding quickly out of her cul de sac, like he was desperate for a beer.

“My mom’s also blind,” He mumbled as an afterthought.  “Did I mention that?”

“Oh, that explains it,” I responded.  “Otherwise, she would have noticed my rock hard abs under my shirt, along with my red hair – lighter now, for sure, but still red if you squint just right… “

– Nothing like an old friend’s crazy mom, who should have been put down years ago, to start my depression.  Still, this can’t explain why I have been grieving, and, surely, I can’t blame a blind, old, senile woman for my moping around long after I returned home.

And, hey, so what if I am pudgy, anyway.  There, I said it.  So what – isn’t everybody?

The thing about weight, I decided, is that it hangs on you all the time.  All day.  Some might say, your entire life.  It’s like a mortal, infectious disease.  Catch it, and it won’t let go. It never let’s go.  Or, rather, I should say, I won’t let it go.  I can’t let it go.  For some reason, I just can’t let it be.

I am experiencing an emotional moment, a mourning if you will.  Perhaps, I am grieving for the fifty pounds I lost over the past year-and-a-half, and although one side of me still wants to lose another twenty-five pounds, I think I miss who I was.  Yes, it was dead-weight to the average doctor or cardiologist, and it did nothing for me at all, except get me out-of-breath sooner, and, yes, it looked horrible in the mirror – like I was wearing an outer fat suit on top of my sleek inner lining, but, let’s face it, it was me, it was my dead weight accumulated from years of careful cultivation.  Some people buy furs and mink coats, I like to grow my own...

You might notice, I don’t think I am as comfortable with the new “pudgy me” that I’ve become versus the “fat me” I thought I enjoyed.  Even more importantly, I’m not sure I deserve the gains I have achieved.

A few weeks ago I had the strangest sensation.  I weighed myself early one morning and realized I was at my lowest weight in years – in, literally, something like two decades.  Suddenly I had the most uncomfortable feeling – rather than a sense of joy and elation, I quickly looked around to see if anyone had noticed.  It was like I had stolen a candy bar from the drugstore.  (Oh god!)  Now, I ask you, how could anyone be watching if I am standing in the middle of my bathroom with the blinds drawn and the door closed.  I jumped off the scale!  (Damn!)  After standing there in the nude with the shower running, assessing the situation, I got back on the scale again.  (Hmmm...)  I got off it a second time, shook the scale thoroughly, then moved it to a new spot on the floor.  It had been near the sink.  Maybe something was wrong with the floorboards there.  I tried it near the toilet.  (Oh no, this was not good.)

I felt like I was an interloper who somehow had fooled my bathroom scale and even my own body into thinking I had lost more weight than I should have.  It turns out, not only had I passed my “new year’s resolution” for the year but now was in a range I never dreamed possible, at least not so soon.  How could this be?  Yikes, how could I sustain this?

My body and mind rebelled; within days I quickly regained the five or so pounds I had lost and was back to a level within which I could breathe easier.  In fact, as it turns out, in which I could take refuge, as I have been hibernating at this level ever since.

It’s like I have to fight for every pound I lose, and, indeed, if it is a hard-fought war, I will accept the gains I’ve made.  Each month I go through a process of ungodly effort, small achievements, and, finally, token acceptance.  Alternatively, if the battle is too easy, if I drop pounds too quickly, I rebell and lose ground.  For me, I guess, without the angst of fighting to vanquish each ounce, ounce after ounce, it’s not an accomplishment.  Or rather, perhaps, I am having an out-of-body experience, and it’s someone else’s accomplishment, or, perhaps, it’s just an experience not to be valued.  Perhaps, it’s the battle itself and the fight for each inch of ground that provides meaning.

So this is my evolving story of pudgy me.  I am stopping here as still I have a lot to say, but we’ll need to take it one ounce at a time.