Monday, June 9, 2014

On Being Fat

I never thought I'd be fat.

I confess that I used to look at overweight people and think, "How did they get like that?" or "Thank goodness that's not me!" The problem of weight seemed so removed from my own life. As a child, I was never skinny, but I think it's safe to say that I was very average-sized. I wasn't the most active kid on the block, but I liked to bike and skate, and even took pleasure from running the mile in 8 min. 48 sec. in fifth grade -- four whole seconds faster than my secret love at the time! For my entire childhood, my mom cooked amazing homemade dishes for us: international dinners, delicious breakfasts, and brown-bag lunches that included her handwritten notes. But over-eating was not an issue, nor was junk food (since it wasn't ever in my home).

College was the first time I remember struggling a little bit with self-control and food. My school had an amazing all-you-can-eat cafeteria with high quality, delicious food. Plus I was "on my own" and could make my own decisions about what I ate, without parents giving me limits or keeping things out of the house. I know I must have gained weight during those four years, but it wasn't a big deal to me, and didn't change how I thought of myself. By the time I got married and then pregnant for the first time, I was back to my average weight. Even after giving birth to my first, I was able to lose my pregnancy pounds not too long after.

But for the past 7 years or so, weight has been an increasing struggle, and I'm not sure why. I know I've been less self-controlled in my eating, even turning to food for comfort now, which I never used to do. Maybe it's also the fact that I'm getting older and my metabolism is changing. I've lived 3 of those years overseas, with no car, so I certainly did lots of walking and cycling. But exercise for the sake of exercise has always been difficult for me, and I'm sure that's a component as well. Along the way, I've learned some things I never expected to.

1) Being overweight is both all-consuming and no big deal. 
This is a strange paradox for me. On the one hand, being fat has become my identity. It means I hate to look in mirrors and I hate to have my picture taken. It makes it hard to hear my husband say I'm beautiful and probably even affects my relationship with God. I find it hard to choose clothes that look good on me, and every morning, I come to the same conclusion: I'm ugly.

But in some bizarre way, a lot of the time, it's very much not my identity. If I am engrossed in what brings me joy, I'm likely to forget that other people are looking at me and surely thinking how overweight I am. When I'm running with the kids at a gym night I've organized, or jumping in the waves at the beach; when I'm singing harmony in church, or reading aloud on a park bench and getting surrounded by more and more curious children ... these are my moments of bliss. And in those times, I feel normal. I forget my obesity.

2) It's a heck of a lot harder to lose weight than I ever thought.  
In my momentary choices to eat a third or fourth cookie because they tasted so darn good and made me so happy at the time, it didn't cross my mind how hard it would be to eventually get back to "average weight." Thankfully, I'm not still at my all-time high. I'm at least ten pounds lighter than that; nonetheless, I never envisioned that losing pounds would be such an uphill battle.

3) I have no idea what other overweight people are facing and am in no place to judge. 
I used to feel proud of my size and grateful that obesity wasn't one of my issues. Now my heart is softened. I look at others and think, "I don't know them and their own situation, but I do know they're a precious, valued person no matter what. And golly, they are beautiful!" Who am I to judge, when we all have different genes, different struggles, different medical conditions?

4) Every bit of encouragement helps. 
These days I really take it to heart when someone tells me what a nice smile I have, or how nice my singing is, or what sweet letters I write. I've never considered myself beautiful anyway, but certainly now, if I receive any encouraging word from someone, my spirit is lifted and I feel new hope. Maybe I am still lovable. Maybe people can see past my weight and to the heart inside me. Maybe I'm not completely ugly after all.

I desperately want to become healthy. I want to acquire the precarious balance of being content with who I am and striving for something more. I want my body to be healthy, my heart to be strong, my figure to be slimmer. But I also want to love myself and feel confident in the love of God and others. What a struggle. I never thought it would be mine. But it is.


Darlene said...

Hi Lisa, Thanks for being so humble as to honestly share this struggle for you. I've always been overweight, and probably was at my "best" weight when I was in Japan. As you shared, when living overseas, you are forced to walk or ride bikes just to get from place to place. I've put on weight since a year ago when I lost quite a bit following my 2 hip surgeries. I truly understand what you are going through. Don't give up.

virginia said...

Gosh, Lisa, you are so beautiful. Whenever I see you, I am uplifted by your glorious smile and your loving nature. A few extra pounds? Really not important to me and most others. Important to you, for sure, because of how we judge ourselves and criticize ourselves for 'not having enough self-control' or being lazy or ugly. Important to you for health reasons too, and therefore a goal worth pursuing, but try not to add the burden of put-downs to your already heavy load. I struggle with all the same issues too, so if you find a strategy that works, let me know! You are so much more than your container! Big hugs!