Rough week for a number of friends of mine. A person who spanned a few communities and was friends with my friends passed away suddenly in his sleep. I remotely watched an online outpouring of grief happen, followed by a celebration of life, and it got me thinking. This person, who I don’t ever recall meeting, was my age. He apparently was one of those people who are able to really grasp the oddity of life, not just embracing it but actively sharing it’s joy with others. Forty five seems a young age to die, but I suppose it isn’t.
It should be a young age to die. It really should. If your grew up awkward and not fitting in because you were different, your late thirties and forties is often the time when you really start to blossom. You find a courage and confidence that was unknown to you for decades, and you use that to start living the life that other people may have enjoyed from a much younger age. It seems cruel to lose that just as it’s starting.
So let us talk about fat. About being overweight. I don’t know the gentleman who died and I don’t know how he died or what caused it, but it’s an easy bet to predict what will kill most of my friends. It’s the same thing that will kill most people reading this blog, and most of their friends and families. It might kill them with cancer or strokes or heart attacks. It might kill them slowly with crippling disabilities. It might even warn them early enough that they might be able to hold death off a little longer. Or you might read this today, go to bed tonight and not wake up tomorrow.
Being overweight is a killer. I want to separate that from being fat, though. I’m defining my own terms here so bear with me. Fat is fine. People tend to be skinny, muscular or fat by nature. We call them ecto-, meso-, and endomorphs respectively. That is human nature. Some of us are buff, some of us are curvy, some of us are svelte. Some of us tend towards one or the other in flux as our life moves on. Thinking one is better than the other or more “winning” is just stupid. Humans tend to three body types because we’ve bred that way…which means one third of us like to have sex with someone of a particular body type, popularity aside. It’s genetics. Being fat is dandy. Enjoy it, embrace it, and be awesome.
Being overweight is seriously bad. Being overweight is different from being fat. Being fat is a genetic gift (just like being skinny or athletic), being overweight is a prison. Being overweight has nothing to do with your shape, but means you are exceeding your carrying capacity. Because we brand anyone who fits the third body type as being evil these days, we don’t really have an understanding of what the difference between fat and overweight is, so let me spell it out a bit.
Being overweight means things are hard to do. And by things I mean everything, and by hard I mean that everything sort of subtly seems just a trifle too bothersome. Eating a salad seems too much bother. Walking up twelve steps is too much bother when you can take the escalator. Walking when you can drive? Too much to do right now, but for sure when I have more time. Not eat at mcdonalds today? No time to make lunch. Too expensive. I’ll just do it right now and eat better tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to die tonight. I’d know, wouldn’t I?
I’ve been overweight a big part of my life, I know what it’s like. It’s like everything else. Nothing changes. You don’t get up in the morning and feel that extra pound. You look in the mirror and see a huge fat guy, but you don’t connect. You don’t feel fat. You feel the same way you always did. The mirror and the scale tell you one thing, but you can’t connect them to you. If you were fat, you’d feel it, wouldn’t you? You’ve seen fat people, they look like they are uncomfortable all the time and you don’t feel that way at all. You feel the same way you did when you were younger and smaller. You don’t see why you should change, but the mirror and the scale tell you something different so you make a mental note to do something about. Later. When you’ve got a little more time. Surely before it becomes an actual problem.
That little thought sits in your brain. That little reminder becomes a vague feeling on self-consciousness. Shit. I’m buying lunch at McDonalds and I want to order two large fries because I’m hungry, but…dammit. Are people looking at me? Am I ordering fat people food? Are they judging me? Screw it, I’ll show them and order a salad. And then later when I’m starving, really seriously starving, I’ll take a quick break at work and go down to the corner store and get a chocolate bar. A big one. And a big bag of chips.
And to hell with it, how dare people judge me? I’ll get a giant pizza for dinner and eat the whole thing in one sitting. And then I’ll feel terrible and start dieting. I’ll lose twenty pounds in what seems overnight and feel terrific. Then my family will have a christmas dinner and someone will giggle and poke me in the belly and tell me I’m getting chubby. We all laugh it off. The shame kicks in. You eat a healthy dinner, but succumb when the loving belly-poker insists you have one more slice of pie. A few weeks later the weigh is all back on and that little nugget of shame is in full force.
So now shame is piling on top of nagging self-consciousness. And a sense of failure. You start to feel out of control, and you start to resign yourself to being fat for the rest of your life. And now you start to understand what guilt really means. The weight goes up, but what are you going to do? Only eating makes you feel better because all you ever think about is food. You want to do something about it, but every single service or product out their has only one message. You suck because you are fat. You deserve to have your nose rubbed in it. You aren’t strong enough or good enough to be skinny and loved. Go hide your fat self. And hey, this message of guilt and hate is actually supposed to be healthy for you, so if you don’t like it, must be something seriously wrong with you, bro! We’re just trying to help. Suck up our tough love!
I honestly don’t know how anyone loses weight when they have to deal with all that crap. When you are overweight, the problem is simple. You are carrying a little more weight that your frame is meant to carry, so everything is a bit more difficult to do. Because things are a little harder to do, you start to do less. This naturally makes the weight go up more, which makes the problem worse. The horrific spew of noise from the rest of the world about how bad you are for being fat makes it even worse (and god help you if you are just fat and not overweight!) which makes it that much harder to motivate yourself to do anything.
Being overweight means carrying a burden of more than just extra lipid mass. It’s too much to carry so you become trapped by it. Being overweight is a prison of greater and greater immobility. You need to get yourself out of that prison. You need to escape. A proper diet is the number one way to lose weight, but you have to free yourself from that prison first. If you are overweight, your first and only goal should be freedom. Freedom from the things that are crushing you. You need to shed the emotional pressure and the pressure of the weight equally. Being skinny is not your goal. Being muscular even just “not overweight” is not your goal. Freedom is your goal. A life of freedom.
A life where simple decisions like how to get from point A to point B aren’t dictated by your energy level or your sense of awkwardness, but by your desire. Walk around the fence or jump over it? What fits your mood for the day? Both should be equally doable. Stroll across the rolling green lawn, or cartwheel? What fits the pace of your day best? Salad or hamburger? What does your body actually want? Hunger isn’t a bitter enemy anymore, just a reminder that it’s time to chose the fuel for what you want to do next.
It’s not an easy process. For weight loss to really be a step towards freedom, you have to give it time. Possibly as much time as it took you to put it on. You have to find the permission within yourself to allow that time, and you can’t do that without giving yourself permission to ignore the shaming voices from the outer world. You cannot nag yourself with thoughts of right and wrong and how people will perceive you, but instead work on finding a quiet inner confidence that what you are doing is in accord with your true nature. To be human is to want to be free, but this kind of freedom can never be given to us or forced on us. We have to earn it with small actions, one day after the other, one tiny satisfying reward after another. Small contentment can lead to larger confidences, which can build to a great power to remake ourselves in any way we wish. A small peace inside, instead of making us restive, can give us solid footing to really move from.
It’s all about movement in the end. If you are overweight, you don’t move much. Fat people can and do move, with a pleasure and style all their own. It’s good to be fat as much as it’s good to be skinny or muscular. As long as you can move with strength, surety, grace and purpose, you are living the way you should be. Exercise and eat in ways that foster free movement, and accept no limits. Life is shorter than you think. It’s far to short to accept living in any sort of prison as a cost of living.