Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Struggle with Weight

To say that I "struggle with my weight" would suggest to most people that I have had problems throughout my life with too much fat on my body. That is true. In spite of the fact that I was generally very active in my youth, I can always remember the stigma of having more fat on my body than most other kids. As a child I liked to be outside and roam the fields and woods around our home in the country. The other strong childhood memory, other than being at church, has to do with food. I have some great memories like pizza parties at our house and my mom being the pizza maker. There are also harsh memories, like the time I didn't want to wait until after my father prayed to touch the food. We were going through a tough time and couldn't afford much to eat. When my dad "rapped my knuckles" with his spoon, somehow the bowl of baked beans (the main part of our meal, as I recall) went on the floor and I was sent off without any supper.

One summer during junior high I became very sedentary. I began to get away with sitting in front of the TV and eating. I discovered bread, bread with peanut butter, bread with butter and honey. After that summer was when I first began to learn about restrictive diets and exercising (not just playing).

Throughout high school I spent my leisure time playing basketball and riding my 10-speed bike (and watching a fair amount of TV). I was passionate about both activities. And late in high school I also began running everyday. I would run along motorcycle trails through the countryside near where we lived.

During the year after high school, I was on a wrestling team at a Bible school I was attending in Grand Rapids. It was then I arrived at my peak condition. I was working out twice a day and was hardly eating anything -- I remember eating a Lipton cup of soup for dinner. I can remember the day when I arrived at breaking the 180 lb. barrier. While showering up that day I noticed I had rippled abs. It didn't stay that way for long. I just couldn't sustain the level of exercise and dieting to maintain that weight. After that I spent much more time reading and studying. From that point forward I experienced the steady increase over the years until I have now added 250 lbs. more to my frame.

It's not like I don't know how to exercise or that I'm ignorant of the fact that to lose weight you have to burn more calories than you take in, which advice is about the best the medical community has to offer. It's not that I don't have any discipline. I persisted for many years in my education until I finally earned my Ph.D. from an Ivy League university. In the last three or four years I've taught myself  to be able to read Arabic. All of that is just to say, I'm not fat because I'm dumb and lazy. Several times over the past six years or so I've been able to lose 50-75 lbs. through diet and exercise. But something happens that I can't explain. There's no one event but a gradual increase in eating. Months later I will realize I've added the weight back plus more and don't know why I did it.

Yes, I have some bad habits of eating when I'm sad, eating when I'm happy, eating when I'm angry, eating when I'm bored, and so on. Maybe I eat in front of the TV all the time because my dad yelled at me as a child when I tried to eat in the living room and he would only let me eat in there when we were spending time together. I'm sure I came to associate food with family togetherness, fun, laughing, and pleasure. But there's also something about the make up of my body, something in the genes, that makes me the way I am. Your body is not just like my body: when it comes to metabolism and body type, we are not all created equal. I need some help, and I'm going to get it. It won't be a secret for long, so I might as well let it be known now. I will be having bariatric surgery (Roux-En-Y gastric bypass) January 26, 2012 at St. Vincent Hospital in Carmel, Indiana.

However, there's a different kind of struggle with my weight. My major reasons for surgery have to do with my health (hypertension but no immediate problems with my heart or with diabetes) and longevity, in other words, the quality of life. Yet there is some part of me that resents needing to do this, because a small reason for me has to do with the prejudice of Americans against large people. And it's getting worse.

My struggle, then, has to do with me giving in to social pressure rather than my working for the social acceptance of fat people. It's horrible what's happening to the way most media treat the so-called obesity epidemic. I'm not an expert, but I don't accept the narrative being presented to us constantly that all of the sudden Americans began to get fat. It's disgusting the way news programs will introduce a segment by showing video of fat people with the focus on bellies and butts. How dehumanizing! It's sickening to witness the voyeurism of people watching "Biggest Loser" and their entertainment in seeing fat people yelled at and humiliated. For the most part it's not socially acceptable anymore to make fun of people for their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or diminutive stature, but you can insult fat people all you want. I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere people in power are talking about our readiness to go to war and the need for Americans to be fit enough to fight. The insurance industry can make more money if they can persuade people to be as healthy as possible. There's more to this hysteria than a concern for the health and well-being of people like me.

Maybe I've been able here to get this out of my system. I need to be positive and work toward my personal goals. I have to get healthier for me, my wife (who will most likely need more care in the future), my children, and my grandchildren. During my psychological evaluation I told the interviewer (great guy, by the way) I wanted to do the bariatric surgery because there's so much more I want to do in life. I feel like I'm just getting started and losing weight will help me to succeed in the goals I set for my life many, many years ago.