Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trying to outrun the weight gremlins

My GF V.'s lost 40 lbs this year. The loss was preceded by a fall in which she broke her leg, and while in hospital, she was diagnosed as diabetic. They read her the riot act, and bye bye pastry, béarnaise sauce, champagne. To lose that amount of weight at 60-plus is a monumental task.

V. is not eating anything she remotely enjoys, she's hungry, and says the 15-20 last pounds just refuse to come off.
You might expect a total physical transformation, but not exactly. She does look thinner, but remains a short, roundish, pigeon-breasted little bustler. The essence of V., a bright-eyed chickadee, is that of a vivacious bonne vivante.

I thought of V. when I read Michelle Slatella's article, "I Can't
Outrun My Weight Issues" in the Styles sections of the November 13th New York Times. Aghast at midlife weight gain, she launches into an exercise regime, "two yoga classes and four 45-minute treadmill or elliptical sessions each week" and after a month loses... one pound.

I too am voluptuous witness to the fact that an hour of brisk walking or weight-bearing yoga each day is barely sufficient to stay even, let alone lose weight. Michelle has, for now, decided to ramp up the routine, adding weight work, and says, "I can't tell how much this is helping yet."

V. wonders if now, her blood sugar readings back to normal, her energy renewed and her wardrobe completely replaced, that last 15 will just have to stay.

Once health concerns are addressed, the unending severe diet is not a joyful way to live: deprivation, self-loathing, sporadic results. Sallie Tisdale's essay, "A Weight That Women Carry" is the most articulate article I've ever read about the futility of dieting to meet an unrealistic goal. (Originally published in Harper's, 1993, you can find it here.)

19 comments:

Deja Pseu said...

Ah Duchesse, once again we're on the same wavelength. I've been working up a post about this and both articles you've linked to are great to help me clarify my thoughts.

Remember the days when it was considered normal for women to gain a little weight around menopause? Before we were expected to wage a never ending war with our bodies? And who has the kind of time these days to spend 5, 6, 7 hours weekly at the gym??

StyleSpy said...

Congrats to your friend on taking control of her health issues, first of all. Diabetes is a monster, and she's to be lauded for wrestling it under control.

I also underwent a big weight loss this year, and am ongoingly learning how to live in such a way as to maintain it. I will say that it is getting easier with time, but I will also say that I recognize quite clearly that I will never be able to go back to eating whatever I want whenever I want if I wish to maintain this weight. For me, that's okay. Every woman has to make that decision for herself, though.

WendyB said...

I was totally amused (but depressed) by the NY Times story on Sunday.

Duchesse said...

Pseu, eager to read your post. Yes I do remember when midlife gain was met with a rueful sigh...and often my mother's friends' strategy was to smoke MORE "to control the appetite"!

Style Spy, I have always somewhat enjoyed the losing part (all that achievement and the compliments) but maintenance loses its appeal fast.

Deja Pseu said...

Style Spy - not to quibble (OK, maybe just a little bit) or in any way diminish your accomplishment, but for some of us the choice has never been between eating whatever we want and being slim. It's more like between eating-a-moderate/restricted-diet-and-being-heavier-than-we'd-prefer or eating-a-drastically-restricted-diet-while-exercising-like-an-Olympian-in-training-and-maybe-losing-a-few-pounds-temporarily-but-still-ending-up-heavier-than-we'd-prefer (like the woman in the NYT article). Whew. Burned some calories typing THAT sentence!
;-p

bonnie-ann black said...

thank you, deja pseu... almost word for word what i was going to say. i have both an advantage and a disadvantage in having had both sets of grandparents live into fairly old age... my father's mother lived to be 93. she never heard of low-fat, low cholesterol, no carb diets... she was sedentary, a bit lazy, and ate whatever she wanted, including butter and sugar sandwiches (on *white* bread!) right up to the day she died. she was small round, pouter pigeon of a woman -- and i looke *exactly* like her. my mother's mother was slim, energetic, busy woman who took care of her diabetic husband -- bedridden for 10 years -- lifted, toted and barged her whole life, and ate lots of vegetables, andrarely touched sweets. she died at 68.

it's like we think, not only do we (women) have to look wonderful and slim all our lives, but that we are actually bad people if we don't... now there's health issues and there's health issues... but i've reached the point in life where, if i can't enjoy good food and some nice sweets once in a while, what's the point? i walk 3 miles a day, my main diet consists of fruit, vegetables and chicken, whole grain products... and guess what? i still look like my grandmother.

i sold a short story last year, and got little congratulations for it from "friends" and co-workers. i lost 5 pounds (walking through paris, mind you) and you would think i'd won the nobel prize.

it's ridiculously frustrating. none of us is getting out alive, and being a skinny minny in my coffin will not comfort me for all those chocolates and creams i can't have.

kmkat said...

If one is overweight, losing even 10% of one's body weight is a health benefit, according to my doctor and to what I have read. We don't need the Draconian measures, just good sense, moderate exercise, and the forethought to have chosen the right ancestors.

Duchesse said...

All:
"Better to be Fat and Fit Than Skinny and Unfit" is a great NYT article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/19/health/19well.html?_r=1

"Last week a report in The Archives of Internal Medicine compared weight and cardiovascular risk factors among a representative sample of more than 5,400 adults. The data suggest that half of overweight people and one-third of obese people are “metabolically healthy.” That means that despite their excess pounds, many overweight and obese adults have healthy levels of “good” cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose and other risks for heart disease.

At the same time, about one out of four slim people — those who fall into the “healthy” weight range — actually have at least two cardiovascular risk factors typically associated with obesity, the study showed."

greying pixie said...

From the age of 42 I have steadily been putting on weight and noticing my waist thickening. For years I have always used low-fat, low-sugar alternatives on a daily basis, and for the past year had reached desperation point. Yo-yoing up and down for the past two years through Weightwatchers had made me foodphobic. I couldn't look at anything without assessing the points value and was really running around in my stressful life on an empty tank feeling constantly hungry. Up until a month ago I would never have admitted this but I finally got around to reading a book given to me by my mother last Christmas - 'Fat around the Middle' by Marilyn Glenville.

I can honestly say it has changed my life completely. It lays out the facts of the damage that dieting does to the middle-aged female body and then goes on to give constructive advice that should be followed 80% of the time, thereby leaving room for treats, etc.

I have now given up all wheat products, dairy, alchohol (I never drank much anyway) and caffeine completely. I eat fruit every three hours to maintain an even blood sugar level, eat full-fat goats cheese and yogurt, drink white tea and never feel hungry and most importantly have thrown away my scales. I'm eating at least seven portions of fruit and veg a day plus fish, lean meat and if I crave something sweet I have a handful of almonds.

After four weeks I can fit into my leather jeans again (haven't worn them for six years!), am sleeping beautifully and feel more mentally alert than I've felt in 20 years. Most importantly my food tastes delicious.

This is a book I'm recommending to all my friends.

gp said...

Sorry, forgot to add that whilst I agree with all your comments regarding the idea that we are not allowed to widen as we age, there is a real danger to health when fat starts to be laid down above the hips, apart from which I just felt so dragged down by the weight going on around my shoulders and back of my neck. My new culinary lifestyle is taking care of all that, so that I can now walk tall without that dragging feeling of a weight between my shoulderblades.

The benefit of looking good is just a secondary benefit in my case but feeling lighter and more supple can only be good for my health - even my small varicous vein has stopped throbbing!

OK I've said enough!

Duchesse said...

GP: Your diet sounds like it's done wonders for you! Aren't yogurt and cheese 'dairy products'? I would like to read this book.

I'm trying to follow Michael Pollen's advice in "In Defense of Food": Eat food (by which he means unprocessed), not too much, mostly plant-based; don't eat anything your grandmother would not recognize as food. (This is a guideline, but while my grandmother never heard of sushi, but it counts as 'food'.)

Anonymous said...

I rather think that after such a terrific weight loss by your friend, that you physical description of her is not kind. I am sure you are friends such that she would not mind, but still.

Duchesse said...

Anonymous: I'm not sure what you perceive as "unkind" and request that you clarify.

Anonymous said...

"short, round, pigeon breasted"...may all be true, but ouch!

gp said...

Duchesse, goat's milk and products does not count as dairy. Dairy basically means cow's milk which is very difficult for the human body to digest. Goat's milk is absorbed easily and is highly nutricious. It should therefore be eaten in moderation. Maybe just one small glass of yogurt a day.

The whole unprocessed food thing goes without saying. I've always eaten that way, which is why I was getting so desperate at my runaway body shape.

The grandmother trick is ideal - Japanese grandmother's would have recognized sushi! - but wheat and cow's milk should be eliminated as much as possible. They are cheap and easy to produce which is why they have become our staple diet in the West, but our bodies cannot digest them - it's all in the book!

Read it and be converted!

Duchesse said...

GP: Many nutritionists consider dairy to be the milk or milk products of any mammal. I guess that's the author's definition. I'm ordering the book.

Anonymous: I am not in agreement, nor is V.

bonnie-ann black said...

i think i'd rather live ten years less than live on GP's diet... sounds almost monastic to me. no caffeine? no alcohol? no nice fresh bread and rolls?

those last ten years are usually spent in some crummy nursing home anyway -- especially, if like me, you have no children.

my mother says you should check into a fancy hotel for the last year of your life and be catered to continuously... then, at least, you'd go in some comfort.

good for you, GP, if that's working for you. but for me, i think i'll go get myself a nice glass of port and some chocolate.

Duchesse said...

Bonnie-Ann: I smiled a lot reading this, it's Le Duc's philosophy. And I thought of my mother's last years, in her late 90s when she loved nachos and a generous glass of white wine- she'd rather have that than her usual healthy dinner: "Isn't this fun?" she'd say.

greying pixie said...

bonnie-ann, you had me laughing at your comments. But I can assure you I feel so good on this diet that I don't feel at all deprived. To live without caffeine is wonderful because I feel so energetic.

The only thing I can compare it to is that lovely full-but-not-bloated feeling you get from eating a meal of fish and a salad. I feel like that all the time now, just by giving up wheat and caffeine.

duchesse - if you can't find the book on your side of the Atlantic I am happy to send you a copy from the UK.