In my previous post (#50by50ish #50 – Lose weight – Part 2, draw vs. drag), I talked about how I’m framing my approach to change as as a constant battle between the draw forces that “pull me forward” and make me want to make the change, and the drag forces that “hold me back” and stay the way I am. As I noted, the forces drawing people forward are often easy to see…they are the current costs that they want to eliminate and the future benefits that they want to achieve. At first, there’s nothing particularly magical or amazing in there, but I did want to review them as part of my inventory. Yet, as I started to look at the costs, I realized that there was a deeper option…could I catalog a bunch of the costs that I have incurred throughout my life?
Not a pleasant task, if you think about it. I’m basically going to go through and identify all the times in my life where being fat was harmful to my happiness. Wow. That is a deep well of sadness and pain. But addicts do it to help them see how their addiction is hurting them and to propel their rehab efforts (Step 4 to make a “searching and fearless” inventory of ourselves and Step 5 to admit to the exact nature of our wrongs…of course I’m adapting it to weight loss, but you get the gist).
It’s not meant to be fun, it’s meant to be a psychological cleansing and identification exercise to make you realize the true cost of your choices. But let’s get ‘er done, and to help me organize my thoughts, I’m going to use five broad headings I’ve pulled from a bunch of different articles about the pros (yes there are some) and cons of being fat, which are:
- Social costs;
- Lifestyle and opportunity costs;
- Mental health costs;
- Financial costs;
- Medical problems
A. Social Costs
This is a pretty broad category, but I’ll see if I can make it work. Up until I was about 7 years old, I don’t think I was any more “roly poly” than any other kid. I can remember in elementary school being one of the fastest kids on the playground in early grades, although that may just be an observational / ego-centricity bias. I noticed the same bias in Jacob…he felt he was the fastest kid for a couple of years even though he clearly wasn’t due to his leg issues. But I do remember when I was in about Grade 2, I could no longer keep up with the fastest kid. I am not sure it was because I was fat, I don’t specifically remember that I was at that time, but it might be the first time I saw a result of how I was “different” from other kids.
By grade 6, it was clearly apparent. While other kids were establishing social relationships with the opposite sex (and maybe the same sex, I never noticed), girls wanted nothing to do with me. Friendship was obviously okay, but not dating. Two in total were at least willing to consider it, in that I was invited to a birthday party of one and there was joking about “2 minutes in the closet” with one of them willing to do it with me (we didn’t, mostly as I had no idea what it was really about, too embarrassed) and one was willing to dance with me shyly in Grade 8.
Somewhere between age 16 and 18, I think, I passed the 200 pound mark. I can remember being just under for a very long time and feeling embarrassed by it. I could say to myself “At least I’m not over 200!”, but it wasn’t very reassuring. I bought a home gym, but I didn’t really have any place to keep it. I tried forcefitting it into my small bedroom, but with an desk, bed, wardrobe, stereo and bookshelf, it wasn’t very convenient trying to reposition stuff anytime I wanted to use it. Equally for an exercise bike, which was uncomfortable and not much fun, plus I made a huge racket through the floorboards and my parents (gently) complained about the noise. They didn’t really understand that it was me trying to lose weight for the first time, and I wasn’t comfortable talking about it.
I didn’t have a huge social circle in high school, and I went through the standard experiences of most fat kids…some not too bad, some embarrassing, more being ignored and shut out of social situations, some of which was financial (some of the kids had a lot more money and dressed way nicer than I did) and some of which was just social awkwardness (introversion combined with being embarrassed by my weight). My weight stopped me from doing a lot of things other people were doing…sports, dancing at parties, even talking to pretty girls or any girls really. My brother didn’t help much, contributing to my social pariah status by looking through my yearbook (he was 22, they were in high school) and calling the pretty ones to ask out on dates. It’s not much fun having the prettiest girl come up to you and halls to talk to you and find out the reason why is to complain your brother is a creep. Nice.
Not a fun time for me. Gym class was the worst, and I only did it for two years in high school. I think it was made worse by the fact that in some ways, I actually enjoyed some of the sports. I liked throwing the football when we had to do passing drill tests, or shooting hoops from a free throw line. I just wasn’t very good at it, but I liked it. But not being good at it is the death knell when combined with social awkwardness and being fat, and I let my interest wane, even though the only thing I really hated in the class were the fitness tests in elementary school and high school.
In elementary school, it was the Canada Fitness test (I think that was the name?) where you could do a series of six exercises and based on how you did, you could get a bronze, silver, gold or award of excellence for the group. Not surprisingly, I sucked at all of the six exercises. Situps were painful, but nobody was great at them. Standing long jump was the same for most people, so no big deal there. A 50 yard dash and 300 yard run were no big deal, even if I wasn’t very fast at them. But the other two were just dread-inducing.
The flexed arm hang was straight out embarrassing. If you don’t remember it, you basically did a pull up with your hands curled towards you until your eyes were level with the bar i.e. flexed arms. And you hung there until your eyes dropped below the bar. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but it was something like a minute to qualify for any of the good levels. I seem to recall that I could do about 10 seconds. I was just too heavy for my arm strength. I can remember a guy in grade 7 really trying to encourage me, Tony DeNoble. He could tell that I didn’t want to do it, not even try, and he was there doing the best he could to support me. I appreciated the gesture but external motivation like that has never helped me, it just doesn’t work. I feel more like it is just adding a witness to my failure. It is one of the most embarrassing moments from any of my “fitness attempts” in elementary school. I can see why subsequent analysis and evaluations of the programs revealed that they weren’t very motivating and in fact tended to “facilitate self-debasement and destructive eating and exercise practices” in girls who were overweight. It wasn’t that positive for fat 13 year old boys either.
In high school, we added the shuttle run. We had done it in elementary school, and while challenging, it paled against the flexed arm hang. But when I was in Grade 9, the shuttle run was absolutely soul-crushing. It doesn’t look like it is that hard. You start in a prone position, with 8 blocks laid out in equal distances the length of the gym, call them spots 1-8 with your nose at the starting line being spot 0. When the “race” starts, and it was sort of a race with about six of us going at the same time across the gym, we had to get up from our prone position, run to the first block (spot 1), and bring it back to home (spot 0); do the same with block 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8; and then return them all from home to spots 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. You couldn’t just throw the block when you came back, you had to place it on the home line to ensure you were bending each time. So out and bend, back and bend, out and bend, back and bend. If you’re good at math, and I was / am, you basically run the length of the gym 4.5 times picking up the blocks and 4.5 times putting them block. So nine double lengths in total. I vaguely remember those in shape pushing themselves and getting it done in about 5 minutes, and dropping. It would take me over 10 and I would want to puke when I was done. And even though I couldn’t even come close to any sort of “viable” time, I still had to try as if I could. It was part of your grade.
Like I said, I wasn’t abysmal at everything, I could throw a football or do basketball / volleyball / badminton, but the fitness test? Just an opportunity to see I was the worst in any class I was in.
We also did a outdoor running test. I don’t remember it being part of the official test, maybe it was just our teacher’s choice. We didn’t have any sort of outdoor athletic field, so we would do x-country running on city streets. At the time, I felt it was some sort of huge achievement marathon. One that I couldn’t do very well, but at least I wasn’t always last. We would start off at the police station on Water Street and run to Parkhill Road, then cross the bridge to the railroad tracks, back along the railroad tracks to a pedestrian bridge, and the back up London Street to Water Street. Some kids could do it in 6-8 minutes. It would take me closer to 12-15, and some of the class would end up walking near the end. I always tried at least to run it. As I said, it seemed like some huge distance. I just checked MapMyRun — it’s a bit over 2 km.
It wasn’t like I wasn’t active. My friends, brother and I would build treeforts, roam all over the city, play football, hockey, soccer a bit, baseball, lots of stuff. I was just fat. I didn’t really know why, or know the links to diet choices over diet volume. I wasn’t eating only junk food, for example. One of my friends practically lived on junk food, never gained an ounce. Asshole. 🙂
But no matter what else was going on in a given week, I could win contests or get straight As in any subject, if I failed in some fitness test or sports attempt, I was mentally done for the week. It was all I remembered for the week. Yay, I was smart, whoopee f***. And I really had no idea about how to change any of it. Or role models to emulate. There was a weight room at work, but it was only used by the wrestling team. I was interested, but no one else was really welcome, nor was it anything anyone encouraged. The only “motivation” options in gym class was to stop being a fat ass and work harder. I don’t mean that as harsh as it sounds, just that there was certainly no enlightened view as to the idea that 80% of your weight is derived from diet and 20% from physical activity.
And what was I eating at home? Potatoes, meat, bread. Lots of carbs, some basic veggies but even those were mostly starchy. Not a great set of choices for me, even if I didn’t know it.
Elementary, high school, and university was mostly a sh** show for interactions with women. My social isolation grew as I became fatter. I had my first “date” when I was 18, and we were together for almost 4 years. It was one of the first times I ever felt “comfortable” with someone. Any previous interaction with girls of a romantic nature were almost always of the “hell no” variety (even if they were polite about it).
It wasn’t until I was almost 25 or so that it wasn’t as big an issue. No pun intended. I just started to find women who didn’t care about it, or at least weren’t repulsed by it and gave it a shot to get to know me. But I was pretty immune to some of it by then anyway. I knew what I was looking for, and even if there were times when I was lonely for intimacy, I had a lot of female friends at least. I had a couple of negative experiences from people online back in the day when they saw my picture, including one who bluntly said, “You look fat” based on a headshot. I wasn’t trying to date them or anything, it was just trivia game sites and people would share pics of themselves (it was pre-avatar days), but I stopped sharing real photos and only shared pics of frogs.
Only one women comes to mind as someone that I would have liked to date but who wasn’t interested in me because of my weight. It wasn’t the only reason, but it was in there. We got past it, and one time when I was feeling a bit pathetic, I talked with her about my concerns about my weight, and lamented how some people reacted. I was probably being passive-aggressive, but that was not really my intent. I was just trying to work through some of it in my head. And I made a passing remark that if I did lose the weight, I would not want to date anyone that I knew before that point i.e. if they knew me when I was fat, and didn’t want to date me, I would not want to date such a shallow person if afterwards I lost the weight. She lost her shit. She was really pissed at me for saying that she was shallow, which as I said, was not exactly my intent, I was more noting that if I did manage to lose weight, I would “need” to meet new people, start fresh. We stopped being friends a bit later, only in part related to that, but it was also the last time I ever discussed my weight with someone other than my wife, my mother, or a medical practitioner in the last 20 years (at least until this year).
Lots of other silly social costs come to mind, little one-offs. Standing next to a pregnant woman and an 8-year-old girl shyly asking me when MY baby was coming. One-off comments from various people, mostly girls, through-out my life, including being called pig for a short while by a group of 3 mean girls in elementary school (although I think I deserved it at the time, I wasn’t very nice to one of them either, the closest I come to having regrets in life). A comment from my mother when I was about 40, out of the blue, that I should do neck exercises to get rid of my double / triple chin.
With a bit of work, I could come up with more examples, but those are probably the main ones. And as I said earlier, I would say they were mostly earlier in my life, or at least that I noticed them more then, maybe not so much later.
B. Lifestyle and Opportunity Costs
I mentioned above that my experience with sports was mostly negative in high school, or at least that the negative experiences were far stronger than the positive ones. And over time, I stopped playing. In theory, I love the idea of some simple intramural sports leagues, even if my interest is more in non-team events generally…bowling or golf, for example. But I haven’t pursued many of them. I just stopped doing them, and it shows up in my lifestyle. I became less active over time, partly weight and partly age. Many of my interests are sedentary pursuits — reading, watching TV, writing. Not very active choices. And for the most part, they’re relatively mild hidden costs, not worth enumerating very much more than I have already said.
Yet there have been a few times where my weight has impinged upon things that I want to do but don’t feel comfortable doing with others or am afraid to do just generally.
Andrea has a family cottage, and while I joked about it in my wedding speech (My wedding speech about Panda Astronomy), there was truth in there that all of her cousins are really quite sporty and active. All the way from adventure racing to ultimate, swimming to rowing. It is, I confess, highly intimidating. I don’t want to do those things with others who are all good at it and where I’m not. Even if they’re not all super thin anymore, they are all reasonably fit. I am not. And I certainly don’t want it to be obvious that I suck at something because I’m fat. It’s just not fun for me. Every year they do something called the Malcolm Olympics and while it is far from active sports, I usually vote with my feet and avoid it. I feel conspicuous. Uncomfortable. I don’t mean they’re judging me, they’re wonderful people, I just don’t want to be seen doing it. I don’t feel comfortable with myself. Which also means while my wife and son would love me to part of the festivities, I’m not. Because I suck at it and have no confidence. I’m just going to feel miserable if I do something really bad because of my weight. Even when they’re all in the water just splashing around on a hot day, I pass because I don’t want to take my shirt off to go in the water nor wear it in because I’m obviously ashamed to have my body be seen by someone I know. So I just don’t participate.
On our honeymoon, there was an option to do a hike across the volcano floor. It wasn’t like Andrea was begging to do it, I don’t even know if she would have considered it, but although it sounded kind of cool, it wasn’t even an option. I can’t handle the heat or the exertion to do that in the heat. While not directly a result of my weight, I do have high blood pressure (which is strongly weight-related), and I can’t handle the heat well. On the same trip, we hiked up a small trail to the summit, and if I was in better shape, I would have liked to hike down to the cove on the other side. Andrea could have easily made it but I knew I couldn’t. It was too much for me, I was too out of shape. So we didn’t.
We went to Newfoundland a couple of years ago, and while hiking in Gros Morne, there was a long trail down to an inland fjord. Andrea wanted to go, and in most circumstances, people would just do it. It wasn’t a huge hike, a few km in total, and relatively good wide access road to go on. But we had Jacob with us, a stroller, no hats, and no water or snacks. I was worried it was too far for me, and if I had to push Jacob back in the stroller too, this was going to turn risky really fast. So I put my foot down and said no way. If she wanted to go, we had to go back and get our stuff from the car to do it properly. It couldn’t be spontaneous. And I was pissed off that I had to explain why I couldn’t just “go”, like she could.
In winter, Jacob and Andrea go tobogganing, something I quite enjoy when I go. I feel like a kid. But walking up and down the hill is difficult for me and I feel self-conscious that I am so big generally and even more so in my winter clothes. I feel like the Stay Puff marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. I’m old, I’m big, I feel conspicuous. So I often don’t go. It depends on my mental energy that week if I can muster enough positive confidence to do it.
It is the type of missed experience that has been one of the motivating factors for me, nudging me forward on my commitment. The fact that there are certain things that Jacob and Andrea do together and I haven’t gone with them because I feel it is too much for me and/or that I won’t enjoy it because of my size. The last time I went on a water slide, I got stopped half-way down because I was just too big and had to inch and inch and inch forward quite a way. I looked like a beached whale and felt like it.
So I vote with my feet and don’t do some things that I would actually like to be able to at least consider. Even on vacation in Mexico, I sent Andrea off with Jacob for certain things where I felt I would be conspicuously over-sized.
There are also some odds and ends that I don’t know how to classify. Noticing that some new cars are just not good options for me because I am oversized for the small driver’s seat; fitting myself into economy class on an airplane and holding my arms in so I’m not encroaching on the person beside me; once visiting someone with a little nook of a bathroom and I actually had to wedge myself in very uncomfortably into the nook to use the toilet; going to visit someone and worrying about the furniture they offer me because I would be mortified if I broke it just by sitting on it (fat people spend a lot of time estimating the strength of furniture visiting); my office chair at work has extra reinforced wheels that we ordered 10 years ago and that has followed me around since I split the default plastic ones within 3 months; buying step stools or ladders that have low weight limits and having to buy bigger heavier ones; wanting to take a bath in a big tub but only having small tubs that are not very satisfying; liking bicycling but going is painful even with padded seat and padded shorts, just too much weight pressing down on too small an area, even after making sure the bicycle is strong enough for someone my size (most people don’t even realize that most sports equipment comes with weight limits); or not going kayaking (for example) because the typical kayak weight limits are way below my weight and will just flip too easily (wrong centre of gravity)…I’d actually even like to own kayaks for the three of us and go on weekends for light paddles, but not happening soon.
Oddly enough, I wrote most of this post and left out one very big area in this section…clothes. I hate shopping for clothes, I hate picking out clothes from my closet, I hate deciding what to wear anywhere. I would much prefer to stay in white cotton sport socks (good breathability for my destroyed feet) with supportive running shoes, comfortable track pants, a polo shirt or T-shirt, and super large briefs. I don’t want to wear a dress shirt, or dress pants, or even khakis for anything casual. I just don’t think I look good in them, or more pointedly, I don’t feel that I look good in anything. Comfort is a much bigger issue than that, and while some people may enjoy shopping for clothes for hours (I kind of like doing it with women i.e. helping them choose things to try), my clothes shopping usually lasts about 8 minutes. I go in, find something that fits, buy multiple colours of the same size, and leave. It’s a transaction, pure and simple, and I leave. I haven’t talked about sizes or measurements yet, but I did have one bad experience once, although maybe bad isn’t the right term. Sobering perhaps. We were talking with some friends, and they mentioned the difficulty the guy has with getting pants the right size for him because he’s so tall. In passing, he mentioned the sizes. I don’t know if I reacted outwardly, but it was a bit jarring. His waist and inseam were the exact inverse of my waist and inseam…I felt like the horizontal version of him, as fat as he is tall. But generally speaking, clothes are pretty low on my list of fun activities. It was a bit better when I switched to shopping at the Big and Tall store, partly as the Tall shirts were long enough to go over my belly and still tuck in my pants. True story, just not a happy one. And don’t get me started on seeing some particular clothing item that I would like, but that doesn’t come in my size. I am hoping, honestly hoping, that when I reach my goal, I`ll look forward to clothes more, even simple jeans that don`t require the same “husky size” mental experience as when I was an early teenager.
C. Mental health costs
It doesn’t take much to see in the examples above how some of it has affected me and my mental state. Some of it directly, some indirectly. Some of it just body image, some of it confidence shattering. Even as I write these blogs, I am caught on a point between describing myself as overweight or obese or large, or using the phrase I feel is more appropriately harsh — just plain fat. I can’t couch my self-criticism in flowery terms, not if I’m being honest with myself. I don’t see myself anymore as simply overweight. I see myself as fat. Another factor helping tip the scales in favour of change.
I have struggled with depression at times, perhaps even just general loneliness in my life. And some of it was likely related to my weight, which is a vicious cycle if food is a source of comfort, as it is for me. Whenever I was unhappy about something when I was a kid, my mom would give me my favorite meal or make my favorite dessert. Comfort was not hugs and snuggles, it was food. Take ice cream for example.
It has been a huge source of joy, an innocent pleasure, in my life and as a cruel source of motivation, I am denying myself any ice cream until I achieve my goal. I can deal with just about everything else involved, but the psychological comfort that ice cream has given me over the years is huge. I would go get ice cream with friends when school overwhelmed me when I was out west at law school. I would celebrate with friends when something went well. Some people choose drugs or alcohol, but for me, it’s just simple ice cream. I’m the manager who instituted Laura Secord staff meetings to get us out of the office for something fun once in awhile. I’m not talking the stereotype of curling up with a carton of ice cream and working through it when I’m depressed, I mean simply going for a cone or a bowl or a sundae from time to time. But it is my Kryptonite, and if I am to succeed in my goal, I cannot let ice cream be the reason I fail.
In my research, I saw lots of people talking about the loss of respect of others at work, or that certain people just won’t hire fat people i.e. the workplace rejects you. I don’t feel I’ve experienced that, although perhaps I have in a different sense. Being fat, I don’t look like some GQ model in a suit. I just look like a dressed up schlub. If you’re thinking of saying, “But wait, you can do x or y and you’ll look great”, maybe you think that is true. But *I* don’t. I don’t like suits and I don’t wear them ever if I can avoid it. I succeed at work for two reasons — I’m good at my job and I’m not a raving asshole. Some days I slip on both. 🙂 But I am never going to be the guy that someone meets and thinks, “Wow, he’s impressive looking, looks very put together, the natural leader”. I know several people who are, and I see how people react to them, even though in many respects, they are far inferior to me in their experience and abilities. Yet they’re chosen to lead certain things. Is that weight-related? My introversion? My boss is just an idiot? Who knows. But suffice it to say that there are times where being thin would have been a good work-related asset. I don’t worry about it, but I have noticed it from time to time.
Another area that people frequently complain about is derision from medical professionals. Even recently, on a friend’s FB feed, I saw one of her friends lamenting (maybe ranting) that it would be nice if a doctor would just see her as a patient to discuss what’s wrong with her rather than assuming that everything is because she’s overweight. I can relate slightly to that with general practitioners in that everyone wants to talk about that and even sometimes only that, even if that is not why I’m there. Equally, though, some people in the U.S. have noted doctors even refusing to treat fat people i.e. “I won’t even see you if you don’t lose 20 pounds first” as a tough-love approach. Yes, we all agree they’re assholes. But it isn’t about them, it’s about the person who receives that reaction.
I haven’t had any experiences on that level, but I can think of one where their reaction to my weight completely pissed me off. I went in for a sleep test to see if I was grinding my teeth, and if so, was it interfering with my sleep. The doctor reviewed a basic questionnaire that I filled out, looked at it for less than 2 minutes, and declared that I had weight-based sleep apnea, obviously severe. What he was basing this on was not so much the questionnaire as the fact that I was obviously fat. And he basically confirmed as much as weight was the obvious factor for most people and he hadn’t met anyone who was very overweight and didn’t have it. Then when I went for the test, the girl took one look at me and basically declared I had it. I didn’t say anything at the time, but at the break in the night where they switch from monitoring unassisted breathing to giving you a mask, she was quite rude when I was reacting to how hard I found it with the full face mask (I was almost having a panic attack that I couldn’t breathe). Her attitude was basically, “Suck it up, fatty, you got yourself into this mess and you’ll live with it now for the rest of your life.” If it wasn’t for the fact that it was partly true, we would have done a dance in the Hospital’s boardroom for a few years.
In short, yep, it f***s you up mentally. And that isn’t even touching the sh** that holds you back (tune in next week to see how REALLY messed up it makes you!).
D. Financial costs
If you’re naïve, you probably think that the financial costs of being fat are something about food i.e. you eat too much. No, that’s not actually the problem. Sure, you eat more processed stuff than most, but a lot of the processed stuff is actually cheaper in the short run. It’s one of the reasons financially strapped people are eating KD or ramen noodles.
In my case, though, I tended to eat out a lot, a trend that has gone on for a long time. It’s a really complicated psych issue, and I’ll deal with it in terms of things holding me back, but eating out adds up, obviously. Even when I was dating, I liked eating out and I would usually pay or at least try to do so. Just felt appropriate since I was the one always proposing it.
Clothing sometimes is more expensive though. A shirt that is $x for a large or extra large often comes with a small surcharge to get it in 2XL or 3XL, if they even have it at all. Similarly with pants, underwear, undershirts.
The research suggests extra costs for lost wages, life insurance, direct medical costs, or productivity losses, but those seem more private-sector-related costs or American. There are probably some increases in gasoline costs (driving more places than walking), or short-term disability / absenteeism (I have taken some mental health days, and I suspect some were related to weight and depression).
I mentioned above buying certain furniture (ladders, stepstools) with higher weight limits and they were frequently more expensive too. I also bought myself a scooter this year, but given my size, I couldn’t buy just any old scooter, I needed one rated for much heavier people. I found one, but it was about twice the price.
There are other costs, but I feel most of them are hidden. Yet financial is not often a strong incentive / motivating factor for me anyway. There are numerous things where I will opt for convenience over cost, free over being reimbursed with hassles.
E. Medical problems
The biggest medical problem is death. That hasn’t happened yet, so I guess I’m good so far!
Actually, on the serious side, few people would ever die of being overweight — they die of complications of being overweight…their heart gives out from working so hard, they fall and hurt themselves, the weight presses down on organs and causes liver, spleen, kidney or pancreas failures. Breathing becomes difficult, heart disease is rampant, and the big one that hits is diabetes.
Most of those have never presented problems for me, and although one is recently applicable, I’ll deal with that as part of the journey story. It isn’t part of my inventory of problems because it hadn’t happened to me yet, when I did the inventory. I also don’t have kidney stones or gall stones, haven`t needed my hip replaced, and as far as I know, haven’t developed extra body odor issues.
However, for a bunch of the other symptoms, I can tick the box “yes”. Back pain is prevalent with those overweight, which is a combination of carrying the extra weight on your skeletal frame and the challenges of finding a comfortable way to sit. When I was younger, I had lower back spasms that drove me nuts. If I did some simple yoga, cat/camel stretches, I could mostly prevent them, but then my back would be fine for awhile, I’d forget about it, and BAM! I’d have spasms. Massage helped, but not permanently. These days it is more ribs that go out and upper back…the more weight I put on, the harder it is to “self-adjust” through yoga, and even massage doesn’t release enough. I’ve had to add a chiropractor in recent years.
For my legs, I have had swelling in the calves, but after wearing compression socks for a week, it mostly rectified itself. It still swells from time to time, but nothing I can’t tolerate. My knees haven’t had any giant issues, but they do get sore if I over-do it on stairs or hiking, or make the mistake of trying to run on pavement. The action just slams my leg into the back of my kneecap and I’m hobbling for days. I have some really good knee supports, just fabric ones that slip over, and I take them almost everywhere I go now, just in case. I’m terrified of being laid up with a larger knee problem over time as it will take a long time to heal and likely knock me completely out of commission. Where it does affect me is simply kneeling on the floor or doing stuff with Jacob. When you go to get up, the normal way is to put one foot up and then rise…but when you do that, for a moment, you put ALL of your weight on one knee. When I do that, my knee screams at me. I much prefer if I can be next to a chair or couch and use my arms to take the weight off as I rise. I just worry I`m going to hurt it somehow. They`re fine, but I worry.
But I have to confess that my feet are a disaster. Back when I was 19, I got an ingrown toenail on my right foot. That might not at first seem like it is weight-related, but it is. It isn’t that my toenails grow in naturally, it is, ashamedly, because my feet are overgrown / fat, and thus encroach on my toenail area. I asked about it recently and the surgeon basically said the solution would be to sculpt the toes and remove tissue so they wouldn’t encroach. Umm, no thanks. I’ll survive. When it happened, we removed the toenail and let the new one grow back in. Unfortunately, it surprisingly (or not surprisingly, now that I understand why) grew right back into the same groove and got infected again. So we removed it permanently and destroyed the nailbed. Except apparently the surgeon was a hack and left part of the nailbed on one side. Which means I still get partial toenail growth and part just calloused toe. Yep, it seems gross to me too. Most people think it is nothing really, if they see it, but it freaks me out at times.
But beyond that, most people end up with broken-down feet either with fallen arches or something equally serious, or almost universally, dry, cracked feet with circulation problems. I don’t have any circulation problems, everything still works fine in that regard. But my feet dry out, crack, and the skin splits. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem for most people, but when the skin splits on someone my size, it SPLITS and opens a small painful crack. Almost like an open callus. It can be quite painful to walk on, so I’ve often resorted to bandaids to cushion the spot, while applying cream to ease the open crack. It’s not super serious although it could lead to infection. But one of the reasons people often develop larger problems is one of simple physics. They can’t reach their feet to maintain good foot care.
I’m not as bad off as some people, but it’s a challenge. I don’t cut my toenails as often as I used to, often waiting for them to make it worth it. Not egregiously so, and pedicurists wouldn’t be quivering in fear, but I do feel self-conscious about them at times. If I go for a massage, I almost always leave my socks on and I’d rather they not touch my feet at all. I rarely wear sandals, and definitely prefer supportive running shoes.
My butt is the size of Montana, there’s not much to say about that. It’s just big. But if you connect it with my stomach, then we have digestive issues. I have acid reflux, and while not necessarily weight-related, it does get worse the more I weigh. I take a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) that controls the reflux and there are some potential long-term impacts to taking meds of this sort, but the ST alternative is heart burn every night.
The first time it hit, I ended up at the hospital. No, really, I did. Look at the situation — my family has a history of heart disease, I’m overweight, and I was experiencing a sudden onset of chest pain. You don’t need Doogie Howser to figure out the likelihood of problems there. Turned out that a simple lovely pink cocktail of reflux meds got rid of everything. The benefit of PPIs is that they work and are covered by insurance; the alternatives are over-the-counter meds with fewer side-effects but can add up in cost. I’m hoping with the weight loss that I might be able to lose them entirely, but that’s a bit wishful thinking at this point.
However, between the extra weight and the reflux, my digestive system is in a bit of flux on any given day. Some days it looks like minor Irritated Bowel Syndrome, and I spend way too much time in my life wondering where bathrooms are if I’m in a new place. My mother had a similar problem, and knew where all the bathrooms were in various parts of Peterborough. There are some places that I go to, i.e. some plazas or malls, over other options simply because I know they have nice clean bathrooms. Sears at Carlingwood? It was a good refuge if I needed it while shopping, never busy, etc. I’ve avoided hikes or long walks or even short walks on certain days just because I wasn’t confident of my digestive system cooperating. It’s a pain in the … well, you get it. It’s definitely a weight-related cost. And definitely something I’m hoping will improve with a different diet and weight.
Blood pressure issues are almost guaranteed. About 8 years ago, I was in the middle of a cold and took some decongestant. I got a few really bad headaches, and my ear was pounding. While I was at the walk-in clinic for something else, I asked if maybe I had an ear infection. She checked me out and said no, it was my blood pressure. Did I know it was high (no) and did I want to know what it actually was (yes)? Turned out I was 165 over 105-110 (can’t quite remember). For those who are not familiar with blood pressure stats, that is serious stroke territory. I got a prescription to bring it down, went to my regular doctor to get the dosages worked out, and have been taking them ever since.
In a sense, the BP causes me no real acute problems, or at least not ones that are easy to pinpoint since it is under control. I do have some tension headaches, but I had those before I had high BP too. However, with the high BP, the real problem is that I can’t take decongestants — it jacks your BP, which is why mine was so high the first time. With the dosage set properly on my BP meds, I average 120/85, which is fine. The one constraint is that I can’t drink any alcohol with the meds I’m on. Boo hoo. I never drank much anyway, and eliminating it is not something I particularly miss. I don’t like beer or wine, so missing out on occasional harder stuff isn’t much of a cost to me. I can have a sip to toast someone at a wedding, but honestly, even if it wasn’t for the meds, I wouldn’t be drinking much more than a sip of it anyway. It’s just not a big deal for me.
Last and in some ways least, is a bit cosmetic. I have a double chin. If I’m feeling particularly harsh some days, I’d say bordering on a triple chin. There’s a reason why I don’t look in the mirror very often. The image I have in my head of what I look like is quite different from the person I see now. And I’m worried when I lose the weight that I’m going to have flabby, sagging skin in places I really don’t want it. My neck, my arms, my stomach, my legs, my ass. For some, maybe that’s a nice problem to have, but some people tone evenly as they drop weight, others not so much. I don’t know what it will look like but I’m not optimistic that it won’t be a disgusting side-effect. But if I need plastic surgery to leave the house, so be it. I have to lose the weight, regardless of what my epidermis layer wants to do.
The expected benefits are relatively short in comparison to the above, partly because the first thing to say is “eliminate the above costs”:
- Social costs: I can’t do much about these, almost all of those are in the past and have already been incurred and paid. I can try to undo some of the negativity I have about sports, although I suspect that is more likely to be things like golf, bowling, archery rather than the intramural sports of my youth. It seems like so much work to try those. Is it bad that I’m strangely attracted to lawn bowling? Hell, I’m only 50. I suppose I could try pickle ball sometime. I would LOVE to go walking like my father-in-law does every morning. Maybe not at 6:00 a.m., but I’d love in retirement to go walking on a different trail several times a week with my camera or perhaps some music buds. Plus I’d like to go kayaking. And the stuff on dating / relationships is irrelevant as my wife loves me in my current form, although of course she’d like me to be healthier.
- Lifestyle and opportunity costs: As I mentioned above, there are numerous things that I opted out of because I wasn’t comfortable participating given my size and weight. Will that change? I don’t know. I’m still an analytical introvert that hates being around large numbers of people for any length of time, but at least I won’t be blocked by self-esteem issues. I’m hoping to benefit from things with Andrea and Jacob that I say no to now. And I’m hoping to be able to buy some clothes off the rack without worrying that it won’t come in my size.
- Mental health costs: The ship has sailed on the past, and I’ve dealt with some of them. But it also ingrained certain patterns of behaviour that might be harder to break for self-esteem and confidence in areas that I normally shun. I guess I’m hoping to avoid future deadweight loss.
- Financial costs: This is probably the easiest in some ways…I’m not eating out as often as I used to, which alters the food and entertainment costs considerably. I might buy some exercise equipment or join a gym, but it’s still way cheaper than my previous expenses.
- Medical problems: Well, I might not be able to avoid death, but I might push it off farther, and in the meantime, my overall quality of life will improve. At the moment, I’m on four different meds, and I’d like to get off all of them. I’d even love to see if my sleep apnea drops enough not to require a sleep machine. Better health for my back, better foot care, less pressure on my knees, an improved digestive system, lower blood pressure, less externalities (double chins, etc.). It`s an embarrassment of possible riches.
Being overweight has had a big impact on my life, but that is not news. Lots of times while writing this, or even thinking about the inventory, I thought, “Oh what about THAT, don’t forget THAT”. It’s hard to feel like it’s all manageable when you see it so starkly presented, and I know that even this list is a bit of a snapshot, it’s not everything.
And yet…it’s not enough. The forces against me, when balanced with these in favour, left me in an uneasy and dysfunctional equilibrium. I wasn’t experiencing any particularly acute costs, and I didn’t have any pull factor to change “now” vs. “sometime”.
Yet, in the end, one new factor appeared to pull me forward, one that is partly related to the above, but in a new and compelling way. In the post after next week’s one on the forces against, I’ll talk about what put me over the top and made me ready to tackle my weight problems this year.