Fat Is The Memory That Never Fades

Cloud, tree, chair, shoe. Nose. Hat. These are just a few of the many, many words that my dad no longer knows. He can still put together a coherent sentence, usually – as in, “here, have some” (when trying to share his lunch) or, “go that way,” (when I’m pushing his wheelchair to take him outside). Object names, though, are lost to him. As are most descriptive terms.  

Except for one, and that is FAT. Fat, he remembers very well. 

“Look at her,” he’ll say, chuckling, nodding toward a nurse or aide. “Fat, huh?” 

The nurse or aide will pretend she didn’t hear and maybe put rat poison is his dessert later, who knows. I will say “shut up!” under my breath, but by now he has forgotten all about it and gone silent. You have to wonder what he’s thinking about, at those moments. Maybe it makes him happy to get something right, for once. Maybe he’s clinging to fat as his last known adjective, and wants to throw it around whenever possible. Whatever. The rat poison won’t kill him so I let it go. 

He’s never called me fat, or at least, he’s never used the word directly. One day he told me, “You’re different . . . there’s more of you.” If ever you need to tell a person they’ve gained weight, I suggest this particular wording. More of me! How can that not be a good thing? It was practically a compliment. Except not. 

Another time, the only seat available in the TV lounge was a smallish metal folding chair, which I pulled up next to him. He watched in horror as I sat down. “Jesus,” he said. “You’re lucky that thing didn’t break.” I laughed, because it was funny. I mean, coming from a dementia patient. If a guy sitting near me in a restaurant said it I guess I’d have to stab him. 

I found this while searching for images related to “fat.” I am truly mystified this time.

It’s sort of amazing to me, how “fat” has become such an insult. Like, you could describe a person as tall, and no one would be mad at you. But fat – really, just another word to describe shape or size – is enough to make me want to crawl under my seat when my dad says it about a nurse. If I could fit under my seat. Which I cannot. Dammit. 

Say we were living in a society where food was scarce. In that case, we’d all be praying for fatness. Instead, we live in a world where food is in sometimes appalling abundance, and so for that reason, it is most virtuous to avoid it. Even if you must take drugs to do it, or to take a stapler to your internal organs, or worse.

My husband, I think, has worried that I’m on some kind of fat crusade. Like, I’m purposefully rebelling against the system to make a point. That is not the case. I became fat because I wanted to learn how to be normal, and it turned out that weight gain was an inevitable byproduct of ditching 30-plus years of dieting. I think I am closer to normal now than I have been since approximately 1984. I have not eaten ice cream in probably two weeks or more, and not because I’m on a diet, but because I didn’t want any goddamn ice cream. I try new things. I cooked Brussels sprouts and liked them. I had never eaten Brussels sprouts before that. 

I think this is progress and I think it’s health. And too bad for anyone who looks at my appearance and thinks otherwise.  

As for my dad, I will go to see him later today, and he will likely look me up and down and laugh, or poke me in the stomach and say, “that’s big!” And I’ll say, “I might be fat, but you’re the one who’s trying to drink coleslaw through a straw.” And then I’ll laugh, and he’ll laugh along with me, because as we all know, insults only hurt when we agree that they’re insulting.

My family and I will participate again this year in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. You can join our team or make a donation here. We will not cure my dad, and I will continue to write ‘POA’ after my name even when it’s totally not needed because I have just gotten that used to it. All the same, I’m pretty sure future generations will thank us if we can put this nonsense behind us once and for all.

Eating Competence, Part I

scale-403585_1280So I’ve gained a little weight.

When I say “a little,” I mean somewhere in the range of 30 pounds over the past two years. That was on top of the roughly 20 extra pounds I’ve been cushioned with since 2009, when my youngest child was born. None of these pounds have come easily. No, they’ve been the result of hours, maybe whole days spent counting calories, points, steps and serving sizes. I’ve exercised nearly every day. I’ve read books and magazines. Several times I’ve ordered a medium DQ Blizzard instead of a large.

Clearly, my methods are coming up short.

This shouldn’t be surprising. It’s been shown again and again that food restriction – or dieting, in its many forms – does not generally result in long-term weight loss. Almost all people gain the weight back, often plus some extra. Some people don’t, but they are few and far between and I am not one of them.

So, I’ve tried to accept myself. So I’m fatter. This is only what I look like, it is not me, and the fact is that I feel pretty happy these days.  The trouble is that even if I can accept my fatter self and become a body-positivity advocate and go out and buy clothes that actually fit, instead of wearing the same things all the time – even if I can do all of these things, I don’t want to.

I’ll tell you why. I don’t want to because I’m not comfortable like this. I don’t mean because people might look at me or judge me or find me unattractive.  Of course, there is that, but I’m talking about physical discomfort. I feel heavy, like a human-shaped sandbag. I feel slow and encumbered. My knees and my feet hurt. Yes, there is health at every size, but for me, this size does not feel healthy. Most likely because it isn’t. And so in the evening, nearly every evening, I think: oh my God I have got to start eating less.

And then, nine times out of ten, I eat something.

Yeah, this is not me.
Yeah, this is not me.

My husband doesn’t understand this at all.  He is fully and quite naturally gifted with the skill I call “eating like a normal person.” I don’t mean to imply that the rest of us are abnormal or in some way less-than the “normal” ones. What I mean is that my husband eats when he is hungry, and doesn’t eat when he’s not. Sometimes he eats too much. He almost always eats what he wants, except when it’s not available. He’s able to watch TV for long periods of time without eating a thing, or maybe he might eat a half a package of Chips Ahoy. Last time we went to DQ, he got a large Blizzard and a medium, which he later reported was “enough.” He’s six feet tall and weighs around 180 pounds, a weight which fluctuates maybe 5 pounds in either direction. He doesn’t think much about it.

Meanwhile, I sit here panicking as I watch Melissa McCarthy dropping dress sizes. Don’t leave us! I want to tell her, in my most exceptionally selfish moments. We need you!

I have never measured an apple. Could that be my problem?
I have never measured an apple. Could that be my problem?

So I’ve made up my mind, and I’m making myself accountable by telling it to you: from now on, from this day forward and as God is my witness, I AM GOING TO EAT LIKE A NORMAL PERSON.

There’s likely to be a lot of learning that has to happen here, so it’s lucky for me that I like to read a lot. Right now, what it means to me is that I need to eat what I want to when I’m hungry, and know that I don’t need to eat when I’m not. It sounds so simple it’s almost embarrassing to say. To my husband, and to anyone else who’s never dealt with eating as if it were an enemy to be conquered, it probably sounds pretty ridiculous. Those of you who get it will know that it’s not.

Just eat less and exercise more, people say, and I get it. I know. This is pretty much all you need to do to lost weight, and I know it because I’ve done it tons of times. The problem is that for many of us and certainly for me, restrictions of any sort are not sustainable. For me, restrictions always turn into Oreos. I do not want to spend my life in fear of food. Yes, I want to be thinner. But more than that, I want to one day finish my large DQ Blizzard – or maybe even a medium or a small – and think, yep, that was enough.

Eating like a normal person is hard.  But I am going to figure it out.

More to come.