This line is by the late, great Nora Ephron, as delivered by Billy Crystal in "When Harry Met Sally." And it's how I've felt the past few days. No, I'm not in love – well, maybe I am, but not in the way you're thinking.
I'm starting a new nutrition and weight loss regimen, and DAMN but it is ABOUT. TIME.
I've been fat for a while now. After a lifetime of yo-yoing from chubby, to fat, to actually thin for once, to chubby again, to a size and number I never imagined (309 lbs, size 22/24) – "fat" has been my reality for longer than not. I'm almost as mentally comfortable with the word as I am physically uncomfortable with the condition.
Fat. I can say it, I own it. Others dance around it from time to time, and I call bullshit, refusing to let them paint a prettier picture.
When I say I am worried I might break your camp chair – I'm actually worried. I'm familiar with weight restrictions of such things at this point, and many of them cap at the 250-pound mark. Some are just at 300, but that's not leaving any wiggle room and I don't know how these things work in that regard. Is it like expiration dates on food? Where you still have a few days – depending on how you store things – to eat something that expired yesterday?
I don't know, and I don't want to find out the hard way and owe somebody a chair. I also don't want to hurt myself when the chair collapses, or suffer the humiliation.
But still people will say, "Oh stop—" when I voice these concerns. As if I'm simply being self-deprecating.
We're conditioned to poo-poo self deprecation – and it's not always a bad thing – but being polite doesn't change reality. I once made a comment to a colleague about being fat, and he immediately chimed in with, "You're not fat–" If we'd rehearsed it he couldn't have hit his cue better.
This was a good 50 (or more) pounds ago, but the fact that I was fat was still not up for debate. I remember thinking, "Wow, does his wife have him TRAINED."
Because at this point – and even then – it's not a vanity thing. I'm not fishing for compliments. I'm describing a literal, medical fact. I am fat.
It's not a put-down – unless you're some shitty person who uses it specifically in that way. (Please imagine Louis C.K. saying, "Yooouuu'rrree faaaaaattttt" in a sing-songy tone, to illustrate this particular type of douche-bag.)
By the way, if you use the word "fat" as a judgment, as an insult – you're a douche-bag, to be clear.
It's simply an adjective. And it's one that applies in my case. I've accepted it as a (at least) temporary descriptor, and pondered the possibility of (potential) permanence and realized I have to love myself either way. It's not always easy on its own – and the fact that others find it so easy to judge (and make their judgment known) certainly doesn't help.
That's what the plastic surgeon asked me. This was the man I was sent to see by my oncologic-gynecologic surgeon just before my hysterectomy to remove uterine cancer.
I was a bit resistant to the old-school "open" incision my old-school doctors were recommending (I've since realized it was a blessing, but that's another story). It seemed archaic when I knew there were laparoscopic options – but what really got me was learning I might lose my belly button in the transaction.
He said he "couldn't promise to save it." Meanwhile, I'd never have thought it even entered the equation.
I was traumatized enough to be losing reproductive options – when I'd never gotten to take things out for a spin – and the idea that my surgeon might leave me without a belly button just put me over the edge. Which is funny considering no one but ME (and my doctors) had/has seen the thing in a good 25 years or so, but it was the principle of it. It just seemed like there had to be another way.
When my sister had a similar surgery a few months after I did, HER surgeon simply cut AROUND her belly button, so there was no issue. I'm not sure why my surgeon didn't think of that, but he was trying his best to meet me halfway.
He thought he could do a different type of incision, but wanted a consult with a plastic surgeon first. He also thought maybe if the guy was willing, they'd work a tummy tuck sort of deal into the mix. Because insurance wouldn't cover this, he was hoping this doctor "friend" would agree to do it for free.
It wouldn't have benefitted me much cosmetically – they couldn't suddenly remove all my fat (at least not safely – also liposuction? Ew – no thanks). But it would have solved the belly-button problem, and tightened things up I s'pose. It was a moot point in the end since the plastic surgeon, upon getting wind of the notion that his services were meant to be offered up pro bono, said a resounding no.
But before that part became clear, I actually met with the guy. It was a singularly humiliating experience.
All I had to do was drop the elastic waist of my sweatpants down past my fleshy belly – enough for him to see the area he'd be working with. I didn't know this guy, but I didn't feel particularly warm and fuzzy about him. Looking through his book of befores and afters hadn't filled me with confidence either, frankly. Give me Terry Dubrow or Paul Nassif any day.
He poked and prodded and took it all in and then said incredulously, "You're about 50% fat… WHAT HAPPENED?"
I stared at him for a beat, poker-faced, thick-skinned enough to not even flinch, though internally I was thinking "You just may be the most horribly insensitive medical asshole I've ever come across." I shrugged as if it was no big deal and said, "I eat my feelings? I have a desk job and don't get to the gym enough? I don't know." For a guy who had plenty of post-bariatric-surgery, skin tightening images in his portfolio, he was acting like he'd never seen a fat person before.
And seriously? What did he think happened? Was it really a mystery? I wasn't attacked by some fat monster in the middle of the night one night. This happened slowly, over many years, and there are a million reasons why I allowed it, a million excuses, a million resentments at not being blessed with a perfect physique requiring little maintenance to stay that way.
But none of that was on my mind as I was preparing to have surgery to remove CANCER from my body. And this was before I even knew I needed chemo and radiation after the fact.
Those days were a blur of disappointing surprises, endless doctor visits, and emotional calisthenics aimed at keeping me from completely losing my shit. The fact that I needed to lose weight was less of a priority than it had ever been as I focused on other health obstacles in front of me.
The long, slow awakening
That was three years ago. It sounds crazy to me – only because it's long enough ago that I should feel better than I do. I should be healthier than ever, wouldn't you think? Who doesn't take the best care of themselves EVER after having cancer?
Except it's not any easier than any other time – in fact, it many ways it's harder. Self-care becomes a matter of just getting through sometimes, against stamina that is still depleted, and time that flies by unbelievably fast, and a backlog of things that pile up waiting for you to be well (that are still there as life continues on), leaving you that much further behind.
Not knowing any better, I dove back into some things too quickly, or too enthusiastically, after my treatments were over. It makes sense from the perspective of life having been on hold for a year of being sick/in treatment. Especially when you factor in the second year of getting back to some semblance of normal (that's how long they said it would take, and they were right).
You think you can just get on with things, but it's a process. You're slow, and some of the side effects of treatment last longer than others. You WANT to be normal, but your body won't allow it.
For me, the end of the post-treatment, get-back-to-normal year hit, and it was like a starting gun went off in my brain. "I'm ready, load me up!" I told my boss. And that was a bit dumb. Not because I couldn't handle the workload, but because I couldn't handle it against the things I hadn't taken into consideration before diving in.
Like cleaning my bedroom – which among other things serves as my office, as I work from home as a ghostwriter. I found I still didn't have energy for much – especially at the end of a long work day. Crazy clients and figuring out how to manage being creative on a deadline about subjects I was far from an expert in was overwhelming. It took yet another year to feel like I was close to having a handle on things in my work life – and to want to attend to all the other things that had slipped through the cracks.
I've had too many balls in the air for a while now, and lots of ideas have been noted and developed, but are still awaiting launch – weight loss and fitness among them. I actually GAINED weight during chemo, which I was prepared for after talking to a close friend and 3-time breast cancer survivor who'd gained as well.
Though I'm grateful new anti-nausea meds mean not everyone has to have cancer the way it's typically portrayed in the movies, they also mean your appetite stays intact – even while your energy is too depleted to exercise. At least, that was my experience.
So I've stayed fat, and wanted to change, but I've been struggling just to keep up with the day to day. And now… I'm ready.
Keep it simple
I've been watching my friend Michelle for a while now. She posts regularly about her experience with a shake and cleanse-based system she uses, and I really had no interest – initially. I'd given Slim Fast a try perhaps once – 30-odd years ago – and it hadn't gone so well. Cleanses… well, it made me think of fasting, and those crazy maple syrup, cayenne pepper, lemon juice Hollywood diets.
But then something shifted. I can't say exactly what. I started to make tiny efforts, but none of the dots were quite connecting. I finally actually WENT to the gym I'd been paying for for over a year, and I felt okay the first day. The next trip was less successful, and I wondered if I shouldn't see a doctor before diving into exercise.
My new PCP said she thought I probably needed some nutritional help more than anything, and to take it slow. I met with a nutritionist who was very sweet, and thought I should start with two initiatives: increasing protein and water intake. Both were seriously lacking in my diet, I could admit.
As nice as she was, just talking about it was stressing me out. Meal prep and shopping – it was just not the ideal scenario for my living situation or overall lifestyle, and I knew I wouldn't be able to sustain it.
I had already started to wonder about what Michelle was doing, because she had added me to a secret Facebook group of other people using the same products, who shared their stories and pictures of insane transformations.
After a while, you can't help but take notice of that many people having results, and really claiming to love the program. And even if I didn't know them personally, I DID know Michelle. At the very least I knew her images weren't photoshopped. I trusted her. I did a little research.
It all seemed like the real deal, and I asked the nutritionist about it. She said she'd never tell me NOT to do it, because it sounded fine – she was just concerned it might be unsustainable, as it wouldn't teach me to eat "real food" properly. If I ever stopped I might gain back weight, etc. So why not do the same thing with real food?
I understood what she was saying, but I wasn't convinced I COULD do it with real food. That seemed far less sustainable to me in the short term. And the long-term wasn't really my worry. When I lost weight, I'd be willing to do ANYTHING to keep from gaining it back, I was sure. One step at a time.
After a particularly annoying day at work, seeing Michelle's Healthy Happy Hour event pop up on Facebook was all I needed. I never realized she lived about 5 minutes from me – but she does – and the event was in an hour. I RSVP'd yes, got myself together, and went.
I was cautiously open to hearing about everything. I drank the drink she gave me – a combo of the cleanse product and something else in a plastic cocktail cup, over ice. It tasted pretty good. I listened as others who'd been using the products for a while, and a few who'd just started, talked about the difference it was making to their health and fitness goals.
I liked everything I was hearing, and more importantly, everything I was tasting. Frozen shakes and chocolates for cleanse days – Michelle kept putting out little bites and glasses, and it was all good stuff.
And then Michelle's "coach," said the magic words, in answer to something I don't remember: "It's a lifestyle, not a life sentence." THAT resonated – big time.
That and the fact I had NOTHING to lose – except 150 lbs, and nothing else I was doing was working.
I decided to go for it. I just took a leap of faith and said yes – because somehow I knew I NEEDED to.
Even though Michelle gave me three days' worth of supplies – to fill the gap between my first month's order and delivery – I had to wait until payday to actually place my order and get started and I. COULDN'T. WAIT.
I was like a kid at Christmas, waiting for that time to pass, thinking: I am so ready. So absolutely ready. This is what I need to change this one aspect of my life.
Other aspects also need changing, and they require different tools – though some of them will benefit from my weight loss as well. I'll get to those things – some are already in progress. But this one is super important, and the time is now, and I just can't wait.
How did I fare in my first week on this new regime? That'll be my next post! Like my Facebook page to follow along as I blog my journey! Or ask me for more info if you want to join me on the road to health and fitness!
FU image by: Bill Mulder
"Clean all the things!" images by: Hyperbole and a Half
Food prep image by: Taz + Belly