My Medical Running/Weight Loss Paradox

Hi guys.  It has been a hot minute since I’ve written a blog post.  I hope everyone is doing well.  However, I had an experience yesterday that I need to get off my chest.

Let’s preface this story by saying that I enjoy running.  It is a form of bodily movement that makes me feel as though I am accomplishing a personal goal.  Running helps me relieve stress and is a way for me to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.  I run for many reasons, but weight loss is not one of them.

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Speaking of walks with my pup (I love any opportunity to show the world the perfect being that is my dog Tessa).

About a week ago, my foot began to hurt.  It was a dull and persistant pain but I really didn’t think too much about it.  Even though I was training for a 10K that was to take place Memorial Day weekend, I stopped running as to not aggravate any injury I might have.  However, I still led an active lifestyle and continued to take my beautiful pup for long walks and used my bike as a form of transportation.

About three days ago, my foot started to swell pretty badly.  I asked a friend with a background in sports medicine if she thought I should seek medical attention and she said that pain with delayed swelling may be a sign of something serious.  Yesterday the pain was worse and the swelling was…well…disgusting.  I decided to go to urgent care and get a professional opinion.

Let’s begin my story about my visit to urgent care by stating that being fat my entire life has made me dislike doctors.  Doctors have continually used my weight as a way to be lazy and to jump to conclusions instead of diagnosing the root causes of problems.  Instead of asking me questions about my lifestyle or about the illness that brought me to the doctor, they see a number on the scale and conclude that my diagnosis will always be “obesity”.  Sinus infection?  Lose weight.  Nasal Polyp?  Lose weight.  Common cold?  Lose weight.  Influenza?  Lose weight.  I now refuse to step on the scale when I visit the doctor because it will make her at least ask me why I refuse to get weighed and start a dialogue about my lifestyle.  However, universally, the recommendation of the doctor for how to lose weight is to increase activity and eat lots of fruits and veggies.  More on this later.

Anyway, here I am at urgent care.  I’m seen by a doctor that I have never seen before and I will never see again.  My foot is swollen and discolored.  The doctor asks how I injured it and I say “I don’t know but I am a runner so I have a feeling it is related to running”.  She replies in a snide tone “You’re a runner?” and continues to say “This may be a stress fracture.  Stress fractures are commonly caused by beginning runners who are obese.”  Beginning runner?  BEGINNING RUNNER?!?!?!?

I reply “I’ve been running for about four years.  I am not a beginner.  I am training for a 10K and hopefully will a half marathon under my belt by the end of this season”.  The doctor then replies that perhaps running isn’t the best form of exercise for someone with my BMI.

I tell the doctor “Let me get this straight.  Every time I go to the doctor, they tell me I need to lose weight.  One of the prescribed ways to lose weight is through physical activity.  Now that I’m physically active, you tell me that it is the wrong kind of physical activity for someone with my body type?  Do you even know what you’re talking about?”  Why is my weight always a problem that prevents doctors from doing their job?!?!?!

So, I’m in pain.  I’m worried that I won’t be able to do an activity that I love due to this injury.  I’m worried that a fee that I’ve already paid for a race is going to go to waste.  I don’t need the paradoxical jargon of doctors giving me a lecture about weight loss.  I need some pain killers and some advice as to how I am not going to fuck up my foot worse than it already is so I can get back to running as soon as possible.

All the doctor did was give me an X-ray, conclude I indeed have a fractured foot, give me a prescription for Vicodin and send me on my way.  I was not given any advice for care, not given a splint or a cast, NOTHING.  I was given advice about how I need to lose weight though.  How fucking kind.

Needless to say, I’m frustrated.  However, I’m not surprised.  It is much easier to tell me I’m fat than it is to heal my broken foot, I guess.  I’ll keep the blogging universe updated as to what my “real” doc says once I get an appointment.

Thanks for listening to my rant, friends!

Substantial Figures in History

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how concepts regarding beauty are fluid and continuously changing.  What is aesthetically pleasing in one era might be an undesirable trait a few generations later.  Foot binding, while an extreme example, is a practice that comes to mind when I think of beauty rituals and traits that were desirable at one time, but have since fallen out of vogue.

Foot binding was practiced for nearly 1000 years in China.  The beauty ideal of three to five inch long feet was achieved by systematically breaking and binding the feet of girls when they were as young as three years old.  The smaller a woman’s feet, the higher the implied social status and the more desirable she was to potential suiters.  The practice was eliminated beginning in the early part of the 20th century.  In the 1910’s, feminists and labor activists from the Communist Party recognized foot binding for what it was: a painful, debilitating practice intended to control women, reinforce a hyper-delicate feminine ideal and to equate the size of women’s feet with their personal moral conduct.  Eventually, the practice of foot binding was banned and contemporary Chinese culture largely views the practice as an outdated and brutal beauty ritual.  I bet those themes of “control”, “feminine ideals” and “equating size of body parts with moral conduct” sound a little familiar.

Anyway, this concept of ever-changing beauty ideals made me think I would like to do a series of themed posts called “Substantial Figures in History“.  To talk about fat people who were considered beautiful in their day, or to discuss the historical contributions of people of all sorts of shapes and sizes.  To switch to something a bit more light-hearted than foot binding (sorry to be a Debbie-downer), the first subject of “Substantial Figures in History” will be one of the FIRST documented fat people in history: Venus of Willendorf!

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Venus of Willendorf, herself.

At 4.5 inches tall and nearly 25,000 years old, this statue is said to be a representation of what people during her time found to be the feminine beauty ideal.  Her voluptuous size and accentuated lady bits reinforce what were the desirable attributes of 25,000 years ago.  You know…the “two f’s”:  fatness and fertility.  25,000 years ago, being fat would have been a sign of prosperity to her gatherer-hunter society.  And her accentuated lady bits?  Because of doin’ the nasty.  Well, doin’ the nasty AND the then-considered mystical, awe-inspiring, life-generating act of childbirth.  We can’t forget about that, I guess!

Riot Not Diet

“The way many women use scales is grossly destructive.  The scale is a cruel purveyor of personal worth for the day.  If you wanted to come up with a plot to take an entire gender and render them less effective, you’d put them on a diet and have them buy a scale.  The human energy wasted by women thinking about these numbers is enormous.”–David M. Garner, Ph.D.

It is a snowy day here in Wisconsin.  About six inches fell overnight. I help my husband dig his car out of the driveway and trudge through the snow to take my pup for her afternoon walk.  Taking off my wet, snow-soaked jacket, I notice a pin that is fastened to the lapel.  It features the classic “raised fist” image evokative of many social movements and reads “riot not diet!”.  This simple pin makes me contemplate my journey as a feminist and size activist.

I remember driving around with my dad in his old F150 and discussing how we didn’t think it was fair that our large size was never attributed to genetics.  I was in middle school and we were having a relatively profound conversation about how we believed weight was a source of discrimination towards us and that we thought our genetics were to blame.  My red hair?  From my dad.  My poor eyes?  Thanks, Dad!  My asthma?  You guessed it…Dad.  However, questions about why I was bigger than the other kids always resulted in an answer regarding my diet and assumed lack of activity.  Even as a child it didn’t make sense to me that my older brother and I had the exact same diet and spent entire summers playing outside together (an art seemingly lost to today’s children).  Somehow, he was a bean pole and I was chubby.  My mom’s side of the family are all tall and slender.  My dad’s side of the family?  A bunch of fatties.  Even at a young age, it was evident that fat people faced discrimination and weight is not entirely due to environmental factors.

My knowledge of size acceptance was rather limited until college. As a sophomore at the university, I was required to write a paper for a general education sociology class about discrimination I have personally faced.  I wrote about size discrimination.  The feedback my paper received from the (thin) professor was that she didn’t believe discrimination based on size met the criteria for the paper.  In other words, even with properly documented sources, she didn’t think size discrimination was real.

My fourth year of college, I switched my degree from Music Education to a Bachelor of Music with a Women’s Studies Minor (I joke that my goal was to be completely unemployable).  It was then that I began to delve into the more academic aspects of the societal codes of femininity.  I took classes and read books that informed me about how our modern beauty standard stresses a diminutive beauty ideal because the small size reinforces the archetypes of a physically weak woman and the passive female personality.  I began to understand why our culture wanted women to waste time worrying about food intake instead of about larger societal issues, but didn’t really modify my personal attitude towards my size.  I continued to spend money on diet plans.  I would count “points,” talk to my female co-workers for hours about weight loss, I would pay more at the grocery store for highly-processed food items advertised as “low fat” and lose sleep if I went over my weekly allotment of “points”.

Last fall, an old friend named Tasha who I hadn’t talked to in years randomly called me.  Tasha lives in Philadelphia now.  When I received the call, I didn’t even know what part of the world she called home.  Tasha called because she was following a punk rock band on their US tour.  The band had a stop in Madison and she wanted me to check them out.  In return for a place to crash, she’d pay for my ticket to the show.  I was intrigued.  I was a punk rock kid in middle school and high school but it had been years since I had gone to a concert that had a mosh pit.  The band was good, but music that loud is no longer my thing.  To escape the noise, I decided to peruse the merchandise table.  Among the stickers with the Misfits logo and the DIY zines, I saw a lovely little pin that said “RIOT NOT DIET.”  I had to have it.

It was at that moment that it finally hit me.  The energy I spent worrying about my food intake all these years could have been spent positively empowering myself and other women.  The extra money I spent on diet plans and diet foods could have been spent helping those who have nothing to eat.  Instead of eternally chattering with my female friends about the “points value” in a cup of popcorn, we could have been talking about the work-place discrimination we were collectively facing as women.

As I proudly put that pin on my jacket at the punk rock show, I thought to myself “no longer”.  That tiny little pin has made me contemplate my personal actions and the role weight loss has played in keeping my mind off bigger issues.  That little piece of flair has changed my life in ways I could never have imagined.  I now refuse to let myself be pre-occupied by something as trivial as my weight when there are truly more important things to worry about.  Riot not diet, indeed.

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The pin that got me into all this trouble and the snow that just needs to go away.

How Not To Be A Dick To Your Fat Friends

How Not To Be A Dick To Your Fat Friends

I really enjoyed this article linked above because it touched upon many of the things I frequently feel.  For instance, I know my friends mean well when they say “You’re not fat”.  I also know that my friends are only trying to relate to me over statements that amount to self-loathing (“Ugh.  Don’t you just hate your upper arms?”).  However, neither of these activities are constructive and they both make assumptions that 1) Fat is a negative attribute and 2) that shared physical attributes that bother you about your appearance should bother me, too.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve done both those things, but it makes you think a little bit about how what you say effects others.

There’s all kinds of other goodies in that blog entry.  It is just an all-around excellent read.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

What is This “Size Acceptance” of Which You Speak?

Hello everyone!

I thought it would be good to start things off by talking about what size acceptance is all about.  Quite simply it is the acknowledgement that fat people are subject to several different kinds and levels of discrimination.  Size activists consequently acknowledge that discrimination based on size is not warranted or acceptable.

A related concept is the “Health at Every Size” movement.  This movement believes that there is a natural diversity of body types and people of any size can be healthy.  HAES advocates encourage eating for pleasure and for health and that physical movement is integral to your well-being, independent of your physical size.

I know that many of you are saying “Leah, shut the front door.  Do you mean to tell me fat people can be healthy?”  And to that question, I answer with a resounding YES!  Here is a small amount of the many tidbits of medical academia that indicate being “overweight” is not a death sentence:

A recent article in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) stated that “(being) overweight was associated with lower mortality.”

An article in the September, 8 2004 JAMA showed that a lack of activity, not weight, was the biggest predictor of heart disease.

Even the New England Journal of Medicine states that: “Given the enormous social pressure to lose weight, one might suppose there is clear and overwhelming evidence of the risks of obesity and the benefits of weight loss.  Unfortunately, the data linking overweight and death as well as the data showing the beneficial effects of weight loss are limited, fragmentary and often ambiguous.”

So there you have it.  A thin couch potato is less likely to be healthy than a fat active person.  Hence, “Health At Every Size.”

But Leah, won’t a healthy lifestyle AUTOMATICALLY lead to a thin physique?  Not necessarily, my friends.  There are active healthy eaters of all shapes and sizes!  What is guaranteed to be unhealthy is a weight loss and gain cycle that frequently accompanies dieting.  What is even more certain to increase mortality are harsh treatments such as diet pills or weight-loss surgeries.  More on that later, my friends!

Let’s review:
1) You can be healthy, independent of your size.
2) Fat people are people, too.
3) Skinny or fat, we all are beautiful and should be treated with respect.

More on why dieting is no bueno and why society wants you to think that being overweight is going to kill us all in subsequent posts.  But first, here’s a photo of me being a ham after running a race.  Because running is a fun, fulfilling, healthy activity for people of any size!  Image

Why Am I Writing This Blog?

chicksdigme

Even as a preschooler, I thought I was more rotund than the other kids. But chicks still dug me. Haha. I crack myself up. That’s me and my dad circa 1989. Farm kids always have
the best show and tell!

I’ve been a size activist most of my life and didn’t realize it. From a young age, I did consider myself to be fat and thought that being fat changed the way others perceived me and the way I perceived myself. I never thought that being judged by my weight instead of my character and accomplishments was fair. Unlike many of my peers, I grew up in a super body-positive household. The subject of my weight as being a negative attribute was never brought up at home (partially because about one-half of my immediate family are fellow fat people like me). I ate a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables and was physically active. I was funny, got good grades, was an accomplished musician and had a great work ethic. But to many people, I was fat first and all those wonderful things second.

In college, I delved into the more academic principles of feminism and weight acceptance. I began to realize that there were complex systems in place to shame fat people and to equate what you ate with your own self-control. I read countless medical studies that proved activity levels and diet are what matters NOT an arbitrary weight to height ratio (BMI is the WORST). It made sense that a capitalist society would sensationalize a “disease” that doesn’t actually kill (except in EXTREME cases) because companies want to make profits off diet plans that nearly always fail, and pharmaceutical companies want to profit off medicines that can’t really ever “cure” obesity. Doing my proverbial homework about fat acceptance made me feel EMPOWERED.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve dieted. I’ve looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I’ve felt guilty after eating a second slice of cake. I’ve said to myself “Why can’t I just be pretty with no modifiers?” when people said “You’re pretty. For a chubby girl.” But I want to write this blog to help set the record straight. To tell people you can be healthy emotionally and physically at any size and to have some fun while I’m doing it. I’m glad you stopped by and took the time to read this and hope we can be friends on this blogging adventure. Cheers!-Leah

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A more current picture of me (and my loving husband). You know, to prove I’m a real person and such.