Monday, September 28, 2009
I gained my way up to about 300 and started doing things that I love. I started riding my bike, which is one of my favorite things to do. I started salsa dance classes and found a love for movement that did something to me on levels of my being that i didn't even know I had.
I joined e harmony and put full length photos of my fat body dressed in clothing that I purchased with the help of a fancy New York City Stylist (had a lot of fun working with her and she had a lot of fun working with me!! Hey NYC fatties.. she is awesome http://www.kreativekouture.com/index.html ) I started going out on dates with a few nice girls.
I was living my life.
I have Crohn's disease (in remission for a long time, THANK GOD!!) and over the course of the last 15 years I have had about 8 surgeries to cut out the diseased parts of my intestines. The geometry of my digestive tract was amended for an ostomy and all the various complications from Crohn's and multiple surgeries.
At the end of June 2007, at 330 pounds I had an awful weekend of stomach cramps and fever. On Friday night I went on a first date with a nice girl but had to cut the date short due t my fever and chills. I went home and tried to sweat it out but at 4 am on a Sunday I called 911 and was on an operating table a few hours later. My intestines had strangulated and ruptured, sepsis had set in, and all the mesh inside from prior surgeries was riddles with the yucky stuff that infections create.
The short version of my odyssey is 12 weeks in ICU, the first five in a coma on a ventilator. Paralyzed from the chest down when I woke up. 16 more weeks in a rehab being nursed back to the point where I could get in and out of a wheel chair so I could go home with a health aid. I weighed in at 217 when I entered the nursing home from the nasal feeding and the loss of muscle mass. The moment I was allowed to eat I gained all the weight back.
One of the thoughts that I held onto was going back to dance class. I would imagine myself twirling some beautiful girl around the dance floor of a salsa club, flirting, perhaps meeting someone, perhaps, (Dare I Hope?) find someone to be in relationship with.
The fat stigma, fat hatred, and pressure from most of my family was so intense that I had to set boundaries that made talking about my weight, health, diet, and moment off limits.
I knew I wasn't going to try to start to lose weight. I knew that wouldn't work. I was too weak to walk, let alone ride the bike or go to dance class. I wasn't moving much at all so the weight creeped up to 380.
But I held onto my vision of dancing again. I am not sure how I am going to get there. Most recently I have severe breathing problems that makes the slightest exertion cause me to lose my breath. I want to get back to dance class but I am in the chair gasping for air after 20 or 30 seconds of dancing. No matter. I believe in the thought system called the Law of Attraction and the how isn't anywhere near as important as my believing in the possibility.
I found my way to HAES and FA and knew that the movement that made my heart sing was dancing. However, while my heart was saying yes yes yes, my lungs were saying not yet.
Well…. I found a dance class here in NYC http://www.meetup.com/thedancingpath/ that was a mix of spirituality, expressive movement, emotional therapy and it was open to all levels. I showed up with my 380 pound body, my leg braces, my walker and I must confess a tremendous amount of excitement. At the door we were asked to remove our shoes, which is not an option for me anywhere other than my apartment. The gyrations, and the struggle with the leg braces and just reaching my laces is a big deal with the way my giant pearish apple shaped body. Long story short I couldn't participate in the class because of my street shoes.
The lung thing got worse after this class and I skipped the next two classes because there weren't any chairs for me to take a break on.
While this was disappointing it didn't detract from my knowing that I will dance again. I love dancing and I have no idea when or how, but I am certain that it will happen.
I went to this dance class on Saturday night. When the email came announcing it a few weeks ago, the teacher added something called a Drum Circle. After a few emails, and a search on Craig's list, I showed up for the class. When I got out of the cab, I could hear the drumming three flights up. I rolled my walker and my drum up the elevator, slipped off my crocks ( which I vowed never to buy ) and I took a chair with the drummers.
There was no music. Only drummers. About 15 of them. The dance studio was filled with about 40 dancers or all ages. I sat in my chair and I started drumming. And I started Dancing in my chair while I was drumming. And the tears of joy overcame me because I was dancing. I knew I would. There was never any doubt I would. It looked a little different from Salsa, but every molecule of my being rejoiced, celebrated, sang, and cried out in joy as I pounded my drum, and danced my dance in the chair.
And ya know what, I never lost my breath!!! I drummed for two hours straight. It was about the sitting.
On the cab ride home, I felt that endorphin rush that I hadn't felt since before the surgery.
I found my dance!
Friday, September 25, 2009
22 September 2009
A Beginner's Guide to Reading Obesity Research
I've been reading quite a bit of obesity research recently and I want to share some of my thoughts about how fat people might read such research with a critical eye.
I know the idea of reading material that is intensely fatphobic is not everyone's idea of fun, but I think it is important that we dip in to this stuff from time to time so that we can: keep up with what they are saying about us; develop better research models for fat; develop a critical eye in order to distinguish between research that provides useful information, and research that makes things a lot worse for fat people.
You don't have to read heavy research reports to get a flavour of current obesity research. This is the stuff that also crops up in news report after news report. You know the type of thing, it starts with a sensationalist headline making some kind of preposterous claim about fatness, there's invariably a picture of a headless fatty, some quote from an obesity expert, and the reiteration that being fat is a very bad thing. What I'm going to say below applies to this kind of report as much as it does to the more formal scholarly publication.
Think of what follows as a mental check-list to help you read material that claims to be obesity science, it's like reading a food label to check for dodgy ingredients. Maybe approach this kind of material in the same way that you might do if you were lifting a rock to have a look at the worms and insects wriggling away underneath, all that stuff is interesting to look at but you're really glad that you don't have to live down there.
1. Check the date, is it silly season? This is the time of year when people are likely to be away on holiday and the media is increasingly desperate to find material to fill its dead air. More stories, especially salacious fat panic reports, get through that would otherwise flounder under quality control guidance.
2. Google any experts that are quoted. Find out their interests, especially how they make a living. It is common for such experts to be paid employees or directors of weight loss companies, or organisations directly sponsored by the weight loss industry, such as the International Obesity Task Force, the Association for the Study of Obesity, the National Obesity Forum, and others. Decide for yourself how neutral or trustworthy an expert you think they are. Also, anyone who refers to themselves as an obesity expert is likely to be a bit of a dick, especially if they are not at all fat.
3. Think about how the news story came to be made. Journalists and editors may twist research findings for the sake of an exciting story (I have done this!). Think of the media as a distorting mirror for research, bear in mind that it has its own vernacular and pressures, that it is likely to simplify, reduce and mis-quote complex research findings, or that stories are often cobbled together quickly from a press release without much quality control.
4. Think about why the research is being done. What kind of starting out assumptions does it make about fat people? Does it begin with a paragraph or two about the perils of the obesity epidemic? Does it appear to question such an epidemic? What is it supporting? Do the researchers use Body Mass Index as a measure of health without any critical understanding of it? Do you think BMI is an accurate representation of heath? What does this tell you about the values implicit in the research? Do the research findings support these values?
5. Where are they coming from? Try and imagine how the researchers might answer if you asked them: do you think being fat is a problem? This can help you work out what kind of perspective they are bringing to their research, which is important but not always stated clearly. You could also ask: do you think fatphobia is a problem?
6. Think about what claims are being made by the research in terms of its scientific purity. Is it claiming to present truth or facts? If so, go back and reconsider the perspectives being put forward by the authors. Remember that 'truth' and 'facts' depend on what people think and believe; 'facts' made by the weight loss industry about fatness vary a great deal from 'facts' that I know about my own fat body, for example. Looking at the research findings, what other versions of the truth could be made?
7. Try and find out who is funding the research. Don Kulick writes in Fat Studies in the UK that all research about pet obesity is produced by pet food companies, for example. I know pets are different to humans, but it illustrates how funding can affect the scope of the research and its findings, which then get reported as facts. Sometimes you may have to dig a little for this information.
8. Think about the process by which the researchers got their hands on the funding. Try to imagine what they might have had to say in order to get the money. Might they have had to downplay any interest in fat politics, for example, or play up their support for the treatment and prevention of obesity? You can't know the answer to this for sure, but who gets the funding and why they get it, and what gets left out, is part of the context for obesity research. Also, what happens to researchers who have no funding?
9. How big is the research sample? By sample I mean the people who are being studied. One of the National Health Service Care Pathways for dieticians in the UK is based on research on a group of nine people. Do you think a study of nine people can make conclusive claims about all fat people? No! So size makes a difference in the outcome of the study.
10. What does the sample look like? If it's a sample of fat people, are they suffering from any prior ailments? This affects research claims made about fat people and health. Is there any acknowledgement or accommodation in the research of social influences on health, for example discrimination? How might discrimination or stigma impact on the sample or affect the findings? How representative is the sample of all the rad fatties you know?
11. How are variables defined and interpreted? Variables are the things that the research is studying, for example weight loss, ethnicity, activity. The way the research is set up means that although variables appear to be neutral, the way they are defined and interpreted is not neutral at all. Here's an example: Jane Ogden, a well-respected obesity expert, presented a paper about weight loss surgery at the Size Matters? conference earlier this year. She defined 'success' as someone who had lost weight after surgery. This means that cases could be defined as 'successful' where the person who had had surgery was suffering terrible surgery-induced health problems, as long as they had lost weight. That doesn't sound like a 'successful' surgery to me, quite the opposite.
12. Have a look at the source material cited in meta-studies about obesity. Such big studies are basically studies of studies, and they sometimes make pompous claims about being very reliable. But if they are based on source material that is not particularly reliable, for any of the reasons I've mentioned here, then their reliability too is questionable. It's also a good idea to see what meta-studies include and exclude, for example do they include material that is critical of taken-for-granted claims about fat? If they don't then they're missing out a lot of important stuff.
13. Ask to see the original data and report, if you can.
14. Think about where the research has been published. Peer-reviewed publications are seen as the gold standard for reliable research, but there have been reports recently about fake journals, people being paid to put their names to dodgy research, and in-house publishers owned by the businesses benefiting from the research. Do some homework and decide on the reliability for yourself.
15. Become a fan of Bad Science.
16. Make time for self care after immersing yourself in the strange world of obesity research. Blog or share your findings, do something fun to get any residual fatphobia out of your system. Keep breathing.
Edited to add: I forgot to mention a few more things...
Health. Most obesity research is about fat and health because this is the agenda that most interests upholders of fat panic. Much of my comments here refer to health research. The fact that, aside from researching weight loss, other kinds of obesity research are sidelined also says a lot about what gets funded and what does not, and what is deemed important. If I was the boss of all research funds I would fund a far broader range of stuff, it would be interesting and useful, for example, to know more about the effects of fatphobia on people of all sizes.
Sampling strategies. How researchers find samples also affects the research outcomes. There are books about this, go and have a look at one if you can tolerate this level of geekiness. What I will also say, however, is that the sample is really important, so check for possible bias in it. For example, a study about people's attitudes to fatness based on a sample of fat women who go to Weight Watchers is going to have a different outcome to a study of fat women who go to NOLOSE.
Stats. There's some stuff I could say about statistical maths too, which I won't because I barely understand it myself. Suffice to say that there are different ways of manipulating statistical/quantitative data to provide different research outcomes.
One final thing, a really important thing. Studies may find a correlation, or a relationship, between a number of variables. So a study could find that there's a relationship between fatness and unhappiness, for example. But this doesn't mean that being fat necessarily makes you unhappy. A statistical relationship is just that, not a cause or an explanation.
Posted by Charlotte Cooper at 14:53
Labels: activism, fat panic, fat studies, obesity research, weight loss industry
Saturday, September 19, 2009
I think this is the area that I am trying to find my own personal peace with. I am trying a weight neutral approach to my various health issues. My trouble with it is that so much of the data and the "press" about the size acceptance movement is about the erroneous correlation of health issues with fat. So I think to myself, where does that leave me, with my asthma, my nerve damage, my difficulty moving around. I am accepting myself, however, I can't seem to find my own consistent logic in being size neutral and working on my health issues.
I get that I am working on my own fitness ( walking more, going to a drum circle in place of the dance class I do not have the lung capacity to handle. I am considering buying an adult tricycle so I can go biking which I love but don't have the lung capacity to handle a two wheeler.)
I think I understand that the weight cycling and the resulting set point changes are more damaging than any benefits from losing the weight,
Yet, when it comes to all the fat hate, I feel like I have to do like I used to do in photos.. I would hide in the back so all that would appear in the photos was my head. I feel that way with the FA movement, like I have to hide in the back out of site when all the fat and fit, fat and healthy talk dominates the battling of the fat hate.
I sound a little whiney here and I do not want to... I am grateful, happy and glad to be a part of this. I would like to find a little more certainty of where I stand... I'd like to feel a little more included and a little less excluded when the community talks about the erroneous studies linking this or that health issue to my fat.
When I spoke of my health challenges at the conference, I spoke to some amazing people who use scooters to zip around. I can get around with my walker, (with a cane on a good day) but I don't zip. I get winded if I move any faster than a snail. But I do move. So now, with the safety of the conference all but gone, I am back to thoughts of what I look like with my walker and what people think of me. I feel awkward if I run into someone who hasn't seen me with a walker and I anticipate feeling ashamed because I am fat with a walker... the truth is that two years ago, my intestines became "strangulated", and ruptured, sepsis started, a brilliant surgeon saved my life, but I spent 5 weeks in a coma and I woke up paralyzed from the neck down, Seven months in a rehab nursing home got me to the point where I cold use a wheelchair and now two years after that emergency I can use a walker and don't have to wear the leg braces when I do... So I am a winner, a strong survivor,
Yet, sometimes, as I wait here in NYC for the bus driver to lower the chairlift so I can get on the bus... I see the folks looking at my size and I spend too much time thinking about what they might be thinking about me. I know that I have come so far.
When I hear you can be fat and healthy, I wonder to myself how much farther I might be in my recovery if I wasn't Fat...
I'd really like to find a place to stand in my beliefs about myself that I feel certain about when it comes to my own personal Fat Acceptance.
Most of FA/ HAES I can do that with, I get shaky only when I think about the arguments based on Fat can Be Healthy. I do believe that there are a lot of fat and healthy folks out there.
I am a fat guy with some serious health and mobility problems. Sometimes I think that I am not worthy of fat acceptance because I have all these health problems.
Has anyone else found their way through this type of concern and if so how?
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Having just read this excellent post I am wondering what I can do to help reduce/eliminate the soul and spirit bashing of fat youth. As the study said, all the political and economic engines that support policies and procedures that DON'T WORK are absolutely illogical. Sadly, it seems, that only a minority of heath professionals, and policy makers have any concept of the harm they are doing to these kids by asking them to do what seems to not be possible, at the very least impractical.
I feel so much passion for this issue and I am not sure how to channel it. These kids are being taught that there is something wrong with them when what is actually wrong is the reasoning that the influential figures in their life are using to tell them there is something wrong with them.
Please Please Please post the links to good people like the blogger above, to other coalitions of folks who can see the injustice and misguided morality that is telling kids that there is something BAD or something WRONG with them, when there seems to be no scientific evidence that supports it.
I am just a Fat guy trying to find my way to a happy life which sadly still involves battling with the soul stomping and the spirit smashing that I have been subject to (and still am in a lot of circumstances). I am not credentialed so my voice will be harder for many in power to hear. I do want to herald folks, or find the folks who have already marshaled the forces to help the kids.
I am open to suggestions. Who wants to save some kids with me? Who wants my help to save some kids!!s
Sunday, September 6, 2009
I have been feeling a little overwhelmed the past few weeks. There have been many things I wanted to post about, yet, I couldn't find the focus to sit down and write.
I have been feeling regret and sadness. These are not feelings I usually do well with. My usual reaction is to sleep and isolate (along with eating) and sort of disassociate from the unpleasant feelings.
I have been keeping up with the blogs. Frankly, I am a little exhausted with all the politics, the fat hat, and mostly the disappointment that my family cannot understand and appreciate me and my journey here.
I arranged with my sister in law to surprise the family at her beach house on the jersey shore. A lot of the family was visiting and she and I colluded that I would come down to spend some time with the family. I don't particularly like taking the train, however, it is bearable during off peak hours. I expected to take a ride back with my parents the next day as they planned to return to the city. There was a little confusion about my arrival time, which we worked out via a few text messages and I had an uneventful two hour train ride to the lovely upscale beach town where they built the " Dream House" I don't visit them during the summer there because they do not use the air conditioning and I am extra sensitive to the heat and humidity. Luckily this last week of summer was mild and I felt up to spending some time down there.
When I arrived there was a very weird energy, a strange dynamic. Everyone seemed distant and no one made eye contact with me except my delicious nephews. At some point shortly after we greeted each other with polite kisses on the cheeks, (usually we hug each other when we haven't seen each other for some time) my Father apologized that he wouldn't be able to give me a ride home because he was taking my two nephews back to the city with them. I questioned why the three of us could sit in the back seat. In my mind these are two tiny boys and my dad has the giant lexus sedan (a late model one before they made the back seat smaller) My sister in law sort of chimed in that the boys have grown a lot. My father sort of disappeared from the room and the way the exchange went down made me uncomfortable, suspicious, and a little angry. I didn't push on the issue because I wasn't in the mood for a confrontation but I was ready to get back on a train and go home.
Later on while playing cards with my nephews, (the loving, fun part of the visit) I asked the boys if they still used the booster seats. I was going to ask them if they were uncomfortable sitting in the back seat with me but i decided against it as I didn't want to involve them in whatever it was that was going on.
A little later on my dad said something about he was sorry he couldn't fit my walker into the trunk and take me home. I thought to myself, hey, wait a minute, my sister in law said it was because my nephews have grown. Now my father is saying it is about space in the trunk for my walker. My bullshit meter was topping out. I didn't feel like getting into it so I just kept quite.
When dinner was announced, we were summoned to the patio table in the back yard. The patio chairs were uncomfortable for me 60 pounds ago. I quietly went outside and asked my sister in law if there was a chair without arms that i could bring outside. She said there wasn't one. The dining room chairs were all without arms but again, I didn't want to get into it with them. So I positioned a picnic bench perpendicular to the round table and went inside to wash my hands. When I got back outside the bench was placed parallel to the table. They asked me if that was okay and I told them yes. I was very upset at this point. The weirdness around the car ride home. My sister in law not offering to allow me to bring out a chair and asking me to use an entire picnic bench. Now I couldn't make eye contact with any of them as I was just disgusted with their disgust of me.
Then the migraine hit me. It has been years since I had one. I started seeing the white spots and got very sensitive to the light very fast. I jumped up and made myself two shots of expresso ( my remedy for a migraine - only works if you get the caffeine in your system as soon as the spots come) and I withdrew to my bedroom to be in the dark. I now see this was my body getting me out of the vicinity of the family who seemed to be deceiving me in some way about the ride back into the city the next morning and my sister in laws ungraciousness towards me about the chair. The migraine was my excuse to get away from all of them.
My brother in law was able to get out early from his job and he came down to the beach which enabled me to catch a ride back to the city with him in the morning. When I got in the car, he said, your much larger than the last time I saw you. I didn't respond, but I thought, there are a lot worse things in life than being larger and for the first time in my life I am finding a little dignity, community, and happiness thanks to my involvement in the Fat Acceptance Community. Again, I just didn't want to get into it.
My sleep that night, next to an open window, with the cool ocean breeze comforting me as I rested was really nice. The ocean views were beautiful. My brother's beach house is very beautiful.
So I guess I will not be going back to any family functions at the beach house, or to my parents house in the Berkshires. If I do go, I am going to make sure that I have my own transportation, as I am not interested in comments about my size as I accept a ride back from anyone. I guess if I do go I should bring my own folding chair so I can sit comfortably when the family wants to eat outside. Who am I kidding. I don't think I am going to be visiting anyone at their summer homes anymore. I just don't have the emotional strength right now to deal with what appears to be drama for them and for me.
I wonder, is this all my shit? Is all this emotional stuff on my side of the street? Should I have specifically asked my sister in law about the dining room chair? Should I have asked her what she was talking about when she said her boys had gotten bigger and needed the entire Lexus back seat to themselves? Should I have asked my father why he was telling me about an overloaded trunk when my sister in law was telling me that the boys needed the room in the back seat to themselves as the reason why they couldn't give me a ride home? Should I have told my stepbrother that I'd prefer for him to not make comments to me about my size anymore when he was nice enough to offer me a ride home?
This morning, my other sister just invited the family to her home for a brunch. Do I ask her to make sure there is a comfortable chair without arms for me to sit at when we eat? Do I decline the invitation?
I have been involved with a spiritual teacher over the last four years who says there is nothing more important than that I feel good. Thinking about this family get together and the ones that are coming up does not make me feel good. It makes me feel bad. I put the boundaries in place about discussions of my weight or my food or my health. They are honoring them. I know that when there is a family dinner at my parents house, there give me a chair without arms for my comfort.
I love them and I feel badly that they are so convinced that I am killing myself with fat that I can feel them holding themselves back from saying stuff when we are together.
So much of whatever little positive personal identity I had was linked to being a part of this loving family. Now, with my Fat line drawn in the sand with everyone, I am not feeling drawn to spending time with a lot of them. This is very sad for me.
The song, "You Lost that Loving Feeling" sort of sums up how I am feeling about most of my family right now. I guess claiming my own personal right to be, via Fat Acceptance, might also mean letting go of some of my identity as a member of a fun loving family and accepting that things are changing as I move on in my life which they see as a self justification for staying fat and I see as my first authentic chance at a happy life.
I just wish I could fast forward through the grieving process.