Friday, December 16, 2011

Four Tips for Interacting With A Formerly Fat Person

I meant to write this post a month ago, but my experiences coming home for the holidays reminded me I never got around to it, and it seems like as good a time as any to put this down.

What inspired this is the variety of reactions I get about losing weight from my friends and family, especially people who haven't necessarily seen me in a long time. I can tell it makes some people uncomfortable (for whatever reason - it's not my place to speculate) but it also elicits some well-intentioned behaviors in others that, frankly, are a pain in the ass to deal with. So undersand that I've written this as a friendly and helpful tips, and I fully understand that the last thing my friends and family want to do is hurt me; I just don't think people realize how things come across sometimes. I want people to see things from my point of view without coming across like an overbearing jerk, so please take this advice in the spirit it's given.

So, some tips for interacting with a former fat guy.

1. You don't have to keep offering me food; or, no means no. Food is wonderful; it tastes good, and it's an inherent social driver for our culture. It's also something that I had a very self-destructive personal relationship with that I have repaired for my own health and well-being.

A key part of that process for me was identifying both what I wanted to eat and in what quantities. I'm really good at keeping my diet sustainable. I know full well how much and of what I can eat. You don't have to go out of your way to prepare super-healthy stuff when I'm around, but if you're serving biscuits and gravy don't expect me to take a massive bowl of it.

Let me put it this way: it's very obvious that I've lost a good deal of weight in the last seven years (it's hard to hide the physical change of 150 pounds off.) Looking at me is a reminder. You know I've lost a lot of weight. So, please ask yourself this: if I was a recovering alcoholic and you were aware that I used to have a self-destructive relationship with alcohol, would you offer me a drink? Would you continue to offer me drinks throughout the day if I politely refused the first one (or two?) How do you think I would feel if you did, even if I knew you were doing it out of politeness?

Apply that to food. It's not a perfect correlation but I would argue that what I'm recovering from is very similar to addiction, and the mental processes I use to stay healthy is similar to how recovering addicts make it through the day.

I don't like to throw food out but if you heap a bunch of it on my plate after I tell you not to, I will. Also understand that it's a lot harder to control portions once the food is on your plate. I still nibble. I'm only human. I know my weaknesses, and I control them by not putting the food on my plate in the first place. Like the booze, I know where the food is and if I really want to make that choice I'll do it myself.

2. Yes, I'm still self-conscious about my weight. Please understand that as much as I'm proud of what I've done that being fat left lasting psychological damage, in no small part related to the fact that my weight gain was directly linked to my depression. You don't have to reassure me. I appreciate it, but honestly it's best just left alone. And yes, looking at pictures of me when I was much heavier is very uncomfortable for me. That's why I've personally only kept a handful myself.

3. I want to inspire you but in a healthy way. I've noticed that when I'm out with people they'll often pick up on the fact that I'm ordering healthy, smaller quantities or loading up on fruit at the salad bar and skipping the full-fat ranch dressing. Then they turn around and order something way outside of what they would normally eat. Cool, let me inspire you; in fact, that's one of the best parts about having made such an achievement is helping others see that it is possible. That being said, understand that the me you see now and the way I eat now is the result of seven years of constant, hard work.

Say you went to a martial arts competition and saw a guy jump through the air and break 15 bricks with his hand, and you thought, "that's freakin' awesome. I want to do that!" and you go and break your own hand trying to break a single brick. That dude worked up to where he is; so have I. If you try to jump on the train at my stop, you're going to end up hurting yourself, or worse doing something unsustainable with your diet and turning around and getting even madder when it doesn't work out.

Having spent seven years gaining weight and seven years losing it, I can say this: it's not something that comes easy and it doesn't happen overnight. You're going to make small failures and backslide and lose heart and hope along the way. But if you want to lose, really want to lose, then talk to your doctor and start doing something sustainable. You may have to lose a bunch to kickstart yourself (like I did with two different low-carb diets.) You may need way more exercise than I did. It's going to be different for you, but it is do-able. Don't break your hand trying to smash some bricks. Train up to it. It's really the only way it will work.

4. I'm not judging you. For some reason I get the impression that people feel judged, especially around their choices at mealtime. Guess what: it doesn't matter to me what you're eating (unless you feel guilty and try to get me to eat more because you're feeling that way, in which case see #1.) I don't care if you're fat or skinny or eating a ton or eating like a bird unless I feel like you're directly putting yourself in danger, in which case as a friend I would say something - just like I would hope you're doing the same for me.

Please understand that, if you feel like you need to lose weight, what I want most is to inspire you, not judge you. You'll have to make that decision on your own though. Hopefully my experience will help serve as a realistic way to show you how it could be done.

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