Last night, I was looking through an old sketchbook/notepad and I found a grocery list from around 2006. I was living in Philadelphia, I was a full time student, and I was obese. Here’s what was on the list:
- red pepper
- purple onion
- sour cream
- black beans
- fat-free cream
- grapefruit juice
- tortilla chips
It struck me that I could make almost this exact list today, if I actually made shopping lists. So I found myself asking myself, “Where was I going wrong? What caused be to become and remain obese?”
I ask myself that question a lot and have for the past 3.5 years since I started this lifestyle change adventure. How can you make sure you don’t ever do it again without examining what you did wrong?
The answer is extremely simple: portion size. I really didn’t eat that poorly, most of the time. Sure, I ate some fast food, some potato chips, and drank a lot of beer. But in general, most of the time, I ate strikingly similar things to what I eat now. I used to go to Reading Terminal Market, which like a giant farmers market inside an old train station, and buy all kinds of fancy produce. I’ve always loved that stuff.
I wasn’t all that sedentary either, now that I’m really thinking about it. I used to walk everywhere. I didn’t own a car. Those trips to Reading Terminal were on foot. I walked to and from school, work, friend’s houses, the bar, and everywhere I went. No, I didn’t “exercise,” but I was on my feet a lot more than most people. I waited tables at a restaurant for awhile where the kitchen and bar were on the first floor and the tables were upstairs. 8 hours a day going up and down stairs? Definitely not sedentary.
Comments on my Facebook page have got me thinking about the way other people talk about “what fat people should do” and it always involves something on the lines of “take personal responsibility for yourself” which I always read in a condescending tone, whether it is intended that way or not.
I mean, I think about what I was like when I was fat and why I didn’t “take personal responsibility” and change myself for so long. The best answer I can come up with is that it simply wasn’t a priority to me. I had other things to do. I was busy. Life was going on. I was dealing with things. I didn’t want to.
I wonder if people who have never been fat think we just sit around crying all the time wishing to God or anyone who will listen that we would please wake up Not Fat and making excuses for ourselves all day while stuffing our faces full of crappy food and refusing to believe that this is all our fault.
I never felt that way. Being fat didn’t make me stupid. I was pretty sure that if I wanted to not be fat, I would have to change my eating habits and lifestyle. In fact, when I finally did decide I wanted to change, I was wildly successful. See? Not stupid. Sure, sometimes I thought, “It would be nice not to be fat” but I also thought “It would be nice to have a million dollars.” And then I went on about my busy, friend-filled, amusing, depressing, exciting, dreary, ever-changing, dramatic, romantic, independent life. Just like everyone else, fat or thin.
So why did I eat too much? Was it because I was lazy? Was it because I was weak? No! It actually wasn’t. I ate too much because that is how I learned to eat. Nobody ever taught me to stop eating. My mother told me about the starving children in Africa. She gave us easy access to snack foods galore and all the TV I could watch. Eating too much, eating for taste, eating for boredom, eating for stress and sadness, these were my ways of life before I was even a teenager. Why would that be different when I left home? It wasn’t, I continued eating the way I learned.
I think changing our own lives IS a matter of personal responsibility. Nobody can do it but you. Nobody else can make you want to. Nobody else can do it for you.
But I think the reasons people find themselves obese and find it very difficult to change are many, varied, and far more complex than personal responsibility. Trying to change the way you have eaten since childhood is wicked hard, I’m not going to lie. It takes a monumental effort over a long period of time. It requires some dedication. And you know what? I think for a long time in my life, I didn’t have the motivation and energy in me to deal with it. I had to deal with a lot of other difficult things in my life, and I’m damned proud I am where I am right now after coming through some very hard situations far beyond my control.
Once I was settled down, had that secure job and the secure relationship with someone supportive, I was ready to choose to make that change.
Energy is a finite resource. I will not feel guilty for my life, just because I was fat. I know in my heart, it didn’t mean I was lazy or weak. I know in my heart, the reasons I became obese were on many levels not my fault (and believe me, it is really difficult for me to say those three words. I’m generally convinced that everything is my fault.) I also know in my heart that I was able to change because I was ready, whereas before I was not ready. Some people are not ready, yet.
Now take notice, I was able to change my life using my awesome powers of Personal Responsibility. Here I am! I exercise regularly, I eat great, and I’m maintaining my 120 pound weight loss. I did it all by myself. And at the same time, I am able to see all the reasons it took me 30 years of my life to do it and understand, it was complicated and know that I am rationally examining the facts, not making excuses for myself.
Obstacles aren’t the same thing as excuses. I think sometimes people are discouraged from talking about their obstacles because other people just accuse them of making excuses. Only YOU know what’s really an obstacle to you and what’s an excuse. Don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty if you haven’t found the strength, time, or desire to take personal responsibility just yet. It’s your life and there are a lot of ways to live it. It’s your path to make.