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Interpreting Criticism

I work a lot on self-improvement, not just in my physical health, but also in my emotional state and mental balance. Over many years, I realized that I can be hyper-sensitive to how other people treat me or react to me. In the past, I often thought I was criticized by many others. I think this is a natural, if unfortunate, outgrowth of years of being picked on by others for my weight, my parents and other loved ones always being worried about my weight and trying to address the problem, and my own issues with terrible self-esteem.

Trust me, I’ve grown a lot and my self-esteem has improved a great deal. Still, since I have a history of hyper-sensitivity to criticism, I know that to retain balance, I need to be hyper-aware of my reactions and actions. Several months ago, as part of an ongoing team exercise at work, I had the observation that a lot of people hear a question and internalize it as criticism.

Truth: I recognize this in other people because I see it in myself.

In that exercise, we established an agreement that we would hear questions as questions and not criticism and ask questions in the same way. When someone questions me about something, I do my best not to leap to a position of defensiveness but to realize that the other person is probably asking not to criticize but for a different, excellent reason. Like, say, I have information that they need, and not that they’re questioning my judgment or behavior or anything else that’s critical or negative. Processing the request before I react helps me to see the question for what it is.

Being aware of my previous tendencies helps me communicate in less stressful ways with others. In some of my activities, I’m in a position of some authority. If I ask someone else a question about a procedure, process, activity, etc. and I read even the slightest bit of stress on their face, I make sure to gently emphasize that I’m just seeking information and not criticizing why something is done a certain way.

I need to be honest and say that as improved as I am, there are still times when I slip into old patterns. I can still sometimes take a little thing and blow it up big in my mind and heart so that it twists up my emotions. That happened today. I won’t go into the specifics because it’s enough that I know that it really was a little thing and I’m reacting out of proportion. I’m talking about it here so that I can process it out and put it back into perspective.

It’s sort of silly to let a minor issue, so minor that I’m even loathe to call it an actual issue, achieve any significant power to upset me. I’m making some progress toward identifying it for what it is and then letting it go.
That’s really the key to defusing the angst of false criticism.

Does anyone else do this same kind of thing or are you all really good at just letting things roll off your back and not reinterpreting them into something negative?

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Not Too Old

Yesterday a friend and I volunteered to be role-players in the Sheriff’s Office’s active shooter simulation training sessions. Held at the high school, the scenarios were devised for law enforcement to respond to a call of shots fired. My friend and I portrayed teachers. The training captain instructed us to make things as difficult and stressful for the responding officers as possible. We needed to be scared, loud and yelling at them to help us and the wounded students. The training team arranged the room and, let me tell you, they did a great job. The wounds and blood on the “students” might have been fake but when you walked into the room and saw the people lying on the floor or propped against the wall, it looked like realistic carnage.

I embraced my instructions and threw myself into the performance. Friends, in the words of the deputy who was the first responder in the first drill, I was a world class pain in the ass. (And proud of it.) He said it with great admiration after the drill was over. 🙂

On the second drill, the responders were all senior personnel and very old school. I was successful at stressing out the earlier deputy. These captains did not stress in the same way. When they got to the door of the room and I started screaming at them to help us, please help us, they tried to guide me out of the room and out of their way so they could continue in after the shooter. As earlier directed by the training captain, I resisted and screamed at them that I wouldn’t go because I had students who were injured and hiding.

Folks, two of those captains grabbed me, hauled me through the door and put me on the ground in no time flat. It was intense. The officers stepped over me and went after the shooter. I checked the scrape and bruise on my elbow and went back into the room to resume my performance.

In talking to one of the training team, who asked if I was okay, I joked that I might feel it a little more a little later. He assured me that I would, probably as soon as I came down off of the adrenalin high. Yes, my adrenalin was pumping right at the moment. Later that evening, I admit that my muscles were a little sore and an ice pack on my bad knee felt really good. The thought crossed my mind that some would question why the hell I volunteered for this activity at my age. I had this little epiphany when I thought that I hope to never again say in my life, “I’m too old for this.”

I had a blast running around and acting my part. It was exciting, fun, and I was part of an important service to the community. The Sheriff’s Office runs these drills because this isn’t something that the personnel can adequately train for in the classroom. Participating in the simulation puts them as close to real situations and events as they can get. Did I experience some aches and soreness? Yes, but my ability to bounce back has greatly improved. A few ibuprofen and a nice hot shower put me to rights. Clearly I wasn’t compromised since the dogs got walked twice today and I took a six mile bike ride.

I’ve decided that “too old for this” is more about attitude, at least at this time of my life. If I don’t think I am, then I’m not. I’m going to embrace the “can do” as much as possible moving forward and keep involving myself in whatever activities I think I’ll enjoy — with the emphasis on the “active” part of activity.

I’ve already volunteered for the next simulation training, whenever it might be.

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Shopping

I can’t believe it’s been more than a couple of days since I posted. I know I’ve had a string of days where I’ve been so tired at night that I couldn’t face turning on the computer and thinking, let alone write anything.

The Just Saying No worked well some days in some situations and not so much in a couple of others. However, I’ve been better overall food-wise and it makes me feel less like I was beginning to veer out of control. One step at a time. One day at a time.

I decided to take a day trip to Miami yesterday to go shopping. With my friend still staying with me, I knew she would be happy to let out the dogs and feed them. This meant that I could take my time and not have to rush home. I am going to a family wedding soon. Even though I already have a dress that I could wear, I just felt like having something new. Plus, I hoped to find some capris or shorts at clearance prices.

I’m sort of in a weird stage with sizes. The weight number is creeping down but the bike riding is definitely working off inches, as we’ve discussed before. My friend had a pair of 16W capris and size 18 misses shorts. My 18W shorts are definitely loose and I was shocked to find that her 16Ws fit me, as did the misses size shorts. So, off to shop I drove.

In the past I believe I’ve discussed my misanshoppic tendencies. I know I can only stand a couple of hours at most in a big mall and am much better off if I go to specific smaller stores. We started out with two favorite specialty stores — Lush and Sephora. Lush is small and does all these handmade, natural bath and body products. Bath bombs, bubble bath balls, and bath melts in wonderful fragrances. Massage bars, scrubs, lotions, cosmetics — the list is amazing. I selected several bath bombs that dissolve in the tub, a new massage bar, a shower scrub that I love and some great lip balm.

We then moved onto Sephora, which is almost as addictive. This amuses me because I don’t wear a lot of makeup. I start the day with a tinted sunscreen/moisturizer/slight foundation product to protect my skin with its 30 spf. During the week, I add light eye shadow and that’s it. If I go out to dinner or have other plans at night or the weekend, I do a light coat of mascara, maybe a little more eyeshadow, and do more on my face with Bare Minerals. Still, I always manage to find new, fabulous products that I love whenever I walk into Sephora. This time, I came out with a fantastic under eye concealer stick, some eyeshadow, and a tinted spf 15 lip balm gloss.

Two stores and I needed a break so we grabbed a cold drink and light snack while we talked for a bit. Then it was time to look for the dress. Gladiators probably entered the Coliseum with less trepidation than I approach a big department store like Macy’s. I feel like I’m running a gauntlet while I dodge the salespeople waving their perfume samples and trying to trap me at a counter for a makeover. I practically marched myself to the escalator to get up to the Women’s Department.

All I can say is that it was worth the trip. I found an absolutely wonderful dress that fits me great and flatters my curves. It’s from Ralph Lauren’s line for Women. Oh here. Take a look.

photo

Yes, I know that the bare feet with the stark sandal tan lines complete the look.

I love this dress. More importantly, I love the way that I look in it. The material is soft and comfortable. The ruching (if that’s how it’s spelled) at the side really flatters. You can’t see then, but there are insets down the sides that give the dress even more style. Love. Love. Love. It was the first dress I tried on and, even though I tried on another dress in a deep wine color that looked lovely on, I knew I was leaving with my first choice.

To be completely honest, there are some lumps and bumps, so with the dress over my arm, we went over to the department where they sell Spanx and other “smoother” garments. I don’t think anyone calls them girdles or foundations any more. I have a full Spanx slip but it’s now a little big on me, so I wanted something more suffocating restricting smoothing.

The saleswoman was very helpful as she picked out a smoothing slip by a company other than Spanx. She carefully explained that it would be tight going on but I should sort of roll it up like underwear. It was decidedly more difficult than I expected and I thought I’d have to give up and go to a larger size. Then I realized there was an odd attachment she’d forgotten to mention. I can only describe it as a crotch strap. Constructed with the same hook and eye gizmos as a bra, it fastens between the legs to keep the garment from rolling up but it can still be unsnapped for when one needs to pee. No wonder I couldn’t get the garment all the way in place. It was at least marginally easier once I unsnapped the strap and straightened everything out.

If you’ve never worn a smoother, there’s a few things you should know. They do, indeed smooth. They are not only worn by overweight women but also by some of the most slender — like actresses and models. They are also, apparently, terrific for your posture, possibly because it’s very hard to bend over and continue to breath. I am fairly sure I will not suffocate myself while wearing it and, damn it all, it made the dress look even better on me.

After that, I half-heartedly looked through some clearance racks but didn’t see anything. We then proceeded to department store number two – J.C. Penny. I grabbed a couple of things from the Women’s sizes and a couple of things from the Misses Department. I couldn’t find anything small enough in W and the things from Misses didn’t suit for a variety of reasons.

At that point I hit a wall. In the grand scheme of things, I am a shopping lightweight. There are simply too many departments crammed with too many racks and too many people wandering around. I’d had enough and was more than happy to call it an afternoon and head home.

Before I actually hit the island chain, I stopped at a smaller shopping center and ran into Kohl’s to see if I could find a good pair of jeans and, maybe, some of those clearance sale priced capris. I cannot tell you how long it’s been since I owned a pair of 16W jeans, but I have them now! No capris, but I added a cute graphic “tee” with three quarter length sleeves and that was good enough for this trip!

I know that I’m going to need to invest some time investigating different departments in these larger stores. Honestly, more and more I find that it’s a challenge for me to find clothes that fit for the happy reason that my body has become too small for the departments in which I’m used to shopping. It’s a great problem to have and I’m not complaining. I’m just dreading the learning process. I really want to do a day with a personal shopper at one of the good big stores but don’t feel that I should spend the time or the money until I hit goal weight. Perhaps I’ll even wait until after my skin removal surgeries. It’s on my Promise List, but until the right time, I’ll muddle through on my own or with assistance and moral support, from friends.

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Just Saying “No!”

I have Nancy Reagan chanting in my head right now. Just Say No. Just Say No. For those of you too young to remember the Reagan presidency years, Mrs. Reagan campaigned against illegal drug use and promoted Just Say No to encourage kids not to give in to peer group pressure to try drugs.

So, why am I doing this today? It’s October and one of my co-workers brought out her plastic pumpkin, loaded it with miniature candy bars, and placed it on the kitchen counter in our office building. Another friend keeps a stash of chocolate in her drawer for all of us. These are dangerous times for me, my friends. I love chocolate and such easy, convenient access is not good.

In the grand scheme of things, a single miniature piece of chocolate is not bad. However, since I’m already struggling with a slower weight loss and the resulting frustration, etc., one thing leads to another and to another and to another. I’m a compulsive overeater and can quickly get out of control. True, that with weight loss surgery, it’s not like I can pack away food by the pound, but even smaller deviations can further slow my positive progress. Those small pieces can act like the little rock under the larger stone that throws everything off balance. I saw this happening yesterday and the small portion of chocolate set up a greater craving for a chocolate cookie. It’s a slippery slope.

To protect myself for today, I need to stay away from the chocolate and not even risk starting the process with a single piece. Every time I walk into the kitchen (also the location of our copier and mail boxes), I look at that grinning pumpkin and am tempted. That’s when I channel Nancy Reagan and say to myself, “No!”

I’m really the only one who can derail my effort by taking the wrong action. It stands to reason that I’m the only one who can keep myself moving forward in the right way. To that, today, I say, “Yes!”

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Public Eye

Early American Idol winner Ruben Studdard is a contestant on the new season of Biggest Loser. For some reason, this has me thinking of other obese celebrities I’ve been aware of in the past. Shelly Winters. Roseanne Barr. Jackie Gleason. Drew Carey. John Goodman. Oprah Winfrey. Aretha Franklin. The list really is endless.

I remember when a lot of entertainers played to their weight, or at least appeared to. They were material for countless monologues by late night talk show hosts and stand up comedians. They often made fun of themselves. As an overweight person, I never understood how they could stand it. I’d cringe inside whenever someone made a fat joke about one of them or, as often happened, to them when sharing the set or stage.

It was almost worse when one of them embarked on a successful weight loss effort. Yes, they’d get great acclaim for the pounds they’d drop. I can still remember when Oprah dropped something like 60-70 pounds on the Optifast program. She arrived on stage towing a little red wagon behind her on which they’d piled the equivalent of her weight loss in actual animal fat. I think she had on a long overcoat. With pure joy, she whipped open that coat to reveal her skinny self in a black sweater and tight jeans. What a moment!

She gained it all back and I can’t help but think that it was a more emotionally miserable time for her knowing that she was under intense public scrutiny. I hate it if I think that even one person eyes what’s on my plate and could possibly be assessing or, horrors, judging the choice. I’d want to crawl into a deep cave (with electrical power, running water, a bathroom and internet access, of course, but still a cave) and not come out into society if I was a person who lived her life as a celebrity in the public eye.

On a much, much, much smaller scale, I really craved a cookie tonight. I actually felt a little weird buying a small package and bringing it home. A friend has been staying with me for a few weeks. Living alone, nobody knows what food I buy and have in the house. Having someone around is different. It’s amazing how quickly I reverted to old thinking — the idea that if I make a food choice that’s inappropriate, I need to hide it. I was a champion sneak eater, a skill I developed when I was pretty young. I could open squeaky drawers in my family’s kitchen, open up a package of cookies and eat some without anyone hearing me in the other room. One of the things that I just realized is that I overeat more when I conceal foods. It’s like I need to eat it all and faster before someone catches me or discovers my secret.

Part of improving my relationship with food means being open and honest about it – in all respects. A big part of being successful on the journey overall has been that I’ve been as open and honest about it as I could. Hence the whole writing of this blog. In a way it’s me taking this trip in the public eye.

I just reread this post. You know, where I thought I was going with it at the beginning is not at all where I ended up. I thought I was going to muse on my empathy for overweight celebs. Yes, I have that empathy, but the writing process uncovered different stuff. The whole thing about eating more when I eat in secret is not something I’ve been in touch with, that I can recall. I’m glad that I got there tonight. It’s something I really need to think about and, more importantly, use to aid my recovery.

In the meantime, just to circle back around, I hope that Ruben succeeds on Biggest Loser. More importantly, I hope he is able to maintain his success, whether in private or in the public eye.

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Providing Support

There was an article in the paper over the weekend that talked about how some people do not receive positive support from their circle of family and friends. Sometimes, when you make positive changes in your life, some of the people around you don’t know how to react or what to say. Some may feel threatened as if your changes affect them or, often more to the point, as if it pressures them to also change.

Picture if a friend was a smoking buddy, drinking buddy or eating buddy. If you’re overweight and eat a lot and you’re around friends who also eat a lot and are overweight, it creates a more comfortable atmosphere. It’s okay to eat a lot around them because they’re doing it too. So if one of the buddies decides not to overeat, it can make the other buddies uncomfortable, like they’ll be judged for not making the same decision.

Some people will even go so far as to sabotage the other person’s positive efforts. It’s that important for them to maintain the status quo.

I have been phenomenally fortunate in that I have not encountered any negative reactions to my journey. Perhaps there are one or two friends/acquaintances who have been mostly silent and absent, but the vast majority of people in my life have showered me with overwhelmingly positive support. Even people I know more casually through business or around town applaud my efforts and cheer me on. Those of you here are also a constant support system. I am very lucky and always appreciative.

The article I read also talked about the journey being a two way street. It pointed out that it’s important for the person who is making/has made the changes to be supportive to the circle in the ways that the individuals surrounding them need. This was an excellent point. Supporting others in the way that they need means being sensitive to their journeys and where they are in their respective processes. It does not mean that I should suddenly start urging any overweight friend to get with the program and start working on their own diet and fitness. I’m not going to cast long, disapproving looks at their plates or scoff if they order dessert. Being supportive means being there to listen and encourage whether they’re able to begin weight loss efforts or not. That’s non-judgmental and truly supportive.

I spent too many years resisting help or running on the “lose-lose-lose-gain-it-all-back” wheel to not understand how difficult it is to maintain long term success. I am not going to fault someone else for not trying or not trying harder. If they want a diet and fitness buddy, I’m available. If they don’t, that has to be okay too.

It’s hard sometimes to find the balance. When my mom had her last, worst relapse, she not only fell off of the wagon with her alcoholism but the wheels nearly came off her life all together. There was no way that we, her family, could not stage an intervention. However, we also knew that if she did not choose to try to recover, we could only change our own lives and choices in order to protect ourselves. What she did with her life was up to her. If she chose recovery which, thank God, she did, then we could give her every bit of support and help that we could muster.

It’s most difficult for me around the few friends that still smoke cigarettes. Yes, I’m one of those former smokers who absolutely hate cigarettes and all forms of smoking. (Coming up this October 28th will be the 27th anniversary of me quitting.) The smell of cigarette smoke grosses me out. I have a couple of friends who are heavy smokers and the smell infusing their clothing is so strong that it almost makes me sick to hug them. I hug them anyway because I love them, but I don’t comment or wave my hands to blow away the smoke if they light up. I do try to stand upwind, however. Smoke blowing in my face makes me sick. I don’t permit smoking in my house or car but keep a single ashtray around if someone wants to smoke on my outside porch.

If they want to quit and ask me how I did it so many years ago, I’m happy to share and empathize, cheer for them and support them however they need. It’s up to them to make the choice.

This makes me think of a quote by Plato that I have taped to my desk. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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Measuring Down

A friend is still staying with me for a few days. I asked her if she’d help me do my measurements tonight. I haven’t checked them since January. It’s hard to be accurate when I try to do it myself and I never seem to think of it when friends are visiting for just an evening. It’s been on my mind to do this for a few days and I finally remembered.

Wow. All I can say is wow. I wish I’d taken them a couple of weeks ago and then again tonight to see if there’s been much change since I started riding the bike, but still. The reduction of inches in every part of my body is pretty significant.

To set the scene, here are the measurements, in inches, that were taken of me by a friend in February 2012, a few weeks after my weight loss surgery:
Neck 17.5; Bicep 20; Forearm 14; Chest (Boobs) 58; Waist 57; Hips; 70; Thigh 33.5; Calf 19.

I took them a few times throughout the year, but only logged the numbers again in January 13 on my one year surgiversary. Here are those numbers, after dropping a significant amount of weight and increasing my exercise from a formerly sedentary existence:
Neck 15; Bicep 18; Forearm 10.50; Chest (Boobs) 48; Waist 49; Hips 56.50!!; Thigh 31; Calf 17.50.

Do you SEE that drop in number in my Hips?? I think when I started that measurement was so high because I had so much weight in hips, ass and, also, some lower belly had to be included or at least couldn’t be completely separated.

Now here are the numbers from tonight:
Neck 13.5; Bicep 12.75; Forearm 10; Chest (Boobs) 44; Waist 43; Hips 51.5; Thigh 25.5; Calf 14.75.

Did I say Wow earlier in the post? Because I’m now completely invested in this numbers game, I have to do the math. Here are the calculations for inches lost from February 2012 to tonight:

Neck -4; Bicep -7.25; Forearm -4; Chest (Boobs) -14 (Yet I’ve gone from wearing a D cup to a DD); Waist -14; Hips -18.5; Thigh -8; Calf -4.25.

If I add the total number of inches lost, it comes to 74. 74 inches!

This is nearly mind-boggling. Not only have I lost pounds and pounds of fat, but we know that I’m also building muscle. I know I see it in the mirror, see it in my clothes, feel the loss in the way that I move. Sometimes, however, when I’m frustrated about the other number not moving down the way that I like, it really, really helps to check these numbers. I believe I’m going to set a reminder on my phone so that I take my measurements again in another month. A month from now, my overall system could begin moving again and I’ll have dropped enough pounds to make me happy. If I haven’t, then seeing evidence of loss in my measurements will definitely keep my attitude in the right frame of mind.

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First World Problems

For the last couple of Novembers, I’ve joined in on an effort on Facebook to do 30 days of gratitude. I posted about it here on November 2nd last year. A couple of days ago, two young women with whom I’m friends (Yes, Hope, your twin sisters.) dedicated October to posting about first world problems. I was a little slow on the uptake at first, but then I got it. Lots of things that we react to as problems, living here in America, are really not a big deal when you compare us to people who live in third world countries deal with or don’t have. While I’m not by nature a big complainer, sometimes I do start to feel a little “set upon”, cranky, or put out. If I’m going to be completely honest, some of the things that put me in those moods are pretty darned insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Attitudinally, I can do better than let myself mire in the muck of dissatisfaction. I honestly try to cultivate gratitude as much as possible. I think it’s a graceful state of being, not just in November, but year round.

Going back to the first world problem thing, have you ever looked at a full closet or in a drawer and had trouble choosing something to put on fo the day? That was me this morning. So, my first world problem for the day could be, “So many clothes I can’t decide which to wear.” That’s only a problem in first world countries. In third world countries, many people have only rags to clothe themselves.

Relating to me and my eating disorder struggles: “Food is all around me! It’s so hard to stay on track.” When millions of people are starving in the world, I have a lot of nerve wigging out because I have too many choices. Seriously, Mary. Suck it up. The problem isn’t too many choices. The problem is choosing to eat too many times.

Complaining again about eating right and exercising but the weight not dropping off? For today, I’m even going to think about that being a first world problem. There are countries where the path to good health is not accessible to everyone. At least I always have the ability to eat good, nutritious food and work on my physical fitness to improve my health and well-being. In third world countries, there are many people for whom every minute of the day is a struggle simply to stay alive.

I don’t know if I’m going to join Christina and Allison in posting daily, but I’m grateful they started the exercise and post it on their pages. They’ve made me think.

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Hold Fast to Dreams

A few weeks ago, 60 year old distance swimmer Diana Nyad completed a near lifelong dream to set a record by being the first person to swim from Cuba to Key West without the protection of a shark cage. She’d tried four times previously and, this time, was successful. She says that she wanted to do so to show everyone that you’re never too old to live your dreams and make them come true.

Earlier today, my not quite 50 year old friend opened up a fabulous studio that will inspire creativity and make a place for people to explore painting pottery, experimenting in glass fusion, learn to make jewelry, and try all manner of art endeavors. I personally plan to go in and try to throw a pot. (I think that’s the term for sitting at wheel, squishing molding clay in my hands to make something. These kinds of art projects are definitely not my forte, but I think that will be fun to at least try.

I was 54 when I finally had weight loss surgery. There are times when I now wonder, and castigate myself, for waiting so damned long, for living most of my life super obese.

Today, I choose to not look back with regret. I’m not going to punish myself emotionally or scold myself. I’m not going to consider the years wasted. There is no point to doing any of those things.

Every minute I might spend living in regret is a minute that I’m not living in the moment. I can’t take back the past, but I sure as hell can make sure not to squander another second of my present or my future.

I have so many things still on my Promise List; so many dreams. I’m going to hold fast to each one until I make them happen.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes

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