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Giving fat girls a bad name

As astute reader, Skippy, pointed out in the comments last week, I’d posted several entries recalling dessert pizzas and old binging habits lately. S/he was wondering what was up with that. I pawned off something in response about giving up my favorite yogurt this week, but after some thought I realized it’s probably because I’ve been working on the beginning of my book lately. This has been by far the hardest part of the book to write, not only because it’s got the miserable fat stories in it, but because it happened so long ago that it’s hard to remember what the hell was going on back then. There are also a lot of questions that I think readers will want to know the answers to, like, “How’d you get so fat anyway?” and “What were you eating?” and “Why didn’t you just stop chowing on so many cookies, gosh darn it?” which are very good questions that I wish I had the answers to. I’ve never really analyzed that part of my life in detail.

It’s hard to sort through old memories. I can’t simply search for everything tagged “food” or “binging” and get an alphabetized list of results from my brain. My memories are usually triggered by events in my current life that remind me of things that happened back then. Someone mentions a self-serve ice cream machine and I suddenly remember that I went back for seconds and thirds at the Sizzler. I read a story about someone going out for pizza to celebrate, and suddenly I remember all my trips to Mr. Gatti’s. Analysis of my old memories takes time because I have to wait for triggers, take note of the memories, and eventually accumulate enough to look for patterns.

Even when I get all the memories together, I think self-analysis is shaky at best. People like to explain things, come up for reasons why things happen, but I don’t know if there always is a reason. There’s an ancient folktale that says the reason the sun rises and sets is because a dragon pulls a flaming chariot across the sky. While that would be pretty cool and sounds perfectly plausible if you don’t know that dragons are fictional, it doesn’t mean it’s true. Was I an emotional eater? Or do I just have to say I was one because that’s what everyone expects of a fat girl?

However, that doesn’t mean certain things aren’t true either, even if there’s always a level of uncertainty in the analysis of memories. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about how I used to eat and how I got so fat and why I didn’t do anything about it and basically I’ve come to one conclusion:

I was a lazy fat person who ate too much.

I gave fat girls a bad name. That’s why it’s so hard to admit. I’ve read blogs by people who count every calorie and track every step with their pedometers and they still don’t lose weight. I’ve read blogs by people who’ve tried every diet published and unpublished and are still fat. I really feel for these people and I think they’re examples of why the world is terribly unfair indeed, but I have to admit – I was not one of those people.

I watched 40 hours of television a week. I saw the last piece of pie in the fridge that was saved for my brother and I ate it anyway. I drove to my graphic design class that was only half a mile away from my dorm because I didn’t want to walk. I made a batch of brownies and I wanted to eat it all myself. I never went on a diet.

There were reasons for this, ranging from general ignorance to my environment to the difficulty of behavior modification to broken exercise equipment and my sprained ankle. But when it comes down to it, I used to eat like a maniac and I didn’t move much. This is probably something that was so obvious to everyone else that I am the last person to realize it. I weighed almost 400 pounds. Of course I ate too much!

I suppose I have always known this. I just feel bad admitting it because it is so stereotypical and it is so clichéd and it is exactly what you would think of a fat person. I hate being predictable and ordinary. I hate that people discriminate against the obese and call them couch potatoes who eat too many cookies. It’s not true of all fat people, and there are some thin people who do the exact same thing. However, it was true for me. I used to know the titles of all the episodes of The X-Files and I loved eating an entire stack of Girl Scout Cookies. It was me! The fat girl! I stole your brownies and, mmmmm, they were good!

I hate admitting it because then my weight loss gives an opening to fat-haters to say, “See! Just stop eating like a pig and do some walking and you too can be thin. Stupid fat people!” It sounds so easy. But it’s not that easy. I would not have spent over a decade of my life overweight if it was easy. Even when you know what your problem is, that doesn’t automatically fix it. Knowing you are schizophrenic does not make you stop hearing voices. Maintaining a life of healthy eating and exercise is very, very hard.

I think I’m very fortunate that I was able to get myself to stop doing these things and that when I did I lost weight. I do think it’s possible to be somewhat fat and fit, but I have to admit that when I started getting fit I started getting less fat as well. However, I don’t think it made me a “bad” person or someone worthy of scorn and disapproval even when I was stuffing my face with marshmallows and sitting around all day. I ate too much. I didn’t exercise. How is that anyone’s problem other than mine and my HMO? And my life wasn’t a 24-hour food orgy either. I did eat fruits and vegetables and I took my Flintstones vitamins.

So that’s why I’ve been writing about my old food habits lately. It’s because I’m finally accepting that I was cliché – a big, fat cliché. And while diet and exercise don’t seem to make everyone as thin as a stick of spaghetti, it did make me a lot thinner. I’d like to apologize to all the fat girls of the world who run 30 minutes a day and have never eaten an entire box of Papa Johns cheesesticks. I was dragging you down. Next time the pizza’s on me.

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57 Comments

Jessica • September 19, 2007 at 9:49 am

I stumbled upon you recently and have been catching up on your blog – well done! You have a terrific writing style and your accomplishments are really inspiring (I’ve been trying to lose twenty pounds, like, my whole life.)

Be well and thanks!

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Kriss • September 19, 2007 at 9:57 am

“Even when you know what your problem is, that doesn’t automatically fix it.”

Truer words have never been spoken. Earlier in the week, I did a long blog entry about compulsive eating & binging. It’s hard to get control, but I believe admitting there’s a problem is a giant step in the right direction.

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dietgirl • September 19, 2007 at 10:13 am

Fab stuff, PQ! It’s very weird and confronting to have to rake over the coals of the past like that, having to be so frank and honest with yourself. Especially knowing you have to commit it to print! I know for years I was so focused on getting smaller that I didn’t really stop (or want to stop) and think too hard about why it happened in the first place.

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SB • September 19, 2007 at 10:16 am

From my perspective the problem isn’t so much what or how people eat — the human metabolism is much more complicated that most people realize, but I just laugh when I hear people say “eat less and move more and your problems will be solved.” The bigger problem is the way in which eating is portrayed as some sort of moral choice. Frankly, I don’t think that binge eating is a moral transgression on the same level as a lot of other things that we don’t criticize. But I often find when people have lost a lot of weight and joined the thin club, they begin treating binging as some kind of moral failure or crime, and that, in combination with the first issue (assuming that all fat people have poor eating habits) leads to a moral judgment about people that is ungrounded, unfair, and damaging.

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Christy • September 19, 2007 at 10:27 am

Thanks for your honesty. You told it beautifully.

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Shalalah • September 19, 2007 at 10:39 am

Binge eating is hard as hell to overcome and not a moral failing. I went through a hard time where I basically stopped eating for a month, and when I started eating again, bam! The *physiological* urge to overeat was incredible, I couldn’t stop. It became psychological after I refueled, but I still gained twenty pounds in two months. The only reason I was able to stablize (and a year later, I’ve lost 15 of those pounds), is due to really healthy diet and exercise habits established before the whole deal, and a HELL of a lot of yoga/meditation and other introspective stuff. And I still have the urge to overeat. I would never judge anyone who wasn’t able to keep it under control like me, it is so HARD. I think PastaQueen is doing a good job of not assuming everone’s experience is like hers, and even if it was, it doesn’t make the person *bad*. Poor health is not a moral failing!

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Flora • September 19, 2007 at 10:43 am

Hey, PQ. Every fat girl gives fat girls a bad name, just by being fat. In the eyes of someone who spends time hating fat girls, there’s no such thing as a good fat girl. That person doesn’t much care about underactive thyroids or bad genes or an inability to exercise following an injury, he (it is usually a he, but not always) hates fat girls for cluttering up the landscape and for making other girls think maybe it’s not so bad to be fat. Every fat girl knows this, and unless she commits suicide, she somehow makes peace with it and gets on with her life. In my case, staying fat involved a calculation: ice cream/chocolate/bacon/fattening food of your choice now, or long protracted struggle to maybe, eventually, someday please the fat-girl-haters? For me it was pretty easy to answer “I’ll have the cheesecake, please”. And when I made the choice to start eating better and exercising, it had nothing to do with looking better for other people, it was because I couldn’t stand feeling like I was 80 years old; I wanted to run and hike and do the things healthy, fit people can do. But then, you probably know these things, having made your own decision to eat better and get fit, and achieved that in the most inspiring way.

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PastaQueen • September 19, 2007 at 10:57 am

BTW, I should mention that I don’t consider myself to be or to have ever been a binge eater. I wondered if I was for awhile, but after I wrote this entry and read comments from real binge eaters it became clear that was not what I did. I ate lots of cookies and ice cream and crap, but I usually stopped when I was full. And I always ate foods that I enjoyed, whereas binge eaters will sometimes eat whatever is around because they want to feel full.

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deanna • September 19, 2007 at 11:04 am

Just wondering do you think that the reason why you were lazy, ate too much and watched too much TV was tied to anything else? For me, it doesn’t seem that simple, something always triggers the eating whether it is a binge or I just ate too much, a failed test, a passed test, a wedding, a funeral etc… but maybe it is that simple, maybe as an overweight perons Ie put too much thought and crap into what got me to that point when it could be just that I am lazy and eat too much. Now, I have to think about this in more detail… ya see what I mean!

PQ – I think there is pressure to attribute the overeating and laziness to emotional issues or other issues because that is what everyone expects. It is the easy explanation. But I’ve been thinking about this on and off for 9 months now (ever since I started writing my book) and the more I think about – no – I don’t think I had emotional issues. I will say I was a shy person and I stayed at home a lot, so maybe eating was a hobby of mine or something I did while I was bored. There certainly were times when I ate for comfort, but a lot of people do that and don’t get to almost 400 pounds. Mostly, I think I really liked ice cream and I never made an effort to lay off it. I’m sure someone will read this and think I’m just in denial or that I’ve never come to terms with my issues, but honestly people, I think I just really liked cookies. Sorry to disappoint you.

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psychsarah • September 19, 2007 at 11:32 am

I’ve thought a lot about the whole “emotional eater” issue. I have had people say to me that you don’t get obese just because you like the cookies, and sometimes I adamantly disagree. I used all kinds of fancy arguments like evolution (i.e., in feast and famine times, it would have made sense to eat a whole gross of cookies because who knows when more cookies could appear, so I’m not being emotional when I eat all the Oreos, I’m just following the “survival of the fittest” credo), and sometimes I said it like you-cookies and ice cream taste good, so why not eat lots of them?

Other times, I think I am totally an emotional eater, and this came as a huge surprise to me. One day I was explaining a major disappointment to a friend and I said that I didn’t feel like attending the meeting we were at due to this disappointment, but if I had just gone home, I would have sat alone and ate all afternoon. As the words came out of my mouth, I couldn’t believe what I was saying-it was as though the words came from someone else. I hadn’t consciously considered it, but that is exactly what I would have done. Talk about your “light bulb moments”! The struggle to reconcile these two points of view “I am not an emotional eater, but sometimes I am” is difficult, and one I continue to have. Thanks for bringing it up, again so eloquently and honestly!

Also, I loved what you said about reconstructing memories. I have read a lot about memory (as part of my training to be a psychologist) and it seems that everyone reconstructs memories all the time. Memory, as a rule, is quite unreliable. We, as humans, are always making meaning in different ways based on new experiences, mood etc. I love the way you describe this process. You just put it so well. Good luck with your continued reconstruction. With every amazing post, I get more and more excited to read your book!!

PQ – That is another good point – it’s not an all or nothing affair. You can overeat because you’re depressed and you can overeat because cookies just taste good. You don’t have to always do it for one reason. I don’t think I got so fat by just being an emotional eater because there was no way my life was that emotional.

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Tena • September 19, 2007 at 11:34 am

I can always count on you for insight to myself! You are right on the money about the behavior issue. That is what I struggle with daily. I know what to do but sometimes I just don’t want to. You may have given fat girls a bad name, but now you give fat girls hope!! Thanks!

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TeaMouse • September 19, 2007 at 11:47 am

Very insightful! I know I am probably guilty of the same thing. Why am I overweight, because I eat too much – I liked a bowl of creamy ice cream every night and chips too. I didn’t exercise enough for the food I was eating.

The hard part for me is that I reached my highest weight which is 235 lb. and I am able to maintain that weight and eat all the crap I want and not exercise. Sure 235 lb. is not ideal but I guess somewhere in my brain was this idea that at least I wasn’t gaining weight – I didn’t have to constantly buy new clothes.

I don’t think I am a binge eater either. I may have been guilty of consuming the whole bag of cookies but I don’t eat until I am sick. Once my sis had relayed a story of how she’d eat pork chops out of the garbage can – now that is a problem. The problem for her was she was married to a man who would withhold sex because she wasn’t thin enough. This caused her to have serious weight and psychological issues. Imagine being yelled at by your husband for even considering eating a chocolate bar and your only crime is being 10 lb. overweight.

I am in the same boat of giving ‘fat girls’ a bad name. I know there are some people who eat right and are physically fit and they will never be thin – for those people I am sorry that you have to put up with the fat racism.

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Olivia • September 19, 2007 at 11:49 am

Great post. I have often wondered why I allowed myself to gain so much weight (an extra 100 lbs) before doing something about it, and I think it was just laziness. Add to that complete ingnorance about nutrition and that’s all it takes.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the way I used to eat and I’m amazed at how I honestly didn’t know I was eating so badly. I knew the candy and cookies weren’t great, but I really had no idea how unhealthy things like hot dogs, pizza, mac & cheese, etc. were. And healthy portions? Fugghet about it.

I’m still lazy, but know exercise is important now, and more importantly, I will never look at a slice of pizza the same way again.

PQ – Thank you! This is exactly how I feel and I’ve felt so weird about it because no one else seems to have the same experience. I was hesitant to even post this because I thought I’d be accused of being dishonest with myself, but it’s been very liberating to finally admit to it.

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Kathleen • September 19, 2007 at 11:50 am

I just have to tell you that I love your blog to bits and pieces. I’m on my own journey down from 215.6 and am daily encouraged by your blog. Thanks for your perspective, your humor, and your transparency. I can’t wait for your book!

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Lorrie (The Token Fat Girl) • September 19, 2007 at 12:27 pm

I think there is a reason why there are stereotypes and cliches. While they are annoying and generalized they do hold some truth. I hate being the fat girl cliche, but the truth is the fat is from laziness and too much food. I drove to classes too, I snuck and stole food too. I think its brilliant when people take responsibility for their actions. I applaud you so much for doing this. Maybe if more overweight/obese people (such as myself) were honest with themselves about why they are fat the journey might become just a little more easier.

Thank you for putting thoughtful and honest insight into the world!

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Allison • September 19, 2007 at 12:44 pm

I think I was the same way to be honest. I ate too much because I liked eating! I ate all the foods I liked and none that I didn’t and I ate them in huge quantities. Like two tuna fish sandwiches on white bread with a slice of american cheese on top for dinner. In my mind that doesn’t sound too terrible, but it was the fact that I had 2 of them PACKED with mayo that was the problem.

And I exercised too little because I liked laying around. I liked watching trashy movies on TV, or marathons of TV shows. If you put those two things together and call her Allison apparently you end up with a 5’5″ girl who weighs 200 pounds.

I don’t think that the reason I was overweight was because I had emotional eating problems. I really just liked eating. Now that I’m at a normal weight for my height I still like to eat and I still sometimes over do it. Just last night in fact I ended up eating 4 cookies one right after the other. I hadn’t planned on having any cookies at all! But there they were and I just liked the way the first one tasted, so I had a second, and the second was also delicious so, etc, etc.

It’s just that once I decided to lose weight I started to pay attention to the numbers. I looked at the calories for those cookies, and found that each was 80 calories. So I had 240 extra calories to account for, which is about 2 miles running for me.

That’s a thought that just never would have occurred to me years ago. I would have just eaten the cookies, watched some TV and gone to sleep.

Now I have those tools and that’s what has made the difference.

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Allison • September 19, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Bwahaha…it would help if I did the math correctly up there 80*4 is 320 not 240. And 320 is 3 miles running. :3

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melsky • September 19, 2007 at 12:55 pm

I used to eat out of boredom, I call it eatertainment – I’m bored and feeling dissatisfied with my life and a little bit sad so I’ll make a spice cake and while it’s cooking I’m going to microwave a bunch of frozen food and eat it and then cake for desert! Even though by the time I get to the cake I won’t be that hungry but I’ll eat it anyway.

That was coupled with no exercise. When I put on most of my weight I was living in the a very rural part of the Mojave desert and not only was it too hot to walk a lot there were packs of wild dogs.

PQ – LOL! That is the best excuse *ever.* “Well, packs of wild dogs used to roam my neighborhood.” I should start using that. It sure beats the whole “I really loved cookies!” excuse.

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Chubby Chick • September 19, 2007 at 12:57 pm

I just want to say that your blog really helps to keep me going when I feel a funk coming on. Thanks for being so open and honest. You are truly an inspiration. :)

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Laura • September 19, 2007 at 1:10 pm

Very brave post. Great comments here, too. Don’t you have some fabulous readers?!

I think it makes total sense that you found so much pleasure from food and reclining on the sofa in front of the TV, that these things gave you satisfaction beyond anything else you could do. And, frankly, if I could eat anything I wanted and be completely lazy but not gain any weight and look great in my clothes, that’s what I’d do. I LOVE ice cream and cookies and bread and cheese and pastries! And cereal with whole milk! There is NOTHING like the creamy comforting taste of those foods.

Except…there is.

Because when you realize that what you love is killing you and making you a miserable wretch, then you can no longer love what you once loved. It’s an unbelievably difficult thing to do, though–you know, breaking up with those donuts, like one of your possible book titles had intimated.

But once you write the Dear John letter to the donuts and ice cream and cookies, and you find a new love in exercise and feeling better (because, let’s face it, all that yummy stuff actually makes you feel like crap), then food takes its proper place again–as fuel and sustenance. Something to be enjoyed, yes, but not a sole source of joy.

I can’t wait for your book!

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yo • September 19, 2007 at 1:19 pm

“It was me! The fat girl! I stole your brownies and, mmmmm, they were good!”

lolllllllll. You are really funny — your editors were geniuses to snatch you up.

I totally hear you about eating too much/not exercising being the real cause of your weight. I think it’s actually a very empowering way of looking at it, because it means you are in charge of you — there isn’t some secret psychological engine in your mind controlling your weight for you because of, like, “daddy issues” or something. I really think it’s healthy.

I also think that once someone is somewhat overweight, a lifestyle gets set that facilitates eating lots of calories and not burning them. Does a fat girl want to go shopping at mall? Not really. Want to walk around in cute outfits at mall, or go out to a fairgrounds/public park/etc and see and be seen? Nope.

So what’s the source of fun/recreation in a fat girl’s life? Yummy food and the internet/tv.

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coraspartan • September 19, 2007 at 1:29 pm

PQ, don’t you watch Oprah? She has said time and time again that you don’t overeat just because you like food–you overeat because you have underlying emotional issues, even if you don’t realize that you do. The example she always uses is potato chips. For years, she thought she just like potato chips–she didn’t think she had any underlying issues that were making her eat the potato chips. I’m not entirely sure if I agree with her, but I can tell you Oprah is adamant about this point–she constantly brings it up on her show.

When I was overeating, it seems to me that I really just liked the food I was eating. But maybe I was a little depressed and didn’t realize it. Who knows?

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scone • September 19, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Chalk me up as a former obese woman who doesn’t have emotional eating issues. i just ate too many calories, too much junk. I never considered how much I was eating. I honestly had no idea there were 3000 calories in that burrito plate. Plus 2 beers. In a supersized eating culture, getting fat is easy. Especially when everyone else in the restaurant, fat or thin, is consuming mass quantities. It’s the new “normal.” To lose weight, I had to resist the dominant behavior patterns, do my own thing.

I think the weight loss blogosphere could give a skewed statistical sample, relative to the whole “pool” of maintainers. I suspect there are relatively more people blogging about how hard it is, about their issues, and so on, and relatively fewer bloggers who are having less trouble. Maybe if it’s easier, you have less incentive to blog?

And if you say, “yes, I lost the weight, I’ve kept it off, and it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” people really hate that. I can understand, because it’s so frustrating for so many. But should I falsify my experience, just to be “in solidarity” with the dominant tribe, so to speak? Pretend to have issues just to get sympathy? I’m not comfortable with that.

Thin for Life talks about this difficulty level thing– the maintainers rated the difficulty, and many people put the level around halfway, on a scale of 1 – 5. (I’m remembering this off the top of my head, you understand, so my details may be sketchy.)

I suspect the weight loss level-of-difficulty varies on a math curve: some people find it relatively easy, some middling, and some experience great difficulties. For all sorts of reasons. A poll on this topic might yield interesting results, but I can’t see how you could filter for skewing.

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Lily • September 19, 2007 at 2:02 pm

So amazing that you can admit something like that! Although, I have great difficulty admitting it, I can relate.

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spacedcowgirl • September 19, 2007 at 2:16 pm

I’m perhaps the opposite of you… I’m a little TOO quick to attribute my overeating to emotional issues, and less willing to examine the possibility that I just liked high-calorie foods and huge meals more than I liked not eating them. I will say that in my case, it’s not big huge emotions that cause me to binge or want to binge. It tends to be emotions that seem less significant or important. For example, I hate being embarrassed or being wrong about things. If I stick my neck out to argue a point and am wrong about it, it causes me so much mental discomfort that I have to do something to alleviate it and eating seems to be the shortcut that I have developed to meet that need. Boredom is another one… I mean, who likes being bored, but it seems to cause a particular type of discomfort in me that can be temporarily fixed through mindless eating.

Obviously you know yourself far better than some random commenter on your blog, and everyone is different. However, that said, unless you do have some metabolism issues I have to say that (since you have shown that your body is willing to release weight once you started trying to lose, unlike some of the folks you mention who restrict like crazy and can’t lose a pound) it seems remarkable that you would get to the point of being more than 200 pounds overweight just by being sedentary, choosing unhealthy snack foods over healthy ones, and eating too many desserts. To get myself up to 276 pounds, I was basically stuffing myself at every lunch and dinner, and eating plenty more in between meals. I was causing myself physical discomfort by the way I was eating. Did you find that you had to eat that way to get to 372 lbs.? I know thin people who occasionally eat Girl Scout cookies by the sleeve (though I’m sure they regret it afterward and vow never to do it again) so even the “binge” or unhealthy behaviors you describe are not all that extreme.

None of my business so feel free not to answer. It’s just that based on my life experience, it doesn’t really add up without some kind of binge eating or emotional eating explanation (or conversely, maybe you eat very very little now and that’s how you keep the weight off). And again, that is fine, you don’t owe anyone (least of all me) a play-by-play of how you got fat. I’m mainly just thinking out loud about how we all have different circumstances and stories. Or perhaps I am a little afraid if the diet that American society seems to push at people right now (a few too many fries here, a large Blizzard there, a breakfast sandwich over there)–which definitely is not the healthiest, but no part of which really seems THAT “extreme”–really can take an average person from “normal weight” to very, very overweight.

PQ – If you do the math, it’s completely plausible that I got this way without binging. Let’s say I was a normal weight when I was 14 and got to my highest weight at 24. (I was actually fat before then, but this way we can just say I gained 200 pounds over the course of 10 years.) That means I gained

20 pounds a year, or .054 pounds a day. Multiply .054 by 3500 (the number of calories in a pound) and I was eating about 192 extra calories a day. That’s not hard to do. It was a slow and steady gain.

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Lindsey • September 19, 2007 at 2:18 pm

This isn’t a comment to PQ per se, but just everyone on the board to see if any of you have had similar thoughts or you, PQ, had considered this in your introspection.

I can understand overeating unknowingly—in the sense as another put it, not really realizing how bad some of the things we were eating really were and misjudging portion sizes. But, for me, I had to finally admit to myself that there were some major underlying emotional issues, and I think they may be very common to many women. So, my question for everyone is: do you think being overweight is at all tied to views on female sexuality or our general society’s perception of this?

To put this in context, my story is this: I was never overweight as a kid/teenager. I was pretty darn athletic, grew up a tomboy and was a late bloomer physically speaking. I grew up hanging out with the guys and it wasn’t really until college (I also went to an all-girls high school which I think delayed confronting this issue) and boobs came into the picture that all of sudden my “buddies” weren’t so interested in just being buddies anymore. Of course, I didn’t pick up on this right away and got burned a few times when, shockingly, they weren’t so interested in who I was on the inside. I started to put on weight shortly after this. I never really connected these two, instead blaming on what often happens when folks take off for college—less activity, but eating the same as if I was still playing sports and growing like when I was in high school resulting in weight gain.

When PQ wrote in the blog a while back about being fat as having a built-in asshole detector it completely resonated with me. It took me a long time to admit to myself that I carried the extra weight because I didn’t like the unsolicited sexual attention from men that I received when I was thinner and the fact that when I was “hot”, everyone had an alterior motive and I couldn’t as easily tell who cared about me for me or who was just pretending to care about me to get into my pants. In essence, I was hiding from the world on this level. This was a particularly surprising revelation since I’m generally a rather assertive, socially dominant person (i.e. not generally shy) and terribly ironic because at the same time I wanted to be able to wear some of the cute/sexy clothes that I could no longer fit into.

This experience makes me wonder how many of us women carry extra weight for similar reasons—whether just hiding from the world in general or hiding, in part, due to discomfort with sexual attention or our own feminine sexuality. As I think the US has a lot of sexual repression issues floating through much of our mainstream culture (i.e. double standard between men and women, the virgin/whore complex, etc.), it makes me wonder how much of this general discomfort with a healthier view of female sexuality contributes to many of us carrying extra weight. Has anyone else had similar thoughts/experiences?

PQ – Have you read “Fat is a Feminist Issue” by Susie Orbach? It covers a lot of the emotional eating causes, like sexuality, and it was one of the books I read at the beginning of the year when I was starting to sort through this stuff. I’d say personally, I didn’t really relate to the desexualization angle but I think it’s a valid reason for many women. As I said in an earlier comment, I was shy, which might have been part of the reason I was fat. But there are plenty of shy girls who are thin. So who knows?

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crankybee • September 19, 2007 at 2:52 pm

Can’t be bothered reading through all the comments (it’s 4.50am and I’m trying to finish writing my thesis…) but have to say this…

I disagree with you – for you to say “I was a lazy fat person who ate too much” is so REFRESHING! It’s not a cop out of any kind! Because people ALWAYS bring the emotional cart with the squeeky wheel out, and I’m with you – sometimes it’s just cause you like FOOD and you are LAZY! LOL! Not for everyone, mind, but for some of us! You know how I’ve put on 10 pounds recently? Cause I got married and went to Hawaii and I really love FOOD. And I am LAZY! Don’t let ‘em talk you into any thing, ya know?

crank.

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Margie • September 19, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Hi PQ! Not sure if I’ve commented before (if I did, I probably used my MySpace url), but I love your blog (I included you on my blogroll at my new blog, too ;) ).

I like that you’ve been following South Beach. I’ve been following it too, and really believe it is a healthy way to eat long term. Especially if you acknowledge that it’s OK to have so-called “bad carbs” once in a while for special occasions. I could really identify with what Dr. A said in his book about high-GI foods causing cravings. I’ve noticed that with myself, I’m fine eating “good” foods, and don’t really crave junk, but just let me get a taste of something “bad” like a cookie, and it really is hard to resist the desire, the cravings to have another. I think a lot of us, maybe even you, got fat because we succumbed to cravings for “bad carbs.” We ate too much because our food choices left us wanting more.

One principle with South Beach I’ve learned (and you probably know this too, since it was covered in the book) is that you can lower the overall GI of a meal or snack by pairing it with “sugar stoppers,” which are things like protein, fiber, acid, or fat, things that slow the digestion of carbs, and reduce the blood sugar spike you get when you eat high-GI foods like white bread, sugar, cookies, plain baked potatoes, etc. So it’s a lot easier for me to have just a bite, or even just one cookie, if I’m also eating (or have recently eaten) some of those “sugar stoppers.” The whole “high-GI foods cause cravings” notion really hits home for me.

And just as there are “sugar stoppers” that slow digestion and help mitigate the blood sugar spikes you get from “bad carbs,” there are also things that effectively increase a food’s GI, and salt is one of them. So sure, you may like potato chips, but you overeat them, because the salt increases your cravings for them.

I’m still overweight (because I “treat” myself too often), but I never felt like I was an emotional eater. If something went wrong, it doesn’t occur to me to grab candy or ice cream or “bad” foods to make me feel better. Never did; I just don’t “get it.” And when I read about people gorging (even if they aren’t bingeing) on food because they’re depressed, or worried, or even mad, I can’t help but think they’re nuts! (Sorry to those of you who do this, I simply can’t relate). I think it’s awfully arrogant of Oprah to project her tendency for emotional eating on the rest of us.

We eat for lots of different reasons. And unlike other unhealthy habits like drinking too much, smoking, or lazing around on the couch, we cannot totally give up food. We have to eat to live. Every day is full of choices, opportunities to make good food choices and to try to eat “until satisfied, not stuffed.”

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Amy • September 19, 2007 at 3:31 pm

when i think about the time in my life when i was gaining weight the mostest, i was definitely depressed and grieving and i admit it freely. but i wasn’t a binge eater or an emotional eater either. i just wasn’t trying very hard and i gained 20 pounds in a year. i never bought a pizza and ate the whole thing in one night or one sitting, i’d buy a pizza and eat the whole thing over a weekend. that’s not a binge, that’s crappy decision making. lazy decision making. they say all you have to do is eat right and exercise and they say it like it’s not work. it’s all work. it’s work some people choose not to do and not because they’re disordered individuals, they simply don’t care. it’s hard to believe that some people live without those thoughts (health, weight, appearance) on constant loop like so many of us do in this community, but they do exist. the quiet cookie eating minority.

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kar_kar • September 19, 2007 at 3:40 pm

“It was me! The fat girl! I stole your brownies and, mmmmm, they were good!”

O…M…G!!! LMAO over here, too funny!

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Roni • September 19, 2007 at 3:44 pm

WOW. Seriously. That is the best post ever. Were you describing me? I think you were, to a “T”!!

I hope you don’t mind, I’m, going to link and quote you tonight on my blog.

This is outstanding…

I would not have spent over a decade of my life overweight if it was easy. Even when you know what your problem is, that doesn’t automatically fix it. Knowing you are schizophrenic does not make you stop hearing voices. Maintaining a life of healthy eating and exercise is very, very hard.

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Chewie • September 19, 2007 at 3:51 pm

I think people want to find SOMETHING to blame…anything…

and fat people tend to be living in a bit of a fog of denial about just how fat they have gotten….they also can be brutal to themselves if they let the fog up and start to really look at themselves. SO…I think that sometimes they just find an escape hatch to pour the blame down cause God forbid it just be YOU are not MOVING and YOU need to stop EATING so much CRAP.

I dunno. That is JMHO worth absolutely nothing. *grin* But it does come from my very obese-and-working-it-off perspective.

Chew

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K • September 19, 2007 at 4:40 pm

Yeah, you stick to your guns.

I would absolutely say it is not necessary to binge in order to gain, and, conversely, that not all people who do binge end up gaining that much. I ate pretty unhealthily from age fourteen to twenty-four too, and did sometimes binge (and still have that tendency) and I’ve never been over 200 pounds – mostly around 170-180.

Which shows how pointless it is claiming that you get what you deserve. Gluttony may not be a secret vice – I wasn’t skinny – but compared to most women I was, well, getting away with it. (The flipside of not gaining weight easily is that I don’t lose it easily either. My body doesn’t seem to care that much what I eat.) I never had the excuse of not knowing what was healthy.

These things get complicated. There are days when I would say that I overeat just because I like to eat; there are days when I admit I like being overfull, too. Which seems a bit icky. And that sometimes I eat things because I know I’m not supposed to, even if the only person telling me I’m not supposed to… is me.

I should really write my own entry on this…

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sherijung • September 19, 2007 at 5:16 pm

PQ, you are such an amazing writer, and this post really struck a chord. While I was not as obese as you were, I did ‘let myself go’ and gained 70 + pounds over the course of 25 years. Maybe 10 -20 were due to having children, but really the vast majority was due to overeating and lack of exercise to compensate.

I also consumed many Girl Scout cookie packs, finished of many, many packages of holiday (Easter, Christmas, whatever) candy, which my family can attest to. I’m really not convinced I was trying to fill some emotional need…I was pretty bored, but that stuff just tastes good! I can honestly say that I really enjoy sweet and/or rich tasting food. Other than a bout with NutriSystem, I never seriously dieted, and only made a couple of very short attempts to try to get active. I enjoyed my TV time. I was a serious couch potato. I had no misconceptions that I was the victim of a slow metabolism. My size was a totally self-inflicted issue.

I’m getting really close to my weight loss goal now, so I’ve been trying to figure out how I got to be and stayed obese–I don’t want to go back after all this hard work! I think the key for me is the exercise part. I’ve made running my new hobby, and I’ve remade big parts of my life to fit around this new activity. I need to stay healthy in order to keep running.

But I still find the sweet and rich food really tasty. And cookies–I just can’t go there. I can almost compare the issue to people who get in all sorts of credit card debt, buying stuff they know they can’t possibly afford. But they do it anyway. They just really like all the stuff, and can’t seem to live the kind of life that their income affords.

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Bj • September 19, 2007 at 5:24 pm

I am so glad I was given your blog address by a dear friend. My first time commenting, too!! So first of all Hey–thanks for the blog and most of all the honesty, hard work and guts you have displayed…. I have read about 18 months of your blogs during the past two weeks and I find you terribly refreshing, comforting, humorous and astute! I am crying a bit as I type this: I think this was a very good post…Look at all the responders! You hit a nerve.

I share some similarities with you and I want to tell my story, too, but I will, for now, say that there are many reasons folks gain extreme weight and often it is more than just bad habits,it can be self-deception, health, injuries, stress, depression, a bit of gluttony, laziness, etc. It is life, good and bad, and I am so touched and glad to hear all the stories….

Keep up all the hard work…you look so glowing and healthy and well, thin! I loved the recent running photos…(I thought, gee, she sure looks tiny)…

Blessings,

BJ

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Jenny • September 19, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Insanely honest post. Thanks.

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Sara • September 19, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Hey PQ,

Just being a little anal but I don’t think your 192cal/day math totally works out. This is because you are getting bigger your body requires more and more calories just to exist. This is why, if you’re way obese, you can lose a lot of weight at first by just sticking to, say, 2500 cal/day. Whereas, with your weight now, I doubt you’d find that helpful! So really, the 192/cal is above whatever your basal metabolic rate is for whatever weight you’re at. That’s a lot of extra calories.

Besides that– I just would also like to say that I became obese through lots of other factors besides emotional eating. I wasn’t abused, didn’t have a hard home life… all those more common issues people bring up for layering themselves in a protective shell. I had terrible eating habits. I’d come home from school, having skipped lunch, and eat three croissants in the fridge. Yea, not good. And then I’d go straight to sleep, even better!

PQ – Your BMR does go up, but it’s pretty easy to eat an average of 192 calories extra a day. That’s a can of Mountain Dew. It’s four Oreos. If you were to eat 12 Oreos one day over your calorie needs, that takes care of half a week of overeating. So yeah, you definitely have to eat a lot, but it’s not hard to find calorie-dense foods that are yummy. Who ever eats one Oreo anyway?

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deanna • September 19, 2007 at 6:51 pm

PQ – just responding to your response from my comment of earlier today. i am not disappointed, actually happy that you did not go through that turmoil. We all know ourselves best and i realize that you spent a great deal of time on this issue with obvious success and i respect you and your witty blogs. and more importantly good for you – i love it that someone can be honest and forthcoming and share that with the world. and screw everyone if they don’t believe you

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Kyle • September 19, 2007 at 8:18 pm

You are so brave to be that openly honest with yourself and with us. I feel ya, I really do. I was a chubby girl too who used to make excuses…big boned, emotional eater, my mom didn’t buy healthy food, I ate the same as my friends but they never gained weight and I did.

But those were all lies. As soon as I got to college and started running and substituted veggies for potato chips, the pounds dropped off. 50 pounds later and I realize I never had to live half my life overweight and frustrated.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing.

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Amanda • September 19, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Amen for that. I too am the fat girl that ended up this way simply because I have a deep burning desire for chocolate and enchiladas. I have covered up emotions with food, but not really on a regular basis. Nor do I really fit the qualifications for binge eating. I simply like to eat. I enjoy sitting through movie marathons with my guy friends stuffing ourselves until we’re sick. I also hate exercise. I still hate it. People should only run if there is someone with a chainsaw/a bear/a vacuum salesman behind them. That said, I do it anyhow now.

It honestly sucks admitting that, but it is helping me. It is all me that got me here, and now I have to get myself out. Good for you for doing so. May you continue on your journey to good health, and thank you for helping me with mine.

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Patricia • September 19, 2007 at 9:29 pm

I love cookies! Especially oreos! But, that is kind of not the point of my comment. :) I completely agree PQ, when I overeat and don’t exercise enough, I start to gain weight. If I watch my portions and move a little bit, I start to lose weight. I have ALWAYS been petrified of being fat (I guess that qualifies as an emotional issue) so once I hit 175 that freaked me out enough to get my rear in gear. Even though I’ve never weighed over 200 or over 300, I know that if I continued with my bad eating habits, I would have ended up weighing twice what I did. I just stopped the cycle before I got to that point. I managed to put on about 20 of those pounds in 3 mths. It all came from overeating and not being active. I was eating huge portions for dinner and well, every other single meal! I was also staying up late and snacking with my friends. We always eat more when we are around friends. :) Also, I think a lot of excess weight that some people carry around is from soda. If I drank as much real Coke as I wanted, I would easily weigh over 200 lbs. Instead, I chug down the Diet and occasionally have a real one. Anyways, because of my choices I’ve now lost 32 lbs. Unfortunately, it’s taken me 10 mths and I still have 10-15 vanity lbs to get rid of. The advantage to being “the fat girl” is more motivation to getting the weight off quicker.

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Katieo • September 19, 2007 at 11:01 pm

What a great post! I loved reading it.

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Mia • September 20, 2007 at 1:00 am

Yes, another great post. As much as I have tried to figure out why I gained weight, and have really at times thought I knew, I’m starting to think it was a combination of things. Don’t torture yourself too much with introspection (I should take my own damned advise!). I know you are forced to with the book, and all, but I wonder how beneficial it is for you to figure it all out. (I really don’t know!)

You’re doing so incredibly well; I’m so happy that you are healthy and fit now. :)

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Skippy • September 20, 2007 at 5:42 am

Hi there, Skippy again. I’m a bit in shock that my teeny comment led to all this insight and inspiration. You are wise and articulate, and so are your commenters.

Very interesting that this came from your writing. Writing can be so intense. Putting yourself through what you were once experiencing, or what you’re imagining someone experiencing, to put it down on paper, can be harrowing. Especially if the journey of writing takes you back to a place you were glad to leave. It’s brave of you to go back there and dredge up your truths for us; thank you.

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Zentient • September 20, 2007 at 9:32 am

A Zen teaching that has helped me – I struggle because I retreat into my little self and believe with certainty that

Something’s wrong.

There’s not enough.

You are a great story teller, you have a way that reveals your personal experience beyond the facts of your transformation. Thank you for sharing your life with others in order to be of service. You are a blessing.

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Jen • September 20, 2007 at 11:08 am

Yup I too knew all the episode titles of the X-Files and I could eat a whole box of cookies in a go.

Now I don’t have TV or cookies. And I’m much happier! Heck I’ve discovered I don’t even LIKE TV or cookies!

Great post.

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yo • September 20, 2007 at 11:44 am

One thing though that i wanted to point out — your body must have a propensity to store rather than excrete or burn all those calories, because there ARE people who eat similarly and don’t get nearly as heavy.

You may want to read NYT’s science reporter Gina Kolata’s book: http://www.amazon.com/Rethinking-Thin-Science-Loss-Realities/dp/0374103984

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yo • September 20, 2007 at 12:33 pm

Also, I think you might be being unnecessarily “hard” on your former self with the “I was lazy and ate too much” talk.

I mean, that is of course technically true — you didn’t move enough and ate too much. And likely it’s a healthy, practical-minded, can-do way of looking at issues with your weight. But … getting close to 4 bills in your early 20s? How come that doesn’t happen to every careless college student who eats pizza and beer and ice cream and mac & cheese when and where-ever they want? How come everyone doesn’t pack on hundreds of pounds by eating an extra 1300 cals a week?

I think the answer might be that a lot of people just DON’T get those extra 1300 cals in each and every week, because they don’t feel hungry for them. I think you might have been born with or developed a significantly larger appetite than most (seconds and thirds at the ice cream bar following sizzler buffet? many people wouldn’t have room!). The feeling of “full” apparently comes from nerves in your small intestine that get triggered as food passes from stomach — they say bulimics sometimes have that process delayed/damaged, causing them to be able to ingest massive quantities without feeling full.

So, i think it’s legit to say that you felt a desire to eat the whole sleeve of cookies, or the whole batch of brownies, whereas your less fat peers, for example, never or rarely felt that impulse. That doesn’t make you some lazy hedonist, but it does mean that lack of awareness about how many calories you’re eating would hit you harder than most.

So, what you are saying might be akin to saying, “I was an alcoholic because I loved drinking” or “I was a coke fiend because I loved getting high on coke.” Sure, that’s probably true, but some people have a weakness for their addiction of choice that simply goes way beyond other peoples, and it’s not just a function of “I enjoy it more.”

PQ – It’s definitely a possibility. I know one of my biggest problems has always been portion control. It’s VERY hard for me to stop eating until I feel full and as a lot of people know it takes about 10-15 minutes after you’re actually full for your body to feel full. I can cram a lot of overeating into those 10-15 minutes if I don’t tell myself to STOP! Maybe my brain is wired differently. The funny thing about the theory that I’m biologically different is that is commonly used as a theory as to why people can’t lose weight. So if I am genetically different, I guess I’m proof that your genes are not your destiny. And if I’m not genetically different, I’m proof that you can indeed get very fat by eating a lot.

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spacedcowgirl • September 20, 2007 at 3:45 pm

Yes, yo, those were the kinds of questions I wanted to raise, but couldn’t articulate very well. I think it’s a lot more complicated than calories in/calories out.

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spacedcowgirl • September 20, 2007 at 3:47 pm

And I mean, of course, in some ways, it’s just as simple as calories in/calories out. I’m just not sure we understand how that really works. It’s an interesting topic.

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Sara • September 20, 2007 at 5:46 pm

Okay so I too “was” a fat lazy peron (Im still workin on the fat part) and for the same reason, but when I think hard about it, it comes down to me being bored, bored bored bored! Not because I had to be but beacuse I chose to be bored, wich makes me lazy, ah the cycle of flab, it goes round and round (my belly that is). Maybe you were bored too…

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Jamie • September 21, 2007 at 10:11 am

This post was so real and honest. Thank you! I am right there with you!! I think it truly starts with this kind of honesty!! I found your site through Roni’s Weight Watchen site…and I’ll be back!

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groovybabe • September 21, 2007 at 10:25 am

What an interesting post. Its really interesting to me to learn the different reasons people get fat. For me it was an emotional reaction to something bad happening in my life. I was overweight before that but the emotional reaction took it out of control. I actually think whether you are an emotional eater or greedy, losing a significant amount of weight is definitely a case of mind over matter. You have to be in the right frame of mind. I’ve been at this 15 weeks now and have lost 41lbs (89 left to go) and I am glad to say after years of trying I finally seem to be in the right frame of mind. Your blog has been an inspiration to me from day one.

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Joyce • September 21, 2007 at 4:26 pm

I want to offer a comment from a writing perspetive, not a weight-management perspective: If you say, “I was a shy person and stayed home a lot, but really, weighing nearly 400 pounds had nothing to do with emotional issues” I think you’re seriously begging the question. I’m not trying to tell you your own life story, but it strikes me as implausible that shyness and staying home–an unwillingness to engage the world–were not closely linked to your weight. And that, in itself, is one of those “emotional issues” you say you don’t have.

What you’ve accomplished is amazing and inspirational, and many readers will be able to relate to you simply on the strength of your actions. But I think you need to give credit to yourself where credit is due. Somehow, somewhere, you found the strength to turn self-indulgence (the voice that said it was OK to eat that third helping of ice cream) into self-control (the voice that says you will not eat another piece of candy because other things matter more to you) and self-regard (you want these other things and feel you are worthy of them). This dynamic may not be at play when you’re 20 pounds overweight, but I absolutely believe it is an essential part of losing as much weight as you’ve lost. You haven’t just remade your habits and your body; you’ve remade your mind and heart, whether you acknowledge it or not.

I believe that until you find that story and tell it, you’re not really writing the book that deserves to be written about what you’ve done. And that would be a pity, because what you’ve done is conquer the most malevolent enemy and most caustic critic those of us who are extremely overweight ever encounter: the one in the mirror.

PQ – Don’t worry, Joyce. The book has several stories that detail how screwed up my fat made me :) Also, I didn’t mean to imply I didn’t have some emotional issues (though I probably did imply that), just that they’re not the only reason I became fat.

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Angel • September 22, 2007 at 10:09 pm

I can’t *wait* to buy your book ;) You have been a real inspiration to me (so when you see my ISP hanging out on your blog, I’m catching up on your archives LOL)

I think your honesty helped you change your life. You were able to face what you needed to change.

I have to remind myself that I gained a lot of weight, but it’s in the past (hakuna matata anyone?). I sometimes cringe at old photos, but be forgiving of the reasons why I became morbidly obese. The more I bash myself, the less likely I am to work at changing.

Thank you so much for your honesty in your blog. Makes me think alot ;)

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MamaSadie • September 23, 2007 at 3:56 pm

You write so powerfully about this and I really appreciate your honesty. I imagine that’s not why (or not the sole reason why) you do this, but your honesty is really motivational and I want to thank you for it.

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Chinwendu • September 24, 2007 at 10:38 pm

Wow, thanks for being you!

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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