Weight Weight … Don’t Tell me … I’m Fat?

Like many people, my relationship with food and body image has always been a complicated one. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t the happiest with my body when it looked lean and was full of big muscles. And while I’ve always aimed to achieve that physique, the truth is, for the majority of my life my body has not looked like that.

I don’t exactly remember when my body image came on my radar, but it was probably around the time I was in elementary school. I remember swimming at the community pool and some girl took a long, disgusted look at my pale, pudgy body and told me to put my shirt back on. After that I remember going home and looking at my body in the mirror and not being happy with what I saw. I’m not sure how much that girl’s comment influenced the new perception I had of my body, but it certainly didn’t help and definitely wasn’t the last time someone’s judgmental remarks about my body affected how I see myself.

After that day at the pool I tried to change what I looked like — I did as many sit-ups and push-ups as I could each day. I even started dying my hair blond as if that would make my body lean and chiseled like Justin Timberlake and the rest of *NSYNC (This was in the 90s). Though, I was never much of a fan I still desperately wanted to look like them.

But this was before I made the correlation between the food I consumed each day and what my body looked like. So when I didn’t lose weight, or even look better, after exercising, My young, naive mind thought something had to be wrong with the mirror I was using. I couldn’t possibly be that so overweight, especially with the baseball and basketball I was playing on top of my calisthenics.

Despite my lack of nutritional awareness, I didn’t eat unhealthy. In fact, I was a vegetarian as early as seven. It didn’t add up to me, but my body was going through prepubescent changes — body growth, hormonal shifts, you know, all the good stuff. So perhaps it was just unavoidable for my body to be chubby at that time in my life. Eventually I leaned out and started building muscle, but now twenty years later, I find myself in a situation even more frustrating than my prepubescent days. It reminds me that my body has undergone substantial transformations over my life and there will be more to come.

My Body

I was a healthy baby…

I was a good looking kid, too…

At 10 years old I was still healthy and looking good, but I started to put on weight (and bleach my hair blond). This is around the time I started becoming unhappy with how my body looked and subsequently questioned the efficacy of my mirror…

My body changed a lot as a teen — I started to go to the gym and add muscle to my physique. I was generally happier with how I looked…

By the time I made it to college I was what the kids these days call “jacked” (Actually, I’m getting older, do the kids still say that?). This is the happiest I’ve ever been with my body…

Then I got sick, grew a beard in honor of The Outlaw Josey Wales (and because I was too weak to shave). I started to lose a lot of weight, though I don’t have any photos that do it justice…

In 2013 I started to feel a little better (enough to shave again), but a lot of the muscle I put on before I got sick in 2010 had already withered away as the illness dominated my body. I didn’t realize it at the time, but four years into the illness I was really starting to get thin (and probably malnourished)…

In 2015 my condition worsened again. This time it hit a new bottom — the worst it’s ever been. I became bedridden and severely malnourished because I couldn’t eat solid food (but I could wear pink tanning goggles, so there’s that)…

In the last couple years, as my health has bounced around, but mostly trended upward, I’ve been able to eat solid food again and consequently put on a substantial amount of weight (Oh, and my hairline receded, but that’s for another blog post)…

Now

Much like looking at myself in the mirror in elementary school, I now find myself frustrated with how my body looks. I know I have all the excuses in the world to put on excess body weight, not that I, or anyone else, need an excuse. I hate how society puts so much pressure on us to look a certain way. I suppose I’m not the best advocate for the change we need around body image, but I do hope it changes. My thoughts and views expressed here are purely about myself, not how I see anyone else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting on weight and there is nothing wrong with the way I look. But that doesn’t change the fact that I want to look different and if it were within my control I would.

It’s hard to tell exactly how much weight I’ve put on because I’m too debilitated to stand and step on a scale. And perhaps that’s a sign that I need to worry about more important things than how I look. But when I see myself it’s hard not to focus on how my face is puffy, my stomach is bloated, and generally my body has layers of fat that I’m just not used to having. Right now my body is not a comfortable place to live. A lot of that comes from my illness, but weight gain definitely contributes as well.

The most frustrating part, however, is that I’ve done everything I can think of to try to get back to a body weight that feels comfortable to me. I’ve done juicing. I eat a gluten-free, low carb diet. I’m doing intermittent fasting — I only eat two meals between 6pm and 10pm. Yet I haven’t seen any noticeable improvements in how my body looks or feels.

I realize this may seem like a trivial complaint, especially when you consider the health issues I’ve faced, and that’s true, but it’s still a concern for me and doesn’t change the way I feel. Besides wanting to look and feel better, I also want to have a fairly healthy body weight when I start to walk again or just get into my wheelchair. After all, added body weight is added resistance when you’re trying to walk.

Lots of people have told me that I don’t look fat (I don’t like to use that word), but there’s no denying that my body does have more fat on it and less muscle than it used to. It’s an odd situation for me — I used to love my body. I still love my body. I love the amazing things it can do despite being plagued by illness. I just don’t love the way it looks. But that’s okay with me, at least for now.

In college I was a true narcissist, always obsessed with how good I looked. I was always posing in front of the mirror or for modeling photo shoots; I did bodybuilding competitions, flexing on stage wearing glorified underwear in front of hundreds of people. But things change, bodies change and deteriorate over time. But I guess I thought I had a couple decades before I ran into any issues with my body.

Perhaps that was naive of me, though. I mean I couldn’t have seen the illness aspect coming, but maybe my weight gain is partially a byproduct of inevitable aging — turning 30. Maybe it’s because I don’t burn as many calories as I once did — my metabolism, which is already impaired by MECFS, has surely slowed. But one thing is true, my issues with body weight and body image aren’t new. And while my outlook on body image may not be the most positive, at least I’m self-aware enough to admit that.

I’m also realistic. I know my weight gain is not from overeating or an unhealthy diet. As I said, I only eat two meals a day during a four hour eating window. It’s just not healthy to eat less than that. Take what I ate today — a tempeh patty with salad, then for my second meal — shrimp and green beans. Oh, and I had some cashews. It’s less than 1,500 calories. If my body was in a coma it would burn more calories than that by just keeping my organs functioning. So I guess it’s safe to say that my caloric intake isn’t the issue.

Then what is the issue? Maybe there isn’t an issue at all. But I think there is … I think it’s probably a combination of taking hydrocortisone, the steroid I’ve been on for the last three years, which is synonymous with weight gain. And the fact that I can’t exercise and my metabolism has slowed now that I’m in my 30s is probably in the mix too.

I’m sorry to say there’s no happy ending or even a transcendent epiphany to this post, though I definitely tried to think of one. The cold truth is that my critical view on my body is not going to change anytime soon — as long as I look the way I do I’m going to want to look different. But at the same time I don’t blame myself. I’m not over here beating myself up for something I have done everything in my power to change, something I have little or no control over. And perhaps that’s a good lesson for me — part of life is accepting the things I cannot change. Oh, and avoiding mirrors — sometimes life is all about avoiding those damn mirrors.

BEFORE YOU GO…

1. Thanks for reading!

2. If you would like to donate to support this blog I would be equally grateful!

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A Personal Plea To Protest 

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I’ve never been one to protest, well, unless you count not shopping at a certain large retail store whose name rhymes with Falmart. So what I’m about to ask of anyone reading this might seem a bit hypocritical. But that’s okay, I’m gonna ask anyway.

Those of you who have been privy to my struggle with ME/CFS for the last six years probably didn’t know how bad things would get, I certainly didn’t. It’s a dangerous, scary, and misunderstood disease that not only needs more awareness, it also needs more private and government research funding.

Before I got sick I would have given priority to a disease like Parkinson’s or MS, but now I know the exact serious of MECFS; it nearly killed me. For that reason I ask you and anyone you are willing to share this post with, to donate to one of the amazing organizations busting their butt to better understand this mysterious disease. I personally recommend the Open Medicine Foundation or Blue Ribbon Foundation. Both are at the forefront of what needs to change in our healthcare system in order to cure MECFS.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly in the immediate, is protesting on September 27th. This Tuesday people from all over the world will unite as part of the Millions Missing campaign. 25 cities scattered around the globe will feature protests. Here in the U.S., protests will be held everywhere from Boston and D.C. to Seattle and San Francisco (City Hall at 11 am). It is expected to be the largest and most widespread MECFS protest ever. I hope you will participate. If not for the cause itself, then for me or one of the many lives this horrible disease has tainted. In many cases, including my own current situation, attending the protest is physically impossible. That’s why we need your help.

Now I’m not asking you to kneel during the national anthem, or to stop eating solid food for 18 months, I’m merely asking you to be present for 10 minutes out of your day. And if you can’t make it to protest in one of the major cities, perhaps you can do something in your hometown like tie a blue ribbon to your car or mailbox, or sport a bracelet on your wrist.

At the very least, I hope you will take a few seconds on Tuesday to first remember how much this disease truly sucks, and then to post a message on your social media accounts using the Millions Missing hashtag (#MillionsMissing).

For any or all of the aforementioned participation I thank you in advance. It is these tiny gestures that appeal to my emotions and touch me the most.

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A One Man Nudist Colony 

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I was completely naked for the better part of an entire year. I wore no clothes. None.  Now, before you file this post away on your “too much information” (TMI) blacklist, first let me promise to keep the intimate stuff to a minimum. That being said, some stuff may be unavoidably revealed. It’s kind of inevitable when talking about being naked.

What people don’t often realize, and perhaps they don’t want to, is that sick people spend a ridiculous amount of time naked. Why? It feels sexy. No, I’m joking (although it does feel a little sexy). There are actually a number of legitimate reasons. Putting on clothes can take a lot of energy, muscle strength, flexibility, and joint mobility. In my case, an obscenely impaired blood pressure and blood volume made it nearly impossible for me to move my body enough to get clothing over my head let alone my extremities.

Another reason is hygiene. Even if I was able to get clothes on my body, the physical repercussions would have been so intense it’s safe to say those clothes wouldn’t have come off until I had regained my strength days, or even weeks later. And that, of course, would mean bathing with clothing on, which I’m not sure if you’ve tried, but it’s just about the least amount of fun you can have with clothes on, and is also probably the least amount of fun you can have while bathing. How do I know, you ask? Oh, I tried it. A few times. And I stubbornly learned that bathing with clothes on, and then leaving them on, is undeniably more miserable than smelling like a dumpster for a week.

I also briefly tried wearing button down shirts. I soon ran into the trouble of getting my arms through the sleeves, so I had someone cut the sleeves off a bunch of old Tommy Bahama shirts from the thrift store. And just like that I looked like Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn from the movie Major league, rocking a sleeveless tuxedo. Unfortunately it was the tacky floral patterned shirts made for middle aged men that ultimately turned me away, and I soon returned to my life as a nudist.

So I resolved to remain in my own personal nudist colony for a few more months until IV treatments helped my blood pressure, and in turn, allowed me to finally keep some damn clothes on. And I have to say it felt really good. I felt like a human again. So every day after washing up, I would struggle to get a pair of boxers around my hips. This was particularly difficult because I couldn’t lift my hips off the mattress.

I should say, however, prior to resuming my life as a clothed person, I did occasionally allow visitors into my den of nudism. But these guests, fortunately or not, were always wearing clothes. And sorry to ruin the facade, but I was almost always covered by a sheet. Darn.

Still, even in the moment, the ridiculousness of the situation was ripe and often very comical. Once, during a visit from someone very special, I felt the need to have a little fun. No, not that kind of fun. Get your mind out of the gutter. The visitor was a good friend from college, during which time we had a running joke about helping each other bleach a certain unmentionable body part notorious for getting soiled. You don’t like where this is going, do you? Yeah sorry, so much for leaving out the intimate stuff. Maybe I’m the one who needs to get his head out of the gutter.

So my buddy arrived, and naturally the first words out of his mouth were, “Hey man! I’m here for the bleaching.” Now, normally I would have gone with the joke and immediately simulated getting undressed while telling him I was ready for the procedure, but there were two problems: I couldn’t talk and I was already naked. So instead I shifted the sheet off my upper thigh, and then, after five solid minutes of tracing letters on his hand, I was able to convey that I was already naked and ready for the bleaching. “Bring on the bleach!” I said.

Ha hmm. Anyway, where was I going with that story again? Yes, right, I was naked for a year. But recently I started feeling better and I’m once again back to wearing clothes. I have discovered linen shorts, which are just about the comfiest things, besides pajamas, that I’ve ever worn. And I’ve found that my old tank tops from the gym are much easier to get on than a normal t-shirt or, say, a Tommy Bahama shirt with pink hibiscuses.

Overall, I must say, it’s wonderful to wear clothes again. Why? It feels sexy, of course.