Not my usual subject ... but a weighty one
Updated: Dec 24, 2021
Usually I blog about writing novels, publishing, agents, and book marketing. But today, I want to write about something more personal. It has nothing to do with being an author and everything to do with my New Year’s resolution to be a nicer person. So pardon the punny title.
It's this: I’ve lost 35 pounds in the past nine months. I’m not writing to brag (hence, no before and after photos). I write this because I want to share what I’ve learned from it. Not how to do it—I’m no diet guru. But how it has changed the way people treat me.
My weight loss didn’t start on purpose but with a gluten poisoning that sent me to bed for an extended period (I have celiac disease) and forced me to forego alcohol and eat nothing but bananas and rice for a month. Not a fun way to lose weight, but I dropped five pounds quickly.
Even though I never considered myself “fat,” I have known for years that I was many pounds over my BMI optimum. Losing those first five pounds made me feel more energetic and encouraged me to continue. Further weight loss after that first month was slow and more difficult. I did it the old-fashioned way: counting calories and keeping track of the caloric burn in my morning walks. I aim for net consumption of 700 calories (1,000 calories in minus 300 calories out) and limit my wine consumption (my Linus blanket) to eight ounces an evening. (This is NOT diet advice; I have no medical training. I'm sure there are nutritionists who think this is very bad.)
The biggest difference that weight loss has made in my life isn’t what I expected. It’s not how many of my old clothes I can fit into again. And it’s not how much easier it is to get out of bed or a chair. It’s how people treat me. I never realized how a close-to-obese person suffers public disdain, even though I was certainly exposed to it for years.
I’m still eight pounds over my ideal weight per the BMI charts, and I’m still working at it. But waiters, store clerks, bartenders, bus drivers, strangers on the street, and the baristas at Starbucks are already friendlier to me these days. They smile more. They’re quicker to serve me. Strangers engage me in conversation. It’s not because the world around me has become a friendlier place. Quite the opposite, I’m afraid. I’m certain it’s not because I’ve become more gregarious or pleasant or nice. I’m the same old introverted curmudgeon I’ve always been, and I’m no prettier. And it isn’t my advancing age: I know how older people are treated with impatience and intolerance in our country.
(An aside: a neighbor I know only from quick exchanges as I walk by his house in the morning stopped me recently to ask if I’d lost weight. “You don’t look any younger,” he said, “but you look better.” Hmm. I’m still processing that.)
For the past thirty years, I saw myself (even when I looked in a mirror) as the svelte person I was as a teenager, although I had gained 60 and 70 pounds. My inability to see myself without a distorting mental filter is a life-long issue. When I got married 33 years ago, I weighed 105 pounds. I was way too thin, which I can see when I look at those ancient wedding photos now. But then, I thought I was just fine. Healthy even. I was not. And as I look back over the past few years, even when I once briefly tipped the scale at 170 (not good; I'm quite short), I can see how my self-image contrasted with how other people saw me. I can feel the difference in how people treat me now. I recognize it in the eyes of those addressing an obese person next to me at the grocery store.
I never thought I was a snob. It’s a bit ironic that losing weight, not being overweight, is what taught me otherwise. It has sensitized me to my bias. I now know that people were signaling their disapproval of my weight for years. I managed to ignore it because my self-image was stuck in a different time. But I will not ignore this lesson.