RA Diaries: For my health

I’ve always had mixed feelings about weight-loss diets.

The first time I went on a diet was when I was 11 years old. It was a crash diet, and truly unhealthy. But effective. My mother supervised.

It was summer, and I had gained enough weight over the past year — up until that I was stick thin — that the adults around me, from family to family friends, were appalled.

Yes, I was chubby. I’ve always had a round face, partly because the RA curtailed the growth of my chin. And I had a belly, much like many little girls entering pre-pubescence.

Part of my weight gain could surely be attributed to shifting hormones. A bigger part could be blamed on the complete lifestyle change over the past two years. We had moved to a new country, and lived in a neighborhood not conducive to riding a bike, much less owning one. My school was an hour’s bus ride away, and the gym program at that school was beyond my RA-affected joints.

I had no friends in the neighborhood. I had trouble bonding with the other girls in my class, partly because I was shy, and partly because they thought I was weird because of my deformed hands and my inability to do gym.

I spent most afternoons watching television. And yes, food filled a lot of the holes left by loneliness, by joint pain and fatigue, by my rapidly eroding self-esteem.

But looking at photos of myself at that age, I still don’t get why the adults around me reacted so harshly.

My father was one of the worst. He is hugely fat-phobic, and as someone naturally lean, has always had thin privilege. (And beauty privilege, but that’s another blog.) He has been known — though I haven’t heard him do this the last few years — to make loud remarks in public about overweight people. Overweight people who dare eat in public are particular targets for my father’s contempt.

So you can imagine how much fun it was to deal with that. And it was really a comment from him that led me to the crash diet that summer when I was 11. My parents had a friend, let’s call her Rose. Rose was a sharp, witty woman, and always amusing company. But Rose was fat, bordering on obese. This made any and all of her other qualities invisible to my father. I knew that I had become a truly disgusting object to my own father when he called me “Rose Jr.”

So I crash dieted. I lost five pounds in a week. There was much rejoicing. My equally fat-phobic (and possibly anorexic) grandmother even rewarded me with a giant Monchichi doll.

(I had him up until earlier this year, but he was always symbolic of my summer as “Rose Jr,” so I never liked him. Hopefully Goodwill found him a good home.)

And thus began my mixed feelings about weight loss diets.

But almost four months ago, I started a new one. This was even though I was not technically overweight, just at the high end of my healthy scale. This was even though I am a big believer in intuitive eating, and health at every size. This was even though I have nothing but contempt for people who fat shame, especially in the name of “health”, especially if they fill the voids in their emotional lives with tobacco and alcohol.

The reality is that, for me, certain weights make my RA symptoms worse, while others make them better. More than a decade ago, I went into a three-year remission after losing 30 pounds. The RA came back, but I kept most of this weight off for almost seven years. But then, I started having knee troubles. Which turned into hip problems.

Cue another lifestyle change. Cue immobility. I did my best not to eat emotionally, but as the pain got worse, I did it anyway. It was either that or drugs, and I figured a Snapple addiction was preferable to an oxycontin one.

I promised myself that when I was mobile again after the hip replacement, I would try to lose some weight. I would try to get myself to, or close to, the weight I was when I went into remission 11 years ago.

Because I so badly want to go into remission. Because that would be the best thing for my health.

I have lost weight. I’m not at my range goal quite yet, but I feel better. Walking is much easier. The aches and pains are not gone, but are less. I have more energy. I have access to a wardrobe, including shoes, that was not comfortable for a long time. Wearing these clothes again makes me happier.

I’m swimming again, which is my favorite form of exercise. The breaststroke feels funny with the prosthesis (and both my surgeon and a physical therapist told me to be careful with that), but not impossible or painful.

Bloodwork in two months will show whether I’m closer to remission. I hope I will be. I hope I’ve made the right decision for my health.

This weight loss has, of course, had the usual social ramifications. People who haven’t seen me in a while congratulate me on how I look. My father, in particular, was very proud. I could only react to his pride with a heavy sigh and an eye-roll.

I know this man loves me, and that he appreciates other things about me than my figure. He even apologized, when confronted, about the “Rose Jr.” remark. His apology, unfortunately, did not come with an epiphany about why it is wrong to dislike people solely for being fat. But it’s not my job to change him, and it never was. I must remember that.

You know, for my health.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

One comment

  • UGH, the fat-shaming. Not a single person in my acquaintance ever walked away from one of those, “You know, dear, you could stand to lose a few pounds” conversations with a desire to lose weight. And nearly every woman in my acquaintance has received The Chat at least once in her life. It does absolutely no good!!! When are people going to stop already! (I know, rhetorical question).

    Good for you for doing what you feel is right for your body and your health. Whenever I lose weight, I chafe at the “approval” too.

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