But lately that silence has been building up in me and I can tell that every now and then it gets in the way of my being able to write freely. So here's my story.
Heading in to my teens, I was quite the developing beauty. I'd post pictures, but I don't want to. You'll just have to take my word for it. As a result of some health issues (that's a whole other story!), I gained 30 pounds in less than 6 months when I was 13. Thus began my life as a "fat girl."
Over the course of the next 25-30 years I lost over 200 pounds on various diets and gained over 250 pounds. What I was going to eat/not eat became the single most consuming question of my life. The fact that every weight loss was followed by a weight gain meant I was weak-willed and undisciplined.
All of the sudden when I was almost 40 years old it finally dawned on me...the more I dieted, the fatter I got. And so I stopped dieting. In the subsequent 19 years, I have stayed exactly the same weight. For the first time in my life, I throw out clothes when they're worn out - not because I have outgrown them.
One of the things that triggered that change was that a friend of mine who I've known for years just casually told me one day that I didn't eat more than the average person. Since we'd travelled together several times, she'd seen me 24/7 and knew my eating habits pretty well. For the first time in my life, I realized that I wasn't fat because I ate more, I was fat because of all the dieting.
Now, if you've been properly educated in this culture-of-thin, I'm sure you think that my conclusions were a bit crazy. But what I was to subsequently learn is that they're backed up by science...just not the science the $40 billion weight loss industry wants you to hear about.
I eventually read two books that explained it all: The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos and Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata. The latter is a health writer for the New York Times. As a result they published some excerpts from her book. She cites research by Dr. Jules Hirsch at Rockefeller University in which he studied obese subjects who lost an average of 100 pounds.
Every time the result was the same. The weight, so painstakingly lost, came right back. But since this was a research study, the investigators were also measuring metabolic changes, psychiatric conditions, body temperature and pulse. And that led them to a surprising conclusion: fat people who lost large amounts of weight might look like someone who was never fat, but they were very different. In fact, by every metabolic measurement, they seemed like people who were starving.In referring to "semi-starvation neurosis," Kolata is talking about the work in the 1940's of Dr. Ansel Benjamin Keys who had set out to study starvation. He enlisted 40 normal weight men who were pre-screened to be psychologically healthy and "starved" them by feeding them 1,600 calories a day of extremely healthy food.
Before the diet began, the fat subjects’ metabolism was normal — the number of calories burned per square meter of body surface was no different from that of people who had never been fat. But when they lost weight, they were burning as much as 24 percent fewer calories per square meter of their surface area than the calories consumed by those who were naturally thin.
The Rockefeller subjects also had a psychiatric syndrome, called semi-starvation neurosis, which had been noticed before in people of normal weight who had been starved. They dreamed of food, they fantasized about food or about breaking their diet. They were anxious and depressed; some had thoughts of suicide. They secreted food in their rooms. And they binged.
As the men lost weight, their physical endurance dropped by half, their strength about 10%, and their reflexes became sluggish -- with the men initially the most fit showing the greatest deterioration, according to Keys. The men's resting metabolic rates declined by 40%, their heart volume shrank about 20%, their pulses slowed and their body temperatures dropped...Kolata's article goes on to describe a study in which the reverse was also proven to be true...thin people who gained weight lost it almost immediately after the research was completed.
But the psychological changes that were brought on by dieting, even among these robust men with only moderate calorie restrictions, were profound. So much so that Keys called it "semistarvation neurosis." The men became nervous, anxious, apathetic, withdrawn, impatient, self-critical with distorted body images and even feeling overweight, moody, emotional and depressed...
When the men were allowed to eat ad libitum again, they had insatiable appetites and ate voraciously, some eating 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day, yet never felt full. Three months after the dieting, though, none of the men had regained his former physical capacity, noted Keys. On average, the men regained to their original weights plus 10%.
The implications were clear. There is a reason that fat people cannot stay thin after they diet and that thin people cannot stay fat when they force themselves to gain weight. The body’s metabolism speeds up or slows down to keep weight within a narrow range. Gain weight and the metabolism can as much as double; lose weight and it can slow to half its original speed...All of this not only explained why I had actually gained weight as a result of dieting, it caused me to reflect on why I tended towards depression and apathy all through my adolescence and beyond. To combine the effects of semi-starvation neurosis with the judgement I felt from others and the self-blame I was heaping on myself all the time - its a wonder I survived at all.
The findings also provided evidence for a phenomenon that scientists like Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Leibel were certain was true — each person has a comfortable weight range to which the body gravitates. The range might span 10 or 20 pounds: someone might be able to weigh 120 to 140 pounds without too much effort. Going much above or much below the natural weight range is difficult, however; the body resists by increasing or decreasing the appetite and changing the metabolism to push the weight back to the range it seeks.
It also explains why I've felt so damned healthy since I stopped dieting. I still have to live pretty regularly with the judgement of others - but at least I'm not also killing myself in the process. In other words, in order to be healthy - I had to stop caring about being thin.