Grandpa Wayne's Eulogy

 [My grandfather passed away recently and the folllowing is what I wrote and read at his memorial service, Sunday, July 16, 2017]

Harold Wayne DeMoss was a man of duty, excellence, and integrity. He was born in 1933 on Halloween, October 31, to Lawrence and Millie Stanton DeMoss in Walla Walla, Washington. Over his 83 years of life, he served his country, community, and family with distinction and honor. Wayne (as he was known by his family and friends) died in Spokane, Washington on June 13, 2017 at the conclusion of chronic medical challenges.

A lifelong citizen of Walla Walla, Wayne grew up as a hard working child of hard working parents. His family owned a grocery store located on 2nd Avenue in Walla Walla known as DeMoss Grocery. Wayne grew up living in an apartment “in the back” of the store and learned to work hard at an early age. By the time he was attending Walla Walla High School in the early 1950s, he not only worked for his parents in the family store, he had also taken a job at Young’s Dairy driving milk truck (also a family business, owned by his uncle).

It was only prospect of serving his country in wartime that pulled Wayne from his work. Soon after graduating from Wa-Hi in the Class of 1952, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, in 1953. This, he chose, instead of likely being drafted into the Army. Wayne served as a marine for 3 years, all on the tail end of the Korean War. At boot camp in North Carolina, a drill sergeant questioned Wayne’s platoon, “Who here knows how to type?” Wayne was an excellent typist and skilled at drawing. He raised his hand. That action proved to be something like volunteering. Instead of going overseas for the war with half of his platoon, Wayne joined the other half in California. He would spend his entire military career at Camp Pendleton, working in a high-ranking officer’s office. A poem Wayne wrote and sent home to his mother during this time, is printed as an insert in your program, just as it appeared in its original form. In 1956, Wayne was honorably discharged with a rank of sergeant.

While still in military service in 1954, Wayne married his first wife Sherril Downing. They welcomed his first three children into the world: Kevin, Steven, and Mitzi.They divorced in 1962. Couple years later, in 1964, he married Dorothy Saxby, the woman who would become his wife of 53 years. Dorothy too had been previously married and brought with her four young children into the relationship: Shirley (10), Sheryl (9), Sharlene (8), and Scott (6). Wayne quickly took to the role of step-dad and regarded the four as his own.

Back home in Walla Walla after serving as a Marine, Wayne took to work once again at Young’s Dairy. This career path shortly transitioned to a long-term commitment of selling and delivering food in the Walla Walla Valley for “Walla Walla Produce. Many of his family and friends remember him reporting inside knowledge about the purchasing habits of a variety of area restaurants. In particular, he found it amusing to joke about how certain eating establishments, although they had chicken on the menu, only ever had “the largest possible turkeys” delivered. I, for one, have shared a great many meals of pineapple turkey with my grandfather. :)  After more than 20 years of early mornings (work began at 3am) in that job with Walla Walla Produce, Wayne jumped on the opportunity to purchase his own personally owned retail milk route from a friend, Bob Swenson, who was retiring. Before finally retiring himself due to health challenges, Wayne delivered milk on own route for about five years.

Although he worked very hard, Wayne played hard as well. Before purchasing the property he and Dorothy still own on Priest Lake in Northern Idaho, the family had made it a habit, beginning in the late 1960s, of spending up to two weeks per summer camping on the sandy shores of the Lake. Their forays began at the state campground known as “Indian Creek.” But after purchasing a boat, the family transitioned to more remote camping on one of Priest Lake’s large islands. Groups of up to 100 people from the Walla Walla Valley congregated for these camping escapades on the islands year after year. My cousins and I, our parents, and even our extended families, have strong memories and many emotional ties to that part of the world, in part because of the tradition of play Wayne helped prioritize, and the sacrifice of time and money that Wayne made to make it possible.  Although the future of the cabin, situated adjacent to 8-mile island, is now in some doubt, none of us will forget the formative experiences we all had at “the lake” — and I’m sure many of us will continue the tradition for future generations.

Sometimes people slip into paid work that represents an area of personal passion for them. Other times, as was the case for Wayne, work was a means to pursue his true interests. As an adolescent and young man, Wayne developed an interest in drawing, and even a fleeting desire to pursue architecture. His commitment to military service precluded that education course but he didn’t let his duty keep him from stretching this muscle. When, in 1984, he and Dorothy purchased a small rustic cabin on the shores of Priest Lake in northern Idaho, Wayne began carefully drafting plans to add a second story to the structure. Although it began as a casual creative outlet and fanciful dreaming, it would prove to become reality. When the opportunity presented itself, Wayne’s plans to make the space more accommodating for his growing family were shortly realized when he and Dorothy hired builders to follow his lead in the renovation. Wayne’s craftsmanship and attention to detail came into focus again and again during that process as he hand paneled the interior of the entire addition with beautiful knotty pine.

Because his delivery work began so early in the day, Wayne was off work early enough in the day to frequently catch a round of golf with friends at Walla Walla Veteran’s Memorial Golf Course, where he had his own garage and golf cart parked inside. A lefty, Wayne developed his natural talent for the game to match all his other endeavors: nothing short of excellence. In fact, Wayne scored at least one hole-in-one during his golfing career. All the way to the very end of his life, he remained a fan of the game, following the professional tour almost religiously — and this with a great deal of insight (and opinion) on the skills and strategy of his favorite golfers. I wasn’t old enough to get to enjoy this passed-time with my grandpa — at about the time I took it up, in the early 1990’s, he was in the process of shutting it down. But he was always more than willing to give advice, and ask me about my sketchy game. It was one of several areas we connected over during his life.

In retirement, Wayne took up quite a number of other hobbies in addition to golf. And like most things he did in life, he poured himself into becoming his absolute best. As a woodworker in his basement shop, Wayne remodeled he and Dorothy’s kitchen, outfitting it with new cabinets. He crafted wheelbarrows for every member of his family, designed funny signs for his home and cabin, built dozens of Adirondack chairs (most of which he sold on the side), squirrel feeders, and other furniture and Krick Knacks. When I was in High School, he and I built a wall clock together for a class project — and later for a wall in my mother’s house. I’m certain he did the same for several of my cousins. Just over a decade later, he spent several years learning how to build model airplanes. With great care, patience, and precision, he spent many hours crafting and painting them; always excited to show visitors his latest project. In every case when it came to Wayne’s hobbies, it was health challenges and limitations that led him to hang it up.

No description of Wayne’s life would be complete without mentioning his animals. I know my mom had a little chihuahua-mix dog named BigBoy in the early 1970s. This is an animal that I really can’t imagine Wayne would claim. A second dog is one I actually have memory of from early childhood - “Midge” was a small, pig-like creature that was undyingly beloved by her family - but perhaps yet again, not so much by Wayne. “Heidi” was a miniature doberman pincher that Wayne loved, and who loved Wayne — and I’m not sure anyone else. I remember long caravan travels up to the lake in my grandparent’s red Chevy Suburban; wherein Heidi was granted a custom-made bed that fit snugly in the vehicle’s center console. Later in life, “Cocoa” came along. She was a Siberian Husky, who always had more energy than either of my grandparents, or honestly than anyone else. Wayne loved Cocoa, despite her faults.

As I think about the influence my grandpa DeMoss had on my life, I think about the sheer time and dedication he had, looking out for not only me, but my cousins as well. For years, I remember walking to my grandparents’ house after school let out. Depending on the day or the given year, upwards of 6 or 7 of my cousins would descend on the joint, ransack the cereal cupboard, drop their supplies and baggage all over the house, and blare obnoxious early 90s kids’ television for hours on end. Because his work started so early, he was there to hang out with us in the afternoons. I can scarcely imagine what it’d be like to put in a full-day’s work only to have a clan of rambunctious children descend on my peace and quiet. His quiet dedication in the chaos of our family was a gift.

As a freshman in High School, my grandpa Wayne drove me across town for football practice every single afternoon for three months. He drug me to appointments, fixed stuff when I broke it, and cracked the whip when I was out of control. He more than once commissioned me and my cousins to fill up the basement with cords of firewood passed down to him to stack through a hand crafted wood chute installed in the window. To this day, I see in myself the same unbridled perfectionism he routinely demonstrated while working away in his wood-shop on long school-day afternoons. I can’t help but think of my grandpa Wayne when I hit my head on the cabinet door and mutter at the idiot who built it in such a way.

When I was in college, I sat at my grandparents dinner table once a week - and often more - where we talked about golf, his dogs, school, and the ancient past of Walla Walla. Once Paige and I married, the two of them hit it off talking real estate and architecture. No matter the subject over that table, Wayne could be coaxed to give his opinion. As a great grandfather, he always paid attention to my boys, gave them high fives, teased them, hugged them, welcomed them into his home, and treated them kindly. Toward the end of his life, in pain because of a variety of medical challenges, frustrated at his loss of mobility and function, he could come off as gruff. But even in that state, he still found time and energy for these happy greetings with my sons.

The last day I saw him was a Tuesday in June, he was in the hospital in ICU—but was still alert and oriented. No one anticipated he’d pass away later that evening. Although he was in rough shape, the prognosis seemed to be that he’d be back to normal after some time in rehab. When I left the room after visiting with him for a half hour or so, I told him I’d be back the following day to check in again. “I know you don’t feel well,” I said nodding to his impressive mutton-chop sideburns, “but you look great.” He smiled, and I went back to the lobby to join my 6-year-old son. In the weeks since that day, I’ve had the recurring feeling of regret, for not taking more time, for not asking more questions, for not stopping by my grandparents house for more conversations. This is part of the nature of loss I have come to believe—when those we love die, we never had enough of them. We long for more time. We wish we had taken one last opportunity.

I didn’t know my grandpa DeMoss as well as some - and in some ways, he might’ve been difficult to know, like any American male from his generation. And yet, some things about him strike me as quite clear.  I define integrity as “doing what you said you’d do” - or - “doing what you believe should be done, even if you don’t feel like doing it”. And when I think about my grandpa Wayne, I think of a man who lived with this quality. While we all inherit a great myriad of habits and patterns from our family systems, my hope is that, from grandpa Wayne, I inherit this honorable gift.

 

To Sleeve (or Not to Sleeve) Series - #9, Obesity as a Disease (or, Why I gained my weight, Part 2)

(This is part of a series I posted on my other (formerly anonymous) blog, tobypass.wordpress.com. An index of all posts in this series is located at the bottom of this article.)

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As of the spring of 2013, obesity is a disease. So says the American Medical Association. This article from the NY Times looks at the medical and political ramifications brought about by the decision. The authors of the AMA report are quoted as saying:
“The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggesting that lung cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes,”
It apparently was a pretty hotly contested issue — at least among the sub-committee that prepared a preliminary report for the larger body that would vote the issue. That report recommended NOT changing consensus on obesity. But by the time it came to the floor for vote by the AMA at large, the concept passed with overwhelming support.

Now — one could discuss for a long time the finer points of this decision: its implications (articles published at the time by both the Atlantic and Forbes dig especially into the finances), whether or not it even makes philosophical sense, etc. But what most interests me about it has to do with what the AMA’s decision does to me personally — in terms of how I understand myself, how I feel about my weight, and my perspective on the future. To put it bluntly, I think the AMA’s decision has the capacity to change how we perceive personal responsibility when it comes to obesity.

What scientists appear to have discovered about obesity (particularly over the past few years) is that it is brought about through complex set of interactions among several bodily systems. Many years ago (and perhaps still amongst most individuals who either [a] aren’t overweight themselves or [b] haven’t read the relevant material) the dominant belief was that excess weight gain was nothing more than the result of ‘energy-in’ ‘energy-out’ and therefore obesity is caused by laziness, poor self control, gluttony, or stupidity. However, what we have come to know is that in reality, many different factors play off one another to impact that simple ‘energy-in, energy-out’ dynamic in our bodies.

Numerous studies have shown: Inherited genes from our parents impact the likelihood of us becoming overweight as children and adults — up to even a 25% increase. So not only did my family culture influence my patterns of eating as a child and young adult – it also gave me a body, DNA, that has a proclivity to push me to eat more and grow more.

Excess weight is heavily impacted by individual metabolism. That is, excess weight both influences our metabolism just as metabolism greatly impacts weight. It is a cyclical. As an overweight person loses weight, his/her body responds by slowing metabolism and becoming far more efficient in operation. Our bodies are designed to do this. Conserve in times of famine and store in times of excess. Unfortunately, we live in an environment of excess — and our bodies respond accordingly: store and prepare.  A person who is already overweight – but who is actively losing weight – will experience a slower metabolism as a response to his/her losses, making additional weight loss increasingly difficult. Some people (including my primary physician) talk about a “set-point” for weight that our bodies work incredibly hard at staying near.  Metabolism helps keep us at or near that point. Unfortunately (again), my set point appears to be around 300 pounds right now (and rising).

A key controller in this metabolism cycle are hormones. Medical scientists have just recently begun exploring how our brains and guts are connected (with many implications beyond weight) — but a well known hormone is called Ghrelin. This chemical is secreted by the stomach into the blood stream and it impacts our brains — telling it that we need to eat — it’s presence creates drive and it’s absence creates satiety. So in super general terms, the empty stomach releases the hormone to get it’s body eating — and it withholds the hormone when full. As a part of the metabolic cycle, when a person loses weight his/her ghrelin increases to ever higher levels — begging him/her to eat. Some studies have shown that an overweight person who is down a few pounds will have far higher Ghrelin levels than a person with normal weight. In short, it’s really really hard for an overweight person to lose weight and keep it off — our body does almost all it can to keep us from it.

As David Kessler wrote in his book, “The End of Overeating” –– refined sugar (especially) affects our brain much the same way as other addictive substances and activities (heroin, nicotine, alcohol, sex, etc.) Not only does an overweight person’s body work against him/her to achieve a healthy weight — his/her brain does as well! Like an junkie on a quest for the next hit, overweight people are compelled to find and eat that food that they have learned to use for a dopamine spike. Brains are plastic as we’ve been discovering — incredibly adept at changing and adapting. Overweight people (this one included) have changed their brain chemistry to reward ice cream, doritos, french fries, and snickers with pleasure. Just as a heroin addict is driven to use an ever increasing amount of his/her drug of choice — I’m driven to eat just the same. And just as any other addict, obese people get triggered by environmental, emotional, and situational cues — to go back to those substances (foods) that they subconsciously know will make them feel better. As is the case with many obese people, I very often cannot tell the difference between my physiological feelings of hunger (due to an empty stomach) and psychological feelings of hunger (due to my addiction).

I eat when I’m happy and sad and angry and ashamed and afraid — because I’ve taught myself that that’s a great way to cope with life. My brain wants that hit badly when it feels discomfort. This drive has had an enormous impact on my weight I’m absolutely convinced. And without a doubt, as I work through this process of weight loss and life change, other addictive cycles will crop up to replace the old system that has gone. (This is no doubt an influencer in the fact that bariatric surgery patients are over twice as likely to become alcoholics as the general population.) Trading addictions is easy — dealing with the underlying disturbances is much harder. And without a doubt, some addictions are more costly to one’s physical body, relationships, and life than others.

A recent article on Medscape actually attempts to outline obesity specifically as a ‘brain disease’. The authors write, “If it were only caloric intake vs caloric expenditure, then the tapering off and resistance to continue weight trimming by the metabolism would not happen and produce long term failure and hopelessness is so many people. Fighting to recalibrate a set point that is unhealthy but stubbornly resistant leads to other unhealthy behaviors. It is a more complex problem than was originally assumed.”

Another (reviewing a recent book by Tracy Mann) from the NPR sitereinforces some of these underlying judgments — calling ‘willpower’ when it comes to losing weight, a “myth”. The author of this book rather explicitly argues that far more powerful underlying forces are at work to imagine that simple willpower is enough to overcome a body that has had its weight reset at a high weight. She argues that in order to get through it successfully – we have to learn to trick our brains into cooperating with where we want to go.

The question for me is — is bariatric surgery the right kind of trick in my life?

So as far as I understand it — from a limited perspective of a non-medical professional, the AMA took a look at all these dynamics and new discoveries about obesity (and more), and decided that a ‘disease’ label was most appropriate. In a very real sense — the AMA stepped back and seemed to say — “while personal choice is always in play when it comes to weight; it certainly isn’t the only player — and it’s particularly not the only player as a person’s weight increases. Therefore we don’t see this as purely a disorder or personal dysfunction — but rather a disease process that isn’t entirely in the person’s control.

And that’s the key point for me — and many like me.

I am where I’m at because I made bad choices. And I am where I’m at because I’ve been influenced and impacted by a myriad of influencers that are entirely outside my control. If this is the case (and I believe it is), then a great deal of the negative inertia is removed against me having compassion for myself. I don’t mean – compassion for myself as in, throwing up my hands as a victim and giving up on doing what I can do to better my situation. But rather, the kind of compassion that I have found life-transforming through my faith in Jesus for example. The generosity of spirit that gives one the grace to get up from a hard fall, from a bad outing, from a bad choice — and to try again.

Blogger, Paul Fallon from ‘The Culture Club’ on medium.com – makes the counter argument quite pointedly in his article when he says, “…it is easy to see how an obesity ‘diagnosis’ will simply provide overweight people an excuse for their condition rather than the motivation to control it…..”. For someone who has not struggled with addiction or done much personal work, it’s easy to jump to the judgment that more criticism, more judgment, more blame, more condemnation, more harsh honesty — is the key to recovery. But what those who have gone through the process know in practice is that forgiving themselves is a key to getting through the whole situation.

Will the AMA decision give people an excuse to claim victimhood? It might. Will it have a negative impact on the finances of medicine? Quite possibly. Will people abuse the system or remain obese because of it? It’s not an unreasonable prediction.

But it will also give people like me incredibly important tools to stay on the road to recovery. Grace.

I want to close this missive by referencing a rising movement in American culture known loosely as “Health at any Size” — based on the work by PhD Linda Bacon. Quarreling with the basic medical assumptions that obesity is associated with (and therefore the key cause of) dozens of life-altering or life ending issues [heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, arthritis, etc., etc.] — Bacon argues that obese people actually live longer than thin people and that weight loss doesn’t actually prolong a person’s life. Instead of continuing the war on obesity – Bacon invites people to make peace with their bodies and live a more happy life…as they are.

Now — this is a long post so I don’t want to get into the veracity of her claims here… but it seems that with regards to longevity and weight – her thesis is only true for those who are just a little overweight. It seems that the research points to the fact that those who are morbidly obese (over 40 BMI – which includes me unfortunately) are at a much higher risk of death — actually comparatively like that of a smoker. I’m 130lbs above where I’d need to be to be considered a healthy/non-obese weight according to the (albeit flawed) BMI system. Perhaps for someone who is 30lbs over weight, Bacon’s claims are more reasonable — I can’t imagine they’re true for me or others like me.

All this is preface to say that I think an underlying argument Bacon is getting at — is actually quite wonderful and beautiful. This is that shame and negativity about our bodies isn’t helping anything — that we need to quit the obsessive dieting schemes and crazy attention given to looking better, being better, improving our attractiveness, and increasing our fashion. All of these things aren’t making us happy. We can be happy – no matter what weight we are at. We can and we should. Life would be better if we were (and we probably would achieve a more healthy weight too!!).

In a sense, this is the same conclusion I get from the AMA designation of obesity as a disease: I NEED TO GIVE MYSELF A BREAK!!! I NEED TO HAVE COMPASSION ON MY SITUATION. MY LIFE WILL BE BETTER IF I RELAX A LITTLE. This doesn’t mean that my risk for diabetes and poor circulation and maybe an amputation will magically decrease. It does mean that I can feel better about myself and my life in the mean time before I get down to a weight where I’m not on the door step of some terrible diseases.

My weight loss desires (as I’ve elaborated) aren’t primarily or even tertiarily about my image or assessment of myself; they aren’t about my shame for how I look; — They are driven by my hope to be more active, to feel better physically, to be able to play more and better with my boys.
This will actually make my life happier!

To Sleeve (or Not to Sleeve) Series - #7, The Social Cost of Being Overweight

(This is part of a series I posted on my other (formerly anonymous) blog, tobypass.wordpress.com)

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An aspect of obesity those who are normal weights might not automatically appreciate is how it affects ones social life. In addition to contributing to all kinds of health problems, obesit also has the tendency to isolate a person in depression, decrease the depth of intimacy he/she enjoys in many interpersonal relationships, and weaken dating opportunities.

A key underlying contributing factor in all of this for me is the way we have stigmatized excess weight in American culture. Fat people are pariahs. Objects of scorn. Disgusting. Worthy of disrespect, judgment, unsolicited criticism, or paternalistic control.

Overweight people are considered to be in the position they are in because they lack self-control, are lazy, or have poor character. Because food is something everyone has intimate experience with — many who are at normal weights feel justified by assuming these things. “I’m not that heavy! I control myself! Maybe you should slow down a little bit at the buffet! Or go for a jog once in a while!”

Our culture celebrates and idealizes a certain body size – lean and thin. Women feel this more acutely than men in part because of our collective objectification of the female body; I’d argue that men feel it as well however (and this is often overlooked). Hugh Jackman’s physique as the Wolverine is just as ridiculously unattainable as ‘the norm’ as Angelina Jolie’s cover shots in fashion magazines.

These standards are difficult to not internalize for anyone who is not lives and moves through American culture. We inherit them through advertising, television, movies, and consumerism. Even product sizes available in certain stores tell us of how big or small we should be. (Even though I’d like to shop for higher quality clothing at Nordstrom, designer lines are cut a full size to a size and a half smaller than more standard or ‘bargain’ lines).

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As a consequence of these dynamics, I (and many other obese people) have developed an inner narrative that runs like a tape in my head — whether I actually hear the messages from others or not. The tape that tells me I should push back from the table and get on those running shoes? Ever present. The tape that calls me ‘fatty’ when I look at myself in the mirror when I’m undressed? Ongoing. The one that says I look sloppy and unkempt in my poorly styled xxl clothes? Every day. The one that tells me those people probably think I’m gonna go home and binge after I only ordered a salad for lunch? Like clockwork. The tape that berates me for my weight gain, even before I get in the lobby of the doctor’s office? Mine.

These voices are painful. Some have been developed from actual conversations but not all. Many are my own design – invented by an astute understanding of America’s stigmatization of fat.

One of the biggest casualties from these tapes in my life has been my confidence. It burns through it like gasoline in a dumpster fire. It’s incredibly hard to stand with my head held high, shoulders back, eyes clear, chin up, speaking clearly — when at the same time I’m telling myself that I look like a fat slob who everyone probably hates. I overcome it quite often — but it takes it’s toll.

These tapes in my head lead me to put words of judgment in the mouths of others — to assume others aren’t interested in friendship or think lowly of me. Of course, I had no way to know if those people were holding negativity overly head — and in reality, I WAS THE ONE PREJUDGING THEM!! Regardless, this dynamic has hampered intimacy in my life in many many ways.

Flowing out of these messages — I think — in part is a sense of depression. I’ve been on a mild antidepressant for the past month or so and I feel as though it’s really given me a boost. But I do think that my weight — and my inner dialogue has played a role in creating it.

Depression for me tends to drive me into isolation. I want less and less to do active things I know I like to do — or at least I used to like. I eat alone. Sometimes I compulsively crash a fast food drive through and get an ice cream cone or a hamburger — even though I know I’ll be eating dinner with my family later. There have even been times when I’ve turned down invitations to people’s homes because I just didn’t want to be around anyone – I didn’t want to have to visit – I didn’t want to be subject to whatever food they happened to cook at the time.

I think I sometimes use food to medicate my depression. I eat to try to make myself feel better. But like any addictive cycle – those chicken wings or cheerios or soft pretzels with cream cheese – only make me feel worse in the end (and usually it’s immediately after consumption).

Now — before I go on — I should say that I doubt these tapes will just end as soon as I lose weight. There is some truth to the movement afoot ‘healthy at any size’ and especially the categorization of obesity as a disease — both (in their own ways) attempt to destigmatize weight gain and to try to rescue people from these kinds of negative cycles I’m describing for myself. I’m sure I have some work to do in this area above and beyond weight loss. Dumping pounds will not be a panacea – it’s not a cure all – and it will not fix everything in my life.

Continuing on with the theme of ‘social cost’ — another way I’ve seen my weight impact my relationships is the rate at which I get invited to do active things with other people. I think I wrote about my love of sports in another post — but I’ll elaborate here a tiny bit. I LOVE SPORTS. Pretty much any one. I love playing, watching, following, talking about….etc.. There’s almost no sport that I find uninteresting…even those I’m scared of (skydiving, bungee jumping, etc) I’m absolutely fascinated by.

One of the things that happens when to people who are overweight — and i have certainly observed in my life — is that they get invited to do active things less and less. I often have large groups of friends who run races, go biking, play basketball, go camping, etc, etc, together (I know because they talk about it later, post pictures on social media, etc.) — but they very rarely invite me. These same friends regularly go to the gym together to work out, play raquetball or tennis, or do other physically intense activities with one another… These take scheduling, coordination, planning. Again – I very rarely have been included.

Now — I think there are several reasons for this. The first is the most insidious. As a heavy person, I’m not as fit as some of my leaner friends — I can’t run as fast or for as long — I can’t hike as hard — and i can’t bike as far. If they invite me to join them, I hold them back. This is aside from any determination I might have or willingness to really push myself. My 110% is the equivalent of some of my athletic friends’ 65%. It’s not fun for them to invite a lame duck to join them in their exercise. They don’t want to be held back. They don’t want to be slowed down. And I don’t think this is an entirely unreasonable concern. They have every right to want to pair themselves with workout partners that match their skill so as to maximize workout time.

The problem emerges for an overweight person in that it’s a nasty cycle… I walk alone. I bike alone. I jog alone. I go mess around on the basketball court alone. I hike alone. Accountability and a team spirit is super helpful in exercise programs. I do mine by myself. I rely fully on my own motivation and umph to get it done. The less I engage in athletics with others, the poorer fitness I have, and so the less likely they are to invite me to participate. It’s a nasty cycle.

All of this leads to a lower overall quality of relationships.

For men — we often bond by doing things with one another. Sports. Work. Adventures. Activities. We build friendships and trust by being active. My weight keeps me from a whole world of fun and by consequence — impacts my intimacy with many people. I feel sad as I write this.

This isn’t about being a victim — I certainly know I have personal responsibility and initiative in all of this — and certainly there are other factors that contribute to my situation specifically. But my weight DEFINITELY has an impact on how active I am simply by virtue of not being included in many of the active sporting things my friends and acquaintances take part in.

To state it in a positive way, one of the reasons I want to lose a large chunk of my excess weight (125lbs at this point) is so that I can be more active — work out with friends and do active things without such limitations. Activity breeds activity which breeds healthy weight — and the opposite breeds the opposite.

Finally — a word about dating.

This piece hasn’t affected me a great deal per se. I’m married to a wonderful woman who I love and adore – and have been for 10 years now. We have a pair of amazing sons – and she is a fantastic mom. She has helped me grow SO SO much over the years – emotionally, spiritually, personally. I can’t imagine life without her.

And in our case, my weight didn’t play into her attraction to me (of course when we started dating, I was about 50lbs lighter — so there’s that too). And I felt confident enough to return her affection, commitment, and kindness.

With that being said – I do think that in my dating life before I came to date my (now) wife, my weight did affect my confidence level and therefore willingness to ask girls out. I was scared. I was afraid of rejection — and I think arguably to a larger degree than other normal-sized men — because of my weight.

My sense is that the dating scene is particularly fraught for women — who, as I’ve noted, are subject to a far more strenuous and irrational standard of feminine beauty than men. An overweight woman is seen as unattractive by many many people — including women themselves. How do obese girls fare on dating websites and in bars? My only knowledge on this is anecdotal but my sense is that it’s fairly rough. (and certainly stressful).

While singleness isn’t a death knell for anyone — the prospects of not being able to create a long-term relationship or a family (or even delaying that process for many years), the prospects of having a limited sex-life even outside of a long term commitment, and the prospects of even being able to go through the fun of dating and relating are all negatively hindered by obesity. The cost is simply too real to ignore.

Yes, fat people get dates and marry.

And yes – it’s also arguably more difficult than those who are more normal sized.

Others might have dozens of other social realities that come from their excess weight. I like this little article that samples people from interviews and tries to coalesce a picture of the day-to-day experience of morbidly obese people. Check it out!

To Sleeve (or Not to Sleeve) Series - #4, How I Gained My Weight

(This is part of a series I posted on my other (formerly anonymous) blog, tobypass.wordpress.com)

 

Well it didn’t happen overnight.

I may have mentioned that I wasn’t always heavy. It’s true. And I certainly wasn’t always THIS heavy either! At 308, my current weight is at a lifetime high.

My weight has fluctuated over the course of my life much as I gather it has for most overweight people. I have been on many diets and I have always regained the weight (and then some). I recently watched an HBO documentary about how our body works against us to maintain a given weight — driving us with food cravings, extra efficient muscles, and a super slow metabolism — all to keep us from losing more weight and in fact pulling us back to where we were. One doctor on the documentary said that our body regulates weight in as precise of way as it does blood pressure or sodium or any other complicated system. My own internist has told me much of the same — that my body kind of ‘settles in’ to a give weight and will fight tooth and nail to stay right around there.

This concept REALLY helps me to have a bit more compassion for myself given the situation I’m in. I’m not a victim in all of this. I know I have made choices — many choices — some good some bad. But I know too that what I’m suffering through is also a form of a disease — and that I’m this weight not ONLY because I have poor self-control. This seems to be the narrative of our culture and certainly is the narrative I tell myself routinely.

Anyways, to the topic at hand. How I gained all this weight.

I remember having to do calisthenics outside on the playground as a first grader. The whole school did as a matter of fact. At the end of the workout each morning, everyone had to run a half mile or so around the very large playground area (at least it was large to me as a 6 year old!!).

I remember being rather slow. I wasn’t heavy per se at that time. Just not a fast runner. Never-the-less I remember being embarrassed of my body. I remember feeling ashamed of myself. I felt defective and bad. It didn’t help that the coolness level of our social system was determined by foot speed.

I finished last or near last essentially every day. I got tired easily. My feet hurt. My chest heaved. My legs hurt. I just couldn’t keep up.

While I don’t know for certain — I think this collection of experiences was the beginning of my issues with food and body size. I think these moments began to create in my mind a sense of destiny — that I would inevitably and always be ‘fat and slow’.

It’s weird though. I loved sports. Still do. I have always liked to play. I like to watch too. For many years in my life, I even participated in organized athletics. I was good at quite a few. (Still am). But my weight has always been a hindrance. From the very beginning — to this day.

So there’s that.
Several other factors came into play as the years went by.

First – Family Culture. As with many people in American culture, my people use food as an accessory to life. We eat when we’re happy, we eat when we watch the game, we eat when we’re sad, we eat when we’re mad and plotting against that jerk who hurt us. In fact, we use eating as a justification to get together in the first place! This in itself isn’t a bad thing either! Many cultures use food like this. It’s dreadfully common in American culture. And I learned it thoroughly in my family tribe.

My family never has eaten particularly well — (or poorly per se) — just ordinary home-cooked american fare by and large. But they do EAT. In fact, someone who doesn’t eat (and well) — sort of stands out like a black sheep in the culture and will more likely than not be goaded into getting more food on his/her plate. Some of the older women in my clan take particular delight in doting on the men, bringing them plates of food and deserts, ensuring their drink cups are full and their mashed potatoes are well gravies. Eating has always been encouraged. My people aren’t generally thin; they’re not profoundly overweight either. Plump. Happy. Well-fed.

Adding to this is our family culture of how food is used. More or less, I grew up learning that when something happens in life: be it good or bad, food is a very helpful way of working through it.

Win (or lose) that little league game? “Let’s go get Dairy Queen!!”

Rejected by a friend? “How about we commiserate over a milk shake?”

Get all A’s on that report card? “Let’s go out to eat and celebrate!”

Missing that loved one who passed away? “Well Chinese food it is then!”

Get accepted into that college? “How about a prime rib?!”

Seahawks playing in the big game? “How about a mountain of chicken wings!?!”

Ordinary Sunday night in June? “COOL! Let’s eat hamburgers and hotdogs and fries and macaroni salad and chips and…”

No matter what it was, our family always found a way to dig in hard. We laugh and gossip and eat and eat and eat. It soothes the soul. It masks the pain; it commemorates the joy. And in many ways, it is a beautiful thing.

It also ended up being a harmful thing for me in certain ways…

So as an adult, to this day, whenever something good happens — whenever something bad happens — whenever I complete something difficult or finish a project — whenever I get done with a week or a hard day — whenever I do something I’m proud of — whenever I do almost anything, the way to commemorate it that immediately comes to mind is food. Ice cream, a cake, cinnamon rolls, a dinner out, sweets, something special.

“Let’s celebrate”.

I’ve done it all my life. And I’m overweight now — in part because of it.

Second – Training –

It’s weird. I grew up in a religious culture that prides itself on healthy eating. I was part of the Adventist Christian tribe (still am actually — not in a fanatic/loony way though). It’s a pretty conservative bunch all in all although there are some more progressive/open pockets with which I identify.

Anyways, one key part of Adventist theology is healthy living and a healthy diet. Many many adventists are vegetarian or even vegan because of this principle. If you’ve ever heard of “Blue Zones” — 4 key regions in the world where people live abnormally long — and often well into their 100’s — well, Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda California are one of those blue zones. That’s my people. I grew up in their culture…in which the vast majority of people I knew ate EXTREMELY healthy. I mean — SUPER SUPER ahead of their time healthy. I have a grocery store in my town that would put whole foods to shame…and has for 40 years. It’s unbelievable. Local. Fresh. healthy.

Never the less — my HOME culture was not quite as strict on the whole religious culture of healthy eating. In a way however, I actually think that experience was better than some of the rigidity many of my friends had. I can imagine myself developing a whole other relationship to food that involved binging and hiding, sneaking and experimenting due to a lifetime of denial. Instead, my home culture was more moderate — albeit somewhat chaotic.

I lived in a divorced single-parent home for much of my childhood. My mom worked full time and had her own business. She had three kids in private school to worry about and a house with 10 acres to manage. Although she worked incredibly hard and is quite competent, something had to give. It was just about all she could do to put food in the fridge, period — let alone teach each of us kids in careful detail how to eat the healthiest possible meals. Much of what I learned about eating as a kid and teenager came from commercially produced and marketed products. I warmed stuff up from the freezer section from costco, learned to make french toast with syrup, I grew to like bagged caesar salad kids for a season, and downing carby soft pretzels with cream cheese. I don’t resent the way I ate as a kid — or the reality of the situation I was in. It’s just the truth.

I grew up learning how to graze. I grew up learning how to eat what was available at the time and what I could grab out of the fridge or freezer. I grew up not really knowing how to control portions or even knowing what appropriate portions were. Hell, half the time I ate my meals in front of the computer screen or with a game controller in my hand. I don’t know what it looks like — really — to live in healthy balance. I don’t totally know what it feels like to be satisfied. To feel comfortably full. To not snack. To eat healthy.

Of course, when I was at school, I ate an ok vegetarian meal but even those were hit and miss in terms of their healthiness.

This ‘education’ piece is yet another aspect of my life that has played into my obesity. It doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t make me a victim. I’ve made choices and still do. To this day — I’m still learning. But it’s hard for me to not admit that my background has played a role.

Third and finally — Coping

This is the big one for a great many of us in America (and I kind of already alluded to it in my first point here).

We use food to cope with our emotions – with daily life – with stress and sadness and anger and fear. Food feels good. (Perhaps moreso for some of us than for others). Food is a way of escape.

I have learned this many times over throughout my life.

I learned it when I couldn’t make friends with other kids at school and I came home and had an ice cream sundae.

I learned it when my brother’s dog died and there was nothing we could do about it but go out to eat at our favorite mexican restaurant.

I learned it when my grandparents died and I consoled myself with sweets.

I learned it when I screwed up on a test and washed the stress down with a milkshake.

I learned it when I lost my brother as a teenager and people brought us casseroles and pies and cookies and lasagnas.

From an early age I believe I ingrained a pattern in myself that food is a good coverup for uncomfortable and negative feelings…in fact, I think I learned that food could even help me not have to really think about or face those things directly. Instead of digging into the source of my loss — accepting it — wrestling against it — raging with it — sobbing for it — I could sidestep it completely. Not really explore it. Almost act as if it weren’t there. I could eat and eat and eat… And it’s like it would just fade.

Many things in our lives can do this.

Success. Exercise. Good Looks. Thinness. Money. Career. Degrees. Oh and of course the usual suspects: Sex. Drugs. Alcohol. Porn. Gambling.

In the Christian tradition, we sometimes talk about this dynamic as putting idols up in our lives — “what are the things you go to to make yourself feel ok?” we ask. “Instead of God, what do you look for? What do you reach out for? What do you need? What makes you ok?”

For me – it’s always been food. And often — it’s been ice cream.

Today — a strong craving for food is actually a trigger for me that I’m feeling something strong. It’s often the first thing I recognize. The food dynamic is so hard wired into my way of doing things that I don’t often feel the feeling first — I feel the craving and then walk backwards reasoning, “oh, I must be stressed or afraid or angry or sad…I wonder what’s going on?”

All these things played into my life over time — and each probably played off of (and complicated) one another as well. I’m sure there were other factors adding to the mix too (such as the great American industrial food complex and marketing machine, dieting patterns, lack of primary medical care etc.). I mean, would I have ended up so addicted to food had I been born 50 years earlier? Seems unlikely. But it certainly could’ve been possible.

In any case, those pieces bounced off one another for years in my life and produced weight gain, negative patterns, binging, unconsciousness, and the quintessential yo-yo dieting. And I do consider dieting to have played a realistic roll in all of this. I decided to take on my first diet in 2001 at the age of 20. I feel sad writing this and reflecting on it. I was about 260 lbs and (as I do now) felt very negative about my weight and appearance. [What I would do today to be 50lbs lighter!!] Anyways, I did the atkins diet for about 8 months and I was very serious about it. I cut out candy and sweets. I didn’t eat bread. I was a true believer. I lost a lot of weight. 40lbs or so. Everyone commented on how I looked. I had/got to buy new clothes because my old stuff was too baggy. I felt proud.

But that was during a year of service in college. (Think peace corps). In the summer following when I was back working at summer camp, the stress of work and 18hr days pushed me back into old patterns. My body betrayed me. By the time I was back in school in the fall, I had already regained some of the weight I had lost the previous year. By the following winter, I was back over 260 again.

Over the years, I’ve been on weight watchers (twice, both times losing more than 30lbs), carb restrictive diets (losing 20+), dieting pills (losing 30-40), etc., etc., etc. — ALWAYS to regain the weight. This is discouraging to recall. This is discouraging to remember. This is discouraging to hold as I look forward.

And I guess it is to be expected. This is the norm. This is what it looks like to inhabit an overweight body. Ours pulls us back to the weight with incredible force.

I’m heavy for many many reasons. I’ve gained all this weight over many many years. It’s been slow. It’s been a lot of food. It’s been a lot of small choices. It’s been a great collaboration of forces — some outside my control. Some within.

I want to close this post with a quick word on responsibility. I don’t write any of this in an effort to ‘pass the buck’ as it were. Earlier in this post I kind of alluded to the fact that we live in a culture that hasn’t really come to understand weight gain as anything more than a sign of poor self control. Without a doubt, I’ve had my moments. I’ve over eaten. I’ve eaten by myself. I’ve gone to drive thrus by myself. I’ve binged. AND I’ve also been influenced and impacted by a variety of forces outside my control or choice. It’s a system.

I have responsibility. It’s my life.

But I think saying ‘the reason I’m overweight is because I’m a slob’ is nonsense in the same way as ‘it’s because I’m a victim’. The truth lies somewhere in between. And I believe deeply that in order for me to recover, I will need to have compassion for myself. To give myself grace, as we call it in the Christian world. Unconditional love – unmerited favor. The benefit of the doubt.

We can start from there.