Friday, September 05, 2008

One person's fat-to-fit journey

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, obesity, self help

I've worked with a man who usually weighed 400 pounds or more. It was compounded by his short statute, no more than five feet eight. Convert to metric and figure BMI: 181kg / (1.73m)² = 61. Considering that the "standard" defines BMI>40 as "morbidly obese", I was amazed that he'd lived nearly sixty years. I remember that he ate almost constantly. I suspect he didn't pay much attention. Yet he knew he was "really, really fat". It seems he'd long since given up "reducing", and did a lot of walking to keep in some kind of shape. Thus he was in better condition to be out in the world than was Susan Blech in her mid-thirties.

As she reports in Confessions of a Carb Queen: the lies you tell others & the lies you tell yourself, Sue Blech passed 400 pounds about the age of 35, and weighed just over 468 pounds (212kg) by age 38, when she entered a "fat farm" clinic in North Carolina. She never mentions her height, but if it is near the average for a Caucasian woman (65 inches or 1.65m), her BMI was about 80! She also reports that it was very hard to walk, and she seldom left her apartment. She was well on her way to becoming first a quarter-ton, then a half-ton homebody. The heaviest verified weights are 1200lbs (544kg) for a man and 1190 lbs (540kg) for a woman: both well over a metric half-ton and both bed-bound.

As the author, with her sister Caroline Bock's help, reports in her first eight chapters, she spent up to four hours daily going from BK to Wendy's to McD to various pizza places, eating meal after meal, and "grazing" almost constantly betweentimes. All the while, she would say she was "a little chubby", always "on a diet", forever promising herself to "do better" at some later date, usually the upcoming Monday. Finally, at age 38, she realized, "As I get bigger, my life gets smaller." Spurred by the fear that she will have a stroke and end up like her mother, incarcerated in a mental hospital after a stroke in her 40s, she went for help.

She entered a weight-loss clinic in Durham, North Carolina where, over two-and-a-half years she lost 250 pounds. It wasn't steady going, and she had binges once or twice. With the help of friends she continued to battle. She had those she could call when she got home to report that she was safe: "'Safe' doesn't mean that I wasn't in a car accident; 'safe' means that I didn't stop at Wendy's".

Some have written that lying is one thing, but when we believe our own lies, that's obsession. She had been obsessed. She is frank that she was very seldom hungry. She didn't eat from hunger. She ate for comfort, the comfort of a motherless child whose father comforted his children with food. Yet her three siblings didn't become obese. As the youngest, perhaps she felt most keenly the loss of her missing mother, still alive but still rarely aware as the book was published. She reports that the only way she could sleep was in a calorie-induced coma.

She herself doesn't know how she was able to sleep under the clinic's regimen of little more than rice, grits, and water. Initially, while getting used to it, it was probably only total exhaustion. But she also got a personal trainer, who patiently urged her to greater and greater efforts until she could sleep from genuine fatigue. She'd been an athlete and bodybuilder in her 20s, so whe knew how to exercise. As she reports, she found she needed a "boss", just like at any job.

The book opens with a small picture of her, an anxious-looking figure in front of a door. She is exactly as wide as the door. It closes with a larger picture of a much more slender woman, one who looks really good at 210lbs (95kg). She is a pretty woman at either weight, but is much more appealing as a "merely large" forty-year-old.

She makes it clear that she is no expert on weight loss, but only an expert on how she lost weight. Bread triggers her obsession. Total expulsion of bread from her menu is a major key to her success in losing weight. Each of us must clear-headedly figure out what our own obsession is, or we'll go through life never knowing how much we are deceiving ourselves. Sue Blech's inspiration is rooted in knowing that it is possible to recover from obsession, and thus recover from the symptoms that follow.

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