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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Old and Fat – Facts of Life

It is no secret that many people gain weight as they age. Science does not fully understand the reasons but among the guesses are genetics (yeah, that stuff we're stuck with and can't change), diet and lack of exercise which builds and helps maintain muscle mass.

You might recognize this 2007 photo of Millie Garfield and me from yesterday's post along with my parenthetical comment below it:

Millie and Ronni 2007

(My god, I was fat then.)

The reason I'm discussing age and fat today is that a TGB reader emailed to accuse me of perpetrating and/or perpetuating fat prejudice with that comment.

”Like you I agree that ageism is a terrible problem that needs to be addressed,” she wrote. “We shouldn't become invisible and the butt of senility jokes just because we are aging, wrinkled and balding.

“But weight/fat prejudice is another huge problem. Like making fun of old people, our culture allows the denigration of fat people, and the cult of thinness is alive and well and causing 8 year old girls to go on starvation diets.”

I certainly agree but I strongly reject the idea that my comment contributes.

And it's not like I need to be educated in fat prejudice. As I told her by return email, long before I was an elder advocate, I was a fat person advocate and

”...twice over a period of years I was able to make sure two brilliant, fat people were hired when others wanted to reject them for their size.”

That fat remark I made was not necessary to yesterday's post. I threw it in because I was genuinely surprised, when I pulled the photo from the archives, at how big I was then and because we have discussed on this blog the difficulties of weight loss in our elder years - including my own recent 40-plus pound loss.

More importantly, in remarking that I was fat, I was making a statement of fact, not a value judgment – a description not any different from when I say I'm old. Both are what I am or, in the case of fat, what I was at one time.

Now. Am I a weight-loss advocate? You betcha. Science may not know much about the why of elder weight gain, but it knows a lot about the health consequences of it.

In my personal case, in the years before I got serious about taking off 40 pounds, my blood pressure was not scary yet, but it was climbing. I was taking a statin for high cholesterol. I was living with urinary incontinence.

It was so hard for me to bend over that I never wore shoes that tie and I seriously considered how I might teach Ollie the cat to eat from the kitchen counter instead of the floor. And carrying groceries in from the car felt like climbing a mountain.

When I lived in a second-floor walk-up in Maine, I had to stop halfway up the stairs to catch my breath – even when I wasn't carrying groceries.

All of that, every bit of it, is gone now. My blood pressure is normal, I take no cholesterol drugs, I can tie my shoes and easily climb stairs without losing my breath.

I have spared Ollie the necessity of counter eating and the doctor agreed that the incontinence, no longer a problem, had been caused by excess fat pressing on my bladder.

During my “fat years” I had blamed my health issues on my age. Now I not only know differently, I have proved it and I wish I could wave my magic wand to make it easy for anyone who would benefit as much as I have from weight loss to do so. I know how hard it is; I failed many times before I succeeded.

The TGB reader who objected to my fat comment condescendingly finished up her email with this:

“...looking at the 2007 photo of yourself and your friend, it is too bad you could not just see two beautiful women enjoying being together and let it go at that--at least in public--but had to throw in that comment. IMO, you are too important a voice for all of us to lose some of your credibility this way.”

To conflate six little words about my own appearance seven years ago with general loss of my credibility is a leap way too far. Furthermore, to want elder fat people to improve their health is not the same thing as denigrating them for being fat.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Old Bill Weatherstone: Years Ago


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I think some of us have a chip on our shoulder about things we know we should change (or at least try to change.) And I say this while carrying around a good ten pounds I should have lost long ago...

That comment caught my attention as well but I know it is because I really need to lose weight to improve my health and possibly my mobility. So it just jumped into my mind as a big statement because of that. I know it was only an observation on your part about yourself and that nothing else was intended.

Ronni, you are my heroine! Kudos on the way you handled this. About the woman who made that comment, seems to be a "consider the source" thing. She might be very unhappy and/or jealous of heathy people.

I actually am one of the few people who was anorexic thin naturally for many years up until 40 or so and I can tell you that there are way more negative comments thrown your way if you are skeletal. When I put on weight and was 30 pounds too heavy hiding in tunic tops, not a single person ever told me what to eat in restaurants. When I was anorexic I would have strangers commenting that I didn't eat the bread or finish everything on my plate, I developed an aversion to eating out - saved a lot of money that way.

I now try to stay 10 pounds overweight just so that I can eat what I like without negativity. I'm on a diet that's why I don't eat the bread.

Fat acceptance is out of hand today particularly among younger women, they are setting themselves up for a shorter lifespan than their parents had.

I am in agreement with Diane's comments above. Self-effacing remarks about ourselves are not intended to cast a pall on others and expecting people to change a culture that puts too much emphasis on appearance any time soon leaves little room for harmless comments like yours Ronni.

You were commenting on yourself; what's wrong with that? It's YOUR blog. I have to say how much I admire your weight loss; it is doubly difficult the older we get.

As a 67 year old woman who is working hard to get more exercise and eat correctly, I appreciate your comment about your heavier self. I also appreciate your sharing your weight loss success story with us; I find it inspiring.

I am 67 years old and I've lost 58 pounds in the past year by eating a plant-based diet. Am I an advocate? As Ronni said, "You betcha." We don't have to live with excess weight, high cholesterol, blood pressure readings through the roof, type II diabetes, prescription medicines and so many more of what are termed "western diseases." We can change. Not only is it better for our health, but it's also better for the climate, the environment and for the animal population.

Thanks for your example of the possibility to lose weight as we age. Not all people pile on the pounds as they age. Some people's bodies naturally decrease eating with age. (Mine wouldn't be one of them!! at least not yet.)Our bodies go through two major metabolic changes as we age. At around age 35 our caloric needs drop in half. At around age 70, our caloric needs drop by half again! During our later years of life we are the most fuel effecient human dandies on the planet! Another reason to appreciate being "old"....errr, "not young". We need less calories, we need less sleep and many of us have learned to live without any positive feedback whatsoever! Yippee.

Wow! The attitude in some of these discussions bothers me. I believe Ronni is right on with her comments, AND that the woman who emailed her also has a point. Sometimes it feels that if you disagree in any way with beloved bloggers, you will be personally attacked. This silences many people. Truth is everywhere. Encouraging other points of view really sheds light and stretches our perspectives.

We live in a terribly fat-phobic society. I watch relatives talk down young people, especially young women, whose bodies, in many eras, would have just been thought healthy, not fat. I think any of us who are sensitive to that kind of putdown may sometimes go a little overboard.

Oh the other hand, you won't find a louder advocate of good diet and more exercise than me. The balance is hard to find because all around us there's a lot of craziness. I wonder if that is a symptom of the reality that much about the shapes we assume is NOT under our control, perhaps the product of environmental factors.

Nobody wants to be fat and nobody wants to be old.

Boy, I look old in that picture. Boy, I look fat in that picture.

Descriptive words hit nerves and reveal things we don't want to be reminded of in our lives.

I think if you can't or won't do anything about being fat or old -just accept the fact and go on --- live the best life you can. Nothing wrong with that.

Someone avoiding or tip toeing around the truth doesn't make us feel better.

I remember my mother stating one day that she was fat and knew she should keep trying to do something about it --but that life was too short and she loved to eat and was going to enjoy the rest of her life.

Accept the word fat--accept the word old --- and put a positive spin on it.

Look to Michelle Obama for leadership in healthy eating. The operative word is 'healthy' and not skinny.

You are right to encourage healthy eating, Ronni, and if the word 'fat' appears in your good advice it is a necessary one to point out just how being overweight can negatively impact your body.

Your critic overreacted to your observation on yourself.

Why not just be gracious and say you are sorry? Nobody's perfect.

What I most appreciate about your blog is how you call a spade a spade. No pussyfooting around. Fat is almost always bad for one's health. Now, that doesn't excuse rudeness - we wouldn't be rude to someone with arthritis, for example - but it does allow you to advocate weight loss and cheer your own.

I remember you writing about losing weight so I can imagine your surprise when seeing that older photo of a heavier you. I too have been startled to see myself in older photos when I look heavier than I do now. I knew exactly what you meant by that comment.

I've met the official definition for obesity since I was thirty years old. A year ago, I would have told you there was nothing I could do about it, and I was content to stay obese. But hanging around the cancer ward for a good part of last year, and watching my wife die a slow, painful death really changed my perspective. I came to the conclusion that there was no piece of cheese, no slice of bacon and no hamburger that was worth that kind of pain and lack of dignity. Also, looking at the statistics on today's children who are overweight has made me realize that we have a problem in this country. It wasn't just me who had the problem.

I understand and agree with not stigmatizing people -- positive motivation works much better. But we as a society do need to change -- not for reasons of vanity but rather for reasons of health. Our health, the health of our children and grandchildren and the health of our ecosystem.

What worries me the most is thinking that the current condition is okay and that we can't or don't need to improve. We really do need to improve it or our children will be the first generation to live smaller lifespans than their parents.

The comment on that picture made no judgment at all. I see a photo of myself at 25 and say, "Boy, I was skinny in that picture."

To me it seems that to label either description as demeaning might be projecting my own prejudice or belief in the stereotype.

Thanks for your response.

What I choose to say about myself is my business, and I feel the same about your comments about yourself Ronni. You have such a public venue someone is bound to take umbrage with something. Obesity in this country is a complex and rampant disorder of epidemic proportions.

Having said that, thank you for your personal story of weight loss. I was stick thin until 40 and managed to inch my way into the obese over the years. The last two years I made it to lower end of overweight for me. Your posts have encouraged me to tackle the next 20 pounds for my health.

I've shared those posts with friends including a dear friend, my best friend who passed the 350# mark years ago. All of us have encouraged her to take action but she does not. One generous friend offered to pay for surgery, another for months at a facility that treats eating disorders. She is much loved. She has high blood pressure, diabetes, can no longer feel her feet and is 75. Every time I call her I fear she's gone.

Keep it coming, Ronni.

Ronni, You deserve all the kudos one and all can give you for your 40 lb.loss! It ain't easy. As one who 'used' to be a perfect weight and now is NOT
I sympathize with all points of view. To add another plus to losing just 5 lbs., as dancers know, 5 lbs. will take 40 lbs. or more pressure off their knees. Another good reason to take it off!
Tell like it is dear Ronni--that's what we love about you!

I have lost 40 pounds in the past 9 months.

My secret?

Severe gastritis and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

And I want to lose another 10 pounds and then keep my weight at 120 pounds.

However, losing the weight has brought back the pain in my hip that caused me to become more sedentary in the first place.

So, I'll get a hip x-ray and try to find out what's causing the pain. Then I may have to go to India to get a hip replacement! I'm afraid...

Ronni, I can't imagine how anyone could take offense at your comment about yourself unless the reader is approximately that size now and doesn't like being reminded that others might consider it "fat." I say that because I'm about that size myself and was reminded that, yep, sure enough, I'm fat. But I realize that you were talking about yourself, not me or anyone else. And if I don't like being reminded that I'm fat, it's up to me to do as you did and lose some weight. I could be one hot mama if I dropped 40 pounds!

I have to ask people who get all huffy about "fat acceptance" where were you when I needed your empathy about smoking acceptance? Okay, don't freak out---I'm making the point that if you can't change it (color, sexual orientation, disability, etc.) you deserve all the acceptance we can muster. But if you can change it (fat, smoking) and it's unhealthy and/or offensive, then you shouldn't feel entitled to call out people who comment on the condition or habit, especially if they are talking about themselves. As a former smoker (thanks, family, for pestering me until I stopped) and a current fatty, I know I have to accept not only that I am unhealthy but that people notice that fat isn't especially attractive. What's amusing (or sad, depending on your viewpoint) is that quite often we do not really see ourselves until we catch a glimpse in a shop window or see a photo and wonder "who the hell is that fat woman?"

Let me tell you a dirty little secret about why it is to the benefit of nursing homes and assisted living facilities to keep their residents fat.
Every month the ALF where I live asks it's residents to submit to a weigh-in which I refuse to participate because I have never been given an explanation why anybody, except my doctor, has to know how much I weigh. When I ask them why they need to weigh me, all they say is "The state requires it", Why, they can't or won't say. However, I know why. It is because it is better to show a general weight gain rather than a weight loss among its resident population.
If the state DOH, notices that the overall weight in any particular facility shows to be in decline, it will prompt an investigation, the one thing nursing homes or ALF's hate the most.
Spend some time scrutinizing the menu at any health care facility and you will notice the extraordinary amount of carbs in the form of pasta, potatoes, rice, cakes and breads that are served there. So much so that they far outweigh the protein side of the menu.
Fortunately, many of the residents are on to this and either refuse to eat the fat inducing foods or order something less weight producing. Yes, maybe you can blame gluttony for some people being fat, but that may not be the only reason. Sometimes its because older folks are not in a position to, or cannot afford to eat food that is healthier for them. Sometimes it is often more a matter of economics and social status than genetics.

Actually, all I can say is when I first saw the comment it made me feel guilty and bad with myself because I'm overweight. Now, if the comment had said, "gee, I sure look old there," I would not have felt bad because I'm okay with being old. There is always a value assessment placed when talking about fat people because in this society we are supposed to have control in that we are supposed to have freedom of choice in what size we are. However, with old age, we have no choice.

Bruce, you are so right about the diet at independent living facilities. There is an otherwise pleasant one near me where I wouldn't mind living. But I have chosen not to, specifically because of the three calorie-laden meals a day. Why can't they come up with a nutritious, healthy and very LIGHT food plan since people need far fewer calories and fat as they age.

My Mom is in an assisted living facility that I would say is very good about the meals they serve. So, I don't think you can lump all ALF's together. On the other hand, hospitals are what amaze me about offering poor food choices. I was visiting someone at a hospital in Massachusetts a couple years ago, and there was a Dunkin Donuts at the entrance to the cardiac wing. It was almost like having immediate care available for the fat and sugar you're about to ingest. When my wife was in the hospital last year, the big seller in the cafeteria was the double bacon cheeseburger. And it was the nurses and doctors who ordered that little heart attack on a bun the most. It's almost like hospital food services are in business to keep the rest of the hospital in business.

Ronni - thanks for all you do for the senior community - for your honesty - especially that. I am fighting a battle - with the aid of Weight Watchers..had an Arby's Reuben tonight..don't think that's on the chart..and I'm certain I am over points for the day. Anyway - never thought that incontinence could be caused by fat...doesn't emotional stress also add on the lbs.?
appreciate you...loved the segment on not being invisible - snappy hats and shoes...always need a reason to shop...:)

High school cafeteria food is the pond scum of nutrition.

I lose weight in preparation for a vacation and gain much of it back on the vacation. Incentives help. Another incentive example would be recently my Dr. told me "you are the heaviest I've ever seen you". Therefore, on my next visit, six moths after, I plan on weighing the least he's seen me at; just mental games to get the weight off.

Have to say that I agree with Judith who was worried by the tone of some of these comments.
Ronni you are one tough lady so I am sure you don't need your friends rushing to your defence everytime someone disagrees with you- the original commentator was probably speaking from a personal hurt and we may not agree but we can empathise. I'm glad you mailed this post because it's good to know that we can feel free to disagree and that you will throw it
open to discussion.

I agree with a previous poster that you both have valid points. I remember being very hurt when I posted a rather innocent comment, I thought, on a blog and was attacked for what I said. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt, and be gentle with each other.

Perhaps it could have been worded "My God I was way too overweight back then for good health." ??? I have always felt that my prejudice against fatness is concern for health and not appearance. (I have wanted to lose about 25 pounds for years and while I exercise regularly and intensely and do not eat too much food, I am still holding on to fat in places that I do not like.)

Someone recently posted elsewhere that in the same way that a person who has long fingernails isn't fingernails a person who has a lot of fat isn't fat. That makes me think.

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