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:
(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