Wednesday, September 24, 2008

15 Reasons I Gain(ed) Weight (And Two Reasons I Didn’t)

Get Fit Slowly posted a great piece last week called "A Dinner Conversation," wherein blogger Macdaddy described exactly how and why he put on the pounds. Essentially, he recalled a pattern of poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyle choices established at an early age. Today, it’s taking all his resources and know-how to correct those learned behaviors, but he’s doing it. (Viva la him!)

Macdaddy’s story inspired me to think of my own reasons for gaining weight. Because, make no mistake – eating is a physical action, but the motivations behind overeating are largely emotional. (Or at least, that’s what Oprah says.) Those mental hangups made this a difficult post to write, because it forced me to confront some of my shortcomings, like carelessness, laziness, and a big one: using food for comfort.

As I created my list, I noticed something, though. With one monster exception (eating out), my reasons for gaining weight during and directly after college were vastly different than my reasons today. Whether that’s maturity or a result of lifestyle changes is up in the air, but at least I feel like I’m learning. So, without further ado…

I GAINED weight (past-tense) …

…because I didn’t know about portion control. My idea of a normal meal was 50% starch, 30% meat, and 20% more starch. Fruits and vegetables figured into the equation only when I ran out of rice.

…because I wasn’t educated about food. Nutrition labels meant nothing to me back in the day, and I lacked the motivation to research. The internet makes it much easier now, though I didn’t catch on until a few years ago.

…because I didn’t think about what I was eating. I wasn’t THAT much of a moron: I knew fried foods were bad, and an excess of cheese would clog my heart valves with its delicious, brie-infested buildup. Uh, here’s the thing: I didn’t care. More fries? Bring ‘em on! Another piece of pie? Why, thank you! The WHOLE box of mac and cheese? Why didn’t you say so in the first place?

…because I trusted in my metabolism over my brain. When you’re 17, you can eat an entire herd of cattle (horns included) without blinking. The fury and pace of your day-to-day movements will make up for it. When you’re 23, those same slabs of beef adhere directly to your ass, making it tough to sit down in normal-sized chairs.

…because my parents didn’t teach me how to cook. It wasn’t one of Ma’s priorities, and Pa didn’t really know himself until later in my childhood. I don’t fault them at all, because instead, I could solve an equation, write a paper, and clean a dang bathroom like nobody’s business.

…because I never showed any interest in learning to cook. Growing up, food preparation took a backseat to schoolwork, sports, extracurricular activities, friends, sleeping, drooling, listening to Britpop, staring dreamily into the distance, and a billion other things. I figured as long I could boil water, I’d be fine.

…because I assumed it was my genetic destiny. With notable exceptions, much of my extended family is not thin or athletically inclined. They’re mostly a pretty wonderful bunch, though, and I accepted this as my fate.

…because I was in love. I feel doofy enough writing that, but it’s true. Because, seriously – I can match my biggest weight gains almost exactly to the beginning of my happiest relationships. I don’t recall us just sitting around, feeding each other egg rolls with contented looks in our eyes, but maybe we did. Barf.

…because I’m an occasional emotional eater. On the flip side, there are these things called “breakups.” And when they happen, it becomes very, very easy to drown your sorrows in tubs of Ben and Jerry’s Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream. Those pints absorb pain, and redeposit it as cellulite in your thighs (but you don’t notice until later).

…because I ate out too much. The big one. The HUGE one. It still dogs me. (See below.)

I GAIN weight (present tense) …

…because I eat out too much. I really, really like food, and New York has a lot of it. And it’s (almost) all really, really good. Restaurants and takeout make it soul-shatteringly simple to abandon all principles of portion control and good sense. It is my weakness.

…because I have easy access to bad food. My cubicle is located directly across from the office pantry. I live across the street from a KFC, a Papa John’s, and the most unsanitary (but sweet) bodega in Brooklyn. Food surrounds me all the time, and it’s difficult to deny it’s power.

…because I don’t care about portion control. When I’m feeling good, I’ll go for months at a time without considering the size of my dinner. Inevitably, this leads to problems down the road, when I haven’t paid any attention to serving size for a year. (See: 2006, beginning of.)

…because I think it will be easy to drop later. I’ve dropped significant amounts of weight twice now, and it gets into my head that it’s easy to do. (It’s not.) The problem is, I infrequently get around to the actual process, and often abandon it prematurely.

…because I’m getting older. Stupid passage of time. Tryin’ to make me all wrinkly and saggy and stuff.

…because I’m relatively sedate. Er … yeah. I walk 30 minutes a day, and am well aware that it’s not enough. Yet, attending the gym is not my choice of an exciting pastime, running blows, and organizes sports leagues are … I have no excuse there. I need to get on this.

I DON'T/DIDN’T gain weight …

…because I can’t stop myself. Self-control hasn’t been a problem so far, with a one-day-per-month exception. I think any overeating can be attributed to a lack of attention, rather than an aching need for food.

…because my family has a rich culture of cooking. I’m Irish. We boil beef. ‘Nuff said.

And that’s it. Readers, how about you? Why do you put on weight?


If you liked this article, you might also dig:

(Photos courtesy of University of Maryland Medical Center and MySpace member Seventh Heart.)

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Anonymous said...

I've recently realized that my inability to lose weight has a lot to do with my social life. While I exercise regularly and eat small portions and low-calorie food at home by myself, most of my social interactions revolve around food. Going out to eat, going to a friend's house for dinner, watching a movie and having snacks. If I had fewer friends, I would weigh less. In fact, when I first moved to this town and didn't know anyone, I lost 10 pounds, but was eating healthfully. I guess I need to get my friends to do more active things as our social stuff. Go rollerskating or something.

Elaine said...

I gained (probably) 80 pounds between graduating from college and April 2007. I lost (about) 60 pounds between then and now. I gained the weight because...

1) I finally had enough money to buy real food, and I like to cook. I have poor self-control with homemade baked goods in particular.

2) My lifestyle got way more sedentary: not only did I go from an active job in college to a sedentary one about a year after, but my job and my home got further & further apart! So, less walking, more busing/vanpooling.

3) I got into a long-term relationship with a 6' 2" guy, and I have fairness issues. So we split everything even, which means I, a 5' 8" woman, was eating as much as a 6' 2" guy. You do the math. :)

4) Office culture(s) that revolved around food. Vending machines! Donuts! Lunches out! Candy bowls!

5) Recurring major depression. That's a two-parter: being depressed made me more likely to bake and/or eat other comfort foods, and IMHO, the first medication I tried gave me a weight boost upwards. (The 2nd one, in combination with effective therapy, helped me lose weight.)

6) I have a couple of purely speculative reasons: that whole aging/metabolism thing, plus the increasing portion sizes over the last decade. When you're not paying attention (for all the other reasons above), it's easy to just eat the whole thing.

7) Being inattentive to the weight gain. I was a skinny, skinny, skinny kid/teen, and my self-perception didn't match up with my reality until I'd already gained most of the weight.

So, what helps me is being aware of my weight and my food intake, giving up the whole "fairness" thing, reducing my intake from office culture food, dealing with my mental health and getting more active. Plus, for a while there I stopped baking entirely.

Robin said...

I felt like I deserved a venti White Chocolate Mocha every morning as a reward for getting up in the morning and driving through rush hour. Sometimes, if I was having a really bad day, I'd have a second one.

Those things are 620 calories. I just checked.

Marcia said...

OMG wow, I could have written that myself. I started gaining weight in my mid-20's, and capped out at 182 lbs at 31 years old (I'm 5'2.5".)

Portion control: yep. Who'd have thunk it that I can't eat like my 6' tall husband?

Educated about food: the opposite. I read about it all the time, didn't do anything about it.

Not thinking: You bet. In my 20's, earning money for the first time, I ate whatever I wanted.

Metabolism: yep. I've never had the metabolism of a 16 year old boy, but at 18...I could eat.

Cooking: I have a mom and 6 older sisters who kicked me out of the kitchen. 'Nuff said. I learned to cook when I realized that I was fat and my husband's cooking wasn't helping.

...though I had the interest...I had about 50 cookbooks. But whenever I went into the kitchen, I burned and/or cut myself (there's that tetanus shot I had to get after trying to cut apart 2 frozen veggie burgers...but maybe that isn't cooking?...and this the night before my professional engineer's 8 hour exam.)

genetic destiny...I have big thighs. That is my genetic destiny. But I have finally convinced myself that weighing over 200 lbs, diabetes, heart disease is NOT.

in love...hubby was a good cook, what can I say?

emotional eating...I occasionally do that too

eating out too's not accidental that my weight gain started when my (then) fiance moved away, and I found myself eating out a lot...sometimes for breakfast (bagel with egg, ham, and cheese), lunch (reuben), and dinner (fried chicken sandwich, fries, and lots of beer).

OMG, did I really eat that way?? And now in my late 30's, I just can't even eat out even once/week and maintain a healthy weight. I gain weight on trips to visit family, because my food options aren't as good.

Wow, it's surely a tough thing.

Melissa said...

The summer before my last year of college is when i killed my metabolism. Basically, I went vegetarian in the worst way possible. I tried getting all of my protein from dairy products and ate too many starches. Tofu? Yuck. Quinoa, Tempeh - huh? It was bad, brie and crosstini for dinner every other night bad. I've spent the past 7 learning how to cook and eat complete and meals - and I'm back to eating a little meat every day.

A said...

One of the reasons I gained weight (and had so much trouble losing it) is because I was anorexic as a teenager. Once I started eating properly again, even if I tried to eat healthy and exercise regularly, my body would decide to store it away "just in case", as well as eat away at my muscle. After several years and multiple nutritionists, someone finally figured out that I needed to increase the amount of protein in my diet. I'm talking like three times the recommended amount for the average person. It's made a huge difference in my ability to lose weight.

Of course, it didn't help that I gained forty pounds the year I was on depo provera (injectable contraceptive).

On top of the underlying issues, it didn't help that I never really learned how to cook when I was younger. Towards the end of highschool, my mother's attitude was that there was no sense in putting a lot of time and effort into cooking, and that it's not worth it if it can't be made in the microwave or toaster oven. On top of that, it's a sad fact that it's often cheaper to buy overly processed prepared foods and mixes than fresh produce. So we ate a lot of that sort of thing.. hamburger helper, ramen, canned soups.

So needless to say that as an overworked, starving college student, I made a lot of similar things. My third year in college, I signed up for a meal plan, and usually ate too much of the unhealthy stuff. As a vegetarian, there usually weren't options beyond sickly looking salad or pasta. I ate a lot of grilled cheese and veggie burgers..

When I did cook, I often tried to supplement the mixes with fresh veggies and mock meats, which helped towards making them tasty and healthier, but it didn't take away from the fact that I was still using mac and cheese from a box.

It was actually my boyfriend who weaned me away from this crap, and now I won't eat anything overly processed like that. I cook from scratch as often as possible, with lots of veggies.

I probably eat out too often now, and I'm not hugely careful about what I order (my boyfriend visits one or two weekends a month, and most of our meals are eaten out,though I try to cook at home as well). I try to avoid eating junkfood at work by keeping a stash of healthy snacks in my desk, but occasionally there's free food available, or I hit up the vending machine because the alternative is to quietly sit here starving.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, I put on weight because I feel like I deserve to eat what I want. It meaning, anything I want. I walked just under 2 miles, to and from work, almost every day. I work out at lunch for 45 minutes at the gym 5 days a week. Any given week I’ll have 1-2 competitive volleyball games, a 90 minute soccer match (usually without subs), and a flag football game. So I feel like I can eat/drink more than I can. I usually don’t get more than 5 lbs up from my “normal” weight, however my normal weight is 10-15 lbs. from where I should be (I’m a size 12). I also love chocolate, cheese, and imported beer. Imported beer doesn’t come in “light”. I know these things can and will have a place in my life…I just have to not overdo it, because despite my activity, I don’t deserve it.

prdtofthe80s said...

Thinking that I could lose the weight later? That's where I fit in.

I gained weight during college and university, and subsequently dropped a couple pounds afterwards just by eating healthier.

Then I found a job that was far far far away from home, and spent up to two hours in the car a day. Once I got home, I'd snack and munch on pretty much whatever I could find.

Then I discovered running, and found that it was perfect - I could seasonally (or run event by run event) lose and gain weight.

I'm at my all time high right now since I ran a marathon this year and just haven't gotten back to running. I need to get my wobbly bits back up and being active.

Marcia said...

anonymous really spoke to me too...when I was in my 20's, I walked to work, went to the gym at lunch (and sometimes after work), and played on volleyball many as four nights per week (3 different teams and maybe a tournament or pickup game on the weekend). So I ate whatever I wanted.

But I was still 10-15 lbs above where I should have been.