Marvin Shaw, professor of religion in Bozeman, now retired, used to speak of “regression in service to the ego.” That is, returning to a way you were earlier, that might be considered childish, in order to regroup and address a problem. Maybe on a child level, where one sees it all the time, a toddler goes back to thumb-sucking to self-comfort in a bad time, then gives it up again when things get better.
I want to turn this concept to weight loss, which I’m finding full of ambiguities and contradictions. The weight loss this time is happening -- REALLY happening -- because if I don’t do it, my death will be hastened, to say nothing of a lot of very unpleasant afflictions in the meantime. There’s no internal arguing and bargaining possible.
On the other hand, food is a chief way to self-comfort and nurture. One can’t just discard it. Our culture treats food like sex -- just this once, everybody does it, don’t be a stuck-up hold-out, women looove chocolate, don’t you love me? One side is this big emotional morass. On the other side is a health industry determined to document everything in tiny detail and technical vocabulary: calories, vitamins, anti-radicals, glycemic level, carb count. If you do this, your risk goes up 3 notches, if you do that it comes down 5 notches.
This morning I was 222 pounds, which doesn’t pertain unless you know that when I was diagnosed with diabetes I was knocking my head on 250. To me that’s some sort of boundary, since in my growing-up family the bathroom scales only went to 250. My father passed that limit when I was still in grade school. He worked for an ag wholesale co-op and would sometimes weigh on their scales, like feed sacks and wool bales. He struggled and struggled to lose weight but didn’t -- and the failure killed him at 63. (I’m 66 now.) So now you know that 222 is good and 66 is good, but not the goal. I’d settle for 160 (one doctor said that when women get to that, truck drivers begin to whistle at them, but that was a couple of decades ago) and maybe 80 years. My blood pressure is hovering right around the goal of 130 over 80. I still don’t understand the many forces affecting my blood glucose scores, though they are mostly good.
Losing weight is rather like going back in time, mostly because I’m fitting back into clothes I used to wear. I discarded all but the ones I really loved, so I’m delighted to put on shirts I last wore when I was in the ministry (‘78-’88). There’s a particular pair of workshirts with fine detailing and double sleeve forearms in which I was very happy. And a persimmon velveteen jacket with jet trim that was my all-time best dress-up. They’re still a little small.
As I wear those clothes, I begin to dream bits of my life in the eighties. I think of the people I knew then -- some of them gone now -- and the places I lived -- some of them uncomfortable. I never go back as far as the time when I lived where I was born. When I was a small child -- primary school age -- I was very thin. This coincided with WWII and a certain amount of rationing, but we had a Victory Garden. I was more conscious of the starving children in other places than I probably ought to have been. It was suggested to me that I’d better deserve my good luck. I think it was a little too early and I was a little too over-sensitive not to assure me that there would always be enough good food. I wept often, my teachers pointed out on report cards.
Once my mother sent us to bed with no supper as punishment. When my father got home, late, there was a long discussion and we were wakened to eat, at my father’s insistence. That punishment was never used again. (Both my parents had known serious food shortages as rural people in the Thirties and had delayed marriage because of that.) My mother was lonely and unhappy in those years (her own mother was dying of cancer and she was a country girl transplanted to a city she didn’t understand yet) and maybe that scared me. When I slide into the feelings I had during those years (which sometimes happens without me realizing), then I’m suddenly starving.
When I felt this in the years I was with Bob Scriver, I would go to him and ask to be held. He always did it, no questions asked. Then I wasn’t hungry. He always felt eating was a bit of an interruption of more interesting things. When we traveled, he’d say, “Oh, let’s drive another hundred miles -- THEN we can eat.” I weighed 135, which is a size twelve, and felt beautiful. But his mother urged food on us. When I was sick, even before Bob and I were married, she always showed up with a can of soup. I had the feeling she would have loved to spoon it into my mouth herself. Nurturing control. Most people probably recognize it. Resisting it makes me thin, but if one resists the control, one also loses the nurturing.
They say that the way fat cells work is that if there is more glucose to store, they don’t make more cells but rather pack it away until each fat cell is practically bursting. Then when one loses weight, the number of fat cells doesn’t diminish but rather release what they’ve been hoarding. When they take in the original fat, they also suck up a bit of whatever else is in the blood, and when they empty, they put that “whatever” back into the blood stream along with the glucose. So a contaminant -- say dioxin or ag chemicals, in tiny fat soluble traces that had been stored for many years -- might be released back into a system that has in the meantime been aging and meeting other challenges. So it’s important to take anti-oxidating substances to help resolve and excrete them. They say LSD and cannabis can be stored this way, but I never took them anyway.
If one is holding down blood glucose levels at the same time as restricting calories in order to lose weight (the thinner one is, the better one’s natural insulin works) it gets a little tricky, and I think this is one of the things that makes my blood glucose higher than I expect it to be. (Not high enough to be alarming.) I think my system releases fat as glucose which make the readings higher.
And I dream of yesterday, when I was thinner, lived somewhere else, knew different people -- all memories stored someplace, maybe in fat cells. In the brain fat cells serve as insulation for the electro-chemical messages racing around. Maybe that accounts for the sharpness of the dreams, the rising-from-the-unconscious memories, the emotions faint as stains. Starvation in service to the body. And it is up to my mind and the metabolism of writing to deal with it.