30 Days of Gratitude – Day #25, ‘Elephant With Earrings’***

gratitude

OK, before I start … the amazing comments over the weekend have simply floored me. I repeatedly say how much I enjoy all of you guys because of the insightful, thoughtful comments that go in new directions and beyond my original post … um, yeah, totally.

Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, and although it sounds weird, I am thankful for having had to deal with obesity at 23, and the humbling experience of having to do it again at 46.

Day #25 – Wow … you were really, uh, big!

*** ‘Elephant with earrings’ was a drawing and tease-name in the 5th grade by Vinny Eisenhauer. As you can imagine, being an 11 year old boy in the mid-1970s who shopped in the ‘husky’ section, that was some pretty insulting stuff. It hasn’t bothered me in decades, really – but it has stuck with me. I think about the life-long impact of things like this as I watch parents (still) encourage their kids to judge harshly based on appearance (like when my son grew his hair for ‘Locks of Love’ because a friend of his had cancer), enter Pinewood Derby cars where the parents obviously did the whole thing against ones made entirely by the kids, or even seemingly harmless things like parents getting competitive with their toddlers having to ‘win’ costume contests that are much more about the adults. 37 years later there are many names I wish I remember … but one I DO is Vinny Eisenhauer, because of ‘Elephant with earrings’.

Looking back through my life there were more than a couple of times when I could have made or stuck with choices that would have stopped me from becoming as large as I did by the end of my college years – the easiest is at the end of my freshman year when I had finished the tennis season and the tennis coach wanted me to lose some weight but wanted me on the team again, and the football coach wanted me to work on weights and build endurance and try out for varsity. Instead I dove headlong into music and technology 🙂

As a result of low activity level and significant overeating I found myself close to 400lbs (I honestly have no idea … my first weigh-in was at 375 and I had already started losing weight). I have written time and again about losing weight both in 1989 and in 2012, so I will skip that (and if you want to read them, you can see My Running Story – In The Beginning …, My Running Story – The ‘In Between’ Years, My Running Story – The ‘Corning Years’ Through Today). But here is the thing:

I honestly believe that having been severely overweight has made me a better thin person, more aware of my health and very appreciative of the joyous gift of running.

I am not saying that being overweight makes you a better person, or that having been fat suddenly provides some universal clairvoyance or anything. I am just saying that for me personally, I feel more connected to the duality of being the same person in two different bodies having gone through it … twice.

In August I wrote about fat shaming and thin privilege, talking about the way that fat-shaming transcends ridicule to become oppression … and while I really didn’t expect much of a response, the comments were incredible.

And here’s the thing – the reality is that body-shaming runs across sizes and shapes and everything else. We are judged by someone else’s expectations of what we should look like, and so many people feel like they are harshly judged as too fat or too thin or eating too much or too little or for any of a variety of reasons. This is a gift that belonging to this community has given – an appreciation that everyone has a different story and deserves to be appreciated for the wonderful person they are.

OK I am thinking it, so I might as well say it – apparently some people believe it is required to have a weight/eating struggle to be a runner or a credible and ‘relatable’ running blogger. At least that is how it seems. A few people like Megan will readily say that they have never had to deal with much in the way of weight loss. Honesty is more important than false commonality.

But for others … it is as if having been obese or dealt with an eating disorder somehow gives a ‘story’ or ‘narrative’ that they are missing by having maintained a healthy weight their whole lives. WTF. Take it from myself on the fat end and ANYONE who has dealt with an eating disorder (and please make sure you have read Danielle’s incredible ‘Life with ED’ series if you haven’t already) … these are NOT ‘glamorous backstories’! I might have learned much from battling back from obesity twice … but yeah, I’m not sure that being a generally sensitive person wouldn’t have helped me along the way to gaining empathy.

My point? Your story is your story, and pretending to share someone else’s story doesn’t make you ‘more cool’, instead it makes you a rather obvious phony.

Well … since I have started down this path of alienating other bloggers … let me just keep rolling, and apologize in advance. I was reminded by a couple of posts I read this week that I think that ALL of us sometimes need to be reminded sometimes:

RUNNING. IS. A. GIFT.

Every stride we take is a joyous gift. Every run is something to celebrate. Sure, some runs are crap. Some days we feel like the Blerch has truly won. Yes, I get it – I have had my fair share of those days. And I also get that within this community we should feel that we have a safe place to complain to each other about what is a shared experience. But let us never forget those who cannot run, and really – for those of us who love to run … remember that we love this sport.

I have never forgotten how it felt in March of 2012 when I weighed over 275lbs and started running again, determined to lose weight and prepare for a marathon that fall. It was a pure force of will breaking through the pure suckage of the first couple of weeks until I began to hit my groove.

My ultimate thought here – own your story.

While I have disordered eating thoughts and have used restriction as a tool in the past, I don’t claim to really understand what it is like for those who have taken eating disorders to the point where it compromised their health. That is not part of my story, and I will never pretend it is. I do not claim that running marathons means I understand what it is like to experience childbirth (sounds ridiculous turned around and applied to a guy, doesn’t it?) – sure they are both hard things … but there are many difficult things in life and they aren’t instantly related by their hardness.

Also – treasure and protect your health. We are given one body, one life, and that is all. Hollie wrote about periods recently, which provided a relief valve for a number of young women who seemed to feel it was almost a rite of passage for women runners – which is absolute crap, of course. As I watched my brother lay unconscious spring of 2013, just 6 months after we ran the Wineglass marathon together … I was reminded of the fleeting nature of life. My father very nearly died of a heart attack at 45, and there was my brother on his second at 49! I have had a full cardiac workup and am fine – but it is a reminder … do not take this life, this body we are given for granted. Ever.

I DO have personal experience with extreme weight loss, but even in this my story is singular. What I have gone through as a child and adult is my own history, framed against the story of who I am, my gender and origins, where and when I grew up and those who were around me throughout my life. Having been obese is part of who I am, just as being ‘that guy we always see out running’ is part of who I am. And I am grateful for the part it has played in shaping the person I am today.

How do you feel about weight and fitness and motivation?

Yeah, more Weird Al …

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18 thoughts on “30 Days of Gratitude – Day #25, ‘Elephant With Earrings’***

  1. Yes, each person has their own story to share, whether they have always been thin (which has its own issues) or obese.

    Having always been thin does not automatically make a person healthy or that someone who was/is obese and the changes/challenges that they have overcome make their story anymore important or compelling.

    I believe it is about the honesty, openness and the ability of the person to write about their experiences that the person sharing their story gives that makes their story compelling – not just a story.

    The only people you will alienate with this post are those who are just writing a story.

    Take nothing for granted, enjoy what you have, change for the better what you think you should, but most of all enjoy the life you have and don’t worry about what the Jones’ are doing or have.

    We all have so much more than we realize.

    Remember that the next time we step out the door or hug a loved one.

    Thanks again Mike.

    • Thanks for the amazing comment Harold – I’ve read it 3 times now and I get more each time. We really all need to step back and realize how fortunate we are – and when I say ‘we’ I am talking about those of us who can afford the luxuries of hobbiest running and blogging, who can afford expensive running gear, smartphones and tablets and so on.

      So much can happen so quickly in life – and I know especially with the rough weather forecast for the eastern seaboard we’ll be hearing about tragic things soon – that at Thanksgiving we really need to think about the stuff at the core of our lives, the things that really matter.

      As for alienating … well, yeah, we will see about that. For those I think I might have alienated, I don’t think I was very subtle. Oh well … 🙂

  2. Yes. Thank you. Amen to all of this. Especially this: “My point? Your story is your story, and pretending to share someone else’s story doesn’t make you ‘more cool’, instead it makes you a rather obvious phony.” It does often seem like everyone in the blogging world has some type of eating problem. And while I understand that disordered eating is a problem, it sometimes feels like anyone who has ever felt bad about themselves and gone on a diet thinks they have suffered from disordered eating. The problem I have with that is a) it’s not true and b) it minimizes the seriousness of full blown eating disorders by suggesting that these types of behaviors are normal and you eventually just get over them. Not to mention, to the uninformed, the terms “disordered eating” and “eating disorder” sound like the exact same thing! How can a normal person distinguish between the two with no additional explanation? Not everyone who overeats has BED. Not everyone who has restricted their diet has anorexia. If you purged your food once, you’re not bulimic. Why anyone would want this to be their backstory is beyond me because, as you said, it is not glamorous at all. Sorry for my rant, but this is a huge source of frustration for me and I have come so close to writing about it many times but fear not being able to say anything without sounding like a raving lunatic. Thank you for writing about it.

    • OH
      MY
      GOD

      Thank you SO much for this comment Danielle … I could feel the emotion and it reflected so much of what I tried to put into my post. I really love this:

      “to the uninformed, the terms “disordered eating” and “eating disorder” sound like the exact same thing!”

      I was TRYING to say that in the post but your simple statement is even better. I have used a weight loss strategy in the past that involved running every day and eating ~1 meal, and then adopting a ‘semi-restricted’ diet once I hit my target. Ugh. That is stupid and I am lucky I never got injured running that way – but it is different than someone with an eating disorder.

      Thank you so much again for your amazing posts on the subject and all that you have shared! 🙂

  3. Great points…I always feel like reading other peoples backstories helps to keep things in perspective. We all have different stories to tell, and running is a relatable activity for the most part but also a very individual experience. Blogging should be a safe place to “complain” when things don’t go well, but running should never be taken for granted. Although we all go through different obstacles, there are lessons to be learned along the way and challenges to overcome. Its how we deal with those obstacles and challenges that allow us to become stronger in running and in life.

    • Thanks Lisa! 🙂 And I totally agree about having our blog as a safe place to whine a bit every now and then, and tried to get my phrasing right for that part 🙂

      For whatever reason, lately my BS detector has been pegged by a few posts on sites where rather than ‘telling their story’ I felt the blogger was ‘crafting A story’, if you know what I mean. And in a couple of cases, what was said versus what was restated in comments and on social media was all so different that it was like a one-person game of ‘telephone’ … and in general, if one person can’t maintain a constant story, it is a fabrication.

  4. Ah, it’s been far too long since I’ve read a blog (yours or any others) and I just lapped up every word of this, realizing how much I am actually missing it! You have such a way with words and articulate this point so well. Like you said, I am honest that I’ve never had to lose all that much weight, but sometimes I have felt like it’s not as ‘cool.’ I am grateful for your story- so powerful!

  5. You make some excellent points, but the biggest take home for me is that we each have a very personal story, some may have gone through something similar, but it is still a really individualized experience, whether it be weight loss, struggling with an ED, or anything else under the sun and none of it is glamorous, they are called struggles for a reason. Why they would be glamorized is beyond me. I love how raw and honest you are about these topics Mike, and that is what makes YOU, you. No one can replicate that because it’s not their story, it’s yours.

    And the fat shaming/thin shaming/shaming in general just needs to stop. Your weight is none of my business and I don’t have the right to comment on it, simple as that. People need to start thinking more before they speak (or write!)

    I hope you, Lisa and the boys have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • Thanks Sara! I know that truly being honest is a struggle for many … but apparently not so much for me, at least with this stuff. 🙂 I have read bloggers wondering aloud who cares about their stuff … and the answer is WE DO. Your day is your day, your style is your style, your life is your life. If we weren’t interested – we’d already be gone. Being non-genuine is going to drive people away … unless they are simply using your blog as a ‘visibility check-in’.

  6. I hate to say this, but I feel like so many people try to take on what it “fashionable” so tha tthey can be part of the crowd, or feel important. It makes me so sad. I know what I m deal with, I know that I have made mistakes in the past, but I also know that my mistakes are ok. I don’t think that other people need to have the same experience that I have had, and I hope that they don’t. I merely share my story in the hopes that others might benefit, or that even I might benefit from their reactions and dialogue with me. Shaming is a waste of time, breathe, and energy. If it isn’t constructive, keep your mouth shut!

    • Totally agree Suz! We all make mistakes, and they are part of what makes us who we are! Which reminds me – I still want you to have a ‘Like’ button on your blog … because I will very often just love a post, but really have nothing to say about it … the ‘Like’ gives me the chance to say ‘read it, loved it, nothing more to add’. Hmmm … maybe that will become my go-to comment for your posts 😉

  7. Michael, as I read the first paragraphs of this post, I had an Ah-Ha moment. Why I haven’t realized this before, I’m not sure, but you put into words something that has crossed my crowded brain more than once over the years.
    As you had to buy your clothes in the husky boys section. So did my husband, but he did so in the 50s and 60s. He lived on a working dairy farm in a rural area up north. The words “dairy farm plus husky section” brought the ah-ha moment. He drank milk from their cows, and it wasn’t skim, it was off the top of the buckets and it had a very high fat content, I’m sure. Real butter was used in everything that was cooked, baked or served. Milk was served at every meal and was always available. Cokes, iced tea, juices, etc were not.
    The clothes everyone wore were heavy clothes, because it was so cold, and those bulky clothes covered up a multitude of sins, as we’d say. Although he played hard outside, he consumed enormous amounts of cream-off the top of the bucket.He wasn’t fat, he was “solid.”
    As he got older, he was very active in sports, rowed varsity crew in college and got a lot of exercise-skiing, tennis, etc.He was about 25-30 pounds heavier than he is now, and it was all muscle.
    In his 30s and 40s, he weighed just what he should and got a lot of outdoor exercise.
    Starting in his mid-50s, he started to drop weight, a LOT of weight, A number of his friends had started to die of heart disease and strokes and that took a toll on him. He started to actively lose weight- so now he is no-body-fat-thin.
    I wonder if he still sees that “husky boy” when he looks in the mirror. He worries about the fat around his middle, of which there is none. He worries about overeating, which he doesn’t do.

    I think, no, I know that he still sees that husky kid when he looks in a mirror today.

    • Thanks for that amazing comment – and glad if I provided a bit of insight. 🙂 I remember when my dad had his huge heart attack my sophomore year of college, his doctor told him his blood pressure was also a bit high and to cut down on sodium – I haven’t used added salt (I will cook with it) in almost 30 years as a result. No it doesn’t make any sense – but it doesn’t have to. And I definitely get what you are saying – men and women have risk factors, and we know that those things can have an impact on our health, so we do what we can to avoid the risk factors … and ‘middle fat’ is a male factor … so even if it isn’t ‘real’ – like for myself or your husband – it has a genuine impact.

      Similar to over-eating – I ate a moderate Thanksgiving dinner with small slices of all 3 pies … but because I generally eat less rich foods I felt quite full and like I overate. Mind over matter, I guess. 🙂

  8. I was reading Running Times today and they had an article on racing weight that I had to just ignore. Conversely, Trail Runner magazine had a pretty good article on professional runners struggling with eating disorders. It all fills that bad space in my head a bit more than I’d like to admit.

    Related, I can’t stand some of these blogs with frankenfood that are supposed to be healthy and promote, if not weight loss, at least maintaining some ideal. It seems almost like a contest with some to see what vile concoction they can come up with. As much as I love the Internet, sometimes it worries me.

    • I know the types of stories you are talking about – and surprisingly the stories themselves don’t bug me as much as it does when I see young bloggers parroting only one aspect of it as TRUTH: “If I lose 5 lbs I will run faster …” It feeds into many already unhealthy attitudes about food and eating for many bloggers.

      I have to confess that I have noticed more than a few times on blogs and instagram people posting pictures of their ‘huge breakfast’ … then I notice that the plates are very small and it is a ‘bullshot’ that is really a rather small portion made to look much bigger … ugh.

      • I’ve noticed far too many of those small plate shots. There is a reason I almost never post my food in my blog. Not because I eat poorly or on small plates but because I worry that it sets some sort of example that I don’t feel qualified to set.

      • Very good point – while I feel pretty good about how I am doing in terms of fueling myself through my day … I can’t say it is something I really want to put out there. I have done one or two food-centric posts, but am really not into the ‘what I ate Wednesday’ posts for a whole bunch of reasons! 🙂

  9. Pingback: 30 Days of Gratitude Revisited | Running Around the Bend

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