I read Yael Armstrong’s piece, “I’m Not Going To Make My Kids Weight Crazy,” with great interest, as weight is a frequent topic of conversation in our house.
Not my weight. I’ve never had much interest in my weight. Due to a variety of chronic problems and food intolerances, I grew up a skinny kid whom every Jewish grandmother was constantly trying to fatten up. As I got older, I never even owned a scale. The only relationship I had with eating was, does this make me feel sick, or does this not make me feel sick? I stick to a pretty strict diet for health reasons, but it’s not a hardship as early conditioning has made it so I recoil from most foods. (Yes, stand-up comedians, I am that very special brand of stupid that I sometimes forget to eat. The only time I ever felt hungry was the three times I was pregnant, and the new sensation took me by surprise every single time.)
My husband, on the other hand, loves to eat. He is a broad-shouldered, though not tall man (about five feet, eight inches), and when we first met 15 years ago, he weighed about 190 lbs. He was not thin, by any stretch of the imagination. But, it didn’t matter to me. Within a few years of our marriage, however, he started to put on more and more weight, insisting, “It’s because you make me so happy!” By the time our third child was born, he’d ballooned up to 230 lbs. Even he realized it was too much. So he went on a diet. As an engineer, he turned the entire endeavor into a math and science problem, limiting himself to 100 calories of anything he wanted every hour. That meant he didn’t have to deprive himself of the food he loved, he just had to control his portion size. Within a year, he’d gone down to 170 lbs, the skinniest I ever knew him.
Everything was going well until, as documented earlier, we left our corporate jobs for more fulfilling ones. While he sat at a desk all day, my husband could stick to his diet. Once he started teaching again and couldn’t eat his required 100 calories every hour on the hour, the diet went out the window. He started dining in the school cafeteria and on the run. And he started putting on weight. Now he tips the scale (which he bought, not me) at 200 lbs. And I’m not happy about it.
This is not an issue of aesthetics. It is a matter of health. Because he is overweight (obese, by some standards, but my brother, the certified personal trainer, says those scales are ridiculously out of whack and shouldn’t be considered), his cholesterol is dangerously high. So is his blood-pressure. He takes medication for both. As an asthmatic, he now snores and suffers from sleep apnea, which means he doesn’t get adequate rest at night (and keeps me awake, which I’m not thrilled about, either). He’s putting extra pressure on his joints, leaving the door wide open for arthritis and probably replacement surgery down the road.
These are not trivial issues. They are life-threatening ones. If my husband were smoking himself to death or doing drugs or even driving without a seatbelt, I’d be allowed to raise my objections to the practice. So why should weight be any different? (My grandfather drank. Growing up, my mother always lectured us: Don’t drink, your genetics are bad.)
I try to cook healthy meals at home (we’ve gone mostly no-fat and no-salt, plus we’ve never had sugary sodas or candy in the house much to begin with). But, I can’t watch him every moment (nor do I want to). When I see a receipt for a fast food joint, I get upset. Because I don’t care to be a widow raising three kids by myself.
So yes, we do talk about weight in our house. And in front of the kids, too. Because here’s something else: When he was growing up, my husband was skinny. I don’t mean he wasn’t fat, I mean he was actually, genuinely skinny. And then he went to college. And the Freshman Fifteen turned into the Freshman Fifty–plus. Weight he’s never been able to get rid of since.
So do I use him as an example for our kids? Of course, I do. I urge them to run around and eat healthy and I keep them away from sedentary activities like video games (and reading). Because the genetic lottery says, obesity is coming for them if they’re not careful.
Do I tell them that I won’t love them if they’re fat? Do I even suggest such a thing? Maybe they’d beg to differ (my kids love to read my Kveller pieces, maybe they’ll answer in the comments), but I think the fact that I married their father when he was already heavy proves it’s not the outside package that concerns me, but what’s inside a person–you know, like clogged arteries, pulverized joints, and stray blood clots looking for a comfortable place to lodge.
It seems to me that ever since the pendulum swung the other way and we were told to embrace our bodies and accept that everyone is perfect just the way God made them, it has become taboo to speak of excess weight in a disapproving manner. As if the only people who could have a problem with unwanted pounds are shallow and superficial, who judge others based on their appearances rather than character.
Well, that doesn’t work for me. I want my husband to be healthy and I want him to be here. With his family. I will not bury my head in the sand and pretend that we don’t have a problem. Because we do.
My husband is overweight. And I’m afraid it will kill him. Sooner rather than later. You’re damn right I’m going to talk about it.