Cake Or Death?*

Please don't skewer me for this. It's not going to sound right or good no matter how I say it, so I'm just going to throw it out there because it's clanging around in my head and I don't know what else to do with it.

My mom watched her weight her whole life. Religiously. She kept her weight down and worked hard to do so. She worked out regularly. She did whatever she needed to do to stay at a size 6 or under.

She died at age 53 anyway. And for reasons that had nothing to do with her weight or metabolism.

Sometimes, when I'm looking for motivation, I wonder (sure, rather morbidly, but what are you going to do?): if I knew that I was only going to live another 20 years, would I rather do it skinny, or would I rather just not worry about it already?

Sometimes I wonder if my mom ever reflected on it. And if she did, I wonder if she thought it -- the constant struggle with her weight -- was worth it.

I realize that it is entirely possible, and maybe even likely, that she did.

*While also somewhat morbid in this context, "cake or death?" is from a comedic routine by Eddie Izzard. Trying to keep it light. Pun intended.


  1. I understand your thoughts here. There is this woman at my gym who had gastric bypass surgery and she then had to have a pace maker, and surgery to remove infections and scar tissue.
    She has gone through all of this to wear smaller pants. This seems so sad to me. I often wonder if my weight would be more manageable if I just stopped thinking about it.
    Thanks for your thoughts

  2. I think about this a lot, actually, and flip flop as much as my weight does.

    I think I'd rather be happy, truthfully, and not worry about it. I say this because I honestly believe if it were *that* important to me, that I would have taken more drastic steps to fix it. Put down the cherries. Close the Triscuit box. You know.

    I keep making a series of small, yet significant, choices that ensure that I wil maintain my weight. I have to believe somewhere, that I know this deep down, you know?

    Meh. Maybe not.

  3. I think I understand too. My mother worried about nutrition (too much sugar, too much fat, too much whatever) and her physical health (overall very good) constantly. Unfortunately she couldn't control her mental health - she took her own life at 53. I wish she could have enjoyed more of the life she did have.

  4. Ooof.

    I think that if I knew I had 20 years to live, instead of the 50 I hope I've got, I'd probably not try as hard for the physical appearance part of losing/managing weight.

    But I feel a lot better when I am actively working toward a weight/size goal. It keeps everything in line, gives me general purpose, and makes indulgences that much more enjoyable. It's like going uphill when you're hiking: it's hard, but it's good for you, and you'll like the view from the top.

    I'd like to spend all my years, whether 20 or 50 (or more!! miracles of modern science!!) living with the kind of purpose and focus that I get from losing weight. Do you think your mom might have felt that way about staying a size 6? Do you ever feel that way about losing weight?

  5. Kristy,

    This is a thought that has often crossed my mind too. My great grandmother lived until she was 96 and she had anorexia before they even knew what anorexia was. I wonder if her life was a little lonlier trapped with all that worry over food.

    But, for me, I know I feel better now that I have lost weight. And yes, I guess there is a little bit of the vanity thing. And I am not going to lie--buying clothes is so much easier. But, more than anything, I feel healthier. It's hokey, but I sleep better. I don't feel so sluggish. I nap less. I don't have that nasty food hangover feeling. Sure, I have my moments--I ate too much at a BBQ this weekend--but it is not a regular occurance for me. And feeling that way reminds me of the "old me". I know it is not going to happen again today, like it would have in the past.

    So, I don't think obsessing or over restriction is good. But I do think living healthier, for me at least, has made my life better. Even if I only have 20 more years left, they will be 20 years lived fully.

  6. You have a way of capturing the thoughts of women everywhere. I'll bet, before you started this whole blogging thing, that you were the only one who felt this way or that.

    My grandmother died almost four years ago, at the hands of Alzheimer's disease. For the last couple of years of her life, she wasn't sure who she was, never mind what size she wore. It really had me re-examine what is important in life.

    (I'll bet it's no coincidence that, at the time of her death, I was down 17 pounds on Weight Watchers, and after she died, I gained it all back and then some, all of which I still carry around.) (Not that that makes it okay.)

  7. I will never weigh the 135 lbs that my childhood doctor said I should weigh. My body gets SICK when I go down below 155lbs. I did it, down to 150 from 205 in 2 years. Anyone can. What you do is be crew #2 of a 2-person, 32' boat. For those last pesky 15 lbs, cross from Nayarit, Mexico to Hilo, HI. 29 days.

    I'm up to 190 lbs. again. Mostly due to the fact that I was wiped out in Hilo while riding my bicycle. It's AMAZING how much weight you gain when you can't move your hip or bend your knee.

    I'm looking two lose 20 lbs, and that's it. I will never be a model, but my body seems happiest around 160-170 lbs. That's what we should really strive for. Where is your body happiest? The weight have you been the longest is usually a good clue.

  8. you raise an excellent point. margaret cho had a bit in her act once about how much more we could accomplish if we (meaning women, mainly) stopped focusing so much of our energies on our appearance, and on hating ourselves for how we look.

    this is not to say that fitness is an empty goal. i just think it isn't the ONLY thing.

  9. I've been lurking here for a while and felt like I wanted to speak up on this one. My mother was the same way, very stringent with her diet. Her willpower could put all weight watchers to shame. She was a fat kid growing up and then last year was down to a size four at 52 years old. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She convinced herself that if she hadn't been dieting she would have been healthier and it wouldn't have happened to her. I disagree, but she survived, and she's much less interested in keeping her weight down now. She's more interested in being healthy and happy. So, in my mother's case, when faced with a serious illness she'd rather just stop worrying about her weight already. And I'm glad she has, it was too all-consuming for her as it is with a lot of people.

  10. Hear, hear. My random thoughts:
    Health, to Americans, has become something like religion. If you hear a woman say she was so bad last night, the next thing she's going to say is not that she yelled at her mother or insulted the store clerk or cheated on her husband, but that she ate something fattening. Every time. It's ridiculous. I don't know much about the great questions of why we're on earth, but too look hot in a miniskirt is definitely not one of them.

    That said, being unhealthy is draining of spirit and energy. Eating good foods and exercising gives me more energy for the other parts of my life. That doesn't necessarily have anything to do with being thin. I tend to be a little plump, and that's true even when I'm eating well and doing all sorts of walking and weight-lifting. It's the health, not the pounds, that should matter most.

    I have also become aware of the importance of keeping your muscles in shape. My best friend died this spring (for complicated reasons that are too difficult to go into here, but having to do with her drinking, and also a form of eating disorder). I watched her in the hospital become terribly weak very fast, partly because she had taken no exercise in quite a few years. Her muscles atrophied in no time. I could imagine all sorts of scenarios in which I might end up bed-ridden for some period of time - a car accident, some sort of minor surgery - and I don't want to have something happen when I'm already weak. I want to have a base of strength and health from which to battle any health problems I might run into.

    Anyway, I think you're asking the right questions.

  11. Interesting point you raise here. I will always struggle with my weight because (a) I'm short, so five pounds SHOW on me, and (b) I love to eat. I love to cook, I love the whole experience. My in-laws, on the other hand, haven't eaten anything "fun" in decades, honestly, and they still feel like crap. I've come to the realization that while I'll never see a size 6 again, I'm okay with that. As long as I remain healthy, I'm not going to sweat it any more.

  12. Oh girl, totally normal to think like that.

    When my brother died at 17 and I was 11. I always thought that I would die at 17 also so I really didn't give a rats ass about anything until my 18th birthday.

    Have the cake. Just have a smaller piece. Enjoy it.

  13. This is heavy stuff (pun STILL intended) and this is one of the many reasons I want to raise my kids somewhere other than the US, not that I plan on having kids, but you know what I mean. It's strange, really--fat people are much LESS tolerated overseas, but at the same time, young girls there seem to focus on how they look a lot less, and you can't knock countries that have had women as prime ministers, while the U.S. has NEVER had a woman at the top.

    So I guess what I'm saying is:

    1. Non-American cultures seem to care so much about being thin that they've come out through the looking glass; i.e., fat people are so shunned that to be thin is no more and no less than a lifestyle. It is surprisingly hard to obsess about something that you do as naturally as breathing.
    2. Regardless of whether you believe this, we could use Margaret Cho's bit from above to prove it: obviously, the women in these countries think about a lot besides their weight, and are accomplishing great things, which is evidenced by their high political placement
    3. It's true that high female political placement is also a result of their specific country's analogy, which is probably the worst part in all this: American women obsess more, but it hasn't gotten us JACK SHIT! The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that has NOT had a woman at the top!
    4. So in this country we obsess over our weight, don't get thinner, don't get better jobs or more respect, partly because our brain cells are wasted on food and partly because we obviously aren't demanding respect, and we still die of cancer.

    I didn't mean to make this so heavy at the end. What I'm saying is, this is why veganism works for me. Once you pick a diet and you make the mental commitment, it falls away to the back of your head, somehow, and you don't think about it anymore. You know what you can and can't eat, and you forget about everything else. I keep track of what I eat so that I get the right number of vitamins, but I don't count calories or fat, and I can't tell you how freeing that is. It also may be true that the political aspect of a diet like veganism overshadows the food obsession part, which may be a little fucked up, but it works.

    Regardless, not to point out the obvious, but Margaret Cho said, "The first thing you lose on a diet is brain mass," and she's right. If you really wanted to get radical, you could stop blogging about DIETING and start blogging about EXCERCISE AND GOOD FOOD. (Not that exploration of these issues isn't super-important--it is. But maybe a different focus?)

  14. It's kinda been said already, but...
    If you eat healthy and lead an active life, doesn't that mean you feel better? Mentally, physically, etc.
    And of course by "you" I mean "one".
    I think obsessing about the numbers isn't a good thing. But if you do what you're supposed to the numbers will fall anyway.
    I just know that after a few days of eating crap and drinking crap, I pretty much feel like crap.

    I'm not at a healthy weight, nor do I eat well or exercise. So I've been debating these same things...and I think ultimately it's not about living my life in a size 8, it's about not being sick all the time, not being tired, and not feeling guilty about having two martinis and some pizza rolls for dinner.

    I'm long winded..but, I am encouraged by your public stuggles with the same things I struggle with. I admire you. :)

  15. Oh, I think about this every once in a while, too. I'm trying to find a nice balance - because if I let my weight go completely out of control, I'm not as happy with how I look and therefore I don't enjoy life as much as I should. Then again, if I'm a crazy dieter-girl, I REALLY don't enjoy life as much as I should.

    Right now, I'm obsessively exercising - but for a goal (a half-marathon - eek! I couldn't even run a mile when I started) and with some peer pressure (two other friends are doing it, too, and I CAN'T be the ONE that quits) - and I'm really feeling a sense of accomplishment and purpose right now. The best thing is that I'm pretty much eating whatever the hell I please in the meantime, and still losing a pound per week.

    Wow. This is a comment-novel if I've ever seen one.

  16. K,

    I remember those very touching posts about your mom in her last weeks. How, underweight from chemo, she finally let herself eat the whipped cream. It's a haunting image, and no wonder that you are struggling with these questions.

    She chose a relationship with her body that was demanding and sounds a little extreme. You are blessed with more self acceptance than she was able to find in life. This is a good thing.

    Just remember that her choices can guide you in deciding how to live, but that you don't have to be like her. If you do decide you want to lose weight, you do not have to take on her lifestyle. You can do less. You can enjoy more. You can be kinder to yourself.

    You say you don't like to exercise...but girl, I've seen you dance! My point is that it doesn't have to be total deprivation and some rigorous workout regime.

    It can be small changes in diet that add up over time, and just moving your body in ways you like that don't feel like a punishment.

    You sound overwhelmed to me. Overwhelmed with all the info out there on how to eat, how to exercise, how to lose weight. But mostly overwhelmed with what it might mean for you to commit to one course of action over another. I think there's real self knowledge to be revealed in pomdering that question and good for you for asking! Not surprised that stuff is coming up. Not surprised that at this juncture you are devoting real energy to the question "who am I going to be?"

    It's courageous and inspriring.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  17. I try to live my life in the way that I will find most fulfilling and bring me the most happiness regardless of whether I would die tomorrow or live past 100. For me it’s kind of the same thing now. The last time I remember being obsessed in an unhealthy way with food and my body was in high school, and at some point I figured out I was not doing it right and if I wasn’t going to do it right it was better to do nothing at all because that made less obsessive and I hated myself less. Somehow around last October, tangible (high cholesterol score) and intangible forces came together and made me realize that I was not so happy or healthy as maybe I liked to think I was. Sure, I didn’t eat fast food or drink soda and I walked a few miles just about every day, but I was still managing to carry around at least 60 extra pounds and I had high cholesterol. Obviously I was not doing everything right. So I took the time to figure out how to do it the right way and I got started, and now that I’ve been stalled half way to my supposed “goal” weight I find I don’t worry about it too much. I’ve made lasting changes to my behavior and lifestyle that I find easy to maintain, and I’m motivated to exercise regularly and eat well most of the time because I feel healthier and happier for it. If I do this for the rest of my life and find all I can do is maintain a 30 pound loss and feel relatively healthy and fit and I never lose those other 30 ponds, well I guess it was never meant to be. And if those 30 ponds finally decide to hit the road with their friends, great! I think this turnabout in my mind-body relationship is in no small part due to taking up yoga, I don’t know if it’s for everyone but it’s changed me in unexpected and welcome ways.

    Sorry about the uber-long comment, I just find these topics so easy to ramble on about!

  18. as someone who has always been petite and never had weight issues, i have to tell you that i think (mho) that it doesn't matter what society says you should look like. as long as you are comfortable in your own skin, and are healthy, that is beautiful

  19. My grandma was shaped like an apple (just like me), and lived to be 92, with not one single day of high blood pressure.

    She cooked everything with real butter, but she also drank water all day long and took a brisk walk every day.

    I think about that a lot when I'm on my exercise bike...

  20. Really it's about mortality... who can say how long we have left, if a giant jar of jam is destined to fall from a high rise balcony and wipe you out in a strawberry puddle, repleat with squelching thud...

    On this subject I can speak...
    Live each day as though it is your last.
    Dance like nobody is watching.
    Love like it's the first time.

    Therefore: If huge quantities of cake bring you joy then indulge because tomorrow you could be choking on a pen lid!

  21. Being healthy and happy is important. Being skinny or even thin is NOT. Stop torturing yourself and be happy. We all have the right to be happy.

  22. Cake, please. What? You're all out? What are you telling me, my choice is "or death?"


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