Weight Exceeded

Like many, many, many American women in their thirties, I struggle with weight management. Unlike most American women in their thirties, I have no earthly idea how to get control of what has become the strange roller-coaster of my body. The reason for this is my health issues, which most know about, but if you don’t, have yourself a read. Basically, I can’t just run out and do a bunch of cardio and/or start lifting weights. What I eat is even a little bit off the table for discussion, because I’ve found that in periods of more intense pain or stress (which is a lot) I get cravings that rival the ones I had while pregnant, and they seem to be linked to something my body actually needs. While I can curb some of that within reason, generally my diet is not a battle I can fight and win. At the very least restrictive portions are a problem, and sometimes simple preparation is the problem. So I find myself often stuck between a rock and a hard place.

But lately I have been looking at photos taken of me and feeling not just revulsion at my weight gain but serious shock. Several times I haven’t recognized myself. Shopping for our vacation had already informed me I was going up one, sometimes two sizes; the photos, however, were very hard to take.

What makes this extra hard was that just a few years ago I was actually losing weight and at a good clip–but that what I”d been doing at that time to lose weight ended up being a mistake and part of why I have such a hard time working out now. Now as I say, determination a fire in my gut, that I want to lose weight, I must acknowledge that I really have no idea how to do it. Many days the elliptical machine is too much strain for my hips. “A long time” to work out is twenty minutes. In fact, that’s really, really long. Generally it’s best I stick to ten minutes at a time. “Very fast” on a machine is 2.1 miles per hour. Tonight I got on the elliptical (so far so good) and eventually was able to go from no resistance to setting three. When I bike I can go a bit longer, but again, I need to be careful.

Harder even than seeing photos that shock me is accepting that this is where I am, that I must be very, very careful when I work out, and that I don’t know when if ever this will change–getting better or getting worse. In general I just try not to think about it, but that of course doesn’t work. It’s not just photos. It’s reflections in department stores or the shirt that now looks horrible or the roll of fat resting on my thigh as I sit down.

What makes this extra bittersweet is that I have not ever felt good about my weight, even when it was okay. When I was in high school I looked at photos of myself and felt sick. Now I look at them and marvel and how slender I was. Photos of my honeymoon made me startle because I didn’t know I’d gotten that heavy. Now I yearn to be such a weight. On and on it goes. And I hate it. I want to love my looks now, not from the past. But it’s a difficult thing to do. I don’t even want to log on to Wii Fit anymore because it will try to weigh me then be passive aggressive about the fact that I’ve gained. I really don’t need a fucking computer to nag at me. I’m doing enough of that on my own.

And so I’m going to do something that makes me feel slightly sick and in all honesty makes me tear up as I think of doing it. I’m going to post the photo that took me out of my writing mode and put me on the elliptical machine for thirty minutes (with several breaks) so I could work off 100 calories according to the machine. I’m going to post it because it’s who I am. It’s the body I’m in. It’s the body that tortures me, but it’s also the body that houses me. If you like me as a person or like what I write, this is the body that gives you that. And I know that most people don’t care about how I look, or think I look fine, so I’m going to try to be one of those people too.

That’s me at South Padre Island a few weeks ago, visiting my sister in Texas. Me in a bathing suit, in fact. I’m smiling, but to be honest, it was a bit forced. I didn’t feel well, and I had hurt even before we left, and by the time we did leave I was almost crying, my arm hurt so bad, and we had to stop at Walmart for me to buy things to relieve the pain. I should have rented a chair or bought one at Walmart, but I was being frugal and not really thinking. I was also, I admit, very self-conscious because all the twenty-somethings were sitting next to me, none of them so fragile they can’t even sit at a beach, and even the ones who thought they were “fat” not even close to my weight.

What I do like about the photo, actually, is that I’m sitting up straight. That’s really good, because it means all this PT and chiro is doing something. It’s especially amazing given how fucked my arms were at that moment.

Okay, also, I’ll say that yeah, I’ve reached the plus-size woman category for sure, but I look pleasantly round at least, not like a stuffed sausage. Let me tell you, that’s hard. Nobody thinks six feet tall women are overweight. I have a devil of a time finding clothes. I literally teared up at the Dallas outlet mall in the Lane Bryant store when I saw all their tall clothing. The salesladies noticed and after they teared up too, they looked up LB outlets closer to me. (Turns out there’s one in Williamsburg. Caryle, we are so going.) But in this photo, despite my being not the shape I think I should be or am in my head, I don’t exactly inspire vomiting, not the way I think.

What I have to learn to accept is that I am not my sisters. You should see them. They’re like models, they’re so gorgeous. One is pregnant, and she even looks elegant and graceful ready to pop. My daughter too is a gazelle, thin-boned and elegant and lithe. Everything she does is grace, even in her kid clumsiness. I have never been any of that. I’ve always been built to help my fellow Germans haul warships and laundry baskets and small children. Ironically, I can’t do any of that now. Not even the laundry baskets some days. But that’s the body I have. At my most slender I was a size 14. That’s as little as I get–even starved, I’d need that for my ribcage at least. Hips could maybe manage a ten in a concentration camp, but in any realistic settings, fourteen there too. But likely? I’ll be lucky to get back to eighteen, and sixteen would take Herculean effort my body likely can’t do.

So I shall be round. Round and roly and tall. I will hunt for clothes with the same desperation I do shoes. I will look round in photos. I will have lumpy bits unless I’m wearing Spanx. It’s who I am. I still want to lose weight or at least try to get myself better managed. I still want to strive for health. But you know what, goddamn it, I’m sick of hating my own image. I’m sick of seeing myself and thinking I look horrible.

I’m overweight. According to Wii Fit, I’m obese. I also have big feet, varicose veins like crazy, a strange chronic pain disease, and bit of an astigmatism. I also have six published novels, two novellas, three short stories, three cats, an awesome husband, an amazing daughter, a great family, and a lot of friends.

It’s a package deal, all of it adding up to the wonder and weirdness that is Heidi Cullinan. And I’m going to keep working to accept that, body and soul.




Like the image at the beginning of this post? You can buy it!

23 Comments on “Weight Exceeded

  1. This was an amazing post, Heidi. I think a lot of this is actually part of aging, when “healthy” weight becomes “that much” harder, and the resultant shock we have when we realize how we are changing. I have gained 10 lbs in the past year (much of it since xmas), and I totally relate to the idea of looking back at earlier pics and thinking “Why was I so hard on myself?” You then logically wonder, “Will I look back at pics from now and say the same thing?” YES.

    Last week, I actually weighed myself for the first time in months and it was higher, but I was not freaked. I feel like I have to know that number in order to have some idea of what to do. Having said that, I am a total weakling for food pleasure and emotional eating. I want my margarita, my cupcake etc. This summer I have to make some changes, even if little changes. I hope that will help. Weight loss of any number is pleasing.

    When I saw that photo of you – honest to God – I assumed it was an older pic and you were going to write that you were too hard on yourself back then! As I have aged, ironically there seems to be a letting go of the need to be covered up. There is this weird algorithm for choosing more fitted clothes as I age/gain weight. OY. But I have also noticed that people say “Did you lose weight?” after I have gained because my jeans now actually fit. Funny, that.

    Life is all in reverse. The more we become comfortable with who we are, the more our bodies start to revolt. You are super smart and I have confidence that you will figure out how to work through this web of problems. Your spirit is sexy and driven.

    So is mine, maybe! But that did not stop me from saying to my roommate this week: “FUCK ME I have become “middle aged!””

    • Oh, hugs at you, honey. I think you’re totally right. And yeah, I’m with you on the wanting certain food pleasures. When I’m feeling lousy, I really don’t see why I should add one more misery to it all.

      I like the idea that I have a sexy and driven spirit. It reminds me of how you it’s usually the people who don’t fit the Hollywood mold having affairs and wild times. It’s not necessarily the model-types who feel the sexiest. It’s just the people who do.

      Thanks, hon.

  2. Brave you!! Several short exercise breaks/day are supposed to be pretty darn good for you, so maybe you should just roll with that?

    I can relate – various health things over the past few years completely broke my exercise habit and it’s so, so, so hard to get back. I think getting weighed at the doctor’s office on Thursday might’ve been the final straw that will keep me focused this time around…

    Good luck to us both!

  3. I think you look great on the beach! What I noticed first is how nice your black suit looks against your pretty skin, the contrast. The sad thing is that most of us, whether size two or twelve or twenty are not liking ourselves, and I hope we can find peace.

    • Really, the more I sit with the picture, the more I like it. Probably need to haul this shit to therapy, but nothing like a public airing to get started.

  4. That wa a great post Heidi. I think it very brave of you to post about something so many of us struggle with. And we all think you are fabulous!

  5. I think you look fine (and I’m not just saying that.) OTOH, I’ve just lost nearly 3 stone (42 lb) over the past 8 months and I did no exercise at all. It did involve completely changing my diet and learning to cook, but it didn’t involve any reduction of portion sizes (quite the opposite – I’m now eating larger meals than I was). I’d got to the stage of despair too, where I didn’t believe I could do anything that would work, but then my sister recommended Slimming World to me and it was a godsend. So here I am recommending it to you in the hopes that it works for you too 🙂

    • That looks a lot like our Weight Watchers.

      I do poorly with prescribed things that I don’t set for myself. I don’t know why. Something about my need for control, which I would think programs would help. I’m keeping the link, though, in case my inner child decides I can try it out. Thanks, hon.

  6. Thise post brought tears to my eyes. I think you’re amazing and beautiful and so damn brave. You’re doing the best you can and that’s all anyone can do. If you feel the need to go just a little bit further, you know we’re all behind you.

  7. Oh babe. Mirror shock is never fun, and yes, extra fluffiness makes the kinds of things we’re both dealing with that much harder to manage, but I gotta say, from the way you were describing how you feel, I expected that picture to show a couple of extra bodies shoved into one bathing suit with your head stuck on top.

    That’s not at all what I see sitting on the beach. I see long legs, a sly smile, and soft curves all over. You in no wise resemble The Thing or any other mean label. To me, you most closely resemble my very dear, very gorgeous, and very brilliant friend, who I’d totally do at the drop of a hat. If I had the patience to wait my turn in line behind all the other people who’d be elbowing their way past me 😉

    Exercise in small spurts is best to be gentle with yourself. I admire your discipline and dedication to making that goal – I’m not even there yet and it frustrates the hell out of me. As far as quantity/quality of food, well, there’s a lot going on in there with different medications that will affect your metabolism as well as your appetite, and it’s a full-time job just managing to NOT gain weight amidst all that stuff, much less actually lose any. Last I checked, you’ve already got a couple of full-time jobs. Would probably help a wee bit if you weren’t such a good cook, but there you go. The real issue is whether or not the “extra” weight that encourages you to listen to societal normative bullshit, thereby making you judgmental and unhappy with your body, is serving you. If it’s making your life harder, then your diet has to become something you manage just as you manage your meds and exercise. If it’s not, then fuck it. You’re already loved, valued, and hot.

    • *hugs hugs hugs* Thanks, hon.

      Yeah, the meds don’t help a fucking thing. Like, if I have to take a Vicodin in the middle of the night, there WILL be a bowl of cereal with it, at least, or I get sick. That helps nothing.

      I really do think most of this is in my head, which was the motivation for the post. I have a long history of shining a flashlight on monsters to make them go away. So far this is working in spades.

      • All the YAY to starstruck monsters! Stephen joined WeightWatchers this week to do it with me, which helps a lot, and I’ve been reading up on Demand Resistance, which has also been shining some light on my need to Rebel Against All The Things.

  8. Heidi,

    Most women past a certain age struggle with their weight and I for one know the frustration of standing in front of a mirror and wondering when in hell that extra roll of fat just appeared! It’s not like we’re in a profession where excercise is the key to success. All we need is our wild imagination and we’re off and running.

    A few years ago my boss read this book and lost a ton of weight. He swore I could do it as well, even without excercise. To humor the man I read the damn thing and tried it for 6 weeks. I lost 2 dress sizes, ate as much as I wanted, and didn’t even go near a gym. I attach the Amazon buy link to the book. It’s nothing like weight watchers. You can plan your own meals and eat mountains of food so long as you are eating what they recommend. It’s worth reading…


    And for whatever it’s worth. You are beautiful, just the way you are, but I know that physically you’d feel better if you lost a few pounds.

    On the classes you’re offering-I’d love to take a class but this one isn’t for me. I’ll check back for your next course.


  9. I should have expected the beauty on the beach, but didn’t because someone ::glances sideways:: had primed me to expect something else.

    You look fabulous. Seriously. Absolutely beautiful.

    I think the exercising in little bits is perfect (need to consider that myself, hello!). I also think accepting yourself in all your quirkiness, physical, emotional and mental, is important. I’ve gained 20 lbs. since Reno and I’ve only just recently understood that the only way I’m going to lose those 20 lbs.is if I make losing them my entire focus…but if I do that, I’ll stop writing, and that’s not a not a sacrifice I’m willing to make. So where I am is where I am. (And it’s where I’ve been for the last 3-4 years, so it’s stable…)

    I know I run into trouble the minute I say to myself, “I can’t have that.” I do much better when I have permission to have whatever I want, so long as I really want or need it. (Thinking of the cereal/Vicodin example.)

  10. I would kill to be your size. Seriously. You look beautiful. You’re wearing a bathing suit (a WHAT??) and sitting on the ground! Things I gave up years ago. Be easier on yourself–you are dealing with so many things, both wonderful and awful, and something has to give, and it mustn’t be you! I know what you mean about the control issue: I’ve never had any luck on standardized programs–the only time I’ve ever lost weight was when I stopped thinking about ANYTHING else and just focused on food all the time. So not an option! Do what you can, and be what you are, and reach for the stars, and know that your people love you and that’s what’s important.

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