Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What is Normal?

Let's do a little pretend game:

You have complicated musculo-skeletal issues.

Here's what you can't do:

-A walking meditation: making minute changes to your gait so that you can be fully tuned in to your body as it moves for 5 minutes will leave you with severe hip pain for 5 days.

-Ride a bike: your knee is so out of alignment that doing so would deteriorate the joint even more rather than build muscle and prevent further deterioration. Not to mention how bike riding would throw out your back.

-Get a knee replacement: your back is too fragile to do rehab on a stationary bike and the stress on your opposite hip during the recovery period would be more than it could take.

-Walk fast: your knee wouldn't react well (see above), the discs in your lower spine would send sciatica pains through your lower back and your hip would exhibit pain that your surgeon has so far been unable to diagnose.

Swim: both your back and your hip would give you dangerous pain signals, that, if ignored could lead to much worse pain (and perhaps surgery).

-Have a colonscopy: moving the probe through a section of your body in close proximity to the lower spine would cause a full-blown case of bulging disc, leaving you in the best case scenario with nerve damage down your leg and in the worse case scenario with a ruptured disc.

- Wear even slightly high heels. Ah, come on, it won't hurt. And you'll barely stand. After all it's a party and most of the time you'll be sitting talking with friends...Um no, just a few minutes and your hip, your knee and your back will remind you of the mistake you made for days to come--and that's if your joints let you off easy. A disc in your back might decide to rupture. Just for fun. So no, you can't wear high heels. Ever.

The funny thing is, you look normal most of the time to the rest of the world. Yet you live a life of musculo-skeletal hypervigilance. Stop being vigilant for a few minutes and ka-pow!--pain for days, the possibility of rupturing a disc, dislocating your hip, more surgery...

Hypervigilance is normal for you. You couldn't keep going without it and even with it, you're never sure what tomorrow will bring. Pretty crazy, right? Does this sound like a "normal" life to you?

Now what does this have to do with weight?

I was reading the blog of a weight loss maintainer recently (I won't go into details because I'm really not trying to call anyone out or criticize how hard this blogger and the blog's readership have worked to lose and maintain their weight loss) and the comments section was full of people talking about how "normal" it is to count every single calorie you ingest, to exercise faithfully and vigorously almost every day of the week, to weigh all your food and to NEVER deviate from the straight and narrow because even slacking off for a day or two can spell the beginning of the end and a return to morbid obesity in the time it takes to say "it's perfectly normal to weigh, count, always keep in mind, never forget, calculate the calories, run/lift weights/do the elliptical for an hour a day without fail, refuse to go out with your friends because eating in a restaurant is dangerous, etc., etc.".

In my opinion, neither the life of the musculo-skeletal basket case nor the life of the weight loss maintainer is normal. These two people have one thing in common: the abnormal lengths they must go to to maintain an appearance that seems "normal" to the outside world.


  1. "how "normal" it is to count every single calorie you ingest, to exercise faithfully and vigorously almost every day of the week, to weigh all your food and to NEVER deviate from the straight and narrow" - Amen, sister!

    I decided some time back that this degree of asceticism is SO not worth it! Therefore I stay fat (if not-so-happy ;-)

  2. you are correct..it's our new normal. Maybe we could look at it as a long term illness...we don't want the pain that comes with the morbid obesity..anymore than an alcoholic needs to watch it to not take another drink or a drug addict can never use. Unfortunately for us, this is our new normal. accept it or relapse. I have accepted it.

  3. Thanks, Val!

    Christine, I agree with the way you put it. Sometimes we have to accept what's "normal" for us. We just can't say it's "normal" in a more general sense, just for the person who now lives this way.

  4. Hormone replacement therapy (leptin) would, I believe, allow many reduced (formerly obese) people to live as-close-to-possible "normal" lives (free of obsession, hunger, etc.) without extreme exercise routines or compulsive calorie counting, just like people who never became extremely fat. Obesity is often the result of an endocrine disorder, most definitely not a problem of sloth or gluttony. It is a genetic vulnerability that arises for some folks in combination with an inability to tolerate a diet high in carbohydrates. (Leads to insulin resistance and, in many cases, diabetes.) Problem is: you don't know you have it until it's too late to fix AND the medical profession is totally ignorant and fat biased. *sigh* Treatment is available (for former fatties) but withheld because we are supposed to suffer forever for our previous "sins"...Christine's analogy to alcoholism is well meaning, I have no doubt, but we don't give genetically vulnerable children alcohol and expect them to remain sober...

  5. Gee, NewMe, you just wrote a post on why we're so sympatico. I knew there was a medical reason I liked you, not just 'cause you're sassy, wry, and a sterling good egg!

  6. In order to retain my teeth, I have to brush them daily (twice!). In order to not be evicted, and to keep my internet working I need to have a job that I don't like. Is that normal? Maybe yes, maybe no.

    People who lose weight and maintain it are definitely not normal. So are people who weigh their foods or avoid social activities where food is in abundance.

    Sometimes, two abnormals can make a right.

  7. Okay, the first thing I thought when you wrote the word 'maintainer' was, 'dear lord I hope this isn't me she's talking about!' I let out a big sigh when I read about the restaurants cause I am not one to turn down a good meal!
    I am not as diligent as I used to be but am always conscious of portion sizes and I admit that I do still count out servings. For me, that is normal. But refusing to go out with friends to a restaurant? I think some of these behaviors revolve around fear. An inner turmoil of sorts, maybe? For some people - especially those who have beaten the odds and maintained for a long time - they define who they are based on that and that alone. I'm familiar with a few people like this. It becomes their identity. I'm glad you posted on this. It's a good reminder that there is more to living than maintaining.

  8. Great post. As a former compulsive dieter and knee arthritis sufferer, I can relate.