Sunday, May 17, 2009

Clothes Don't Make The Man

If you look at my Facebook page, you will find the quote “90% of my wardrobe is aspirational.”

Trust me when I say it was an expression of pure frustration that I blurted out to my wife one night as I was tipping the scales and no longer fitting into any of my usual shtunky, dumpy fat clothes.

Ever since I was a little boy, shopping for something nice to wear has always been a bit of a challenge.

While others would enjoy buying new clothes for school, I always seemed to come away from the experience traumatized. Every time I would go shopping with my mom, she would hand me piles of clothes and march me into the dressing room. You can imagine the embarrassment of exiting that little room with one or two items that fit.

After years of this, I came to look at shopping for clothes as my own personal version of water boarding. I became resigned to settling for whatever limited choices I could find that were available in my ever expanding size.

These days, as I have been navigating the downward slope, I have finally begun to find some excitement in what I wear.

You see, over the years I have assembled quite a wardrobe of nicer clothes that I purchased on a whim with the hope that one day I would actually squeeze into that 2X shirt instead of the 4X size I was wearing when I bought it.

I call this silliness aspirational shopping.

Yes, it sounds crazy, but when you are a Big and Tall customer and you see something that vaguely looks nice – dare I say "stylish" - you’ll plop down your credit card even if you can’t fit into it.

You do so, because as a general rule, most of what you find on the racks at these stores is way beyond pitiful. Beyond beyond, actually. It’s as though there isn’t a fat fashion designer in the entire world.

You get so desperate for something decent that when you see stuff you like, you buy it hoping that you will finally get your act together and lose the weight just so you can fit into something nice.

Now intentionally assembling an “aspirational” wardrobe is tremendously stupid if you are hoping it will serve as some sort of impetus to get you off your ass and start seriously dieting.

Trust me when I say it doesn’t work. Save yourself the hundreds if not thousands of dollars now.

Only now am I finally fitting into purchases that I made more than 10 years ago. And I am very much enjoying my new wardrobe. But there is a catch. I am also feeling a bit like a fat version of Benjamin Button. Pants, belts and shirts that are tight one week are like a big clown suit a week or two later.

As I have become leaner and leaner, I have grown out of entire portions of my wardrobe.

For weeks, I have been tossing things I can no longer wear onto a pile in my closet. This week, that mountain of discarded clothes grew beyond control and I forced myself to put all of it into a giant box.

As I was packing away this baggage from my larger past, a voice deep within kicked into high gear.

“Steve, are you really going to give this stuff to Goodwill? What happens if you gain your weight back? What will you wear?”

When you are big, no matter how well your diet is going – no matter how much weight you have lost, you live in constant fear of relapse.

I am a weight worrywart at heart. Given the yo-yo of my dieting life, I just can’t help it.

My cousin’s father had a saying that she has framed in her kitchen: “today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” In a nutshell, that captures my neurosis perfectly.

Once I hit a weight loss groove like this, it’s my nature to worry as I wonder when the other shoe will drop. Because in the past, when that shoe drops, it drops hard.

The difference for me now is the recognition that diets end. But when you are changing your life while also trying to keep your family on a new path, the commitment must be forever.

A few weeks back while watching The Biggest Loser, the contestants were forced into a challenge where they had to run over these huge dirt hills while dragging heavy sand bags representing all the weight they had lost.

So if a woman shed 150 pounds, she had to carry 150 pounds of weight in these sacks thru the challenge, dropping some of her bags only after she hit certain course markers.

At the finish line, the contestants were forced to heave their remaining weight sacks over a steep cliff.

It was a powerful moment as these much thinner contestants triumphantly threw their “fat” off the mountain.

Now it doesn’t take Dr. Freud to figure out the symbolism of such a bold act, so why do I feel so challenged by getting rid of a bunch of clothes now 8 sizes too big?

For years, whenever I lost weight, I never got rid of the old sizes. I always kept them on hand as a safety net for the inevitable day when I gained it back.

So now I have this huge overflowing box sitting in my room and I have been torturing myself with this question of whether to keep the clothes, God forbid my best dieting intentions get swallowed whole along with a few hundred pizzas.

I am who I am, and now the decision has been made. Today, the box is leaving the house. I can’t shake my past but I sure can give some of it to Goodwill.

The dieter’s roller coaster takes such a terrible toll on your psyche when you have lived your life resigned to an existence you genuinely don’t desire.

To me, the act of sending the box to charity is just as important and just as bold as those contestants throwing their fat off the cliff.

For the first time, I am saying to myself “it’s not coming back.” I find it much more insidious and even dangerous knowing that my emergency fat suit is tucked away on a hanger just waiting for my return.

I know I can’t afford to have those clothes in my life anymore.

Now if you know me, you may know I am a pack rat. I keep everything. Every closet in my house – upstairs and downstairs – is filled to the rafters with crap I can’t wear. Woefully out of fashion, I am sure somewhere in the house is some husky sized bell-bottoms from the 70s. It’s truly that bad.

My pack rat mentality goes well beyond lunacy, but it is perhaps the surest sign that I have lived my life in perpetual hope that one day I would be able to correct my behavior and set a new course.

And I truly believe for the first time in my life, I am going to be able to stick to this life change. Why? Because I am eating my way thin for the right reasons instead of starving myself with fad liquid diets.

As I have been rummaging through row upon row of hangers in my closet trying to discover what still fits, it really is amazing how much your clothes tell you about your life.

Forget that I have no fashion sense.

That is either a given or a true restriction of shopping at Rochester’s Big & Tall.

But as I was getting rid of my jumbo sized pants, I began pulling hanger after hanger off the racks. To me, the sheer number of pants I had in those sizes meant I had been in that weight zone for years.

As I moved down from size to size, I could tell that I put that weight on quickly because I only had a one or two pairs of those smaller sizes.

I am currently very close to a plateau size that is almost 10 inches smaller than where I began my journey.

What do I mean by plateau size?

I mean that as I hit this new level, it’s the mother lode of clothes from the early to mid 90s. I must have been that size for years and years judging by the number of pants I have waiting for me.

Fitting into clothes I purchased in the 90s and beyond is like stepping into a time machine.

This week I literally had to scrape a huge layer of dust off a suit that had been hanging in my closet for almost 13 years. It was a suit I bought around the time I lost a bunch of weight for my wedding. When I bought this particular two-piece, I had just been promoted and wanted to wear more dignified duds.

To me, the clothes tell a story of a distant past.

So as I once again fit into these old friends, I am transported to another time in my life when I am sure I was just as committed to weight loss and keeping it off permanently as I am today.

You all know that I have always yearned to be thinner and my collection of clothes is also a vivid reminder of how that commitment can fade.

I probably only wore that suit a few times before it no longer fit and the irony now is that I may only be able to wear it a few times more before it becomes a baggy shell.

I have far too many memories of growing out of clothes as I moved up the scale, but this is really one of the rare times I can recall the process in reverse. And that is as exhilarating as it is foreign.

Right now everything old is new again.

My friends think I have a whole new wardrobe. Little do they know I spent the money years ago. In this economy, it’s the kind of shopping I like most.

For years and years, my wife and I had a code word for fat people. Whenever we would see someone obscenely obese, we would whisper “truth” to each other.

It was an acknowledgement that said basically, “Yes, Steve, you are fat, but look at him. You are nowhere near as fat as that guy over there. Truth.” Well, I am finally getting rid of my “truth” clothes.

I want to lose another 100 pounds. My doctor thinks that’s ambitious but we will see. He says go for what is maintainable, not what is attainable. In a few more weeks, I should be half way to my goal.

I know I still have a long, long way to go, but I look forward to the day when I can shop in any clothing store I want.

As proud as I am with all the success we have enjoyed, for me the true measure of my life change will be when Rochester is no longer my clothes store, he’s just Jack Benny’s butler.

 Copyright, Steve Elzer, 2009
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Do You Want To Know A Secret?: A Special Mother's Day Message

(In celebration of Mother's Day, Amy has written this week's Elzer Family Update. This is my wife's first post and I love her as much as I love her unique perspective on our diet. There is no question in my mind that without Amy's passion and desire for our success and her endless devotion and support, we would all have quit this program on Day 4 or 5. On this special day where we honor the family matriarch, I thank Amy for holding my hand during this difficult journey and I send all my love to my best friend and soulmate. The photo above is a tribute to Amy and her mother, Mary. -- Happy Mother's Day!!!! )

“What’s your secret?” that’s something Steve and I have been hearing a lot lately.

It’s a question that always gives me pause.

I have to think about it each time it comes up in conversation. Is it the diet, is it the increased exercise, or are the planets in just the right alignment?

Like Steve, I have been heavy from childhood and I have tried numerous diets. So what is so different this time around?

Let me be clear about this; Steve had an epiphany, I did not. He was in pain for weeks. Pain, that the kids and I could not understand, suffering that we could not help him with. He lay in that bed upstairs, in agony, examining and re-examining his life and his choices. You all know what he decided to do, but how in the heck did we become involved?

When I said those fateful words in the doctor’s office that day, “okay, we’ll all do it!” I had no idea then what it would mean. Actually, I may have said it hoping Steve would reject the idea and go it alone as he had in the past.

Sure, the kids and I could stand to lose a few pounds, but I didn’t really want to diet. I didn’t really think at my age it would be easy or productive. I thought I’d have to starve myself, I thought I’d be deprived and who needs that? Rather, I had been subscribing to a “love me as I am” policy. I have a husband and children who love me as I am, what would be the point? Nope, dieting was not for me!

I decided I would just be happy the way I was!

“People come in all shapes and sizes,” I told the kids when they asked me if I thought they were fat. “You are so much more than how you look on the outside,” I would say. “You are funny and smart, you have lots of friends, you are beautiful…” I was becoming Stuart Smalley!

But my “Daily Affirmations”, weren’t helping, we were just getting bigger and bigger.

Steve was desperately afraid the kids would have the same problems we did growing up. He wanted to spare them. I wanted them to be happy, enjoy their childhood, and more than anything else not become freaked out about weight or how they looked. I wanted them to focus on being good people, having kind hearts, and improving their minds. If they decided later that they wanted to make a change, then let it be their decision, not something we forced on them.

I was frightened of giving them the message that they weren’t good enough, that we didn’t love them exactly the way they were.

So what changed?

Okay, get ready to roll your eyes and cue the sappy soundtrack! Love. Yes, you heard me, love. It was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to do this for me, I had many opportunities to change things and I didn’t. I looked at Steve, saw the pain in his eyes, found myself glancing again and again at a sink covered in diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol medicines and I realized that he couldn’t do it alone.

If we wanted Daddy around for a long, long time, we needed to make damn sure he succeeded! I stepped into the breech for him, and I dragged the kids along with me.

I can’t help but think this makes me a fraud and a phony. I did this for them, not for me, so when people tell me I look great, I say, “yeah, but have you seen Lucas and Hannah!”

I expound on how my husband is no longer on any diabetes medication and he is being weaned off his few remaining prescriptions.

Sure, I’ve lost weight, but it doesn’t mean as much to me as what everyone else has accomplished. I search the internet for recipes, not because I like to cook, (and anyone who knows me, knows that I do not like to cook) but because I need to keep it fresh for them.

Everyday I rejoice at the hurdles they overcome, or steer them in the right direction when they just can’t imagine another day without a cookie or a slice of pizza.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that I’ve lost 50 pounds. I mean I really love it! I’ll admit I did a happy dance when I fit into a size that I haven’t been in over 10 years! But I realize that’s it’s not just about me, and in the past when it has been, it hasn’t lasted. So maybe I’ve had my epiphany after all!

The “secret” of course, is not the diet or the exercise: shock, surprise, those things work.

The key is the motivation, what gets you going, what keeps you going. It can be as simple and sweet as wanting to look good in your wedding dress or as complicated and intense as not wanting to be in pain or on medication the rest of your life.

My “secret” is my family, the transformation I see in them, the joy on their faces when someone tells them they look great, the delight over looking good in a pair of skinny jeans!

Ensuring their success, guarantees my own. No, I wasn’t going to do it for me, but I would do anything for them.

I’m a Mom, it’s what I do!

 Copyright, Amy Elzer, 2009 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The 69 Pound Haircut

Top photo taken September, 2008 - Bottom Photo Taken May, 2009

If you stick to any diet long enough, you reach a certain point when people start to notice change.

Beyond those who were aware of my progress from the blog and facebook, I started to hear comments at the end of the first month.

They began as a trickle.

Acquaintances would pass me in the hall and do a double take. They noticed something, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on it.

They looked and stared for an extra second or two, and I could tell they were stumped.

Gently they would ask questions like “did you get a haircut?”

It’s interesting how people who casually know you broach the delicate topic of weight.

When dealing with biggies, the small among us really do everything possible to avoid calling attention to one’s girth. Unless you bring up the topic yourself, the conversation is generally considered taboo.

Now it doesn’t make a difference that you are a walking candidate for gastric bypass. Any conversation that involves your looks is literally and figuratively like pointing to the elephant in the room.

But when you have been on the diet teeter totter for your entire life, you come to realize that the haircut question is actually a sincere acknowledgement that people are noticing progress.

Believe me, “did you get a haircut?” is a helluva lot better than the questions you receive when you know you have been a very, very, very bad boy.

The flip side to “the haircut question” is when your friends ask whether you have “lost a few” in some pseudo reverse psychology voodoo mind trick to get you to look at yourself in the mirror.

This very different encounter normally occurs weeks into the binge that will not end when you can barely squeeze into your elastic waistband pants, your buttons are about to burst and you are about to visit the neighborhood Big & Tall because nothing seems to fit.

Yes, in my experience, the larger I would get, the more I would hear the question, “are you losing weight?”

Strange, right?

Make no mistake, I knew these inquiries were really just code for “get a grip, man.” Adults are just too polite to state the obvious. Unlike little children.

Toddlers have no button that helps them edit their etiquette. That’s why little kids are the fat guy’s sworn mortal enemy.

When you are big and you step onto a crowded elevator and see a strange 3-year-old holding mama’s hand, your blood pressure spikes and little beads of sweat start to form on your forehead.

You offer the child your most friendly smile in the hopes that the cute little shit can just hold it together and keep his trap shut for four more floors.

But every now and then you get haunted by junior who looks you dead in the eye and blurts out “mommy, that man is really fat.”

Kids are viciously cruel in the most innocent way.

When you consider what my fat brothers and sisters hear from strange kids and even their co-workers, is it any wonder that when you are living La Vida Gordo you can be very schizophrenic about your appearance.

You can pass a friend in the hall and be thinking “please don’t look at me, I’m feeling large today” while also simultaneously thinking “why haven’t you noticed how much weight I have lost.”

This constant “notice me,” “don’t notice me” can put you thru hell. It’s like you’re dieting with Sybil.

In recent weeks, the changes we have been working towards have become much more apparent to anyone who knows us.

Each member of the family has been showered with affection as friends, school mates, neighbors and colleagues see the remarkable difference in our weight.

Since the last time I blogged two weeks ago, I have dropped another 7 pounds and the grand total is now 69 pounds since January. Amy has lost another 5 pounds and she has now lost 46 pounds. The kids have dropped more than 30 pounds a piece. So at this point, you would have to be the least observant person in the world to miss the changes that have occurred in all of us.

For instance yesterday I took Lucas to get a haircut. The stylist couldn’t believe his eyes. He told me Lucas looks like a completely different person. And he also said that he believed he could see the change in my son’s outlook and confidence. I totally agree.

When we came home, I was treated to a fashion show. While I was out running errands with Lukey, Amy took Hannah to the mall to buy some new clothes.

She said she was in tears as my daughter easily slipped into jeans 4 sizes smaller than when we began this journey in January!

And Amy too receives as much wonderful support and encouragement from her friends as I do from mine.

She said that one of the school administrators was marveling over her miraculous transformation and she asked Amy if it was “OK” to talk about how far she had come.


God, when you work as hard as we have and begin to achieve your dreams, you want to scream it from the rooftops. Or, you just start a blog ☺

Of course each one of us is paralyzed with fear that we will gain our weight back.

But for now we have finally come full circle, haven’t we?

We are well beyond “did you get a haircut?” and we are now at the point where people mean it when they ask us if “we have lost a few.”

 Steve Elzer, 2009
All Rights Reserved