Skinny people die
August 24, 2012 7:16 PM   Subscribe

I have been overweight all my life, as has all of my family. I have noticed that as we age, get sick, and eventually die, between the sick and die part they get skinny! So each time I lose weight and look at myself I look like a cancer patient waiting to die and I gain it back. I've talked to a counselor who did a lot of hmmm and mmms which was too expensive to repeat. Any ideas how to fix my psyche and eventually fix my physique?
posted by msleann to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Work on getting fit, rather than getting thin. Lift weights (serious weights - don't be afraid of getting butch, it's vanishingly unlikely), get stronger, eat healthy food in moderation, and don't obsess about poundage too much.

Weight loss will follow, or it won't, and there's not THAT much you can do about it if you're already doing the other things. But you can get healthy, and feel good. And when you're in the best shape of your life, I bet you have a hard time feeling like a cancer patient.
posted by zjacreman at 7:34 PM on August 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Or, in other words, don't pay for therapy, pay for Crossfit.
posted by zjacreman at 7:37 PM on August 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

How are you losing the weight? If you are doing a starvation diet and no exercise then, yeah, you are probably going to look sickly.

And it could be purely psychological as well - when you lose weight you look at your skinnier self and subconsciously think "I look like one of my dying relatives" when in reality you may look fine.

If you can afford it, try working with a personal trainer once a week and work on getting fit and toned. You would be skinnier AND healthy looking.
posted by littlesq at 7:39 PM on August 24, 2012

If you find a physical activity you love, and do that and get stronger, you won't feel sickly. YOu will feel like you are coming alive again. In the meantime, you will probably shed some of the excess weight.
posted by bearette at 7:52 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like the "get strong" approach. You really can't go wrong with that. It'll make you healthier even if you don't lose any weight, and if you do lose weight you'll feel healthier while you're doing it.

But also your idea of "healthy" may not actually be particularly "healthy." You know? Because of your personal background and family history you may associate a certain body type with ill-health and malnutrition that could actually be a perfectly healthy body type. Almost like someone with an eating disorder can see a perfectly healthy body and think that it looks fat.
posted by mskyle at 7:58 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a similar 'thing' - not so much death, but a fear of vanishing. It took totally uncontrolled significant weight loss to get past some of it, but maintaining is coming down to 'fuck thin, I want arms like Keenan or Reznor'.

(I'm female, so it feels weird to admit that, but that's what my brain has supplied as inspiration)

It is the only thing that is stopping me regaining the weight, both in a physical sense (since I am working out and not gaining significant amounts) and a mental sense (since strong as a physical trait replaces size as a visual indicator of taking up space in the world). I still have trouble looking in the mirror sometimes, and get weirded out looking at photos of myself. I have a tendency to dress to cover it as well. I've pretty much decided not to give a fuck on both accounts though - I refuse to spend time obsessing in the mirror (yes brain, my thighs are significantly smaller than they were and don't touch where you think they should and hey, lets go check twitter) and who gives a fuck if I look fat? Seriously. I dress for my comfort and if it makes me look dumpy, I refuse to care any more. I'm focusing on how much stronger I'm getting, how those changes feel physically, rather than how they look.

It helps that I'm older now, and as much as I hate attention in public (which dropped off once I cracked about 85kgs and has since restarted) I am old enough and secure enough to have a 'fuck you, creep' response as opposed to 'oh god I hate men I'm never leaving the house'. That's almost always been a trigger for regaining weight as well.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:01 PM on August 24, 2012

I have to say that this question was an "a-ha" moment for me, because I've always struggled with my weight (crap genetics & a propensity towards sedate activities versus athletic ones as in I heart reading & theater but loathe running & sports), and one of the big hallmarks of my Dad's terminal cancer was his skinniness. For example, he had to buy his work clothes in the Brooks Brothers boys department because he was that thin and at times, it looked ike a normal hug would break him in two. So, unpacking as I type (apologies), but I think I get where you are coming from on this. All that said, I agree that the emphasis needs to be on health rather than pounds. With healthy eating and regular exercise, your weight will fluctuate based on your lifestyle. That said, with proper nutrition and a healthy amount of exercise, you should not be getting cancer thin. If you are, that points to extreme methods of dieting and unhealthy amounts of exercising. The other possibility is that your perception is off. I don't know if this would count as body dysmporphia (but I don't know why it wouldn't), but what you are seeing reflected in a mirror may not be a true picture of reality. Outside of seeing a therapist who specializes in body image issues/dymporhia and perhaps trauma, I would suggest dealing with as much hard data as possible. Granted BMI is flawed, but there is a healthy weight range for your height. If you are within it, you are probably good and if you are about 10 pounds above it, you're probably okay, too (not a doctor, blah, blah, blah). 10 pounds below the lowest possible number, however, is a huge red flag. I think hard numbers will be the biggest reality check, but finding a therapist who truly gets your issues will probably be the biggest help. Fitness doesn't look like a corpse or terminal cancer, but it sounds like what you see when you are your thinnest self may not be an accurate reflection of reality. If that's the case, the only way to fix that is counseling/therapy and even then, it might require quite a bit of work to retrain your brain to see what is actually true rather than what you fear. Good luck & thank you for asking this question. It has given me a lot to think about (in a good way).
posted by katemcd at 10:07 PM on August 24, 2012

Well, do you know, don't bother about weight. Bother about what you can do. I'm unfit, overweight and 57: I find when I'm exercising all the bad stuff retreats - asthma, high blood pressure, everything. I can't recommend Couch 2 5k enough, because when i do that, everything improves.
Couch to 5
posted by glasseyes at 10:47 PM on August 24, 2012

To counter your association between thinness and impending death, you might like to try...

- surrounding yourself with pictures of people who are your target size and look really healthy.

- having 'getting healthy' as your goal instead of 'being skinny.'

- reading up on nutrition, exercise and health, to make it harder for your brain to slip into old assumptions.

- having targets such as 'by this date I want to be lifting dumbells this weight,' or 'walk this distance in this time.' People who are about to die are getting weaker, you will be getting stronger and you will see this. Write it down. Keep a record of your progress.

What you are doing is great. Good luck!
posted by inkypinky at 2:54 AM on August 25, 2012

When you get closer to your thin 'cancer patient' weight - go shopping! If you are snappily dressed, hopefully you will realise there are ways to be thin without being unhealthy (haha ok supermodels - but I think what you want to avoid is extremes - see the post above about healthy weight range). Also if you find your thinner self is easier to fit/buy clothes for (I can't see you of course but it is certainly my experience) that might be another incentive to fight the 'cancer patient' image.

You could watch the 'biggest loser" or talk to friends who've lost a lot of weight as inspiration for people who did lose weight but didn't die of cancer.

You could also look for other signs, besides weight, to be able to tell when someone is in poor health (e.g. skintone, sleep patterns, physical strength, cardiovascular fitness etc) and so if you didn't have those, but were thin, you could feel more like you were in good health and less like you are a cancer patient.

I think for you being thin will take courage - good work on being willing to tackle it and getting as far as you have!
posted by EatMyHat at 5:19 AM on August 25, 2012

Demystify the "family curse" by finding out what actually happened to your family members' health.

Then do whatever you want to do about your own self.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:02 AM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Rushed for time and can't find a link to this study, but I've seen it on MeFi: Weight loss and gain can be very social. If your friends lose weight, you are more likely to lose weight. If your friends gain weight, you are more likely to gain weight. I think consciously spending more time with people who maintain a healthy weight and getting used to seeing them all the time will make you look more "normal" in the mirror when you move toward a healthy weight.
posted by anaelith at 7:11 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am so glad I asked this question~~it seems like so many of you have great responses, and some identify, so knowing I'm not totally nuts feels better! I am going to take all of your recommendations, get more physical and not worry about thin, but go for fit. I'm also going to research my families' thin=death problems better. Thank you all SO much!
posted by msleann at 7:33 PM on August 25, 2012

A kinda random response, but Irwin Yalom has a similar case study in Love's Executioner called "Fat Lady." Basically Betty connected her inability to lose weight to witnessing the dramatic weight loss her father experienced while dying of cancer when she was a girl. So you are definitely not alone in struggling with this psychological association between losing weight and dying.
posted by amileighs at 6:19 PM on August 27, 2012

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