Skinny Fat

In my head, there are two me’s. One is younger and skinny—another me who wants to lose a few pounds—fifteen pounds, to be exact.

Among my American friends, I don’t stand out. I am of average weight for my height. You can see a bulging stomach when I wear a bikini. Other than that, I am happy with my shape.

The first time I put on some 20 pounds was my freshman year in college. At the school cafeterias, I discovered new food that we didn’t have at home and ate many cheese stuffed pasta shells. Cramming for homework and exams, I drank hot chocolate every night before going to bed. Even my roommate started munching on Gold Fish and ramen between meals with me. As a freshman, I did a lot more eating.

I lost all that weight when I spent the following summer at home.

The second time I gained 20 pounds or so again in a short time was when I started taking Zyprexa for schizophrenia. During mealtimes, I felt hungrier and didn’t have any sense of fullness, no matter how much I ate. This kind of hunger was a new sensation for me. I found myself swallowing food without taking a breath. When I couldn’t fit into the clothing I loved, I blamed it on the medication.

When I took a two-year gap in Taipei, I ate as the locals did, and my weight went down gradually without any special effort. I no longer could point to my medication as the only reason for the additional weight. I realized my diet played a determinant role and could be changed while being on medication.

I could also see that among my Taiwanese relatives and friends, I appeared to be bigger. I couldn’t attribute my larger build to my bone structure. Photographs from my teenage years and early twenties showed that I was the same size as them.

A short time after returning to Boston, I got all the weight back and some more.

About six months ago, I heard about my friend Tim’s success story in getting healthier (not needing to take new medications that he was told he might have to), lighter (at his college weight for the first time since college), and happier. I saw him virtually and saw his transformation. I was intrigued. On and off, I had tried to lose weight half-heartedly by skipping a meal one day or eating more salad another day, but there was no method.

“What did you do?” I asked him. His secret sauce: he changed his eating habits —no crazy exercise routine, not starving nor living on salad.

“What did you eat?” Tim explained intermittent fasting (IF), low carb/high protein diet, insulin resistance, burning fat vs. sugar, counting energy vs. calories. He focused on his triglyceride level (the amount of a type of fat (lipid) found in the blood).

He said I could be “skinny fat.” I looked okay, but it was misleading. My weight went up gradually every year. My triglyceride was out of the normal range. It was a sign that I was not taking care of my body, and sooner or later, I would become unhealthy. By then, it might be too late to do something about it. Beyond looking at the number on the scale, he motivated me to examine what I ate to be healthier and better for my body.

Tim became my health and diet coach. For three months, he monitored what I ate. In the beginning, we talked in the morning every day. There was no harsh judgment, but just discussing and dissecting my food choices from the day before and connecting them to my body’s reaction. He also told me, our taste in food was learned. The journey to healthy eating was fun with a friend and coach.

To me, intermittent fasting meant cutting out snacks and stopping eating after dinner. I learned to read the nutrition labels to avoid as much sugar as possible. (Four grams of sugar is about one teaspoon.) Luckily, I didn’t have a sweet tooth, so I skipped most desserts and alcohol. I stopped drinking juice from having at least two to three glasses a day, thinking it was healthy. The hardest thing for me to reduce was carbs. (Carbs are not something our body naturally needs.) I loved bread, pasta, and rice. To substitute that craving, I enjoyed meat and fish. Tim’s approach was also kind and encouraged treats of carbs from time to time. “It’s okay. You have good days and treat days! Whatever you do, you want it to be sustainable. It’s a lifestyle change!”

I found it effective to say to myself silently: let my body use the fat and energy it has already; give it a break before asking my body to do more work, i.e., processing and digesting food; I live in an abundant society and shouldn’t consume everything in sight! I added food to my minimalist mindset which could coexist as being a foodie.

Three months later, I lost ten stubborn pounds without frustration and struggle but just tweaking when and what I ate. My intention, eating better, translated to result. Tim’s method worked well for me. He focused on my understanding and reasoning of how my body reacted. I happily ordered burgers without buns.

Now I am working on keeping the ten pounds off and taking five more off as a bonus on my own. I want to be healthier and not wait until my body breaks and needs intervention, i.e., medications. I no longer think being lighter and healthier was a privilege only for the young.

I am amazed at how complex and adaptive my human body is. I hope to be more mindful of what I ask it to do.

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