Why I Finally Refused to Lose Weight to Keep a Man

Right after I first came out, I went with some friends to Fire Island, the homo party-Mecca of Long Island. At the time I weighed 185 pounds, a standard weight for my five-foot-eleven frame. Several hours into the evening, my good friend’s date pulled me aside and declared he had the hots for me. Stammering with disbelief, I reminded him that he was on a date with my friend, not me. He ignored this statement, put his hand on mine and leaned in declaring these words that I’ve carried with me ever since; “You have such a pretty face, if only you’d lose some weight.” It was my official introduction to the world of gay body images and the enormous pressure to look perfect.

While on the one hand this man was complimenting me, it was a back-handed statement that outlined the twink-versus-bear mentality that is used in the gay community to label and categorize appearances, and hence people, with dismissive ease. I politely rejected his advances, but his words resonated in my head for the rest of the night. When I woke up the next day, I immediately began limiting my food intake to orange juice and pretzels, believing that I clearly would need to lose some weight if I ever wanted a serious gay relationship.

Several weeks later, I was out at a club when a sexy man followed me to the bathroom and started chatting me up. We went home together and began what was a tumultuous two-year affair. About a week in, my new boyfriend, who was incredibly athletic, suggested we join a gym together. Remembering my Fire Island admirer’s statement, I quickly agreed. The next eighteen months I proceeded to diligently visit the gym six days a week, whittling myself down to a lithe 158 pounds. Friends and family became concerned as I was slowly wasting away, but the attention I received from my man and the boys in the bars more than made up for their worries and validated the importance of being skinny.

Reveling in the shape of my new body, I went out dancing one night with my boyfriend, where I saw a heavy-set guy tearing it up on the floor. I was so surprised by his carefree attitude that I smiled and clapped along while he boogied away. After all, I couldn’t look in the mirror without seeing a few more pounds to lose or an inch to tone, while this guy was confident in letting it all jiggle and hang out. As I stood there joyfully clapping away, a cute and fit dude dancing nearby turned to me and chuckled, “If you just want sex, fatties are the best aren’t they? You can treat ‘em like shit and they don’t care.” Disgusted, I left the floor.

A few weeks later, I learned that my boyfriend had been cheating on me for months. Rather than leaving him immediately, I somehow convinced myself that he never would have gone astray if I was in even better shape. Thus, I worked harder at the gym than before. However, as our relationship continued to deteriorate, I became exhausted keeping up with the gay-Joneses at the gym. It was too much work, and I resented denying myself the things I enjoyed in an effort to stay some horny man’s wandering eye. Thus, I started quietly sneaking junk food in private when no one was looking. It was ridiculous because I’d sup on grilled chicken and salad while we were together, but I’d hide a stash of chips or cookies that I’d inhale the second my boyfriend left the apartment. Needless to say the relationship eventually collapsed. I moved out, ate myself into gleeful oblivion, and slowly ballooned to over 225 pounds in a period of a few years.

After a while, I began seeing another guy, but when this new relationship appeared to be stuck in neutral, I asked my new love where we were headed. He then leveled me with hauntingly familiar words, stating “You have no idea how beautiful you could be if you just lost some weight, but I don’t see this going further until you do.” Devastated, I bought a treadmill online that very night.

One evening while toiling away on the equipment, I picked up my cell phone to answer a call from this current boyfriend where he proceeded to tell me, through my panting and gasps, that he was leaving the country the next day on business and wouldn’t be back for a few weeks. He suggested that when he returned we should pursue a more casual relationship by just hooking up for sex on occasion with no strings attached. I replied by stepping off the treadmill and politely telling him to kiss my fat ass.

After that, when I went online to meet people, and I was particularly cognizant of guys writing “no chubs” in their posts or letting me know up front that being overweight was a definite non-negotiable. I also began to explore parties that catered to bears or chubbies and their chasers. However, I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the idea that I had to be regulated to a label or group. That’s not to say there isn’t great empowerment in these groups, but I just personally didn’t feel like I needed to officially belong to any particular clique or cater to fetish-like admirers in order to find a partner. Thus, I kept it moving and stopped putting energy into worrying about what anyone saw me as on the outside, as eventually all beauty fades.

At last, I knew I had stumbled on the man of my dreams when out on a first date he asked me if I wanted to order dessert. When I said I couldn’t decide between two items, he ordered both of them for us to share! Many years and ice cream sundaes later, I am fully confident that letting go of the insane expectations of weight and shape have led me to a more fulfilled life. By first focusing on the value of my own inner worth, I was able to secure a relationship that was not based on my girth, which has fluctuated greatly through the years. My fabulousness, however, has not!

9 ways to lose weight by rearranging your kitchen

A kitchen makeover may be the first step to losing weight.

If you declutter your kitchen, you’re likely to snack about half as much, and if you don’t keep breakfast cereal on the kitchen counters, you may weigh about 20 pounds less than your neighbor who has it in plain view, says one of the nation’s top researchers on eating behavior.

“It’s easier to become slim by design than slim by willpower,” says Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and author of a new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life (slimbydesign.org). He also wroteMindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

For years, Wansink been on a mission: to ferret out environmental factors that push Americans, sometimes unconsciously, to eat too much.

“We’re all mindless eaters,” he says. He has found that people make more than 200 decisions about food every day, including what and when to eat, how many bites to take of different foods and whether to get seconds. And he has shown that people typically eat most of the food, about 92%, that they put on their own plate.

Wansink has been studying eating behavior for 25 years, and he and colleagues have conducted hundreds of studies on how and why people eat. When it comes to doing a kitchen makeover, he recommends:

• Move healthier foods to visible spots. Rearrange your cupboards, pantry and refrigerator so the first foods you see are the healthy ones, Wansink says.

In one study, he and colleagues asked people to move their fruits and vegetables from the crisper bins to the top shelves of their refrigerators and move the less healthy foods to the crisper. After one week, people reported consuming nearly three times more fruits and vegetables as they did the week before. “We might think we are keeping fruits and vegetables fresher longer in the crisper, but our goal is to eat them, not compost them.”

He suggests having a bowl with two or more types of fruit in plain view in the kitchen and at work. He started doing that, and now, “I eat more fruit than Tarzan.”

• Make tempting foods invisible and inconvenient. Don’t have any foods other than fruit visible in the kitchen. That means no cereal, baked goods, chips or muffins out on the counters or table, he says.

He and fellow researchers visited more than 200 kitchens in homes and photographed them extensively, including taking pictures of the dishes, refrigerator shelves, counters and snacks. They also measured the height and weight of the person who purchased the food for the house.

Among their many findings: Women who had even one box of breakfast cereal visible anywhere in the kitchen weighed an average of 21 pounds more than those who didn’t have any cereal in plain view.

• Declutter your kitchen. His research shows that cluttered kitchens prompted people to eat 44% more of their snack food than a kitchen that was organized and decluttered. This means putting away things such as the toaster, cutting board and knives. “Where a more organized kitchen may prompt self-control, a disorganized one does the opposite.”

• Make your kitchen less friendly for lounging. The more you hang out in your kitchen, the more you’ll eat, so don’t have comfy chairs, TVs, computers or tablets in the kitchen, Wansink says.

• Think twice about buying big packages of food. His research shows that people eat more from bigger packages than smaller ones. His advice: Repackage the bigger boxes into single-serving portions.

• Use smaller serving bowls and spoons. In one study, Wansink had nutrition professors serve themselves ice cream using different-sized spoons and bowls. They ate 54% more ice cream when they used bigger bowls and spoons, “and these are people who should know better,” he says.

In another study of elementary-age campers, the children ate 42% more cereal from a 24-ounce cereal bowl than they did from a 12-ounce bowl.

• Use smaller, narrower drinking glasses. His research shows that people pour themselves more in a 16-ounce glass — the typical size of many kitchen glasses — than a 12-ounce glass. Even more surprisingly, they pour more in a 12-ounce wide glass than a 12-ounce narrow glass. To consume less of high-calorie drinks, such as soda and sugary tea, use the smaller, narrower glasses, but for things such as water, use the bigger glasses, he says.

• Serve food from the counter or the stove. In another study, he found that people ate 19% less food when they served their food from bowls on the counter or stove vs. bowls on the table. “People, especially guys, tend to serve themselves again and again when the food is right in front of them.”

• Avoid doing other activities while eating. His research shows that the more people reported watching TV during dinnertime, the higher their body mass index (a number that takes into account height and weight) of both the parent and the child.

When Wansink gave moviegoers free 5-day-old stale popcorn, they ate an average of 173 calories more from a big bucket than a medium one. Complaining that the popcorn tasted horrible, they continued to eat while watching the movie, he says. “We tend to mindlessly eat while we’re doing other activities. The cue that we are finished eating is that our food is gone.”

Rethinking your kitchen can help you reach a healthy weight, Wansink says. “Slim by design is forever; slim by willpower can be wimpy and has to last a lifetime.”

(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)

9 ways to lose weight by rearranging your kitchen

A kitchen makeover may be the first step to losing weight.

If you declutter your kitchen, you’re likely to snack about half as much, and if you don’t keep breakfast cereal on the kitchen counters, you may weigh about 20 pounds less than your neighbor who has it in plain view, says one of the nation’s top researchers on eating behavior.

“It’s easier to become slim by design than slim by willpower,” says Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and author of a new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life (slimbydesign.org). He also wrote Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

For years, Wansink been on a mission: to ferret out environmental factors that push Americans, sometimes unconsciously, to eat too much.

“We’re all mindless eaters,” he says. He has found that people make more than 200 decisions about food every day, including what and when to eat, how many bites to take of different foods and whether to get seconds. And he has shown that people typically eat most of the food, about 92%, that they put on their own plate.

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Wansink has been studying eating behavior for 25 years, and he and colleagues have conducted hundreds of studies on how and why people eat. When it comes to doing a kitchen makeover, he recommends:

Move healthier foods to visible spots. Rearrange your cupboards, pantry and refrigerator so the first foods you see are the healthy ones, Wansink says.

In one study, he and colleagues asked people to move their fruits and vegetables from the crisper bins to the top shelves of their refrigerators and move the less healthy foods to the crisper. After one week, people reported consuming nearly three times more fruits and vegetables as they did the week before. “We might think we are keeping fruits and vegetables fresher longer in the crisper, but our goal is to eat them, not compost them.”

He suggests having a bowl with two or more types of fruit in plain view in the kitchen and at work. He started doing that, and now, “I eat more fruit than Tarzan.”

Make tempting foods invisible and inconvenient. Don’t have any foods other than fruit visible in the kitchen. That means no cereal, baked goods, chips or muffins out on the counters or table, he says.

He and fellow researchers visited more than 200 kitchens in homes and photographed them extensively, including taking pictures of the dishes, refrigerator shelves, counters and snacks. They also measured the height and weight of the person who purchased the food for the house.

Among their many findings: Women who had even one box of breakfast cereal visible anywhere in the kitchen weighed an average of 21 pounds more than those who didn’t have any cereal in plain view.

Declutter your kitchen. His research shows that cluttered kitchens prompted people to eat 44% more of their snack food than a kitchen that was organized and decluttered. This means putting away things such as the toaster, cutting board and knives. “Where a more organized kitchen may prompt self-control, a disorganized one does the opposite.”

Make your kitchen less friendly for lounging. The more you hang out in your kitchen, the more you’ll eat, so don’t have comfy chairs, TVs, computers or tablets in the kitchen, Wansink says.

Think twice about buying big packages of food. His research shows that people eat more from bigger packages than smaller ones. His advice: Repackage the bigger boxes into single-serving portions.

Use smaller serving bowls and spoons. In one study, Wansink had nutrition professors serve themselves ice cream using different-sized spoons and bowls. They ate 54% more ice cream when they used bigger bowls and spoons, “and these are people who should know better,” he says.

In another study of elementary-age campers, the children ate 42% more cereal from a 24-ounce cereal bowl than they did from a 12-ounce bowl.

Use smaller, narrower drinking glasses. His research shows that people pour themselves more in a 16-ounce glass — the typical size of many kitchen glasses — than a 12-ounce glass. Even more surprisingly, they pour more in a 12-ounce wide glass than a 12-ounce narrow glass. To consume less of high-calorie drinks, such as soda and sugary tea, use the smaller, narrower glasses, but for things such as water, use the bigger glasses, he says.

Serve food from the counter or the stove. In another study, he found that people ate 19% less food when they served their food from bowls on the counter or stove vs. bowls on the table. “People, especially guys, tend to serve themselves again and again when the food is right in front of them.”

Avoid doing other activities while eating. His research shows that the more people reported watching TV during dinnertime, the higher their body mass index (a number that takes into account height and weight) of both the parent and the child.

When Wansink gave moviegoers free 5-day-old stale popcorn, they ate an average of 173 calories more from a big bucket than a medium one. Complaining that the popcorn tasted horrible, they continued to eat while watching the movie, he says. “We tend to mindlessly eat while we’re doing other activities. The cue that we are finished eating is that our food is gone.”

Rethinking your kitchen can help you reach a healthy weight, Wansink says. “Slim by design is forever; slim by willpower can be wimpy and has to last a lifetime.”

How to rearrange your environment to lose weight

The design of a food label, the size of a package, the name of a restaurant item: for more than two decades, Cornell professor Brian Wansink has been studying how these little things add up to shape the decisions we make about our food — and reshape our bodies. You may remember Wansink from such classic research as “the bottomless bowls” study, which showed that people will mindlessly guzzle down soup as long as their bowls are automatically refilled, or the “bad popcorn” study, which demonstrated that we’ll gobble up stale and unpalatable food when it’s presented to us in huge quantities.

Brian Wansink. (Photo: Jason Koski.)

Over the years, Wansink has become increasingly convinced that, perhaps more than anything, we need to redesign our environments to nudge people toward healthy eating. “It’s easier to become slim by design than slim by will power,” he told Vox. “Design you change once; will power you have to do every day for the rest your life.”

With a new book out, Slim by Design, Vox spoke to him about the small changes he thinks people should make to live healthier lives and how consumers can be empowered to alter their surroundings — from restaurants to grocery stores and schools — in a way that could help us all lose weight.

Julia Belluz: What made you start looking at the impact of our surroundings on our bodies?

Brian Wansink: I have been researching in this area of how you can influence healthy eating for 25 years. We had been doing research on packaging, and found that smaller packages mean people end up eating dramatically less food. I found people would pay a premium for smaller packages. I told MM, Mars and Nibisco to make 100 calorie packs. They didn’t believe it at first, but they eventually made them, and that ended up being a huge success. Since then, I’ve been looking at what are the things in our environments that trip us up. With Slim by Design, I’m looking more broadly across society: what we can do ourselves, in our homes, our restaurants, where we shop, to be healthier.

JB: In the book, you note that most Americans eat more than 80 percent of their food within five miles of where they live, and you call for a consumer-led movement to re-engineer these spaces. Can you tell me about what this looks like?

BW: For example, we have this 100 point scorecard for lunch rooms in schools. Instead of banning chocolate milk, it gives schools points if they make white milk more convenient and attractive to drink. If there is fruit that’s provided within two feet of a cash register, they’d get another point. If they name the healthy vegetables cool names, another point. Most school lunchrooms initially only score between 20 to 30 points. These changes can be made in a weekend and cost almost nothing to do.

“The reason I’m not very sanguine about policy is that it tremendously backfires. I can guess in 1920 that they thought prohibition was going to be a great Idea.”
JB:
So consumers hold the answer to the obesity crisis?

BW: Up until now, consumers haven’t really known that they could ask a restaurant to change, or ask their workplace or school to make changes. They didn’t know what to ask. That’s been my mission for the last seven years: trying to figure out what can be done that works. If we get a restaurant to offer half-size portions, it’s not just us who benefit, it’s all the people who didn’t realize to ask for half-size portions. Then a sea change happens. To cause a transformation, we can’t do it by shaking a finger at restaurants or grocery stores. You have to do it by hitting it where it counts the most: having consumers say ‘here’s what I want.’

JB: Handing the responsibility to the individual somewhat takes this problem out of the realm of policy. You aren’t a fan of policy solutions, are you?

BW: The reason I’m not very sanguine about policy is that it tremendously backfires. I can guess in 1920 that they thought prohibition was going to be a great idea. There’s a lot of things I don’t think it would be a good idea to ask restaurants to do, that won’t make them more money, but there are a lot of things they can do that would help us eat better and they’d make more money: offering half size portions, not offering bread baskets.

What we’ve tried to do in the past is to fight the obesity crisis by asking the individual to do it: saying it’s will power and education. We  tried to become slim by willpower and then slim by policy, and that didn’t work well. What we haven’t done is engage the consumer.

JB: What are the health hazards people can change immediately?

BW: People need to make sure they have a fruit bowl within two feet of where they regularly walk in their kitchen. The second change I’d make is don’t eat lunch at your desk. Go out to lunch. Get away from the desk. You’ll not only feel happier but you’ll be less likely to overeat snacks and you’re going to enjoy things more. The third thing I’d do would be to go this website and print out the scorecard for your child’s school and give it to the food services director and principal to work on.

JB: If it’s our surroundings that count when it comes to obesity, how do you explain the individual-level differences among people in the same places: the fact that some members of a household for example have vastly different weights.

BW: It’s a good question. To understand that, we’re going to have a Slim by Design registry. We want to know what healthy weight people, who have never had a weight fluctuation, know that the rest of us don’t know. If we knew what they did differently we would have some idea of how we might want to change. So this registry invites people to come there and if they can qualify, we ask them about 100 different questions: describe your typical breakfast, what do you do when you’re hungry in the afternoon. We ask them questions and the goal is to come up with a series of answers about what slim people do that makes them thin or able to avoid food and not have these food cravings most of us have.

JB: We know obesity is a disease that disproportionately affects lower income, less educated, and minority populations. How do you reach these consumers?

BW: If only twenty percent of us are getting empowered, those people are going to benefit natively. All of a sudden, fast food restaurants put healthy stuff at the top of menu boards, or have little table tins that advertise water or milk instead of soda. It’s all the people who didn’t even know they had a problem that will benefit by being in an environment that we’ve changed.

The best way to lose weight may already be in your kitchen

 (Adam Evans)

Raise your hand if you’ve sworn off sugar, cut out alcohol, and committed to a punishing gym ritual—yet those last five pounds are sticking around like an unwanted guest.

A new study in Science suggests that even ardent self-deniers can’t shed extra padding if the bacteria in their system is unbalanced. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis studied sets of twins—one fat, one lithe—and found that the thinner siblings had gut bacteria that spike the metabolism and suppress appetite, while the heavier ones were shackled with species that do the opposite. 

“If you have the wrong makeup of your microbiome, it’s virtually impossible to drop pounds,” says Raphael Kellman, M.D., author of The Microbiome Diet. 

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Unless, that is, you hack your body with probiotics. Yes, the stuff in yogurt that Jamie Lee Curtis hawks for digestive issues could burn calories and curb cravings when Draconian diet and exercise plans aren’t enough.

Which is why probiotics are transcending the dairy aisle. Swank health-food stores and juice bars have caught on to the microbes’ fat-torching potential and are incorporating them into what you already consume or making bacteria-laden fermented foods more available. 

Moon Juice in Venice, California, sells custom probiotic shots to add to your cold-press, New York City’s Juice Press blends them into smoothies (like the drinkable faux yogurt Vital Force), and ready-to-eat chain Organic Avenue stocks shelves with probiotic chia-berry cups and kimchi bowls. Walk into Whole Foods or the like and you’ll find tempeh, miso, kefir, and fermented beverages like Body Ecology’s CocoBiotic coconut juice, kombucha, even ginger beer—all of which boost waist-trimming bacteria in your stomach.

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Skeptics warn that more research is needed to find out which strains do what. Plus, probiotics aren’t regulated by the FDA, meaning manufacturers can make vague claims without backup. Still, the anecdotal evidence is persuasive. Stella Metsovas, a certified nutritionist and author of The 21-Day Digestive Health Detox, prescribed a half-cup of probiotic-rich foods daily to a group of clients, who lost an average of 21 pounds over six months without cutting calories.

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“The right types of probiotics can absolutely improve metabolism and help with weight loss,” Kellman says. The trick is getting an ideal mix of good and bad bacteria: The wrong microbes cause chronic inflammation, which leads to fat-inducing insulin resistance (exercise can’t counteract that). An excess of certain strains can also trigger cravings for sugar and fat. To help strike that balance, down probiotics at least twice a week and let the bugs do the work for you.

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• • •
Term to Know: Psychobiotics

Scientists at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine found that people who regularly take probiotics exhibit brain activity associated with greater emotional stability. They believe that particular strains of gut bacteria can reduce stress, boost mood, and lessen pain by influencing certain hormone levels, including cortisol, serotonin, and oxytocin. Different microbe families affect different neurotransmitters, so to reap as many benefits as possible, try a supplement with a variety, like Healthy Origins 30 Billion Probiotic ($38 for 150 capsules; amazon.com).

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