Let me tell you about my colonoscopy.
Ha ha. Not really. I just couldn’t resist the line. Sucks you in, doesn’t it? Like after that, what choice do you have but to go ahead and read the rest of the article?
Actually, it’s January, "the Holy Month of Robindon," when I gird my loins and charge into my annual war on fat (“fat-wah,” get it?). So what I really want to tell you about today is my diet—though I really am going to start out with a colonoscopy.
But I can’t say “colon” without remembering one of my favorite stories about my late father and my brother Jack, so even if you’re still reading after the colonoscopy line I’m afraid I can’t go any further without telling you that one first. It took place in the early 1980s, when Jack was about 25. He had a good job and made plenty of money, but he still lived at home because of the free rent, catering and laundry service.
My father had had a cancer scare. Really I don’t know if it even amounted to that. He was a robust, outdoorsy sort of man but he had a morbid streak, so that any time anything went the least bit wrong with him he would start talking darkly about going to “the other side.” He was so melodramatic that when he died years later at 82 we thought at first he was just exaggerating.
But this time I’m telling you about he had already seen the doctor and been reassured he was fine and sent home with some suppositories to treat whatever it was that had made him think otherwise. (I didn’t ask!) Anyway the old man arrived home in one of his evil good moods, cheerful because he wasn’t going to die, and when my brother Jack asked him how it had gone at the doctor’s, he showed him the meds and said: “I need you to help me stick these up my ass.” He said Jack took off and didn’t come back for a couple of weeks.
(Photo: My brother Jack)
Well! It’s entirely possible my intro has had the same effect on readers, but if I’ve got any left after the colonoscopy line and after that story, I guess I had better go ahead and get to the point.
I had my first colonoscopy on Dec. 20. It wasn’t so much a matter of getting myself a Christmas present as of putting it off as long as possible. I’d observed in horror as my husband prepared for one a couple of years earlier and I wanted no more to do with it than Jack did with those suppositories. It’s not that the procedure itself is so horrible—it is, but you don’t have to watch, you’re unconscious—it’s the prep. You have to get your colon so clean and clear the doctor can see seven states through it. This entails a day of fasting and a purgative process so thorough it struck me as like getting dysentery on purpose.
But there’s nothing that wears down your resistance to the procedure like losing someone you love to colon cancer, and that had happened to me. So I bit the bullet and had my own depths plumbed before 2018 ended, and I’m happy to tell you it wasn’t as bad as I expected. (This has been a pattern in my life and gives me high hopes of death.)
Why is this pertinent to my annual January mega-diet? Because of the day of fasting, of course.
It seems all my life I’ve been on a diet or off it. Sometimes I do lose a bunch of weight. I have gained it all back every time, plus some. In some cases it has sneaked back up on me and reappeared gradually; in others it has knocked me flat and returned like the invasion of Poland, such as when I broke my leg in 2017.
After struggling for a year or so to lose weight after the leg incident, I was finally ready to throw in the towel. It gets harder to lose weight after a certain age and it also begins to seem more pointless: Even if you get thin you’re still going to be, like, old. So the focus of my eternal self-improvement quest changed from getting thinner to becoming wiser, kinder and more accepting—including of my own imperfect physical manifestation.
This has not worked out.
It’s not that I’m unwilling to endure a certain level of fat-womanhood. I’ve had to get used to that all right. But what I’ve learned is that for people like me there really is no upward limit. I can either fight back or I can go on gaining more and more weight until they have to bury me in a piano case.
(Photo: Piano case)
So that’s Epiphany No. 1 in this year’s Holy Month o’ Robindon: This whole fat-wah business is not a matter of winning or losing or keeping at it or giving up. It’s just another of those ongoing life processes we have to endure as long as we draw breath and there’s no more point complaining about it than there is about laundry or doing the dishes. You can’t just scream I’VE HAD IT I QUIT about housework unless you are prepared to move out. I keep vacuuming because I’ve got nowhere else to go, and I keep dieting because I’m not ready for that piano case just yet.
Epiphany No. 2, which I had Dec. 19, was: fasting. There’s nothing to it. YOU JUST DON’T EAT.
Isn’t that simple? I’ve been on diets where you eat no meat and diets where you eat no carbohydrates, diets where you eat sensible amounts of everything and diets where you eat microscopic amounts of everything. There was one when I was young where you ate nothing but banana slices and skim milk. But none of them, nothing I’ve ever read, advised not eating at all.
Actually, all the literature forbids you to do anything of the kind. If the body thinks it’s starving, the books say, it will hold stubbornly onto fat. So make sure to kick-start your metabolism with a healthy breakfast, then, at lunch…
Blah blah blah. After the day of fasting on Dec. 19, I began to compare that wisdom to all the other crap I’ve read, like: “You can’t lose weight unless you drink your milk.” Really? What about all those skinny Chinese who never touch it, because they’re lactose intolerant? Sounds like the dairy lobby’s gotten to you, diet doc! In the case of fasting, I remembered a pathetic picture I’d seen of starving African children. You reckon their poor little ribcages poke out like that because they’ve revved up their metabolisms with a healthy breakfast? Nope. Sometimes when the body thinks it’s starving, it’s because it’s freakin’ starving! And not eating'll do that to you.
(Photo: Skinny Chinese)
Anyway, Dec. 19 was not as awful a day as you’d think. I got pretty peckish during the morning—I’m one of those people who wake up as hungry as a bear—but not so weak I wasn’t able to do my default exercise, dog-trotting the two miles to the end of the dirt road and back. I had some bouillon to stave off the hunger pangs, then hot tea in the evening. I wasn’t even that unhappy.
It was particularly convenient from the point of view of somebody trying to do something ambitious (like run an independent newspaper) who never has time to get to everything that needs done. When noon rolled around, my lunch arrangements were simple: I DIDN’T EAT IT. Then, when it was time for dinner; I DIDN’T EAT THAT EITHER. My husband looked after himself and I didn’t even go into the kitchen. I kept working on contentedly. It was a snap!
(Photo: My lunch)
Furthermore, all the nutritionists (the ones who make money off diet books!) might say fasting is bad for you, but I was doing this on doctor’s orders. Doctors do routinely prescribe fasting for colonoscopy patients every day, all around the world. How bad can it be?
So with January just around the corner, I began thinking that’s what I’d do this Holy Month of Robindon: In addition to my usual diet, one day a week I’d speed things up by not eating at all.
And I still may. But here it is Jan. 9 and it hasn’t happened yet. What has happened instead is Epiphany No. 3: It’s all about attitude.
My plan was to do my first fast day this Monday. My husband had a meeting in town. It’s a meeting he goes to every month, and usually afterwards he and some friends have a “meeting after the meeting” over a dinner out somewhere. So he wouldn’t require my culinary services and I could fast to my heart’s content.
Accordingly, on Monday, time for breakfast came and I DIDN’T EAT IT. Lunchtime rolled around, and just like in December, I DIDN’T EAT THAT EITHER. Then, around 6 p.m., my husband called and said he was running late and didn’t have time to get to his meeting after all, so he was coming home. Was I still fasting, so he should eat something while he was out, or…”OH THANK GOD!” I said. I was seriously hungry, and delighted to bail out of the fasting thing. He came home, I fixed us a lovely sensible little January supper, we ate it cozily in front of Nexflix, and all was right with the world.
(Photo: My husband.)
Until the next day. That’s when he informed me that, good news! Monday not having worked out, he’d decided to spend Wednesday night out in town with some friends and therefore would not require my culinary services. “So you can fast on Wednesday,” he pronounced graciously.
How does that sound to you? To me it had roughly the same tone as the white lawman’s offer to the black hero in Ragtime: “Your trial will be speedy, your execution painless.”
My husband still professes not to see the difference between me planning to fast on Monday because he was at his monthly meeting versus him planning for me to fast on Wednesday because he wanted to go out with his friends. So we had a big fight about “keeping January holy” and the upshot is everybody took Wednesday off from Robindon. Barely one week into the Holy Month and I ate fried chicken for lunch! I’m not even going to tell you about dinner, and there’s anyhow no possible way I could explain the why of it. All I can tell you is that you have to be in the right mood to fast and I ain’t in it.
Dec. 19 was easy. I was hungry but I had a colonoscopy the next day and I didn’t want the doctor to be staring deeply into my anus and say, “Oh Jeez, what’s that?”
Anyhoo! Tomorrow is another day and I reckon I will climb back on the horse because, like I said, it’s just one of those life things for fat girls with a piano- case phobia. I’ll tell you more about it in Installment 2 of these, my embedded Fat-
wah correspondent journals for 2019.
This has been Installment 1. I am sorry to have rambled so far off the point as to tell you about my father’s suppositories. But you do have to admit this whole diet thing is the most enormous pain in the ass…