I read your column about the guy who's worried that his overweight brother may be killing himself. And I read your readers' responses. I'd like to comment from the other side of the issue. In my family, I'm the unhealthy brother. I'm in my mid-thirties, and I'm severely overweight. I was always a chubby kid, but I'm now well over 300 pounds. I've been on blood-pressure medication for 10 years, and I've been a Type 2 insulin-dependent diabetic for three years.
My family loves me, and I love them. But I was the youngest of four, and I had to take care of myself after all five of the adults in my family had departed. My three substantially older siblings left home while my dad attempted to drown his sorrows in alcohol and my mother had a mental breakdown and attempted suicide. I'm proud that I survived those challenges with relatively healthy family relationships, and that I've become a reasonably well-adjusted adult. But I'm living proof of what happens when, to paraphrase Bill Cosby, you give a kid a chocolate cake every day. I never learned how to cook healthily. And food has often been a provider of comfort, not just fuel.
I'm actively searching for ways to change my life, but it's an enormous challenge. I'm trying to rewire my body and my psyche to go against 30 years of ingrained behavior. I'd love the support of a sibling or even a close friend and would welcome their constructive and caring words, but when I say "support," I mean SUPPORT, not just a few quick words or a barrage of worst-case scenarios.
If "Brother's Keeper" really cares, he needs to make a commitment. It may be as simple as taking a cooking class with his brother, or walking together. Or it may mean challenging his own habits. (You can still have family dinners together, but healthy ones.) A giant life change is like trying to fix an airplane at the same time you're flying it. It's complicated and challenging, and derision and dismissiveness aren't some kind of magic wands that will make it all go away.
And yes, it's a great idea to seek therapy, both for the unhealthy brother and for the healthy brother. Eating disorders are often manifestations of other physiological and psychological needs, like comfort and protection. Believe me, I know.
Brother's Keeper's Brother
Brother's Keeper's Brother: Thanks for your letter, bro. It's great to hear from someone on "the other side," although I suspect a decent percentage of my dear, dear readers are over there with you. And I wish all of us the best of luck in keeping our weight under control. In your case, there does seem to be a sense of abandonment. And why wouldn't there be? You were abandoned! The thing is, it does no good to use pudding as padding. That just further isolates us. You know that, of course. But did you also know that it takes about six weeks to break even a 30-year habit? Please keep that in mind as you embark on your next 30 years.
And to show my support, here's something I'd like to propose: Why don't you send me regular, even weekly, updates on how you're doing, and I'll try to find a place to run them so the readers can follow your progress and cheer you on? If you want, we could just post that week's weight - a number in, say, the bottom-right-hand corner that will get smaller over time until it disappears altogether. Anyway, think about it. There's nothing quite like having 150,000 of your closest friends pulling for you. And if it doesn't work out, we'll quietly drop the idea. Anonymity guaranteed, of course.
We'll call you Slim.
Whether to remove the scales from your eyes or your eyes from the scale, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.