Happy Meow Year!

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May all your pets’ bellies be warm and inviting…

Pendo New Year!

Pendo New Year!

…and may all your menorahs be soft and cuddly.

How Many Calories Can You Burn Jumping the Shark?

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Earlier this year, as soon as I heard Julia Cameron had a new book out called The Writing Diet, I knew I had to read it. Not, mind you, because I thought it would help me get thin — yeah, right — but because Julia Cameron was once a goddess to me, and the backstory (Cameron gained 40 pounds on psych meds and claims to have lost them with the help of her “write yourself right-sized” methodology) had me curious, in an I-know-it’s-illegal-to-rubberneck-but-I-just-gotta-know kind of way. She and she alone knows the secret of not gaining weight on psych meds? For reals?

As some of you know, I became Officially Fat about 12 years ago, after several years on Zoloft (which didn’t make people — or do I mean men? — fat during the 12-week clinical trials, so it must be Weight Neutral!). That plus as-yet-untreated PCOS multiplied against each other to make me gain about 40% of my body weight. And I might well have gained more had I not eventually been put on metformin. I’ve since discovered that going off antidepressants makes my weight decrease (but also makes me take up permanent residence in the bell jar), and going back on makes it go up again (and knocks the bell jar off). So yes, I’m convinced it’s the drugs — anything that bumps up serotonin bumps up my weight regardless of whether it increases my appetite or not (some drugs do, some don’t, it also varies a lot from person to person, and none of my prior drugs had that effect on me before I recently started Remeron). On the other paw, I’d have to be lacking more than a few crayons in my box not to want to permanently trade in suicidality for a big fat ass. And so on and so on and scoobydoobyblahblah.

And you know what? In the days before that, when I was merely chubby, I’d have been all over this book like, uh, Splenda on strawberries (ptoo!). Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (and later on, The Right to Write) maintained a constant presence at my bedside during those times I was breaking out of creative deep freezes, plus I actually still bought the whole “there’s a size 4 in you waiting to get out” thing. Once I gained the drug weight, of course, I had to cackle madly at the whole concept: If I really did have a size 4 waiting to get out, she had a pretty perverse way of showing it, seeing as I was getting fatter and fatter while eating less and all. But in the old days, the 12-step-fiend days, when I feverishly went to meetings for pretty much every program I “qualified” for (which was almost all of them, other than the ones for alcohol, drugs, gambling, and sex addiction)…yeah, you bet. I’d have thought Julia Cameron had the answer for me.

Now here’s where you atheists get to point and laugh at me and tell me how much smarter you are than I am, because you’d have picked up The Artist’s Way, thumbed through a few pages, muttered, “Godbothering, feh,” and put it back on the shelf. Go ahead, I deserve it. You’re way ahead of me. You would not have fantasized yourself, as I did, being the Young Writer going with Cameron for an inspirational walk in the woods followed by a cup of tea and a slice of her homemade blackberry pie (as she described having done with a Young Writer in The Right to Write), and that she’d think I was just the peachiest, and that would make me go on an unprecedented creative tear. You know better than that, of course. But maybe, maybe there’s a writer or other creative person somewhere you had a fantasy like that about? Please? (Please tell me I’m not the only total dork out there. There has to be at least ONE more.)

Anyway, the book. I certainly don’t want to buy anything with the word diet in the title (unless it’s something like The Diet Myth, AKA the paperback version of The Obesity Myth, which is a way better name for that book anyhow). I didn’t even want to check it out of the library. Best not to encourage that sort of acquisition, no? Of course, since we have Powell’s Books here (which some wags here call the “Portland Public Library Annex” thanks to the vast selection, long hours, and blase attitude towards browsing), I could have just taken the thing down to the coffeeshop, read it there, and then made it up to them by buying a book I did want. (And yes, I’ll be reviewing that one too, but for now I’ll just say — BUY EET.) But I felt weird about that — what if I spilled my chai on it? — so I waited for a library copy to free up and read it there (at the official library).

In a nutshell (an empty one, of course, so as to spare you the calories), about 80% of this book is the same kind of “sensible” dieting advice you’ve been getting since you were 8 years old (or, in my case, 11 — we started later back then). Food diaries. Twenty-minute walks. Aerobic workout routines. Smart snack substitutions like “a plum instead of Mallomars.” Diet buddies. Keeping trigger foods out of the house. Drinking enough water every day to float a dozen koi in. (Cameron happily describes one follower of her plan saying, “I picture myself washing the calories away” when she drinks water. Hmm, where have I heard that one before?) And of course, the ever popular cut-500-calories-a-day-and-lose-a-pound-a-week. (She also helpfully tells us that most women need 1900 calories a day to maintain their weight, so 1400 is a reasonable goal to shoot for. Gee, thanks.)

All of that is Dieting 101 stuff, really. I have to believe that Cameron’s ideal reader is someone who’s never (or rarely) dieted, or even seriously thought about it much. Certainly not someone who’s spent most of her life dieting up to the next weight category, a concept that seems utterly lost on Cameron. (She also doesn’t seem too familiar with the concept of plateaus, in which you have to keep cutting or wasting more calories to keep losing, or often, even having to keep cutting or wasting more of them just to maintain lost weight, which is the fate of those of us whose bodies simply don’t want to be thin.)

There are a few things Cameron does right. She doesn’t, for example, advocate shooting for model-thinness if that’s not your natural shape (she even has chapters on the folly of trying to emulate super-slim celebrities, and praises Tyra Banks for being proud of her 161-pound body). “Many of us,” she says, “found that when we thought about it, we preferred a body type that was not as skinny as the tabloid norm.” She more or less advises people to, if not throw away their scales, at least to use them as little as possible (she advocates keeping it under the bed). And at least she doesn’t pretend that her diet plan has jackall to do with “health” or that she’s trying to single-handedly “fight obesity.” I don’t think Cameron even uses the word “obesity” in this book. Her complaints to her psychiatrist about her medication-related weight gain seem entirely to do with vanity, and she as much as admits it. I admire that, in a way; I wish more diet-heads would cop to what they’re really after.

But oy, the mentality. Oy. (The first and last letters of “obesity”!) Where to start? Firstly, Cameron advises that people do what she advocated in The Artist’s Way — morning pages, meaning you get up early and write out three longhand pages of whatever’s on your mind. Supposedly this is to get out of your system all the feelings you’re allegedly eating now, because not being able to stick to a 1400-calorie diet forever = emotional eating = Bad Relationship With God. Now, I have no problem at all with people writing their feelings (or painting/singing/knitting/ drawing them, or whatever their creative “thing” is) instead of, gods help us, eating them. I think it’s a great idea. And when “doing” The Artist’s Way, it was a wonderful tool (except for the getting up early part, which assumes that you’re not already getting up at 5 to go to work). But using morning pages to distract yourself from hunger? I think maybe NO.

Yes, Julia, I said HUNGER. Physical hunger. As in “if I don’t eat something in the next 30 minutes, I’m going to get the hypoglycemic shakes.” When I first went on Remeron, like I said here, I was ready to eat the fucking furniture, plus all the writing utensils sitting on it. Sometimes I got the munchies when I wasn’t really hungry, but if I ignored those munchies, I’d just get that much hungrier (not to mention shaky and hot from the hypoglycemia — anyone think maybe ignoring hunger signals might be an Officially Rotten Idea for someone with pancreatic issues?). Eventually I went back to the doctor and said, “Doc, I’m a little weary of finding splinters and graphite in the crapper, can we do something about this?”, and we did.

But I can tell you right now that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to stick to anything like 1400 calories when I was in that state. (Cameron, being clean and sober for 30 years, also automatically assumes that the reader has no truck with alcohol.) And I don’t think I could do it now, either, even though the initial Cookie Monster Syndrome has worn off. Just for S’s and G’s, I recently kept a food diary for a couple of days, just to see what my eating patterns were, and sure enough, I was getting hunger pangs — real ones — pretty regularly, every two or two and a half hours just about, unless I had a really big meal. When you’re hungry, you’re fucking hungry. And believe me, by this time in my life, I know the difference between hungry and not, regardless of what some book or magazine article or Web site tells me I “should” be satisfied with.

Cameron, when interviewed here, said the drug she was on was Abilify. Abilify is fairly new, new enough that even the Crazy Meds site doesn’t have much on it, but in poking around various message boards, it causes appetite stimulation in some users but not others, although weight gain on the drug seems to happen irrespective of that. I’m going to assume that she was still on it while she lost her weight — if she wasn’t, it would be a short book, right? Like a page. “To get and stay thin, kick your psych meds like I did. The end.”

No, she says, her savior has actually been…Clean Eating.

Oh yeah, the Clean Eating thing, which Cameron’s nutritionist claims to have invented. This concept, in case you’ve been avoiding reading about it to conserve Sanity Points, means eating low fat AND low carb AND portion controlled AND with gobs of artificial sweetener. (Cameron’s favorite breakfast: cottage cheese and strawberries sweetened with Splenda. Splenda. She lives in New York and has money coming out of her hoohah, and she can’t find berries that taste like berries?) In order to stick to this plan, she advises the reader to avoid “the deadly whites” (sugar, flour, starch) literally like they were the very brew of Satan (“chocolate is chocolate, after all, the devil’s food, and I know better to indulge”). She boasts that she is able to do this despite living with “an expert baker” who bakes oh-so-delicious-smelling gingersnaps at home every morning (to sell, one presumes, and not specifically to taunt her).

So yeah. Refuse your own birthday cake — because, after all, one bite of a forbidden food means a binge. (Contrast that with people who turn down birthday cake because they have something like diabetes or celiac disease; unless that condition is new to them, you won’t catch them staring longingly at cake, growling at their fingers not to reach for the spatula. But then, they get to eat something else.) Don’t hang out with those “good genes” people who can eat whatever they want and stay thin, and who will ask you to do evil fattening things like go out for dim sum (what, and miss your morning bowlful of frankenglop-sweetened ladycrap?). Take yourself for a Culinary Artist Date once a week — like, check out a new-to-you ethnic cuisine, but stay away from those opiate-simulating breads and rices! Oh, and one last, crucially important thing: Don’t be Officially Fat in the first place.

Cameron lost 40 pounds, going from a size 16 (misses, I would gather, not 16W) to a size 10. (And the loss would seem to be a new one, maybe a year before the book came out, max.) Assuming she only wore a 16 in the most tightly-cut items, her starting weight is probably the lowest weight I could possibly attain doing this Clean Eating stuff even if I never cheated, as long as I remain on my meds. And I’m maybe a size 18 misses at the lowest, 22 at the highest, but that’s still fat enough to make me what she would call “grotesquely oversized.” (Yes, she uses that exact phrase.) Walk in the woods with her? She wouldn’t hire me to clean her john. (Think of the potential for fat cooties to get trapped in a tiny Manhattan bathroom!)

Similarly, all of the people she mentions in the book lose 25 pounds, 30 pounds, something like that. (No mention of whether they maintained their losses, either.) In other words, these are not really fat people, regardless of what they think of themselves; these are thin people who gradually gained weight for whatever reason until they approached average-sized, which simply, in their minds, will not do for an above average human being. People like me? Or, Bast forfend, even fatter than me? We’re hardly even worth discussing, we’ve obviously eaten all the creativity we have in us. We ate our own birthday cake. And washed it down with beer. Year after year. And maybe somewhere else during the year, even had a slice of homemade blackberry pie whipped up with love by our favorite writer. The horrors.

Speaking of mad cackling, I also love Cameron’s concept that her Writing Diet works because “calories, after all, are units of energy, and so are words.” If the number of words you crank out every week is tantamount to the number of calories you burn, I should wear a size somewhere in the negative integers. (Hi, I’m Meowser, and I’ll be your tl;dr this evening.) It can’t have anything to do with, you know, reaching the very bottom of your set point range, and maybe even dipping a little under it (probably temporarily) through extreme vigilance about what crosses your lips. It also can’t possibly have anything to do with “good genes” having as much to do with where the bottom of your set point lies as anything else does. It’s all about Good Orderly Direction. I just do not understand a worldview that says it’s okay to discriminate against and hate on people just because they don’t burn calories as fast as other people do. It just baffles me that anyone would think that way. But sadly, Julia Cameron does.

And what’s even sadder here is that there’s a hint that in an even slightly better world, she might not buy into it. In one of the most telling passages of the book, she mentions a friend of hers who has a lover named Pavlo, who encourages her friend to eat and says, “A woman is like a good steak; better if it’s not too lean.” To which Cameron responds: “Not all of us meet Pavlos. More of us dream that a Pavlo might exist.” Well, ahem. Leaving aside the skinny-baiting, which I’m not down with, the idea that “Pavlos” who appreciate fuller figures don’t exist is just…well, let’s just say that Cameron might do well to get out of Manhattan more often (and not just to go to west L.A.) if she wants a man like this in her life. Look, dude, two-thirds of the American female population is said by the epi-panickers to be “too fat.” Are you trying to tell me that two-thirds of us can’t get lovers? My labia boggles. As far as I’m concerned, a “good man” doesn’t make a woman go hungry in order to conform to his aesthetic preferences. Period. And if Cameron’s gingersnap-baking roommate is one of those guys, maybe he’d better ask himself exactly who it is he expects to consume his product. At least that’s how I’d react. But you know, I’m like…a feminist and stuff. Guess she isn’t.

I reckon it’s occurring to me now that being a people-pleasing dork and wanting to be an inventive, gutsy, cutting-edge creative person really don’t mix. Yeah, I know most guitar players, no matter how badass, would probably gibber and drool and stammer out “you’re my biggest fan” type of stuff if they were in the same room with Eric Clapton, but I doubt most of them could give a freshly lit fart if Eric Clapton approves of them as a person. That’s the thing that’s always killed whatever creative spark I had — this idea that “so and so won’t like it and they won’t like me for doing it, so I’d better not.” I am done with that. Doner than a gingersnap. The Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way would probably applaud that newfound attitude of mine. Too bad she doesn’t exist anymore, if she ever really did outside my own head.

Gov. David Paterson, Meet J. Eric Oliver

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How I dream of locking those two in a closet together, after hearing about Gov. Paterson’s belief that charging 15 cents more for a can of nondiet soda will totally slim down all the New York fatties, all of whom obviously bathe in the stuff. (As a giant fatass who will gladly pay $2 for a Mexican Pepsi and have that be my only soda consumption for weeks, and screw ALL major-brand American soda whether it’s diet or not, I can only snortlaugh.)

Anyway, this passage is from Oliver’s Fat Politics, page 174 in the hardback (and yes, I had to type it out):

The reason why snack taxes don’t work is that the demand for food is relatively insensitive to price; economists generally predict that a 10 percent increase in food prices would only reduce food consumption by less than 1 percent. That means that if you want to reduce soda consumption by just 10 percent, you would have to impose a 100 percent tax; if you wanted to reduce soda consumption by half, you would have to make a can of coke cost about four dollars. Not only do such taxes do little to deter demand, but they would take more money out of the pockets of the poor. Nutritionist Adam Drewnoski has shown that when food prices rise, poorer people eat fewer fruits and vegetables and eat more processed foods. Ironically, snack taxes might actually have the opposite effect — they might encourage people to eat more junk.

Okay, big fat hands in the air: How many people think this tax is a money grub from the working class, rather than something that’s actually motivated by Concern For Our Healthy Health Health?

And P.S. Governor, if you don’t want to make big fat bullseye targets out of fat kids, you could have imposed this tax in a way that wouldn’t make thin kids gang up on them because “now we have to pay extra for our soda just ’cause you can’t control yourself, fatass.” I hope you’re putting some of that extra loot towards self-defense classes for those fat kids. But somehow I think not.

And P.P.S. Cigarettes cost about TEN TIMES AS MUCH as they did 30 years ago. That’s why fewer people start smoking and more people want to quit, gov. That, and having to go outside when it’s freezing out to light up. I guess as soon as scientists figure out a way we can be fat outdoors only, and become magically thin when we come inside, you’ll finally be able to get fat people to quit leaving the house and blighting everyone’s eyesight.

(And if you haven’t read Oliver’s book, what are you waiting for? The “Obesity Policy” chapter, which contains the above quote, is especially kickass.)

Meowser’s Chinese Buffet Experience

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You know what the very ouchiest, bleckiest thing is about that doucheparade “study” we all heard about last week regarding fat slobs, er, patrons at Chinese buffets? You want to know the thing I hated most of all about it?

(dramatic pause)

It made me crave Chinese buffet.

(puts paper bag on head, continues typing through eyeholes)

SRSLY. I hadn’t been to one in years, but just reading about it brought back memories of yellow egg drop soup and crispy fried noodles, like I used to have at this one buffet in north Orange County that wasn’t half toxic. And from there, the confluence of power of suggestion plus PMS led my Google-fingers to discover the Superking Buffet on 82nd Avenue, where I took my fat ass (and the rest of me) for today’s lunch. Or should I say, breakfast and lunch, because sheehowdy, if I’m gonna drop close to $10 for lunch including tea and tip, I’m gonna get my money’s worth.

Of course, it never occurred to these researchers — no doubt upper-crust types with flexible and high-paying careers — that inasfar as a fat person might eat more at a buffet than a thin person, that economics could have something to do with it. Fat people as a group don’t get paid as much as thin people, doncha know.

And guess what else? Although I’m not in this position now myself, in my prior experience most jobs that are low on the socioeconomic totem pole are also high in control of when the workforce gets to eat and how much time they get. Half an hour for lunch, including the time it takes to buy or nuke your food (after you’ve spent 10 minutes waiting for the microwave to free up), and that’s it, you clock in and out and if you’re a minute late you’re written up. Then maybe a little snack a few hours later on your break, if your break doesn’t get hosed by meetings and being slammed by customers and other busywork. If the Chinese buffet is where you take your lunch, or where you get dinner after a workday where you’ve hardly had time to gulp down anything substantial, damn skippy you’re going to eat your fill, if you’ve got the wattage God gave a lightbulb.

But anyway, I had the following goals when I went to Superking:

– Get myself to stop thinking about egg drop soup and fried noodles
– Eat enough so that I wouldn’t have to think about food for the next five hours
– Run down their whole goofball list of Chinese buffet “findings” from yaaaaay to zzzzzz, to see how it correlated with the experiences of An Actual Fat Person We’re Too Freaked We’ll Get Adenovirus From If We Stop And Talk To Them. Rawwwr.

Okay, a little traveling music please. (Preferably by Kenny G, since that’s probably what you’ll hear on the muzak at most buffets. Hey, when I was little, it was the Longines Symphonette doing “Somewhere My Love” at places like this, so get grateful.) We fatties are alleged by the researchers to do the following:

Sit at a table vs. a booth. I didn’t chose my own seat, the host chose it for me. He seated me at a booth. I’m a “smaller size of large” and the booth was pretty roomy, so I had no complaint. And next to me was a table full of skinny women. I’m sure that had more to do with the number in their party than their weight, but I’m also pretty sure that had I been a “larger size of large,” I’d have gotten assigned a table, and if not, I’d have asked for one. At least the researchers had this one right.

Face the buffet while eating, rather than have their side or back to it. Again, if you don’t choose your own seating — and did they make sure to survey only seat-yourself joints? — how can this possibly have any relevance? I suppose you could request seating closer to the buffet if you had some mobility issues, but that could be true for any size person. For what it’s worth, the buffet was to my side, and the way the seating was set up, there was really no direct view of the buffet in any case.

Begin serving themselves immediately instead of surveying the buffet. Those greedy fat slobs! They just start shoveling it in not caring WHAT they eat! Come on now. If you’ve never been to that particular buffet before, of course you’re going to look and see what they have and where it is. I was looking for egg drop soup first, and I found it, and yes, crispy noodles too (which are surprisingly hard to come by in non-buffet Chinese places on the West Coast), but once I had that, naturally I wanted to know about all the stuff they had. It was a pretty impressive selection, actually. They even had a few sushi rolls. (Don’t bother with the potstickers if you ever go there, they have questionable looking and tasting mystery meat filling. Possibly made from Alpo. But everything else I had was pretty good.)

Conversely, if you’re familiar with the place, and you know that kung pao chicken is in bin 2, slot B, facing the south window, and they’ve never ever ever moved it in the five years you’ve been eating there, why the hell would you need to look around? Remember what I said earlier about time crunch also. If you’re due back to work afterwards — and lots of us fatasses work at night, too! — you’re not going to take a leisurely stroll through the place, the point is to get yourself fed and out the door before you get dinged. Today was my day off, though, and I had time to take a good look, so I did.

Pick up a larger plate vs. a smaller one. Not relevant in this particular establishment, either. They had ONE size of plate, a large one. Which is fine with me. I don’t need my eggroll (they had East Coast-style egg rolls too, also danged near impossible to find out here) on top of my broccoli chicken on top of my braised tofu on top of my avocado sushi on top of my rice on top of my sesame balls. I like SOME flavor and texture differentiation when I eat, thank you, even if it’s all gonna get mixed up eventually.

Use a fork instead of chopsticks. This one cracked my shit right up. I actually learned how to use chopsticks when I was 8 years old, from a Bobbsey Twins book of all things, in which Flossie and Freddie’s parents took them to Chinatown. (Anyone else remember them, or am I the only alter cocker around here?) When I see chopsticks available in a restaurant, I almost always use them.

But oddly enough, this place didn’t seem to have them, on the tables or anywhere else. Everyone was eating with a fork here. Thin people, fat people, everyone — even the Chinese people. What the poop was the point here? People who use chopsticks are more “cultured”? People who use chopsticks eat less? People who use chopsticks are thinner? Sorry, but I’ve eaten meals with chopsticks and without them, and what affects how much I eat is — guess what — how hungry I am, not what utensils I use. And that was true way before I ever gained my medication weight. Whiffage.

Put their napkin on the table or tucked into their shirt vs. on their lap. Okay, it had to be men who thought this one up. If I miss my mouth with my uncultured utensils, where do you think my grub’s going to wind up first — in my 38F cleavage, or on my lap? Also, if you have a big butt — and again, it’s women who more often do — your lap is probably going to slant some downwards. I’ve had to pick up dropped napkins 20 times a meal sometimes, often rooting under the table and crawling between my seatmate’s legs to do so. And why? So I can be “proper”? Screw 8000% of that. What’s “proper” about groping someone’s shoes trying to get to your napkin? (C. might enjoy that, but I’m not so sure about anyone else.)

So more often I’ll either do the “bib” thing, which I know makes me look like a giant 3-year-old, or if I’ve got a long scarf or some type of long necklace, I might wind the napkin up in that. On this particular occasion, though, I was seated so close to the table that it would have been a challenge to get food into my lap even if I was trying to, so the napkin stayed right where it was, and I didn’t need it until I was finished.

Leave less food leftover on their plate. There were signs posted all over the buffet saying (paraphrasing), “Please only take what you can eat. Please do not leave food over. If you leave too much over, we reserve the right to charge you extra.” This is not the first buffet I’ve ever been to where I’ve seen a sign like this. Who the heck wants to be charged extra for eating less? Certainly not me, Ms. Breakfast-and-Lunch — I’m eating what I take, unless I just can’t (see note above on potstickers). Munny, bitchez!

Chew fewer times per bite. Gee, if I’d known people were watching, I’d have chewed more. In fact, that will probably be one of my principal regrets when I’m on my deathbed, breathing my last from some ailment only fatasses ever get (which is pretty much all of them, right?) — “I’m sorry I didn’t chew each bite more. Maybe then I could have lived forever.”

Okay, being a New York egg-roll-loving wiseass aside, I have this little problem when it comes to the endless masticating I’m expected to do which will allegedly fill me up with less food: I have a gag reflex that could send a watermelon into space. You can’t imagine the torture of dental x-rays for me. TMI time: I’ve actually hurled on the table when I’ve chewed my food more times than my gag reflex will allow me. In public. I will NEVER do that again. (And I haven’t in close to a decade.) Believe me, I’d be all in favor of filling myself up with less if I could swing it; imagine the money I’d save when I wasn’t at a frigging buffet. But anyone who tries to make me chew more than I know I can tolerate? Can bite me 100 times. And then bite me again. A hundred times.

Says the Livescience article which disseminates the findings of this study:

But like the proverbial chicken and egg, [Brian] Wansink and his colleagues don’t know which comes first: a person’s behavior, or their weight. As Wansink put it: “Is that what made them thin, or is that what thin people do?”

How about no? Just plain no?

ETA: Amp’s analysis is a must-read. And Rachel has helpfully uploaded the original study for us. Thanks, you guys!

HAES for Kittehs

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A few months ago, I told you all about Binkley, my icon-kitty. Now I’d like you to meet Zevon. (Yes, named after Warren.) He’s 4-1/2, loves to play fetch with ugly-ass ponytail holders, and will pole-vault into my lap about 20 times a day when I’m sitting at the computer, if I let him. And yeah, I usually let him, even though it feels like holding a library-sized Webster’s Unabridged in my lap. One that purrs like a helicopter. Fortunately, I provide plenty of lapspace. 

He was always a bit hefty; when he was a wee furbag, my friend J. picked him up as if using her hand as a scale, and said, “He’s beefy!” And in the last year or so, since we moved into a house and decided to make all the cats indoor cats, he became beefier still, beefy enough to break down the cat door leading to the basement. (SCATOLOGY ALERT, feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph if you are eating.) Around the time we moved, I switched all the cats to grain-free food (wet and dry) at the behest of my vet who was treating Pendo, my only “standard sized” cat, for his heart condition, and there was something in the food that didn’t agree with Mr. Z. He started leaving little poopgifts — nasty, gunky-looking ones — on the basement floor. We put him on a different food, Organix dry only. The poop looked a little better, but not much, and he was still going where he wasn’t supposed to. So, I had to haul him into the vet.

Oh goddess, the vet. I KNEW the first thing I’d get would be a lecture about his weight. It’s not like he was eating me out of the house, not at all, or even wanting to. I measured out the amount of food he was eating during a typical day of “free feeding” Organix dry food, and it was 3/4 of a cup — what the package directions said to feed a 12-pound cat. And Zevon, the last time he’d been weighed 14 months prior, was already 20 pounds, and I knew he’d gained since then.

And of course, being a fatass myself, I was rather dreading the moment when I would tell the vet how little Zevon was actually eating, and he would take one look at the Fat Cat Mom Who Was Obviously in Denial, and mutter, “Uh huh, riiiiight.” Vets, in my experience, are if anything even more hung up on the weight issue than humans’ doctors; all cats are supposed to be the same weight, and you’re supposed to be able to feel his ribs, but not his backbone, quit spoiling him to the point of diaBEEEEtus, blahblahyakyak. And almost no veterinary Web site ever, ever acknowledges any other reason for a cat being fat other than OMG IT’S EATING THE WHOLE ENTIRE HOUSE.

So yeah, not looking forward to it, even though this vet (who was well-versed in both holistic and allopathic veterinary medicine) seemed like a decent, thoughful guy when I saw him with Pendo. Of course they hoisted him up on the scale first thing, and they said, “Thirty pounds!” That meant he’d gained 10 pounds in a year, which would have been quite a feat for an adult cat even if I HAD been feeding him the entire house. The vet said Zevon was the heaviest cat he’d ever had in his practice. I told him I had a coworker once whose cat weighed 34 pounds, and she showed us a picture of her barely-90-pounds-soaking-wet self holding him in order to prove it, which impressed the hell out of me.

Now, good news first: Although they would of course test his stool to make sure there was nothing funny in it, the chances were good that Zevon didn’t have an intestinal parasite or a serious illness like Feline Infectious Peritonitis or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus causing the diarrhea, because if he did he’d be losing weight, not gaining it. (And the stools did come back negative.) I told him what Zevon ate, and he said he believed me (whew) but told me that was way too much cereal to give a cat. What I got recommended to me was a BARF (bones and raw food) diet. (Terrible name, huh? “My cat eats BARF!”). He told me about a store on East Burnside called Meat that specialized in making raw-food pet diets affordable (I’d always figured it was prohibitively expensive yuppiechow). The vet said Zevon was probably allergic/intolerant to some ingredient in the food he was getting and that he was pooping outside the box in order to tell us his tummy wasn’t feeling right, and a real simple diet like this (in addition to an herbal mix he was giving me) would clear it right up.

And yeah, I did get lectured about his size, and told that the raw diet would probably get some weight off him. But at least I wasn’t accused of stuffing him like he was being taxidermied. And they told me, “Do NOT under any circumstances let him go a whole day without eating. Fasting is really bad for a cat his size. If a cat loses weight too fast, it can get fatty liver disease, which is really serious and expensive to treat.” (Makes you wonder, if losing weight fast is known to be extra bad for cats, how can it be something to unconditionally encourage in humans? I mean, I know we’re different species and everything, but geesh.)

So I went to Meat, and they were super-nice and super-helpful in there. I bought a frozen-solid 2-pound package of ground turkey, ground up with bones and giblets, for $6.25, plus some cod liver oil and ground veggies (just a tiny amount to use for fiber; that’s really the only nutritional use cats have for vegetables). I started out Zevon with just the raw turkey mix first without anything in it, to see how he’d like it. Not only did he love it, I couldn’t keep the other cats out of it. So then I mixed in some cod liver oil. They were still digging it. Then the veggies. Uh-oh. Kitty reject. Nobody would touch it. (I think Pendo actually looked at me like, “You’re kidding about the green stuff, right?”)

I asked the Meat lady what to substitute for fiber instead, and she suggested plain canned pumpkin, just a couple of tablespoons for every 2 pounds of food. That they ate. So now all three of them are BARF-ing. And it turns out to be no more expensive than the “super premium” food I was giving them before. (If I owned one of those $200 grinders that could do raw bones in addition to the raw muscle meat and giblets, it would be cheaper still. But also more of a mess. So I’m happy to pay a small surcharge to let someone else do the grinding.)

They still get a tiny, tiny amount of dry food, but not too much, as Zevon loves the crunchies but the feeling is evidently NOT mutual as evidenced by the quality of his poop when he eats it. And speaking of poop, you wouldn’t believe how little poop there is when cats eat this way. It’s like they’re actually using what they eat. Fancy that. And they’re a lot friskier eating this food, too, it really brings out the kitten in them. Which will be amusing until Zevon tries to hoist his 30-pound self up the drapes. Fortunately, he’s managed to resist the urge so far.

Now, let’s talk about quantity. Binkley, although the middle cat in age, has asserted himself as the “alpha kitty” in this house, and he thinks nothing of pushing the other cats out of the way and taking their food unless I stop him. I always wonder: Is he really physically that hungry for that much food, or does he just do that because he can? When I set down food for the three of them, Binkley vacuums it up, whereas Zevon chews every mouthful so thoroughly that C. has taken to calling him “The Great Masticator.” (Pendo gets fed in a separate room since he gets heart supplements mixed in his food.) The sooner Binkley finishes, the sooner he can swipe Zevon’s food, and maybe even go for a bite or two of Pendo’s leftovers.

How hungry are they? Often I can tell by how eagerly they gobble up a tiny bit of food I put on my fingers; if they are way too close to biting my finger off, they’re REALLY hungry. Roughly, it takes me about 3-1/2 days to go through 2 pounds of the meat plus the other mix-ins. (If for some reason I space and don’t have a package defrosted in time, they get some Wellness canned food instead.) That’s about what they told me it would be at Meat, but I wonder if Binkley isn’t getting way more than the others because he’s bullying Zevon out of his share while I’m in the back with Pendo. I’ll have to learn how to monitor that better. But Zevon is at least eating something, and he seems to be satisfied with the amount he’s getting. And there have been no more poopgifts.

And if he doesn’t lose any weight, or loses only a minor amount, even eating as little as he is and eating the food he’s supposedly hardwired for his body to prefer, you know what? I don’t want to hear it from the vet. Or anyone else. Health at Every Size is for the animals in our lives, too.

(ETA: Catnutrition.org is a good resource if you’re just starting to check out BARF diets. They’ve got some information on mail-order suppliers, as well as complete instructions for making the food yourself if you want to go that route.)

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