"Oooh, are you in a family way?" asked the petite Filipino clerk at Bulk Barn as she scooped my giant sack of almonds into a bag. She was looking not at my almonds, but at my pot belly, which was resting up against the counter.
"Um, no," I said, "This is just...fat."
The clerk flushed and stammered an apology. I told her it was okay. But really, it wasn't. I could tell she wanted to disappear into the depths of whatever dimension should swallow people whose feet are firmly lodged in their mouths, so I manufactured a smile and told her I had two small children close together and I just couldn't seem to get rid of my belly and geez, I guess I was going to have to stop eating so many almonds. Then I left the store and went to my car and cried.
If this makes me sound like a vain, phoney person, well, whatever. Social convention and years of being told to "be nice" governed my actions in the above situation. Plus I'm not the type to make a scene in public, and really, it was just a thoughtless comment. The clerk is usually kind to me and my kids when we come in. She didn't say what she said to be hurtful. And my pot-belly apparently sticks out enough to be mistaken for my being in "a family way." Although I'm guessing that she won't be asking any other female customers that same question anytime soon. So at least my potbelly has served a useful purpose. (You're welcome, other pot-bellied female patrons of Bulk Barn.)
Usually, I'm not overly concerned with my physical appearance. I think that's because a) I've been blessed with great genes that have allowed me to be thin for most of my life, and b) I don't often give a crap what other people think of my clothes, my hair or my body. Then again, strangers don't usually make comments about my appearance, so not giving a crap hasn't been all that challenging. Until lately.
I really don't know where the damned thing came from. I spent most of last year looking gaunt and skeletal with a concave stomach thanks to the c-difficile, so this whole jiggly gut syndrome has thrown me for a loop. I swear, I woke up one morning and my pants didn't fit anymore. I could feel my belly wiggle when I went over bumps in the car. Dylan could suddenly poke his entire index finger into my belly-button. Even D squinted at my stomach suspiciously last month and asked me if I had eaten a big lunch that day. What the what?
I have a feeling that indulging in a month of beer and dill-pickle chip therapy after I resigned from my job didn't help. I know that once you hit forty, your body shape changes in ways you never expected, and that after being preggo for four years in a row, with two c-sections, my tummy will never be the smooth, taut little trampoline it once was. I get that. And I'm okay with that. What I'm not okay with is having small children poke my squishy bits and ask if there's a baby in there, or when wine store clerks raise their eyebrows at me and look pointedly at the "Alcohol consumption is dangerous to unborn babies" sign on the wall. Yes, both of those things have happened.
My doctor weighed me when I went to see her about my pot-belly, but made no comment about my weight. And she would not tell me where I was on the BMI index.
"I don't believe in those numbers," she said. "I believe in exercise and eating right and feeling good."
"Oh," I said.
"So," she continued, "how DO you feel?"
"Fat," I said. "My stupid clothes don't fit. People think I look pregnant. It sucks."
My doctor made a "humph" noise, and asked me to get up on the table. She prodded my pot-belly for a few minutes, then told me I could get up.
"So?" I asked.
"Well, Kim, you're at an age where your metabolism is starting to slow down. You had babies late in life, and you had a survived a dangerous infection last year. It's not the number on the scale that concerns me, it's how you're feeling about yourself."
"Oh," I said.
"Start doing things that make you sweat, 30 minutes a day, as many days a week as you can. When you start feeling better about yourself, that's when you know you're on the right track." She paused and looked at my eyes, not my belly. "Think you can you do that?"
I nodded. She was right, and of course I could. I just didn't WANT to. But I had to admit it - I wasn't getting enough exercise. Despite feeling like I'd run a marathon every other day, chasing unruly toddlers didn't count as cardio. And at least my pot-belly wasn't some alien tumour or giant fibroid. It wasn't how much I weighed, it was the message my pot-belly was trying to tell me: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, GIRL!
D hauled his mother's ancient stationary bike out of her basement and dragged it home for me. My friend's husband lent me some pirated copies of Homeland and Californication, which I now watch as I sweat and curse in the basement, 30 minutes two nights a week. I've snipped several frightening workouts out of fitness magazines and attempt to do them another two nights a week without dropping dead on the living room floor. It's all very amusing in an S&M kind of way. But I think it's working. I can now suck in my pot belly a little bit, which means I'm growing some stomach muscles. And I can stand up straighter and hold my yoga poses on Thursday nights without farting or wanting to murder somebody. Progress!
Still, I hate working out. I hate sweating. And I used to love it so much! I used to go to the gym with darling Ruthie three nights a week after work back when I lived in the city. But that was seven years ago, and a lot has changed since then.
So I'm avoiding sugary stuff, saying nyet to chips and beer during the week, and trying to incorporate more protein and fibre into my diet. Which, since I've never been on a diet before in my life, feels very weird to me. I'm not trying to sound obnoxious, honest. I'm just saying. But pot-belly has spoken, and pot-belly must be banished.
Wish me luck.