Losing weight while gaining substance

Last summer, Cat Noxon went out and got her belly button pierced. It wasn’t anything she’d planned to do. But adorning her abdomen with a light-blue sparkler was the ultimate gift she could give herself, celebrating her body’s new weight and shape.

“My biggest battle had been with my stomach,” she says. “All my fat had accumulated in my belly. People used to ask me if I was pregnant.”

Being overweight was the norm in Cat’s family. No one ever taught her how to connect what she ate with how she felt. Over time, her weight increased. “It crept up on me until the day I went shopping for a new pair of jeans. When I realized I’d have to buy a size 20 to accommodate the size of my stomach, that was it. I left the store.”

That day of reckoning came when Cat was 29; her weight had peaked at nearly 200 pounds. Over the next 12 months, she gradually lost 50 pounds. A few years later, in a matter of months, she shed another 20 pounds. Now 36 years old, she’s a slender woman who, regardless of how many pounds she has lost, has gained as much — or more — in substance.

The secret of success

The key to Cat’s transformation is that she exercises in ways that work the large muscles in her body’s center, building her core strength. She has also changed her food choices.

Cat’s first step was eliminating animal fats from her diet, maintaining her intake of essential fatty acids by eating fish and other foods. “I quit eating meat and cheese and increased the amount of vegetables I ate,” she says, adding, “I stopped going to fast-food restaurants.”

That’s how Cat lost the first 50 pounds. But her weight stayed at that level for four years. “I couldn’t lose the last 20 pounds,” she recalls. “I was stuck.”

Cat’s continuing research, however, revealed that wheat is a common food allergy. “When I quit eating wheat, the last 20 pounds peeled off in a couple of months.”

Reading widely, Cat never insists that one particular set of food choices is right for everyone. Referring to Peter D’Adamo’s best-selling book Eat Right for Your Type, she says: “As the book suggests, people like me who have type A blood do better avoiding meat, dairy and the nightshade vegetables. My cousin was a vegetarian for years. Her blood is type O. She looked and felt terrible until she started eating meat.”

The key, Cat continues, “is to listen to your body. Pay attention to what your body does after you eat a certain food. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t eat it again, or don’t eat it very often.”

The saga of Cat’s 70-pound weight loss lends deeper meaning to the phrase “extreme makeover.” “I didn’t diet,” she emphasizes. “I changed my lifestyle. Changing the way I eat changed everything.”

As she became more aware of the foods she was eating, Cat realized she had the opportunity to eat pure food. “I realized that it wasn’t just about eating low-fat foods and vegetables. It was also about buying the healthiest food. That’s how I started buying food that’s grown organically.”

Cat says she’s more than willing to pay a little extra for organic food. “I believe the amount of money I’m going to save on health care in the future justifies the few extra dollars I’m spending to buy organic food now,” she reveals.

Cat’s interest in organic farming has also driven home the link between the personal and the political. “When I realized that food grown with pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers could pollute me, I realized that they pollute the world. Those kind of farming practices are bad for everybody, not just me. I believe we need to treat our bodies to the purest food available. Not just for us as individuals but for all the future generations. We need to be as gentle to the earth as we can.”

As Cat educated herself about the environmental impact of conventional agriculture and the ethics of industrial livestock production, she anchored her personal food choices in her broader social values. Connecting the personal with the political enabled her to make lasting changes. “Attaching a political or environmental concern to my food choices made it a lot easier for me to stay focused on my commitment to myself,” notes Cat.

“You can eat well and save the world at the same time!” she exclaims, flashing a big grin. Then, speaking more soberly, she adds: “Once you’re appalled about chickens being debeaked, you’re not going to want to eat chicken that’s been raised that way. The changes become permanent.”

They also reverberate way past the question of what’s for dinner. “Dropping eight dress sizes made a big difference in my energy level,” says Cat. “I’ve become politically active. My sense of what is important has changed.”

“What’s important to me is working someplace I feel good about,” she continues. Shifting out of a high-paying corporate job, Cat works now as assistant manager at the Haywood Road Market, West Asheville’s new food co-op, which features locally grown organic produce. “It was really the best move. I feel that I’m working for the community. It’s not about me personally; it’s about me putting the time that I have toward the greater good of all. Working at the co-op keeps me inspired to continue to learn more, become more.”

As Cat has worked the transformation of her body’s shape and size, she has also worked an internal actualization. Her words define the term “empowerment”: I feel really good about who I am. I try to make everything a conscious decision, as opposed to letting other people make my decisions for me and going along with the norm.

“It all comes back to knowing that my body is a temple, and the world is the temple in which I feed my body.”

A cultural makeover

Almost every woman I know is persistently tired. Many are struggling with symptoms that range from the annoying to the life-threatening. I see friends dying. And I wonder to what extent air and water pollution — together with vaccinations and other artifacts of industrial medicine — contribute to this sickness. I also wonder how much women’s physiology may make us much more vulnerable than men to such injuries.

I see no separation between an individual woman’s well-being and the earth’s well-being. The industrial pollutants, pesticides and pathogens that are lodging in our tissues and eroding our vitality are sapping the earth’s strength as well.

In many ways, Cat has honed herself to her essence: she knows and shows herself to be a gutsy woman. And as a culture, we need a collective “makeover” that’s every bit as profound as hers.

We will be healthy women living on a healthy planet when we, like Cat, know our bodies and the earth’s body to be temples of life — when we sustain our bodies and the earth’s body as dwelling places of the sacred.

[Lisa Sarasohn, creator of the “Honoring Your Belly” project, is collecting stories about how women and girls are developing body-positive attitudes, particularly with respect to our bellies. To tell your story, visit honoringyourbelly.com and contact Lisa at bellyqueen@earthlink.net.]

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