Succeeding at changing 'fattitude'


POSTED: Sunday, February 01, 2009

“;I like to eat. I like to eat a LOT.”;

; Cartoonist Carol Lay amends that confession: “;But I learned to budget my intake so I could reduce my weight for better health and a sleeker silhouette.”;

Lay's meticulous journey in weight loss is documented in her full-length graphic memoir, an engaging book titled ”;The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude”; (Villard, 202 pages, $18). The 56-year-old Lay is one of the more distinguished alternative comic strip creators around, known for her cleanly drawn, well-paced storytelling. Her comic strip “;WayLay”; is regularly featured at the news/opinion Web site Salon.

Seeing a photo of herself—“;happy and plump with a cat on my back”;—as she put it, “;flipped my switch.”; Lay's relationship to food and weight has been an ongoing concern of hers ever since she was an overweight teenager. The success of her mission came with the help of calculating her daily calorie intake with the intense discipline of a mathematician. (Her resolve is such that even if someone like George Clooney came to her home with a bag of fast-food breakfast and a “;24-ounce double chocolate chip crappucino blended creme with whipped cream,”; he would get the door slammed in his face.)

Responding via e-mail from her Los Angeles home, when asked if she felt she was a recovering “;foodaholic,”; Lay wrote: “;I've heard it said that alcoholics drink to fill a gaping hole, and I suppose the same was true for me in regard to eating. I didn't seem to have an 'off' switch.

“;Alcoholics may not be able to ever control their drinking, but they can stop and hopefully stay sober. Overeating is a bit stickier in that we can't stop eating altogether. I needed to learn how to budget my intake in a doable, reasonable way so I could lose weight without feeling deprived. Reading up on nutrition and seeing how my body responded well to nutritious food was valuable, as was making sure I took enough exercise to keep my mind active and my metabolism running smoothly.

“;I had many false starts before I made my lifelong change,”; she said, “;but all that experience helped me know what to do when I was ready to do it.”;

  LAY HAS been in the cartooning biz for many years. Besides doing her own work, her cartooning has appeared in several national magazines and newspapers, as well as doing storyboards for feature films and commercials.

“;When I was a kid, I thought I'd be some kind of fancy-pants artiste when I grew up,”; she said. “;I sampled a few comic books but didn't chance on the great ones that would have hooked me—ECs, 'Uncle Scrooge' or 'Little Lulu'—so I read books instead.

“;After I graduated from college, a friend who worked at a science-fiction bookstore gave me a crash course in comics. I was hooked. I'd been doing a lot of weird and fanciful drawings, thinking I might try to become an illustrator, but the comics form was far more interesting to me.

“;I first earned money in the field by lettering comics—a step up from the mailroom—and worked my way up from there. I love it. And getting the opportunity to tell my story in comics form so other people can relate and learn from my experience has been an amazing gift.”;

And that gift has come back tenfold ever since the release of “;The Big Skinny.”;

“;The book hasn't been out long, but I've received some amazing letters from readers. A young man wrote me a thank-you last night that brought tears to my eyes—he had dropped 20 pounds in the three weeks since he'd stumbled on (to the book). ... I've been doing comics for over 30 years and readers have written me nice notes before, but these letters are extremely gratifying.

“;The 'fattitude' I talk about in the book—the negative attitudes like denial and fear of change that help us stay chunky—must be countered with awareness and willingness to change,”; Lay said. “;Losing weight isn't simply a mechanical process of 'fewer calories in, more calories out'—I found that I needed a good understanding of myself to make it all stick.

“;And after five years of maintaining my goal weight, I guess I've done that. I slip up now and then, but that's OK—I know what to do to get back on track.”;

  WHILE “;The Big Skinny”; works as a how-to book—complete with calorie charts and recipes—when Lay interlaces it with chapters on her own life history with food, it makes for a richer story.




The Big Skinny

Salon.com www.salon.com



One chapter in particular is the poignant “;Ghosts in the Graveyard,”; her first in-depth look at her relationship to her family.

“;That happens to be my favorite chapter in the book—honest, kind of painful and with a complex structure,”; Lay said. “;It tells how my grandmother reacted bizarrely to my granddad's drinking and how certain control behaviors got passed along until I collected a few consequences. Instead of finding out why I was eating everything in sight, for instance, my mom took me to a doctor who put me on amphetamines for a few years. It was extremely helpful to me to sort through these things in that chapter so I could make sense of the reasons behind my emotional eating.

“;When I visited my parents' graves soon after I roughed up that chapter, I had an almost real-seeming argument with my long-gone mom,”; she said. “;Her imaginary ghost told me she REALLY didn't want me to use that chapter in the book. I cried and said I was sorry (all in my head), but I stood up to her and told her it was my story now. I love my mom, but I'm glad I got that study of family dynamics out of my system and onto paper. It was cathartic.”;