I’ve been talking with a number of the other long-term fellows about the amazing fact that many of us have managed to gain weight while on sabbatical. Here we are, in Southern California, with its lovely weather and year-round fresh produce at local farmer’s markets several times each week, and we’re getting fatter! We’re getting fatter as we walk and bike to the library, and as we do yoga in the Chinese garden twice a week together (with classes taught by me and another fellow), and we’re all of us–or most of us, anyway–getting heavier!
Most of us live in places with winter cold and summer humidity in our real lives, and most of us drive a lot longer and further on a daily basis in our work commutes. Then there’s all of that day job tedium of teaching, meeting with students, and committee work that gets in the way of our running, walking, hiking, biking, and yoga, or what have you. Women and men alike have remarked on this unhappy side-effect of our residency here.
What is up with this?
I haven’t gained more than a few pounds, but I was kind of hoping to drop the five (OK, eight or ten) that I had picked up over the past few years, what with all of the biking, hiking, walking, running, and yoga in my life in L.A.. (My yoga teacher assures me that “it’s all muscle!” but I’m skeptical.) I’m never on my dead butt in my car in L.A., whereas that’s about 3-5 hours of my life each week in Colorado! I used to be a pretty reliable “S” or size 6 across the board, but sometimes now I find that “M” and size 8 fits a little better. And not just at Barney’s when I’m trying to squeeze into a Narciso Rodriguez dress. (Barney’s always manages to make me feel fat and poor. I think it’s really about Barney’s and not about me, though.)
To a large extent, I feel like it’s un-feminist to complain about gaining weight. Why shouldn’t I take up some space in the world? I’m in my mid-40s and have done some things. Haven’t I earned it, or must I always apologize for the space I occupy? Men are allowed to let it all hang out, especially past a certain point in life. Why aren’t we women more comfortable with ourselves–and other women–claiming the same space? Why do we insist on trying to make ourselves smaller, literally to diminish ourselves?
So what gives? If it’s happening to a lot of us, then perhaps it’s not a collective failure of the will but might have something to do with our food ecology.
The Research Director of the Huntington Library has joked with us about the “Huntington 15” that he has put on since taking the job three years ago, but then, part of his job is to take visiting scholars and the fellows out to various lunches in restaurants and catered dinners. While the long-term fellows are invited to some of these events, they only happen for us about once or twice a month.
Is it that we’re just too friendly and are socializing in bars and restaurants too often? Could be. Are we availing ourselves of Trader Joe’s frozen dinners instead of cooking whole foods from scratch. Guilty, as charged! Are we gladly downing a third glass of wine or a cocktail most evenings, because we don’t have to mark papers or stay awake to finish our reading or lecture notes for tomorrow. Nolo contendere! Is there something about the psychology of sabbatical that makes us feel like we’re entitled to “treat” ourselves more often? I’m entering an Alford plea.
Or are we just a bunch of lucky bastards mostly in our 40s and 50s who’d be packing it on anyway at this stage in life? Almost surely! At least while we’re on sabbatical as Huntington long-term fellows, we’re in excellent company and are enjoying ourselves, instead of blaming ourselves, Christmas, the weather, the crummy winter, etc. for our weight gain.
On the other hand: we hear that dieting doesn’t work, and that what little scientific evidence we have about weight and survival suggests that it’s better to carry a few extra pounds than to be thin. So I say let’s live it up while we can. Austerity awaits us as we watch the clock on our fellowships wind down.