Thoughts on Hitchcock, Stress, and Weight Loss
I don’t know much about Alfred Hitchcock’s personal life, certainly not enough to judge whether the movie Hitchcock is a faithful representation of his character or marriage. It was, however, a very entertaining story, well worth the time to see Hopkins and Mirren fill their larger than life personas. While Helen Mirren’s Alma Reville certainly rises to the occasion, the Alfred Hitchcock portrayed here betrays a deeper insecurity, which is especially apparent if you pay attention to Anthony Hopkins’ eyes. I’m not giving away much by pointing out that Hitchcock’s legendary portliness, while certainly influenced by his filmmaking success and rich appetite, is also shown here as due in many ways to stress, anxiety, and insecurity. In the scenes where he’s very clearly stress eating, he looks very much like the scared little boy, hiding behind his fleshy defenses.
Without a doubt these images resonated with me. I first began to struggle with my weight around age 7 or 8, although maybe it was earlier. Looking back, I can see a combination of factors that worked against me—being a clever kid with good grades, physically awkward and awful at physical sports; social awkwardness that made me more comfortable talking to grownups than kids my own age (who generally disliked my overachievement in class and enjoyed my shortcomings in gym class and other sporting activities); and, generally speaking, just not knowing how to cope constructively with stress, anxiety, and depression.
I can identify a few key moments in my adult life when I managed to re-make my body. First, like a number of gay teens I have met I dropped a substantial amount of weight when I came out, found friends, and gained a ton of confidence in myself. Over time though, the blessing of an enriched social life (especially in college) can turn into joyful overindulgences, and college especially added some (but not all) of the pounds back on. The second time I felt a significant change came when I went to NYU for a summer, when the experience of being alone in Manhattan and needing to walk everywhere certainly had an impact. Getting a Master’s degree in social work, however, re-introduced me to food as a way to cope with stress. I’ve often said that comfort food is the social worker’s drug of choice—and after years of work in the social services, I haven’t seen much evidence to convince me otherwise.
The third occurrence came when I moved to the Twin Cities several years ago. I was single, taking walks every day over the lunch hour, and working at a job that frequently had me on my feet doing outreach in the local gay bars. Although I was able to keep that weight level for a few years, gradually it creeped upward as my job became more stressful and Jaxon and I settled into a domestic routine. I’m absolutely convinced that stress plays a major role in how I gain and lose weight. My first year in the Ph.D. program—when I was still working full-time at my old agency—led me to balloon up again, with my blood pressure spiking as well. Even though I swam laps twice a week, it was easier to grab pre-made food or order out than drag my mentally exhausted brain and body to the co-op and then the kitchen.
Over the last year or so, I’ve tried to re-introduce some balance in my life. It helps that we started making communal dinners with our housemates and changed our shopping habits so that we get fresh food in shorter amounts, over multiple trips to the co-op each week. Recently though, a big catalyst for me has been meeting a new friend, also gay and about the same age that I was during my last major weight loss period. Having someone who’s been in my shoes, who doesn’t necessarily want to adopt the hardcore “training” mentality but is galvanized by his successes so far, has given me a new motivation to get a bit more active. (Not that I haven’t been active, but given how much time I spend on the laptop with research and lesson planning, I could use the boost.) I don’t know if I’ll be able to replicate my previous successes—honestly, right now I think that significant weight loss is less my goal than simply finding and keeping a balance. More importantly, I think back on the image of Anthony Hopkins as the unquestionably brilliant but deeply insecure Alfred Hitchcock, feverishly stuffing food in his mouth in an attempt to fortify himself from his own fright. I’ve been there, and will probably revisit that state of mind at some points again in my life. Part of this journey, this struggle, inevitably involves revisiting the pitfalls of my own past. Revisiting, however, doesn’t mean that I have to live there.