How Being Overweight Has Affected My Life
We see the news reports and the pictures that go with them. 'America's staggering obesity statistics,' with a photo of someone's beer belly. Obesity is truly an epidemic. The numbers are staggering. We now have an outbreak of ten and twelve year old children at weights inappropriate for someone twice their ages. Today's high fat and sugary convenience foods coupled with sedentary lifestyles are causing the US's sizes to go up and up with no end in sight. There are actually obesity clinics and rehabs now, for people who are putting their health in danger because of their size.
But, what we don't often hear is the truth behind the weight. What does it really feel like to be overweight? To be obese?
If you've never been seriously overweight, you won't be able to relate to this, but keep reading anyway. Walk a few feet in my shoes. Maybe you'll think twice before you decide to insult someone else because of their weight.
Make no mistake, I am in no way writing this for pity or sympathy. The things I am describing in this article are results of my actions. It is my fault that I got to this point, and I am the only one who can undo it.
I Love You Like a Fat Kid Loves Cake
I was a preemie. I was born on June 3, but my due date was June 28, my daddy's birthday. I spent some time in an incubator, was baptized at about three days old because they didn't think I was going to make it. I weighed three pounds and fourteen ounces.
Somehow being that small translated into becoming a chubby, normal toddler. The problem is, I never lost my baby fat and, in fact, kept finding more of it. There's nothing wrong with me, physically, that makes me gain weight. My size is my fault - diet and lifestyle, and this started when I was young. I liked fatty, sugary foods, so my mother bought fatty, sugary foods. Pepsi, pepsi, pepsi. That's all I wanted to drink. I remember my maternal grandmother would only let me have one bottle of pop a day, and sometimes I had to share that with her. I figured she hated me.
I didn't like to play outside, especially once I learned to read. So I was eating bad food and sitting on my butt most of the time. For a while, this didn't really have much effect on my social life. Occasionally I did hang out with other kids. I'd ride my bike with the guys in the alley behind their house. I pretty much fit in, for the most part.
By the time I was nine, I was over a hundred pounds. At the end of fourth grade, I remember they took our heights and weights and put them on a sheet of paper that got posted to the wall. I was the heaviest kid in my class. I kept hoping that nobody would notice that fact, but of course they did. I remember a girl named Phyllis made fun of my legs because they were so big. She said they were bigger than her momma's.
Intermediate school came along, and I was the only eleven year old girl with boobs. Mine were a C cup by then, and I'd started my cycle just after my ninth birthday. I don't know if this was because of my weight, I do remember that I thought I was dying because I hadn't had that talk with my mother yet. Fifth grade was when I first realized that I couldn't run and jump like the other kids could. We had a yearly physical test where we had to do all sorts of exercises. We had to do at least one pull up on the monkey bars. I did one, but it took me forever to do it. I got laughed at so much for that that I wanted to crawl into the woodwork and die. I was eleven and finding out what shame really was.
By the time I got into high school, that yearly physical education test was a joke, we had to run the track. I always walked it, even then it took me forever to finish. The last time I had to do this test, I just gave up. I was fifteen and topping off at two hundred pounds.
Being fat affected every aspect of my life. Being an outcast isn't fun, especially when it's because of your own doing. All the other kids were wearing Jordache jeans, and I couldn't fit into them. Plus Size was barely an afterthought in the mid to late eighties. If I could find clothes that fit, they weren't 'cute,' but I did what I had to.
I won't talk about dating, it's just too damned painful to think about.
Because of a lot of this, my attitude became aloof. I didn't want people to engage me in conversation, and I only let a few people in. People thought I was shy. I didn't want to be shy, I had things to say, but I already had enough attention drawn to me.
At nineteen, I moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to room with a friend of mine from high school. It was a little different for me there, nobody knew me and I could be whoever I wanted to be. I found myself in my first romantic relationship with someone who was older than me and, to put it nicely, wasn't very smart. But he liked me, even if I was huge. I stayed in that relationship for about two years.
I remember taking a trip to New York City with my friend. It was hard for me because there was a lot of walking involved. I remember my feet being sore the whole time and, for a good bit of the trip, I was miserable. I remember sitting on a bench in a small park somewhere relatively close to Grand Central Station. A cute guy started staring at me, then, when he'd walked far enough to see all of me and not just my face, he averted his gaze. I was devastated.
The years passed, with each one bringing more pounds. I met a new guy, ended up pregnant and having a miscarriage. The doctors said it was a 'spontaneous natural abortion.' Though nobody could convince me that it wasn't because of my weight, I still didn't do anything about it.
A few years later, I met and married a guy and stayed with him until June of 1999. By this time, I was well over three hundred pounds and had a problem with high blood pressure and my asthma was getting worse. I was also showing signs of becoming diabetic. This was around the time that I first decided to diet, and got a prescription for the drug Meridia from my doctor. This medication caused my blood pressure to go up even higher, and was the last time I took a diet pill. I was also showing symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as bi-polar disorder, but that diagnosis would take another seven years.
In 2006, the bottom dropped out of my world. I had been in a four year relationship with a man who broke up with me by e-mail, his main reason being that he didn't find me attractive anymore. I knew I had gained weight when we were together, but I didn't think it was that large of an amount. I was, though, so large at this time, that I had to special order all of my clothes. I couldn't even buy shirts at Walmart. Though they went up to size 26/28, sometimes 30/32, they didn't fit. I was ordering all of my clothes from Lane Bryant online and spending a fortune for them.
I remember going to see Brokeback Mountain with a friend. Movie theater seats (and restaurant booths, bus seats and mostly every other contraption for putting your behind in) are not make for fat people. I was used to being scrunched up and uncomfortable throughout the movie, but I refused to simply not go. But Brokeback Mountain did something to me. I would normally have one empty seat on at least one side of me so that I could lean that way and be more comfortable. By this time, I'd needed a seat on either side.
For this movie, the theater was at capacity, pretty much except for the two seats on either side of me. Some women came and wanted my friend and I to sit closer together so that they could sit side by side. My friend actually said 'She can't sit beside anyone.' And we all knew why. So I can understand why airlines want to charge the very overweight for two seats. It's not fair to pay for one seat and sit in yours and half of another.
Regardless, now I had a broken heart and shattered self-esteem. Though suicidal thoughts had come and gone for most of my life, they were especially prevalent during this time. I was fat. Disgusting. No one would want me. No one could love me. I was worthless. Those thoughts got worse when I visited a doctor and found out that I weighed 397 pounds. At 5'3", the ideal weight for my height is between 121 and 135 pounds for a person of medium build. My Body Mass Index (BMI) was about 70. A normal score for my height is 25.
Something had to be done.
It was around this time that my doctor started giving me literature about gastric bypass surgery. He said my health was good enough for me to be a prime candidate for the procedure (this was before the gastric band was common). I took the pamphlets home and read them over and over. This could be my answer. I could lose the weight quickly and with minimal effort. I started looking for information about the surgery and its survivors online and started to get psyched. My insurance from work would pay for the surgery, and I had enough vacation time accrued so that I'd be able to stay home and recover. It was looking better and better.
The day before my follow-up visit with my doctor where I was to tell him my decision regarding surgery, I re-read the original literature. I paid particular attention to the side effects information contained there. I realized that the number one adverse side effect of the surgery was death. Death. So I had to weigh the pros and cons. Could I die from complications of the surgery? Yes. Would I die if I did not have the surgery? Probably. Eventually. Sooner than I should. But I still had time. When I went to that appointment, I told the doctor 'no thanks.' I'd do it on my own.
What happened then was something I should have done to start with. I didn't diet. I ate a lot. I just changed what I was eating. Baby carrots instead of chips. Granola bars instead of cookies. I stopped eating McDonald's for lunch, and starting packing food to bring to work. I did not deny msyelf anything, though. If I wanted the chocolate cake, I ate the chocolate cake. A friend challenged me to lose a hundred pounds in a year. If I did, he would completely pay for me to take a trip to Jamaica, a place I have always wanted to go.
That's when I went into overdrive and started buying workout DVDs and exercise equipment. I had a medicine ball, barbells... even a beginning belly dancing video. And I used all of them. Daily.
This was a really empowering time in my life. My personality started to change. Over the years, I had become the funny fat chick, and people depended on that a lot. But my humor at this point became more positive. I also started wholeheartedly taking the wind out of people's sails when it came to my weight. I was armed with an arsenal of fat jokes, and I wasn't afraid to use them. This throws some people off, they think it is a product of low self-esteem, but it's really quite the opposite. If I am the first person to draw attention to and make fun of my weight, then your words lose their power. I owned it, and I still do.
And the weight started coming off. I was doing well, people were noticing my weight loss (though, when you're that heavy, you really have to lose a lot for people to be able to see it, we're talking at least fifty pounds here).
And then I managed to get myself into an abusive relationship, and then another. And the weight loss wasn't so important anymore. Just keeping myself alive was paramount.
I ended up moving to Florida, then later to Texas. In November of 2010, I had to see a doctor who would determine my eligibility for disability (for physical and psychological reasons). I weighed 316 pounds that day, and that was after having gained back some of the weight I'd lost in 2006/2007. That was the last time I got on a scale.
The Beginning of the Rest of My Life
I still have problems. I think I'm around about 275 pounds now, maybe a little less. Numbers don't much concern me anymore. I physically feel better than I have in a long time, and am looking forward to the time when my weight loss journey is at an end. If I feel this good now, how much better will I feel then?
I am a lot more active now than ever before. I moved to New York in 2011, and actually had to go up and down the stairs in the house all day long. That did wonders for my behind, right there. Now we live in the country, and there is a big, wide world out there and I've been out in it more than I ever imagined that I could. When I lived in Texas in 2010, I couldn't walk around the block without stopping twice to rest. In October of 2011, I went trick or treating with my roommate and her kids and was on my feet for two hours. And I felt good about it when we got home. Hell, I just climbed a small mountain a couple of weeks ago.
I still binge eat occasionally. And I am struggling to understand the reasons why. I plan to get back in to therapy to figure this one out. Thankfully, out of necessity for the most part, my binges are few and far between. I buy a lot of the food that I eat online, and I've had to force myself not to buy those things that are very bad for me. Or to at least not buy so many of them. I also try to eat at least three times a day. When the weight came off quickly in 2006, I was eating healthy foods three to five times a day, and I know I need to get back to that. I will, eventually. Right now, though, whatever I'm subconsciously doing is working.
For my birthday last week, my roommates gave me a T-shirt with the character Michonne from The Walking Dead on the front. They apologized that the shirt was only a size XL. Because it was a limited edition, it was the only size they could get. I thanked them for the gift, and I was grateful, don't get me wrong. They thought enough about me to buy me something very special.
I took it to my room and eyeballed it. Three or four years ago, I was literally buying size 6X in shirts. Last summer, I was buying 3X or 4X. I figured 'nothing ventured, nothing gained,' and decided to try on the Michonne shirt. Though it was a little tight in the sleeves and maybe not as long as I'd have liked it to be, it fit. I can wear an XL. For the life of me, I can't remember the last time I could.
My jeans are all size 26/28, and they are ridiculously large. I refuse to buy more until I absolutely have to. I just bought a size 4X tank top from eBay a couple of months ago and had to shorten the straps because it was just too damned big. The smaller me is having a hard time understanding that it doesn't need that extra X, or three or four of them.
I'm getting there. I know I have a lot of work to do, and I am smart enough to know that it will take time. But it's getting done. Come hell or high water, I will be healthy.