People who have not warred against obesity will not understand this post any more than a woman who popped out babies without effort or thought would understand the agony of infertility, any more than a woman who married her high school sweetheart at eighteen would understand the desperation of the forty-something who always longed for the husband who never appeared.
This is for those who understand.
The ones who go to bed each night thinking tomorrow they’ll do better, not overeat, not choose the fries with that. The ones who make notations in their calendars marking how much they weigh today and if they lose two pounds a week they can fit in the size fourteen for the event happening in six months. The ones who look in the mirror at their naked bodies and think how did this happen, how could this have happened. The ones who have resigned themselves to dying fat. The ones who are ashamed, who hide behind others in family photos, who cringe internally when they order something sweet because they know they’re being judged by the waitstaff, the barista, the checker at the grocery store, who really is thinking, “Seriously, lady, a hot fudge brownie? Are you freaking kidding me?”
Fat women suffer. They know that in every social setting they are The Fat One. They are visible, obvious, conspicuous. Vertical stripes don’t help, and yes, that dress does make them look fat. Because they are.
When I first was told I was fat, it was a lie. I wasn’t. I was eight years old and 75 pounds. Little bit chubby, sure. Fat, no. By junior high, I was mired in full-time and full-blown body hate. I weighed 110 pounds in 7th grade, but there were girls in my class who weighed 95, so I felt fat. There were girls in my class who weighed more than I did, but I didn’t compare myself to them. I compared myself with the little tiny girls who probably hadn’t begun menstruating or wearing bras and whose families hadn’t seen womanly hips in generations.
At home, I was told I was fat. Every day. Every meal. “You’re really going to eat that?” I started to starve myself. In 8th grade, I went on my first fast. Two days. Forty-eight hours without food. At 12. TWELVE. That seems like a good time of life to deny your body nutrition, amirite?
I was the Fat Sister. I have only one sister, and since she’s always been small, I was never going to “win” the title of Thin Sister. Bizarrely, in our late teens we could share some clothes (not all, as I had bigger hips and boobs), and it never ever occurred to me (I am only realizing it this moment as I write this!) that if we could wear the same clothes, we were basically the same size. This “Fat Sister” identity was consistently pointed out to me (but not by her), and I wore it like shame for decades, even when my sister and I lived thousands of miles apart. Bizarre, yes. Pointless, yes. Irrational, yes. (I was the Smart Sister, also ridiculous, since my sister is no dummy and never has been. How stupid comparisons are, how unhealthy, how crippling.)
Here is where the Not-Fat Reader will say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have listened to them!” or “You should have realized.” Yeah, yeah, whatever, Skinny Minnie. I’m talking about How It Is, not how you think it ought to have been.
I felt fat through college and my first marriage. I believed I was huge. My highest non-pregnant weight during these years was 150. Enormous, I know. If only someone–anyone!–had said to me, “You are perfect. You are beautiful. Don’t ever diet again,” but alas, the message I heard continually was, “You can do better, you should do better, not to do better is sin for you.” And so the nightly “tomorrow I won’t” routine ground on, solidified, became unbreakable.
Throughout my 20s, I routinely starved myself, engaged in every self-destructive diet known to womankind. Repeatedly. There’s no need to list these. If you’ve read this far it’s because you get it and you’ve been on them all too. The foolishness of Atkins–meat only and fruit is bad. Fruit! That God made and said “it is good” and packaged in “serving size: one.” The foolishness of liquid diets and hunger suppressants and one-cheese-sandwich-per-day and the insane idea that you can stuff yourself on sugar-free non-caloric foods and be satisfied. You can’t be. Your body will eat. It will get the nutrition it needs. And you will gain every pound back you starved off. Plus more. Starve-binge-repeat. You know the drill.
I lost large amounts of weight quite a few times. Once I even taught a class called “Fifty Pounds. I lost it, so can you!” which brought in a little bit a money and quite a few hopeful (and probably disappointed) fat women longing to find the magic cure. These particular 50 pounds were lost because the infertility doc I was seeing told me that losing 50 pounds would be the trick to get my hormones in balance and start me ovulating. Liar, liar, pants on fire. Point being, we’ve all lost weight many times. But it’s hard. It’s harder than anyone can imagine. It requires ongoing physical hunger, 24/7 deprivation. It’s not something that can be done casually. It requires intense effort and concentrated, unwavering focus, and the whole time there’s piles of food sitting there being all in your face appetizing and your body is screaming for it and inevitably, your body will eat it. Anyone who says, “Just eat right and exercise” has not the tiniest clue what we are dealing with here.
What we are dealing with here is a society that says you have to be feminine, but not too womanly. Boobs are good, but really big boobs are disgusting. Hips are okay–if you must have hips–but if they’re over 40 inches, you are disgusting. Toss in some strict Christianity, and not only are you disgusting, but you’re also sinful. You are basically living in sin, dontchaknow, because gluttony and fatness and disrespecting your husband, no wonder he looks around, can you blame him, you fatso? This is all very destructive to the pious Christian woman who IS TRYING. She is trying her heart out. She cries and stresses over this without let-up, without reprieve. She knows. She doesn’t need your judgement, your advice, doesn’t need you to send her stories about how your friend did it. Heck, she doesn’t need to read this blog about my weight loss. She’s sick of hearing it. Maybe she’s resigned to it. But I promise you, she wants to lose weight. She would give anything to lose weight. She can’t. Leave her alone. Tell her she’s beautiful. Tell her you love her.
Don’t say, “I love you even though you’re fat.” Just say, “I love you.” Just “You’re beautiful,” not “You have such a pretty face.” Whatever you do, don’t say jolly. Don’t use faux words like chubby. Don’t comment on what she’s eating. She knows what she’s eating. Leave her alone. Or join her and talk about how amazing the food is and how great it tastes. Validate her eating and enjoyment of food. Allow her the liberty of eating without feeling guilty and horrible and fat.
But I digress. Back to it:
Over time I did get actually fat. By 31, I weighed 200 pounds. I lost 50 pounds at 34 (the attempt to achieve ovulation), but over a couple of years, gained it back. There’s this thing called hunger and it demands feeding. After Tommy was born (I was 43, and miracle of miracles, no fertility doc was involved.), I settled in at about 230, finally edging almost to 250. On 5 feet 2, this is a lot of weight to carry. I wore size 24 jeans and size 2X ugly Wal-Mart t-shirts and sweat pants.
Finally, I said, Eff This. No more trying and praying and anguishing and dieting and starving and hoping and planning. No more. It was time to realize there was No Way for me to do this on my own. I needed help. The kind where they cut you open and fix it.
They took out 90% of my stomach and gave me a nice little banana-shaped one. It’s called a “vertical sleeve gastrectomy.”
They say it’s nothing more than enforced portion control, but for me, it’s far more than that. Portion control is nothing if you’re hungry all the time. If you’re experiencing deprivation and restriction. If, when you eat to satisfaction you hate yourself because you know you’re going to weigh more tomorrow. The sleeve allows me to eat to satisfaction, because it takes so little to fill me up. I’m not hungry. I’m not deprived. I’m full. And frankly, full Sharon is happy Sharon.
Of course, there’s a cost. No more caffeine. No more sugar. No more french fries. On the other hand, no more Lane Bryant.
I went into Lane Bryant the other day, stood in the middle of the store, looked around and said, “Awesome.” When the saleswoman asked me if I needed help, I said, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” Just looking. I didn’t say the obvious, “You don’t carry my size.” If I had been less concerned about alarming anyone, I would have stood there and cried. Cried in Lane Bryant for the decades of sneaking in there all fat, having to shop there. (By the way, if you don’t know what Lane Bryan is, please go away. This blog is for fatties who know.)
Weight-loss surgery isn’t for everyone. Not everyone can afford it (mine was free through Kaiser, our HMO). Not everyone’s family is supportive. Not everyone will be successful even with the surgery. Some people still overeat. Some people take up alcoholism when they find they can’t eat enough to quiet their emotional pain. Some people go off plan and eat all day long in small quantities, thereby consuming too much. Some people’s families (usually husbands) sabotage them: expect them to keep making “regular” meals for them, which puts them in too much temptation. Or expect them to keep going out to dinner. Or keep asking (evilly), “Are you sure you don’t want some? Surely one bite won’t hurt you.” (Think one cigarette, one drink, one toke, one line.) I knew my family wouldn’t do any of that. I knew Brian would be 100% in my corner, not because he hated my being fat (in fact, he never mentioned my weight ever), but because he’s supportive of all my efforts, whatever I’m working on at the moment. He’s a sweetheart like that.
Again, it’s not for everyone, but for me, surgery was absolutely essential. Because I was not going to starve myself anymore. Not going to live in the land of plenty and be hungry all the time in one more failed attempt to restrict myself into thinness. I got to a place where I knew I had had enough french fries for a lifetime, enough movie popcorn, enough blue cheese dressing, enough already. It was time to take control, take my body and make it over so that it would work for me. My body and I needed to work together. Some people need their arteries cleaned out. Some people need knee replacements. Some people need donor corneas. I needed a smaller stomach, end of story.
My surgery was December 4, 2014. It’s been 13 months since then. I’m up to eating about 1,000 calories a day, which completely satisfies me. I don’t go to bed hungry. I no longer wear large voluminous clothing. I no longer think about “someday” being thin. I weigh 134 pounds (down from 242), wear size 8 jeans, and just tonight was at Wal-Mart saying far too loudly, “Do they not have any size small sweat pants in this entire store? What is wrong with these people!” I am full three times a day and never get really hungry.
A lot of people in my support group say they wish they had had the surgery years ago, but I don’t. Years ago I wouldn’t have been ready. I needed to be all the way to the place where I knew for darn-tootin’ I couldn’t succeed any other way. But at 53, I’d tried everything so many times and failed consistently and inevitably that I knew the situation wasn’t going to change. No amount of sheer effort was going to be effective. I needed someone to come along and remake me.
To those who say, “You took the easy way out,” so what? Is it a contest to see who can overcome the greatest odds? Does it not count that I’ve lost the weight because I didn’t do it by main force? Are my size 8 jeans somehow invalidated because I didn’t suffer in agonizing hunger pangs for a couple of years to fit in them? Is there some nobility in staying fat rather than getting thin with the help of a surgeon? Remember, I’m not just losing weight; I’m adding years to my life, adding activity to my day, adding health, adding self-confidence, adding social acceptance. If I “cheated” to achieve these things by having surgery, who cares?
Easy way out or not (some people argue it isn’t easy, though for me it’s been uncomplicated and simple), it’s been the successful way out. It’s easier to grab the life preserver and float ashore than to say, “Nah, I can get there on my own,” and try to battle the ocean. Or, to go back to the infertility analogy (since I’m an expert in that too), it’s easier to get embryos implanted than it is to try month after month after devastating year and heart-breaking decade with inevitable failure. Sometimes you need help. Sometimes that help is surgical in nature. It doesn’t always work. There aren’t any guarantees. But it might work, and sometimes it’s worth a shot.
For people struggling with being fat, I have no advice. Surgery was helpful for me. That is all I can add to the conversation. God be with you and give you the answers you need, but whatever you do, don’t hate yourself. You are beautiful and wise and good and no amount of extra weight impinges on that.