Full body picture of me

All of me

I am fat. Clinically the term is “obese”, but let’s call a duck a duck. Fat. I’m okay with that. It’s taken me a long time to sort through the garbage I hear from well-intentioned friends, family and even strangers. You’ve all heard the lines, “you’re not fat, you’re big.” Or, my favorite, “oh, don’t call yourself fat.” This one is usually mouthed by those who have been taught that hard truths are not to be spoken and hearing them makes them uncomfortable. Men will sometimes say, “I like you the way you are.” Really? Then why are you drooling over that hot little 20-something?I gained this weight while being mis-medicated for a condition I didn’t have. I’ve spoken about this before, but let me give you the soundbite. For years I was diagnosed with anxiety when, in fact, I had a sleeping disorder. I wasn’t anxious, I was tired. I was put on anti-anxiety meds that made me more anxious than what I was. This didn’t happen quickly, it happened slowly. I am one of those few people who reacted to the medication over a period of a year. By the end of two years on this medication my life had become a living nightmare. My sleeping was worse, I could barely function while trying to care for my parents, it took everything I had to just go out in public. Most days I went grocery shopping I wound up throwing up. Talk about a way to cut down your grocery bill. Most importantly, I gained weight and type II diabetes. When I finally came off the meds, it was a fresh set of hell. I’d been on them for years. I shook, I cried, I laughed hysterically, my sweat was rank and smelled like chemicals and I was not sleeping at all. That took about two months to get out of my system. However, the damage had been done.

The result of all of this was a big change in who I am. Once I was an outgoing, gregarious person. Now I’m horribly shy, prone to anxiety and fat. Before I was active and sexy. Now I love my computer far too much and am badly overweight. I’m reclaiming myself, but this isn’t an overnight thing. That’s important for people to understand. Most people I meet feel that since the medications are out of my system, I should just rebound back to who I was. That’s nice and it works in Hollywood, but reality is something different.

Let’s take stock of what happened. I was living in a hell that few people can understand. Yes, I’m out of there now, but when you’re there survival takes over and you do whatever’s necessary to keep going. You learn quickly that the coping mechanisms serve to keep you safe. When you take away the medication there’s no longer a need for the coping mechanisms but you’ve been doing them for so long you don’t remember any other way. I’d like to be that gregarious, outgoing person again. However, shyness and being socially awkward served to keep me safe. There is a part of me inside that screams in terror whenever I try to break my old habits. I try not to listen, but it’s still there.

What has this to do with me being fat? That’s simple. Just as it took me years to build up these habits, it’s taken me years to get fat. If I cannot be expected to change those anxiety habits overnight, what on earth makes me think I can change being fat overnight? That’s a secret that has been eluding me for years and now I’m sharing it with you.

Dr. Arya Sharma has been saying for a long time now that there are no instant fixes for obesity. I was shocked to hear that if a doctor sees a 400 pound patient and all that happens is the patient doesn’t GAIN weight it’s considered a win. Let’s look at that. Pretend you are 400 pounds. Dressing in the morning is a chore. Sweats and t-shirts are easier so you resort to those. If you’re a woman, forget about bras. Underwear is obnoxious at that weight. Cleaning the house? Ha! Hire a maid. People laugh at you and point. If you have kids, they’re ashamed of you. You go to the doctor because finally you’re going to do something about it. The doctor and you create a healthy eating plan and exercise regimen. Six months later you return to the doctor and you’ve lost five pounds. You’re discouraged, but your doctor is ecstatic. Why?

In our Barbie-driven, Disney hallucination world, we believe that eat right and exercise is the Be All And End All of weight loss. Isn’t that what Dr. Oz says? Weight Watchers has built an empire around that philosophy. Jenny Craig relies on it to make money. The mantra goes that if you eat right and exercise you will lose weight. That is true. To a point.

Eating right is always a good idea. We live in a wealthy society where we can get sufficient food and water for our nutritional needs. We should take advantage of that. However, what all these diets and health gurus and nonsense fails to mention is time. A person like me doesn’t get here overnight. This has taken 44 years to build up. What on earth makes anyone think that I can undo 44 years of damage, both mentally and physically, in six months? If I said to someone who had degenerative arthritis that exercise could help them and then expected them to be up and walking normally in six months, I’d get laughed at. Yet, fat is different in our minds.

We link obesity with laziness and stupidity. There was an episode of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” where Will is given a fat suit by Susan Powter. She makes the point that Will is in shape and is healthy but that he knows nothing of what life is like for his uncle. Will is challenged by Susan to wear a fat suit all day. It’s a hilarious episode, one of their best, but it makes a point. Will finally sees what carrying all that weight around is like. He finally sees the day to day problems the obese have like doing simple things like grocery shopping. There is another side to this episode, too. Things that aren’t said. His uncle is far from lazy or stupid. He tries to lose weight and is seen interacting with his family in a healthy way. When they show him eating it’s generally healthy (a few snacks to get laughs) and he is not a stupid man. He’s a judge. This episode is one of my favourites and I wish I could email Will Smith and thank him for airing it.

Obesity is a lifelong challenge. As problematic as alcoholism and as difficult to treat as addiction. Every day we see stars who have babies and lose the weight within a month or two. Sometimes less. We forget they have personal trainers and dietitians and money to get liposuction and Photoshop. I don’t. Oddly, I find that obesity is most often a problem among those who are poor. This isn’t a statistic I’ve looked up, it’s just a personal observation.

We need solutions to obesity that are going to treat it as the lifelong problem it is. Don’t tell me to eat less and exercise. I already know that. Don’t blame me when I’m not losing weight as fast as you think I should. Don’t stare at me when, for the first time in a month or two, I’ve bought fast food. I’m treating myself. Let’s start changing the way we look at obesity. The obese are not the sub-human creatures painted in Hollywood. We’re real people with a real problem. Maybe the first step in treating obesity is changing what we think obesity is.