“Fat people are lazy”

“Fat people are just lazy.”

Grr! How often have we heard that one? I believe that statement is one of the reasons that fat discrimination and prejudice are still acceptable in our society. I would like to think that we have evolved beyond such narrow thinking, but in a culture where we have to remind each other that “all lives matter”, that’s not the case. This happened today, in one of my classes. We were discussing weight management and the effect that movement/exercise can have on obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular health. This course is about becoming a personal trainer or coach and focuses mostly on exercise. The professor asked why people don’t exercise more in today’s world when we know so much about how good it is for us. The first answer he got was from a 19-20yr old guy sitting in the back. This guy clearly spends a lot of quality time in the gym – he is very fit and has obviously never struggled with his weight. His off the cuff response was, “Because they are lazy and don’t want to do the work!” This is going to be a person who works to help people get fit?? I’m sad for people like me who want to get help and end up with a trainer who holds them in contempt.

But a lot of people have that view of us. We haven’t yet reached the place where it’s PC that we call it a “disease” like we do for alcoholism now. And I’m sure there are a fair amount of people who think having a drinking problem is not a disease but just plain undisciplined. However, it’s acceptable to view overweight people that way. Why? I think it’s because obesity is such a multi-faceted problem.

Think about it! How many different elements or issues go into making a person fat? Genetics? Sure, there’s DNA that’s against us. Environment? Of course! Did we grow up in a fat family or a fit, active one? Personality? Yep. Are you the type of person who deals with life with addictive behavior or are you one of those (people we love to secretly hate) who needs to go for a run when life gets stressful? Ultimately though fat comes down to, at its most basic level, what we eat and if we exercise. And that is something we control. No one but me holds the fork or makes up excuses why I can’t work out today. That’s what people who think we are lazy see. They don’t have trouble controlling that so can’t see how we do.

It’s a tricky issue and hard to combat because most people who think we are lazy don’t say so to our faces. Also we have to overcome that opinion in ourselves too. We’ve all heard it growing up. “If you’d just try harder and have some will power!” I think that’s where the real damage can happen. We know inside that there is some part of this problem that is about our being able to control ourselves. That’s where the shame comes in (and oh boy is there shame!). We should be able to control or fix this with just our will. That’s one of the reasons that gastric by-pass surgery is looked at as an easy way out. We alter our body from the inside instead of conquering or controlling it through force of will.

The people that call us lazy don’t see us, not really. They just see the fat or that we are wasting our body. They don’t see what it takes inside us to try yet again to beat this demon. They don’t see how much work and effort it takes for us to go out in public sometimes with our biggest flaw on display for the world to see. They don’t see that of course we know there is some part of this that’s about our ability to control ourselves. They also don’t see that it’s just a small piece of the whole and that obesity is an all-encompassing pervasive problem that affects every single aspect of our existence.

So next time you hear that fat people are lazy, first, pray for the patience to coexist with idiots. Then be comforted that I see and know that lazy has very little to do with it. If you have friends or family that see it that way, send them here and have them read. They may just get a different perspective on the whole thing. And if you’re struggling right now with believing you’re lazy or don’t have enough will power, don’t panic. There is a fix for that. It may be the most important fix there is for weight problems and we will get to it soon I promise!

200+ pounds at the gym…train wreck or training?

 

I am in a college gym, complete with huge weights, and that slightly funky smell of old and new sweat combined with the rubber smell of the mats. I am surrounded by two, sometimes three 18-21 year olds that are in great condition. I mean, ‘wear skin tight leggings and a belly baring shirt and look awesome’ kind of condition. I am 41, frumpy and fat. Oh and did I mention there is a ridiculously fit professor that is around my same age encouraging me as I try to perfect my form in a Romanian dead-lift?  I am WAY outside my comfort zone here! I am also actively wondering why the heck it is named that?! There is not a single Romanian in sight- dead or alive! But despite the fact that I am huffing slightly from exertion and most certainly red in the face, I am having fun. Yes, I said FUN!!!!! Now if you are overweight and uncomfortable with it you know this is not the usual way things go for us in a gym. If you are overweight and have always been confident enough that this scenario would not ever have bothered you….I am hugely envious! Either way, for those of us that have always been slightly mortified at even the idea of going to the gym with all those perfect bodies judging us, it seems pretty impossible that I would be there and having fun at the same time. How did this happen?

Gyms are not made for the people that actually need them. I’ve always thought that. Gyms are supposed to be for people who are unfit to go and become fit. I suppose some of the people there started out less beautifully muscled than they are now, but they sure as hell didn’t start out at 300lbs! And ok, maybe I have a slight, tiny, miniscule prejudice about these people who have always intimidated me with their beautiful bodies. The fact remains that I never felt comfortable or welcomed in any fitness facility. They always seem like a voluntary way to go relive middle and high school gym class and what fat person wants to do that??? Once through that torture was more than enough thank you very much.

I decided when I went back to school at 39yrs old to study nutrition since it’s been an all-encompassing issue in my life. Mostly a frustrating mysterious seemingly impossible issue. My family has always had overweight issues and I figured that if I’m going to do my best to solve that for me and my kids, the more I know about nutrition the better. So why not a degree? The school I attend had just implemented a program where I could earn an Associate’s Degree in Health Science with a Concentration in Nutrition and I was off and running. My second journey through school has been wonderful! Who knew I could be a straight A student? And who knew that I would turn out to be a science geek? Well, let me clarify, more like a human body geek. My Anatomy and Physiology classes were a blast! Bones and muscles and body systems and how it all works together were like play time for me. I loved learning it all and I was good at it. Fast forward to my last semester where I only have two classes left. For some reason, the people who designed the course of study for my major must have thought that anyone in this major wants to be a personal trainer and work at a gym or high school. So I find myself in a class all about being a personal trainer where by the end I can even take a national certification exam and probably become the first over 200lb, out of shape,42yr old personal trainer! Um…yeah…that could happen.

So anyway, I look over the syllabus and realize I will have to be exercising and moving around a lot in this class and spend time in the school gym. GASP! The high school gym class PTSD kicks in and I can feel myself getting red in the face, feeling embarrassed and humiliated and sick to my stomach and I haven’t even moved out of my safe chair at my safe desk located a safe distance from the nearest gym yet. What could I do? I need this class to finish my degree so I HAVE to do this.

I am hoping what comes next can help some of you who are facing similar potentially embarrassing situations. I figured I’d be in class with about 15 huge, buff 20 year old guys who “pick things up and put them down” and a collective IQ below plant life. Yeah, no slightly bitter, totally uninformed opinions here…. I was pleasantly surprised by a nice mix of men and women and not all of them with perfect bodies. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a few buff 20 year old guys and it probably won’t be all that difficult to watch them exercise. 😉But for the most part a nice normal group of people.

The problem remains, though. I’m going to have to go to the gym with these people and exercise in front of them. To re-arrange my body into strange and uncomfortable positions twice a week. Sigh…can’t someone just let me memorize how the moves look in the book and give me a matching test? I’m good at that! I went back and forth in my head for a full week leading up to this class about what to do and how to handle it.

I finally hit on it while I was thinking about this blog. It’s all about seeing what we all have gone through as strength not weakness. I’m finally taking hold of the fact that even dumb high school gym class made me stronger and didn’t beat me down. I’m still here and I’m still trying and I’m finally actually being NICE enough to myself to want to be healthy for my own sake, not so I look good for others. That’s all I needed to realize. I have to keep re-realizing it but when I do, it’s all I need. And suddenly I really and truly just didn’t care about it at all! I for the first time ever actually don’t care what “they” think, be it classmates or general public. Those people have NO IDEA what we have gone through and that’s fine because I’m sure they have their own struggles. I have no right to assume that they are judging me and I don’t have to care about it anymore. What a weight lifted! I don’t have to put that weight of what they are thinking about me on my shoulders anymore. They probably aren’t anyway. I know what I have gone through and how much strength I have as a result.

So how did this translate into me having fun in the gym? Simple. I talked up front and frankly about the elephant in the room. I’m the biggest and clearly the most out of shape person in the class, not to mention the oldest. So on the first day of class, when the prof. asked us all to introduce ourselves and tell a bit about us I came right out with it without embarrassment or shame. I told them straight out that there is a weight problem in the family and I am educating myself so I can try to solve it. I told them that I am really good at learning and memorizing, but not so good with movement and I’m trying to fix that. And then I told them that I would love for them to help me through this class because it’s all foreign to me. I would have been fine if no one even responded, but their reaction stunned me. I’m so used to the side long looks and subtle (sometimes not so subtle) discrimination that when they responded so positively I was speechless. A few of them said they were proud of me for attacking the problem, most smiled and a few more said they would love to help me. I think I turned myself into a kind of class pet or project. But even if I hadn’t become a pet of sorts, I would be comfortable (finally!) going into that gym and trying. But what a bonus, to be respected for trying and being offered help on form (which is apparently important) and being offered smiling encouragement that for once isn’t condescending!

So yeah, that was me, AT THE GYM! With a smile on my face and both chins a bit sweaty and having fun. Now it’s a day later and I have taken as much Motrin as it’s possible to take without overdosing and still I whimper when I sit (thank you squat!) and groan feebly when I have to lift my arms (curls and something called a “seated row”) and look forward to doing it again because I’m determined that by the end of the semester it won’t hurt to do it! But most importantly, I am free of the weight of other people’s opinions or judgements for the first time in my life. I may have to remind myself often because old habits of thinking constantly try to battle back in, but I won’t let anyone else determine my state of mind anymore. And neither should you!

The First Year…Easy?

How do you talk to the people in your life about this stuff? All this sticky, uncomfortableness that’s under the surface about the Bypass surgery or weight in general. If you’re like me and slightly prickly (understatement!) about it all, they don’t ask you. They may, in fact, contemplate moving to another state so they won’t have to. This should help. Send them here. Have them read and maybe it will help them understand and also help you start to share some of the dark with your people.

Surgery is done so now comes the miracle, right? That’s what I thought anyway. The surgeon came in to see me later that same day to see how I was doing. I took one look at him and started bawling my eyes out, thanking him and saying how now it was possible now for me to be normal. The slightly hysterical tone to my thank you may have had something to do with the lovely morphine pump next to my bed, but the sentiment was for real. I truly believed that because there was no doubt that I would lose weight that would make me normal. That lovely golden tinted world where I could (finally!) walk into a room and just be there. NOT walk into a room and have people look at the door way, look me up and down and look away quickly as if they had seen something they shouldn’t – or worse, look me up and down, and quickly look to the person next to them with a smug, superior smirk. I figured if I could be unremarkable because I was a normal size that would be about as close to heaven as I could get.

I was released from the hospital after three days which remain a blur due to the morphine bubble I was in. My diet post op was like many out there and each doctor has their own nutritionist (or they should!). I was allowed protein shakes and water and had various meds to take, which had to be crushed up and put into the shake or water. Let me just say EEWW! I wasn’t feeling very hungry which was awesome, but I almost burst into tears on my first night back over….wait for it….toast! Toast!! How silly is that? My mother, who was staying with us to help out that first week, made herself some peanut butter toast and the smell….Well let’s just say that it really brought home to me what I had willingly done to my body. Never again would I be able to just eat something without thinking about it. It would be months before I was even able to TRY to have some kind of bread and I was told pre-op that most people are unable to eat bread easily or at all after the surgery. FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES! Sound like the easy way out to you?

I was very lucky in that I had no physical complications from the surgery until about a year out. There are major complications possible and they are no joke. According to the Mayo Clinic just a few of the major ones are: blood clots, leaks in the GI system, infection, bowel obstruction, gallstones, hernias, low blood sugar, malnutrition, ulcers and vomiting. (http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/bariatric-surgery/basics/risks/prc-20019138) I ended up with gallstones and I can tell you I’ve never had such pain in my life! I had my gallbladder removed and all’s well. We will talk more about the malnutrition and torture that is Dumping Syndrome in another post. For now, suffice it to say that I was lucky. A lot of people aren’t. Easy way out, huh?

Everything I’ve just gone over for you guys is serious stuff, but to me it’s not even the scariest part of that honeymoon year (up to two years for some). For me it was the actual weight coming off. Ok! Ok! I can hear you saying, “I call BS! It’s what you wanted!! What you risked your life for!” And that is all true. It was one of the most exhilarating rides of my life to see the weight come off. To realize that when I only have one of them, my chin is actually a bit pointy, and that no, I am not really “big boned” at all! If fact, when they are slim, my wrists and ankles seem a bit delicate to me. All of the wonderful clichés you hear about happened to me. Shopping was fun, I could tie my shoes without gasping for air and turning bright red from bending over. Certain intimate portions of my relationship with my husband improved a hundred fold (hey! I said we would talk about it ALL didn’t I?) and I could play with my son at the playground or on the floor with his trains. But…

But as much as I loved seeing myself in the mirror looking like someone else, it was also creepy and scary in a weird way. I mean, it was me, no doubt, but at the same time I had never seen that face before – ever. I starting putting on weight at puberty, so I had never seen what I should actually look like as an adult. I told myself it was a good thing to see me but not actually recognize that person. It’s what I wanted all along. But…

But I expected things of that person that she was not equipped to do and I didn’t give her any time to adjust. Since the weight had come off, all those other problems should be gone too. I know it sounds childish, and I knew in my head that all my other problems weren’t caused by my weight. I had been telling myself that the reason I wasn’t successful in some career was because I was too fat to try. My weight blocked and protected me from a harsh world. The reasons for my failings always somehow came back to the fat on my body. Dreams I wanted to pursue I never really started at because ultimately I felt if I couldn’t even control/conquer and be at peace with my own body, then how would I ever do what’s necessary to achieve anything great in this world? So when the weight came off and all of a sudden I was faced with the fact that some of my problems came from the weight, but in fact, MOST did not. So what was my new excuse? Shedding all that weight brought me face to face with the fact that I didn’t really know myself, what I was capable of or what I really wanted out of life. None of which has a whole lot to do with the pounds I put on my body. I think, looking back now, that those pounds were a perfect way for me to hide all that. Maybe people that lose the weight naturally and in a slower fashion have a chance to deal with those issues as they go. But I was terrified. So given that state of mind, what happens when crisis hits as it so often does. Someone dies, or a marriage falls apart, illness strikes, the “problem child” has even more problems? Easy way out? Really?

I hope this helps and I also hope it’s something maybe you can refer people to when you have a hard time trying to explain that losing all that weight can be both Heaven and Hell at the same time. Let me know what you think! How did it go for you? Tell me it all and maybe we can shed (lol – no pun intended) some light on this for friends and family and even curious bystanders. More importantly, we can start to talk about what happens when you have gained some (or all) back and still have to live life. What do you do, how do you not descend into a black hole, or if you do, how do you climb back out? Your black hole may look vastly different than mine, but I bet it’s covered with the same embarrassment and shame that makes it hard to gain a foot hold. Let’s start climbing.

So you had Gastric Bypass surgery?

If you’re lucky it went well and you lost a lot of weight. You looked incredible and felt even better. When you looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person there, you told yourself that was a good thing. You wanted to be different person, new person, shiny and energetic and SLIM! You could shop anywhere and did. Everything in your life got way better disproving that silly old notion that it’s not all about the weight. But…

But then something happened. There was a major death or illness in the family. Finances went downhill very fast, maybe you even lost where you live. Your marriage fell apart, seemingly all of a sudden and out of nowhere.

Now, you’ve gained a lot of weight back, maybe all of it. Maybe you never lost as much as “they” thought you would. Now you live in a cocoon of shame every day. No one ever actually talks about that though do they? All most people talk about is the supposed success stories, the ones who DON’T gain anything back. Maybe you or they are starting to think you made a mistake…That it wasn’t worth all the risk you took.

I’m here to tell you it was worth it. I’m here to talk about it ALL! All the nitty gritty stuff no one wants to talk about. I had GBS in 2006 at 300lbs, went down to 150 – maintained that thru a pregnancy- and now in 2017 I weigh 214lbs. Do I live in shame? HELL NO! Do I think it was worth it? HELL YES! The things I have learned are invaluable and I wouldn’t trade that knowledge for anything. I don’t have to be steady at 150lbs or 130lbs or even at 200lbs to know I did the right thing. So let’s get into it! Let’s “go there.” What do you want to talk about? It’s all fair game here.