Obese as a Child to My WLS Success Today

September 17, 2015

Today, I am a Weight Loss and Wellness Coach at a women’s only gym facility where I have designed and implemented a very successful weight loss and wellness program. I teach small group personal training sessions of my “Weight Loss Boot Camp” class six times a week and run half marathons as a past time obsession.

I like medals. They are a visual symbol I keep on hand to remind myself to have some internal dialogue and reaffirm that I have value. Because there was a time that I really had no value of myself. A time that I felt completely unworthy, it was worse than any depression. It was the actual rock bottom of my life.

I weighed 420 pounds. I was afraid that I was going to die in my sleep each night as I went to bed. That is where obesity had led me. I was exhausted in this battle, feeling emotionally, physically and mentally crippled. Every piece of me was broken.

Life as an obese child

I had been battling this disease for over 25 years. I hurt, I was tired, and maybe truly part of me was ready to give up. This is what obesity as a disease can do to you emotionally. Obesity has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents believed that you let children eat whatever they wanted. My breakfasts often consisted of Spaghetti O’s and Meatballs or a quick run through the drive through on the way to school. My mother battled morbid obesity.

I learned young to equate food with feelings and emotions. I mean, McDonald’s didn’t call it a “Happy Meal” because it made you sad, right?

I learned to loved candy bars, soda pop, cheeseburgers, french fries and pizza. When I say I loved these things I’m really not kidding. Love and food went hand in hand for me. My father brought home candy bars that jumped in his cart at the grocery store. My childhood memories are filled with trips to the ice cream parlor for banana splits and what was then twenty-five cent penny candy to celebrate all my big successes.

The sad thing is that food never loved me back and because of that I learned to have very one sided relationships at a very early age.

I’d been affected by childhood obesity since I started going to school. Since kindergarten, I had been inherently aware that I was bigger than all the other kids. But it never really bothered me until it got to the point that it started changing how other kids treated me.

Physical activity as the bane of my existence

I distinctly remember standing on the playground during physical education class as we picked teams for dodge ball. I was 10 years old surrounded by Mrs. Gray’s fifth grade class and I was the absolute last person to be chosen because neither of the team captains wanted to put the chubby girl that would be a bigger target to hit on their team.

I wasn’t good at any of the things that the playful child in me wanted to do. I tried it all: gymnastics, volleyball, baseball, softball... and the feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude led me to find more pleasure in books, homework and television. I’ll never forget the gymnastics teacher telling my mother that she needed to take me out of gymnastics before I hurt myself. I lacked balance and coordination.

The "fat girl"

The first time I realized that I was the “fat girl” in school was a year later. We were at that age where we started having playground crushes, going steady and going on “dates” at school dances. My friends and I were discovering boys, and I think almost every girl in our school had a crush on the same three boys. Nobody ever asked me to go steady, nobody ever had a crush on me and nobody ever asked me to dance. I knew why - it was because all the other girls in my class were much prettier than I was.

I was teased relentlessly not only because of my weight, but because of my mother’s weight as well. I had to endure the “Your mom is so fat…” jokes on almost a daily basis. I think as adults affected by obesity we like to believe that it is a disease that only affects us.  Actually, it impacts those that care about us on a regular basis.

My days consisted of my mother driving me to school then picking me up, and usually my school day ended with an afternoon snack before my father got home from work and we ate together as a family. Our meals consisted of a lot of eating out, fast food and food delivery.

When I got to the age that you started hanging out at the mall with your friends, I started becoming anti-social. I was embarrassed to shop with my friends because I had to shop in the larger size sections at stores and had a hard time finding the hip and stylish clothing that I wanted to wear in sizes that actually fit me.Thank goodness the '80s were full of stretch pants and long t-shirts, because that’s really the only reason that I still fit in.

Life as an obese teenager

Junior high school came and things stayed the same. I was always the girl standing against the wall at the dances. I gave up on trying to play any kind of sports. I learned really quickly that the only way I was ever going to have a boyfriend was if I called the boys I had a crush on and pretended to be someone else.

The summer before high school I met the boy that would be my first boyfriend, my first kiss and the first boy I’d have sex with. I thought he really liked me. But when we started school in the fall it became abundantly clear that the reason he wanted to keep our relationship a secret was because he was embarrassed for any of his friends to know that he liked me. I was pretty much the heaviest girl in our school.

My Freshman and Sophomore years of high school pretty much defined what would become my understanding of how relationships worked. Boys that wanted to fool around with me wanted it to be a secret. They didn’t want anyone to know about it. They never wanted me to be their girlfriend or wanted to walk around the halls holding my hand. Nope, they just wanted to come over to the houses where I babysat, make out, fool around and leave. At school they pretty much pretended I didn’t exist. I was their dirty little secret.  This fact made me sad and lonely so I turned to food to make me feel better.

By the time I graduated from high school I weighed over 200 pounds, and could only shop at stores like Lane Bryant and The Avenue. Obesity had altered my relationship with my family and friends. It had skewed the way I would view relationships and taught me a tolerance for emotional abuse that would haunt me for years to come.

Life as an obese adult

As a young adult and in my early 20's, I followed the pattern of being with people that didn’t appreciate me. My desire to be loved and wanted, something that I had never felt or experienced, lead me to relationships with men that took advantage of me physically and emotionally. I followed the pattern of tolerating verbal abuse and put downs. The first time I ever truly tried to lose weight was at 19 when my then 30-something boyfriend convinced me that I should see a doctor for diet pills, and boost my weight loss efforts by snorting lines of methamphetamines in order to be the girl he wanted me to be.

For the next several years, the unworthiness I felt caused me to bounce back and forth from relationship to relationship. In each relationship, I played the role of the loyal and submissive girlfriend that would do just about anything anyone wanted in order to get them to love me. The way that people treated me due to my obesity, and the unworthiness I felt when I looked in the mirror, would cause me to settle both in life and in relationships for years to come.

Life today as a healthy, happy adult

My battle with obesity was a dark, lonely and isolating portion of my life. Now, that part of my story is over and for the last five years I’ve choose to stand up and fight obesity and take my life back. These last five years have been amazing. But every now and then I still wonder if I would have gotten to where I am a little sooner if just one person had tried to help that little girl so obviously affected by childhood obesity early on. If one teacher, one coach, one gymnastics instructor had seen the love for exercise that exists in me today and nourished it to help bring it out sooner would I have beaten this disease earlier in life and had more years to enjoy being fit, active and having healthier relationships with people instead of food?

It is those what if’s and maybes that push me to try and help motivate others when it comes to healthier eating and exercise. Having now fought my battle with obesity, lost 260 pounds, and started a new career as a weight loss and wellness coach, I know that if I can help just one of my clients in their fight against obesity--and in turn help them help one of their children overcome childhood obesity-- not only will I have had a very successful career; I will be the person that the younger me needed in her life for someone else.



Pandora Williams is the weight loss and wellness coach at Wilmington Lady Fitness in Wilmington, North Carolina. Her journey began 5 years ago, spurred on by the loss of her father, who insisted that she lead a healthier lifestyle after he was gone. Now nearly five years after bariatric surgery, she is 260 pounds lighter. Learn more about Pandora through her blog, Desperately Seeking Slender!

Read more articles by Pandora!