I have always battled with my weight and body size. At 5’10”, I have always been a bit of a freak of nature, and my size 10-11 feet are nearly the same size as my husband’s. I have never EVER been called “cute”, because “cute” is a word that is only used to describe little small things. It is genetic, however, because my grandmother and aunt and I are built on the same chassis – nearly all the same height and shoe size. We are what you might politely describe as “big boned”. They’re heavy – I was just plain fat.
I think I shut my body awareness off as a teenager. I was always the tallest girl in the class and nearly taller than the boys, too, and I just got to the point that I just stopped paying attention to it. It was too painful to look for clothes in my closet and find nothing that fit. Until I hit college, I maintained a reasonable body proportion because I was so active. Once I hit college, I didn’t exercise. My weight started to increase.
My parents split up and I moved home from school and moved in with my mom to save money. I am sure I was a poster child for emotional eating. I would stop and grab a couple of tacos from Taco Bell at 4pm and then have dinner with my mom at 6:30. It didn’t dawn on me what it was doing to me.
I saw the first stretch mark on my belly when I was newly married as a graduate student. I was so dumb and so unaware of these things that I thought I had scratched myself with a hanger. I continued to outgrow my clothes. I didn’t own a scale. I was blissfully (or so it seems in retrospect) unaware of how important it was to keep track of my weight. Sure, I didn’t like the tight clothes, but I had no NO IDEA what to do to get the weight off. My mom tried to give me helpful hints like the “Fit or Fat” books, and while I found them interesting, I didn’t do anything with them. I have no idea when I crossed the 200 lb mark.
The pattern continued. Eventually, two children arrived, and I continued to eat to my heart’s content and not exercise. In the spring of 2001, two people asked me in the same week when my baby was due. I joined WW for the first time that week and ended up losing 75 pounds in 6 months. I looked and felt great, but never got back below 200. I got tired and bored with counting points and looked at the ever-decreasing points numbers as impossible to achieve. My appetite had not changed, how could I live on such a small point value? I eventually gave up, thinking I could “handle it on my own”. Wrong! Nearly all the weight came back.
In 2005, I joined WW again and lost 35 pounds. I got tired and bored with it much faster, and found myself obsessing about food. I spent a lot of time and energy scamming the system to figure out how to eat the same junk I had been eating within my points allotment. I gave up again, and of course the pounds came back.
In December of 2007, I went to see a new family physician. I told him that 2008 was going to be my year to have surgery. He begged me to get a complete physical and not talk to a surgeon until I had seen him.
At my heaviest in the spring of 2008, I weighed 282 pounds on my home scale and was in a size 24 pants. I had outgrown all of my work clothes and could only wear a few things in my closet. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it had dawned on me that eventually I would outgrow the plus-size stores that only went up to 26 or so, and then I would need to buy my clothes only online and from a catalog. I had the misfortune of sitting at a table with my male colleagues one day when a nice-looking woman walked by. They all stared at her. I am the only woman at my company and I felt invisible because I realized that it didn’t matter how smart I was or how many great ideas I had, I was invisible. It was a bad day. Still, I did nothing about it.
Eventually, I set up my physical appointment with my physician for June of 2008. I was expecting to get yelled at for my weight and the last time I had bloodwork done, my cholesterol was high. I was tremendously surprised to find that only my good cholesterol was low, something that could be remedied with a fish oil capsule daily. The bigger surprise was my fasting blood sugar, which was at 112. My doctor began asking about my family history of diabetes (none!) and had me come in for a 3-hour test.
For the 3-hour test, my values were 101, 151, and 99, so they let me go home after two hours. My doctor went ahead and did the other blood work to ensure I didn’t have diabetes, but he felt confident that it was a prediabetic condition. He took a lot of time with me that day to explain how my body really overreacted to carbs, producing way too much insulin, and storing everything as fat. The heavier I got, the more my body overreacted, and the fatter I became. He put me on GlucoPhage (wisely advising me to pay for it out of pocket and not run it through my insurance) and Phentermine. He told me to limit my carbs. We discussed the Glycemic Index (GI) and the fact that I should apply it to my eating. I went on my way.
I felt I had done well that first week. I had to keep a food and exercise diary. When I went for my first recheck 2 weeks later, I had lost 7 pounds. I felt pleased with myself. He reviewed my diary and found I was eating a lot of fruit and felt that this had limited my success somewhat. He suggested that if I had limited carbs more, I probably would have lost 10-15 pounds. I was amazed. I expressed my frustration with the fact that the GI data didn’t have a nice simple calculation I could do to see where it fell on the GI scale. He told me he had an easy solution: Think Atkins with 75 grams of carbs per day.
I spent the first few days in shock. I began reading labels obsessively. 75 grams? You’re kidding! How can I survive??? I gave it a try, telling myself I would commit to do it for a week and re-evaluate. I also had to get past the point that Atkins had always struck me as such an extreme option, but I managed my thoughts by considering that I what I was doing was not NO carb, but LOW carb. When I went back for my recheck, I had lost 12 pounds. I found it had been easy, all things considered.
He loved what I was doing with the food diary and exercise log. He told me to keep going and come back in 2 weeks. At that visit, I was 16 pounds down, for a total of 35 pounds since I started. I have discovered things I enjoy, like Smoothie King low carb smoothies and veggies, and that I don’t miss the carbs at all. I have been able to take bites now and then of carb-y things I enjoy, and I haven’t felt compelled to eat the entire thing.
My doctor and I discussed surgery. He asked me what made this experience different than my other weight loss attempts. I told him that I am just doing what I am supposed to do without getting hung up on starving. He asked if WW had ever discussed the fact that my body’s issue had to do with how it processed carbs. He asked me if I thought if I would be successful with surgery if I didn’t stop to consider how my system responded to carbs and adjust accordingly. My answer, quite honestly, was no.
And so I continue. Phentermine makes me feel sort of like I did during the first trimester of both pregnancies – not sick, but definitely not interested in food. It’s like someone flipped the food switch off in my brain. When skinny friends used to say they had forgotten to eat lunch, I used to be amazed – forget food??? - but I find that it is happening to me now, too. It’s like magic. It is helping me to re-evaluate my relationship with food.
At the same time, I am working to re-evaluate my life’s goals as well. I have had many meaningful conversations about this with my husband. I think part of my issue is that I am so against being considered perfect, that I used my weight to hide. I am well educated, earn a good living, have a great family, and people tell me I am good at what I do and that I am smart. If I was gorgeous too, then it would be easy for someone to look at me and say that I am perfect, an attribute I have never deserved for a split second of my life. By being – and it still hurts to say it – morbidly obese, I could show the world that I am not perfect.
Gradually, I am rethinking my approach to the world, and working to overcome my issues with being perceived as perfect. I know that it will take time, but each day is a new day. I am finding this easier to manage daily if I think about how this is improving my body. The part that makes the most sense to me is that now that we’re understanding how my body works, we can make adjustments based on how I work, rather than something that is made to work for everyone.
I think with the right key for me is finding something that is more custom-tuned with my system. When it feels “easy”, I am able to work through some of the emotional issues associated with food, and hopefully, at the end of my journey, I will arrive at the same place at the same time.