I was out to dinner the other night with some friends. Being new friends, we didn’t really know each other very well. Two knew that I had lost a significant amount of weight, 116 pounds, over the past year and a half, through diet and exercise, and had told the third lady this fact beforehand. After a few drinks the third lady, who is a health care provider, mustered up the courage to ask if I had a “before” picture I could show her. I’m the kind of person prefers things direct. I could tell from earlier dinner chatter that she was more than irritated with the obese patients that she sees on a regular basis, which she lovingly referred to as “fat”. Maybe it was the way the word “fat” spewed out of her mouth like a dirty cuss word that clued me in. Still, that didn’t bother me. It was her problem, not mine. She had a certain curiosity about how someone gets to be “that fat” and was trying to prove once and for all that these fat patients of hers had been lying about what and how much they ate. She seemed relieved to be able to ask me her ugly questions because I did not judge her repulsion for fat. I thought perhaps she might learn something from me that she needed to know. She felt they were lying, and that annoyed the shit out of her. She kept asking me (three times, I counted), “What did you eat to get so fat?” What did I eat? The question sort of threw me. What did I eat? Geez, like I kept a food log back then.
I figure it must be frustrating on many levels to be a health care provider dealing with patients who are there for you to fix ailments that they have brought upon themselves. It must be hard to hold your voice over and over again, day after day, fake compassion, and act like the elephant isn’t in the room. . . If you call the fat bastard out on his role in his rolls, and address the core issues, you risk shaming him and then he will never trust you again. It’s tricky. That’s why so many health care providers say nothing at all and happily bill the insurance company. I can see the thick irony in this. Still, I found her repulsion for “fat” interestingly ugly. Most people who have never been overweight probably feel the same way as her: completely disgusted. She was unable to make a personal connection to it, and felt no empathy for it, and yet that was her job. Fake it until you make it, right? We all do that in some way in life. She was trying to unlock the mystery to her own lack of compassion here. I tried to help.
I pulled out my “before” picture on my iPhone, which still makes me cringe. Before my eyes could even focus in on my image, she grabbed my phone and studied it up next to my face. Yes, those are my eyes. Yes, that’s my soul in there, very much alive and trying to kick out of its prison. “So, what did you eat?” she asked me again. After telling her that, yes, it’s possible to not eat very much and still gain weight depending on the stress level, sleeping patterns, and dietary choices one makes, as well as prescriptions one is taking which encourage inflammation and weight gain. . . not everyone is lying about the food or the quantity they eat. I gained some weight with each pregnancy. In my mid-thirties, I went back to college at night to finish up a degree while holding down a full-time desk job and a family at home. I quickly learned how to disassociate from my body in order to keep up with the personal and professional goals I was pursuing. Seven years of Superwoman . . . the cape was heavy. Although I had a lot of support from my husband (laundry, help with night baths, love and support, etc) and from extended family (daycare), it was still an exhausting experience and one that wrecked my health for years to come. The pattern for unconscious living was set.
But often, I did lie about my food. I lied to my husband and everyone around me. I ate late at night when the house was still and I was doing homework, bleary-eyed and hovering over a keyboard. I ate sugar and white flour and crunchy things in boxes. I ate all the baked goods in the office that were left out in “celebration” for Whatshername’s birthday, holiday cookies, you name it. A bag of chocolate chips? Sure. I’ll munch on them while I make the boy’s cookies. Pasta? It’s cheap, plentiful and the sauces come in handy jars ready to heat. I made “special” dinners with creamy gravies and crispy fried meats that gleamed with lip smacking goodness for everyone I loved. I was a good mom that cooked for her family. And I ate what was left on everyone’s plates when I cleared the table, like the priest who swallows the leftover communion wine because it was sacred and holy and we can’t waste food now, can we? Worst of all, I lied to myself about what I was doing to my body. I fell asleep to myself because it was too painful to stay awake and aware of my own needs. I would have to acknowledge that what I was doing was crazy and impossible to sustain long term. I would have to acknowledge that I was worthy of slowing down, feeling my feelings, savoring the moments, honoring my body and my journey.
So, over 10 to 15 years I developed High blood pressure, acid reflux, asthma, plantar fasciitis, a nasty snoring habit worse than a trucker, and 116 pounds of fleshy protective shell. That’s what I ate. I ate the awareness of self that should have been. I wish she had asked the ballsy question, “How did you let yourself get so far away from your healthiest self?” But that is not what she asked. She was just focused on the list of groceries, not the idea of how someone, anyone, really falls asleep to their health and well being. I tried to help her understand that obesity, “fat”, is just a suit someone wears to hide a variety of problems. It’s not who they are. Some people drink alcohol, do drugs, treat people like shit, judge others, act like assholes, spend too much money, gamble, or just deal with the stress of life in a ba-jillion other destructive ways until they learn better. I had two beautiful boys. I am loved by an amazing husband. I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree while working a full-time job. I made a ton of great friends. I ate shit, didn’t exercise, ignored my own needs, and I got fat. Really fat. I wore it every day for many years. Fat or fit, I am a really awesome person. I love being fit and I feel truly alive again! I am passionate about health and fitness in a crazy contagious way and I want everyone to feel the way I feel right now – alive and on fire for a healthy life!!
When I finally made the long hard journey out of that fat suit, with a whole lot of help from a wonderful coach and some amazing frends (which is a whole other story for another blog to come soon), I decided to take a spiritual journey along with it. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t spiritual before. Just that you can’t really change your life without letting it affect you body, mind, and soul. Hey, no one deserves to be rejected just because they walk around in a big fleshy shell. Sure, there are a myriad of societal and financial problems that border on crisis due to the obesity epidemic. But we need to figure out how to have compassion and empathy for each other, educate and support people who want to come out of the isolating tunnel they are in towards their healthiest self. I don’t know if I helped her feel any differently about her patients. I just hope she understood that what makes me or anybody else cringe when they see my “before” picture is not that I am ugly or repulsive in any way, it’s just the sadness of seeing someone with all the potential in the universe has fallen asleep to their healthiest self, through whatever life circumstances. I never want to fall asleep again. I want to help people awaken to an active vibrant life because if I can do it, anybody can!