Life Of A Nappy-Headed Fat Chic

A journey of rediscovering myself, day by day, pound by pound.

Losing To Gain: When Seeking Help With Weight Loss Changed My Life For The Better

I wrote this paper for a class at social work school. The assignment was to write about a time when you had to ask for help.

This is what I came up with.

Hope it helps you.

I am not one to ask for help. I am the person that others turn to for help because they believe me to be strong, wise, capable, and supportive. While I cannot disagree with those descriptions, I will admit that it took a series of unfortunate events for me to reach a place when I accepted that seeking help was not shameful and would not make me any less of those adjectives. Because people expect me to be strong all of the time, they rarely ask me if I need help. Most people simply assume that I can handle any and everything thrown my way. I cannot fault them because, for the most part, I am quite good at doing just that.  When I do ask for help, people are often taken aback, unsure of what to do or say, or how to respond to your request.  People generally have good intentions, though, especially if they genuinely care, and I find that most people offer the best support they can when I do seek it. After almost a decade of stubbornly refusing to get the help I desperately needed to get healthy and improve my quality of life, I finally made the decision last year to have weight-loss surgery. I’d previously rejected the entire notion of surgery as an option to losing weight, even tipping the scales at 406 pounds, because I was convinced that I had to do it “on my own”. When I realized that I could not, in fact, lose the amount of weight I needed to lose in order to be healthy “on my own”, I decided to seek help. In doing so, I changed my life completely and for the better. The experience has not been an easy journey, however, as change often impacts not only self, but those around oneself.

            I wasn’t a large child. I was active, slim, and never had issues with battling the bulge. At age 11, I began experiencing the trauma of molestation by my mother’s partner. At the same time, I’d grown to a full 6’0 height and my body was changing shape. I developed a comfortable addiction to food in the form of emotional eating. In hindsight, I realized I was trying to create a protective shell to hide me from anyone who may have desired me.  Creating this shell was empowering; I was protecting myself the best way I knew how. I spent my teen-aged years and early 20s afraid of being seen as desirable and I later realized that the comfort I took in overeating made me feel protected from the trauma. In high school, I was drugged and gang-raped by a group of White males while at boarding school. When I was in college, I was date raped and became pregnant as a result, a pregnancy I terminated. The more traumas I experienced, especially at the hands of men who sought to exert power over me, the bigger I became. The highest recorded weight was 406lbs. I refused to get on a scale for years after that, but I am sure I weighed more than that. There have been studies that suggest that a serious emotional crisis may be experienced after weight loss due to loss of the obese state as a defense (Burbach & Schomer, 1987). I know, now, that every effort I made to lose weight I ultimately sabotaged because I was afraid of being exposed. My weight was my defense mechanism and the only powerful weapon I felt I had.

            “In our society, there is something shameful in admitting that one is incapable of dealing alone with the demands of living” (Brill, 2005). When I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes at age 23, I knew I had to face my demons and get rid of the weight. I threw myself into eating better and working out. I sought help from a friend who was a personal trainer and more than willing to support me. I lost about 75 pounds and felt good about myself initially. Having recently completed undergraduate studies, I was trying to establish myself in a career as a social service worker. As the demands of my job increased and my roommate situation went awry, I was unable to remain focused on my weight loss efforts and stopped making progress. Rapid weight gain has been found to be associated with significant changes in employment status (Sarlio-Lähteenkorva, 2001).  I gained most of the weight back after work became more stressful and after a bad break up. Since I’d already conditioned myself to use emotional eating as a way to comfort myself through hard times, it again became my go-to coping mechanism. I’d not yet found appropriate ways to cope with the stressors in my life and I was incapable of admitting to myself that I was struggling and in need of help, simply with dealing with my daily routine.

            When I got married and had my son in 2006, my mother was dying of pancreatic cancer. I reached out to my family for help and support, but they provided little to none. Financially, I bore the burden of getting her the best care I could find and emotionally, I bore the responsibility of being a new wife and mother and having to attend to the needs of my husband and son while trying to be supportive of my mother at the end of her life. I was afraid to admit to my friends that I was in need of help and support because many of them did not like my ex-husband and I felt somewhat alienated by being with him. “An individual may not acknowledge the malevolent motivation of another who hurts [her] and may continue in a relationship in which [she] is hurt easily” (Goldstein, 1995). My friends always come to me for help and advice, especially with their relationships and I didn’t want to end up looking like the one who really needed the help, even dealing with an abusive partner.

One friend suggested I see a therapist, but I could not seem to find the time. Between working, being in school (again), having a new born, and going back and forth to the hospital, I was running myself down and making no time to care for the one person everyone else needed to be strong: me. I suffered from postpartum depression, my marriage was showing signs of falling apart, and then when my mother died, I reached my end. I tried to take my own life. When I awoke in a hospital room, stomach having been pumped after swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills, I knew I could no longer move forward in my life without seeking the help I needed. “No one is ever totally dependent or totally independent” (Brill, 2005). Coming to this realization helped me get on the path to achieving the balance I knew I would need in order to maintain my grip on life.

            My ex-husband and I separated and agreed that he would become primary caregiver of my son. Though it was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, it was made in the best interest of my son. I learned the much-needed lesson that I needed to get my life together and heal so I could be better for him in the future. I identified the areas in my in which I needed improvement and set on a journey to fix them. The biggest undertaking was losing weight. and facing the demons of my past.  I tried, again, for about 18 months, using the same methods I’d used previously, but found them to be ineffective this time around. I decided to seek medical intervention and therapy. I also decided to tell people close to me that I was going to look into having weight loss surgery because I finally admitted to myself that I needed help and could not lose the weight myself. I needed to lose, at that point, at least 150lbs and could not seem to lose more than 30 “on my own”. The responses varied from questions about the safety to declarations that it was cheating. I was chastised in online forums and via social media by some and praised by others for having the strength to admit that I needed help with something as difficult as weight loss. In one study, it was shown that only 6-10 percent of extremely overweight people can sustain more than 5% weight loss for longer than a year without significant interventions (Sarlio-Lähteenkorva, 2001).  We often have these unrealistic expectations that everyone can handle challenges the same way. Instead of ridiculing or chastising, we ought to do more to support people in reaching their goals, by the most effective, sustainable means possible while keeping in mind that “asking for help is as difficult as using help” (Brill, 2005).

            Another lesson I learned was that I had to use better judgment when it came to making the changes I needed to live and be healthy. “Judgment involves the capacity to identify possible courses of action and to anticipate and weight the implications or consequences of behavior in order to engage in appropriate action” (Goldstein, 1995).  Facing the social backlash about my decision made me question it a few times. I experienced quite a bit of psychological stress. There is often a sense of identity loss or the experience of an identity crisis with significant weight loss, especially rapid weight loss (Sarlio-Lähteenkorva, 2001). My biggest struggle has been coping with the changes in my body and how others perceive those changes. I look in the mirror and sometimes don’t recognize the person I’m seeing or am just shocked by the transformation. When others see me, especially those who have not seen me in quite some time, years even, the responses are always shocked facial expressions followed by congratulations. They always ask, “How’d you do it?” and I’m very open about having had the surgery. In fact, I’ve become somewhat of an advocate for weight loss surgery for those in severe need to lose weight.

            Someone recently said on an online forum, “Congratulating someone for losing weight after weight loss surgery is like praising a woman with a hair weave for having long hair”. I realized that there is still a negative stigma about those who seek help with weight loss via surgery. I liken it to a smoker using Nicorette or Chantix to quit smoking, or someone with high cholesterol using Lipitor to lower levels. Medical interventions to help people improve their health are accepted in most situations aside from weight loss, even when the risk of relapse is the same or greater. People often perceive overweight people as being lazy and therefor demand that bigger people prove they are not lazy by losing their weight with no medical help or intervention. I learned that overweight people are stigmatized in ways that strip them of power socioeconomically and in interpersonal relationships. Social perceptions around obesity have led to discrimination against larger people, especially women, and have cost larger people promotions at work, for example (University of Manchester, 2012). We live in a society where almost everything is designed with “average” sized people in mind, which affords those of “average” size a certain privilege and greater access. Having lost the weight, I’ve become more aware of just how deeply affected by these things I was when I was larger. While I don’t think I was ever denied a promotion because I was larger, I do know that I missed out on many opportunities because I couldn’t fit on a plane seat or I was nervous about sitting in a class where I didn’t fit into the seat. Being obese left me often feeling powerless and it was in seeking help to make this drastic change that I feel I’ve regained some of that power and privilege.

            Since losing 184lbs since graduating from undergraduate school ten years ago, I’ve definitely learned the value of seeking help, especially when it comes to saving my own life. I’m glad I made the decision when I did because I’m young enough to make a complete lifestyle change and prevent many health problems that plague obese people as they get older. I’m more fit, healthier, and happier than I’ve been in my adult life. Accomplishing this feat of losing a massive amount of weight empowered me to capitalize on opportunities that I avoided before because of my weight and image. I’ve been on TV shows, in fashion shows, and have become a fitness advocate. I finally feel like the woman I have been on the inside is reflected in my outer appearance and it is liberating.

 

 

           

Brill, N. (2005). Ch. 11Dealing with vulnerability, dependency and resistance. (8th ed.), Working with people: The helping process. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Burbach, F.R. and H.H. Schomer (1987). The relationship between stress and weight loss in a diet-exercise programme for obese women. South African Medical Journal 71, 93-97.

Goldstein, E. (1995). The ego and the defenses. (2nd ed.), Ego phsyoclogy and social work practice. New York: Free Press

Sarlio-Lähteenkorva, S. (2001). Weight Loss and Quality of Life among Obese People. Social Indicators Research, 54 (3). 329-354.

University of Manchester (2012). Obesity affects job prospects for women, study finds. ScienceDaily, April 30. Retrieved September 24, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2012/04/120430101034.htm

  • 15 October 2012
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