Friday, July 18, 2008

Project Diversity

At work we have a 15 minute meeting almost every day. Once a month, they ask for people to come in and talk about something related to diversity.

We have had people come in and talk about their heritage, overseas adoption, autism etc.

They asked for volunteers and I offered to do a meeting about what it is like to be morbidly obese and about my weight loss journey.

Today was the day that I did the meetings (6 of them in total) and I was really pleased with the results.

Without further ado... here is my speech.

A few years ago I went to Michigan's Adventure with my friends and our kids. We had been at the park for a few hours riding rides and decided to ride the Wild Cat. As a group we all went up the ramp, stood in line and waited our turn.

The coaster came in and let the passengers off and I noticed that it was a divided seat, not a bench seat. I started feeling a little bit uncomfortable, but stayed in line. When it was our turn to get on the coaster, I made sure that my son was in his seat and buckled in before I got into my own seat. It was a very tight squeeze, but I was able to get seated in the coater. I grabbed the seatbelt to strap myself in and I couldn't get it closed. It was so close and I pulled and pulled, but I couldn't get the belt buckled. In front of an entire line of people waiting their turn, I had to get off of the coaster and stand on the other side, alone, facing the crowd that was staring at me knowing that I was too fat to fit on the ride. I stood there and waited for my son and friends to finish the ride and return to the station.

I can still feel the embarrassment that stained my face that day.

I couldn't even think about doing this diversity pre shift until I'd lost over 50 pounds. Because you feel that everyone's judging you, for being lazy, eating too much, not taking care of yourself, not trying hard enough. You feel your voice doesn't count. You feel you can't talk about what it's like to be fat until you've proven yourself and shown that you're taking steps not to be fat anymore.

And now, I'm still overweight so it's not easy to talk about it now. But I don't want to be one of those people who only talks about what it's like to be fat from the vantage point of a nice, safe size 6, where how horrible it was is only a vague, awful memory.

I want to talk about while I'm still in it because for once I want to give power to my words from within my own situation. I don't want to write some chirpy "after" post once I've reached my goal weight about how much it sucked to be fat. I want to write it while I'm living it and while it's real.

I was morbidly obese for over 10 years. Over 2x's of what is considered a healthy weight. It was a way of protecting myself from the world - putting a physical barrier between myself and the world based on things that happened when I was younger. Issues of abandonment, rejection, low self worth all contributed to me turning to food for comfort. After my dad left we were very poor and were on welfare. High carb diet (Ramen noodles, mac and cheese) contributed to poor eating habits and weight gain.

I was 240 when I got pregnant and got down to 204. I eventually gained it all back plus some. After I started working at Foremost, I lost 30 pounds on a low calorie diet and exercising during lunch. Once lunches went to 30 minutes, I gave up and gained it all back. I didn't make any effort to lose weight or have a healthier lifestyle for another 6 years.

It's hard to be fat. You don't fit into chairs. When you go to a restaurant and someone suggests eating outside, you do a subtle scan of the chairs to see if they're sturdy, if the arms are narrow, if you'll be uncomfortable spilling over the sides of the seat during the meal. When somebody asks if you want to go to a baseball game, you hope they have tickets fro the expensive, roomy seats. Nobody wants to sit next to you in the Metro or on the bus. You see every seat fill up around you while the one next to you remains resolutely empty.

People can be and at times are very cruel. I watch them. I see their looks, their rolling of the eyes. The glances between two friends where one will puff out their cheeks to emulate being fat and the other will double over laughing. But nobody will ever talk about it. You can't make reference to it yourself. It's the elephant in the room and if you ever mention needing to lose weight, or having to shop in the plus size department, people look awkward and look away. It becomes your job not to make people uncomfortable, not to talk about it, not to push it. You diminish your expectations for a good life in order to have some semblance of happiness.

The turning point for me wasn't anything earth shattering. My mother, who had been doing Weight Watchers offered to pay for a 3 month membership for my birthday. At first I thought that it was a horrible idea for a gift and truly just wanted her to give me the money. $120 would buy me a great pair of shoes. I hemmed and hawed about it for a few weeks. Then I noticed that when I was leaving work wearing heels that my ankles were hurting when I walked down the stairs. With my love of shoes, that was unacceptable and I decided then and there to take Mom up on her offer.

I joined WW and went to the first meeting. It wasn't that long. The worst part was being weighed and realizing that I wasn't too far away from 300 pounds. The first week I stuck to the program. I journaled what I ate, I measured my food to learn what a correct portion was. I cut back on diet soda and drank a lot of water. I stayed within the point range that WW said I should be at. The next week I weighed in and I had lost nothing. I was devastated. I wanted to cry during the meeting. I did cry afterwards. I talked to my leader and she said to give it another week. Sometimes it just takes time for your body to catch up with what you are doing.

The second week I lost 7 pounds.

Within the first month I realized that WW was something that I could do. It wasn't that hard to stick to the program. The points were relatively easy to figure out. I made a promise to myself then and there that I was going to do this. No "we'll see how it goes" or "I'll try". It was more of a "I am going to do this no matter what. There is no other option than to succeed."

From June 13 to the middle of October, I had lost 40 pounds. I noticed that my weight loss was slowing down so I figured that it was time to bite the bullet and start working out. At first I went to the workout room downstairs and walked on the treadmill or tried the elliptical. The first time I tried it, I made it about 2 minutes and thought that I was going to pass out. Slowly I worked up my resistance and speed and now can easily do 30 minutes at a level 7. After about 6 months of working out downstairs I joined a gym. I work out 4-5 times per week and have found workouts that I love like Zumba.

In 13 months, I went from 287.5 pounds and have lost 97 pounds and currently weigh in at 190. I have gone from a size 24 to a size 12/14. I still have 50 pounds to lose but I am not worried about it. I know that I won't ever give up and that it really is all mind of matter. My mind is overcoming my matter.

Weight loss, like being fat, is also hard. Lots of people are able to make it work, but a lot of people can't make it work. This doesn't mean that they are stupid, lazy or that they aren't trying and it doesn't mean that they aren't thinking about it every minute of the day and they probably spend a lot of the time thinking about what you think about it. They don't need people making fun of them, talking about them or treating them any less than anyone else.

There are a lot of preconceptions of obese people. They are dirty, slothful, lazy and poor employees. Many times the opposite is true. I rarely allowed myself a slobby day because if I went out in public, I was perpetuating the stereotype of what many people viewed obese to be. Many non-obese people see obesity as a lifestyle choice in spite of the great difficulty obese people face when trying to lose weight.

Discriminating against and making fun of fat people is one of the only acceptable forms of prejudice. You would never openly mock someone because of their race, sexual orientation or religion. You might do it behind closed doors but not to their face. But it is OK to make fun of fat people. Why? Usually they don't fight back. They look at you with a sad, disappointed face, turn and walk away. Obese people don't need others to make fun of them, talk about them or treat them as less of a person. No one ever said anything to me, however hurtful, that I hadn't already thought to myself a thousand times before.

Everyone has things that they struggle with. Just because theirs is on the outside for everyone to see, doesn't give anyone the right to harass them or treat them with disrespect. Besides, nothing you say, kind or unkind, can ever convince a person to improve themselves. That kind of motivation has to come from within, and only when the person is ready. The most helpful thing you could do for an obese friend is to listen to them and be there for them when they need to talk.

To people who are where I was: it doesn't matter where you are on your journey or if you have even started it, when you are ready, you can achieve amazing things. If you are happy with where you are, I am so proud of you. Accepting yourself is the first step to reaching acceptance from others. As long as you are comfortable in your skin and love yourself that is all that matters.


Mrs. Hairy Woman said...

That was an excellent speech.. It is so true about how obese people are looked upon as lazy and unmotivated... I have weight issues most of my adult life.. I was a skinny bean pole as a kid.. as I was very active and into sports.. As I have gotten older it has been more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.. Having pride in the way we look on the outside is just as important .. You Rock.... you have given me some motivation to try to lose some weight...

Churlita said...

What a beautiful and amazing speech. I'm still in awe of your bravery. You really are an amazing role model for your son and everyone else.

Wanderlusting said...

Beautiful - I have so much to learn from you.