- Stepping Off the Edge of the Earth:A bariatric patient’s journey out of obesity
I have been overweight my entire life. When I was born—three weeks early—I weighed 9 lbs., 3 oz. I proceeded to trend on the high end of the weight percentile for my age. By the time I was 14 years old I’d surpassed 200 lbs. By the time I graduated high school I’d hit 250 lbs.
Even today, after losing a considerable amount of weight from having Roux–en–Y gastric bypass surgery, I am still considered overweight according to the body mass index.
All this is to say that the way I think about my health, my body and my life is very much from the perspective of someone who has never experienced the so–called condition of being “normal.”
Enough is Enough
I’ve been asked many times how I decided to have bariatric surgery. The answer isn’t simple. Because I’d been overweight all my life, the notion of being anything but overweight seemed a bit absurd to me. Not absurd as in, “I would not be happy if I were smaller” but more like, “I don’t know if this could ever happen for me and, if it did, who would I be?”
Truth be told, I wasn’t entirely unhappy as an overweight woman. By the account of my primary care physician I also was not necessarily unhealthy for an overweight person. I didn’t have high blood pressure or diabetes (I wasn’t even pre–diabetic). My heart seemed to work fine. I was just very, very large.
However, I’d been large (or larger than others) my entire life. In many ways my very identity was inextractable from that fact. While I can’t speak for my entire culture, my experience as an African–American woman is one where women of size were not reviled, but celebrated. Being too thin was always presented to me as a negative cultural value, I believe because it was associated with drug use.
That means that growing up I didn’t have some of the experiences other obese people had. There were a few people who teased me but they were the exception, not the norm. I don’t recall being lonely because of my size. I dated avidly throughout my adolescence. I was asked to, and went to, both my proms.
I proceeded into young adulthood with a few bumps along the way. I suffered a bout of depression in my sophomore year of college and just after my 21st birthday I found the first signs of what would be massive hair loss from alopecia areata (although did not know that’s what it was at the [End Page 107] time). Otherwise, I was fairly healthy and no more or less happy than any other 21 year–old I knew.
At age 22, I had my first child, a daughter. This was the beginning of an upward weight climb that took me from being very overweight into very obese. At age 21, I weighed about 240 lbs. (I am 5 ft. 8 inches tall). By the time I was 26 (and after I had a second daughter), I weighed in at 340 lbs.
At this point I began to want to lose weight. I no longer liked the way I looked in pictures. My increased clothing size and cost depressed me even further. My attempts at dieting, however, failed miserably. I did seek help from my primary care physicians (I went through several throughout my young adulthood). Each time I’d be given a copy of the food pyramid and a pamphlet explaining the health benefits of losing weight.
But how? How exactly does one lose weight? In my mind it was some strange combination of sadistic exercise and starvation. That’s what I saw in magazines. Women who ate the equivalent of one meal per day who exercised many hours a day. I had no desire to do either and so I continued on my trend upward.
During that time my mother (now deceased) worried about my weight a lot. I’d...