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  • Obesity as Disease:Definition by Desperation
  • Jeremy Shermak

I hated removing my shirt. Each visit to my doctor’s office, following a blood pressure and temperature check, the nurse would instruct me to take off my shirt so the doctor could examine me further. She would then leave the room. I remained perched atop the exam table, now half exposed, and a mirror on the wall would not leave me alone. In the reflection, I saw my oversized breasts and “fat roll” oozing out from my pants, hiding my belt. I tried to straighten my back—breathe in, no wait, breathe out—to resculpt the appearance, but it did nothing. I hated myself. Soon, a gentle knock at the door would interrupt the loathing and I’d shake hands with my doctor.

I have been obese for the majority of my life—from childhood until I turned 34, when shortly thereafter, I had gastric bypass surgery. Since that time, I have lost 155 pounds and now write this at a comfortable, healthy 180 pounds. That said, my mind remains “obese”. My thinking remains shrouded deep within the obese personality that I embodied for all of those years. I still automatically walk to the big–and–tall section of clothing stores; I don’t recognize the 34–waist pants when they come [End Page 114] out of the dryer; I’m not used to seeing my ribs; and I’m still terrified of that exam room mirror.

Upon hearing the news that the American Medical Association (AMA) now classifies obesity as a disease, my initial reaction was that of relief. My recent success was due in large part to the discovery and treatment of hindering endocrinological issues. My history—like repeatedly slamming head–long into a brick wall—suggests that these medically verified roadblocks have existed for some time. Despite my efforts, I didn’t stand a chance.

If anyone were a “poster child” for obesity as a disease, it would be me. The lifelong sparring with my weight had its ups and downs; I worked very hard to maintain or lose weight with mixed results. I lost 85 pounds my freshman year of college by running and fervently watching my portions. I kept that weight off for a good five years before the summer of 2003, when I started gaining weight very quickly. I gained 25 pounds in each month of June and July that year, despite maintaining my usual eating habits and running schedule. I soon lost faith. I felt as though I was up against forces that I could not control and I began to forget about losing weight. I didn’t binge, but I didn’t eat well. By 2008, my weight had reached 375 pounds—an all–time personal high.

Following a bad relationship and seeking rejuvenation, I embarked on a diet that summer like I’ve never tried before. I cooked everything naturally—from regular dishes like stuffed peppers all the way to condiments like ketchup. It was a militant effort on my part. I lost 50 pounds that summer and felt that I was well on my way back to the body that once felt so comfortable. It was at that point where I hit a wall. I could not get past 321. I can still see that number staring back at me on the scale. It was frustrating. I felt I had done all I could. That’s when I visited a doctor who ran some tests that revealed problems with my hormones and metabolic systems.

As it turned out, I had a tumor on my pituitary gland. This may have been the issue all along. That led to low testosterone, which had a really negative impact on my weight loss efforts. After thorough consideration, I decided to have gastric bypass surgery to “reset” my hormones and get a “boost” in my weight loss efforts. It worked.

In my particular circumstance, I could view obesity as a disease because its causes, for the most part, were not a result of conscious lifestyle choices. I had no control over the pituitary tumor. However, I know that I could have done more to limit my...


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pp. 114-116
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