"A skinny me is a complete stranger."
Elizabeth A. Johnson
I'm fat. I've been fat as long as I can remember.
The last time I weighed less than 200 pounds was in middle school. I remember scribbling 183 pounds on my paperwork for volleyball tryouts. So let's face it—I was probably 190. For one reason or another, we tend to lie about our weight.
It's the end of the day. I slip off my shoes and leave a trail of my clothing—pants, socks, shirt, bra—behind me. Don't forget the necklace. I tap the scale. It blinks. Then I hold my breath. Right foot, left foot. I wait.
I'm 26 and teetering on 300 pounds. It's the heaviest I've ever been. For me, it's terrifying—the thought of seeing that first number change from two to three. I'm comfortable in the 200s. It's where I've spent half of my life. Granted, 208 became 225, became 244, became 272, and then became 296.5. But every time I've stepped on a scale I've known to expect 2-something.
The three scares the shit out of me. It's one of the reasons I've decided on weight loss surgery—specifically the gastric sleeve. Roughly six months from now—after I jump through the health insurance hoops—a doctor will laparoscopically enter my abdomen and remove the majority of my stomach, leaving me with a pouch roughly the size of a banana. Some people will call it the easy way out. They're wrong.
If just dieting and exercising worked, I wouldn't be on the cusp of 300 pounds. I've been dieting since I was 12. I played sports year-round as a kid. I did CrossFit for two years in my early 20s. I've been on Weight Watchers more times than I can count. Every time I've lost weight. Every time I've gained it back and then some. That's because I'm not just fat. I'm morbidly obese. And as a nurse practitioner once stressed to me: Obesity is a disease, a sickness that should be treated as such. Weight loss surgery is a treatment for my disease.
This surgery won't guarantee long-term weight loss. It will merely provide a tool—shrinking my stomach, reducing the amount of food I can ingest and removing the "hunger" hormone. I'll have to change the way I eat—a few ounces at a time, prioritizing protein—for the rest of my life. I'll live off liquids for a while, before and after surgery. I'm going to struggle with constipation. Beer will always be off limits. I will have to cook and weigh and portion my meals forever. I'll never be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast in all its glory ever again.
Cheat and I'll puke; my body won't be able to handle the amount of food, grease, or sugar. Cheat often and my stomach will stretch, setting me on the path to become fat again. It's not foolproof. But I'll be putting my body through a lot, so believe me when I say I'll do my damnedest to make it work this time.
Driving to my first informational session about the surgery, I had a moment of panic. I wasn't worried about the surgery, the possible complications or the diets. I felt fear—fear of being skinny. I cried, and then couldn't help but laugh at myself. Afraid of being thin? Afraid of being able to find clothes on any rack in any store? Afraid of being able to run a mile without stopping? A skinny me is a complete stranger. I'm scared of who I'll become.
I suspect I'm overreacting. I'm sure I'll be the same me that enjoys Netflix binges and has a thing for men with beards. But what if I change? What if I become self-conscious in my new body? What if I become judgmental of others? I might also hate and resent my old self—and by that I mean my current self—for being fat. I've tried to think of when my weight really mattered. A lot of it seems trivial, but it's real. It's real for me every day. And it's real for the roughly 38 percent of American adults who are obese.
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As a young child, I used to spend hours in my room practicing to stand up off of the floor without having to put down a knee and push myself up—just so I would look like the other kids. When I was 15, I wanted so badly to ride in the front row on the Incredible Hulk roller coaster at Universal Studios, but the over-shoulder restraints wouldn't lock in. Every time I get on a plane, I wonder if I'll have to request my first seat belt extender.
Despite those situations, somewhere along the way I made the decision to not be defined by my weight. I don't remember ever being just the "fat girl." I've become more confident in my body as I've gotten older. Maybe it's because I've had this body for so long that I decided I might as well be comfortable in it. Maybe it's because I realize that people don't really care if I'm fat. Or maybe I've decided that I don't give a fuck what other people think.
Overcoming the acceptance of my body as it exists and developing the need to change it has been the hardest part of this decision. Looking at my family history, I know it's only a matter of time before my weight leads to other medical issues. I have great parents who have been married 30 years. My dad has had three back surgeries and recently started taking insulin for the diabetes he was diagnosed with when I was a kid. My mom really needs a knee replacement. I see myself in my parents every time I have an ache or pain or get winded walking up a flight of stairs.
They hold hands while strolling through the grocery store and steal kisses while cooking dinner. I want my kids—if I ever have them—to know what love is by their grandparents' example. And I want to be around to make that happen. I don't hate my body. I hate my disease. I'm doing this for me, for my future, and for my knees.
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Lede image: Elizabeth A. Johnson