For most of my life, I have been overweight, and while I was younger, it often felt like everything in my life would be wonderful if only I were thin. As I grew older, I realized that skinny people have problems too and being skinny won’t solve all of our or anyone’s problems. It seems pretty obvious, but while our head might acknowledge this fundamental truth, the rest of us might not. We still work at being skinny like it will solve everything and make our lives perfect.
“Being thin” is right up there with “being rich” and “being with the perfect spouse/ partner.” We think these external accoutrements will fix the problems in our lives, and if the problem is “not having enough money,” “being alone,” or “being obese,” then yes, they probably will go a long way to fixing those problems. Too often, however, these outward problems are symptoms of something deeper that needs to be fixed in ourselves. Emotional eating is a prime example of this. Most of us who are emotional eaters eat because we don’t know how to handle our emotions: either they are too painful to deal with, we don’t want to face them or we don’t know what to do with them, so we eat to soothe the pain, fear or just to avoid dealing with them. There are dozens of examples of this on My 600 lb Life: the patient is able to control their eating long enough to qualify for bariatric surgery, and then they are surprised that they still have cravings. Dr. Nowzaradan sends most of them to meet with a therapist because he knows from experience that the compulsive eating is only a symptom of a deeper problem. Until the patient resolves those issues and learns to deal with whatever is driving them to eat, they will regain the weight.
While many obese people struggle with ‘food addiction,’ it’s not the real problem. Mind you, obesity is a real struggle and unless successfully managed, it will kill its victims, but food is only the mechanism the addict is using to manage the real problem. ‘Food’ can be substituted with a variety of distractions, such as alcohol, sex, shopping, drugs or anything else that can and does keep people from thinking about their problems. Whatever the problem really is, the outward ‘addiction’ starts as a distraction: “my spouse is cheating on me but I don’t want to think about it so I’ll eat/ spend money/ get high/ whatever.” Eventually, the addiction becomes a problem itself as we become addicted to the drugs, alcohol and even the high from spending money. This is usually the problem that most people see because it is the one that is most visible. If the guy in the cubicle next to you is always drunk and smelling of mouthwash, our first thought is ‘alcoholism,’ not ’emotional problems resulting in alcoholism.’ The same thing is true for obesity: we see someone weighing 400+ lbs and we think they have a problem with portion control, not there is something deeper pushing them to eat. But whether it’s food, drugs, gambling or whatever addiction they are struggling with, there is something deeper inside creating the problem. The outward addiction is only the symptom: it’s the first layer of the problem, and until that deeper internal problem is dealt with, the real problem is still there. This is why I say that being skinny will not make you happy.
For some of us, finding out what that deeper problem is and dealing with it ranks right up there with getting a root canal minus the anesthesia! Of course we don’t want to deal with whatever the problem is: that’s why we’re 400 freaking pounds! We can change behaviors, and we might even manage to get our eating under control, but the emotional issue that caused it usually manifests another way, and rarely is it healthy. In many cases, they have panic attacks or they become anorexic. They go from soothing their anxiety with food to soothing their anxiety with a sense of control, and they do this by controlling what they eat. Obviously I am not a psychologist, but my grandmother and my aunt both died from anorexia. In my grandmother’s case, the more her health deteriorated and the less she could do for herself, the more she refused to eat. Refusing to eat was her way of exercising control over her life. She needed a walker to get around, she couldn’t carry most items because of the walker and almost everything else she used to do on a regular basis had to be done for her by someone else. What she was eating was the only left under her control.
In my aunt’s case, she was chubby most of her life and had a gastric bypass that I personally think she did not need, but for the first time in her life, she was skinny and she was thrilled. Then the problems started: not eating enough, malnutrition and eventually the anorexia that left her too weak to continue living.
Not everyone who is obese has some kind of emotional issue. Really, there are just some of us who enjoy eating or really like some of the more fattening foods. Sometimes, people are overweight because all they have to eat are the more high carb/ high calorie foods. In a lot of cases, the obesity itself becomes the source of the emotional issue. Whatever the reason we gain weight, once we become overweight, we begin to face backlash over our size. There’s a lot of disapproval and passive discrimination that goes with being obese because the idea is that “you did this to yourself.” There is also the idea that there must be something wrong with you or you wouldn’t be overeat. When you are told explicitly and implicitly over and over again that there is something wrong with you, you begin to believe it yourself. My aunt was one of those people who implicitly let me know that I was defective because of my weight. She also believed that she was also defective because of her weight. Incidentally, she barely weighed 200 lbs while I weighed 400!
Over the course of my weight loss, I have seen too many people who are not happy with how they look and they somehow equate that with who they are. What you look like is not who you are, and until you are happy with who you are, being skinny will not make you happy. I don’t think that getting your loose skin cut off will make you happy until you are happy with the person living in that skin. Once I started losing weight, I started getting all kinds of hints from my mom about skin removal: have I talked to the doctor about it? when can I get it done? etc. Every time I look in the mirror, I see the skin on my arms, on my legs, my belly, all over. You can literally fit another grown adult into the loose skin on my body! I think it bothers my mom more than it bothers me, since she mentions it every time I see her. It wasn’t until this last month that it’s actually become a problem physically, and if it continues to be a problem (ie, I don’t find a way to deal with it), then I will probably call the doctor and see what my options are. Frankly, I think I will try compression garments before I do that!
We’ve all heard the platitudes about loving yourself first and accepting who you are. They are trite and they are also true. It isn’t that I’m totally content within myself and I have achieved some kind of inner peace or inner strength: I have listened all my life to people tell me that there is something wrong with me, and at some point, I just stopped listening. They became the dull roar in the background while I decided I can sit there and moan about “what’s wrong with me?” or I can get on with my life despite being ‘defective.’ Now that I’ve lost a lot of weight and my new ‘defect’ is my loose skin, I still handle it the same way and get on with my life no matter what the dull roar is roaring about now. There is a lot that’s wrong with my life and with me, but I am happy enough with what I have and with who I am. Until you are happy with the person living in your skin, nothing else is as important in your life.