After looking up to the right-hand side of my screen and realizing that had I just spent 20 minutes of my life reading CNN’s “The Complete Coverage on My Weight Loss Success,” I realized that I had wasted 20 minutes of my life. These stories of extreme weight loss (in people just like you and me!) are laden with details about whole-wheat pancakes and cutting carbs and Zumba classes, and are featured in spreads complete with before and after pictures, so that readers can take in the full effect of the message.
These stories are stories of success — as the blog title informs us — and they chronicle changes in eating patterns and exercise habits that result in weight losses of 100-plus pounds. My weight loss story is not like these, and if you are tired of hearing that “you CAN meet your weight loss goals!” and that all it takes is “a lifestyle change,” then maybe this story is for you.
I was never thin. I was never, as a child, what people would call “fat,” either, but I do remember the neighbor across the street telling me when I was six or seven and she was five or six, that I should “lose some pounds.” I knew even then that what she meant to articulate and did so poorly was that I should “lose some weight.”
I always wanted to be skinnier, though. I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to be skinnier. You know in all those ugly-duckling-turned-swan-themed young adult books where the little girl has knobby knees and chicken legs? Well, I never had the chicken legs. The closest I ever got to chicken legs were my arms, which were the only things that could have passed for chicken legs if they didn’t have hands on them and were attached to the lower part of my body. I didn’t have chicken legs as a toddler, I didn’t have them as a tween, and I certainly don’t have them as an adult.
I could never be skinny, even when all the girls around me my age had no problem staying thin with their 12-year-old metabolisms. I was always a little heavier than those around me, always in the upper range of weight for girls my age and height. Again, I was a little overweight, probably, but I was tall and so held the weight relatively well, and I wasn’t really “fat,” despite what I told myself every day. I still had thin privilege.
After turning 18, though, I rapidly started gaining weight, and the type of weight gain where you gain like 25 pounds in a year. I was working out regularly — running, lifting weights, spinning — and hadn’t made any dramatic changes in my eating habits. There had been no discernible change in my “lifestyle.” Still, though, I was gaining weight and nothing I did helped stop the weight gain. Of course, like this, I hated myself. If I hated myself at 150 pounds, there really isn’t anything I can put into writing that describes how much I hated my body at 200. I didn’t want anyone to see me; I didn’t want to be in pictures; my dream of one day being married to a man who thought I was beautiful dried up, because who would want to marry or be faithful to someone who looked like me?
A lot of this was vanity. A lot of this was the fact that I had been raised by aunts and grandparents who looked impeccable on cleaning days, the type who put on makeup to cook dinner and vacuum. Anything outside of impeccability was a failure, or at least I perceived it to be so. At any rate, I lost my thin privilege. Old acquaintances thought that I had just let myself go, that the “freshman 15” had become the “freshman 50.” I wanted to lose weight, but I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried, and as I kept gaining, it became more and more difficult to exercise. I thought the weight was the cause of my increased fatigue.
Well, it wasn’t. Turns out, my weight gain had nothing — NOTHING — to do with my “lifestyle.” It had everything to do, though, with an underactive thyroid gland, which, as I learned upon diagnosis, slows down one’s metabolism almost to a complete halt. It didn’t matter what I was eating, or how much time I was spending at the gym; my metabolism had stopped doing its job. My body couldn’t — I couldn’t — fix myself. I couldn’t buckle down like the people featured in those CNN stories and lose the weight. My body just couldn’t do it, and changing out the pancake syrup for a sugar-free alternative wasn’t going to make a difference.
So I eventually lost the weight, once I started being treated for my thyroid disease and the autoimmune component that comes with it, which I will probably always have. Losing the weight had nothing to do with my lifestyle. It had everything to do with a hormonal imbalance in my body, and it wasn’t my fault. I’ve gained some of the weight back, lost some of it again; I’m at a normal weight right now. A lot of where I land on the scale has to do with adjustments in my thyroid medication. In Miami, at least, where large thighs are, if not applauded, at least accepted, I have gained back my thin privilege.
People who don’t struggle with weight gain or weight maintenance often equate obesity with laziness. But sometimes — and this is the whole point of this long-winded article — sometimes, despite what you read in blogs or see on the television programs that dehumanize overweight and obese people, weight loss isn’t something that one has complete control over.
For many people, changing one’s lifestyle by eating healthy foods and exercising is the key to weight loss. For others, a lifestyle change may not do anything to get one closer to weight loss goals. We should all eat healthier and exercise more, but don’t be fooled by the rhetoric that claims that this is all there is to it. There may be way more going on than meets the eye.
Laura Creel (@Little_Utopia) is the managing editor of Little Utopia.
Previously from Laura Creel:
♦ Never the Bride
♦ Learning From Failure
♦ I Am Not a Food Stamp Abuser
♦ It’s a Feel Good Friday, and We are Celebrating the Greenville House of Pizza
♦ Technology Finds Another Way to Creep Us Out