I used to weigh more than 300 pounds. I smoked like a house on fire, I drank like a blues guitarist, I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and I never, ever exercised.
In 2003 I lost more than half my body weight. In 2007 I started a wildly successful personal training career. Today I’m fit enough to run (though I usually choose not to), and thin enough to comfortably wiggle my butt into size 6 jeans (though I usually wear super-stretchy workout clothes).
You might think that when I reflect on my 300-pound self that it would be with disdain or pity. Hell no. The longer I’m thin, though, the more I miss the gifts of living in a body so big that people often turned away. It may sound strange to some, but here are five things I miss about my old, obese self:
Being fat gave me natural physical strength. As a thin person, I have to go out of my way to be strong. Despite daily strength training I’m nowhere near as powerful as I used to be. Once upon a time I could confidently lift a couch into and out of a moving truck (a U-Haul, not a truck in motion — being fat never did give me super powers). Today, I labor under the weight of heavy things. I miss the natural, organic strength that I used to take for granted, the sheer power born of moving under the weight of my own fat day after day.
At bedtime I lie down in a sea of pillows. My husband laughs at me, but I need all those pillows because I spent most of my life in a large, soft body. When I’m lying on my side, the feeling of knee bone on knee bone is enough to keep me up all night; I hug a pillow to compensate for the generous expanse of tummy my arm used to rest on. I haven’t slept on my stomach in over a decade because I lost the nice, round belly that softened the space between my spine and the bed. Also, I could write a whole post about how awful it feels to sit on a hard surface with a bony butt. Tail bones and hard seats: never the two should meet.
When I was fat I understood that most weight changes are fleeting and insignificant. At 300 pounds, I wore clothes forgiving enough to accommodate ten pounds lost or gained, so I didn’t think much of it. Sadly, going from a size 6 to an 8 makes me nuts in a way that going from a size 26 to a 28 just never did. I miss the freedom I once had from noticing and obsessing over Every. Single. Pound.
As an obese woman I experienced the world every day in a body that was judged, undervalued, demonized, mocked, feared, despised, and avoided. Those awful experiences gave me more empathy, more character, more personality, and a broader, richer and more inclusive perspective than lifelong thinness ever could have (back off, deep and interesting lifelong-skinny women — I’m speaking for myself here). I also have a much more meaningful appreciation for my health and the body I have today, and I sure as hell will never take it for granted. Not to mention the deep respect I automatically have for every person I meet who doesn’t fit the (white, straight, middle-class, able-bodied) mold.
Starting and maintaining friendships was easier when I was fat. Women rarely saw me as a rival and were less self-conscious than they are around me today. My larger body made it easier for my peers to let their guard down and be themselves. Because I felt less-than when I was fat, I was way more forgiving and accommodating, and I often edited myself for maximum social appeal.
Friendships today are more likely to feel peppered with insecurities. Confident and candid, strong and outspoken, today I present the real me, and, at times, ruffle the feathers of the sort of people I spent my early life catering to. The friendships that remain require real, sometimes uncomfortable heart-to-heart discussions, and true open-mindedness; they can be exhausting. When I’ve had a long, hard day, I miss the easy, comparatively effortless friendships of yesteryear.
Finally, there’s the weird disconnect between the size of me in my mind and the size of me — of my physical body — in the world. The “me” in my brain is big. My voice is big. My feelings are big. My attitude is big. Ten years ago, all that bigness was reflected in my body — fat, round, impossible to miss. Now, my personality and my body feel mismatched, like my mind is walking around in shoes several sizes too small. I miss feeling like a cohesive whole. I miss inhabiting the grander space I once did.
The longer I’m thin, the more in love I fall with the fat body I once had, and with the woman I was before I lost my weight. I’m the luckiest person I know, in large part because my personality and perspective were developed in the context of being a fat woman.
Today, I get to work with women and men of all sizes and all abilities. I love them — each and every one of them, inside and out — and I love helping them, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, to fall in love with their own perfectly imperfect bodies.