What Losing 100 Pounds Taught Me About How We Treat Overweight People
It didn’t come as a shock to me that when I lost nearly 100 pounds, the world and its relationship to me changed drastically.
What threw me for a loop, however, was the fact that many of those changes were so deeply unsettling.
Don’t get me wrong. Losing the weight that had plagued both my knees and my spirit for so long was an important accomplishment for me, something I’d been desperately longing for since I was a kid.
And with good reason. Just shy of turning 31, standing at five foot four and an important half, I weighed 221 pounds. My triglycerides were high at 208, and I suffered from myriad health issues—from depression and anxiety to fatigue and headaches. My doctor told me that I was headed down that well-traveled road to heart disease.
It was while on a trip to San Francisco with my partner in 2010—during a friendly meeting with the publishers of a magazine I freelanced for—that the trajectory of my eating changed course.
As we all scarfed down a Middle Eastern dinner, our dining mates practically foisted an advance copy of a new documentary on me, strongly encouraging me to borrow it. In recalling their vehemence that I should watch it, I’m toying with the idea of being retroactively offended, but the truth is, that documentary saved my life.
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead tells the story of one man’s journey back to health after juice fasting for 60 days. Though it was hard for me to admit at the time, his story resonated with me in profound ways. Sick to tears of not being able to see my feet beneath my stomach, and tired of feeling so ill all the time, my moment of truth boiled down to a simple shrug.
After viewing the film later that night in our hotel room, and being emboldened by the ease and quick results of consuming nothing but vegetable and fruit juice, I looked at my partner Mariann, and said, “Oh hell, why not?”
As soon as we arrived back home in New York City, we started our first of what would become regular 10-day juice fasts. It was September 1, 2010. By September 10, I was down 11 pounds, and I was sold. Mariann and I began to juice fast regularly, and in between we ate an abundant, whole foods, vegan diet as touted by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live. (I was a long-time vegan by then anyway, motivated then and now by the ethical reasons for ditching animal products.)
This approach worked for me, even though so many other weight loss attempts had failed. It wasn’t that I had become more determined than during my previous tries; I had simply found something that, for me, wasn’t that hard.
In fact, the toughest part of it was, and remains, the cost, since—unlike the commodity crops that go into junk food, and are used in animal agribusiness—fruits and vegetables aren’t government subsidized. So I recognize that juice “fasting” is a pretty privileged way to consume food.
But, other than watching the dollars fly away, the usual problems of “diets” just didn’t seem to get in my way. I never got that hungry, despite what you might think about juicing. I didn’t have to count calories or make any decisions about what to eat. I was full of energy, and the juices were satisfying and, most of the time, delicious. Of course, doing it alongside Mariann made it that much easier, and the speedy results were true motivators.
Two years later, after losing nearly 100 pounds, I even wound up on The Dr. Oz Show, alongside Dr. Fuhrman, where I discussed why Eat to Live, the eating plan I largely followed when I wasn’t juice fasting, was (and remains) a key element to my health. And recently, I was filmed for the sequel to Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. I was what was called a “success story.”
As my weight came off, I saw the world around me change. Men would enthusiastically hold doors for me. Women, with a snap of their gum and a flip of their hair, would compliment my “cute blazerrrrr!” Employees at coffee shops smiled at me, and made eye contact. Some of my well-intentioned but tacky friends would say that I looked “a lot better.” My (always thin) mother told me she was proud of me; she had the same gleam in her eye that she had when I completed graduate school.
As a fat person, I had been used to folks rushing ahead of me on the subway, not making eye contact at the store, or not smiling back when they passed me in the hallway of my apartment building. These behaviors were what I recognized as normal.
After a childhood of being bullied, and a young adulthood of being overlooked, when the world started behaving appropriately toward me (which occurred somewhere around when my weight reached the 130s), I was gobsmacked.
My initial reaction to this sudden onslaught of warmth, sweetness and gratitude from the world was suspicion that the joke was on me. Since I went from a size 16 to a six, there have been times when I have caught myself irrationally questioning people’s motives, just waiting for the paper snakes to jump out of the can.
My second reaction, after I realized that they weren’t making fun of me but were just being cordial, was to be furious. As a fat person, I had recognized that I was a victim of an unfair, unjust society. But I had never realized how many subtle differences there would be in negotiating the world as a member of the club, a “cool kid,” no longer someone to be, at best, ignored, or, as I so clearly remembered from my high school days, endlessly taunted.
When I thought about it a bit more though, I couldn’t really blame the folks who reached out to me with kindness. It was not their fault that society has so deeply indoctrinated them with the notion that thin equals friend, and fat equals nothing.
That doesn’t quite give them a “get out of jail free” card, but unless you’re a full-on misanthrope, you can’t actually hold it against someone for being polite. And the truth is, as much as I was steaming, I also basked in the world’s new opinion of me. There were times, I admit, when I felt like throwing my hat up in the air, Mary Tyler Moore style. Finally, I was something.
Except—wait—I had been something before, too! I had been a writer, an activist, an actress. I had loved Patti LuPone, kale chips, nail polish colors that were “too young” for me. Why didn’t anyone notice? Why didn’t they care? More importantly, why did they care now?
We live in a society that celebrates and rewards the most ridiculous and arbitrary traits, thinness being way up there on the list. And thinness has its charms, I won’t deny it.
But the thing that has been brought alive to me, so vividly, is how thoroughly our evaluation of a person’s body has become our evaluation of the person. We not only decide that certain body types are less attractive, we marginalize, and sometimes abuse, those who do not conform to our ideal, and we sexualize and consume those who conform too much. We are granted or denied privileges that are frequently lost on us when we have them—privileges that we only recognize when they are lost to us.
Needless to say, thinness is not the only privilege by which people are judged. There are thousands. On occasion—and my personal example is such an infinitesimal one next to the truly unfathomable suffering that so many oppressed individuals (human and non-human) experience—we find ourselves in the position of having jumped the fence. For whatever reason, we become more “worthy” to those who had previously considered us outsiders.
These days, my old friends don’t recognize me. For one, I’m thin, for the first time in my life. Secondly, I am full of tattoos, which I would argue has partly been an attempt to reclaim my body, which I sometimes have a hard time recognizing as actually being mine.
But mostly, I think my massive weight loss has brought me a change in personality, a new level of confidence—not just because I feel better about myself, but, sadly, because the world feels so much better about me. And, quite honestly, I like it. I savor it. And to the extent I can get away with it, I use it.
But deep inside, I still am and always will be a fat girl, with a fat girl’s awareness that the world is not nearly as nice as it sometimes seems right now.