I’m still amazed when people who didn’t know me “back then” start chastising overweight people right in front of me. Better yet, it seems they actually expect me to join in.
While I can’t blame someone who genuinely has no idea that I used to be morbidly obese, there are plenty of friends and colleagues (particularly at the YMCA, where I part-time) who are fully aware of my personal battles with weight. Yet they’ll still gossip about the woman who hasn’t been the gym in three months and gained her weight back, or the man who trudges along on the treadmill at a 2.5 speed and expects to shed the 50 pounds of excess fat he’s carrying.
Whenever this happens, I feel completely torn. On one hand, I’m celebrating. Someone is actually looking at me and seeing a “normal”-sized person, and thus feels comfortable talking to me about people who are overweight. They don’t see me as one of them.
I have a hard time with this, because my lifelong issues with my weight are still very, very present. I often look in the mirror and still see someone who is plus-sized staring back at me. Being overweight has always been such a huge part of who I am, and I believe it’ll be a long time before my mind fully catches up with my new body. But, nonetheless, I’m ecstatic with the reminder that people don’t see me as “big” anymore, and the body image issues I continue to struggle with are, truly, all in my head.
On the other hand, I want to scream at them. How dare they poke fun at someone who has a weight problem? Regardless of my current dress size, that is the story of my life. I can’t help but take offense. Even though I finally have my eating habits under control, it took me over 20 years just to admit I had a problem, and losing this weight remains the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. When someone jokes about a person who is carrying extra weight, they’ll often wonder out loud why they don’t just “do something about it.”
What I typically do is try to explain where that overweight person may be coming from. You never know what someone else is going through. Maybe that woman who has been MIA from the gym is dealing with the death of a loved one. Perhaps that man taking it easy on the treadmill has back problems and can’t move any faster, but is following his doctor’s orders to participate in whatever physical activity he can handle.
Sometimes I’ll make a joke to a friend about how I still avoid buffets like the plague, or how I maintain a 50 mile radius from any little girls dressed in Girl Scout uniforms this time of year, and they’ll ask me how anyone could have that much of a problem with food. They’re not being rude; they just genuinely don’t understand. They can sit down with a bag of chips and stop after one or two servings, or come home from a bad day at work and not feel the overwhelming urge to eat everything in the refrigerator.
They don’t understand what it’s like to suffer from food addiction in a society where food is absolutely everywhere. They don’t realize that someone can rely on cheeseburger or slice of pie as an emotional crutch in the same way that alcoholics have a bottle of wine or smokers have a cigarette to help them deal with what they’re feeling.
To me, it’s all the same thing – and the moment I finally admitted to myself that I had an addiction was the moment that this weight loss journey became so much more than just another temporary “diet.”