My Body, My Self

Food issues and a bad self-image led our columnist to undergo weight-loss surgery. She's still a mess, but a better-looking one.

He said the "squish her" part with a breathlessness that belied the release that I feared was coming.

"Squish her??!"

"Yeah! Press your big fat body into her! Press her into the floor! Ohhhhhhhh!"

Click.

I think it was at this point that I began to really consider weight-loss surgery.

Before your surgery, at least if you have a reputable surgeon, you have to take classes. At the place where I had mine, ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton, you have to take more than a dozen.

There are two kinds of classes. In the first batch, you are taught how to deal with your postsurgery body: what vitamins to take and when to take them, what foods to avoid for fear that they will harm or stretch your new stomach pouch, how to eat for those first few months when your tummy is the size of a fingerling potato. The other classes are about psychological stuff, the "What's eating you?" crap that people who "understand" fat people trot out. It's not that I think that stuff is total bullshit; not at all. It's just that I had already spent eight years answering that question in therapy. Some of the people at the medical center had been grappling with this stuff for only four weeks. There was no way they could conquer their food demons that quickly. They just wanted to race through their classes so that they could get a surgery date. They saw the procedure as some sort of magic bullet. "My sister had it done and she looks fabulous," was the sort of thing I would hear from them.

These people made me really, really nervous. I felt like I was in some sort of cult. Was I rushing into something stupid? Would the surgery work for a while and then I would just get fat again after my body had recalibrated its proven-to-be-fucked-up metabolism? Was I one of these lemmings?

As a result of my trepidation, I took more than two years to get a surgery date, stretching my classes out as far as I could, even taking almost an entire year off from my pursuit.

I also think I took forever because I was fucking terrified of losing weight.

Still, it was nice to get together with fat people a few times a week. I realized that alcoholics and other 12-steppers are probably missing that one important factor that goes along with food addiction: Boy howdy, are fat people jolly. We had some real cards in attendance, ever ready with the corny one-liners and zingers.

Teacher: "So, does anyone have ideas about good ways to deal with stress that aren't self-sabotaging?"

Jolly fat person: "I like to go on a date and let my hair down with my special girl. ... Her name is Sara Lee!"

It seems I wasn't the only one who had compensated for her "ugliness" by developing a sense of humor. On some level we were all giddy; I mean, we were there for pretty exciting reasons. We were all going to lose more than 100 pounds each.

Sometimes people who had already been through the program were brought in to talk to us. They entered the room and a sort of hush would pass among us. We revered them. They looked like regular people; it was hard to imagine them as fat. It was harder still to ever imagine that I would maybe be one of them at some point, that I would look "normal." Thin people were aliens, a master race. I realized that my disability of obesity was one of the few that could be reversed. If I had cerebral palsy, or quadriplegia, or dwarfism, there would be next to nothing I could do about it. But being fat, really fat, and then being able to transform myself into a thin person? Wow. I felt blessed.

We asked one young girl to describe something that had changed about her after the surgery that stuck out in her mind. She thought for a minute and then said, "I hate potato chips now. They disgust me."

"Whoaaaaa," we all said in hushed unison, stealing furtive glances at one another. She might as well have said, "I have the power to kill my adversaries using only the force of my mind."

My parents were supportive about my plans. My mother was terrified for a bit, but she did some research and started to feel better. My dad was also okay with it. They had had their share of therapy and growth over the years, too, and I didn't feel as judged. My friends were also incredibly supportive. They had seen me depressed for so long, avoiding parties and social events, and not seeing my own worth. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, the people who were not into the idea were some of my other fat friends. Perhaps they felt I was rejecting them, or saying that there was something wrong with being fat; I don't know. But they pulled away from me.

I read all I could about the surgery to ensure I wasn't making a colossal mistake. I liked what I learned. While just a small percentage of people who go on a diet maintain their new weight, between 60 and 80 percent of weight-loss-surgery patients kept their weight down after five years. I liked those odds.

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