Newest Review: ... but obese in the past couple of years, it's clear to see that the predictions of this documentary were not far wrong. Obesity causes a... more
Confessions of a Recovering Fat Man
Member Name: Hishyeness
Disadvantages: Too many to list.
According to the stereotype, I am nothing but a lazy, selfish, thoughtless, greedy, gross, smelly, inconsiderate, and weak-willed loser with nothing of note to contribute to society other than to keep McDonald's, KFC and big and tall men's shops in business. I am supposed to be jolly and fun-loving, self-deprecating and willing to laugh along at people's fat jokes.
Why? Because you see, it was all my fault. It was my fault that I could not stop cramming food down my pie hole. If only I would get off my fat arse and exercise more. If I only I stopped eating junk food and watching TV all day. If only I cared about someone else other than myself.
If only it were that easy.
What galls me is that this attitude to overweight people isn't the province of the uneducated and stupid minority, it is a point of view peddled by society wherever you go and whatever you do - from the portrayal of fat people in films, to the magazines we buy, to the TV programmes we watch - it is everywhere - constantly spewed out by the media and constantly reinforced. I have even seen "fat people" consigned to Room 101 by people posting on this site.
So tell me. Why is a fat person different to an alcoholic or a drug addict? The sheer amount of information, support and sympathy available to those trying to recover from alcohol or substance abuse runs into the millions of pounds. Such sufferers turned to those substances as a comfort, as a crutch - to fill a hole in their lives they could not otherwise fill. So why is it that the same psychological and emotional problems that drive people to drink and drugs are not worthy of attention when the method of choice for abuse is food?
Fat people have become one of the few safe havens for societal abuse. You are free to belittle, insult, bully and destroy fat people in a way that you cannot with any other sector of society. We have laws against ageism, racism, disability, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion or sex but it's still OK to abuse fat people. Why?
Because the perceived wisdom is that it's their fault.
Fat people should pay more to travel if their girth can't squeeze completely into their seat - at least Ryanair think so. Fat people should be exempt from treatment on the NHS. Fat people should be forced to pay a tax on junk food. Fat people should pay more for their clothes. In other words, as a society, we are saying that fat people are entirely at fault for their own condition in a way that an anorexic, bulimic, smoker, drug addicts and others who are vulnerable and need of support are not.
So what's it actually like being a fat man? As someone who has busted loo seats, regularly used extension belts on aeroplanes, had several "wardrobe malfunctions", broken a hotel bed, failed to squeeze into a rental car, capsized a canoe, got stuck in a shower door and snapped his season ticket seat at Highbury, I can tell you it is a daily ritual of humiliation. You start your day wondering not whether something depressing is going to happen that day, but how many separate incidents of degradation you will be subjected to.
Let's get one thing straight. I did not choose to be fat. It was not a choice I made. It's something that seemed to happen to me against my will and despite my best intentions. - something that I found myself quite incapable of stopping. Eating was a self-destructive behaviour for me. I approached food in the same way a smoker looks at a cigarette - I know it's bad. Two university degrees have given me the book knowledge to understand the abuse I was subjecting my body to. But knowing it and being able to stop it are two very different things.
I have been overweight since I was thirteen. I was shy with girls with zero confidence, I was the last kid picked for sports, I was never invited to parties, I retreated into the refuge of geekdom with other misfits and outcasts, and, in an effort to get people to see something other than my belly and man boobs, I became a "larger than life" personality - the clown, the jolly fat boy, he of the witty comeback and dry sarcasm - he who would not stop talking.
I was desperate for people to focus on something other than my size. I'd rather be known for talking too much than eating too much. However, whatever I tried, I look back on my late teens and early twenties and see how I reverted back to type. At uni in the USA, I won a hot dog eating competition. At uni in London I won a pizza eating competition. Wherever I went, my size became a focus. I started revelling in it and confusing my physical appearance with my actual identity. It became a self fulfilling prophecy. People expected me to act in a particular way, and desperate for acceptance, I indulged them, all the while becoming slowly, but surely, larger and larger.
I stopped going out. I avoided people and places because I was ashamed of myself with no self-esteem. I could not love myself so I could not imagine how any one would want to love me. I alienated friends who cared because they showed concern for where I was headed. My strategy was one of denial. I convinced myself that this was the way I was meant to be, that I was actually happy with myself. Yet I had no mirrors in my house because I could not stand to look at myself. I avoided photos like the plague and did not want to spoil others pictures by being in them and dominating the frame. When I had no choice I hid behind other people so only my face was visible.
My health problems mounted. My joints were creaking. I was continually out of breath. Climbing a set of stairs was a challenge. Moving was a challenge. At work I would stockpile work and print it all off at once to minimise trips to the printer. I developed piles, rashes, fungal infections, spots and sores in unusual places, and, on my last visit to the GP, I was told I would hotly have to start insulin injections to manage my diabetes as my blood sugar was out of control.
This was my life and I felt powerless to do anything about it. Every time I started a diet I'd last a week and then relapse. The one time I did lose significant weight was in the nine months before I got married. Somehow, some way, I had found my future wife despite my emotional and psychological issues and I wanted to look good for our wedding. I did Atkins and managed to shift four stone, yet it was not in the least bit sustainable. I managed to put on ten pounds on my honeymoon as I gorged on all of the foods I had deprived myself of in the previous nine months. By the last day, I could not fit into my swimming trunks.
In the eight years since I was married, I put on eight stone - one stone a year. Whatever I tried would not last - I could not stay the course. Six years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, yet neither that - nor the impending arrival of my daughter - could get me out of the circle of failure I found myself in. I could not break the cycle and I became morose, depressed and introspective. The heavier I got the less energy I had. The less energy I had the less I wanted to move. The less I moved the more I put on weight. The more weight I put on the more depressed I got. The more depressed I got the more I ate.
The amount of justification and denial that I managed to generate in the face of all evidence against was staggering. My calves were in great shape (obviously - supporting 350 lbs will shape and tone them quite nicely). I was "happy" to live a slightly shorter life as long as I enjoyed myself, especially as my wife would get a nice lump sum on my death (I actually thought they would be better off without me for a time). Some people are just meant to be the way I was - that was life. Actually, it wasn't. It was a living death. A slow, living death.
Fortunately for me, something snapped in me and whatever it was that was holding me back and keeping me imprisoned in my body no longer had that power over me. In my head, I decided enough was enough and embarked on a programme of sustainable, common sense weight loss which has seen me shed six stone in the last ten months. I am still four and a half stone from target, but having shifted what I have, my life is now unrecognisable from the train wreck it had become just before Christmas last year.
I wish I could put my finger on exactly what motivated me to change my life. If I could, it would undoubtedly help others in the same dire situation. However, this is not really a piece about how to lose weight - it's about giving you an insight into what it's like to be morbidly obese.
We are not on the whole ignorant, lazy, greedy and selfish - we did not plan to be this way. It's not a state we enjoy being in. We are not pigs in muck. You don't buy our love or respect with a cheeseburger. For me, laughing off the insults, jibes, abuse, snide comments and dirty looks was a self-defence mechanism - we are not jolly because we want to be, we are not self-deprecating because we enjoy it - we do it to survive, often employing the tactic that if you take the piss out of yourself first, then others are less likely to.
The answer for all who are fat seems so simple. Eat less, exercise more. The weight loss equation is a no brainer - if you consume less than you expend, you lose weight. It sounds a doddle doesn't it? It sounds perfectly reasonable to say "all he/she has to do is..."
Maybe that's why society is so unsympathetic. All a fat person has to do is stop eating. But that's why it's so bloody hard. You don't need alcohol to survive, you don't need drugs to survive, and cigarettes are not a recognised food group - but you need food to live. You can't go cold turkey on food. You are telling people who can't regulate their food intake for a variety of reasons to continue to eat, but by some miracle find the off switch at just the right time. Still sounding simple? Still sounding easy?
Fat people. FAT people. How about fat PEOPLE? Think about that the next time you're tempted to wade in with a snarky comment. How does it reflect on you as a person if you get your kicks by making other people feel miserable? Fat people have feelings too. They were not born with thick skin - the constant, relentless and daily assault by the people they share this planet with ensure that they have to develop one to make it through each and every day with their sanity, dignity and whatever shred of self-esteem they are clinging on to - intact.
I spent most of my adult life as a euphemism. I was "pleasantly plump", "generously proportioned", and "big-boned". I got tired of being a euphemism. I got tired of being fat. I had a stark choice, either accept my life and leave my children fatherless, my wife a widow and myself short-changed, or finally do something about it. The fact that it took me twenty years to finally get my head in a space where I could actually do, rather than wish I could do - should tell you everything you need to know about what it is like to be imprisoned in fat.
Lazy, thoughtless, selfish and inconsiderate. Is that you, or the person you're sneering at? Think about it before you sit in judgement.
© Hishyeness 2009
Summary: It's easy to judge, but much harder to understand.