Monday, September 26, 2011

Bariatric Betty Looks Back

Why am I obese?  That is a loaded question, and it's one that every obese person has asked themselves over time.  We all have different reasons.  Part of it is genetics, we know that some people have genes that make them prone to obesity - but it doesn't guarantee that they are going to be obese.  The rest is choices they make and that are made for them. 

I was born a normal weight (about 7 pounds) to wonderful parents who have always struggled with their weight, but they've never been obese like me.  As a newborn, my mom's doctor told her that "a fat baby was a healthy baby" and told her to feed me until I stopped and then try to get me to eat again.  So I doubt my body has ever understood satiety and feeling full.  From then on, I was always a big kid, but not obese.

My parents were very health conscious so we didn't eat fried food, or things with heavy sauces, or anything like that.  In fact, as a young child my parents had me believing that raisins were "candy" and graham crackers were "cookies" except at the holidays.  Unfortunately (or fortunately to me at the time), my babysitter didn't understand the drill and introduced me to our corner drugstore and gave me a quarter to pick out any candy I wanted.  The sugar that was just a ten minute walk from my house!  I couldn't go back to not knowing, and my parents had to deal with what became a constant craving.  When I was in elementary school I walked to school with some friends.  Being an early riser I often got to my friends house before they were ready to go, and one time they were still eating their breakfast of sugared ceral.  SUGARED CEREAL!  The mom kindly asked if I would like some, and after being raised on Cheerios and Raisin Bran I jumped at the chance.  Soon I was getting to their house extra early every day and eating a SECOND breakfast, unbeknownst to my mom.  Eventually the mom called my mom to ask why I wasn't eating breakfast at home and my plan was foiled. 

However, I found other opportunities to get forbidden food - joining the girl scouts meant we bought all the food for campouts as a troop - sugared cereals, poptarts, marshmellows...  It wasn't the only reason I was in girl scouts, but it was probably a reason I stayed in so long (until high school). 

In high school I started buying candy on the way to or from school.  My favorite mints were at a bakery on the way.  When I needed money, I started selling blowpops at school that I bought in bulk, and that gave me more spending money.  I hated being overweight, but when my parents would cut back on what I could eat at home, it just made me want to get it somewhere else. 

In my sophomore year I reached a point where I was disgusted by my weight.  Looking back I don't think I looked that bad - after all, being 30-40 pounds overweight now seems like small change, but as a teenager it was brutal dealing with teasing, exclusion, etc.  I had my group of friends, but I wanted to be accepted by more kids.  I knew I wasn't healthy and I wanted to do something about it.  So, I announced to my family that I was going to start eating healthy and asked them to support me.  I made all my own meals, packed my own lunch, and could recite the calorie content of anything.  I started exercising at a gym several times a week in addition to walking and biking to/ from school.  No junk food.  No desserts.  No candy.  The weight started to come off.  Then I plateaued.  So I ate less.  Exercised more.  More weight came off.  About 6 months in I had lost about 35 pounds, but I wasn't losing any more.  So I started skipping meals.  I would tell my parents I had already eaten.  Or I had eaten a big lunch.  I lost more weight.  But eventually I started getting dizzy and feeling like I was going to pass out.  After a few days of that feeling something clicked.  I had started this to get healthy, and if I was getting dizzy from not eating, maybe this isn't healthy any more???  I asked my mom to make an appointment with my pediatrician so I could talk to him about eating healthier and make sure I was getting enough nutrients with blood tests. 

I ended up gaining about 10 pounds back and stabilizing for a little while.  But, there was a big change going on OUTSIDE me.  I was getting a lot of attention from guys.  Being naturally endowed, I now wore a 32DD bra, and guys noticed.  A lot.  Some of the attention was rude, some flattering.  I had my first real job in the kitchen of a restaurant, and one of the guys there was pretty cute, and he seemed to be flirting with me.  That was new to me, so I wasn't sure. 

Then one day at work I had to run down to the downstair cooler - a room that is basically a giant refridgerator.  I noticed from the outside that the door was slightly ajar, but that the light was off.  I thought how lucky it was that I had come down here now - the whole cooler of food could have spoiled.  I went inside closing the door behind me and turned to flip on the light.  Suddenly I was tackled.  Someone was grabbing me, groping me, pressing me against the wall.  It was the boy I thought was cute, but this was NOT flirting.  It was an attempted rape.  He had heard me anounce I was going down to the cooler and waited in there with the lights off to force himself on me.  I fought back, found the door, and ran upstairs.  In the main restaurant, nothing had changed.  Nobody had noticed anything.  How was that possible?  Confused, upset, and totally overwhelmed I explained I was sick and rode my bike home. 

I didn't tell my parents.  I was so overwhelmed - had I invited this attack?  I didn't think so, but my appearance sure attracted a lot of attention those days.  I wasn't wearing revealing clothing or anything, but just walking around with a chest that big makes some guys think you're sexy.  I didn't want my parents to overreact.  I couldn't handle any more drama.  I imagined my parents dragging me to the police station.  I imagined the boy saying that it hadn't happened, that he had just flirted with me.  I imagined my parents crying.  I kept it inside, but it found ways to come out.  When boys at school paid attention to me, I freaked.  Sometimes I ran away.  My friends we worried about me, and I confided in them.  They tried to support me the best they could.  They went everywhere with me so I wouldn't feel scared of being alone and getting trapped by someone.  They made excuses for me when I freaked out at a perfectly normal boy.  I had PTSD, but I wasn't diagnosed for another 10 years. 

I gained about 20 pounds in college, but wasn't obese.  I traveled as a sorority consultant for a year and LOVED it, but I missed being by friends and having a real home.  At the end of my contract I found a job in Central Ohio that let me move into an apartment not far from some friends and started working as a clinical trial coordinator and gained a little more weight - I bought all my own food and made unhealthy choices.  That's where I met my husband - he was an outpatient pharmacist and he was the one handing out the study drugs for my study.  Then I went into hospital management.  Soon afterword, I was put in charge of opening up a new satellite for the hospital.  Unfortunately, the doctor I worked with the most was frequently more interested in going golfing than hanging around the office if there weren't any appointments - which made handling walk-in appointments tricky.  Then he started doing what I considered "playing cardiologist".  He started doing stress tests and running holter monitor studies on patients.  This seemed odd because most of these patients seemed very healthy.  Then I started hearing him tell patients "if anybody asks, tell them you had chest pain" and my mental alarm went off.  I told my supervisor and she arranged a "secret" meeting when the office was closed where we made copies of all the charts that we could find of his patients that were having these tests run and then she forwarded them on to the hospital administration so they could investigate the potential fraud. 

Meanwhile, my boss also asked me to start letting them know each time the doctor left the office.  They were trying to gather information that would be used to counsel him, and I thought that was great.  Unfortunately, I put myself in the position of reporting on someone over whom I had NO AUTHORITY.  Here's a clue, if something like that happens to you, say no.  After it became apparent to him that I was "narcing"on his unscheduled absences he confronted me, in his office, with the door closed.  He didn't even know about the copied charts and potential fraud charges.  As he yelled at me, and implied that he was going to do something awful if this continued, my PTSD kicked in.

I finally went to a shrink.  I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression.  I started gaining more weight.  At my husband's urging I found another job. We had been trying to get pregnant for a year and finally did but I had a miscarriage.  That was horrible, but my husband was wonderfully supportive.  When we got pregnant again, I carried the baby to full term and only gained 1 pound!  It seemed a lot easier to eat healthier serving sizes when the baby was depending on me (and having it squish my stomach probably helped too).  A few years later and I had my second son, again only gaining 11 pounds.  Both boys were big (almost 9 and 10 pounds, 23 inches each) but no gestational diabetes or anything.  My weight after both pregnancies was lower than it was before I got pregnant.

When my youngest son was 18 months I could tell something was wrong.  We started getting evaluations for his regressing and delayed speech.  Eventually he was diagnosed with Apraxia - a motor planning disorder that affected his speech, eating, gross motor, and fine motor.  We spent the next 6 years with aggressive speech therapy, 3 years of PT, 2 years of OT and special needs pre-school.  By the time he was in elementary school the school district decided that he no longer qualified for school services, but he was still getting them privately.  I was his cheerleader, his taxi driver, his advocate, and his grizzly mama.  I did not take care of myself.  I ate too much, and I ate unhealthy - which contrary to popular thought is perfectly easy to do even when you're vegetarian. 

During that time I tried to lose weight with nutrisystem.  Then with weight watchers.  Then we began trying to sell our home so we could move back to Cleveland to be closer to all our family and my stress level contributed to me eating more.  I was hospitalized with the onset of diabetes.  I started religiously following the diabetes diet plans and got my blood sugar under control, but now I've been obese for over 10 years. 

Some choices were made for me.  I made more choices myself.  Being heavier used to make me feel safer in some ways, but now I know that it will kill me.  There is nothing safe about being obese.  In Cleveland I feel closer to family, loved by my husband and sons, and ready to take control of my health. 

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