Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Policy Point Wednesday - A Personal Take on Obesity

This is a post about morbid obesity. Not about bad eating habits, and not about fat -as you may know by now, I'm frustrated by our society's response to fat: let's face it, we enable fat-haters.  IMO, one of the very serious side effects of demonizing weight is that it becomes shameful to talk about fat - even, or especially, when it's medically serious - and, when we do discuss it, god forbid we talk about heavy people as though they're people! [/sarcasm]

This is an extremely personal post for me, made more difficult because it involves someone else (with their permission) and I'm struggling with my frustrations to make sure I honor this story with the gravity it deserves. So, here's my story.  It's probably not what you think - while I could stand to lose more than a few, when this story took place I was a good 40 pounds thinner than I am now - but make no mistake: I was the one who needed help.

My junior year in college I went through a personal crisis.  I was struggling with very serious depression, and though I had sought medical treatment, the way out of that dark place is a long and slow one. I was extremely vulnerable and fragile and did what many depressed people do: I drove away the people I depended on for support by constant whining and histrionics.  It is hard to write about this in a way that expresses the seriousness of my situation, but suffice it to say that I was in real trouble.

That year, as always, there was a new crop of freshmen.  One of them was a genial but sensitive young woman who saw right away that I needed support.  Friendship came easily to her - she was popular and already had a circle of friends, and seeing I had almost none, she took me under her wing, and made sure I was not alone.  She walked me to class, she hung out with me in my dorm room, she made sure I was protected from staring eyes and probing questions, and she brought other friends with her, so that the single dorm room where I would hide was often filled with laughing, silly people.  She matter-of-factly ignored the times when I was a pompous ass - which I'm sure were frequent.  I can't even begin to describe how important that was to me.

My friend Lori was morbidly obese at the time, and although she has lost weight since, she still struggles with a medically serious weight problem. I didn't care then, and don't care now, how big she was - but I did care that every time we crossed campus, her breath would catch in her chest and she would start wheezing like she'd just run a flight of stairs.  I did care that her joints clearly ached, that it was hard for her to find a comfortable place to sit or clothes that fit.

I feared, not knowing if my fears were justified, that there would be a day when I would have to run for a phone to call an ambulance.  I didn't know because nobody talks about fat, even when it might (or might not) be a medical concern, even when it was somebody I cared about.  I felt strongly - and still feel - that her weight was none of my business, but I worried what might happen if she became debilitated (which, incidentally, never happened.) Our cultural fear of fat robbed me of the ability to ask my friend the simple question: "Are you OK?"  To this day, that makes me angry.

Eventually college ended and we went our separate ways; my life has improved exponentially from the small steps I made at that time.  I was very glad to have the chance to reconnect with Lori on Facebook many years later.  Among other things, I was delighted to find that she had become a chef and a foodie; one of her recipes is right here on this blog.  Today I am writing because Lori, thinner but still struggling towards a safe weight, has created a blog project dedicated to...taking care of strays.  The irony is not lost on me.

As a way to keep herself motivated on what will be a long and difficult journey towards losing 100 pounds this year, she is fundraising.  For each pound she loses, she's asking the internet community to donate to a local dog rescue.  To date, she has lost 18 pounds, and details the struggle in an online diary, where she is also posting really delicious-looking recipes and information about the dogs she loves.  This is the beginning of her project; there is no magic "after" picture yet, and my friend is being very open and honest about her story, her struggle and her effort.

I'd love for you to visit her blog at to read a real-life, non-hollywood story about what it means to need to lose 100 pounds - here's a secret: it's not about "eating crap" or "mindless eating," or a "sedentary lifestyle." For all the talk by all the experts, we don't really know what causes obesity, and in this case, I don't think it matters - what matters is that my friend finds her own way.

You can also check in on Facebook at Dog-lbs, where you can participate with her in a walking group, and you can send your donation via PayPal to support her goal.  Thank you.


ChristinaBakes said...

Thank you for writing such an intimate and personal post. I'm glad you came out of your crisis in college and had such a good friend by your side. Lori's story is inspirational - I'll be adding her blog to my list.

Michele Hays said...

Thanks, Christina - I really have been blessed in many ways.

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