If we are honest, we will admit that most witnessing these stories don't begin crying out of compassion for these people's plight, or send their prayers on high begging for mercy, but instead respond with revulsion, with a "slowing to see an accident's aftermath" kind of reaction, with the thought of "Oh, my God, what did they allow themselves to become!" Our innate prejudice is palpable. Most of us are not cast in the vein of a Mother Teresa. And I have seen this reaction in people whom I would otherwise cast as caring souls; people who'd give others the shirts off their backs when the need arose. I guess these shirts don't fit the backs of the obese.

And so the natural tendency of most gravely overweight people is to retreat from the glare of society's judgment and to by degrees isolate themselves, thus compounding their problem by cutting off possible nurture that is necessary for any human being to thrive. That is exactly what I did. Others have said to me, "How did you ever gain so much weight!?" The answer is simple. It came on over years, or as I often say, "one cheeseburger at a time." All that is required is 3,500 unexpended calories per week to gain one pound. Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year, then that number by 10 and voila! It only takes persistence.

I spent more than a dozen years in a self-imposed lockdown, rarely leaving my seventh floor apartment's door and then only when pleadings to my doctor for a needed antibiotic without an office call were met with a firm "No." What "normal" person would welcome going out, when each time you did you were met with stares, people huddling to giggle and whisper or, once the attempt at eye contact was made by me, having people find anything, anything to look at besides my eyes?

I had to have a double-wide wheelchair made for me. Some doors in offices were not wide enough to accommodate it, so I'd have to suffer the further humiliation of standing up at each doorway, having the person pushing me, collapse the chair, then unfolding it on the other side and sitting back down—all of this in view of anyone sitting there or passing by. One doctor's office had six different doors to pass through before you reached the inner sanctum of an exam room. It's hard to find words to adequately describe the anxiety and degradation I felt during those moments. I was a page out of "Ripley's Believe It or Not."

I am a veteran of rafts of "diet" plans, of well-rounded ones and others of seemingly dubious nutritional value. Most of any food plan will work, at least for a while. It is not the "diet" that matters. That is what I discovered on this unlikely journey. What does matter, what will create lasting change for the better is how you feel about who you are. Overweight people are "experts" in losing weight, not doctors. We've done it time and time again. Many people have lost a thousand pounds, up and down over a lifetime. So when doctors would give me a pyramid food chart, pat me on the head and tell me to "go home and follow the chart," I wanted to scream. As if I didn't know what I should eat for better health. I'd been studying charts all my life.
© Nancy Makin, February 20, 2006


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