Photo: Ruven Afanador

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Bobbi Allison, Bethpage, New York
Age: 49
Height: 5'3"
Weight: 372
Goal: Weigh 160 pounds

Being extremely overweight is like a handicap: You can't even walk into a diner for coffee and sit in a booth. And no one respects you. When I was a kid, adults would say "Here comes Chubby" or try to cajole me into losing weight, promising they'd buy me a whole new wardrobe. I've struggled with my size for almost as long as I can remember, at least since I was 6.

I was molested as a child, and I put on weight like a coat of armor. But by age 12, I was sick of all the critical comments, so a friend and I went to a doctor. He gave us diet pills called black beauties—speed, essentially. People thought they were harmless back then. We took them for a month, and I was constantly wired; I'd pace the streets in my neighborhood, my heart racing. Finally, my parents made me stop.

In the following years, I tried everything under the sun: SlimFast, Atkins, the South Beach diet, shakes, trainers. There was always the next diet, one failure after another. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, which made the process even tougher. Sometimes I fantasized about unzipping my body and stepping out of it, showing people the real me. My daughter got gastric banding surgery, and I followed suit. Big mistake. I lost 40 pounds, but I was always nauseated and in pain, so in 2015 I had the band removed.

I'm a spiritual medium, and when I started seeing clients, I met people with the same issues I had. That was my aha moment. I hadn't been giving my body or my soul the proper nutrition. Now I'm working on self-love, and I am so excited about the future. I want to travel by plane, go to India or Greece. I want to play with my grandkids without losing my breath. I want to be in photos instead of offering to take them to avoid being in the shots. I want to do so many things that my mind can't contain them all.

When you've gone through childhood trauma, you don't want any attention focused on you because you're suspicious of people's intentions. But after spending time on self-love, I finally recognize that I matter, that I can be seen and heard. I was always hiding, but now it's my time.

The Size That Binds
From top: At home, age 13; at a wedding reception in 2014.

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Photo: Courtesy of Bobbi Allison

cover story 1
Photo: Courtesy of Bobbi Allison