This is the fifth in a series of guest posts in a series called “I Would Like You To Know”. In an attempt to create a space for people of all races, religions, creeds, ethnicites, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, and socio-economic statuses I am seeking guest blog posts. If you would like to share your unique background, I would love to hear and share your story. Email me at Rachel[@]deletingtheadjectives.com with your name, a link to your blog, and a brief synopsis of your story with the title “As a _________ I would like you to know” in the subject box. You fill in the blank and the subsequently the gaps in our collective knowledge.
Writing about being fat is tough. I don’t mean that it’s tough emotionally – even though that’s true – or that it’s difficult to find the right words. Writing about being fat is tough because most people are well intentioned when discussing it, absolutely everyone has an opinion about it, and, at least on this topic, nearly everybody is full of bullshit.
But I’ll give it a shot anyway.
First, a bit about me. I’m a 32-year-old American living in Canada, a former teacher, former professional poker player, and novelist. I lived in South Korea for three years and was given the “Teacher of The Year” award in Seoul. I taught Shakespeare and Lois Lowry and Jerry Spinelli and How I Met Your Mother and Taylor Swift and How The Grinch Stole Christmas to middle school students who listened with rapt attention (sometimes, anyway). At the poker table I’ve joked with Chinese aristocrats who would spend half a million dollars in a weekend. I watched guys win – and lose – enough money to buy a house on the spin of a roulette wheel. I once personally lost over $3,500 on a single hand of poker… and still ended up ahead by the time the game was over. And that’s not a lifetime bio – that’s one year of my life.
I’m not trying to brag. I just want you to know ahead of time that I am a whole person. I am smart, funny, focused, and hardworking. I’m sarcastic and cynical and loving and compassionate. My friends and family know this. Unfortunately, most other people don’t, because, well, I’m fat.
Let me be clear. I’m not chubby. I’m not husky. I don’t need to lose a few pounds. I am “holy shit look at that guy,” “dead in ten years, surprising no one” fat. I’m 5’8’’ and, at my highest weight, was 383 pounds. I am never not the biggest guy in the room.
I’ve always been overweight. Even at my most active – as a middle school wrestler – I looked like a fat kid. Even though I was faster and stronger than anyone else my weight and doing over a hundred sit ups a day as part of 3-4 hours of strenuous daily exercise, I still had a gut.
The temptation now is to share with you all the things I’m doing to lose weight, exactly how active I am, what I eat, and every other contributing factor to my weight, in an attempt to justify myself. That’s how it always goes. The questions, which are sometimes implied and sometimes asked outright are, “How the hell did you get so fat?” and “Why don’t you stop being fat?!”
Ah, if only it were that simple. A lot of times you’ll hear someone say, “just eat less and exercise more, and you’ll lose weight!” This is the point where the fat people reading chuckle, and the skinny people don’t get the joke.
I don’t weigh this much because I decided I’d rather die of a heart attack for a hot dog than live a long and healthy life. No one makes that decision. For those of us who are morbidly obese, food is an addiction. Take a second to really soak that in. Addiction. Telling someone who is massively overweight to simply eat less and eat better is like telling a lifelong alcoholic to have fewer beers or a meth addict to do fewer drugs. It may be truthful advice, but how that works out is a lot more complicated.
Food is everywhere. Go for a walk in the city, and half the businesses you pass will be pubs and convenience stores and McDonalds. Watch TV and characters are eating in half the scenes. Half the commercials are food advertisements. My gym even has vending machines in the lobby.
Hell, even the weight loss clinic – where I go for weekly support meetings and as part of a medically supervised fast – has a vending machine and a coke machine in it. It’s like having your AA meetings in a bar. Because every building is a bar. And you have to drink a beer or two a day to survive. While battling alcoholism.
Food is in our social rituals. Go to Christmas with the family and spend all day eating. Go to the movies and grab some popcorn. Hang out with friends and hit the pub or order a pizza. Wake up in the morning and have some coffee to jump start the day. Stay up late working and get some soda or some junk food to keep going. Spend a day at the mall and hit the food court for a break. Even our weddings and funerals center heavily around food.
These rituals, along with the brain chemistry of consuming large amounts of sugar, fat, and salt, make it indescribably difficult to stop once you’re addicted. When I wake up in the morning I essentially have two options – spend the entire day completely unable to focus, obsessed about food, unable to think about anything else, angry, irritable, essentially incapacitated, OR have some fatty unhealthy food, and be my normal smart, funny, focused, capable self.
Eating healthy does not help. I can have a healthy, nutritious breakfast that tastes far better than any crappy leftover pizza or shawarma. It doesn’t matter. Even after being completely full, my brain still torments me unceasingly, seeking the buzz that comes from junk food. It’s not a lack of calories or nutrients. It’s a mental and physical addiction to the pleasure the body receives from high sugar, high fat food.
For the addicted, it’s really that overpowering: Become an incapacitated, tormented rage beast incapable of processing emotion or performing basic life functions, or have a burger. It’s no surprise that a lot of people choose the burgers.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to be healthy. I’m not saying we shouldn’t lose weight. Guys like Chris Farley and John Candy were dead in their 30s and 40s, and that’s way, way, too soon. Our food addiction is killing us. I know it is. I can feel it in my body. But let’s stop pretending the solution is as simple as eating a bit less pizza and buying a treadmill.
Update and extra thoughts: I am currently being medically treated for my obesity. I attend a weekly support group where each of us are monitored by a team of doctors and medical professionals as we undergo a three month fast – 900 calories a day of protein shakes, no other food – along with six months of intensive behavioral therapy. I’d say it’s working. After almost two months with no food, I’d say the overpowering, crippling desire for fatty food has diminished by 50% thanks to the physical detox and behavioral training.
The program has what is considered an extremely high success rate of helping people lose weight and keep it off. That success rate: around 30%.
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Isaac Jourden is the author of the novel Petty, which on the surface is about a young aspiring con artist working in an amusement park, but actually about a bunch of assholes trying to figure out how to be adults. His interests include board games, writing, cooking, Doctor Who, and being a parent. He writes occasionally on these topics at www.isaacjourden.com.