By Vivian Blevins
We are bombarded with programs which guarantee that they will enable us to lose weight and perhaps keep it off: Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Noom, KetoCycle, Adkins, South Beach Diet, MediFast, Weight Watchers, etc. The before-and-after photos are enticing even as we ask ourselves if they have been photo-shopped. And famous personalities are spokespersons for particular products with their images permanently embedded in our conscious minds. Further, we often ask ourselves if we are pleasingly plump, overweight, obese, or morbidly obese. We have clothes of varying sizes, always fearful of getting rid of the “fat” clothes because our past experiences tell us we might need them again. And as we buy new clothes, we consider whether the clothing makes us look fat before any consideration of purpose, comfort level, or price.
Since 2012, we have been mesmerized by patients appearing on the television program ”My 600-lb Life.” We cheer for them, follow their progress, empathize with them, watch them qualify for weight-loss surgery, and occasionally learn that they have died, all the while telling ourselves that their stories have little or nothing to do with us.
I’d like to share Laurel’s story with you. She acknowledges, as do I, that she has no magic elixir. She’s 66 years old, and on March 24, 2022, she weighed 313.6 pounds.
Laurel noticed that she was overweight when she was in first grade. As she puts it, “I was tall and fat, two problems. And I was not included. I was always the last one to be chosen when teams were picked.”
Of her father and his point of view, Laurel indicates, “He was lovely, very accepting. He and I worked in the yard together, went boating, fishing, and out to the swamp to shoot guns.” Her mother, on the other hand, viewed her as a “lost cause” and didn’t think she deserved braces and cute clothes until she was 19 and a sophomore in college and started losing weight. At the time, Laurel opted for the two-meal plan at the college dining hall and ate only lunch and dinner with meat and two vegetables for each meal. She reports, “I was young, and the weight just fell off.”
At age 25, she married and stayed married for 9 years. Her husband demanded subservience and would get angry if she gained weight. He was 6’ 1” and thin and kept sweets in the trunk of his car so that she couldn’t have access to them. Once she bought a Snickers and hid it. He found the candy bar and said, “I’m so ashamed of you.” During one of her dieting periods, he forced her to weigh daily in her underwear in the front hall. He checked the scale, and if she had lost weight, he cheered. If she had not lost, he showed disgust and questioned her about her calorie consumption.
Fast forward to October of 2021. She and her sister were attending a fair and left the venue at 10 p.m. It was raining, and her sister was walking back to the car at a significant distance
ahead of her. Laurel was being deliberate, slow, always fearful of falling, and stopping to rest at benches along the way.
As she paused to walk toward a bench, her hip failed (She has had both knees, one hip, and a rotator cuff replaced), and she fell face down in a puddle of muddy water. Fair employees in golf carts went by her on two occasions and ignored her lying there. She was finally able to scoot to the bench, to pull herself up, and to resume walking very slowly in the rain toward the exit. A third golf cart came by with two girls who stopped and called out to her, “Are you okay?”
Her response was, “No, I’m not.”
They helped her into the cart and took her to the exit gate where her sister was waiting,
Now, fast forward to March 24, 2022, the last day to pay a $400 down payment deposit on a cruise she and her best friend had planned. Her best friend cancelled. Laurel says, “I guess she had second thoughts. I don’t blame her. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere with someone who looks like me and is so crippled.”
On March 25, 2022, Laurel wrote in her journal, “Being an obese invalid has become my identity. I don’t want this, knowing always before I go somewhere, I have to ask myself, How far do I have to walk? Is there a place I can sit? Will I fit in the chair?”
Laurel concedes that she has spent her adult life issuing permission slip to herself to eat whatever she wants each day with notations of “I’ll start a diet tomorrow or after the holidays.” And, yes, she know she dropped 70 pounds on Weight Watchers once, did it “in the blink of an eye, but I was young then.”
Now, Laurel says of herself, “I’m old. I’m sedentary. It doesn’t matter how fast I get to a healthy weight as long as I get there. I’ve not been participating in life, just sitting on the sidelines and watching life pass me by.”
She’s lost 33 pounds since that day in March of this year, 33 pounds which translate into 11 pounds each month. Her goals are to feel good, to be able to move around, to attend events without worrying about a place to sit down. Her mantra, which she recites to herself several times each day, is “Your darkest hour is only 60 minutes long. Tomorrow is on its way.”
And now she journals- not the food journals that she kept at one time, but the journaling where she records her feelings and emotions. She says of this journaling, “It’s like having a friend when there’s no one else around.”
This past weekend, Laurel made a three-hour drive to attend a concert. She went by herself to prove that she could do it. Her sister and her best friend had already seen the performers but had not invited her to go with them. On the drive, she asked God to bless her, and He did. At the concert she met a kooky, sixty-two-year-old woman who, as Laurel says, is “full of life,
quirky in a good way, and has attended 400 concerts in her life beginning with David Bowie when she was 14.”
The following day Laurel and her new friend went to a biker bar for a hamburger, the only place to eat in the small southern town where her friend lives. Laurel says, “Although I have no intention of making biker bars a habit, I had a great time, and God was showing me just how much I’ve been missing out on life.”
PS: I plan to write an update on Laurel’s progress in March 2023.
Vivian B. Blevins, past CEO of colleges in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri, holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. She currently writes a weekly column for Aim Media Midwest, teaches at Edison State Community College, and volunteers with veterans. Her email is [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints nor the independent activities of the author.