The Long Journey From Obesity
Having judged others based on their weight, I was now on the receiving end of the same wrong assumptions.
“How can you tell?” I wondered out loud. Most people who don’t know me well, at first glance, assume I must be a sofa spud with a taste for high caloric foods because of a fairly unsuccessful nine-year battle with obesity.
“Well,” the surgeon said, pulling out a picture of the insides of my arm taken during surgery, “The condition of your muscles, and especially your bicep here clearly shows you work out.” She encouraged me to keep up with the healthy eating and exercise, saying, “You have great muscle tone, and your blood pressure, and other blood work are picture perfect. Your healthy lifestyle shows!”
“Just not on my waistline,” I sighed under my breath.
For the last nine years, I have been classified by the medical community as “obese”, which is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. In my case, that meant well over 40 pounds.
During these years, I’ve taken off a little bit of weight after considerable effort, only to put some of it on again when an illness or injury sets me back. Most recently, the setback came in the form of surgery inside of my shoulder joint and collar bone. The medicine I was prescribed as I waited for surgery warned that, among other side effects, it could effect a person’s metabolism and “may cause unexplained weight gain.” As I had originally gained most of this weight after being prescribed a drug which sported a similar warning, I decided that I wasn’t in so much pain that I’d risk gaining more weight.
You could say I’ve become wary of side effects.
Before I joined the ranks of the obese, I thought, as I am sure many others do, that with some self control, no one has to be obese. Knowing how much I was able to eat while still being reasonably thin, I assumed that anyone who was obese must be eating unhealthy, fattening foods by the bucket-load. After all, if I was able to eat as I did at the time, and still maintain the same size even after having children, how hard could it be to get that weight off? Anyone who is that overweight was obviously not trying very hard, I wrongly assumed. There was even a tinge of self righteousness there, as I determined that being obese or overweight showed that someone was struggling with the sin of gluttony.
The Lord was about to teach me a hard lesson that would change my heart. Obesity is not something I ever thought I would need to deal with. I was very into natural health, eating right and exercising. I was very prideful that after five closely spaced babies, I could still pull on my wedding dress (which I kept it in my closet just to say I could still put it on). An accident, then a serious illness and some drug interactions later, I was suddenly obese, and no amount of dieting made the excess weight budge for several years.
When I first realized I was obese, I could barely believe my eyes. Sitting in my family doctor’s office about nine years ago, I glanced down at my chart as the doctor spoke, and I noticed that he had written the word “obesity” on my chart. Obesity? I’m obese? I knew I had gained weight and was not only still in my maternity clothes, but also finding them tight after a difficult year. During the previous year, I had been on bed-rest with high risk pregnancy and also had a broken leg dramatically slow down my otherwise active lifestyle. I just couldn’t fathom that I was now among the ranks of the obese.
Having judged others based on their weight, I was now on the receiving end of the same wrong assumptions. Not every thin person has healthy and disciplined eating habits, in the same way that not every obese person has a taste for junk food and lives a lazy lifestyle. The sad reality is that gluttony can (and does) occur in the thin as well as the not so thin. Our waistline doesn’t always measure our spiritual health or gluttony levels. This whole situation has been an enormous teaching opportunity for the Lord in my heart.
In truth, the biggest challenge I have had through all of this weight gain hasn’t been with my struggle to lose the weight I had put on. The greatest temptation I have faced has been the temptation to become so obsessed with what the scale says and what size blue jeans I wear that the rest of my life is out of focus, and dieting and weight loss turns into an idol.
I had to reach a point in my life where I decided to focus more on eating healthy in moderation and exercising in moderation. I made a decision to be as healthy as I could be, even if, due to these fluctuating metabolic and health problems, there was very little change on the scale or in my clothing size.
Today, there are so many different diet pills available, promising those struggling with weight loss a quick fix. There are pills to improve metabolism, pills to curb appetites, and even pills that promise you weight loss without watching what you eat. Every few years, one of these wonder drugs gets pulled from the shelves, after some nasty side effect is discovered. There really are no short cuts, at least not long-term healthy ones.
Dieting trends change, too. Every so often, like the changing fashions at the mall, various food items come into vogue, while others fall out of favor. Just one study into the benefits of, for example, blueberries, and soon everything is all about blueberries to the point of excess. They may even develop blueberries in pill form, as the vitamin makers have done with garlic and other “super foods.”
As diets change, we obsess about fats, and then we embrace fats and worry about carbs. Later we’ll embrace carbs but avoid something else, all the while maintaining a very unbalanced diet and lifestyle.
It took a trip to visit family and friends in Austria to realize my tendency to go off the deep end in these areas. I was both looking forward to and dreading my trip back to celebrate the 70th birthday of the woman who was my host mother when I was an exchange student in my teens. I missed living in Austria, but at the same time, I figured I’d gain even more weight while venturing in the Land of Rich Food. Instead, I had a major unexpected breakthrough in my weight loss.
Being a fitness buff already (albeit an overweight one), I had the habit of wearing a pedometer when walking for any length of time, so I brought mine with me on the trip. Because of the way European towns are set up, as opposed to towns here in the USA, I did quite a bit of walking while going about our daily business, preparing for the grand birthday party I was visiting for. On average, I walked a whopping 10 miles per day, just in the normal course of events. A few times, we went for long hikes in the mountains and walked even more.
On the other hand, friends were all concerned at how little I was eating. Over the years, I had developed the bad habit of skipping meals and barely eating anything for fear of more weight gain. Most of them hadn’t seen me in 10 years, so everyone who came to visit brought my formerly favorite things to eat. I had pans of tiramisu, packages of prosciutto, loaves of fresh bread, and a few meals of pork loin with potato dumplings. I tried to explain to a friend why I wasn’t eating any of these delicacies and why I was trying to be even more careful since I was not at the gym every day as usual, when she made an interesting observation.
“You’ve been living back in America for too long,” she teased. “I think that whole lifestyle makes you fat. You worry about everything you eat, but eat things that come in a box instead of the market. You don’t enjoy your food, but eat while driving, or while standing up, instead of sitting down, enjoying every bite with friends. You park in the closest parking spot at mini malls, and use clothes dryers, and then join the gym because you don’t get enough exercise!”
Though she was partly joking in what she said, I realized through her comments that these extremes were pretty absurd. I thought about her words when I got back home and discovered that despite thoroughly enjoying a few slices of tiramisu and indulging in a bit of prosciutto, to say nothing of that weekend-long birthday party and its multiple course catered meal of rich foods, I had lost 16 pounds.
I’ve had to get beyond the fads of the dieting business and embrace temperance in all things. Sugar isn’t bad; too much sugar is bad. Fats aren’t bad; too much fat is bad. God has told us that it is good for us to enjoy what He’s given to us (Ecclesiastes 5:18), and as Christians we should be temperate in all things (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Since that time, I changed my dieting strategy to reflect a healthier, more balanced diet and lifestyle. I’ve made it a point to never eat while multitasking, driving or standing. I only eat if the table is set, and I am sitting down and relaxing, including snacks. When I shop, I always park in the back of the parking lot and walk as much as possible. Unless time or weather are issues, my laundry gets hung outside, though I admit to still having trouble with that one. I like my dryer.
All in all, I have lost a little more than 55 pounds in the past two years. If all continues to go well, I will, Lord willing, have the word “obesity” stricken from my medical records by Christmas. Even if I don’t reach that milestone, I am thankful that my hard work has at least allowed me to heal faster and be healthier than I otherwise would be, even with the extra pounds.
The weight isn’t coming off as fast as I would prefer it to; however, I have come to realize that my job is to eat a balanced diet and to exercise my body to keep it fit for service to God, regardless of quick, desired results.
A huge part of the Christian life is pressing on even when things are hard, and we aren’t seeing the results we’ve wanted or expected. In a small way, I’ve learned how to keep doing the right thing as far as eating properly and exercising regularly even if I am not seeing the same results I would have gotten years ago or if I am not meeting some arbitrary weight loss goal I have set or myself.
At least I know the Lord and my doctor notice all of my hard work.
Copyright 2009 Kimberly Eddy. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Kimberly Eddy lives in Michigan with her husband and five children. She has written and published several books, including Quiet Times in Loud Households, Thriving on One Income, Growing Your Groceries, the Bread by Hand eBook, and Advent.