No cover-ups here
Monday, January 14, 2008
Last week at my support group, one of the women there was talking about how she's an "undercover gastric bypass patient" because she hasn't told anyone outside of her immediate family. She said people ask her what she's doing to lose the weight, people who want to lose weight too, and she tells them that it's all "eating right & exercising!" I instantly thought to myself "Wait a minute! Not cool!" but since it was a support group, I figured I should save the indignation for my blog.

Here's the thing. As both a WLS patient and someone who believes in HAES, I think that keeping one's surgery under wraps and pretending that you are dropping huge amounts of weight in a short amount of time just by exercising and eating healthy foods does a great disservice to every overweight person you say it to. And that's why it pisses me off when famous people hide or deny their own WLS (Star Jones, I'm looking at you). Every denial or chipper "Oh, I'm just eating a lot of protein and working out a lot!" from a WLS patient perpetuates the "Eat less and move more and you'll be skinny, fatass!" message that we're bombarded with every day.

I won't deny that I have used the "Oh, I've been eating right and exercising" line. I have used it once, when trying desperately to avoid discussing my weight loss with my father-in-law and his wife. But in general, 99% of the time when people say "Wow, you look great! What are you doing to lose the weight?" I answer them truthfully. I tell them I had gastric bypass surgery, and that it's helping me eat less and eat right, and that I'm totally starting to run. The last thing I want to do is make someone who's struggled with his or her own weight feel like they just aren't trying hard enough or aren't dieting the "right way." I do not want someone to tell themselves "Well, Melinda lost 71 pounds in 6 months so I can too!"

This is an issue that's found its way into the political arena because of Huckabee's semi-mysterious weight loss. Now here's the thing. It's entirely possible that he did some crazy liquid diet and now maintains his weight loss by eating some kind of uber-restrictive diet. But yeah, the evidence I've seen and read about in more than one place makes me think that the probability of him having surgery is pretty high. Regardless of how he did it, I believe with all my heart that he did not do it the "old fashioned way." He had to do something drastic to lose 75 pounds in 6 months, and telling people that they just need to start eating better and exercising more (as he does in his book) is not fair to anyone.

The thing is, I could totally pass for someone who hasn't had WLS. I have some sagging skin but not so much that I look freakish; really, it's not even enough for anyone to notice (yet). My hair thinned out some, but not enough to have bald spots or anything. My color is still great (if a little pale, which it always has been), and what I eat wouldn't give me away in mixed company. But I choose not to pass, because I feel like I need to be honest with everyone else in order to be honest with myself. The truth is, I couldn't do it alone. I couldn't diet the weight off, and it needed to come off to make me healthier, so I got a permanent helping hand installed to help me out. Like it or not, people look to me for answers now, because I am Losing It. The least I can do is be honest with them.

Cyclical discontent
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
This Friday brings with it the annual HALF THEIR SIZE!! issue of People magazine. They had a couple of the women on the Today show this morning, along with a peppy editor from Peopl.

I kind of wanted to smack the peppy editor within about 2 seconds of her opening her mouth. And that was because she, like so very many people out there, went on about how THESE people lost their weight "the hard way." She literally said "they haven't cheated by getting surgery...they did it the hard way." She actually lumped weight loss surgery in with pills as a "quick fix gimmick," and then my head exploded. (I was really wondering how Al Roker was keeping from running over to whack the peppy editor on the head because COME ON. At least Meredith kind of stood up for all us "easy way outers".)

Now here's the thing. I used to think of gastric bypass surgery as the easy way out. I used to think that you had the surgery and whammo, you're skinny! You can eat what you want and never worry again! I think I've established pretty well that this is not how things turn out. Surgery is not easy. It is not a gimmick or a quick fix, and my god, I wish that would stop being perpetuated.

What I really want to know is why losing weight via diet and exercise alone (aka "the old fashioned way") is seen as more virtuous than losing weight with the help of a surgical procedure. Most of these people turned to some kind of program (Jenny Craig, LA Weight Loss, freakin' Optifast), so it's not like they did it all alone. How is losing a bunch of weight by eating prepackaged food somehow better than losing it via surgical intervention? Really, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. Good for them, and good for us; we all figured out what was going to work for us and we took charge and changed our weight and our lives.

Truthfully, I know that some of my anger at this comes from the fact that there are still days when I wish I had been able to lose the weight without the surgery. Those are the days when I feel like I'm weak for doing this, that I was a giant failure for needing such a major helping hand to get over my own disordered eating. And then I get pissed off again because dammit, I feel weak because people like that stupid People editor keep saying that I cheated and took the easy way out. It's a nasty little cycle, isn't it?

I'm happy for those people. I think it's fantastic that they were able to lose the weight that they wanted to lose, and I'm glad that they are healthier and happier. But I don't think it's fantastic that they think they're better than me just because they did it a different way than I did it. It's never easy; it's all the hard way. That? Is the one single truth about weight loss, regardless of how you do it.