Recently there was some discussion on Facebook and Twitter about the experiences of people who have had weight loss surgery (WLS), and how the voices of WLS patients who did not reflect the wine and roses view sold to us by those in the WLS industry were often silenced, or made to feel like they are the ones to have failed, rather than the surgery having failed them. I put out a public invitation on both Facebook and Twitter to anyone who had undergone WLS and not been “cured” of their fatness, had any complications or illness after the surgery, or were dissatisfied with the results of their WLS to guest post any time here on Fat Heffalump*, and anonymously if they prefer.
I received a request from Becky of The Ramblings of Mrs Bebe and she has written this piece to share with you all.
Now, before I share the piece with you, I would like to make it clear that while I personally (and vehemently) disagree with Becky’s belief that the medical world should recognise obesity as an eating disorder, and while she currently believes she is glad she had WLS, I still want to give her story and experiences the opportunity to be heard, particularly as they present a highly alternative perspective of WLS to what we normally hear and see presented in the media and marketed by those who profit from this practice of what I believe, is mutilation.
I want you to respect that this is Becky’s story and Becky’s body, and that this is the way she feels about her experience. You are welcome to disagree with and discuss the issue of weight loss surgery, and the points Becky raises, so long as you treat Becky with respect. Becky is doing something very few weight loss surgery patients do, and I commend her for her courage to speak out and her choice to be identified in this piece.
So without any further ado, here is Becky’s Story:
Its been noted that all too often we hear peoples stories of their weight loss surgery charting that first vital year, the dramatic weight loss, the life changing effect it has on people and the reaction people receive from friends and family. I’d like to share my story with you 4 years down the line.
I guess I should start from the beginning though, albeit an abbreviated version. Overweight child of overweight parents, said overweight parent petrified I would end up like them, so I was put on a calorie controlled diet from the age of 9, restricted to 3 square meals, was told off if I even approached the fridge let alone opened it. This was the start of what was and will always be my very difficult relationship with food.
I spent my teens on a vicious cycle of starvation and binging, and gradually I would put a stone on for every year, at 13, I was 13 stone (182lbs), 15, 15 stone…..you get the picture. By the time I was in my twenties, I had levelled off at 24 stone (336lbs). Through various diets I fluctuated anywhere between 20 – 24 stone (280 – 336lbs). Throughout my life I had tried my very hardest to be positive about my appearance, to the point of appearing on national television to promote image positivity in my capacity as a plus size model. But at the age of 26 when my knees and hips where starting to fail me and getting out of bed even felt like an effort, I felt a more drastic option had to be considered. So I visited my doctor and asked for a referral to the weight loss surgeon. At this point in time (2006) the gastric bypass was really becoming popular in England and doctors were handing them out the sweets (ironic). Without any great resistance from my doctor I was referred to a surgeon, if I recall correctly I had about 4 consultations with him and the same with the dietician. The process took about 8 months, then in August 2007 I went in for my operation, I was wheeled down to surgery at 12 midday on the Sunday, I returned home on the Wednesday. As mentioned above I wont harp on about this part, but safe to say my story is probably similar to most, I lost 4 stone (56lbs) in the first 2 months, then gradually over the space of about a year I lost a further 3 ½ stone (49lbs). It was then that I plateaued.
Its probably one of the most soul destroying parts of the process. To think that you went to through life threatening surgery, months of massively restricted eating, vomiting, diarrhoea, pain, nausea and explanation after explanation as to why you’ve left three quarters of your meal in a restaurant, only to be stared at by the waiter as if to say, “yeh right love, you still look fat to me”, just to find out, that that is it. You’re still classed as obese, you’re still “plus size”, and yeh, you’re still fat, just not as fat as before.
I tried desperately to get the weight loss moving again, I would walk the daily miles to work at a good pace, restrict my food intake, visit the gym but nothing seemed to work (oh wait does that sound familiar?) So there I was stuck at 16 & ½ stone (231lbs). Subjected to work colleagues still asking, “oh have you lost anymore weight?”, “how’s the weight loss going?”, “should you be eating that?” F@*K OFF!!!!! I have been scrutinised all my life, the immense pressure after having a bypass is even more intense.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever get over the sense of failure and disappointment despite everyone’s positive words.
The particular hospital trust at which I had my operation, offers no physiological support whatsoever, and I feel this is the root of the problem. They can re-jig my insides all they like; they can’t operate on my brain. I’m still hungry, I’m still greedy, I still have very deep rooted issues with food and I still dislike myself. I am glad I had the operation and I am glad I was able to shift a substantial amount of weight, but I think the process as a whole needs reviewing and until the medical world recognises obesity as an eating disorder and start treating obese people with respect and dignity, things will continue as they are.
This piece reflects my opinions, and my opinions alone, I still stand by the fact that if you are genuinely happy with your physical image fat or thin, then I am in total awe of you and long may your confidence continue, I, unfortunately am not one of those people.
Thanks for sharing your story Becky. Like Kath, I vehemntly disagree with you that obesity is an eating disorder. Yes there are *some* fat people with eating disorders but not all by any means. But I will respectfully agree to disagree with you : )
Studies have shown that from 92 to 95 percent of people classified as “obese” do not have binge eating disorder. The question of whether that’s a higher or lower percentage of people experiencing binge eating disorder than is found in populations of people with other BMI classifications is an open one—I’ve asked a couple of researchers and haven’t gotten an answer back.
My heart goes out to people with binge eating disorder, and I wish them a sustainable recovery.
As someone who has been fat since she was about 11 years old, and who had an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) of starvation, purging and laxative/diet pill abuse, I’m living proof that “obesity” is not the same thing as binge eating disorder (BED).
Plus, thin people suffer BED too. All eating disorder sufferers need understanding and good medical care, regardless of their size, weight or shape.
I think she hits the nail on the head when she talks about the issues related to what is in your head rather than dealing with your stomach. I also view weight loss surgery as a form of mutilation, a biological gun to the head meant to coerce psychological changes through pain and discomfort. I think that WLS is what desperate people turn to because they can’t find other answers that work for them, and that is because medical answers rather than psychological ones are often sought because they are expedient. Dealing with the psychological issues can take years, and there is no guarantee of success. Having your belly cut open and your capacity to eat restricted takes but a day.
In regards to obesity and eating disorders, I don’t think obesity is an eating disorder. However, I do believe in some cases that it is a side effect of one. Please note that I say “in some cases”. Not every obese person has a relationship with food which is rooted in behavioral or emotional concerns, but many do. I think that we’re all psychologically damaged by the way in which society treats us and get into a loop of sorts in which we develop a mentality about our bodies, eating, and food that tends to encourage a more and more disordered relationship with food. Frankly, I think that society’s messages have become so oppressive that most people (regardless of their weight) have no idea what it is like to have a natural relationship with food and it’s very hard to find a road back to how we might eat and regard our bodies when so few people have a road map and even fewer clearly understand what we’re going to find at our destination (that is, what our relationship with food would be like if we hadn’t been damaged).
The big mistake people make when dealing psychologically with food issues is that they assume that it’s always about trauma, deep Freudian neuroses, or some deep-seated problem. A lot of it is based on our nature and needing to circumvent it due to the way in which food is available in modern life. Just as men can’t go around raping women because they are aroused (as was a part of tribal cultures and still is a part of unspoiled ones such as the Yamomami Indians), we can’t go around eating everything every moment we’re a bit hungry without consequence. It is our nature to eat. In fact, it may even be our nature to overeat when food is readily available, but that doesn’t mean it is the best or only option. If our culture didn’t indoctrinate us into a warped and tormented relationship with food, we would be handling our urges better. I see much better relationships with food in Asia. They have a balanced approach and enjoy food. We could have this, too, but not if our answers are quick fixes, crash diets, and WLS. The answer is to deal with behavioral and emotional issues with psychological treatment. The first step is always to remove the pejorative talk when eating and to stop classifying food as “good” or “bad” as if it were immoral to eat a cookie. The other steps, well, it’s pretty complicated, but there are ways to eat, drink, and be merry without hating yourself the next day or being obese.
You know, I think SOMETIMES eating disorders can lead to fatness (I’m reticent to keep using the word “obesity”, because that is a medicalisation of a body type, rather than an accurate descriptor of bodies with more adipose tissue, you know?) I truly believe that if I hadn’t fucked up my metabolism with starvation diets, purging, diet pills and you name it, I probably would be far less fat than I am today. I certainly would have a more efficient metabolism than I currently have.
But “obesity” is just a pathologisation of our bodies, as if they are a disease to be cured, or a malady to be eradicated. I can’t cop at that.
As a psychologist, it is my professional opinion that obesity is not an eating disorder. Obesity is a word, a social construct, that describes a certain body weight/height ratio. To claim that a certain physical attribute qualifies is a mental disorder is just mystifying to me in so many ways. It’s like saying that being a blonde is a mental illness.
However, many people with the natural tendency to have more body fat will, sadly, develop eating disorders at some point. The society we live in will force them to. Dieting is not natural, it is not healthy, and it will fuck with your eating patterns every time.
Obesity is not an eating disorder. Eating disorders are eating disorders.
An obese person can certainly have eating disorder. Obese people with eating disorders can also be cured of these disorders, and still be just as obese. Large amounts of body fat is not a mental illness, and it is disrespectful harmful to fat people and mentally ill people alike to claim that it is.
(I am not targeting Becky here, I understand completely the logic in how she has come to believe that her obesity and her disordered eating are one and the same.)
Your opinion is certainly bolstered by scientific research. Of course, Becky’s individual experience is her own, and she is the final authority on herself, but studies aimed at identifying the percentage of people classified as “obese” who are also experiencing binge eating disorder show that 92 to 95 percent of the “obese” group have never experienced binge eating disorder.
You’re absolutely right Sasquatch, cultural pressure is what forces fat people into eating disorders, not being fat in the first place.
And I understand that you’re not targeting Becky, but instead, those who push people like Becky into believing that she is somehow disordered for being fat.
I once spend about 10 minutes considering WLS (and my parents had offered to pay for one at various points). Lots of things put me off. Firstly if I lost weight I wanted to do it by myself, without the aid of a complex and permanent medical intervention. Secondly I realised I didn’t really want to lose weight. If I did I wouldn’t probably be fat. So no WLS for me.
That was before I knew that it wouldn’t even necessarily make me thin!
Very enlightening article by Becky. Find her use of the phrase “I’m still greedy” very intriguing and slightly sad.
I find it heartbreaking that anyone can think they are greedy for wanting to eat, even if they want to eat a lot.
But that’s what our culture tells us. It tells us that fat people who eat are greedy gluttons who should be ashamed of EVER eating. It’s so hard to fight that message from our own society.
I grew up obese, and was obese for a lot of my early 20s. For me it is very much an eating disorder that I don’t believe I will ever be cured of, but that I do my best to keep under control and therefore at a weight I am comfortable with.
It’s not the result of trauma or emotions, I’ve had a really lovely life. I have just always struggled with overeating (that is, eating past the point of being satisfied or full) and that is why I was, and could very well be again, obese. It was when I realised that I do have an eating disorder that I was able to be gentler with myself and more logical, and deal with it accordingly.
I hope you find peace.
Hey Becky! Thank you for sharing your story about your experience with WLS. I come from two parents who are fatties, myself and my twin are also fatties, when I was a little girl my mother decided to get weight loss surgery, when she came back from the hospital she was still big but she began to lose weight rather rapidly that first year. As she began to shed the pounds….having been somewhere in the 400’s her entire personality changed. My mother used to be happy and encouraging but after she lost about 50 pounds she began to shame me and my sister for being fat, she would call us fat bitches for eating, going into the kitchen, and unrelated problems would be met with alot of verbal abuse accusing us of greedyness, running her poor by eating so much. And after all of that my mother never got under 250. She was still a “fatty” but she wasnt as happy as she used to be and neither were we. Despite the encouragement from my mother to loathe my fat, Iv’e always had a secret love for it, I didnt know how to express that love without being ridiculed and shamed in middle school or highschool so i hid it behind unbecoming clothes but I NEVER bad mouthed myself, I never blamed my fat for missing out on certain experiences because I believed that my fat was apart of my personality, not an ugly addition that was keeping me from living life. Now that I am in college I have joined the fat acceptance movement. I weigh about 400 pounds (not my ideal weight I’d like to be about 350 and stay 350) I eat portion sizes, and work out 3 times a week which includes running on the elliptical for 20 mins (trying to work back up to 45 mins after doing NOTHING this summer lol) and weight lifting. I love the way I look, I love my shape, my fat, my rolls, the only time I feel bad is when I am being unhealthy Obesity is not an eating disorder some people genuinely like being fat, its apart of who they are (like me) and thinness has no appeal to them. I can admit that occasionally I overeat, and sometimes I eat emotionally but thin women do the same and it certainly isnt a habit. I think you might want to explore what it means to be a happy fatty. The first thing to do is debunk the idea that there is something wrong with you, start doing things with you body that make you happy, take a dance class and wear sexy clothes to it, take a yoga class, or go swimming several times a week, do something that makes you body move, feel fluid and fun. And then start eating LESS more often not differently. You shouldnt hate food, or live your life on a perpetual cycle of dieting and surgeries. I think the key to being a happy fatty is being able to accept your body the way it is EVEN IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE IT! Your fat is apart of who you are, and you should love who you are at any size when you can’t you will be unhappy and that has a huge effect on the people around you. Even if you decide that you want to go hard and keep trying to lose weight dont do it because you’ve labeled your body as a prison or out of self hatred, that hatred does not go away when the fat does TRUST ME.
Without wanting to comment on Becky specifically, I just want to pick up on the point where she describes herself as greedy.
As all of us who are regular readers of Dr Sharma’s blog have learned, the body does not like losing fat. Ever. It recognises fat as being something important to get it through hard times. It hasn’t caught up with the modern world, where food is readily available, and it is still programmed by evolution to do whatever it can to defend its fat stores. A major loss of fat signals to the body that there’s is a disease or famine process going on, or something else that’s unwelcome, and it will do whatever it can to bring the body back into balance and restore that fat.
One of the ways it does that is by altering the levels of hormones like leptin and grhelin in your body. Some of these hormones trigger hunger. This hunger is REAL. It’s not some culturally-mediated thing, or evidence of personal gluttony. It’s a signal that your body is doing everything it can to keep its food and energy stores intact, and the easiest way it can do that is by prompting you to eat. Another thing it can do is become more energy efficient, including extracting more energy from foods and burning less energy wherever possible.
Trying to use psychology or will power to resist these forces is about as effective as using will power to resist a sleeping tablet. You can do it, but at a huge cost, and not permanently.
This isn’t necessarily evidence of a food disorder (for most people), although it’s obviously very unwelcome. It can be a sign that the body is doing what normal bodies do in those particular circumstances.
I’m not a nutritionist, but I understand there are things you can do to eat in a way that will satisfy the body more readily (Dr Sharma recommends more protein and less foods that are high on the glycaemic index). There are lots of positive things that can be done to support your health and wellbeing.
Calling yourself greedy and a failure probably isn’t one of them. Becky, you’ve probably already been told that you’re too hard on yourself, and I’m sure my voice won’t change anything. But your description of walking miles to work and going to the gym, despite feeling crappy, seems to show a lot of determination and will power, as far as I can see.
I just want to agree with Alexie above and also send Becky love and hope for healing from the hurt she’s putting on herself. You are worthy of love and respect, most of all from yourself. You deserve that.
Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sorry that this has happened to you. My aunt had the surgery. She grew up thin, became fat after having 4 kids because she couldn’t stop eating like she was pregnant, and got so big that she feared for her life. She dieted and was thin for several years but she admittedly missed the binging and became fat again. She went on the Maury Povich Show in 1992 right after her weight loss surgery. She was thin for 10 years and very slowly gained the weight back. She’s probably 300 lbs now, but she was easily 450 lbs before she had the surgery. So it obviously has it’s flaws, as does a lot of surgery. My mom got cataract surgery a year ago and although it solved the cataract problem, she is still near sighted, which is something we don’t think of when we hear someone who has the surgery. We think after eye surgery that they will be cured with perfect vision for the rest of their life, not true.
The only part of your story where I am curious is where you said you were restricted to 3 square meals a day, unless you are talking about the calorie restrictions. I never thought of 3 square meals as a restriction. I can easily run on 2 meals a day and maybe a snack or treat in between and not feel hungry throughout, but I understand that bodies are different.
Becky, thank you so much for sharing your story. And thank you Kath for letting people like Becky share her story through this space.
I understand perfectly when you say you’re still greedy because I get that feeling too. I just have to keep eating and eating even though I’m not hungry anymore and then feel disgusted, physically disgusted and sick. So full to a point where I can’t move. You would think it’s not gonna happen again but it does, every time.
While I feel OK about my size (now, of course there was a time when I used to hate the way I looked and just wanted to be thin!) I don’t feel OK about eating compulsively like that because well, it just feels wrong.
I’ve never known if they qualify compulsive eating as an eating disorder? I would really like to know how to treat it, not to lose weight but to learn to stop eating when I’m full.
HI Guys, Thanks for your rounded and thought out feedback so far, its much appreciated and I am happy it has added to the dialogue of this well established blog. Ashley, in answer to your question, I think it would have been irresponsible of my parents to let me eat any less than 3 meals a day, but what I’m getting a is that most “normal” (and yes I hate that word) children would be allowed to possibly have snacks inbetween meals, but I was made to feel incredibly guilty if I went near the kitchen, and shouted at if I even dared to go near the fridge which, in my case, had a massive effect on my relationship with food. I hope that helps to clarify?
Thank you again, I look forward to further reading your comments….
The thing that breaks my heart about Becky’s story is that she received treatment for her weight (which is not a behavior) and has received no treatment, it seems, for her behavioral and psychological issues with binge eating.
There really aren’t any surgical fixes for eating disorders (and I say this as someone in long-term recovery from an eating disorder myself). I wish Becky happiness and a safe place and resources where she can find help for her issues with food.
Thanks for clearing that up. It must have been a tough journey for you to be scrutinized for merely eating, and then having the health issues that can come with binge eating and the mobility issues than can come with excessive weight. I have faith that you are a strong woman and although there are other that express disagreement with your decisions and beliefs, I strongly encourage you to trust your gut on what to do with *your health and body* because you know what is best for your individual body.
Whoops I meant that in reply to Becky’s comment to me.
Becky, I feel for you. You live in an environment, a culture that is highly toxic to fat people. Even people who are just a little fat. Bri of the Fat Lot of Good blog linked to and commented on someone’s critique of Lord Byron, about how fat and therefore unattractive he was. Well, he was about 5’9″ (174 cm) and weighed a few pounds over 14 stone (about 90 kilos or almost 200 pounds). Which figures out to a BMI of approximately 29. Kate Middleton went on a diet before her wedding; did anyone say she was setting an unhealthy example? No, dieting before a wedding is just what women do. But if she gained ten pounds, you’d never hear the end of it.
I hope you have some time to check out the fatosphere blogs where you can find a few drops of sanity struggling against the tide of hate that is out there. Thank you for sharing your story.
I wanted to thank Bekky for putting her story up for discussion. I am enjoying the comments and think they are really meaty ones and are giving me food for thought. (pun not intended).
Thank you all for your respectful, measured responses. This is a sensitive topic in the Fatosphere, and we NEED to talk about it. But we need to do so within the frames of fat acceptance, and without ever erasing the experiences and the perspectives of people who have made choices like weight loss surgery.
After all, we all talk about our dieting and eating disordered past, and how it failed us, how it damaged us and how we never got any support to heal. These are the things we need to talk about in context of weight loss surgery.
I personally consider weight loss surgery a very extreme, surgically-induced eating disorder.
Many thanks to Becky for telling her story and to FH for posting it.
On a related note, I heard today that Dr. Oz (who has a “medical” show on US TV) is saying that far too little WLS is being performed and that many more surgeries should be done.
Yuck, Dr Oz has been peddling his fat hate for some time.
Hi Everyone, I thought with the New year upon us I’d take a moment to re-read my words, and eveyones fantastic comments. I’d firstly like to thank everyone who contributed to the dialogue and took the time to read my story. 4 months on I’m glad to report a huge shift in my attitude and self-perception, and that in part is due to the chance Kath gave me to tell my story and my introduction to the fat acceptance movement. I no longer consider myself greedy, I no longer judge myself for simply eating, and I unreservedly love & respect my body. Thank you x x
Becky, I cannot tell you just how happy I am for you! Thank you so much for coming back to give us an update, and if you’d like to do an update post, you know where to contact me.
Thanks Kath, I’m currently writing a piece for SLiNK magazine, if it gets published I’ll let you know, if not, I’ll still let you know!! x