losing weight doesn’t make you skinnier

(originally published on Medium in September 2018)

Over the last couple of years I’ve lost 50 kilograms (roughly 110 pounds).

In 2014, I had a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (VSG) and then – thanks to some mean reflux issues – three years later, I had a Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass (RNY) revision surgery.

I recommend the surgeries to anyone like me who is unable to lose the weight on their own. I had mental health issues, physical health issues including Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), an eating disorder, and years of ingrained bad habits. I tried for 15 years to lose weight; every diet plan you can think of, I had a go. But after trying and failing and hating myself for so many years, I eventually decided it was time to do something drastic.

Aside from the weight loss from the surgeries, I feel healthier, my blood tests are perfect, I’ve gone from a (AUS) size 24 to a size 14 and thus am no longer relegated to online shopping and “plus size” stores, and I now have room for my body on buses and planes. On the outside, things are good.

But I am here to tell you; once you’ve been fat, you’re fatness will follow you for the rest of your life. Sadly, there really is no quick fix – no matter what the diet and medical industries tell you.

Once you’ve experienced a significant amount of time as a “bigger person”, it becomes a part of your identity. You become how you think the world sees you. You constantly think everyone is looking at you and judging you. They’re probably not, but that doesn’t mean you don’t constantly think about it and stand/sit/talk/act as though they are. I still think like this.

I often feel like the ugliest and least likeable person in a group. I still worry that people see me and make assumptions before I’ve had a chance to talk and fuck it up with my annoying personality. I stand in front of mirrors and hate what I see, I will never be skinny enough to like my body. When I eat, I think everyone is watching me thinking I am a pig – even if I’m eating a salad.

And it’s not just internal thoughts that remind me of my fatness, the real world offers me reminders every day. I still walk into cafes and freak out at their flimsy seating, worried that I’ll sit down and break through and fall to the floor. I still avoid certain shopping brands and stores because I associate them with “skinny girls”, even though I technically fit into their clothes now. And, worst of all, when I see other people carrying weight, I judge them and think the way society has convinced us we should feel toward fat people. I judge them the way I’m sure people used to – and probably still do – judge me. The shame I feel about this is indescribable.

Society has taught us to laugh and ridicule fat people, it’s taught us that they’re not to be accommodated or considered, and it’s taught us that it’s their fault they got this way. Bollocks to all of that.

For me, I started to put on weight when I was 15 and I quit swimming. I had been a national level swimmer for 8 years, training up to ten times a week and consuming the amount of food – specifically carbohydrates – required to sustain that amount of activity. Both my brother and sister were still in swimming, so when I stopped, I continued to eat like a swimmer. Lots of carbs with nowhere to burn them off, combined with genetics from my Dad’s side and significant issues with my hormones, meant that in the first two years after giving up swimming I put on 30kgs.

By the time I was 18, I was morbidly obese. What followed was years of depression and poor eating habits, a lot of which was a direct result of the weight. It is a vicious cycle. In the words of Austin Powers’ Fat Bastard “I eat because I am fat, and I am fat because I eat”. I spent my entire 20s with weight as my constant thought and my constant companion, it became a part of my personality and my identity.

Consider a relationship; a boyfriend or girlfriend or child, someone who literally never left your side for 15 years – on average 20% of your life. If they left, how long do you think it would take you to adjust?

I don’t think you ever really would.

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