Lives of formerly fat people
April 13, 2019 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to hear accounts of being overweight, then not

I'm listening to a This American Life story by a woman who was fat, then lost a lot of weight. I'd like to read essays by people of all genders about this topic. I'm most interested in the differences in how the writer is treated by other people, before and after. This is not for personal motivation, and I have no interest in being 'inspired' or reading something by somebody who has a weight-loss idea to sell.
posted by Sterros to Human Relations (30 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I get more attention from the opposite gender straight up. I get less snide appearance comments from my gender peers (rarely size related but always was about my clothes, hair, etc) . And I stopped having mysterious back and knee pain. Just went away.
posted by chasles at 5:16 PM on April 13


I should add i lost around 55 pounds or about 20% of the before me.
posted by chasles at 5:17 PM on April 13


Animal rights activist Jasmin Singer is great on this. She’s written extensively on how differently people treated her after she lost weight. This excerpt from her book, Always Too Much And Never Enough, is a good start. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble finding essays she published before the book came out.
posted by FencingGal at 5:40 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


As I walked down the airplane aisle, people no longer regarded me with dread, fearful that I would take the seat next to them.

Now and then I failed to recognize my own reflection.
posted by carmicha at 5:42 PM on April 13


I'm not sure if this counts exactly. I lost 20 pounds (I'm 5'9") from my pre-pregnancy weight after my first child, and seemingly doubled the size of my chest due to breastfeeding. Nothing else changed, same hair, same face, same clothes or actually more pajama-sloth-new-mother clothes. The attention and eyeballs from men in almost every setting was markedly more than I was used to.
posted by RoadScholar at 6:02 PM on April 13


Not exactly what you asked, but I thought of this Ask Polly column, from a woman who wasn't attracted to her friend until he lost weight. It discusses the topic, though from a different point of view.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:23 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


I gained 40kg and have list 19kg of that so far. I noticed on gaining weight that:
- I stopped receiving compliments from other women about my clothes and appearance
- my upper thighs rubbed together so in summer if I wore a dress i would get chafing after a minimal amount of walking
- bending over to tie my shoelaces, put on socks or some shoes became almost impossible because there was so much fat in the way
-people didn’t sit next to me on the bus
-I got mistaken for pregnant once
-i got told I was a “fat ugly b*%ch” by a person in the street when I wouldn’t let her use my phone
posted by EatMyHat at 6:36 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


I ran into an acquaintance who has purposefully lost a LOT of weight, and asked her how she was doing. She grinned, and looked down at herself, and said "I have SO MUCH MORE ENERGY! I feel like I'm moving on roller skates!"
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:38 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


I found this essay by Ijeoma Oluo to be brilliant and truthful.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:45 PM on April 13 [11 favorites]


My mother lost a lot of weight when my father died suddenly. It was from grief. She lost interest in food. She found it incongruous that people were always telling her how great she looked when she was at the worst point of her life and the reason she looked “great” was because she felt so awful. I remember she told me she saw an essay - possibly by Chicago writer Mike Royko - on people getting lots of compliments because they lost weight when their lives fell apart. This would have been in about 1980, so I’m not sure it’s possible to find it, at least not online.

I greatly improved my diet and lost weight after a cancer diagnosis. A naturopath told me that if I lost too much weight, it would scare people, and doctors always ask if I’ve lost weight on purpose. I have way more energy, but I think a lot of it is because of the improved diet, not the weight loss itself. The reason I think this is because I had a huge, immediate increase in energy when I started having green smoothies (with six cups of greens) for breakfast. People comment on my energy, but almost no one comments on the weight loss, either because they know it’s rude to comment on people’s weight or because they’re afraid it’s from the cancer.

The best thing about losing weight is not having to find decent clothes in plus sizes.
posted by FencingGal at 7:05 PM on April 13 [7 favorites]


I recommend the memoir Stranger Here: How Weight-Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed with My Head by Jen Larsen for a look at dealing with the extreme body changes brought on by weight loss surgery. I ended up having a similar surgery myself and this book was revelatory to me during the buildup.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:07 PM on April 13


Medication for migraines caused a fairly dramatic 60 pound weight loss. I was far more thrilled about not being in constant pain, but the shift in public perception was startling. I went from invisible to strangers to visible, doors held open, eye contact etc. It was unsettling and horrible because it had nothing to do with me only fatphobia. I go out of my way to make eye contact with fat people and smile pleasantly now.

A bunch of female friends and acquaintances started asking me about diet and exercise, and wanted to know how I'd lost weight. The drug has serious side effects and the look of disappointment on these socially attractive and generally weight average women - sad. I had no idea how much conversation revolved around diet before because I'd been tactfully excluded, but so much!

Clothes is enormous. It's like you get back days of free time not having to specialty shop and work for the extra cost of those clothes if you are female. You can just walk into a shop and buy something that fits. Large men maybe have less of a clothes issue because they can have a longer term wardrobe without being required to also have fashion changes frequently, but still. So much time.

And seatbelts. And chairs. Not having to adjust the world constantly or precheck it for your access quietly because if you make a fuss, people will shame you.

The visibility was such a shock. Like, I didn't exist except as a fat non-person to them, and now I was worth social contact? I got frosty with a couple of people over that.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:56 PM on April 13 [14 favorites]


EatMyHat, roll-on deoderant applied to the thighs is a cheap hack for chafing. You can get specialty anti-chafing roll-ons or use bike pants but roll-on deoderant does the trick for me.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:59 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


When I quit smoking I put on fifty pounds very quickly and lost it just as quickly (both over the course of roughly three years). I was treated very differently when I gained weight. Men ignored me. I didn't get harassed on the street or the train. Women were mean. People dropped out of my life. A couple people at work started to treat me in an offhandedly rude way.

There were many people whose behavior towards me did not change, but so many more who did. Even my own family treated me differently. There is a weird, overall disregard for your opinion. People started to talk right over me. It felt like I had lost people's respect.

I remember also being pleasantly surprised that I completely lost any hint of wrinkles in my face. I marveled at this. And I recall actually liking my body more at certain points during the weight gain. I also felt safe and like I could relax. I enjoyed the lack of male attention. It was glorious and a relief.

I remember being aware that I walked differently and felt that I was 'lumbering'. That no matter how I tried to walk as I once did, I couldn't walk that way anymore. And this was deeply upsetting to me. And I developed pain in one knee and started sleeping terribly.

But my weight gain was concurrent to successfully quitting smoking, so this was also a period in my life where I was massively proud of myself, which kind of cushioned this turn of events. The weight gain was not as disturbing to me as one might assume. I think I went into a kind of denial where it wasn't until I lost the weight again that I realized how large I had gotten in the first place.

Also, like the poster above, I too didn't recognize myself in the mirror or reflections sometimes - both during the gaining and the losing of the weight. I also developed what is now a lingering body dysmorphia from this experience. I am no longer sure what size I am or what I look like. Just when I think I do, it changes, or I see a photo of myself. I'll think I am huge, then weeks later I think I look gaunt. And I'm always wrong.

I was heavy too briefly to actually get used to it. It wasn't until I already had lost most of the weight that I started to really see the heavy me in my mind. And photographs always surprise me. I was very confused for a while. I still am. I will really think I'm finally over all that, and I then I do something weird that makes me realize I still have no idea what I look like.

And, sadly, I guess predictably, as I lost the weight again, people treated me better in some ways and more harassing and like an object in others. The whole thing has really opened my eyes to that sort of thing - though I really don't think people realize that they're doing it.
posted by marimeko at 8:05 PM on April 13 [15 favorites]


I lost about 45 lbs a couple years ago over the course of about 6 months. Over the past couple of months I've started to gain it back. I lost it on purpose -- it was very difficult, but I managed because I hated being fat, it looked terrible and my feet hurt -- but homeostasis is fighting back hard now. What once worked to keep my body below where it wants to be, no longer works. (It wasn't, by the way, the first time I'd gained or lost those 45 lbs; not by a long shot.)

Anyway, the difference in how people treated me was stark, even though I wasn't hugely obese at the start, or particularly slender at my lowest point.Think going from ~size 16 to ~size 8. At the size 8, I get random strangers smiling at me. Not men so much (I don't encourage male attention and I have a turbo resting bitch face) but them too. Lots of women, particularly older ones. Kind indulgent smiles.

Shopping did not get quite as much easier for me as it did for one of the posters above. Easier, yes, but still not easy; my proportions still aren't standard, and I hate today's tight pants. But yeah, it's easier than it was, for sure.

The biggest change is that I don't dread cameras. I carry my weight high in my body and my face really bloats when I'm heavy. That, and my feet feel better.

I'm trying not to gain it back, but it's getting harder and harder. I feel like it's a losing battle. And having had so much experience with gaining and losing; with managing hunger; with repeated injuries from strenuous exercise; from dealing with the social implications of not being able to participate in group meals; from having my appetite artificially suppressed with medication and then having that medication lose its effectiveness... I get so angry at the vapid, ignorant "healthy lifestyle" preaching... and I often just feel like just throwing my towel in.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:03 PM on April 13 [6 favorites]


i (male) went from approx 185lbs in my early 20s to approx 160, and women acted like i was a totally different person. at 185 i was a chubby nerd; at 160 i was fending off dates. i am 6ft1 so you might not think it's a huge jump, but it definitely was for me - to the point where it was psychologically disturbing to me that people could treat me so differently over 20-25lbs difference.
posted by modernnomad at 3:00 AM on April 14 [5 favorites]


Elna Baker wrote about this in her memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance.
posted by prewar lemonade at 3:47 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I lost 50-60lbs a few years ago, at 5’2” (approx 30% of my body weight). This summer would be 5 years of maintaining at now 39 years old, and having been heavy most of my life prior. I didn’t really try to lose weight - it was motivated by a situation that left me feeling angry and frustrated, and physically taking it out on the elliptical became a form of therapy. That situation helped me realize some lifelong patterns that I was complicit in, and I think dealing with the mental/emotional side is strongly correlated to alleviating the physical weight off my body.

So exercise was a very large component, and exercise helped build my confidence and self esteem. I absolutely feel like people treat me differently, but it’s hard to say whether that’s due to the weightloss, or the gained confidence and changed I’ve made inside, rather than outside - I very much feel that it’s a “chicken or the egg” situation.

I stopped being a people pleaser and became more comfortable with the person I was, standing up for myself, asserting myself, and speaking up. Therefore, of course people treat you differently - they look you in the eye more. When I say “no” they take me more seriously (but I’m also much more confident in saying “no” these days).

Someone close to me has always had a tendency to project their anxieties and insecurities on me, both before and after I lost weight. That didn’t change. Before, they initiated an email intervention about my weight (not a sudden gain) while calling me selfish for moving to go to grad school, and after, they called me “disturbed" for going to the gym regularly. The difference now, is that I no longer feel the need to eat their feelings about my life (that harms them in no way).

I get more attention from men (and women) now I think, and I’m sure some of that is because of physical changes, but I think a lot of it is due to inside changes that reflect in carrying myself differently.

I think a few people keep expecting me to regain the weight, precisely because they *DON’T* treat me differently. They have never acknowledged changes that I’ve made (physically, mentally/emotionally, lifestyle, etc), and change the subject or ignore anything I’ve said or any involvement in things like exercise. It’s weird. I’m the same in many ways, but different in others, and I think people are supposed to grow *with* the people that matter - not ignore their growth like it as no relevance - especially as the years go by and the changes stick deeper. I think treating someone differently isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
posted by raztaj at 4:36 AM on April 14 [8 favorites]


Following her book Hunger (and appearance on that episode of This American Life), Roxane Gay had bariatric surgery and wrote about her experience .
posted by pierogi24 at 5:04 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I'm male, and lost 70 pounds a decade ago, going from 260 to 190. I'm tall and muscular, so 190 for me was noticeably skinny, and 260 was noticeably chunky. I'm around 200 now, but lower bodyfat than I was at 190.

It's hard to say if people treated me differently directly due to the weight loss, because I also gained a lot of confidence, and I know people react to that. And I also started to dress better, because I was no longer trying to hide in my clothes, and people react to that too.

It is harder to buy clothes at my current weight. No one makes clothing that fits my chest and also my waist.

Shoes last longer. I didn't expect that one, though it makes sense.

Airplane seats are still small, but I don't mind so much as I used to. And I don't worry about chairs breaking under me any more.
posted by Nothing at 6:44 AM on April 14


Also, I strongly believe that the reason my cancer was initially misdiagnosed as heart disease was because of my weight. The doctor who figured out my symptoms were actually caused by severe anemia and who told me to get to the ER after he ran an extremely routine blood test said I was lucky I didn’t die from the stress test they’d had me take. (My main symptom that resulted in the stress test was being extremely out of breath even walking across a room - it turned out my hemoglobin was 4.3 because of multiple myeloma.) After I failed the stress test and refused cardiac catheterization, I was told to take statins. I knew that had to be wrong because I’d become vegan and my cholesterol levels were extremely low (statins lower cholesterol levels). So I paid out of pocket and drove sixty miles to see the vegan cardiologist who figured it out - I’d heard him on a podcast. I’m still bitter and angry to this day. Attributing everything to weight or weight-related causes is a major failure of the medical system, and fat people die from it. There used to be a website devoted to these stories, but I think it’s gone now. So that’s a huge and life-threatening difference in the way fat people are treated.
posted by FencingGal at 7:03 AM on April 14 [16 favorites]


I was 440 lbs and I now weigh 175. I had a sleeve surgery in the fall of 2015 and a bypass last March. The changes have been dramatic, to say the least. It's nice to be able to buy clothes in a regular store and not in a plus size store (Catherine's was my goto along with onestopplus.com). My knees, ankles, hips and back are so much more happy.

I have fibromyalgia and saw a rheumatologist for a while. She kept blaming the severe shoulder pain I was having to my weight (apparently from pushing myself out of a chair). I dumped her soon after that (plus her recommending acupuncture) because my GP said he would manage my meds. It turned out that I have pretty bad arthritis in my left shoulder. That wasn't discovered until I broke my upper arm at work.

My job has gotten so much easier. I'm a preschool teacher. It was amazing when I found myself running and skipping with the kids. Even over the last year, the affect of the weight I lost was amazing. It's still kind of weird when parents comment on my continuing weight loss. Same for my coworkers. I just took a picture with one of my kids and I astonished at how I look.

As others said, I still have a hard time seeing myself at a more normal weight. Even as recently as last year, I still saw myself as an extremely, extremely fat person. I look back at those pictures pre-surgery and I can't believe how heavy I really was. Likewise, my body image is still in a state of flux. I started Project365 this year and I can see changes even though I don't see it in the mirror.

I haven't noticed people on the street treating me differently, but I still rarely go out. My psychiatrist has been encouraging me to become more social for the past 2 years. I finally found the courage to signup for a meetup group. I go to my first event in 2 weeks.

I gained some wrinkles, but I feel like I do look younger. I can fit behind the steering wheel without pushing the seat all the way back so it's easier to drive. At my heaviest, I couldn't sit in the front passenger seat of my car because the seat belt wouldn't buckle.

It's been a hard road, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. I'm much healthier (no hypertension or prediabetes) and I am more confident.
posted by kathrynm at 7:51 AM on April 14 [9 favorites]


This was well over a decade ago. I lost 30 pounds and after a lifetime of shame I was the belle of the ball. Dates came more easily. I was voted best dressed in my class, even though my style was unchanged. I also became an asshole. Big time. I started treating people like dirt. I said things that still haunt me to this day.

I've learned a lot since then. Today I'm older and slightly heavier. But I have much better self-esteem than I ever did as a young hot thing.
posted by lecorbeau at 9:10 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


I'm a 5'3 cis-bi female in my 40's who's lost 200 lb in 2 years after gastric bypass surgery, going from 355 lbs in 2017 to 155 lbs now.

I'd been fat all my life, and for the 5 years or so before surgery, I would describe myself as functionally disabled - I was unable to walk through my relatively small house without a lot of pain, and had to hold onto countertops and furniture for support to walk even a few feet. I wasn't in a wheelchair, but I was headed in that direction.

If I were to start sharing all the ways my life has changed in the past 2 years, I'd still be writing a month from now. I'm happy to answer any specific questions you have in me-mail, if you like.

But just to respond to your main interest:

For my entire adult life, I've been invisible to decent people and a target for cruel people. Luckily, since becoming an adult, I've mostly encountered the former. They never said anything nasty or called extra attention to my size, but they didn't look at me. Their eyes skated away when conversation was required, and when there was a chance of skipping conversation -- passing by in the hallway, for instance -- they skipped it.

Now, I'm no longer invisible. On buses and trains, people move their stuff so I can sit down. Men check me out - I'm nothing exciting to look at, and I don't really get hit on, but I'm now in that category of humans who are worth a second look just to check. It's like I've become a real person -- people now view me as interactive, not just an unpleasant bit of scenery. People smile at me in the hallway when I go in to the office. People say hi in the elevator and ask what floor I want.

One day just before my surgery, as I was leaving a pre-op appointment, I rode down to the parking garage in an elevator with a mom and her little girl. I was probably around 300 lbs at that time, and the little girl was probably 5 or 6 years old. Her mom kept her eyes on the front of the elevator, but the little girl looked right at me. Because I like kids when I don't have to take them home with me, I smiled and gave a little wave.

The little girl pushed closer to her mom, and said to me, "You're REALLY big."

So, a tiny part of me crumpled and died of mortification at that moment. But because after 20 or so years of that sort of thing I was used to it, I kept the smile in place and said, "It's true, I am. But the nice doctors here are going to help me with that."

The mom was definitely looking at me now - horrified to an extent that was actually kind of hysterical. She fell all over herself apologizing, telling the little girl to apologize, telling me "I would slap the face of anybody who said that to me" -- honestly, this was the most uncomfortable part. I tried to put her back at ease -- because as the fat person who has been noticed by a normal person, that was kind of my job, right? -- but it was just horribly awkward until the elevator dinged and we all made our escape.

I'm a great patient, so I go to all my follow-up appointments. That means every 3-6 months I end up back in that same elevator. Every time I get into it, I remember that little girl and her mom and think about all the billion things in my life that are easier, better, simpler now than they were that day. But I think the very best better thing is that if I were to run into them for the first time today, the mom would probably smile at me and ask what floor I needed, and if I smiled at the little girl - she'd probably smile back.
posted by invincible summer at 9:26 AM on April 14 [10 favorites]


I suspect the TAL segment OP is referring to is this, if anyone's curious.
posted by WCityMike at 10:10 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self, by Frances Kuffel, is a great read on this topic.
posted by orange swan at 4:11 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


This blogger went from 550 to 350 lbs after gastric bypass surgery - here are roundups of her experience 2 years out and 6 years out (includes nsfw photos), and if you hit the "wls" tag, you can see her other posts on the subject.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:15 PM on April 14


There’s a lot of good folks over at #OBSM @OBSM & the sister organisation #OBSMUK @OBSMUK with plenty of info on the evidence base beh8nd obesity in general and frequent examples of before and after including academic articles and studies if anyone wants to go a bit deeper. (Declaration of interest: I am an OBSMUK leader)
posted by Wilder at 5:04 AM on April 15


For most of my life, I have been on the heavier side of the normal BMI range. Then there was a period where I went all the way from that to the edge of the overweight range but never quite officially made it to obese. Had a span of year or so when my diet and exercise changed drastically (part natural, part intentional, part need-based) and I lost about 46 lbs in about 9-11 months. This wasn't exactly healthy and currently I am about 26 lbs more than that point, but again in the overweight range (about 10 lbs). I had no health issues at either weight except bouts of pre-diabetes at higher weight which made me freak out completey and I eliminated added sugar and chips absolutely from my diet.

Externally, when I was "skinny" (I don't think I was, its that my frame made me look lean because of height), a few family members/friends said I look like I should sit down and eat/ "someone needs to help this person sit and feed her". That didn't feel nice but these are decent people so I knew these comments were made to help me realize what was going on. I don't really take nonsense from people especially regarding weight so maybe this is why I didn't get/don't recall cruel comments when I was chubby but I've never quite cared about the weight or people's opinions on it when chubby. I recall one bad comment from an ex but he turned out to be an insensitive idiot anyway. When I was told I look too thin I didn't like it because I enjoyed being at this weight a lot (more below), it took a lot of work to shed that extra weight and I guess I wanted to keep telling myself that just because I was in the normal BMI at no-matter-what-the kg, I was healthy. There was no dearth of male attention at any weight. Not wanting to hear my opinion, in my two cents, has been more tied to my gender than weight.

Internally, I enjoyed being at my lowest (which was more than half-way in the normal BMI range) because goodness, buying clothes was so much easier!! They still didn't fit because they were always kind of loose and shapeless so some need fixing but shopping (which I detest) was so swift and less time consuming. I was also more fit and energetic and rarely had any bouts of lethargy or fatigue related to physical activity. After a certain point, I kept up the exercise and started looking a bit haggard/somewhat developed what looked the beginnings of runner's face. I was shocked to look at myself in the mirror in a store one day and that's the day when I realized that I was overdoing it. My diet had become too monotonous and I suffered some deficiencies due to that. I also recall becoming a judgmental idiot ("you know, that person in the park needs to eat less of of oily stuff and not snack between meals; running here is not going to help at all") but thankfully, I was self-aware enough to realize the first time this comment came out of my mouth, before I said anything to anyone directly, and the universe has since kindly helped put me in my place.

My weight gain was due to emotional eating but I feel lucky to be on both sides of the scale and now know better what works, what does not and why (and where I tend to gain and how to spot it in time before it becomes out of control- its not just about checking weight on the scale). It is not easy to eat healthily and even more difficult to maintain weight loss and for me, I have learnt that it requires self-discipline and commitment, and less of fantasizing about it/giving excuses to myself without doing the work (diet or exercise).

(I realize that I have derailed from the original query a little. I wrote all this not because I am full of myself but I figured if anyone reading this has struggled with it as much as I have, they might find something in this experience useful/are welcome to email directly etc.)
posted by xm at 11:54 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]




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