What's the life of the obese?
September 24, 2006 8:12 PM   Subscribe

What's it like being morbidly obese?

I'm looking for details and info on what it's like living as someone who's extremely overweight, particularly for women. Clothes buying, hygiene issues, getting around ... anything that makes life harder or just plain different than most. Any sources for deeper research would be welcome.

Bonus points for fiction with the morbidly obese as the protagonists.
posted by Bookhouse to Health & Fitness (53 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I know I've seen this on the web. Let me look ... For background and connections, there's s the advocacy groups and activists -- NAAFA and Marilyn Wann, author of Fat!So?, and lawyer on fat/weight discrimination Sondra Solavoy. But I remember seeing blogs, sites, etc. re fat experience ... I remember there's a lot out there on skin problems, problems with air travel, discrimination .... There was one in particular that I'm not finding. I'll try a bit more.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:32 PM on September 24, 2006

i lived with a woman for years who was 350 pounds, 5' 8" or 9" ... truth is, on a day to day basis, i don't really think it interfered with the lifestyle she wanted to live, which was quite self-destructive (drugs, alcohol) and not very active

there were plenty of shops where she could find things to wear, although they weren't what you'd call fashionable ... but then, we weren't in a part of the world where one had to care about that

she was clean ... i don't recall there being any hygiene issues and she got around pretty well ... was able to drive a plymouth horizon, which is a pretty small car ... was able to hold a good job for years and indulge in truly amazing and frightening levels of drug abuse

at least at her level of obesity, i think the major problems are those of social acceptance and future health ... and she was liked and accepted by many people and had many friends ... after we were apart, she developed diabetes and other health problems, but in her 40s she was still pretty healthy

truth is obesity wasn't her biggest problem, cocaine was
posted by pyramid termite at 8:50 PM on September 24, 2006

A gallon of water weighs 8.33 lbs. A straightforward way of getting some first hand experience of morbid obesity, would simply be to get the number of gallon jugs of drinking water it would take to get you to the weight of a morbidly obese person for your height and sex, and strap most of them around your waist, through their handles, with a length of belt webbing you can get at any home or outdoor store. You can easily put 6 or so around your waist, jug handles in [nearest your waist] to add 50 pounds to your frame in a couple of minutes, and maybe another 2 or even 4 hung about your neck, with another length of webbing tied through their handles, for another 16 to 32 pounds of weight. You can carry another one in each hand, for another 16 1/2 pounds. So, within a few minutes, you can "gain" from 50 to nearly 100 pounds, distributed more or less as Nature piles it on the obese.

Now, go try to sit in chairs. Try walking around the block, or climbing a flight of stairs. Do the laundry. Notice how short of breath you are, how easily you break into a sweat because of all the work you are doing carrying the water around.

Do it for an hour, and you'll be tired. Do it for a day, and you'll see it's not funny. Do it for a week, and you'll need to see a doctor, especially if you take your temporary obesity to bed, and don't get normal sleep. Your feet, knees, and hips may hurt constantly, from supporting the weight. Everything you do will become a recalculated experience in trying to keep from falling over. You, as a thin person, won't probably be strong enough to carry the load an entire day, as the obese are often surprisingly strong, and tolerant of pain, underneath their loads, from a lifetime of managing with their burden.

It'll cost you less than $15 for this first hand experience, and you can drink your experimental material at the end of your experience, or hang on to it for your personal emergency water stash. Why wait another day to feel it in your own bones?
posted by paulsc at 9:07 PM on September 24, 2006 [5 favorites]

Fat Girl by Judith Moore.
posted by Clock Attention Issues at 9:18 PM on September 24, 2006

I have not read either, but the main character's mother in the book (and movie) What's Eating Gilbert Grape is morbidly obese. Also, the main character in Confederacy of Dunces is obese.
posted by hooray at 9:19 PM on September 24, 2006

Best answer: I am obese, but my cousin is probably twice as big as I am, at 350-400 pounds. We went to Cedar Point a few years back and she didn't notice the test seat at the front of the Millennium Force. She waited in line for over 2 hours and then didn't fit. It humiliated her.

For me it's hard to just be in public sometimes. I feel bad when I see women in cute clothes that would look horrible on me. Sometimes I worry that people are looking to see how much I eat, if I'm at a restaurant. I feel guilty if I go to Dairy Queen, because some people think that "fat people eat junk food all the time." I don't get ice cream more than once a month, and it still makes me feel bad.

I have 2 pet peeves: Friends who are at a normal weight, or slightly overweight, who complain about how fat they are right in front of me. I always point out that they are okay - I'm the one with the serious problem.

My other peeve is pregnant women who complain about how fat they are. Why? I once was in a store and passed by an otherwise-skinny, very pregnant woman. Her little girl, perhaps 4 or 5, said to her mom after we passed, "You're not fat like her mommy." I know she's just a little kid, but if "mommy" hadn't been complaining about how fat she was, the little girl probably wouldn't have thought that. Pregnancy IS NOT fat... so it annoys me when pregnant women say they're fat.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:23 PM on September 24, 2006 [7 favorites]

Fatty McBlog. And I second the rec for Fat Girl by Judith Moore. If you think the obese are lazy/funny/pathetic/insert-fat-stereotype-here, you really need to read this book.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:39 PM on September 24, 2006

I once dated someone who was quite overweight.

Daily life was a chore...she could walk fine, even for a bit of a distance, but even one flight of stairs put her out of breath. She couldn't easily carry groceries or do anything that was more than just moving her. She had medical issues that could have helped cause her weight or could have come from being so obese (polycystic ovarian symdrome).

The worst part of it was that she was in utter denial about it. She wouldn't do anything to help herself because of the pro-fat propaganda she read that told her that being morbidly obese was normal, fine, could be healthy, and shouldn't have a stigma attached. Nothing, even the possibility that her weight could kill her and was making daily life suck, could change her mind about that. In short, it was a pain in the ass to do anything active with her, it was mentally painful to being around her, and nothing was ever going to get better.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:45 PM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I used to be in the 300 club. About five years ago I dropped over 100 pounds. Went from a 46 to a 34 waist. From a XXXL to a L.

Seems so distant and bizarre it was almost like a dream. I may get tired now, but I run three miles a day, play in a half-dozen bands, and keep a crazy social calendar.

Then, I was tired all the time, but I did very little but read (though that gave me geek cred, of which I am very proud)

The chairs in my university lecture halls were tight. I remember my last trip as a fat person to Six Flags, where the cute teenage girl working the coaster had to push on the harness to secure me in the cart. I spent way too much time figuring out what to wear when I went out or to a gig, knowing I was only polishing a turd. No matter what pants and shirt I picked, there was no combination that would be flattering.

On a more base level, women who are attainable now, were completely out of my reach then.

Without any doubt the BIGGEST difference is how people perceive you. When I was obese, I was not taken seriously. Now, as a thin person, I matter. No joke. Call it unfair. Call it shallow, weightist, whatever. When I was fat, I was not relevant. I didn't matter. That alone is more important than the physical factors.
posted by sourwookie at 9:48 PM on September 24, 2006 [6 favorites]

I am obese. Here are some body pictures, taken with the world's worst camera (but not one of these). I don't wear tops that are that tight; in both pictures, I'm pulling my T-shirt back so you can see my outline clearly.

I have no health problems associated with extra weight.

What you specifically asked for:

Clothes aren't particularly hard to find. Lane Bryant does classier stuff, Torrid does younger/bolder stuff; Old Navy and plenty of department stores carry larger lines. Are they going to be the coolest name brands? No. Am I going to go shopping with my friends? Probably not. But it's not hard at all to find clothes in my size, and I haven't even mentioned all the websites for specialty stuff like prom dresses.

I shower every day, use normal hygiene products, and have no trouble reaching any areas of my body. I don't smell, except for occasional perfume. I'm a teenager, and my skin is not the best, but that predates, and isn't related to, being obese.

I live in New York City, and walk or take the subway everywhere I go. In two years here, I have taken one taxi (from Times Square to the Seaport at about 2 AM). I have no trouble (and don't get out of breath or anything) walking or climbing stairs. I usually walk 30-40 blocks a day and climb 5-10 flights of stairs, depending on the day of the week (different classes in different buildings). I always carry a large, heavy backpack, and have no trouble lifting or carrying heavy stuff in general.

Things you didn't ask about but might still want to know:

I don't really like eating in front of people. My eating habits aren't bizarre or embarrassing, and nobody's ever said anything to me, but I just feel weird about it. I do eat with people every day, though, and I'm fine with it, so it's obviously not a really big deal. I rarely eat junk food in private, but I don't eat junk food in public at all. Again, nobody's ever said anything to me, but I'm afraid that if someone sees me eating junk food in public, they'll figure that's all I ever eat.

Actually, I usually eat pretty healthily. Lunch is usually a chicken breast with a vegetable and a piece of fruit; dinner is chicken, fish, sometimes pork or beef, with vegetables, a starch (potato, rice, couscous, etc.), and one of these. I never drink soda; mostly I just have skim milk (not because I'm trying to lose weight, but because it's what I grew up on).

I fit in seats in classrooms, on the subway or bus, etc., without a problem. I don't overflow onto the next seat at all.

I get hit on, or complimented, or whatever you want to call it, pretty regularly. This happens on the street, usually from the sketchiest people possible but sometimes from normal-seeming people. I have never taken anyone up on these offers.

I certainly look fat, but I don't believe I look morbidly obese. (If someone wants to take it up with me, my e-mail address is in my profile.) I'm sure you see obese people every day and don't recognize them as obese. When I think "obese," my first thought is of three- or four-hundred-pound people, even though I should know better.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:07 PM on September 24, 2006 [6 favorites]

Bookhouse posted "What's it like being morbidly obese?"... I'm looking for details and info on what it's like living as someone who's extremely overweight

booksandlibretti writes "I certainly look fat, but I don't believe I look morbidly obese. "

Yeah, you're not who he's asking about.

"I have no health problems associated with extra weight... I'm a teenager "

Yeah, you're not who he's asking about.
posted by orthogonality at 10:12 PM on September 24, 2006

The chafing that rubs holes in the legs of your pants, the embarassment when you have to ask for a seatbelt extender (or pretending you're buckled up when you're not), the lack of energy, how the littlest things make you hurt...Shaving my pits was easier then (now, since I'm down to 115, they are actually concave, but then, they were flat from all the fat). The sweat that develops between rolls of fat.... is that the kind of details you want?
posted by polexxia at 10:18 PM on September 24, 2006

Sorry, ortho. I thought he was asking about morbidly obese people. Since my BMI says I am one, I had the crazy idea that he might want to hear from me.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:18 PM on September 24, 2006 [10 favorites]

Chafing. I was only about fifty pounds overweight at my highest (which I've since lost), but even then I found it impossible to wear dresses without some sort of bike shorts underneath. The chub rub between the thighs KILLS.
posted by web-goddess at 10:24 PM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Slightly off-topic, but potentially useful to you:

Last week on NPR (the name of the show escapes me, but it is the weekly show where they report on the balance of the week's media reports), I heard them say that you are not supposed to say "a person is obese." Instead, the correct phrase is that "a person suffers from obesity."

Not saying I agree or disagree, but thought you might find it interesting.
posted by 4ster at 10:26 PM on September 24, 2006

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb follows a young girl who is severely overweight over four decades. I found the book very compelling and felt emotionally exhausted by the end.

The other book that comes to mind is What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology which is a collection of short stories and poetry. Here's the table of contents: Extra Extra Large by Frederick Busch; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz; The Fat Enter Heaven by Wesley Mcnair; The Fat Girl by Andre Dubus; Crash Diet by Jill Mccorkle; Love For A Fat Man by Rhoda B. Stamell; Full Figure by Allison Joseph; Ax Of The Apostles by Erin Mcgraw; Fat by Conrad Hilberry; Power by Stephen Dunn; The Fat Man In History by Peter Carey; Nouveau Big by Katherine Riegel; The Six Hundred Pound Man by Jack Coulehan; Hungry Self by Rebecca Curtis; Dumpling Child by Dorothy Allison; The Fat Man by Vern Rutsala; The 400-Pound Ceo by George Saunders; Big Ruthie Imagines Sex Without Pain by S. L. Wisenberg; Waltzing The Cat by Pam Houston; I Want To Be Fat by Terrance Hayes; For The One Man Who Likes My Thighs by Denise Duhamel; When Fat Girls Dream by J. L. Haddaway; Ballerina by Sharon Solwitz; The Displaced Overweight Homemaker's Guide To Finding A Man by Donna Jarrell; Weight Bearing by Patricia Goedicke; Hunters In The Snow by Tobias Wolff; The Fat Lady Travels by Cathy Smith-Bowers; Fat People At The Amusement Park by Rawdon Tomlinson; Disappearing by Monica Wood; and Fat by Raymond Carver
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 10:26 PM on September 24, 2006 [3 favorites]

If you are searching for online information, you might try looking for "supersized," which is how I've heard very large people refer to themselves. I've never heard anyone call themself "morbidly obese."

As booksandlibretti's post makes clear, that descriptor may not be a very good way to get at what you're looking for.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:36 PM on September 24, 2006

I'm 5'10" and a size 24 (315 lbs).

I'm young (early twenties), so I don't have overt health problems from my weight at the moment, but I definitely feel it more now than I did at 18. I have lower leg problems from years of hauling my fat ass around DC on concrete sidewalks with shitty shoes, and my ankles feel like they're filled with broken glass whenever I walk more than six or so blocks at a time. I have some trouble with stairs too, mostly from the pain in my ankles. (I do not, however, have cankles.)

Clothes buying isn't difficult now, thank god, but when I was younger it was a major PITA. Stores now have much more extensive lines of fat girl clothes, which people generally take as either a great sign of inclusiveness or a sign of the ballooning of America. Chub rub, as web-goddess mentioned, sucks. Also, I can never find high boots that fit my calves.

I don't have trouble flying; it's a close fit but I don't spill into the next seat, although I'm definitely more comfortable without having someone next to me. Buses and the Metro are roomier than planes, so no problems there. Standing for long periods on either is annoying, though, since my ankles and knees start to hurt.

Fat people do get hurt easier, too. Tonight I slipped in my bedroom and landed on my left knee, which hurt like hell and still aches. Were I 50 pounds lighter (I have been), I wouldn't even have felt it.

I think that suffices. Also, I definitely second She's Come Undone.
posted by timetoevolve at 10:36 PM on September 24, 2006

Again, let me stress: It was a bizarre, surrealistic nightmare. I'm not going there again.
posted by sourwookie at 11:05 PM on September 24, 2006

booksandlibretti: unfortunately, the BMI is worse than useless for determining whether most people are overweight. I'm morbidly obese according to the BMI, but I have no body fat. So, if I stopped working out and stopped eating enough, maybe I would drop 60 pounds, but the BMI would still label me overweight since I have a robust body structure. Your upper body sticks out further than your belly in your side profile picture. Maybe you are more chubby than obese?
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 11:06 PM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Being Fat is Not a Sin by Shelley Bovey is an excellent read. I read this about a decade ago to understand the issues my mother faces as a morbidly obese person, and found it enlightening.
posted by Pigpen at 11:21 PM on September 24, 2006

BMIs are off if you're muscular -- like rugby or football players. I can assure you that I don't have that kind of muscle.

How can weight be assessed if not with the BMI? (Serious question.) As far as I know, the BMI, flawed as it is, is the standard. And if it says I'm obese -- well, chubby sounds better, but I doubt it's a technical (or accurate) term.

If anyone wants to talk more about me specifically, e-mail is fine; I feel like I'm commenting too much here and I don't want to bog Bookhouse down in this stuff.
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:22 PM on September 24, 2006

44yo, male, 183cm, 135kg.

Being this fat just sucks.

It's just way more tiring than it ought to be to do anything. One of the most pernicious effects of this is that it makes the exercise load required to get rid of the extra fat pretty much overwhelmingly tiring; I have begun to contemplate my enormous gut with real doubts about whether I'm ever actually going to get it together enough to get rid of it again.

I've been as heavy as 150kg. Between then and now, I've been as light as 90kg. 90kg wins hands down (especially since I managed to keep most of the musculature I used to need to lug my 150kg around).

Luckily I can still reach all the bits that need reaching in the shower, so hygiene is no particular problem.

Having been fat since I was a kid, I've also never really developed anything even close to fashion sense; I wear a lot of cotton T shirts and jeans, which are readily available in enormous fittings.

I drive a very small car (a Daihatsu Mira) into which I have no trouble fitting. Fifteen years ago at 150kg, I used to own a Mini; no trouble fitting into that, either, though getting in and out involved a fair bit of huff and puff.
posted by flabdablet at 11:25 PM on September 24, 2006

Obese means > 30% body fat. BMI is just an easy way to approximate that, but it will be off if you're at all muscular.
posted by willnot at 11:46 PM on September 24, 2006

Technically, you're obese if your BMI is over 30, but you're not morbidly obese until it's over 40. B&L, you doesn't look even close to a 40. "Severely obese" kicks in at 35, and I would bet that you're a ways under that as well, unless you have an exceptionally large frame. As a side note, there's also "super obese," which is a BMI over 50.

I once saw a person with a 3-digit BMI; it was not a pretty situation, and I don't mean from an aesthetic point of view. She had become totally unable to move herself several months before I saw her, and adequate hygiene was completely impossible. She had multiple severe ulcerations where her flesh folded over. Her daughter had sewn a sheet into sort of a tent for her to wear. At home, she had a futon pad on the floor, and that was where she lived, since she couldn't get up at all. Family members brought her food, but that was about it. It was terrible.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 12:55 AM on September 25, 2006

You may find Tracy Luiz' blog Inside Out interesting. It describes her life from immediately before bypass surgery. She mentions a lot about what life is like severely overweight in the course of describing her subsequent weight loss.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:09 AM on September 25, 2006

You guys are making me headdesk. My BMI is over 40, although just barely. Should I take a picture with some kind of prop so you get a sense of scale? Judging by the BMI chart and the occasional lecture from my doctor, I do think of myself as morbidly obese, and I don't see why you guys don't.
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:10 AM on September 25, 2006

"I don't see why you guys don't"

Bluntly, you seem to have been lucky in where the fat has been deposited, and the photo tends to exaggerate that. Eg a particular woman I know with a BMI just over 40 is virtually spherical - her waist has disappeared, she has pronounced dowagers hump, and her breasts are contiguous in silhouette with her belly.

There's probably a lesson in that. People think they are good judges of how much someone weighs, whether they're healthy or not, etc based on appearance - but they're not.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:17 AM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think my BMI is like, 33 or something, so I guess I don't count as morbidly obese, but I'm a big fella - 184cm, 113kg.

I can do absolutely anything. I did karate for years. I go mountain biking. I go skiing, hiking, snorkling, and so on. In fact, I'm better at physical things than pretty much all of my smaller friends.

But I definitely think I'd look better in clothes if I was a 25.

I don't see why you guys don't.

Because you look hawtt in your photos?
It'd be easier to believe if you were, I don't know, a bit more hurf-durf?
posted by The Monkey at 1:51 AM on September 25, 2006

I have a friend who was morbidly obese. She's rather like booksandlibretti in that it was distributed well over her frame, but her BMI placed her in that category. After her diagnosis at age 34 of high blood pressure and Type II diabetes, she's finally taken the matter in hand and has lost a great deal of weight.

But the point I am making is that I never, during the time I have known her, thought of her as 'morbidly obese'. She was just big. She was fat. She also had the largest most muscular calves I have ever seen; they were rock-hard solid muscle, and prone to spasms. She got around fine, though she couldn't walk long distances, and when we were out walking she'd tell me to slow down and 'let the fat girl set the pace'. I would get ahead of her precisely because of my perception -- that she was 'just big', and not limited in any real way because of her size.

This sort of perception is often what you encounter, I think, in cases where the person is large over a very long time. She had gained her weight slowly from puberty onward, and hence was very comfortable in her skin, outwardly at least. She did at times admit though that it pained her, she hated it, and she felt it would be impossible to lose.

Since then she's proven that wrong, thank goodness.

Oh yes, I'd like to also say this: thanks to the auspices of a very nice Lane Bryant in our area and a willingness to spend and a good fashion sense, she dresses better than I do, and I'm quite small (5'4", 112 lbs.).
posted by seancake at 2:37 AM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

AND she was hit on quite often, too. AND she suffered from a few problems with skin as well, chafing and such. I don't think being morbidly obese by the BMI standard necessarily precludes being sexually attractive to the opposite sex.
posted by seancake at 2:46 AM on September 25, 2006

posted by teleskiving at 3:44 AM on September 25, 2006

Popping in with more info:

I have PCOS, which leads to more self-esteem issues because of things like excess body hair. I'm 5'2" and 248 pounds.

I can't speak for others, but sure, I fantasize about the bypass surgery and what it would like to be suddenly lighter, but I doubt I'll ever have it. 1. I have irritable bowel syndrome and had a lot of stomach issues as a child - I figure my system is messed up enough as it is, and I don't think being thinner would be much help if it made me feel worse. 2. There are no long-term studies on the lifespan of people who have the surgery. 3. I've recently read that a lot (40% is the stat that's popping into my head) have gained back at least 50% of the initial weight lost after 5 years.

Hygiene isn't a problem, nor is fitting in seats. However, sometimes in a crowded place, I feel bad if I have to move my chair back a lot to get out, like other people are going to say "oh a fatty has to squish me to get out." And as a teenager in high school, the "watch out or she'll sit on you" jokes got old, real fast.

I personally have no trouble buying clothes - size 22/24. My cousin, who is about my height and 350-400 pounds - I have no idea where she gets hers or if it's harder... I've never asked. She is very obviously a lot larger than I am, and once she told me that she didn't think she was any larger than me. (On another occasion she apologized and that she knew she is larger.) So maybe some denial there. I do care about what I look like and try to buy flattering clothes, but a lot of times I try to avoid looking in the mirror too. I do shop with friends - mostly plus-sized friends, but sure, even skinny friends - they help me find cute stuff in my size, and I help them in theirs. It should be noted that until I was in college and went shopping with friends, I never set foot into trendy-type stores that don't carry plus sizes... I felt like I didn't have a right to be in there, or they'd make some comment about not carrying clothes in my size. (They still have great jewelry!)

I didn't always get so tired out, until I developed a heart arrhythmia from taking Sudafed once. For some reason, it didn't go away when I stopped taking the Sudafed. I'm now on a very high dose of Lopressor to keep my heart in check, but it makes me very tired, which makes it harder to exercise and I get tired out more. I can't imagine that helps anything.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:56 AM on September 25, 2006

Mod note: a few comments removed, metatalk is open for your business
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:02 AM on September 25, 2006

posted by IndigoRain at 4:08 AM on September 25, 2006

The difference between being obese and morbidly obese is morbidity, i.e. "health problems associated with extra weight". What the BMI definition is saying is that the obesity is causing health problems, even if the symptoms are not yet apparent. IMO BMI is a guideline rather limited in utility.

One of the more amusing recurring themes in the Aubrey-Maturin series is Dr. Maturin's frequent criticism of Jack Aubrey's obesity.
posted by Manjusri at 4:21 AM on September 25, 2006

Best answer: I'd like to start by saying that paulsc is full of it. Carrying around 100lbs of unaccustomed deadweight in incoveniently strapped to your body packages is nothing like being 100lbs overweight. It's an interesting mental experiment (like going to the store and staring at cases of butter when you lose weight to visualize how much you've lost) but not a reasonable practical one.

For one thing, nobody gains 100lbs in an hour. I may be fat and out of shape, but my calves are accustomed to carrying my 325lbs ass around all day. As are my lungs. Which means that while I might get winded going up and down flights of stairs, unless the person trying the experiment is in particularly good shape (a seasoned hiker, perhaps, accustomed to walking long distances, carrying significant weight), they'll get winded a whole hell of a lot faster than me. Most people I know probably couldn't walk with 100lbs of deadweight strapped to them. Most 300+ lb people I know still walk just fine, thanks.

The other thing is that most of the real physical issues with obesity are cumulative. Things like arthritic joints, messed up knees, skin tagged thighs, etc, they develop over time. Slapping on weight both over and underestimates the realities of obesity.

That said, there are two sides I think, to the fat experience, that are important. The first is the physical discomforts, and the second is the mental.

They physical can be things like not fitting in chairs (outdoor patio chairs are the worst for this, next to airline chairs) and feeling tired when walking up stairs. But it can also be the various medical issues that result. I'm sure my asthma is exacerbated by my weight. I once had a period that lasted more than 100 days as a result of my weight. For about 6 months this year, my right hip hurt constantly. My skin looks like a 15 year old's. All of those are inconvenient and they make me think twice before doing some things, but mostly they don't affect my life all that much on a day to day basis.

Where my physical limitations mainly come into play is when it comes to bigger things I'd like to do occasionally, but can't. Rollercoasters have become a no. I'd like to take riding lessons again, but could never get on a horse. Learning to scuba dive so I could do more than snorkel when in the Carribbean would be awesome, but most places won't teach people over 250lbs. These aren't every day things, but they are things I wish I could do, but can't.

Then there's the mental side which can be far, far worse (though keep in mind that some fat people aren't nearly as bothered by it as I am). I swing from periods of self-loathing to fuck the world I'm fine as I am. It's like being bi-polar on just the one issue. I feel ashamed when I eat, and starved when I don't. Fat becomes a justification for more fat - 'As if this chocolate bar matters, given how fat my ass is.'

I can't imagine actually finding someone to love me. Even my online dating profiles are defensive about the fat thing. No fat girl angle for me, my profiles say flat out that I'm fat, because I can't face the thought of meeting another person only to have them never call again once they see me.

A few of my friends started doing 'Reasons Why' on our journals, to support our diets. (Mine, sadly, is incredibly lapsed.) To get some sense of the weird mix of optimism, fantasy and depression that haunts a person when they're in diet mode, you might read Jacquilynne's Reasons Why or the much better and longer list of Clemie's Reasons Why.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:04 AM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sorry your experiment is absolutely not going to equivilate what it's like to be very fat. Fat people didn't gain 50-100 lbs in 15 minutes. The strain on your muscles that you might feel will not be how a fat person "feels". My muscles have had a life time to adjust to my weight, and I am very very strong.

See here's the problem. I don't know if the questioner really means "morbidly obese", or if he means people over a certain weight like 300 or 400lbs. Most people have no idea what the guidelines are for fitting into these categories, or what people at specific weights "look like".

I am 280lbs and 5'9". My BMI is 41.3, which puts me well into the morbid obesity category. But for the record, I don't consider my weight to be a "medical condition", so I prefer to be called fat.

What's life like for me? It's pretty good actually. I live in NYC , and don't own a car. Like other posters, I walk about 3 miles on an average day, and frequently (2-3 times a week) take long walks with my boyfriend of between 5-6 miles. I do about 10-15 flights of stairs a day.

I was doing an hour of yoga a week until my studio closed. I haven't found a good replacement... a place where I feel comfortable and don't have to deal with the stares or attitudes of people who "disapprove" my weight.

I just traveled to Iceland and Amsterdam in August. It was a great trip and I did some hiking and biking. I don't require a seatbelt extender, and I don't flow into the seat next to me. In fact, I was not even touching the armrest between me and the next guy. I was not touching him in anyway. But he still asked to be move, I guess due to the new moral outrage of having to sit next to a fat person on a plane.

Last week I traveled home to see my parents (who are also fat) and we did a 17 mile bike ride.

Clothes are not a problem, while my section is more limited that someone who is not fat, there are a number of brick and mortar stores that I can shop, and an even bigger selection online.

Hygiene is simply not a problem. I don't need a stick to reach any part of my anatomy. I don't need to use any more deodorant than a normal person. Yes, I get "chub-rub" on my thighs, but plenty of people of various sizes experience that. And there are great anti-chafe products on the market.

I have an incredible boyfriend. He's average weight. We've been together two years and are talking about living together. Sex is incredible... with minimal adaptations being made, mainly the use of pillows as props in certain positions.

I have a great relationship with my doctor. She cares about my activity level, and my nutrition, but doesn't hassle me about my weight. At my last checkup in June, my cholesterol, BP, and EKG were all normal.

The main challenges in my life have little to with my physicality, and much more to do with the attitudes of other people that I encounter. Happily, I don't deal with many rude remarks, but I do get lingering looks of disapproval on occasion. I am looking for work right now (I have a masters degree, and am very well qualified in my field, and have incredible references). And I always have to wonder if my size has something to do with the reason I don't get the job. However, I am in the final round of interviews with two awesome international organizations, and hopefully one of those will come to fruition.

So there's my experience of "morbid obesity".
posted by kimdog at 7:08 AM on September 25, 2006

being ultra fat sucks balls. as someone up the thread said, when you're fat, you don't matter. your life is irrelevant to society as a whole.

you can't find stylish clothes that fit properly (lane bryant? please. you can't wear cropped sparkly things [which is all they sell these days] to work in real life).

people give you the look when they have to sit next to you on a bus or plane (the look that says 'your fat better not touch me') and have no problems getting all up in your space because you're taking up more of it.

people assume that because you're fat you're lazy and smelly and all those other stereotypes that float around.

people say rude offensive things to you. i can't tell you how many times complete strangers have either asked me if i'm pregnant, told me ' you don't need that' when in line at the quickie mart, blatantly told me i'm fat, or mock-whispered to their friends about how i fat i am.

i could go on and on.

i don't believe in that fat-positive propaganda. i know being fat is unhealthy and will kill me sooner rather than later. besides that, there's all the social negatives that surround being fat. fat, to me, is nothing but negative.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:12 AM on September 25, 2006

Well, according to this web definition of morbidly obese: "Persons who are 50-100% or 100 pounds above their ideal body weight," I think my mom qualifies. She's 5'8, around 260-280 pounds. She's tall for a woman, which means the fat is spread out over a greater height than it would be for most people. As a result, she's round all around without being roly poly.

She doesn't seem to have any trouble buying clothes or staying clean. She buys clothes at departments stores -- they all have plus size departments, you know. I think she sometimes also buys clothes at Lane Bryant or from what she calls "fat lady catalogs." She stays clean by taking showers every day (duh).

My mom was thin all her life until her early 40s, when she had a thyroid disease that resulted in rapid weight gain. She hasn't successfully been able to lose the weight, and I think the psychological toll has been tough. She enjoyed being skinny, and she's not crazy about being fat. If my dad wasn't clearly still crazy about her it might be a bigger issue.

There are a lot of health problems that have emerged for my mom as a result of her obesity, including: arthritis, knee and foot pain, sleep apnea. She's also experienced blood clots several times, which are likely genetic considering family history, but may also be linked to her weight gain.

My mom does eat a lot, and she eats a lot of processed foods. When she visits us, it's hard to keep up. I'm used to a small breakfast, a few snacks during the day, a small lunch, and a small dinner. She wants a big breakfast, big lunch, big dinner, dessert and hearty snacks throughout the day. Adding her dietary needs to my normally-two-person household's shopping list more than doubles our food costs.

My mom doesn't get any significant heart-thumping exercise at all, but she does go for one or two mile walks at least four or five times a week, maybe more. She has two energetic dogs, and they make sure of that. Despite the walking, she does still get out of breath pretty easily when she tries to exert herself.

Here's the last thing I can think of: Her sense of style has completely changed since she gained weight. When she dresses up (like she did for a recent wedding) she looks really nice, but for daily around-the-house stuff, she's started wearing these hideous cutesy sweatshirts. They all have tight waistbands and then billow out and make her look like a pumpkin. I'm not sure if we can really blame weight gain, though, or if it's more a combination of her sister's bad influence and my mom's encroaching old age that's done this to her.

As booksandlibretti's example shows, I think breast size has a lot to do with this for women. I had a friend who lost more than 10 pounds as a result of a breast reduction surgery and still had C-cups when it was over -- and she wasn't even overweight before the surgery. An overweight A-cup is going to be a verticle tube of chub, whereas an overweight D-plus-cup is going to look curvy and sexy.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:20 AM on September 25, 2006


There actually is a place that specializes in teaching scuba to larger folks:

Big Adventures.
posted by kimdog at 7:20 AM on September 25, 2006

How can weight be assessed if not with the BMI? (Serious question.)

(Responding here because B&L doesn't seem to have made an appearance in the MeTa thread) Try looking into the Waist-to-Hip ratio. The principle is that, for whatever reason, bodies that distribute fat around the hips are healthier than those that distribute it around the belly. I'm not sure if there's a goood medical explanation for why this is true, but I think the W-to-H ratio is coming along as an alternative to BMI measurement, or at least a check on it if your BMI results seem out of whack with your self-perception.

Anyway, if your doctor says you meet the definition of morbidly obese, then... well, I'm no MD. But you might want to discuss this with him and see if he's considered it in his diagnosis.
posted by rkent at 8:59 AM on September 25, 2006

I'm surprised to see a man post that obesity made feel like he didn't matter. From what I see the impact of obesity on men is modest; lots of big guys are very successful (in career and romance) and among the successful, the distribution of big guys to skinny guys doesn't seem markedly different from that of society at large. And the correllation / causation issue is going to make the relationship that much more diffuse (youthful athletic prowess implants lots of lifelong personality advantage, something that a fat guy is less likely to have experienced, but something that fatness didn't necessarily cause at all.)

The sports connection makes the impact of when someone got fat pretty important for men. But the impact of age of fatness is going to be critically important for women. A woman who got fat in her 40s is going to have virtually all of the personality traits of a skinny woman, a woman who was fat as a girl and a teenager definitely will not.
posted by MattD at 9:12 AM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have not lived as a fat woman in the west, but I have spent some time as a skinny woman in the Arab world, where the values of fat and skinny are reversed from what they are here in the west. It was very revealing, to me, of more subtle ways that disapproval manifests itself.

Being a skinny woman in the Arab world -- or, in the places I was -- meant that people looked at me as if my weight was offensive, as if it was their business, as if it was a serious moral failing, and I should have the decency to be ashamed to be out in public. (Imagine the way a conservative community would treat a woman who was dressing trampily.) Strangers would lean over from the next table to comment, with hand gestures and total seriousness, not good humor, on what I was eating, and would talk to each other (in Arabic) and look over at me, tsking and shaking their heads. People would move away from me in public places like queues, when they didn't move away from the more medium-weight women I was travelling with. Being a skinny woman is bad luck there, and people do not want to be near you, as if they can catch it from you.

I take it that this is the same kind of experience (with slightly different types of superstitions) as being a fat woman in the west; having always been in the socially-approved group (skinny), it was overwhelming to me to suddenly be in the socially-disapproved group. I was accustomed to be able to rely on people having basic good will towards me, so that women would be motherly and older men would be grandfatherly, watching out for me, interpreting my actions in the most sympathetic ways, etc... that was true for my travelling companions but not at all for me. It was horrible, and very eye-opening.

If you want to know what it's like psychologically to be in a disapproved group (and you haven't been in one before), try to get yourself in a position where you actually are.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:18 AM on September 25, 2006 [6 favorites]

In the realm of fiction you might avail yourself of Neil LaBute's "Fat Pig" if it ever becomes a movie or if a production comes near you. It's a great portrayal of a lot of the emotional reactions and social situations a morbidly obese person in the dating world. A friend of mine was cast in the lead in a local production here and my initial twinge of concern for her was more than completely offset after seeing the show - it's amazing how right it gets so many little things. The Post article/interview with Kate, above, also probably has a lot of the kinds of information you're asking about.

One fellow she had been seeing confessed to her, "I want to date someone who looks good in cute shorts in the summer."
posted by phearlez at 9:48 AM on September 25, 2006

There is a book called Passing for Thin by Frances Kuffel that begins by describing her life as a morbidly obese woman. I seem to remember that she discussed treatment by others, clothes, health, and so forth (for instance, she was afraid to quit a job with a horrendous boss for fear of not being hired elsewhere).

The rest of the book is about the process of losing weight and how her life changed afterwards.
posted by timepiece at 1:10 PM on September 25, 2006

What's it like being morbidly obese? Depressing. Embarrassing. Before I lost a load of weight, I went through what others have mentioned here: not wanting to eat in public; skin chaffing (all of my trousers wore out where my legs rubbed together); getting out of breath walking up stairs or hills; low self-esteem; virtually non-existant social life; poor choice of (expensive) clothes; sweating left, right and centre even when it was barely warm, a blood pressure that was described as "bordering on the dangerous" and more besides. In short: it was crap. I lost roughly 9 stone (might have been more but I didn't start to weigh myself at the beginning of my diet) and reduced my waist size by 12 inches. Pic if you're interested (the "taken on" date is wrong - the pic is about 3.5 years old)
posted by TheDonF at 1:16 PM on September 25, 2006 [2 favorites]

I'm a 5' 10" male, weighing in just above 300 lbs.

I personally have not been quite as bothered by my weight as some people. I don't think I look as fat as I actually am (based on what others tell me), and I've been overweight since a little kid, so I'm sort of used to it I guess.

The biggest problems I find in everyday life are things like trying to find clothes that fit (especially when tucking-in is needed) and are stylish. It's nearly impossible for me to find nice\trendy jeans, and at the very most, I can find XXL shirts, which just barely fit me enough that my gut isn't hanging out.

I find that a big barrier to dating women for me is just feeling unattractive and self-conscious. At times when I've gotten to know a girl, such that I wasn't just some fat guy, women have been pretty receptive to dating me, but it's hard for to take that first step.

Aside from that, society has made me well aware that I will likely live a much shorter, lower quality life than thinner people. I am also quite likely to develop diabetes at some point. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to blame my problem on society, those are just two facts of my life that I am aware of.

Lasty, one issue that I didn't see here was that thin people don't seem to understand what a major undertaking it is to lose upwards of 100 lbs. Online in particular, I see a lot of people making comments suggesting that fatty just needs to get up off his ass and stop eating so much. While that may be true, saying it that way is demeaning, and importantly, unsupportive.
posted by !Jim at 12:27 AM on September 26, 2006

If all it took were getting up off my arse and not eating so much, I would already be thin again.

Based on my previously successful 60kg loss experience, what's actually required to shed as much fat as I really need to is this: committing to an exercise regimen that leaves me feeling constantly tired for at least a year, and an eating regimen that leaves me constantly stomach-growling hungry for at least two years. The exercise gets easier - the hunger never does.

I have mustered the discipline required once. I am not quite ready to muster it again. I hope I will be, within another year; the older I get, the harder this is going to be.

As !Jim says, thin people just don't seem to understand the sheer bloody grind of the thing. I think this is probably because thin people have appetites that self-regulate properly. Mine doesn't, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

All the thin people I know just stop eating when they feel they've had enough. My body just doesn't seem to have a working "enough food" signal. If you feed me and a thin person the same amount of food, and we both stop when the thin person has had enough, I will usually not feel like I've had anywhere near enough, and will generally feel fully hungry again within twenty minutes.

Yes, I understand and can distinguish the difference between actual hunger and a simple desire to stick food in my gob.

Yes, I understand and can distinguish the difference between hunger and thirst.

Yes, I've played with the olive oil thing. No, it doesn't work for me. I like the taste of plain vegetable oil.
posted by flabdablet at 5:32 AM on September 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Fiction: Frank Miller's Hard Boiled.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 8:50 AM on September 26, 2006

... anything that makes life harder or just plain different than most.

I was recently turned down for health insurance because I don't meet the height and weight requirements.

(Obviously, from a business standpoint, they gotta do what they gotta do, so I get it, but that doesn't make it suck less.)
posted by Famous at 3:19 PM on September 26, 2006

Something that really bothers me is the assumption that anyone who is overweight is not taking care of him/herself, that a person can always lose weight if he/she really wants to. This assumes that a) the weight is not due to some medical problem, b) everyone who is fat must want to be thin, c) being fat = having no respect for oneself, having a death wish, being careless and lazy, and d) losing weight just happens if you work hard enough. None of these are necessarily true for any one person's situation, and c) is just patently stupid, a stereotype that any thinking person should feel ashamed for buying into.

As a single woman who is overweight but not obese, and has never really been bothered by her extra pounds, I can say that it is a rude awakening to read the online personal ads and see that men are only looking for "height/weight proportional" or "slim/slender/fit/athletic" women. Suddenly I am explicitly blocked out of a huge percentage of people's acceptable dating partners because I am round rather than angle-y. I almost dislike that feeling more than I hate the meat-market bar scene!
posted by gillyflower at 11:44 PM on October 18, 2006

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