I am sitting on a plane, heading to LAX. Even the three letters seem glamorous. Heading to Los Angeles to appear on Ask Oprah’s Allstars. I am being interviewed, on a stage, by Dr. Phil himself. We are talking about the challenges with dating after weight loss. I have a hotel on Hollywood Blvd. I have a driver and a dress in size 8. It seems remarkable that I am sitting here, in this plane seat, just grateful that the seat belt goes around me. It fits around this new body. I don’t need to tighten it but I do, just because I can.
I remember. I remember the embarrassment of asking for a seat belt extension over 10 years ago, the last time I was on a plane. It is the fear of every obese person, having to ask for bigger thing – outside of normal, just like the large blood pressure cuff, the seat belt extension….. the 4XL thong. The fear of the scary truth that lurks in the look of disgust from the person beside you as you squeeze sideways to your seat on the plane. The person beside you with the cartoon bubble over their head that says “Oh great! I get the fat person”. They see you coming and you can see the shift of disappointment on their face as if you were carrying a crying infant with a dirty diaper. Their polite smile is thinly veiled with what may be notes of sympathy. We fat people can see it. We know that you loathe us, that you fear being near us. We know we annoy you when we spill over onto your seat. We would rather not. You experience a lot of these kinds of reactions when you are fat. You see it, mostly in the eyes.
If only they knew that I never wanted to be fat. I wanted to be “normal”, to shop at the Gap, to go on rides at the fair – arms in the air thinking only of the experience and not the burden of my weight. I couldn’t stop eating. They don’t understand that my desire to eat, my cravings, were just not nudges, gluttony or vague desires but rather a compulsion, like being driven at knife-point to “the food”.
The quiet, academic-looking man at the window seat smiles and I smile back. He has a book on his lap about the environment. I resist saying to him “Hi, I’m not fat”.
I haven’t travelled in over 10 years. Travelling when fat is not fun. The plane ride stuff, the forced skin exposure, the feeling even fatter after eating enough for a family of five at the all-you-can-eat-buffet. Then add to that the hot climate and physical discomfort. Walking around shopping is not an option; Thighs chaff, knees hurt, hip hurts, sweaty folds of fat and having to stop several times to rest. You would have rather been alone, safe from the judgement. The beach is like a new version of hell for a fat person. The beach is meant for “normal-sized” people. It is offensive to them when you try to join in. You can see them all thinking “beached whale” as you try to find a spot on the beach. For you peace and relaxation doesn’t exist here. For you it is in the safe rhealm of your bedroom, and the comfort of “the food”.
I remember my last binge, they say it’s important. It was 4 years and two months ago. It was take-out pizza, garlic bread, chicken wings and some dessert bread complete with icing. I was watching Oprah. They were talking about food addiction and obesity. I watched with half interest, as if I was mildly drunk.
Looking back, I was at rock bottom then. I was 320 lbs . I had lost my 30’s to obesity. Had not had a date in 10 years. I was wearing a size 4XL. 5XL was looming and I knew what came next. 6x is a new bottom, after that even shopping in my city was not possible. I would be sentenced to the freaky fat store in Toronto that went up to 12XL. From there it is “we’ll have to bury you in a piano case” stuff. Sometimes I would drive down the highway and see a place where I could imagine myself driving off the edge. I would go through the possible outcome in my my mind. Would I die or would they put me on IV where I could lose weight? Sometimes I would imagine cutting the fat off of my body. I had lost who I was and I had become a vessel needing to be fed. A shell of a person neither seeing nor feeling. My life had become the quest of “the food”.
On the Oprah Show somebody stands up as I dip my bread into icing, and she says “if you have a problem with food, if you can’t stop on your own – you need help. You can’t do it alone”. It may not sound too profound but for whatever reason the words went right to the core of me. They hit the centre. I heard the words, crisp and clear. Like what Oprah describes the “light bulb moment”.
For 10 years I had been getting up in the morning and saying “today’s the day” and for 10 years I went to bed saying “I will try again tomorrow”. Don’t tell me I don’t have willpower. I went back against this disease every day but my food addiction won.
I heard the words and it lead me to action. That very night I went to a support group for compulsive eating. At first it was just more people to hate, like I hated myself. Some of them were fat (some weren’t). I compared my thighs to the woman beside me, I judged everyone in the room. I thought with typical food addict arrogance. “I will show these losers how it’s done”. I bought all the books. I was arrogant, but willing. I was teachable. I was desperate enough to admit I didn’t have all the answers, that what I was doing for ten years wasn’t working, I was on my knees. My weight brought me to my knees and a little voice that was buried deep down in my own darkness said, “I want to live”.
I became “abstinent” from excess food within a few days. I was doing what others who had recovered told me to do. It was based on a 12-step based approach, much like Alcoholics Anonymous. I learned that I needed a few things to change and to have a better life outside of the food. I needed to be honest. To be willing to face the truth about myself and my situation. I also needed to be open-minded to a new and unique approach that was the opposite of dieting. Finally, I had to be willing. Willing to try something new and that was average. Extreme dieting and extreme eating didn’t work but for some reason I didn’t trust “average”. The program taught me how to find and use “average” as a way out of this, what I believe to be a “disease”.
Slowly, day by day my life began to change. It was like suddenly, the sky was bluer and music sounded better. Even colours and smells were more apparent. As my body size decreased I wanted to go for long walks on the waterfront.
And, in two years. Eating a moderate, healthy food plan. I lost 160 lbs.
I sat on the plane on the way to Los Angeles thinking about how remarkable it was that I was sitting here with my legs crossed, and choosing to say no to the little bag of peanuts. Choosing the miracle of life over the pain caused by excess food.
It seems ironic that I am heading on a plane to Oprah’s Allstars – only 4 years after my last binge. If only I could tell her what a difference that one show made, not only in my life, but in the lives of everybody around me. Today I am able to support others in their recovery from food addiction. I have people I sponsor and many people who find hope when I speak in public, sharing my story. I have become “useful” and some even view me as a role model. What a gift to be able to inspire change in a person. To be an example of life outside of the bondage of food. Being useful might be the biggest gift of all.
My goal on the show was to offer some hope to those who suffer with obestity. I prayed that morning in my hotel room “God make me useful to one person today”. I was nervous and my goal was reduced to “just survive it”. When Dr. Phil walked across that stage and said “Hi, I’m Dr, Phil” I think I left earth for a moment. I don’t even remember what I said but I will find out when it airs mid-October. He gave me some good advice and he told me I am a “beautiful woman”, me!?!. I could live on that compliment for a long time.
Today I woke up and ran my hand down my flat stomach and thought about what to wear. The choices seemed endless. I felt full of hope as I asked for help to be abstinent just for today. My recovery comes first in my life, without question.
As my progam teaches me we have to want it more than we need it. Desire is more powerful than fear in provoking change.
And, for today. I want it.