The Pain of Living Overweight
In her new book, Best Friends Forever, Jennifer Weiner’s heroine, Addie Downs, remembers all too well the years that she spent overweight, heavy, fat, and obese. Addie filled the ever present void in her life by stuffing herself with all of her favorite foods, late at night, when everyone was asleep, after being so “good” all day. She would eat very carefully during her waking hours, going to school, holding her head as high as she could among the whispers, stares, and demeaning hollers and laughs. Her best friend, Valerie, was of course, tall, thin, blonde, and as if that wasn’t hard enough, a cheerleader. Addie finally hit “rock bottom’ when she sat alone in a booth in a diner, having gone in for just a warm slice of apple pie. She withstood the stares and insults of a young boy in the next booth, whose mother jumped at the opportunity to insult Addie by way of answering her son’s innocent question about why “that woman is so fat”? After enduring the torture of having to extricate herself from the booth after getting stuck, Addie begins her life anew. She has had “enough”, and wakes up the next day with the committment and motivation of a woman who knows this is her very last chance.
Addie changes her life. She starts by throwing away all the junk food in her house. She begins an exercise program, and eats the same three balanced, healthy meals for months on end. It is all worth it, because Addie loses weight. She begins to live the life she has only dreamed about; shopping in regular stores for her clothes, being able to walk up a flight of stairs without losing her breath, and, what may be her greatest wish; moving through life without being stared at; blending in. And even though Addie is a fictional character, her story is a real one. Many people have reached their breaking point and turned their life around, chosen to take a different course. They have committed to changes, again, for the tenth or twentieth, or fiftieth time, and at last been able to persevere as the weight on their bodies and and on their mind begins to disappear. However, every day, millions of people are tormented by the physical and mental strain of living with obesity. While stories such as Addie’s are unfolding all the time, so many are barely getting through their days, tortured by the shame, embarrassment, and hopelessness of being overweight. So many have “hit rock bottom”, and hit that rock so many times and so long ago, that they barely remember what it feels like to live any differently.
When we go to a restaurant, and notice an obese person, or family, eating what we consider to be “bad”, or “fattening”, without a doubt those people feel the stares, hear the comments, whispers, and they are praying for an end to their nightmare. Food may be providing the only joy they have felt that day, week, or their entire life. And while they take up more space than cars, doorways, and theater and airplane seats allot, all they really want to do is disappear. These people are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children. They need friends, and they need understanding. The strength to change and to endure all that is required to lose and maintain a healthy weight will come. There is a top, and light, shining on every “rock bottom”. Rock bottom isn’t always a sudden event. It is a slow, gradual sinking. And the climb out may be slow, and gradual, too. Every day is another opportunity to take a step or two of that climb. And every day is another opportunity to help someone, smile instead of stare, share in their joy, wherever they find it.