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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Life as a skinny girl

Originally published April 29, 2006, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

As a rule, I don’t leave Tracy much. I grew up in a small community, and the mall is enough to keep me in town on weekends. Having a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods would almost guarantee I’d never leave, but such decisions are not for me to make.

Because I stick close to home, I don’t meet many people who don’t already know about me, either through this column or mutual friends. At the least, strangers know I’ve lost a significant amount of weight; at the most, they know I’ve had gastric-bypass surgery.

My recent trip to Virginia was the first time I was able to interact with people who had no clue of my history. It was a trip, in more ways than one.

My cousin (pictured above with me), who has been my biggest fan my whole life, treated me as she always has. She just kept pointing out all the things we were doing that we never would have done before, like trekking for miles around Washington, D.C., in the pouring rain without having to stop for me to catch my breath.

For her, my visit was profound because the rest of the world could see me for the person she had always seen hidden within a fortress of fat. She commented on my emerging confidence, my posture, my openness. And we spent a lot of time discussing my interactions with others.

Despite losing 175 pounds, I still have the emotional core of someone who is morbidly obese. I’ve always identified myself as a “big girl” with all the positives and negatives that accompany that label. It took 48 hours for me on this trip to realize how my perception of myself is quite different from that of others.

What was my first clue? Somebody made fun of fat people in front of me. Yup. You read that right; somebody actually made a rude comment about overweight people in my presence. I was so shocked that I couldn’t even speak.

At first, I got hot in face with embarrassment and rage. How dare somebody say such a thing to me and laugh? Did they have any idea who they were dealing with? And then the truth hit me like a ton of bricks: No, they didn’t. I looked down at myself and the people who had joined us for lunch and realized no one had any reason to see me as being different. Size-wise, I was average. There were a couple of people a little bigger than me, a couple of people about the same size as me and a couple smaller than me.

Looking at me, they couldn’t tell I used to be morbidly obese. They had no idea how offensive such a comment was to me. And, I’m ashamed to admit, I had no idea how to bring it up. I thought about a simple, “Uhh … that’s not cool,” comment, but what if the response was, “Why do you care? You’re not fat”? Should I say, “Yeah, well, I used to be, and comments like that still offend me”? Maybe, but I didn’t think I needed to be that blunt. The fact is that my past wasn’t their business. In hindsight, an appropriate response to such a challenge could have been, “Yeah, well I’m not black either, but racist jokes still offend me.”

I tried to shrug off the comment. It was a five-word sentence at most. And it was more a thoughtless comment than an outright insult. Thinking back, the rudeness was more inferred than implied. A woman made a comment about “fat chicks” being attracted to her husband and made an “uggh” sound to show her displeasure. But the fact is that if I had sat at that table a year ago, she never would have uttered the sentence.

The worst of it is that I’ve spent more time thinking about the comment than anybody else, particularly the speaker. Did I let it ruin my good time? No. But I did let it make me feel bad about myself. And I did because I have a secret fear. I am afraid that I will get so caught up in the new me and the positive attention this new body brings that I’ll forget who I used to be.

Those who have read my column from its inception know that I did not have gastric-bypass because I wanted to be thin. There were health problems that required drastic weight loss; if I thought there was another solution to those problems, I might have chosen a different path. Spending two decades dealing with morbid obesity shaped my character. As much as I cringe when I think of all the teasing and discrimination I suffered back then, those experiences are what led me to become the compassionate person I am today. For the most part, I like her. Sure, I’d like her to be a little more confident, maybe show a little more backbone at times, but she’s an all-around great person — imperfections and all.

I don’t ever want to lose my connection to my past, and my inability to speak on my own behalf at lunch that day made me feel it was slipping away.

In truth, I never would have been successful at losing weight over the last year if I had not changed. But it’s important to me that the “new Tonya” is a combination of the best parts of super-size Tonya and normal-size Tonya. I like to call it the “new normal,” in a whole new world.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Busy weekend

My week of R&R is shaping up to be quite busy. I may not have as much time to post here as I had planned.

Tonight is pretty open, but we're leaving for D.C. at 4 a.m. tomorrow to go to the Cherry Blossom Festival. We're driving to meet up with some friends in Maryland, and then we plan to take the Metro into D.C. After a day of blossom fanfare (grand parade, good eats and lots of music), we're hoping to catch a few winks before checking out nightlife in the city. On Sunday, we're going to see the landmarks and then drive back to Virginia. On Monday, we're going to check out Busch Gardens and other sights in Williamsburg. And I hope to get a few winks before flying out early Tuesday.

Bon voyage

Flying is definitely easier as a normal size person. It's not that I thought it would be otherwise, but part of me just thought flying was a pain for everyone.

After spending a day at airports (from San Jose to Dallas to Norfolk, Va.), I can categorically say the trip was like none I've ever experienced.

Though I could ramble on about differences noted throughout my journey, I think the most remarkable changes were felt on the plane. Not only did I have ample legroom in the coach cabin, but I had at least two inches of room on either side of me to spare in the seat. I didn't have the arm rests cutting into my hips. I didn't need to worry about crowding the passenger next to me.

Not needing a seat-belt extender made this trip so much more pleasant than my last. There is nothing more embarassing than having to ask a flight attendant for one and wait -- patiently -- while one is tracked down while nearby passengers glare at you for delaying takeoff.

Ooh...and let's not forget the tray table. Not only did it fully lower, it did so without touching my belly or thighs. I could actually cross my legs beneath it!

What to eat
The only real challenge was food. Most airlines no longer provide in-flight meals. That's not so bad for the average passenger. The sandwiches sold in airport cafes for $9 each are probably immensely better than what used to pass for food on the flight. But for someone who's had WLS, planning is essential.

I talked to other post-ops who are frequent flyers to get tips, and I must say I benefitted from their expertise. Everyone I spoke with agreed that the most important thing to do is pack protein-rich foods. Such foods would provide the necessary energy for a day of traveling, but also help keep me on track. After all, I wouldn't want to arrive at my destination too weak to have any fun.

I packed two cans of Snack & Slim pudding (each has 20g of protein and is sugar free), three sticks of string cheese (8g of protein each), two EAS AdvantEdge Carb Control protein bars (21g of protein each), one EAS AdvantEdge Carb Control RTD (15g of protein) and a scoop of IsoFruit protein cocktail mixed in 28 oz of water (21g of protein).

Traveling messes with my internal clock, and I wasn't sure what to make of my intermittent feelings of hunger. At some points, I felt like I was eating too much, others not enough. But in the end, I did OK. Unfortunately, I didn't pack enough for the return trip.

By midnight Wednesday, I had eaten one of the puddings, three cheese sticks, the EAS drink, one protein bar (eaten in two intervals) and about half of the IsoFruit cocktail (the cantaloupe-melon flavor is quite tasty). That accounted for about 90 grams of protein and roughly 650 calories.

Feeling parched
The one thing I didn't do well with is drinking water. Including the IsoFruit drink, I packed 60 oz of water. I'm supposed to drink 80 oz a day, but I thought 60 would be good enough. The problem is that I don't like to use the restroom on airplanes, and that encourages me to drink less water than I should. By the end of the day, I had only consumed about 30 oz of fluid...not good.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ready to fly

In just a little more than 24 hours, I'll be boarding a plane for the first time in five years. I'm looking forward to noticing the differences between traveling by air as a plus-sized woman and traveling in my new body.

I wouldn't exactly say I'm ready for the experience. I haven't packed yet. In fact, I still have to do a load of laundry before I can consider packing, and I have two more hours of work before I can even consider heading home. But once I'm on the plane, I'm sure it'll all be worth it.

Check back here periodically over the next few days; I plan to blog during my trip. Maybe I'll even figure out how to use a digital camera and post pictures of the sights I take in.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Who you callin' skinny?

Originally published April 1, 2006, in Our Town for the Tracy Press

Lately, a few well-meaning friends and acquaintances have taken it upon themselves to tell me that I should be done losing weight. Take the janitor at my office. About a month or so ago, she exclaimed that I was too skinny.

“You have no legs,” she cried when she saw me, and then she asked if I was going to lose any more weight. I told her that I would, that I was still considered overweight. “Your doctor can say what he wants, but doctors don’t know everything,” she said. “To me, you are too skinny and you need to stop losing weight.”

This is funny, because according to the body-mass index, I’m at the high end of being overweight. I would have to lose more than 30 more pounds to be at the high end of normal. I mentioned this to my doctor when I was trying to pin her down on a goal weight for me last week at my one-year follow-up.

Aside from refusing to give me a magic number — “I’d rather you settle into a healthy permanent lifestyle and let your weight stabilize from there” — she pondered what makes people feel they can butt into the business of others.

“You know, nobody ever goes up to an obese person and says, ‘Whoa, you’re too fat; you must lose weight.’”

She’s right. What is it that makes the average, polite, tactful person say rude, insensitive things to those who are nearing their weight-loss goals? Or is the person doing the losing just too thin-skinned? I think there are a variety of answers to the questions, but what I think isn’t always correct, so I posed the question in an e-mail to some people I know in the surgical weight-loss community to see what they thought on the subject.

Theresa White of West Virginia had Roux-En-Y gastric bypass in 2003, and she remembers getting the same type of comments when she was about 30 pounds from goal.

“It was usually people who weighed about 120, and sometimes, I wondered if they were just jealous or afraid I would get smaller than they were,” she wrote back. “I just tried not to let it bother me. But it did bother me. It made me wonder how they could think I was so small, yet I still had several pounds to go.”

But Theresa was quick to point out that these hurtful comments didn’t deter her from her goal. Instead, they just made her think a little differently about it.

“Goal for me was no longer a number; it was to be healthy and look healthy.”

Rhonda Velasquez of Tennessee is waiting for weight-loss surgery, but she wrote that she’s experienced the same attitudes from people when she’s lost weight in the past.

“Men never told me I was too skinny, but I noticed women had no trouble discussing my size or weight.”

I have to admit that, like Rhonda, I’m not getting “too skinny” comments from men. Only other women say such things. But I wonder if they are really malicious.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that nobody in my life has ever seen me as thin as I am today. I have always been obese. If I had lost 167 pounds over the course of two or three years, those around me would have had more time to adjust to the new me. And for those who don’t see me every day, the new me can be truly shocking compared to the me of a year ago or more.

To be honest, being called skinny is something I could get used to. It’s a novelty to me, and I believe most people who say it know that and do it to make me feel good. But it also reminds me to pay attention. I don’t want to get so enamored of being thin that I go into dangerous territory and risk my health.