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Saturday, December 11, 2004

Drastic measures for drastic times


Originally published Dec. 11, 2004, in the Tracy Press.

Few souls would embark on a weight-loss plan in the middle of the holiday season.

Fewer still would do so publicly, as I’m about to do. My journey is different from many in that I’m opting for a drastic solution to my weight problem — gastric-bypass surgery. Contrary to the belief of some, including myself at first, deciding to go under the knife is not an easy choice to make. In fact, it’s the hardest decision I’ve ever made. But I’ve come to realize it’s the only choice I have.

For me, this isn’t about fitting into a certain size or looking good in a bikini. Two decades of obesity has ensured that I will never look good in a bathing suit. This is about my health. I have been overweight for as long as I can remember. My size was encouraged. I remember being praised by the school lunchroom attendant for always eating all of my food. The idea of “bigger is better” was ingrained in my family. I was praised when I gained weight or outgrew a size. I was a happy kid with a bulging belly and chunky thighs.

By the third grade, I weighed 111 pounds. It didn’t occur to me that anything was wrong with that until a teacher asked if I wanted her to remove my weight from the classroom biographical chart. I had no idea until I saw that chart that most of my classmates weighed 60 to 70 pounds. Of course, that’s about the time that playing tag and hide-and-seek stopped appealing to me. I preferred instead to read books during recess or trade Garbage Pail Kids cards with my friends. I was teased a lot, but those memories are vague. As an only child, I didn’t have any siblings to motivate me to be active, either. It was just me and my mom — who was overweight herself — keeping each other company. By the fifth grade, I was about 5 feet tall and weighed 199 pounds. That weight on a 21-year-old woman equates to a body mass index of 38 — or severely obese.

If my life has been a war with obesity, the fifth grade is when I first engaged in battle.

By this time, I understood that I looked different than other kids. I couldn’t buy the same clothes in the same stores as the cool kids, and keeping my ever-expanding body in clothes was an expensive endeavor at best. I made up my mind that I would not gain any more weight. I almost succeeded. I did fairly well maintaining my weight from fifth grade through high school, graduating at about 205 pounds.

I wish I could say the same about my college years. By the time I graduated from college, I had packed on another 100 pounds doing nothing in particular — though I’m sure my stints working in fast food and my own casual dining didn’t help. Five years later, I’ve added even more to my 5-foot, 4- inch frame. My body mass index, or BMI, is now 56, well above being morbidly obese.

According to the BMI chart on ObesityHelp, I’m “super obese.” Maybe I should buy a cape and some queen-size tights.

Any way you look at it, I’ve been severely obese for 20 years. The problem is that the consequences have finally begun to catch up with me. I have high blood pressure, bad knees, a bad hip and problems with fluid retention — and I’m only 27.

I’ve tried just about every diet and exercise program on the market, with minimal success.Even after trying — and failing — each program, I still didn’t feel like I had tried everything. I figured my failures were symptoms of a greater character flaw. I would tell myself that once I was truly fed up with the weight, I would find a method, stick to it and be able to be fit and healthy, once and for all.

That day of being fed up finally came earlier this year, though not in the way I expected. I imagined it would come after I had children and was frustrated with lugging around babies and “baby weight.” But instead it came in an OB/GYN’s office when I was diagnosed with obesity-r-elated infertility.That’s when my weight stopped being about me, and I realized how my battle with obesity affected those around me, particularly my husband and our future family.

Obesity-related infertility isn’t uncommon. Stored fat also holds stored estrogen, and when you have lots of stored fat, all that estrogen confuses your reproductive system.

Doctors can prescribe drugs to trick the body into ignoring the excess estrogen or force the body to ovulate. Or they can perform artificial insemination and fertilization procedures.

But to me, it just doesn’t make sense to combat this obesity-related hormone imbalance with more hormones. All of those prescriptions and procedures seem more like a Band-Aid than anything else.

After all, if getting my fertility back — if I ever had it to begin with — is as simple as losing weight, why not just solve the basic problem of obesity?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tonya:
Saw you on camera at the Political Forums. Wow, what a new you. Good job, by the way.

Thanks.