A month ago, I went on a week-long vacation through multiple state and national parks. It was an amazing vacation. Jason and I had lots of fun and saw incredible things. We were active, outdoors, and having adventures.
But this is the social media side of vacation. The happy photos. The triumphant photos. What this doesn’t show is the struggles. The difficulty of doing these things in a large body. The fear when you don’t know if you’re going to make it back up out of that chasm you just climbed down into. The need to stop to gulp in air even though it feels like you’re hardly moving. The pain of sore feet, the ache of an overworked heart, the flushed skin and joint stiffness that gets worse the longer you go.
I’m being facetious here, putting up the unflattering photos to contrast the first set, but this IS the reality. In reality, lowering yourself onto a sled without just plopping onto your butt while the sand shifts around you is HARD when your body is very heavy and your joints are stiff and your boobs block your ability to see your feet. Trying to climb up a mountain, even with a gradual elevation, makes your heart race and your lungs gasp. Hip stiffness and belly fat make it difficult to lift your leg high enough to climb up that four-foot-high boulder. Your feet and back HURT when you “walk” (aka mostly stand) as you leisurely make your way around the 1.5-mile path through caves. In reality, when you realize you’ve chosen poorly on your first hike in a week of adventures, you start choosing the safer, easier trails even though you really want to go with the fun, life-changing paths. (And this doesn’t even begin to discuss the psychology and cultural biases and medical care issues – that’s an entirely different issue!)
It’s very disheartening, and it’s not just while on vacation or trying to exercise. Feet hurt when you need to stand in line for a long time. (And yeah, this happens at all sizes, but I’ve been every size within a 100-lb range in the last decade alone, and I can tell you it’s MUCH WORSE the heavier you get.) Excess fat and skin get in the way of everything. When you’re big-chested like me, your breasts get in the way even when you’re thin, but it’s particularly bad at this size. It takes an incredible amount of strength just to move the excess weight on your body around, and stay mobile. If you aren’t at a BMI considered “morbidly obese” (BMI of 40+), figure out what that weight would be for you and then try to carry around the difference between that weight and your current body weight. For me, I carry a lot of that weight on my upper back and shoulders because of the way my body is built. So imagine slinging that extra weight, whether it’s 20 lbs or 100 lbs, across your shoulders and then hiking up a mountain. It’s tough. And yet that’s every day of my existence as a larger-bodied person.
The above collage is from a year ago, before the weird medication from my ex-doctor caused me to start gaining weight again. I weighed 30 lbs less in those photos, which are a combination of both flattering and unflattering so that it’s not just the highlight reel. Before a year ago, I’d kept at that same weight and those same measurements for about 4.5 years, since the weird 18-month gain of 75 lbs that no doctor could explain. (It abruptly ended in March 2016, out of no where, with no changes on my part, the same way it began.) And at that weight I maintained for 4.5 years, things weren’t always comfortable. My feet did tire faster, my body was less mobile than I liked, my joints hurt from time to time, etc. But I didn’t also hesitate to climb trails with heavy elevation, or scramble up high boulders, or run for miles in my local park. I’d worked hard to build the strength to support that size of body, since no matter what I did, I couldn’t decrease my size or weight.
I am intimately familiar with a very large weight range on my body. I can tell you exactly what weight line I cross when people treat me like a human being (under the line) or not (above). I know the line where back pain from my breasts increases/decreases significantly. I know where my body feels healthiest (and hey, I’m still considered “overweight” at this (pictured) size by BMI and doctors), and every spot on the scale at which my body holds onto weight for awhile as it physically adjusts to loss or gain. I know at which weight I begin to struggle with hormone issues and hypoglycemia. And I know the weight at which everything in my body spins wildly out of control. That last one comes about 8 lbs higher than where I was a year ago, and about 10 lbs under what is considered “morbidly obese” for my body. This is when my liver enzymes, cholesterol, glucose, estrogen, blood pressure, and heart rate start to go out of whack. Because believe it or not, I was perfectly healthy in those photos from a year ago, despite being obese. And I am NOT healthy now, no matter how well I eat or how much I exercise.
Here’s the thing. I want to lose weight – or more accurately, size. If I replace fat weight with muscle weight and get smaller, that’s fine. The weight on the scale isn’t the important part. Anyway. I want to get smaller. I want to be able to get on an airplane again without fear of the difficulty squeezing into a seat. I want to be able to see my feet when I look down. I want to run or hike difficult trails without destroying my heart or joints or feet. I want to be able to shop in regular stores for clothes. I want to stop having conversations about my size (with myself, and with others). I want to FEEL GOOD again. None of this is about a goal weight. Sure, it would be nice to lose 100 lbs and be back to where my body feels best, like in the above picture. But if I lost 70 lbs and my body was in good health and shape (photo with green shirt), I’d be good with that. Hell, I could lose 30 lbs and be back to where I was a year ago and I’d be much, much happier – and healthier.
Unfortunately, no amount of wishing and wanting is going to change what my body is doing. And also unfortunately, no amount of doing all the things you’re supposed to do to lose weight is going to change what my body is doing, either. When something is wrong inside my body, it no longer acts like a body. Doctors can tell me all they want that it’s “impossible” for me to gain weight while on a medication that makes me eat less than 1000 calories a day, or when my large intestine is so inflamed that everything I eat goes right through me within an hour for weeks on end. “Impossible” isn’t a word my body knows. My body holds up a Go to Jail Do Not Pass Go Do Not Collect $200 card if something has gone wrong inside it, and until I figure out The Thing That Is Wrong, weight loss = the only kind of “impossible” my body will recognize.
And this is frustrating as all hell, because I don’t know what tf to do about it. I can eat well, track my food, exercise regularly, blah blah blah, but nope, nothing I do changes a damn thing. This has me angry and hopeless and determined and despairing all at once. I feel like I’m bouncing around in an ever-shrinking room and can’t find a way out.
So I keep going to doctors. In the next month, I’m scheduled for an endoscopy, biopsy, colonoscopy, thyroid ultrasound, and fibroscan, in addition to my regular lab work. Soon I’ll also finally see the rheumatologist I scheduled with all the way back in April, as well as a urogynecologist. It’s possible food allergy tests will be performed alongside the plethora of GI procedures (that will all come the week before Thanksgiving, yay?), and if not, it’s back to the allergist for those. I can’t even begin to count the number of doctors, specialists, and procedures I’ve had done in 2021. With no results whatsoever so far. Sigh.
But you know, I just have to keep going. Keep eating well, keep exercising, trying to build strength and prevent injury, keep going to doctors, keep seeking answers, keep looking for the key that will unlock my body’s ability to be a body again. All the while trying to manage that emotional bouncing chamber that keeps shrinking around me.