If you had seen me 10 months ago you might have mistaken me for a skinny girl. At 5’3 (on a good day) and 130 pounds, I had narrow hips, hollow cheeks, a defined chin and neck, thin arms, and my legs didn’t rub together when I walked. My stomach didn’t protrude and my clothes glided over my body. I could fold myself into a chair the way you are “supposed” to and I had a long neck and cute little crinkles in the corners of my eyes and mouth when I smiled. But...you would have been mistaken.
In August of 2014, I had to re-start medication to control my autoimmune disease. I took Prednisone for about 3 weeks, CellCept for a couple of months and then, after my White Blood Cell counts dropped, I underwent three months of IVIG infusions. In the process I re-gained over 30 pounds in 5 months. Weight-gain that was completely uncontrollable and, honestly, feels completely unfair. I now have a puffy face, distended tummy, and look swollen everywhere else.
I say “regained” because over the course of the two previous years, from a combination of going into remission from my disease, weaning off of all the medications, eliminating gluten and eating a whole foods or “JERF- Just Eat Real Foods” diet I had dropped the weight that had plagued me my entire adult life due to the roller coaster of medication, sickness and inability to exercise.
My frustration lies in the fact that I have been back off of all medications for four months and haven’t lost a pound; I am still eating pretty much the way I was for those two years of weight loss, with some slight deviations (but not 30 pounds worth of deviations). I feel pretty good in spite of having a couple of minor respiratory infections. But I can’t shake the feeling, albeit irrational, that somehow I have failed by re-gaining the weight. I know at 5’3 and 162 I am not morbidly obese, but it is certainly not healthy, either.
This last week has been especially hard. There was a local physical trainer who did some major public “fat shaming” of someone he saw at a MLB baseball game. He thought she was a nuisance because of her size. He judged her for all that she ate. He blogged a picture of her and made fun of her in the interest of “encouraging others.” It hurt me for her, and myself, to read it. I think of the glances I have perceived myself getting from people and the times I have wanted to crawl into a hole. I notice that few of my clothes are fitting right now, even the ones from before my weight loss. I have experienced the well-meaning, pointed questions from loved ones, from, “Wow, you look different, is everything okay?” To the less gentle, “Have you gotten bigger?”
People whose chronic conditions have caused them to lose control of their body wish others understood that we never know what someone else is going through. Judging someone based on their weight, how they look or anything else is just so short-sighted. The thing that is most important to us is being healthy, our body image and weight cannot be our first concern, but at the same time, we are not unaware that we look different than we used to. That we have gained (or lost) too much weight, that we have rashes that are out of control, that we walk differently, tire out too soon and or cause inconveniences for our families; these are all things of which we are aware. We want to be normal and are doing our best. And yes, I really want to look like that skinny girl again, but until then, I am content with being larger, but healthy.
So the next time you see someone who looks “fat” on the outside, instead of staring at them as they struggle to walk, close your eyes and send them love and empathy for the struggle that you cannot see. There is likely more to the story than meets the eye.
**I talk extensively about how to love your body in all circumstances, in my book The Marvelous Transformation: Living Well With Autoimmune Disease. One of the most important things I have found is: when I get upset I replace the negative emotion with gratitude for the hard work my body is doing to stay healthy. This helps me to accept where I am in the moment.