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The Teeter-Totter of Weight Bias

DssButton2FB2-150x150As a Weight Loss and Wellness Coach, I often use the illustration of a teeter-totter when sitting down with a new client to go over the theory of “calories in, calories out” and to explain the importance of putting good fuel in our bodies to support vigorous activity.

As I lay in bed restless tonight, I am thinking about an article I read about people who sit on both sides of the spectrum of weight bias. That is, those who know what it’s like to be overweight and struggle with obesity but are not anymore and now live as people of so-called normal size.

In thinking about this strange predicament, that image of a teeter-totter resurfaced.

 

Being the Chubby Kid

As a victim of emotional, physical, verbal and sexual abuse in my childhood, my mind is my playground. My imagination was my escape mechanism from the time I was very small child. As I grew older, food became my friend, confidant and lover. Before I even realized it, my escape into food had pushed me into the furthest reaches of the weight spectrum.

From as young as five years old, I recall being the chubby kid that nobody wanted to pick for dodge-ball and the target of weight biased jokes. “Fatty Fatty two by four she can’t fit through the kitchen door” is one of the first childhood rhymes I remember the “mean kids” chanting at me.

I remained the largest child in my class long into high school. That fact affected my relationships with both girls and boys alike. I was an unpopular outcast who got teased and ridiculed. In the sixth grade, I became the target of a school bully – shocking, considering that the bully was a boy very much in the same predicament as me.

He was heaviest boy in our class, endless teased himself, and in reaction he started punching me as his way of lashing out. One day, after he shoved me out of the lunch line and into a wall, I asked him one day with tear-filled eyes, “Why do you pick on me?” His answer was to punch me in the stomach. Confused and bewildered, that night I asked my father “Why do they hate me so much?”

His reply: “Because you’re different and unique and sometimes that scares people or makes them jealous and people do some really mean things when they are scared or jealous. They make fun of the thing that makes you different because it’s the only thing they have to justify their feelings.”

 

A Traumatic Adolescence

As I got older, this life lesson followed me as I grew in age and, unfortunately, also in size. As the bullying continued, I continued to question why people seemed to hate me so much. I also developed coping mechanisms to deal with it with what I felt was an inevitable fact. I was overweight, actually now I was plagued with obeisty.

So I became sexually active. I dressed in all black. The other kids called me “goth” and considered me uncool for it. I began to cut myself and the other kids accused me of doing it simply for attention. I cried myself to sleep at night, wondering why nobody understood me. I wasn’t doing any of these things for attention, but to try to feel better.

Sleeping with boys made me think someone loved and cared for me. Dressing in black, I thought, was figure flattering. I cut myself because when I got to a point where I was emotionally numb, the pain reminded me that I was still alive. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to win. The more I tried to survive, the more the bullies tried to push me underwater.

I did have a few brave moments when I stuck up for myself. One time a girl in my class took a note I had written to a boy we both liked and she photocopied it, passing it around for lots of other kids to see. I confronted her, asking why she hated me so much. Her answer was sharp and simple: “Because you are fat and ugly.” With nothing to lose I challenged her, demanding to know, “Why do you care that I’m fat?” She had no response.

I was fifteen at the time and I had spent nearly a decade – most of my life at that time – being  of the victim of weight bias, bullying and fat shaming.

 

Coming of Age

When I finally decided to take my life back from obesity, I was shocked that my true battle was to stop seeing myself as a victim and learning to see myself as a survivor. From there I learned to live, to thrive and strive. I’m proud to say I lost my weight, I have won that round in my fight against obesity. In this victory I told myself, “I will never again be defined or disliked by the number that shows up on the scale or the way my body looks.”

But oh how wrong I was. Because I hadn’t learned yet that in the world of weight bias, there was a teeter-totter – and a whole different end of the spectrum.

I’m new to the world of being slender. It’s ironic how hard I fought to get here – thinking if I did I’d win my battle – only to find new battles to fight and new demons to face! Body image issues took their toll on me, and I found myself associating the extra skin that hung from my body with my former abusers and the emotional addiction that perpetuated my obesity for so long.

To help free myself of the remnants of that past, I turned to reconstructive plastic surgery. I fought with body dysmorphia – that is, not being able to see the true image of myself in the mirror. I also felt haunted by “ghosts of the past,” the people whose behavior drove me to inflict so much harm on myself.

I beat myself up emotionally when the number on the scale, along with the Body Mass Index, told me that despite the fact that I’d lost more than 250 lbs, I was still “overweight.” I allowed that emotional self-abuse to hinder where I wanted to go in life and who I wanted to be. I put off my career in the weight loss, wellness and fitness industry because I thought I needed to be perfect before I could help others fight obesity.

Thankfully around this time of my life I found an organization called the Obesity Action Coalition, an organization that fights weight bias through education and empowerment. I got the amazing opportunity to attending their inaugural “Your Weight Matters Convention” in 2012. There I was able to sit at a “Lunch with the Experts” table with Dr. Robert Kushner, M.D. who helped me realize that neither the BMI nor an extra 5-10 pounds of weight loss was going to change how effective I could be or how inspirational my story would be to those that employed me seeking help in their weight loss journey.

Over the past three years, my membership to the OAC has taught me more than I can ever write in one article. It has also given me the courage to stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and weight discrimination whenever I see them.

You’ll understand the irony, then, when I tell you that it was at the third “Your Weight Matters” Convention this month in Orlando, Fl. that I discovered for the first time that I would battle weight bias no matter where I fall in the weight spectrum.

 

A New Day, A New Battle

Without going into the details (and perpetuating a lot of drama), I found out that someone had made a very harsh and superficial judgment about me based on this new body I’m working so hard to love.

I have to say I was shocked when I first found that out. Part of me thought it was a joke. But over the past three years of being in the weight loss community there seems to be a recurring cycle of drama and bullying. I’ve seen individuals targeted and shut out. I’ve seen others discouraged from associating with those so-called outcasts and I’ve heard from people who felt pressured to alter themselves and their friend lists just to fit in – or at least to prevent themselves from being the next victim. I’ve heard stories and recounts of this sort of behavior that predate my own presence with this community.

It puzzled me at first, how a group of people who have fought such similar battles – and have had such similar experiences with bullying, weight bias and stereotyping – could behave that way. You would think our common experiences would bond us together in a united front, make us join arms and rally for the same cause and empower us to support one another. After all, we’re all fighting the same fight against a disease that impacts more than 93 million people in our country.

But there I was facing a situation I had been through so many times. The fact that I was on the other side of the spectrum didn’t make it any less hurtful. I found myself once again asking that question, “Why do they hate me so much?” Apparently, now it’s because I’m skinny and my breasts are too big.

The shock I felt at that moment is about the same as the shock I felt when plastic surgeon told me that there wasn’t enough fat left on my body to perform the procedure I was asking him to do. My jaw hit the floor.

Never in my whole life did I think people would dislike me for being “too thin.” I won’t even touch the ridiculousness of the comments about my breasts.  After taking a moment to recover from that information, I asked, “Don’t you find it a little hypocritical that we’re sitting here at a convention that fights weight bias and weight stigma and that we protest judging and shaming people for the size of their body, the number on scale and their outward appearance and yet, that is exactly what I am apparently being judged for?”

 

Balancing Your Core

The answer to that question made me angry. Yes, it is ironic. It’s stupid really. And it needs to stop. I’ve sat on this experience for a few weeks now. I’ve dissected it to figure out what lesson it was supposed to teach me. Now, as I lay in bed tonight with that image that teeter-totter in my head, I’ve finally sorted out what I want to say.

While I was in Orlando, I met with a remarkable woman named Melinda Watman, the chair of the Weight Bias committee of the Obesity Action Coalition. I explained to her why I’m so passionate about fighting weight bias, why I wanted to be a part of OAC’s Weight Bias Committee and why the OAC’s Bias Busters programs calls to me.

Every year that I attend the OAC’s convention something absolutely life changing happens to me and I learn something I would never have had the chance to learn otherwise. This year, I learned that there is two very different sides to weight bias and that each of them are equally stigmatizing. I also learned that stigma, in general, is a lot less traumatizing when you have a solid foundation and a strong perception of your core strengths and beliefs.

Because when I was told that some people didn’t like me because they thought I was too thin or they thought my breasts were too big, I didn’t react the way I did so many years ago. I didn’t crawl into the solitude of my room and weep. Instead, I stood firm in my convictions and called it for what it was: weight bias.

The truth is, neither the size of my body nor the size of my breasts define who I am. When I am gone and the winds have called my name for the last time, neither of them are what the world is going to remember me for. In fact, I rather hope that the only numbers in my eulogy are the years I existed in the world. Instead, I hope to be remembered for the person that I am and the way I lived my life.

As an exercise instructor, my class and I stand in front of the mirror constantly moving our bodies in an effort to improve them. There are days I like what I see, and there are some days I don’t. But at the end of each day, the only person that has to like my reflection is me.

So if you ask me what I took away from the OAC “Your Weight Matters” 2014 Convention this year, my answer is very simple, I took away not only the education, but also the realization that if I want to truly stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and bullying I have to be prepared to do it from all sides and angles.

In the gym my clients often quote my tips on maintaining good posture while exercising and to build their core strength: “Shoulders back, girls out, core engaged.” Finally tonight, I understand why that teeter-totter was so prevalent in my mind. Because no matter what side of the battle of obesity you are on, if you can stand in the middle of that proverbial teeter-totter and engage your core, retain you balance and posture, you’ll be much stronger in your stance and your fight.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

Physical Exhaustion Helped Me Find My Healthy Voice Again

10693779_722272227807843_1115779265_nI got in the car huffing and puffing and threw my hands over my face to hide the emotional storm that was brewing within me from the driver. I had stopped my Nike+ Sports watch at 6.2 miles because that is the distance that I had intended to run and the obsessive compulsive in me needed to know what my pace for that distance was, rather that the time after that where I slowed down and stopped pushing my body to perform at its maximum potential.

I’m pretty sure that I was once again on the verge of heat exhaustion and the fact that my body would not do what I wanted it to do was frustrating me so much that I was on the verge of tears. Not even two months ago I ran a 10k, 6.2 miles with a pace time of 12 minutes and  27 seconds per mile and now, here I was pacing out at 13 minutes and 24 seconds … I’d lost over 1 minute per mile in two short months of falling short of my training.

How had I allowed this to happen? How had I slipped into such a dark place and such a deep depression that in two short months I had lost nearly 60 seconds per mile due to lack of training and would I be able to catch up in time to meet my goals of running my next half marathon in under 3 hours?

Depression is an ugly thing. That’s no lie. The last seven months have been hard for me.  I started the year by moving half way across the country in February to start my dream job working as a weight loss and wellness coach in order to help others fight obesity.

10354408_665536556828411_332345651_n (1)Usually I am the type of person that takes the negative and spins it into a positive and finds a way to use the emotions wrapped around things that I am angry or upset about to fuel my personal fitness meter. For example: my response to an emotional evening of internet bullies that had tried to get me fired from that new job–over their ridiculous assumptions about a Facebook post that I made, keeping me up late into the night with their harassing and inflammatory posts the night before I had to run a 10K (to make pace time for my upcoming Half Marathon Event)– was to drag my ass out of bed with very little sleep, and pull off one of my best event times yet of 12 minutes and 17 seconds per mile.

But when it came to dealing with the depression and funk that hit me around Father’s day and lasted well into the beginning part of August just seemed to be something that sidelined any personal fitness goals I had and propelled me into this place where it was a constant struggle for me to run because I associate running so much with my Father that every time I went for a run I found myself missing him even more. It was a double-edged sword really. I’d go for a run to achieve that feeling of spending time with my Father, and then I would hurt inside that he wasn’t here anymore.

924450_735630803149282_1711825532_n (1)And though I was struggling through the anniversary grief of his death in July, I got out there and ran a 10K during one of the hottest months of the year where I had to cross bridges and run on unsteady ground, up several hills I didn’t know about and still managed to pace out only 10 seconds per mile slower and now here I was in September fighting my body and struggling to finish with a time under 13 minutes and 30 seconds per mile and the truth is, I wasn’t angry at anyone other than myself. How had I allowed myself to lose this much ground in just two short months?

I hid my face from the person in the driver’s seat so they didn’t see the tears falling down my face as I tried to convince my body that it could do just a little bit more.  I had already stopped once at just about 5 miles into my run when my heart rate reached 177 and my face felt like it was about to melt off of my body to run into a Burger King to get a cup of ice water in order to lower my core temperature and heart rate and now here I was again, just two miles later, struggling to continue.

Once my heart rate got down into the 90s again I opened the car door and got out, determined NOT to finish the run, because I had already done that, but to finish the mission I was working on in my Zombie Run game so that I didn’t lose 55 minutes of effort put into it by ending it before it was completed. I hate failing at anything, even a mission on a run game. It’s just who I am.

I ran for less than 3 minutes before I had to walk again, I knew that I was border-lining heat exhaustion again, but I continued to walk determined to complete that mission. Seven minutes later of running when I could and walking when I had to, I started looking down at my phone in confusion. Could this mission possibly be this long? Most of them average 30 minutes or so according to my settings, so what in the world was going on? I was only getting slower, the heat beating down on me, and finally after an hour and 32 minutes, and more exhausted than I have ever been in my life I realized that if I didn’t stop I was going to end up passing out. I was tired, and I didn’t understand how that mission could possibly be still going.

So I stopped, and when I did I realized that I had completed the mission ages ago and was now just tooting along in the extra segments of “radio mode” without realizing it. That’s how confused my brain was, I hadn’t even realized that I had completed the mission and was simply adding extra time now.

Once I realized that I had been done ages ago and that I had continued to push my body past what it was capable of, into what was obviously another round of heat exhaustion now manifesting itself in the form of confusion, I sat down on the sidewalk and I started sobbing.

Roy 62I’m not even sure where the tears were coming from. Being angry with myself, missing my father, months of feeling bullied, being hurt by some of the people who I had tried so hard to give to, months of feeling like so much of my efforts in the last two years had gone unnoticed and unappreciated by people and organization that I absolutely loved; none of it mattered. It was time for those emotions to hit the surface and when I had worn my body down to exhaustion they were all pouring out uncontrollably.

Then I asked myself, how in the hell am I going to run a half marathon in October and November when I can’t even push my body to do 7.5 miles today? Why had I stopped running as much? Because of the hours I was putting in at work, and the stress over trying to study for a test and the pressure I felt to focus on weight and resistance as well as cardio, it was all catching up to me. But as I sat there on that curb crying a little voice inside me said… “You can’t please everyone all the time, the person you have to worry the most about keeping happy is yourself.”

It was my Father’s voice. A voice I have spent several months searching for, missing the sound of and regretting the fact that I hadn’t recorded it so that I could play it back in times that I really needed to hear it.

It was exactly what he would have said to me in that moment and it was exactly what I needed to hear because the truth is, that I’ve become so worried about keeping everyone else happy that I’ve forgotten about myself. From my employer, to my fellow employees, to my clients, to my blog readers to some of the people in my life that I hold closest to my heart; I’ve once again allowed myself trying to keep all of them happy to alter my behavior.

I’ve once again reached that point where I have spread myself too thin with everything I have taken on, so thin in fact that  I can no longer accomplish my own goals and truthfully, I have slipped into a place where I am afraid to say what I really think or feel out of fear of judgment.

And where does this horrible fear of judgment come from? I’ll tell you: it comes from not wanting to feel rejected or unliked. It comes from that horrible fear of being that little girl who gets picked on, bullied, talked about behind her back and made fun of.

It’s gotten to a point where not only have I given up my own fitness goals and let the important me time of getting my runs in fall to the wayside, but also to a point where I am afraid of writing what I really think, feel, or do on my own blog where I promised I would always be raw, truthful and honest because god forbid I give anyone any extra ammunition to use against me.

It’s gotten to a point where there are very few people in my life I feel I can share my real feelings with without causing some sort of emotional hurricane in my world and instead I’ve just become a giant avoider. Avoiding confrontation, avoiding conversation about anything we might disagree on, and living my life in fear of not being liked, accepted or wanted.

I picked myself up and I walked back to the car and managed to avoid breaking down in front of the driver and I went home and I collected my thoughts and the next day, even though it was an off day on my training schedule I got my ass on a treadmill and I ran 3.1 miles with a pace time of 11 minutes and 57 seconds.

10644001_1470229873253377_9252383_nAnd yesterday, I laced up my shoes for a nine mile outdoor training run and with humidity, heat, and rain, I ran 9.3 miles with a 13 minute and 27 second mile, and though it’s not the pace time that I wanted there was a part of me that found solace in the fact that I could do more distance under better weather conditions than I could two days ago, and a part of me that found comfort in knowing that if I absolutely had to run that half marathon tomorrow, I could find the athlete inside me that could do it.

But more important than that, I found something else in my run yesterday: I found me again. Somewhere in that 9.3 miles of running in the rain, heat and humidity of the south I found my voice again. I found the woman who will tell you the truth about the struggles of life after weight loss. I found the woman who will tell you this is a constant battle for me, wanting to be liked, wanting to be accepted.  I fight with body image, I tussle with the numbers I see on the scale, I struggle with my fears of failure and inadequacy and I wage an emotional war within myself with my yearning to be perfect and wanting to be normal even though I know deep inside that I’m anything but normal and everything but perfect.

If you had asked me in the beginning of this journey what I wanted most it would have been “To have the happy and healthy life that my Father wanted for me.” But somewhere in the midst of becoming a target of bullies, building a new career, dealing with the anniversary grief of my Father’s death, and building new relationships, I became afraid of being myself and decided to try to be what everyone else wanted me to be instead.

And now, I’m done. I’m done being anything but myself, unapologetically and understanding that some people won’t like me, let alone love me, and that’s okay because at the end of the day there are only three things that really matter to me, being able to look at myself in the mirror and being happy with who I am, honoring my Father’s desire for me to live a happy and healthy life and knowing that in the end, I have given those that know me the best thing I can give them, my desire to motivate and inspire them to do the same.

And now Slender Seekers, I need to get up, jog in place and remove the red bar of inactivity from my fitness tracker and decide what to do with my day off and get ready for this afternoons #20Week2WineDine #TeamSlenderSeekers training run.  But for those of you who have missed reading my blog and following my voice, fear not. I’ve found it, and you’ll be hearing a lot more from me again.

OXOXOXOXOX,
Imperfect Pandora

I’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsors because without my obligations to their support I might never have pushed myself hard enough to finally break down and start to admit my feelings.  Ameriwell BariatricsCelebrate VitaminsKay’s NaturalsWellese and BariMelts thank for being the sponsors of a contest that helps people celebrate their weight loss success and propels me to remember that my one of my number one goals is to help motivate others.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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