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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.

Coming Out of the Dark – When Life Derails Training

I wish I was perfect.

10467772_680115812117141_1972508978_nI’ve striven for perfection ever since I was a little girl and got very discouraged when I couldn’t do something that stood up to those high standards. I’ll never forget the first time I brought home a report card with a B on it; I sat in the car crying hysterically because I hadn’t gotten straight A’s. I was in the third grade.

I wish I was clairvoyant. I wish I knew what was going to happen weeks, months and years in advance so that I could know going into any commitments that I make whether or not I could perform them to the best of my ability.

I wish I had a magic wand that could instantly fix anything that wasn’t quite the way it was supposed to be and that could suddenly repair any mistake I made.

But I have none of those things, what I do have is the ability to say “I really messed up,” and hope that anyone involved can forgive me. This is after all a growing and learning process and while most people don’t realize it, I am new at all of this.

What is all of this you ask? Being thin, being healthy, being fit, having a life that involves people outside of my protective little bubble, being social, having a full-time job that takes me out of the house, and, learning to deal with my emotions in ways that are not disadvantageous to my weight loss journey.

For as long as I can remember I was the chubby girl who stayed at home and played on the computer. After my high school sweet heart most of my romantic and social interactions were in online and chat mediums where I could hide my weight, feelings and emotions behind a screen and text.

So what did I do that I am so regretful for? I dropped the ball and I failed to live up to promises I made to sponsors, my contest winner and to you, my readers.

I think whenever we make a mistake so grand that we feel an overwhelming remorse, we instantly have this need to explain ourselves. Why did this happen? For me the answer is very easy:  I took on too much during a time of year that is already an emotional storm for me.

You may have noticed that there was no “Father’s Day’ post from me this year. Because as Father’s Day rolled around I was so overwhelmed with grief that I didn’t even know how to begin talking about it. Professionally I refer to this as “Anniversary Grief”; it’s this overwhelming sense of loss, sadness and depression that hit me during the time of year that my Father passed away. I’m the sort of person that associates moments in my life with dates and songs, this works against me during a time of year where an entire month is filled with dates that bring this anniversary grief forward in my mind.

This is now the third year that I have experienced this intense sensation of loss and sadness that starts in mid-June at Father’s Day, leads into the 4th of July (My Father passed away early morning of the 5th and the night of the 4th was the night we said good-bye) and then haunts me all through July until we get it his birthday on July 20th. And even still here into the beginning of August I find myself struggling to come out of the dark silence that these emotions evoke in me.

For the last seven weeks it has taken nearly all of the emotional strength I have to get up in the morning, go to work, smile for my members and clients and make it through the day without tears and sadness seeping in.  I miss my Father so much that it is overwhelming and as I realize that I’m starting to forget the sound of his voice or the sound of his laugh I find my heart breaking even more. They say time makes things better, but this just keeps getting harder for me.

I’ve struggled with the question of “Would he be proud of me?” And though I look around me and I see all the wonderful things I do that would make him proud, it is hard for me not to focus on the few aspects of my life that he wouldn’t be so proud of and it’s hard for me not to beat myself up over them emotionally.

Sometimes life just doesn’t help either. These last couple months haven’t been easy for me at all. While trying to keep up on a full-time job where I’ve got 30-35 hours a week on the clock and another 6-12 hours a week off of the clock when I’m teaching classes, doing one on one weight loss and wellness coaching and doing special VIP session with my clients and trying to squeeze in my own 1-2 hour work hours each day I’ve had a lot of other things sort of thrown in the pool of Pandora Must Do’s.

I struggled so much from Father’s Day to July 5th but I tried to keep myself distracted with as much work as I possibly could. The weekend of the 4th of July, I isolated myself from just about everyone in my world as I slipped into some very dark emotional places. I tried to distract myself, with my Half Marathon Training, The Launch of the #20Week2WineDine Virtual Challenge and when not one single soul signed up for a challenge where I offered a $100 cash prize to the participant that had the best pace time improvement, I found myself discouraged and feeling defeated and unappreciated.

I tried to continue to focus on my passion of helping others lose weight and tried to ignore that lack of participation and apathy I once again saw in the online bariatric community and I focused on getting ready for the 10k run that I was doing on July 12th. This was my second 10K this summer and my last chance to get a better pace time to submit to run Disney for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon my How Do You Celebrate Success Contest Winner and I are doing in the beginning of November.

924450_735630803149282_1711825532_nJust a couple of days before my race I got the news that the owner of the condo I was renting from, my roommate, had sold the condo in a quick sale and that I needed to be out of the place by the following weekend; The weekend of my Father’s birthday.  So I ran my 10K came home and started packing, and continued to try to keep up with my busy work schedule. I had support groups to speak at, a healthy food picnic party to host at work, and I continued to do the one thing that somehow made me feel supported–Keeping the gym open late so my clients and I could exercise together while watching Extreme Weight Loss and live tweeting with Chris Powell and Heidi Powell, because let’s be honest, when my world gets really dark, the Powell’s always seem to be there to pull me back into the light.

I tried to deal with the resentment I felt towards my friends here in NC who were also busy dealing with a last-minute move for not realizing how much help I needed getting through that day. This is the third year that I have dealt with this anniversary grief. The first year I got Manny, a puppy I am sure my Dad brought me so that I didn’t feel so alone. The second year I was in Dallas and I spent the morning working out with my Mentor Bobby Whisnand, surrounded by very best friend in the whole world ( Tora), my niece and nephew and spent the evening with my very dear friend Keesha who drove out to see me just to make sure I was distracted. This year I just felt alone, very alone. I took the time to get a new Tattoo that served as a tribute to my Father as well as a reminder to me never to forget how far I have come and the next day, I went and spoke at a local bariatric support group.

Things got really exciting on the 23rd of July when suddenly the gym I work for was accosted with Toxic Fumes from an oil based apoxy paint that they were using in the storefront next to ours and the next 10 days were an amazingly high stress situation for me as I tried to deal with upset members while my bosses were out-of-town, train a new front desk employee, and suffered from a constant migraine headache from the fumes and started to prepare myself for Thursday morning; when I would teach Metabolic Circuit training for the first time and fought my own self-doubt and self-worth as to whether or not I was good enough of a coach to be teaching that class while my boss and all the other trainers in the gym where out-of-town and of course all of this is going on while I am in the middle of trying to study for a test that terrifies me more than spiders.

The other day as I was getting ready to set out for my #20Week2WineDine Training Run I suddenly realized; holy cow it is August 5th and not only have I really dropped the ball and not gotten any blogs writing to fulfill my sponsorship obligations for the entire month of July, but I also missed the deadline for submitting my time to RunDisney for the event, which means I will be placed in the last corral of the race. While it’s not the end of the world, it is disappointing to me. I went to great lengths to run two 10k’s before the deadline with every intent to submit it and HOPE that I got into a corral that was a little further up and I completely brain farted it.

It’s been a bad month for me and in trying to take care of myself and find a light to follow out of the darkness; I neglected to do some things that were very important to me. It’s amazing how emotions like sadness, depression, loneliness, anxiety can become so overwhelming and it’s shocking to me how these emotions sneak up on me during this time of year and how without a strong support system in place to help me, I tend to be overwhelmed by them.

I wish I could rewind a few days and submit that pace time. I wish I could go back and set a reminder on my phone so that I wouldn’t have forgotten in the midst of my fast paced life. I wish I could go back and write the blogs that I was committed to writing (Which I will, they just won’t be published in a time frame that they should have been.)

I wish I was perfect. I wish I didn’t make mistakes like this. I wish the grief that I feel this time of year didn’t have such an emotionally crippling effect on me. But I am not perfect, I am just Pandora. I’m not free from fault or fumbles. Usually I say that I am myself unapologetically. I never apologize for being who I am, but this time, that’s not the case, this time I am truly remorseful that part of who I am and part of what I struggle with has caused me not only to let down some people who are very important to me, but also caused me to let down myself. This hasn’t been a pretty seven weeks for me, I slipped into some behaviors I wasn’t proud of and I let the emotional distress of my grief get me off track.

10598627_592504027533361_1464304025_nThe last seven weeks I’ve felt like I am constantly falling and then standing back up and trying to right myself again. For those that it has affected, my Contest Winner, My Sponsors, my friends and family, my readers, I apologize for the fact that I am not yet skilled in a coping mechanism that helps me handle this better. What I can promise you is that I’m standing up and I am working on maintaining my balance now so that I don’t have to spend all my time picking myself back up and dusting myself off.

Each and every one of you is more important to me than I can say. Everyone involved with #TeamSlenderSeekers has a very special place in my heart; unfortunately this year I’ve learned that it seems to sit next to this very special place that is left vacant by the loss of my Father, and the grief that causes me is still something I don’t have the tools in my toolbox to deal with. It’s something I’ll be working on.

I always say that weight loss is a journey. Despite what we think when we are struggling with obesity, our problems don’t all go away once we shed the extra weight, and learning how to deal with those problems without falling back into unhealthy behaviors is sometimes harder than we expect.

I’m not perfect, I’m not clairvoyant and I don’t have a magic wand, but what I do have is the earnest desire to live the happy and healthy life that my Father wanted for me; and to help others along their journey by sharing the things I have learned, the tools I have gathered and the education I have sought along with my own first hand experiences.

I have always found that it is in the darkest moments of my life that the brightest bulbs go off for me. And though this period of darkness has lasted longer than others, I feel that in it now I have found a newer and stronger me. I am determined to run this race and to do it in my personal goal of under three hours.

Now it’s time for me to get back on track and to make sure that Amy and I own this Half Marathon!

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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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