Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a mother of three adult children, I’m married, and I work full time at Alberta Health Services.
I found out about the Calgary Weight Management program in 2011, was referred there and started that program at the beginning of 2012. I started at a BMI of 42-44. In June of 2012 I had band surgery, and in 2015 I lost close to 150 pounds. In 2015, it slipped and ultimately it had to be taken out, and I was revised to sleeve.
How do you perceive your body? Do you think your perspective differs from that of society’s?
I think having gone through this whole weight loss journey and maintaining it for a while now, I have a different perception of my body than I did. It kind of changes over time and even now there are good days and bad days [...] I think I see size maybe a little bit differently than the average person who maybe never struggled with obesity, [and also] differently from someone who is obese but has never gotten rid of it.
How were the topics of weight and body image discussed when you were growing up?
I don’t think body image was as much of a thing when I was growing up. When I was younger, people talked about being fat or skinny, but it was just the way it was. My family is a large family and pretty much everyone is overweight. That was certainly an impact. When I was young I thought “there’s no way I’m ever going to be fat like Mom.”
Can you tell us about a time where you experienced bias or discrimination based on your size or weight?
I can’t think of a specific experience, but in general, being overweight, there are a lot of times that you’re treated poorly, have people looking at you making faces, or you think they are. Where I’m at now, I would say that not always is that the case. Maybe that was me reading into it and my own insecurities when assuming that people were looking at me with disgust you know when in fact maybe they were just thinking about something that had nothing to do with me.
But you know, definitely going to medical doctors for things as an overweight person, there were times when I would go in with legitimate concerns and I was told “well, lose weight and you’ll be better” when actually that may or may not be the case. Some doctors are quite quick to just blame the weight for everything.
I think it’s getting better.
Do you feel like your weight has created barriers for you?
There are certainly things I didn’t try because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it or was worried about how I looked. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself if I tried it, [but wasn’t] able to do it, or I just opted not to.
There’s concrete things; many years ago I had varicose veins on my one leg … and the physician that I was seeing told me outright he wouldn’t operate on me unless [I lost at least 20 pounds]. He wouldn’t consider me. Ultimately I moved and did get my leg fixed. And now I know there are medical reasons not to operate on people who are larger; because the chances of success and complications. All of that is real, but maybe he could have said it [another] way. Maybe that was his incentive for me to lose weight … but it wasn’t very nice.
I think I’m just as human as other people, even though I was large.
Having been overweight, I think I’m more likely to understand when I see someone [who is] overweight- I don’t just see their weight, I see them as a person and know that there are lots and lots of factors that have gone into getting them there.
Q: What are some common misconceptions that some people have regarding Obesity?
That you’re fat and lazy. That you do nothing, that you are not active at all. People who judge those who are overweight find them slovenly.
There’s definitely a stigma that you’re lazy and you’re just not doing something. [Obesity] is not just something you can hide, it’s out there. There’s other things you can hide, you know, you could be struggling with mental health but can try to hide it, but if you have obesity you can’t hide it.
Q: If your weight is/was a problem for you, when did you realize it?
I had somewhat of a health scare where we were worried about a possible cancer diagnosis that turned out not to be. That brings up some tough questions, and something like that gets you thinking about your mortality. My son was getting to be about high school age and so I was thinking about the future, and you know I wanted to be there, I want to see my grandkids at some point.
So I think for me, it was kind of the perfect storm of a combination of things. I remember falling asleep at night and thinking “Tomorrow’s the day. Tomorrow’s the day I’m going to start that diet. Tomorrow’s the day I start exercising.” There were a lot of tomorrows.
Q: If the fear of weight discrimination was eliminated, what would be different?
When I was large, I think it would have been very different because there would be more that I would [have] tried. I wouldn’t have assumed that people would judge me if I tried something and didn’t do well. When you’re overweight, you feel that everybody [is] looking at you when you fail and they think it has nothing to do with any of your abilities but that it’s directly related to you being overweight and sometimes that’s not the case. …
So I guess if discrimination wasn’t there maybe you’d be more likely to try those things because it wouldn’t be so obvious.
Q: What has been most helpful in your weight loss journey?
I had weight loss surgery, and that’s a big help and a great tool. It’s not the end all be all, you can have surgery and not lose weight or keep it off. So there’s a whole package of learning about yourself and how you attach value to food.
For me a big thing surgery reinforces is that I have to eat regularly - that’s the biggest thing I’ve changed. I used to not eat breakfast, I often didn’t eat lunch. So it would be that after work I would go home and I would eat, and eat nonstop until I went to bed. So you can only imagine the quantity of food that you eat when you’re eating like that and the quality. [I made] really poor choices.
The surgery makes it so that you can’t eat large amounts. To get enough nutrients in, I have to eat smaller amounts throughout the day. So I have to have breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and sometimes snack, and I really think that’s the biggest difference for me.
Q: What would you say to other people who are going through the same thing?
If it doesn’t work this time it doesn’t make [you] a failure. And if it doesn’t work this time, [you] can learn from it and then try again.
Q: If you had the chance to speak to the world to clear up some misconceptions about obesity, what would you say?
There’s lots of reasons that people are overweight. There are a lot of medical reasons, mental, emotional reasons, people have suffered all sorts of things that you can only imagine. But that doesn’t define them.
Someone who is overweight is first and foremost a person. Who they are matters a lot more than what their size is.