Don’t Poke the Bear

Those who know me know that there are things that I am very, very passionate about:  biology; science; Mad Men, and consequently, Jon Hamm; learning, and  education.

I’d like to start by saying that education is the thing in life I am most passionate about because I cannot and will not abide by ignorance or stupidity.  So imagine my ire when I read this article posted today in one of the online support groups that I belong to:

I Don’t Support Weight Loss Surgery

It is written by one Amy McCarthy, who claims to be a proponent of Health At Every Size, which is a movement that emphasizes healthy living behaviors no matter what your size, as well as the acceptance of all body shapes and sizes.  I can get behind this philosophy, because even when I get to my goal weight, I will still be considered overweight (nay, obese) by medical standards.  I can also be down with accepting folks of all shapes and sizes, because I don’t think it’s right to discriminate against someone or shame them based on their size, whether it is large or small.

Yet this author boldly states:

I won’t shame anyone for their choices.

By spending a few thousand words focusing on what she perceives to be the negative aspects of WLS and why she feels it’s bullshit, she does exactly that, and totally discredits herself in doing so.

The opening salvo:

Almost all of us fat people who try to lose weight by dieting will not sustain long-term weight loss.  But thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, you can rapidly lose as much weight as your heart desires, so long as you commit to a risky surgery that reduces the function of a healthy organ and comes with a laundry list of complications, side effects, and restrictions.

clearly illustrates her ignorance about weight loss surgery as a whole.  Her first sentence there is correct–most of us who try to lose weight through diet alone won’t keep the weight off.  But rapidly losing as much as I desire?  REALLY?  Just because I had WLS doesn’t mean I’m going to get to lose as much as I want–I still have to work just as hard as someone who has a stomach with a full capacity.  I still have to control portion size, watch my nutrient content, and move my body most days of the week.  Doing those things does not insure that I will lose as much weight as I desire, but with the tool I have, it will be slightly easier.  Also?  My stomach is fully functional.  Since she doesn’t write about the sleeve (only lap-band and RNY), I’d like to educate her about how those of us with sleeves have fully functional stomachs, just with a greatly reduced capacity (1 cup as opposed to 4 liters).  So there’s that.

I realize that since hers is an opinion piece, bias is inherent, and that my response to it will also be biased.  I suppose what rubs me raw about McCarthy’s blather is that she claims to be a HAES proponent, and while HAES doesn’t mean ‘achieve this healthy state through surgical means,’ why should it matter how one chooses to get healthy as long as they reach some enlightened state of self-acceptance in the process?

But let’s look at health at every size through my lens, okay?

Health at my former size looked like this (information is for highest weight):

Note:  I am 5’4″ tall.

Item Measurement
BMI 75.5
Weight 440 pounds
Waist 56 inches
Hips approx. 70 inches
a1c (average blood sugar) 7.8 (diabetic)
Fasting blood glucose 149 mg/dL
Triglycerides >180
Resting heart rate ~100 beats/minute
Duration on treadmill @ 3.5 mph <5 minutes

You don’t have to be a medical professional to know that with those stats, I was NOT healthy.  And there was no way in hell that at that size I’d ever BE healthy.  In fact, had I remained at that size, it was likely that I would not make it to see 45. 

Before I decided to have WLS last summer, I tried multiple times, multiple ways to get healthy.  For me, getting healthy involved and necessitated losing weight.  This may not be the case for all people, but for me, it certainly was.  The fact that I weighed more than double what was healthy for my height was leading me down a path toward a greatly shortened life with diminished quality and I knew it.  All my lab work showed it, my joints felt it, and every other measure of health and fitness demonstrated to me that I could never be healthy at the size I was.

Weight loss surgery WAS my only and best option.  I was willing to risk having what is widely considered to be a safe surgery in an attempt to reclaim my health rather than spin my wheels trying what I’d already tried multiple times and failed at.

For many of us that choose to pursue a healthy life via weight loss surgery, this is our only hope of attaining a state of physical health that all of us should be able to enjoy.  WLS is the only way we will extend life and regain health.  Don’t chastise us for choosing to get healthy in the only way we knew could work for us, especially when we have tried the “million other ways to make [our bodies] healthier without going under the knife” that you claim exist.  You only name two–eating veggies and getting in physical activity–and both of these are things those of us who have had WLS engage in on the regular, by the way.

Then there’s this:

If thin people need barbaric procedures like weight loss surgery to convince them that people who were once or are currently fat are deserving of respect, love, and accommodation in this world, that’s their problem.  The internalized self-hate that comes along with the bullying and shaming of fat people shouldn’t be the impetus for a surgery that will dramatically alter the rest of your life.

First of all, WLS isn’t barbaric.  Please tell me what was barbaric about having a highly experienced and skilled surgeon perform (while I was under anesthesia) what for me and many others has been a successful a life-saving procedure.  I’ll wait.  I’m patient like that.

Also?  WLS isn’t for thin people to learn that fat folks (or folks on their way to being healthy from being fat) deserve respect and love.  We can earn that on our own without surgery, so by saying that WLS is needed for us to earn respect and love, you’re telling us precisely what you think thin people think:  if we’re fat, we don’t deserve those things.

Furthermore, don’t lump all of us who have had WLS into the victim category.  Your tone makes it sound like we are all self-loathing folk who were shamed into having surgery, when in most cases, this is untrue.  No one held a gun to my head while calling me Fatty Fatty Two By Four telling me to have weight loss surgery or else.  You know what did that for me?

ME. 

I MADE THIS CHOICE BY MYSELF, FOR MYSELF BECAUSE I WANTED TO LIVE.

There was no self-loathing or fat shaming that took place that factored into my decision to save my own life.  If I had self-loathing, then why would I take such drastic measures to preserve my life and reclaim my health?  I was neither bullied nor forced into having weight loss surgery by anyone.  This was a decision that I made autonomously and that my health care professionals and family supported me in.

For someone who claims to be about size acceptance, this statement:

It is just easier to live in a thin body than it is to live in a fat body.

makes it clear that she doesn’t understand that even thin folks have issues with their bodies as well.  We criticize those who are perceived to be too thin just as we condemn those who we perceive to be too fat.  So to say that it is “just easier to live in a thin body” speaks to her ignorance about the prejudices people of all shapes and sizes face.

I think that health at any size is possible, but how someone chooses to get healthy should be left up to them.  Finally, how someone chooses to achieve a state of health should not be criticized by others as the wrong way to do it just because it differs from how they would do it.

Ms. McCarthy, don’t claim to be a proponent of such a philosophy and then proceed to rip to shreds the manner by which some of us choose to become healthy.  Just because some of us have chosen surgery as the means by which we will attain health does not make us a bunch of self-hating, fat shamed human beings.  It makes us empowered, self-loving and strong humans that recognize that health at every size for us means asking for surgical help in our endeavor is not to be frowned upon or shamed.

There’s more than one path to health, and while ours differs from yours, the underlying principle is the same:  achieving good health.

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2 responses to “Don’t Poke the Bear

  1. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this post. It gets so tiring trying to defend myself against people. I can’t help but wonder why they care so much about what choices I made to get healthy or why they are so against something? If you don’t like it then don’t do it but don’t degrade and insult those of us who do.

    • Thank you. 🙂 Thankfully, I haven’t had to defend my choice to have WLS to anyone, but rest assured if I had to, the person who rails against my decision to get healthy this way would hear an earful and get a truth bomb dropped right on ’em. I don’t go around telling people that my way is the best way or the only way, or that they are wrong or bad for choosing to remain fat, so don’t go around telling folks who have chosen to pursue health via surgery that they’re awful humans for doing so. That’s essentially what McCarthy did in her article.

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