A Painful Reminder of How it Felt to Be Obese

I almost burst into tears on the subway on my way to work yesterday morning. There was a woman on the train sitting across from me, looking uncomfortable perched on a corner seat. Her legs were planted wide apart, her feet pushed into black therapeutic-looking sneakers that were unlaced and seemed too tight. She was wearing all black, with thin cotton lounge-type pants on the bottom and a long cardigan on top. Her eyes looked puffy. She didn’t look up once from the newspaper she held in her hand. She was very heavy—morbidly obese.

I always glance around on the train observing people and just taking in people’s faces, trying to guess what they’re thinking, what they’re going through, where they’re headed. But when I looked at her, tears stung my eyes and I had to look away. Why? Because she looked like she was in pain, emotional and maybe even physical. Because I’ve sat next to countless men and women in my binge-eating support groups who cried as they described the way it felt to have the flesh of their legs spill over the edge of a seat; the guilt they felt at taking up “more space than they deserved;” the humiliation of having to ask flight attendants for seat belt extenders; the dirty looks of strangers on the street.

Watching her reminded me of how I felt all those years I was active in my binge eating disorder. My weight yo-yo-ed up and down—at any given time I could be anywhere from 150 pounds to the 225 pounds I weighed at 22. But no matter what I actually weighed or looked like on the outside, I always felt obese on the inside. Do you know what I mean? I felt out of proportion, out of control, different, I felt like I was wearing my disorder on my sleeve, I felt uncomfortable in my clothes.

Those are the awful feelings I imagined this woman on the train was experiencing, and it made me want to cry—for both of us. I know it’s none of my business. For all I know that woman has never binged a day in her life and feels completely fine right where she is! But seeing her reminded me of how I felt inside for so many years, and of the intense pain that millions of young women (guys too) are going through right now. Bingeing sucks and it hurts. And I’m just so sad for everyone who’s suffering through it alone.

Thankfully, not all of us are going through it alone, and recovery is possible. Sorry if the post was a bit of a downer today, guys, but please feel free to share anything it may have brought up for you.

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10 Responses to A Painful Reminder of How it Felt to Be Obese

  1. Veronica says:

    This post actually brought tears to my eyes because I am that person that you described. I am morbidly obese and it hurts me emotionally as much as it does physically. I wear baggy clothing because it’s “comfortable” and wear beat up sneakers because they don’t make my feet hurt as much a new pair would. When I am on the bus no one sits next to me because of my weight and that really makes me feel so low. Shoot, no one sits next to me in class and that makes me feel even lower. Sometimes that makes me want to cry at that very moment…The weather is warming up and everywhere I look I’ll see a girl thinner than me wearing pretty clothes and that makes me feel so jealous because I can’t wear any of that. I avoid being in public as much as possible. All of this makes me binge. I know that there are other ways of dealing with all of that but I’m one of those people who get knocked down and have a hard time getting back up. I binge because it makes me feel good even if it’s a temporary feeling…

    • Sunny says:

      Hey Veronica. Spring/summer time always used to bring those thoughts to my head, too. “Oh shit, now everyone is going to be walking around wearing nothing, and I’m going to have to show more skin.” If I’m completely honest with myself, I still have those feelings today, even though I am no longer obese or overweight. But they fade faster now. Pop me an email if you want to talk. :) We could set up a time to chat or IM or something. xo…Sunny

      • Kate says:

        I hate summer. I am always so hot! I don’t want to wear less clothing and I feel uncomfortable wearing short sleeve/sleeveless clothes due to my upper arm flab.

        People when I rode the bus people routinely avoided me, which made me feel bad about myself. In college I took classes with friends or people I kinda new so I always was sitting by someone. BUT no guy would ever ask my to dance at school dances, even my friends. That was a definite blow to my self esteem.

        What helps me a little bit is trying to think that even those skinny girls in the cute clothes have problems too.

    • Angie says:

      Hi - I’ve been thinking about Veronica’s post ever since I read it a few days ago. I’ve thought about the years I hid my anorexic body with oversized clothes because I didn’t want any one to see me. I still find myself going to oversized clothes to prevent people from seeing me. I have moments where I’m pummeling myself, but find a moment of sanity where I’m able to look around and notice that everyone looks different (there are no two bodies that are exactly the same) and it is truly beautiful.

      On Friday night I was reading an article in a magazine. The author quoted Leonard Cohen and it really stuck with me so I wanted to share: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” This quote reminds me that life is a journey and this eating disorder is part of my journey. I really believe I have found so much goodness in recovery that all the crap related to the years of disordered eating some how can be put down - I don’t have to carry it any more. Hope this helps - Veronica really helped me realize that I’m not alone and that’s exactly what I needed to realize. Angie

  2. Emily says:

    This reminds me a lot of the excellent post a few weeks ago on comparing yourself to other people. My thoughts aren’t 100 percent on topic, but this is what came up.

    Sometimes, when I feel fat, I am certain that other people are staring at me and judging me, even when I *know* it’s not true.

    So when I pass someone on the street who looks overweight or too skinny or just “normal,” I’ve started to say to them (in my head): You are so loved. You are so worthy. Enjoy the weather.

    That exercise reminds me that all of those statements are true about me, too. That can change my thinking about my own body size and refocus me on being present.

    • Sunny says:

      Emily, I love this! Thank you so much for sharing it. What a great way to combat all kinds of judgment and/or comparing.

    • Trish says:

      Emily, that’s a great piece of advice! I feel that way A LOT — thinking that everyone walking by me is thinking about how fat I am. But talking to a lot of other girls through HealthyGirl and daily interactions helped me to learn that even the most perfect girl thinks that she is being judged because IE, her nose is too big or her hair is too short or she’s too tall, etc. Believe it or not everyone has insecurities, and the more I understand the less judged I feel. But again, great thinking!

  3. Mindy says:

    Emily…that is lovely and inspirational. Thanks! :)

    Kate…I agree with you. When I was still a “skinny” girl who could fit into cute clothes, I had very low self-esteem. I thought I was ugly. We should never assume that another woman has a better life because she is thinner.

    Veronica…sweetie, that kills me inside. I’m not morbidly obese, but I know how you feel. I’m overweight for my height. I will not wear shorts in public. I will not wear a bikini. I’m self-conscious about my body. Finding pretty clothes is difficult. I’m too small in some places and too big in others.

    I grew up with a lot of people who went out of their way to make me feel bad about myself, so I can relate. I’ve always been that girl no one wanted to talk to or sit next to.

    A few years ago, I walked by a complete stranger on a college campus and I was shocked to hear her muttering ugly comments about me. She said that I was fat, my tummy looked like I was carrying twins, etc. I wanted to confront her but I didn’t.

    This was a person who didn’t know me, but she felt it was her right to say mean things about my body. Lots of people make me feel that way. They don’t care that I happen to be a person with feelings. They simply judge me and criticize my “flaws”.

    I’ve always preferred winter. I like cold weather AND I don’t have to feel self-conscious because everyone is all bundled up instead of showing off. :)

    But you know what, Veronica? I don’t know you and I can tell that you’re beautiful. It is obvious that you’re sweet, kind, and sensitive. I would rather be friends with someone like you than with someone who is shallow. I would sit with you in class or on the bus.

    We live in a society that cares more about appearance than attitude. Women with inner beauty are often made to feel that they are “lacking” because they don’t look the way other people think they should. Don’t believe the hype. You ARE beautiful. You have the right to be confident and happy.

  4. [...] For many of us (not all, but many) that means we become overweight or obese. (At my heaviest, I weighed 225 pounds and was clinically obese.) In fact, some studies show that 30 to 40 percent of obese people seeking weight loss treatment [...]

  5. Heather says:

    I’ve just read thing post and it got me thinking about what I think other people think about me, and what I think about other people.

    I think there is an element of truth in our concerns that other people will be making judgements about us, and if we are honest with ourselves, we do judge other people on a pretty constant basis. If I am entirely honest with you, even knowing what I know now about size, food and weight, I will still find myself thinking sometimes ‘she’s huge/skinny/ugly/badly dressed’ etc. Equally, I often look at people and think ‘she’s beautiful/stylish/confident/has great dress sense’ and find myself smiling, and hoping they aren’t thinking that I’m laughing at them!

    I know this is a risky thing to admit to, and the reason I say it is this: I know that 99% of the time when I’m thinking those negative things, it’s that bit of me - that Critical bit - that is saying those things because it judges me just as harshly and wants me to feel bad - and guilty.

    This is something I find myself needing to work on, on a daily basis, because it ultimately won’t be the person I’m thinking it about that feels bad and guilty about my thoughts - it is me. I’ve tried lots of different things, and the one that’s helping me at the moment is that when I think negative thoughts about people, I try and ask myself a question about them as a person…. for example. I wonder what her favourite colour is? I wonder if she is into sports?

    And unlike what seems to work for a number of people, I try and steer away from thinking along the lines of ‘thin people have problems too’ and be more positively focused. I think focusing on the negative to make myself feel better would just be exaccerbating that way of being in general. In the long-term, I’d like to think the best of people and not push them down to make me feel okay, if that makes sense.

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