I once asked a business mentor and friend for some advice in how to become successful in business. He looked at me and answered, “You need to lose weight. No-one will ever take you seriously as long as you are overweight.”
He was right.
I have a lot of empathy for women who talk about their experiences of being ogled by strangers and how they need to remind people they are talking to that ‘their eyes are up here!’ Oddly enough I have had very similar experiences and it is very distressing. I actually don’t see myself as grotesquely overweight – the type of overweight that draws stranger’s stares like someone passing a car wreck but apparently that self-perception is wrong because it would seem that I am that car wreck and people are slowing down to look at me.
My size and stature makes for an intimidating presence – one that I work hard to minimise in the counselling room when I am having conversations with my clients and in other venues such as when I am dealing with my tenants breaking the rules in the apartment building I manage I use it to all its glory to pass along a very intimidating message that I mean business. It seems to help break up the parties and to get the riffraff out of the building faster than phoning the police.
But then I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror or I look at myself in a staff or family picture and I am appalled at the man I see. I am at least two or three of those people! I require a large berth around me and like Andre the Giant in the cult movie “The Princess Bride” the crowds of people move to one side to let me pass. For someone who works hard to stay in the background – not even adding my name to this blog and writing a book so very carefully as to not reveal who I am or other incriminating details I seem to have drawn a lot of attention to myself due to my size.
It is not for the sake of trying to lose weight that this problem exists. I probably lose a minimum of 60 pounds a year but inevitably it all comes back and invites some of their friends over as well. For years it was first lost naturally through a yearly 40 day religious fast that I would undertake and at other times it was through deliberate dieting and hard exercise so no – the problem has never been getting rid of the weight. The problem is keeping it off.
Although I had body shame growing up and part of those experiences were accentuated through some negative experiences I had in my youth I was in great shape as a youth and even as I was entering adulthood. I worked out constantly, lifting weights and was very active in sports and other general exercise. I had suffered a sports injury playing volleyball that squashed my lower back that has continued to give me grief all these years later but it wasn’t enough to completely sideline me.
Through my years of hard physical work in the restaurant industry I ended up with carpal tunnel, which I now treat with wearing a brace on either of my arms from time to time. I also ended up with a pinched nerve in my hip, which leads to my leg going completely numb if I am not paying attention or I am in one position for too long. Those things slow me down and limit all that I can do but I can’t really use them as an excuse for where I find myself now.
I am here because I am an emotional eater.
When I lost my brother to suicide I ended up turning to food to numb myself to the immense pain I was feeling. I gained something like 80 pounds that year. Ever since then (it has now been 20 years) when I encounter heavy stress in my life I turn to food – not to feel better but to feel nothing. And as anyone of you readers know, the older you get the more occurrences of heavy stress there will be. This is an unavoidable aspect of life so if I do the math quickly I am freaked out at how large I will end up as I take my last breath!
I need to find a better way. Right now that begins with me talking about it. One stranger to another. Your role is to listen. In this venue it is easy enough to imagine you doing that and so that creates a safe place for me to talk.