This month marks two years since I joined the ‘100lb club’ … again. A couple of weeks ago a coworker posted that she has also joined the club. Well, that isn’t what she said, but it was basically the same thing.
Note: my focus on the 100lb club is not intended to diminish what people experience who have lost 10 or 25 or 50 lbs or struggled to gain weight … it is more focused on the physical reality that rather than an ‘adjustment’, a 100lb weight differential represents a true body-morphing.
And further, when Lisa lost about 50 lbs a decade ago many things I talk about below happened to her – it was amazing watching some of the preschool moms change in how they looked at and treated her … all of the ‘catty’ stereotypes were in full force.
What is the 100lb club?
The 100lb ‘Club’ isn’t a club at all, but is quite simply about people who have lost more than 100 lbs. I had read about it as a term used on several forums and fitness groups to identify as a milestone for extreme weight loss. Bottom line – if you have lost 100 lbs or more … you started out significantly obese.
As I said, this month is two years of re-joining the 100lb club. Actually, I am in the ‘110lb club’ – I am approximately 110lbs lighter now than I was in March of 2012. But as I have noted – I was much heavier when I graduated college – in fact, as of my wedding in 1992 I would put myself very close to the 200lb club! The reality is I won’t step on the scale until I feel I am making positive steps, for fear of being so dejected I would quit. So when I weighed myself over 375lbs, I know I started higher. And before my wedding I was down to about 185lbs, which is 190lbs weighed difference.
My colleague posted about her weight loss as part of a Facebook ‘gratitude challenge’. What she said was touching and poignant, so I am stealing it:
I am grateful for my willpower and motivation. It has carried me through this journey to a healthier me. I am also thankful that I have found inspiration through others – their stories, their accomplishments, their pictures (thank you [redacted, but included me]). 112 baby!
She has lost 112 pounds – and it shows in every way. She looks great, feels great – and has the confidence to KNOW she looks great and be happy with that. Honestly it is great seeing that in someone else.
But something happens when you lose that much weight – the world shifts. Sure YOU change as well, but you also become aware of things that perhaps you didn’t notice before. Or maybe people feel more comfortable saying things around you that they wouldn’t have before. Either way, I thought it would be interesting to share some things I have found through the years personally, and have shared with others who have lost large amounts of weight.
We Will ALWAYS Be That Fat Person Inside
It is really weird – I have spent nearly all of the last 25 years within 20lbs of my ‘target’ (I am actually ‘below target’ now), and yet I cannot look in a mirror and see myself for the thin person that I am.
Part of that is self-image. Being so large as a child, my formative years were filled with self-identification (aided by the joys of other kids) as a fat kid. So I will always be that fat kid in my mind.
The other part is physical – losing so much weight changes your body, and unfortunately not everything falls neatly into place. The most recent public example was the case involving Shape magazine I’ve discussed in the past. The reality of ‘loose skin’ is perhaps the biggest disappointment of extreme weight loss – because all of the shows and magazines make you think you will suddenly look like one of the models they show off … or quite frankly, like a normal thin person. But you don’t.
No, Fat Jokes and Making Fun of Fat People are NOT Suddenly Funny
This one honestly shocked me when I first lost weight – because it started with people who knew I had been fat for 23 years and thin for less than a year – and yet I was suddenly supposed to take pleasure in ridiculing people who were heavy or who got out of breath easy?
For people who don’t know me, I had it explained that no one would ever look at me and think I was morbidly obese – I mean, I have a large enough frame that at 6’1″ I was on the offensive and defensive lines in high school football and was a force to reckon with … and now I have a ‘runner’s body’ and that is how people see me.
But that assumption has led people to feel it is ok to berate fat people with me standing there – someone said something last year, and another person in the group said ‘you know Mike was even bigger than that guy just a couple of years ago’. You could have heard a pin drop.
So what that did for me was to show me that that I was NOT imagining the eye-rolls, and looks and snickers and so on … because once I was no longer fat, I heard them used on other people.
We Can Never ‘Take it Easy’
You see that tiny bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms? It has sat unopened in my work backpack for a couple of weeks now since I got handed a sample in the store.
I will never eat it. Never.
Sure you can tell me it is only 100 calories or so and not a big deal. You can compare it to other things I eat such as the peanut butter chocolate cake recipe I shared.
But it isn’t about the nutritional content – it is an ’emotional trigger’ food. In 2011 and into 2012 I would very often have a bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms in my drawer at work, and one of the ‘WTF moments for me was eating an entire ‘large’ bag across two days. I felt disgusting in many different ways, and haven’t had any Peanut Butter M&Ms since I started back with running.
And for me processed and packaged ‘junk foods’ tend to fall off when I am running, but this time is different in many ways – I simply don’t want to eat them, and I am more careful than ever about what I put into my body.
And I hear about it – regularly.
‘Aw c’mon … you can just run another mile’.
‘You could use some extra calories, you’re too skinny’
‘You can just eat whatever you want’
And so on. Point is – once you have lost this type of weight, you don’t want to gain it back … ever. You want to maintain that great healthy feeling, so you avoid foods that make you feel lousy, and more important you avoid foods that you associate with being fat – and most of all you avoid ‘downfall’ foods. Quite often you no longer want them …
… but sometimes with food for someone who has gone through extreme weight loss, it is like waving a drink in front of an alcoholic.
Our Clothes are About US, Not You
Honestly this is true for pretty much anyone – so I am sure many people can identify with this: that moment when you go from wearing clothes that are 1 – 2 sizes too large to hide your body, to wearing fitted items that show off your body! Last Friday I wore my skinny jeans to work and realized the biggest problem with my new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 was the whole issue of pockets and fitted clothes and huge phones …
I have incredible memories shopping at the Jordan Marsh back in ’89 & ’90, totally transforming my wardrobe, showing off my new looks. I never really cared before … but now suddenly I did.
You Treat Us Differently … and We Notice
When I first lost weight, I was also getting my first job, and my life was changing in many ways. But I also maintained friendships with many people from high school and college and the retail store I worked all during those 8 years … and once we got past the issue of my weight and body transformation.
It is like you are suddenly part of the ‘in crowd’ … and it feels really good, until you pass someone who is NOT … and you realize THAT person was YOU a few months before.
Some of the ways I was treated differently:
– Before Lisa and I were dating, I had a flight delay on a connection, and had a girl sit down next to me, and she ended up inviting me to come to Shakespeare in the Park with her and her family.
– I no longer feel judged based on what I eat.
– Even at 48 I have women (some uncomfortably close to my kids age) who flirt with me.
– People seek me out, remember me, and go out of their way to include me.
– I realized that for more than a couple of people my weight loss suddenly made me ‘an option’ … which seemed flattering until I realized how incredibly insulting it was.
But the biggest one is the most ironic … when I was at my heaviest, when I could literally fill a door way – I was invisible. Now I am noticed.
We Are Not Experts, Spokespeople, or Advocates
It is incredibly awesome to have people come to me looking for ‘my secret’ … sadly many people leave disappointed when I say ‘eat less, eat better, and get some exercise’ as my secret.
I have talked about it before, but I feel that just as my body seems to conspire to gain weight when I do not exercise and watch what I eat – I get into a spiral of unhealthy habits, excessive portions, and lethargy … so too does it conspire to help me when I run. When I run I want healthy foods, I tend to eat less (it has been an effort to properly fuel my running), and so on.
I am a person with a story, who has successfully lost weight – I am not a nutritionist, a fitness coach or personal trainer, or someone who can ‘help your friend/spouse/child lose weight’. Yes I have been asked to talk to someone ‘as a former heavy person’ more than once.
But at the same time, I LOVE being a sounding board, I LOVE sharing my story, what I have been through, and how much running and eating well has transformed my life. But it is hard because I become a magnet for people trying to lose weight … who then avoid me like the plague if they fail.
What This All Means to Me
To repurpose the end of this article … “But deep inside, I still am and always will be a fat boy, with a fat boy’s awareness that the world is not nearly as nice as it sometimes seems right now. “
But at the same time I notice something else that I saw elsewhere and copied into a draft months ago “Turns out I was the meanest person to me while at my fattest. There was nothing anyone could’ve said that would have been worse than the constant track running through me head of “You’re a fat piece of shit and deserve nothing”. ”
That One Person Who Is There For You
I have heard the line countless times on TV and in movies, and I saw it again just the other night “would you love me if I was fat?” Bottom line – someone whose love is conditional upon a pant size or number on a scale doesn’t really love you.
I have talked about my love for Lisa many times, and the great fortune I feel at the life and marriage we share and work to maintain … but beyond anything else she has known me not just at my best and worst, but also my thinnest and fattest. And she loves me regardless … because beyond thin or fat there is ME. And while her weight has also fluctuated through the years, my love for her has never been in question, and neither has hers.
I have always been lucky to have the greatest supporter and teammate in the world.
It does sound like being an addict of one sort or another. That trigger could send you into a down-ward spiral that you do not want to get into.
A friend of mine lost a lot of weight many years ago and also complained about the loose skin. I never asked him, but does it go away or get better over time?
Well, I remember reading about it from someone with an eating disorder – it is like being an alcoholic except that you need food to survive.
As for the skin … as far as I know it never goes away, but I have found that with my sustained long distance running it is improving somewhat.
I know so well what you mean. Though I have never lost 100 lbs, or been truly obese, I have struggled with my weight and my diet for a long time. Part of the reason that it is so difficult for me to gain weight is that I will always be the chunky kid inside. I will also always be the skinny young adult that people look at. I have will power, but not once I start. Perhaps not to the same degree as you, but I know how you feel. Stay strong.
Thanks Suz – and that is part of the reason I wanted to add that ‘Note’ – there is no specific number that dictates whether or not you struggle.
A very thought provoking post. Sorry in advance for probably a long comment!
I gained weight at my first job out of grad school (so mid to late 20s), and I wonder if people tend to form a bodily image that “sticks” at some point maybe around high school? Because I never felt as big as I was (not the 100 club, or even the 50 club, but enough). I was always surprised to see pictures where I looked big — I’ve always seen myself more as knock-kneed, lanky, nerdy, wearing glasses — pretty much high school all over, though honestly, I got contacts in junior high, so maybe even a bit earlier. But in terms of size, I now pretty much fit the image I feel like I’ve always had.
As to how people treated you differently, I wonder, is it because of your appearance or attitude? Could you (or one, generically) have felt invisible because of personality changes that occurred with weight loss? Upon losing weight, are people more content, more open, more outgoing? Less afraid of being hurt or rejected in a conversation? Less concerned with judgment?
But I don’t think there’s any debating that with significant body changes (not just weight related) you become “an option” for some people where you wouldn’t have been before, and I’m not sure I’d be insulted by that. The bottom line is that some people are initially attracted only to a certain body type, no matter what the personality or soul is, whether that’s someone with a lot of tattoos, someone very muscular, someone lean, someone blonde, someone curvy, someone with breast implants, someone heavily pierced or goth looking, whatever. When you change, you become “an option” when you previously weren’t physically attractive to that person before. Falling and staying in love is different, but I think initial attraction is largely based on appearance. Not necessarily a good thing, but I think it is what it is.
As for not an expert, I think anyone who succeeds at something gets questions from others who want the same — Meb gets asked by semi-pros about making the break to professional running, professional musicians get asked by the aspiring, leaders in business are asked for tips and to mentor, people who “have it all” or “balance it all” get the same thing. And if you’ve succeeded at it, you’re at least an expert on one path — even if that won’t work for others.
Great reply! Let me address a few things:
– ‘Treated Differently’ … when I was close to the ‘200lb club’ and saw the difference, Lisa later talked to me about how much of the change was really ME. And I don’t disagree – that is definitely a difference, for example how much confidence I exude and how that impacts my dealings with people. But at the same time there is a direct contrast that shows off how many times there WAS a difference … and it is more that I expected to be treated one way, but was treated differently.
– Also, this past time was very different, I was at a different place in my life, coming to Corning and getting on Thyroid meds I was more social and chatty than ever, even after gaining all of that weight. And having gone through it before … I noticed.
As for the ‘option’ thing … what you say is definitely true … but when it is someone you have known for more than a couple of years and their treatment of you turns on a dime … well, I might be a turn-on for them, but THAT is a complete turn-off for me. Also, through indirect confirmation, I had two people who pretty much assumed that I would be around, single, and immediately available if nothing else worked out for them. So when I was happy in a relationship I got a few shocked reactions … even one person saying ‘I can’t believe you’re married’ – AT MY WEDDING! haha
And thanks for the ‘expert’ reminder … I am always happy to talk about it (obviously, since I seem to post on it every few weeks!)
It’s very interesting to hear your perspective on this since you have made such a HUGE lifestyle change. While I have never been obese, I can only imagine how hard it was and still is when you struggle to keep yourself in check. Your story about the M&Ms shows how aware you are of your triggers! Your strength, will power and desire to keep your life moving in the direction that makes you feel healthiest will continue to “fuel” you moving forward. You truly are an inspiration Mike!
Thanks Sara! That is so nice 🙂
These are great insights, I can’t even imagine what it was like to finally hear what people must have been saying behind your back when you were heavy, except to others now and expecting you to join in! I have always heard the terrible things people say about fat people and it makes me really sad, disgusted and frustrated. All of that also drives a fear of fat in all of us! It seems perfectly acceptable to openly disapprove of people who are overweight and I just don’t get how people still feel that’s okay. Great post inspiring lots of thought!
I remember as a kid finding it very upsetting watching shows where people were mistreated and bullied, for any reason. I think it is at the core of my ‘social justice’ tendencies … even though I know many people look at me know and expect me to be more conservative (white straight male affluent christian … talk about a walking stereotype 🙂 )
Commenting on someone’s weight (IMO) is always such a no no. You never know their struggles, etc. I just really find it poor form since you don’t know what they went through. This is such an interesting post…I worked with those who had lost a lot of weight and they said some of the same things you did.
Thanks for sharing seriously.
Thanks Hollie! “You never know their struggles, etc.” that is SO true, we can so easily make assumptions about others and end up saying things that hurt them. We had friends before we had kids, they were called ‘Ken & Barbie’, very beautiful people, great dressers, and so on – seemed to be ‘perfect’. Problem, her greatest dream in life was having kids, but she went through menopause at 27 … not so perfect, eh? Yet people said cruel things to them …
Body image is such an odd thing. I lost 40 lbs last year and sometimes I feel larger now than I did before. I know it’s all in my head but it’s hard to shake. People went from saying “oh you look ok” to “oh, are you sick”, not sure which ones worse. Actually it was probably the guy who asked me when I was due a few years ago. Loose clothing does not help your self esteem. Now I just have to work on my tendency to make poor food choices.
That is so true! Body image really does get us to the core. As for the pregnancy comment … ugh! I have pretty good ‘pregnancy radar’ and am almost always right … but never say anything until I am SURE. Happened again this week, I knew … but held off until it was clear, then just said ‘congratulations’ 🙂
Food is … well, what it is 🙂
This is an excellent post. You’ve really put yourself out there and you have a beautiful story! I’m proud of you for being able to share it with your readers! I always find myself inspired by whatever you write about, most especially with the stories of how supportive/amazing your family is!!:)
Thanks Nicole – and reading and reflecting on what you said this week really makes me realize how hard it can be to put ourselves out there … it has come easily to me for many years, but it doesn’t take away the impact of the experience. Thanks 🙂
It’s so true about people wanting
a magic secret to being skinny. People ask all the time if I do yoga will I be skinny like you. They get really mad when I say no. Like I am not sharing the secret. I try to explain that I have a small frame and high metabolism. I avoid processed foods etc etc. They usually walk away too. About the weight comments, people are just insensitive; well not all people. At 5’4″ 125 lbs size xs I got as
asked if congratulations were in order 2 weeks ago. No I’m just bloated.
That is the worst! Obviously I’ve never dealt with being asked if I was pregnant, but my wife has and it really messes with how you feel about yourself and your attitude towards clothes you wear. Ugh!
100% true, every single thing. Especially the trigger foods and not being an expert. Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment, and thanks for this excellently written post!