What It's Like to Weigh 400 Pounds

I've been fat my whole life. I was a chubby kid, an obese teenager, and at 24 I weighed 445 pounds. I'm still big, so this is definitely not your typical miracle makeover article. But it is a story of hope because I've finally realized that I had to change how I felt inside before I could begin to change the outside. I'm learning to love myself. And I'm already 113 pounds lighter.
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When I was growing up in Kentucky, I always thought of myself as big, ugly, and gross. It didn't help that I had a petite and adorable little sister. There was no one I envied more than Lauren. In grade school I watched her fling herself into cartwheels and fly across the monkey bars with ease while I hid on the sidelines. She was graceful and skinny. I was awkward and chunky. And growing.

We mirrored our parents -- Lauren got my dad's slender frame and Asian features. I was all Mom: tall and heavyset. At 10, when I already weighed 150 pounds, we visited my dad's side of the family in Hong Kong. I stood by as everyone fawned over Lauren. I know most kids go through an awkward phase, but standing next to her made me feel like a grizzly bear. I could tell my mom felt as uncomfortable as I did. From that trip on, she and I were like two peas in an oversized pod. I didn't fit in with the Chinese side of my family, so I embraced my mother's deep Southern roots, including her weakness for sweet tea and pecan pie. We shared our body hang-ups, did aerobics, and tried the cabbage soup diet together.

Despite our efforts, by high school I weighed 250 pounds. While other girls wore cute clothes, I wore long, flowery skirts and sweater sets that were more age-appropriate for my mom. You can only take being called "Big Bertha" so many times before you go searching for something, anything, to make you lose weight. I found it in the back pages of Seventeen: fat camp in California. "Come lose the weight and be with people just like you!" the ad promised. Fat camp was my safe place. I felt like I could breathe around those kids, who were my size or even bigger. We all had to stick to a strict diet and exercise program and I lost 40 pounds that summer. But when I got back to school I regained all the weight. It became a predictable cycle: lose pounds over the summer at fat camp, gain it back during the school year, return to fat camp and repeat.

Piling On the Pounds

My life got more complicated when I started college at the University of Kentucky. My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the age of 41; at the same time, my parents' marriage started falling apart. It was painful watching my family crumble, and I dealt with it by going to town on fried chicken and ice cream. I gained 50 pounds.

I moved into my own place off campus the next year and while the other kids were out partying, I was home alone, eating. I would mindlessly stuff myself with cheese fries or frozen pizzas and eat until my stomach felt like it was going to explode. At the time I didn't realize I had a binge-eating disorder. All I knew was that food could make my worries about school, arguing parents, and Mom's illness go away for a while.

I gained another 50 pounds my sophomore year, and 50 or more my junior year. Most of my classes were in a three-story building on the far side of campus. I was always early, and not just because I was a good student. I knew that if I arrived late, I'd have to walk in red-faced, sweating, and ashamed. Getting there early gave me time to linger in the hallway and catch my breath. I feared the stairs most of all. This was an old building, and the service elevators were for the handicapped or the janitors, not for "lazy" 350-pound people like me.

As for dating, well, it wasn't easy for someone my size, but I was lucky to find a guy who could see past my weight to the real me. I met David, who's now my husband, online, and we were instantly attracted to each other. I felt so at ease with him. He just doesn't have a judgmental bone in his body. Maybe that made it easier for me to keep gaining weight, but really, I was just in denial. I swear that the pace at which I was destroying myself didn't register until I graduated from college and weighed almost 400 pounds.

The first time it really hit me was when I couldn't find a suit to wear to a job interview. I cobbled together an outfit of size 32 polyester pants, a wrap top, and a too-tight jacket that hid the fact that my shirt didn't actually fasten in the back. Then I arrived for the interview and sat in the waiting room. Big mistake. I realized that when my name was called, I might not be able to get up without the chair coming with me. I spent the next few minutes discreetly trying to extract my bruised thighs from the armrests.

I was surprised when I got the job, as a marketing coordinator for an IT company, but even with that boost of confidence I continued to use food as a crutch. I was doing great work, yet I felt like an outsider at the office. My coworkers were nice enough, but I couldn't escape the feeling that I didn't belong there. I didn't belong anywhere. I hated everything about my body, so I guess I didn't expect other people to look beyond it. The only thing that made me feel better was food. I often turned down lunches with my friends to binge in my car. I'd hit the drive-through for a triple burger with cheese fries. If it was a bad day, I'd get two orders.

Continued on page 2:  Highest Weight, Lowest Point


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