I’ve been the fat guy since third grade. Prior to that, I was skinny-as-a-rail slim, like my three-year-old son Ari is today. With my shirt off you could see ribs and a flat stomach. But between 1st and 3rd grade, something changed. I blew up like a balloon, as the saying goes. I remember sad, strange things from this time. My mother replacing my winter coat several times in one year, as I outgrew the smaller sizes. Struggling to fit in to my Star Trek Halloween costume. Being embarrassed to take my shirt off at the beach. Feeling different than everyone else.
After I got fat, school life changed for the worse. I was always picked last for team sports, since I couldn’t run fast. Kids teased me relentlessly, calling me ‘the bubble’ or comparing me to Weebles, a popular toy with egg shaped characters. It was hard to find a seat on the school bus, because the other kids insisted I’d squish them. After a while it became impossible to make friends. It didn’t help that my parents moved us every few years. Not only was I always the new kid, I was the new fat kid. So I ate more.
I don’t know exactly what triggered my initial weight gain. But I know that as I got older, eating became my way of dealing with stress and hardship. I gained weight steadily from my teenage years into young adulthood. By the time I graduated from college, I was trapped in a vicious circle. I eat because I feel bad about myself, but then I feel even worse about myself. I eat when I’m stressed and worried. I eat when things are not going well. I eat when I don’t know what else to do. I try to exercise, but my weight makes it too difficult and painful.
I’ve tried diet after diet – Weight Watchers, HMR, Atkins, South Beach. I’ve worked with nutritionists. When I was 12, my parents sent me to Weight Watchers summer camp. The idea was I’d get into shape before my Bar Mitzvah the next year. I spent a month with other heavy kids, running and carrying on, and eating the prescribed diet (which at the time included a horrible – and offensive – liver stew). I also spent time sneaking sweets and other forbidden goodies from a convenience store near the college campus where the camp was based. At the twice weekly weigh-in, I was chastised by the camp nurse because of my inability to lose weight. I came home a bit thinner, but quickly gained it all back, plus more.
Obesity has a huge downside. I reached my current and peak weight about three years ago, when my wife and son almost died in childbirth. 321 pounds means I can’t easily hike or ski with my kids. It means I can’t keep up with my kids while they are having the time of their lives at DisneyWorld. It means I can’t easily bike with them during summer trips to our beloved Nantucket. It means I have a much harder time doing the home improvement projects I love so much. It means I have to shop for clothes at a big and tall shop. It means I have to drive a bigger car. It means I can’t sit comfortably on planes or at the movies, or even in my synagogue. It means I’ve suffered discrimination at work. It means I’m constantly aching. It means medical comorbidities, like sleep apnea, asthma and fatty liver, not to mention the future complications that await me. It is a burden that has had me depressed for most of my adult life.
I’ve been in therapy for years, trying to figure out why I eat and how to control it. I’ve learned a lot about myself and why I eat. I’ve come to terms with some of the more pervasive issues from my childhood – a difficult and controlling father, low self esteem, undiagnosed attention deficit disorder. At age 40, what I’ve realized is that without a drastic step, I’m not going to win this battle.