Health and Fitness, Life

Why Being Fat Was the Best Thing That’s Ever Happened to Me

Before-and-After
Left: me, in fall 2007, at my heaviest. Right: me, fall 2014, just before my AFAA Primary Group Fitness Certification Examination

 

Anne Lamott on her thighs, also know as “the aunties”: “We walked along, the aunties and me … I could feel the aunties beaming. They had been in the dark too long. It did not trouble me that parts of my body — the auntie parts — kept moving even after I had come to a full halt. Who cares? People just need to be soft and clean.”–Anne Lamott, A Day at the Beach with My “Aunties”

Skinny Minnie

I was a painfully small child, unusually slender from weeks of not eating because stress-induced mouth ulcers kept me on a steady diet of soup. I remained petite throughout middle and high school, the kind of girl the tall boys wanted to tuck under their armpits and the cheerleaders wanted to lift for stunts. It took years to surpass the 100 pound threshold.

At 16, 108 pounds felt perfect for a 5’1 frame, well-fed and cared for by a scholarship to our small town YMCA. But then I attended a women’s college, where we were all so liberated that we wore pajamas to class and gained the freshman 15–or 30. My weight crept up further when I entered Duke University for graduate work; I sat and ate my way through three years of academic procrastination.

With my Master of Divinity degree came another reward, much less prestigious: a weight topping out at 165, far too heavy for someone who barely passes roller coaster height requirements.

Before-and-After2
Left: me, at 16. Right: me, at 26.

Wake-Up Call

At 26, I was barely hanging on to my physical and mental health as I completed a post-graduate residency program in hospital chaplaincy. I only began to think of my body as more than a container to hold trauma when a local yoga practitioner offered free Friday yoga classes in our all faiths chapel. Mats spread across the sacred space, she became my “Jesus with yoga pants on,” inviting me to stretch my way back toward loving myself. Her care urged me into the baby steps in “releasing” what one of my favorite online personalities calls Body Clutter.

The pudge came off slowly, but deliberately, through a formula of yoga, walking, and Weight Watchers. A year-and-a-half later, I met a devout Hindu vegetarian with endless energy. When Fred asked me to marry him–another change ensued: giving up meat and keeping up with an active husband. In total, I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds.

This seven year journey has resulted in a healthier weight and a renewed commitment to loving my body–cellulite, saggy boobs, stretch marks, spider veins, and all. I’ve just begun to feel comfortable in my body again.

Fat = Lazy?

Besides the health dangers, there was another heart-breaking lesson to being fat: it’s difficult to channel your mind, body, and soul into thinking you deserve to take care of yourself. Work, care-giving, poverty, time, money, mental and spiritual health, food accessibility, genetics, and chronic disease all factor in the lives of those who are overweight. Often, it ends up in a body composition we are certain will not budge.

And the world does not help the situation.

I’m just as addicted to gossip magazines as any procrastinating woman. My cousin Erin is my supplier, a dealer of the crack that is Us Weekly. These magazines fuel the flames of self hatred. When they are not being nipped, tucked, and airbrushed onto the page, models and actors recruit personal trainers, chefs, and life coaches to keep up with the industry’s incredulous standards. Money is no object to ensure that their bodies are in the best shape of their lives; their careers depend on it.

But the average person doesn’t have these resources. We work factory, desk jobs or retail; we wipe snot off of children and visit loved ones in nursing homes. We are caretakers, errand-runners, and heads of households. No one is paying the ordinary woman to hit the gym for half the day. She is fortunate to squeeze in radical self-care in 5-minute segments.

Then, when regular women toss the magazines into recycle bin, it’s the real people they have to deal with.

Friends and family who’ve known you your whole life do a double-take when they see the truffle shuffle that is now your stomach. They look concerned, and maybe just a tad frustrated. They don’t know what to say. Strangers are worse. They call you “fat” and write you off as lazy. I’ve done it myself.

Worn Out Machine: Attitude of Gratitude

Reality check: have you visited a nursing home lately? That will tell you everything you need to know about your body. You and I will age; we will wear out. Parts will stop working, gravity will always win.

When I hug an 80-year-old, I’m reminded to appreciate the body I have now while I have it–despite its imperfections and sluggish days. My body is not worth of Vogue, but it can walk the grocery store parking lot, bathe itself, and break out a sweat at the gym. Chubby or not–it has arms and legs to embrace loved ones.

Being fat taught me two lessons on perspective:

First: love your body now. Take care of yourself now. No one can do it for you.

Second: love those around you who are struggling with their weight. Encourage them, support them, do whatever you can to assist them to a healthy place.

If it hadn’t been for the caring yoga teacher who generously offered her time and expertise to a bunch of burned-out hospital chaplains, I would have never began my journey back toward health.

Thanks to her, my husband, and attentive friends and family who cheered for me, my life has changed.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail stating that I passed the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America’s (AFAA) Primary Group Fitness Certification. This means I can teach fitness classes–and encourage men and women of all shapes and sizes to cherish the bodies they’ve been given.

I’ve yet to teach my first class—so if you see me panting my way through leading you through a cardio combination, be patient, be kind.

Summer 2015: Free the Aunties!

I don’t regret getting fat. The experience helped me appreciate what it feels like to be unmotivated to take care of yourself and to be judged for how you look. It forced me to embrace my body to the fullest–even when I’ve fallen off the health wagon.

Just like Anne Lamott, there will be no hidden thighs in my world. The “aunties” will get their sun and fresh air henceforth. Though body parts adversely affected by gravity might be a source contention for anyone over the age of 18, this roll and that flap beckons us to the truth-telling of natural light. It’s time to love ourselves right now, for exactly who we are.

Next summer, I hope I’ll be crazy and strong enough to wear a bikini, and let “aunties”, in all their cottage cheese glory, break free.

At 33, bikinis aren’t about showing off bodies and evoking the jealousy of all beach-goers. It’s about saying, “Here I am. Take it, leave it, I don’t care. If I can walk and talk, it’s a good day.”

Join me in freeing your “aunties.” Ever had a tough time accepting something about your body? Share below.

10 thoughts on “Why Being Fat Was the Best Thing That’s Ever Happened to Me”

  1. Wow, Dana! You have demonstrated through your own struggles and suffering how to accomplish greatness by seeing what truly is, and acknowledging that “what is” changes over time. You followed through by surrounding yourself with supportive friends, family and husband. While you are delightfully embracing your sacred body-vessel, I am a happy witness, celebrating YOU!. May the good times roll!

    1. Thanks so much–you continue to be an inspiration to me, Julianah! Your self-care, nutrition, and mind-body-spirit connection have always encouraged me. Thank you.

  2. Hi Dana,

    Isn’t Yoga a Hindu practice??
    I have seen Christians who practice Yoga and treat it as if its some sort of exercise without understanding the deeper spiritual context it carries.

    Besides there is something called Christian Yoga which I find very disrespectful to the Hindus, we are treating their religion as a toy through cultural & religious appropriation coupled with digestion (using Vedic philosophy, rephrasing it and selling it to the world).

    Worst still we attack and demean their faith for centuries when in reality we quietly stole everything they have for our own benefit. I believe we should look at these issues through an Indian Hindu’s perspective as it were they who defended the faith we admire so much.

    1. Thanks, Janice, for reading and commenting! I really appreciate your point of view.

      Indeed, yoga is at its heart a Hindu practice, and removing it from its original context denies its ancient roots. The practitioner who donated her time and energy to teach us yoga in the All Faiths Chapel at UNC hospital offered the practice in its context, and I so appreciated that.

      Now that I am married to a Hindu, my eyes are opened further to the spiritual richness of yoga–which is really a lifestyle–and I think it’s a disservice to try and “Christianize” it in any way. I’m perfectly comfortable being a Christian who practices Hindu yoga, and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.

      Namaste,
      Dana

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