Toward a Healthy Self-Image

I have been overweight most of my life.  I remember my dad remarking that I was overweight when I was 8 years old. I weighed eighty pounds.  I was a chubby

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kid growing up, which meant I was the last one picked in gym to be on any team, which made me feel “less valuable” than everyone else.  Most of my friends were either thin or normal weight, but that made me feel even heavier.  My grandmother would remark that if I stayed at her house for one month, I’d be thin, and then proceeded to feed me more of what she just made.

I had to endure the humiliation of shopping in the “husky” department when shopping for clothes.  I endured the jeers and taunts of classmates who never stopped pointing out that I was a “fat pig.”  I really didn’t eat more than other people, I just didn’t burn it off as fast.  My weight problem was mostly hereditary; I got it from my dad, his mother, her father, etc.

I never looked good in the clothes I wore, and as a result, I was less active, and less involved with other people around me.  I became an introvert.

When I went to college, I put on weight, and later, with the help of the health service, I went on weight loss drugs and  lost weight.  As long as I was on the drugs, I was thin.  When I went off the drugs the weight came back on.  I tried every diet that came along and they worked more or less until I went off them.  There was no permanent solution to the problem.

What made the situation worse, was not simply the social implications of being an overweight person, but the emotional effect it had on me.  When I would look at myself in the mirror, I saw a fat person.  A bit less than everyone else.

As I got older, I accepted the fact that I was fat and just decided to live with it.  I got used to having to ask for a seat belt extension on a plane, and not being able to put the tray table down because my stomach got in the way.  I got used to the fact that sitting in coach class on a plane meant it was going to be a tight squeeze and would pray the middle seat was empty so I wouldn’t be pressed against someone else. If I went to a restaurant with friends or family, I had to insist on a table, because I couldn’t fit in a booth.

I reached the point where it was difficult for me to get health insurance because of my weight, and the high blood pressure and diabetes I was dealing with as a consequence of the extra weight I was carrying.  My doctor advised me that if I didn’t do something to lose the weight, I would be dead in five years. After looking over my life of failed diets and diet pills, I realized that weight loss surgery was my only chance.   When I applied for weight loss surgery to the insurance company, they turned me down and said even if it was life threatening, they would not cover the surgery.  I figured I was going to die.

I shared my situation with my friend Elliot, and he said he would raise the money for my surgery.  He contacted my friends and colleagues and they raised all the money for my surgery.  I was deeply moved that so many people donated so much money to help me, and save my life.  I felt redeemed.I had a Vertical Gastric Sleeve surgery on December 9, 2010.  In this surgery, they laproscopically removed 80% of my stomach.  It drastically limits the amount of food a person can eat.

 The good side of this surgery is that after eating 4-6 ounces of food, I feel completely full and satisfied.  I have to eat mainly protein so as not to lose muscle mass.  I take vitamin supplements as well.  Over the next 14 months, I lost 135 pounds and reached my goal weight.  

Little by little, through small things, I felt my sense of dignity as a person return.  Being able to sit in a seat on a plane and fit comfortably, not need a seat belt extension, and being able to put the tray table down, almost made me cry.  When I could fit in a booth at a restaurant comfortably, made me feel like a regular person.

Three weeks ago, I had abdominal surgery and they removed over ten pounds of extra skin.  For the first time in my life, I have a flat abdomen and feel like I’m not fat.  Its a wonderful feeling.

I have no tolerance for skinny people trying to give advice to fat people on how they should eat and live.  They haven’t lived in our skin.  I have even less patience for insensitive morons who think nothing of going up to fat people and saying insensitive, horrible things under the guise of trying to “help.”  In our society, you can’t say anything bad about a minority or a gay, but if you’re fat, you are fair game.  People say horribly unkind hurtful things that just make overweight people feel worse.  Now that I’m not in that position anymore, I won’t tolerate others bad behavior even if its not directed at me.  If you want to encourage someone who is overweight, don’t lecture them, don’t tell them they are fat or unhealthy.  Just let them know you love them.  Its the only thing that will help.

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10 thoughts on “Toward a Healthy Self-Image

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Rabbi. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have a brother who is very skinny. He tried gaining weight, working out, but nothing seemed to help. People think nothing of making what they think are funny and innocuous remarks about his physique. They seem to think that such “complements” as “can I give you a few of my extra pounds?” and “I wish I could eat whatever I want, like you!” are hilarious, but it pains me whenever I hear them said toward him – I feel embarrassed for him (as I do for others who are singled out for their real or perceived flaws or distractions). It just bothers me greatly that some people feel the need to point out whatever imperfections they find in a person, especially to that person’s face – as if whatever they just noticed is news to that person. It’s for a good reason that Judaism forbids causing any embarrassment through speech, even if done for supposedly constructive criticism. I once heard this described as “Emotional Homicide”.

    • I completely agree with you Gene. Why do people the have the right to say whatever they want regardless of who it hurts? The bottom line, they don’t have that right, and I don’t hesitate to tell them off. Perhaps it will make them think twice before doing it again.

  2. Like you, Rabbi, I have been overweight ever since childhood, although not as seriously. What gets me sometimes is that they talk to me like they think I never noticed that I am fat, like they are doing me a favor to point it out to me. Even the doctor, who is supposed to help me, does it. He told me I can choose to be thin, or I can choose to be fat. Idiot!

    The worst ones, though, are the ones who, by some miracle, got the weight off without surgery. They are the most self-righteous of all, as they tell me how they did it, and heap guilt on me because I don’t drop everything to follow whatever they just did.. Of course, check one of those experts a few years later, and he’ll be fatter than before.

    My hat is off to you for doing what you did, and for being the quality of a person that would attract friends like Elliot. I wish you many, many years of long life.

    Dave

    • Thanks for sharing that Dave. I have never thought of you as being overweight.. To me you have been a valued friend, someone I have enjoyed my time with. May you be blessed in all you seek to do.

  3. I admire your candor. For me, it was the opposite. I was too skinny and had a heart murmur when I was young, so I was odd looking and lousy at sports (I still am terrible at sports). As a child, I was always the last to be picked for a team, generally got harassed, and occasionally got beaten up.

    With time, I “filled out” and the heart murmur resolved on its own, so at least outwardly, things got better, but I’m convinced being socially isolated at an early age doesn’t just go away when you get older. My son David was diagnosed with ADHD when he was five and struggled with learning disabilities, mainly reading, as he was growing up. He was a very frustrated and angry kid, even though my wife & I showed him all the love and support we could. He went on to join the Marine Corp and is now working for the V.A. He’s married to a loving wife and has a wonderful son, but he still hates reading and I know he still has a difficult time feeling “worthy” as a human being. At the ripe old age of 57, I still struggle with those feelings as well.

    I keep reading that we can “choose” our emotions and how we react to the world around us, especially to criticism, but I don’t think it’s as simple as flipping a “mental switch” and becoming a different person internally. While it’s finally become “popular” in our culture to be against bullying (largely because of several high profile cases of bullying directed against gay people), there are still too many people living “damaged” lives because the “cool kids” said they were losers.

    You find this dynamic all over the place, even today, and not just in schools. You find it in workplaces, in families, in churches, and in synagogues. God is available to listen to us and to accept who we are, even though we don’t have a perfect body type, or we don’t read well, or we don’t fit in with the majority, but human beings still have a long way to go.

    • Thanks James. I’m sorry you and your son had to endure bullying and the difficulties you went through. I can surely identify with them. In the long run, I believe they help us develop better character traits. I have always appreciated your kindness and respectfulness toward others. I hope your son learns to accept himself and move on. It sounds like he has a great life inspite of it all.

      be well,

      Michael.

  4. Michael, I have known you a few years and have not thought much about your size. I love you because you are a great person. I am very happy that you lost the weight and your health is improved. Looking forward to giving the new you a hug!

  5. Hello Rabbi–
    I came across your blog when I searched google for the terms vertical gastric sleeve and insurance.
    I have some questions, if you don’t mind. First of all, let me just say that I’m a journalist looking for info about this topic. If you prefer to stay anonymous and not use your name that’s 100% fine. Would you just let me know how your experience was getting insurance to cover the VSG? Did you automatically get denied, or did you try to convince them to cover it?
    Thanks for your help! You can message me back here or at meg@trafficbyte.com
    -Meg

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