While waiting at my HMO to go in for my colonoscopy, I struck up a conversation with another fat old lady.
Turns out she is a WLS (weight-loss surgery) survivor.
She told me that her surgery (which she had some 20 years ago) did not work. Like many people she blamed herself for the failure – because the surgery didn’t change what was going on in her head and didn’t stop her mouth from eating. I wasn’t going to argue with her about her own lived experience. I just mentioned that her story was far from rare.
She also told me that because of her surgery she has had a long history of associated health problems; which also led her to where she was today – waiting to have (yet another) colonoscopy. I told her that was also far from rare and that many people don’t appreciate how dangerous and debilitating this surgery can be.
Then she told me she had lost 100 pounds during the past year.
My heart stopped. This woman is 68 years old and she is happy about a significant, unplanned weight loss.
So I told her the cautionary tale of my sister-in-law; another WLS survivor, who almost turned into a WLS non-survivor due to her eventually adopting anorexic behaviors (some 20 years after her original surgery), becoming so enamored over the weight loss that she screwed up her own body so badly she was in and out of nursing homes and hospitals. In and out of nursing homes and hospitals, mind you, not for her anorexic behavior or her drastic weight loss, but simply to be treated for the physical problems caused by the anorexic behavior and her drastic weight loss. Because, you know, how could weight loss be a bad thing? I spent 3 months in New Jersey advocating for my SIL while she was in the hospital (again) and bringing home to her healthcare providers the underlying problem; so that they eventually recognized where her problems were coming from (partly her own longstanding mental issues and partly due to her blood chemistry being so screwed up it literally was causing other, severe mental issues).
I told the lady in the waiting area about the science supporting the fact that weight loss after a certain age (she was certainly past that age, as am I) does not improve mortality risk. That you are better off having a stable (albeit high) weight than losing weight.
The lady then mentioned that she had a lot of fat clothes (I was happy that she was okay using the word “fat” as a descriptor) that no longer fit her. She even asked if I would like some of her clothes. (I told her no thank you, as I am, myself, a bit of a clothes addict and have way too many clothes already.) I know there is a FB group where people can sell (or give away) their fat clothes, but I could not remember the name of it – I thought it was called “Fat Too” (and amazingly enough, I was right – go figure!). Then I suggested she check out NAAFA (fka National Association for Fat Acceptance). I explained to her that NAAFA is a civil rights group for fat people and she was really taken by the idea. I also told her NAAFA might be able to point her to a place where her clothes might find a good home. (Mind you, she’s still fat but now is about a 3X and she has a bunch of larger clothes, which can always be used by others; as larger clothes are hard to find in thrift stores, consignment shops and other places where there are less expensive clothing options.)
She even dug out a notebook and a pen and wrote down “NAAFA.org”.
She was called in for her procedure then, and she stood up with quite a bit of difficulty. I’m not a doctor, but to me it looked like she had bone issues (a known problem for WLS survivors) – being severely bent over; having to use a walker (no shaming – you use what you need to use for mobility) and shuffled out of the waiting room.
I just have to wonder what her situation would be without WLS. But there’s no way to tell; and we are all doing the best we can at any given moment, so it was her choice to make. I just wish there was more honest information about the long term risks of WLS.
So I hope she checks out NAAFA. I hope she checks out all of what NAAFA has to offer. I hope she checks out the newsletter and maybe learns about the science being done regarding fat bodies. I hope she can learn to accept and maybe even love her own fat body and stop blaming herself for the failures of diets and WLS.
One of the greatest predictors of poor mortality in the elderly is frailty. And although, still fat, this woman looked, to me, to be frail; and I was both saddened and worried for her.
There but for the grace of God (TIDBI) …