“I have one purpose for sharing my story, and one purpose only. For other people to know they are not alone. For people to know that those feelings and stories that were stuffed so deep down, never to see the light of day, are indeed my feelings and stories too. You are not alone. We are not alone.
If there are three words I could choose to describe my journey with my weight they’d be long, tumultuous, and exhausting. I’ve been overweight my whole life. There was a couple years circa 2009-2011 when I used fat burners, exercise, and a healthy diet to lose 60 pounds. I woke up one morning in December of 2009 weighing 245 pounds and something clicked in me. I worked hard (thank you caffeine and fat burners) and got down to 185 pounds. Over the next ten years or so, I’d go on to gain 125 pounds. Eventually this landed me in a doctor’s office in October of 2018, weighing 310 pounds at 5 foot 4 inches, truly believing I had to kill myself to be rid of this body. I was 29, in a serious relationship with the love of my life, and I was desperate to turn my body into the healthy temple it deserved to be in order to grow babies one day. I couldn’t stop eating. No matter how badly I wanted to stop eating the way I was, I couldn’t. I remember saying that if there was a rehab for overeating, I would go in a heartbeat. I just needed a month or so without any other option but to eat well in order to break the cycle.
Enter: weight loss surgery.
My earliest memories, with Sear’s photos to prove it, include me with a round face and chubby cheeks. My parents were overweight for a majority of my childhood, and while they did the absolute best with what they had, eating healthy and exercise just weren’t a part of my childhood. I remember in high school friends would say they were going to the gym with their parents. That was such a foreign concept to me, I barely understood it. People go to a gym? With their parents? Then, I went away to college and I recall my suite mates making time to use our on campus gym. I went with them just to walk on the treadmill because I didn’t even know my way around the gym. This was normal for them. Running, sweating, jamming out to their music. It was so foreign to me. My parents didn’t say to themselves, ‘Let’s make sure our daughter grows up obese.’ They were amazing parents. My brother and I never wanted for anything. There was an abundance of love and affection in our home. It had nothing to do with a lack of love. I can see now that my parents were battling their own demons with food and I can wholeheartedly identify with that in the present day.
I have a series of incredibly painful memories from my childhood that at the time I laughed off or acted unphased by, but as I put these words down, I can acknowledge now just how deeply they were embedded in me. These memories were always there on a subconscious level.
I recall one time, we were in New Jersey at my aunt’s house, I think I was about seven years old, and my Uncle looked at me as I grabbed for another cookie. He puffed out his cheeks, furrowed his brow and motioned with his hands like his belly was growing while shaking his head in utter disapproval. For many, many years I was unable to put a name to what it was that I was feeling in that moment. I know today that it was shock mixed with deep embarrassment.
My whole life I was the fat girl. In elementary school and middle school the first thing other kids would make fun of was my weight. ‘Why are you so loud, Nicole?’ a boy in 5th grade asked me. ‘You can’t be fat AND loud, it doesn’t work.’ That moment set something off in me. I was bound to show him and everyone else that I COULD be fat and loud. I was going to be the loudest. At age 7 I was made fun of at day camp by a few older girls because I had the same pair of shorts in every color. They were the only ones that had fit when I went shopping with my mom for camp. This should have been an exciting occasion, but as shopping would end up being for the better part of the next 20 years, it was depressing, embarrassing, and shameful.
In middle school and high school I would come home from class and talk on the phone for hours with boys. In that sense, I was a normal teenage girl. The difference lies in that when other girls were being asked, ‘Will you be my girlfriend?’ or holding hands with their crushes in the hallways, that wasn’t happening to me because no one wanted anyone else to know that they had a crush on the fat girl.
The craziest part of all of this is, in retrospect, is that I wasn’t even ‘fat’ in high school! I was a chubby kid but aside from that, I looked incredible in my Senior prom dress if I do say so myself. What a cringeworthy word. Do other people shrink inwardly when saying the F word or is it only people who were the F word that feel that way? Food for thought. No pun intended.
In middle school I realized I was funny. This statement sounds bold but it’s true! I have my picture next to ‘best sense of humor’ in my senior yearbook to prove it. My humor ended up saving me. I wasn’t good at sports or art, I didn’t do girl scouts and those kinds of things. I realized I had a genuine gift for making people laugh; I was the funny one! am forever grateful for this gift. My head would often tell me that, ‘You’re just the fat girl, no one wants to be friends with you.’ The laughter from my friends and those around me negated those feelings, even if just momentarily, and I felt like I belonged.
I did have quite a few really close friends from school and day camp that ended up emerging as I got a bit older. I feel compelled to include that, even though I did feel a deep sadness from isolated incidents regarding my weight, I was always rather confident. I’ll touch on this more later, but I don’t want to make my life out to be something that it’s not. Being overweight DID predispose me for certain interactions with people, but it didn’t make my life one long nightmare. I can’t put a specific time frame on when I accepted that I was overweight, but I did and that made life just that much easier to get through and experience. Life was difficult and painful at times, but I tried not to let my weight get me down more often than not.
After high school, I found myself living on the edge, intertwined with drugs and alcohol. That lifestyle lasted until 2012 when my parents gave me some tough love (and in turn ended up saving my life with said tough love) and I put an end to it all. I found that my addiction ended up manifesting into an obsession and compulsion with eating. In my first year clean, I found myself tipping the scales at a whopping 80 pounds heavier.
The summer after I got clean, I was at an amusement park with friends for the first time in years and I didn’t fit in the rides. I got on the roller coaster and in front of hundreds of strangers the straps wouldn’t fit. I laughed it off but oh goodness was I dying inside. I proceeded to eat fried chicken until my stomach hurt for lunch that day, saying to my friends, ‘Well it’s not like I fit anyways.’ I went to Disney World at age 26 with my family and based on my past experience with rides, I began obsessively researching the width and diameter of all the seats in the rides. I recall waiting in line for rides with my brother and pleading with God to ‘please, please let me fit.’ I would get on the ride and tell the attendant, ‘You can push as hard as you can, I promise you won’t hurt me.’ On one roller coaster, they had three people pushing down on the lap bar, I remember tears welling up in my eyes because it hurt so badly. Despite the emotional and physical pain my weight gain had on me, I continued to eat and I wasn’t able to stop.
Every time I committed to meal prepping, exercising, and ‘getting my weight under control,’ the 5, 10, 20lbs I would lose didn’t stand a chance to the, ‘You have sooo much weight to lose. 16lbs is nothing’ that would scroll through my head like a marquee on the opening night of a Broadway show. Just like that I’d find myself ordering enough food for three people at McDonald’s, sneaking the food into my bedroom, and eating until my stomach hurt. What a vicious, exhausting, lonely cycle it was. This continued on for quite a few years. Five and a half to be exact.
I remember the exact day when I turned to my then boyfriend and said, ‘I need help. I’m going to eat myself to death.’ It was then that I really let the universe bring options to me. My cousin and a friend of mine had recently had weight loss surgery and my father was actually the one urging me to go see the surgeon. You see, my mother passed from a terrible disease in 2016 and she was always my kind voice of reason when it came to my weight. ‘Hey Nikks, what’s going on? I noticed your weight is climbing again. Do you want some help?’ She was my best friend. After doing some work, I can see that her death absolutely impacted my detrimental eating habits and weight gain. My father gently and kindly suggesting I go see this doctor was him trying to step in where my mother otherwise would have.
You see, right up until I went to see this Bariatric surgeon I was scrolling through Instagram daily and cursing at weight loss surgery patients whose bodies were transforming right before my eyes. ‘Must be nice to take the easy way out. Why don’t you try hard work?’ I would seethe at the photos. I cringe even saying this now because those nasty thoughts and words I had were just a deep seeded envy and pain I was carrying around. I subconsciously longed for the courage to make the decision to have weight loss surgery.
I took a leap of faith and called the surgeon. The moment the informational seminar began that evening back in October of 2018, I turned to my fiancé with tears in my eyes. I knew this is what I had to do. The doctor kept talking about how this surgery was nothing more than a tool. He spoke about how if you don’t commit to a new lifestyle, this will not work long term. Sure, you’ll lose weight in the beginning, but the people who commit to a complete overhaul of their previous lives are the ones who succeed.
I sobbed uncontrollably the moment the doctor told me my insurance had approved the surgery. For the first time in very long, I finally had hope that I didn’t have to kill myself to be freed from this burden that was my obesity. I scheduled a whole bunch of pre-op appointments and set the date. On January 19, 2019 I had a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy, aka 80% of my stomach was removed.
In this past year since having surgery, I have lost 98 pounds and counting. I have worked harder at this than anything before in my entire life. I have changed everything. I meal prep weekly. I weigh, measure, and log all of my food. I exercise regularly. I’ve also experienced dozens of what the weightloss community call NSVs or ‘Non Scale Victories.’ I am able to go into a store and still shop even if their sizes only go up to XL. I’ve been able to donate over $1,000 of clothing that no longer fit me to other women in need. I had my eyes on a winter coat last year that only went up to XL. This winter I bought it. I didn’t have to ask for a seat belt extender last time I flew on a plane. I can cross my legs. My feet and ankles no longer hurt. I am able to keep up with the kids I nanny for. I wasn’t worried that on my first day of Nursing School this past September that I wouldn’t fit in the desk. I can walk in between people’s chairs in a restaurant instead of having to map out my route as the host shows me to my table. I was always confident growing up, but this past year has brought something more to the table for me. I feel I have value, more value than I ever had before. Not because of my shrinking size but because I have put my mind to this and I have executed it. I can speak on hard work, determination, exercise, healthy eating, and cooking because I’m a living example of it all.
Do I fall short and mess up? You better believe I do. Do I go weeks without working out? Yes. Have I eaten pasta? Yes. Candy? Yes. Ice cream, cake, bread, rice, etc etc etc…Yes. But the thing that makes this weight loss journey different from all the other times is that I’ve I attempted to lose weight no matter how badly I binge or ‘mess up.’ No matter the circumstance, I get back up and keep going.
Mentally and emotionally this has proven to be the most tumultuous journey with weight thus far for me. I have realized my eating is far more disordered than I knew. I always knew I was an overeater, that I had bingeing tendencies, but until I began to overhaul everything I previously knew, I didn’t realize just how much more of a mental and emotional journey this would be.I still engage in binges when I let my emotions get the best of me. A binge doesn’t look like what it used to before surgery but for me, a binge state of mind is more about my thoughts than the amount of food I’m eating. Before surgery, a binge would be $25 and 6,000 calories of fast food in one sitting. Now a binge is more like 3 chicken nuggets, a handful of fries, and two bites of a cheeseburger. Or it’s a full bag of potato chips. One might say this isn’t a binge, but when you only have 20% of your stomach left, please know that this amount of food pushes my stomach to its limits and my intentions are often to stop feeling whatever it is I’m feeling and to eat detrimentally. This is something I’m talking about, sharing with others about and I’ve actually just recently started therapy again.
When I was considering this surgery, I knew I had an unhealthy mental and emotional relationship with food. I knew that relationship wasn’t going to be fixed when I had my stomach altered. What was able to happen though was that the cycle was broken for me in the first few months following surgery. I wasn’t able to eat certain things while my stomach was healing and even what I was able to ingest had to be incredibly small portions. The physical results of the weight flying off was motivation to keep going. To keep learning, keep prepping, keep exploring my relationship with food, my body and myself.
The tears I’ve cried this past year have watered the ground I walk on. The sweat that has poured from me released emotional toxins from my body. The joy I’ve felt is indescribable. I will be on this journey for the rest of my life. On a bad day, that seems saddening and overwhelming. Today is a good day however and I have a deep gratitude that I feel swirling up under my rib cage because I GET to be on this journey for the rest of my life. How lucky am I that the stars aligned and I am finally able to work on my mental, emotional and physical health.
I wouldn’t change a thing. It didn’t have to be this good.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole Emily. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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