I started an Instagram page for my blog and if you’ve been reading along recently, you know I have recently refocused my attention on a new leg of my weight loss journey. I know some people may think of the word “journey” as a complete cliché because it’s thrown around so often nowadays, but there is no other way to describe my experience with being overweight, losing weight, and finding a new normal as I continue to inch closer to a healthier weight. By definition, a journey is the act of traveling from one place to another or traveling somewhere; and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I started the process living life in the body of someone weighing 331 pounds, and I am journeying to a new weight. The lifestyle, opportunities, and choices of an individual weighing over 300 pounds are significantly different from that of someone of a smaller weight; therefore, I am able to describe my experience in the only way I know how – as a long, winding journey.
I have been overweight since I was a child. I weighed 225 pounds at the age of 12 during my 6th grade volleyball physical examination. At 15 years old, I weighed 275 pounds, and I was over 320 pounds by my 21st birthday. I had always known I was overweight, and I wanted to change; but I did not know what choices needed to be made and I hadn’t built up the motivation to make consistent lifestyle changes. I joined Weight Watchers in February 2016, and my starting weight was 331 pounds. I was 25 years old.
I was a 3-year-old preschooler the first time I was bullied for my weight. Another classmate, a 3-year-old named Scott insisted on making fun of my size because of how big I was. The teacher scolded him for calling me names and he spent some time on the “naughty step” in the corner of the room. At the time, I didn’t understand that my weight was the reason he was calling me mean names, but I’m 28 years old now and I still remember what he said. It’s strange what the brain chooses to remember. There are so many wonderful moments that I’ve been a part of over the years, and I know I’ve forgotten more than a few of them; but I recall every detail from the first time I was bullied for my weight. In fact, it’s one of the earliest memories I have.
Being overweight for the majority of my life put me in a lot of situations that I wouldn’t have had to deal with if I’d been of normal weight. I was severely bullied every year I was in school. On two occasions, I was denied acceptance onto sports teams because I was “too fat”. I have been teased in the workplace by coworkers. I sealed the title for being the “fat sister” and I was always known as the “fat friend” when people looked at my friend group. There were times where I physically did not fit into situations because I was too big – a rollercoaster during a visit to Six Flags at age 11, and requiring a seatbelt extender while on my first plane trip at age 23. I remember when I was six years old, my paternal grandparents bought me a bouncy house for my birthday. Some of the parents inflated it for my party, but I was told I wasn’t allowed to jump in it because I was over the weight limit that was listed on the box. Instead, I watched all of the neighborhood children jump and enjoy the bouncy house as I stood on the side.
So many moments of being treated as if I had no value came with a price – I started to believe it, too. When I was teaching English as a foreign language at a middle school in China, everyday my students would compliment me. They would say how kind I was and how excited they were to have me as their teacher because I gave them a bigger view of what life was like in the Western world. One of the compliments I received at least once each day was “Miss Amber, you are so beautiful!” I would always thank them whenever they said this, which was often; but I could not understand why they thought I was beautiful. Nobody back in America ever saw it, and I didn’t either.
Two years prior to that, while in my senior year of university, I approached my English professor at the end of a class to inquire about some of the material that was covered during that morning’s lecture. She answered all of my questions, and then said “don’t take this the wrong way, but are you autistic? Like just a tiny bit?” There was no way for her to have known, but I had grown up with a cousin who falls on the severe end of the autism spectrum, so I knew there was a variety of behaviors that came along with an autism diagnosis and not all autistic people act the same. While keeping my cousin in mind, I decided not to be offended and responded “no, why?” She chuckled and said “you just seem so shy.” Her assumptions were ignorant, but that moment made me realize the people I’d only met in adulthood couldn’t see the dozens and dozens of times that I was bullied throughout the previous 20 years or the countless moments that I was made to feel as if I had nothing to offer. When a person is overweight, their overall experience is not solely just about weight. There are so many factors that add to the snowball of their journey that eventually effects the person they become, and that’s exactly what was happening to me.
As I previously mentioned, it was not until age 25 that I joined Weight Watchers – a program that provided me positive change regarding my weight loss goals. It was when I was living in China as an English teacher, and I had lived there for a few months before I started to make a change in direction toward a healthier lifestyle. Prior to moving to China, a few of my friends would make comments like “you’re going to come back so skinny from over there!” Those comments hung in my memory the entire time I was living overseas. I guess there was an assumption that since Chinese people tend to be smaller in stature, some of that skinny girl magic would rub off onto me and I would magically return to America as a significantly thinner version of myself. On the night of February 14, 2016, I had a dream that I returned to the United States after a year of teaching in China. In the dream, I saw my family and friends for the first time and the look of disappointment on their faces was followed by the comment “you look exactly the same.” Over two decades of bullying and weight discrimination never motivated me to lose weight. I do not know why being a disappointment to everyone in my dream inspired my sudden push to change; after all, it was just a dream, but that was the morning I decided to join Weight Watchers.
I lost over 100 pounds by utilizing the lifestyle tools provided by the Weight Watchers program, and by becoming a runner while using the C25K (Couch to 5k) phone app. I moved back to the United States right before my 26th birthday, and it hasn’t been easy readjusting to the cultural differences between America and China. I had a great routine going in China concerning my weight loss, but I’ve had to map out a new guide since my move back to the U.S. I am 28 years old now, currently living in Chicago and working for a large Media Group in the downtown area. After nearly two years of trying to regain my footing on this weight loss journey, I have finally found some solid ground to stand on, and I am back at it. According to my doctor, I should weigh around 180 pounds to be at my goal weight, and I’m trying to get to that point. For me, losing weight is not just about the number on the scale – if at all. I have lived too much of my life with a target on my back, chains constricting my freedom of choice because of my size, and trying to make myself smaller so I don’t inconvenience anyone around me. I am going to keep losing weight because I would like to give myself the gift of living a carefree life. After all, I think I deserve a chance to experience the world free from the cover that being overweight placed over me for far too long.