Many years ago a woman and her daughter joined my Weight Watchers meeting. She introduced herself and the told me she was disgusted with her body.
“I’m disgustingly fat. I don’t know why I let myself go like this, ” she said.
Her young adult daughter was with her. She said, “I’m getting fat and want to put the brakes on it now before it became a real problem.’
I wouldn’t have used fat, overweight, or even slightly chubby to describe either of these women. I’d call them fit.
They would never be willowy. They didn’t have willowy frames. Nobody would call them disgusting however, not even, MeMe Roth, the hardcore fatty hater. By all standards, they were very attractive,
They had a lower slung, powerful build. Their bodies appeared to be strong, powerful, and coordinated. In talking with them I learned those qualities fit. They were athletic and enjoyed a number of activities that required strength, power, and coordination to really enjoy engaging in them. They hiked, biked, and played tennis regularly.
The first thing they did when I handed them their program material was to ask me, “what’s my goal weight?” I told them where to look in the booklet to find the chart. Mom groaned; daughter gasped. In unison they both cried, “I’m so disgustingly fat.”
They were not disgustingly fat. Even if they were fat, which they were not, I don’t like negative adjectives used to describe weight. Negative thoughts about our bodies inspire poor treatment and poor treatment doesn’t result in positive outcomes.
Part of my getting started session, which is when I help members get off to a good start, is to talk about goals, weight charts, and doctor’s goals. The Weight weight charts are based on a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20 – 25. I’m okay with using BMI for a place to start determining a healthy weight, but it’s not the ultimate authority. It’s a calculation comparing body height and body weight, but it doesn’t use body composition in the calculation.
I explained to them the drawbacks by using weight charts as the only means of setting a goal weight. They weren’t hearing me. They each wanted to lose at least 20 pounds. I couldn’t imagine they wouldn’t be happy with the change they’d notice in their bodies by losing 5 pounds and definitely no more than 10.
Unless a member wants to go below the bottom of the Weight Watchers weight goal range for her height, the goal is the member’s choice. I can share insight and provide guidance, but the member has the final say. These two women were highly motivated to get to the goal they believed was going to make life perfect.
Their progress was the quintessential yoyo pattern. Up and down, up and down, up and down and although they managed to keep off a few pounds of their starting weight they weren’t really going anywhere. Mom and daughter were determined. Neither intended to quit until they were satisfied they were no longer fat.
I saw them every Wednesday night. First one would weigh in and then the other. Some weeks they were happy; some weeks they were unhappy. We talked a lot about goals. I encouraged them to make small, non scale goals so that no matter what happened when they stepped on the scale, they had an accomplishment to celebrate.
I asked them to look in the mirror. I wanted them to see how healthy and beautiful they were. I wanted to put a new pair of goggles on them. I wanted them to see their fit bodies instead of a number on the scale that they found objectionable. I wasn’t able to do that and the truth is I was there to help them achieve their goals, not try to put my values on them.
One Wednesday they came in really excited. Mom was going to New Hampshire to see the first lady, Hillary Clinton, speak about her health care plan. She told me she wouldn’t be back in time to come to the meeting next week. I was excited for her.
“Have a great time and tell me all about it,” I said as they left the meeting that night.
That was the last time I saw either one of them. Mom died that morning on her way to New Hampshire. She was picking up a friend to go to see Hillary. She missed her driveway and pulled a u-turn in the middle of the road without noticing a truck coming the other way.
She was hit broadside and thrown out of the car. She was pronounced DOA when the ambulance got to the hospital. Losing her was a tragedy of immeasurable proportions, but what made me even sadder was the time she wasted hating her body. Her life was perfect, but a number on the scale convinced her of otherwise.
I understand why people want to lose weight. It may make them healthier. It may feel better. It may improve mobility. There are benefits to weighing less, but sometimes it’s not weight loss we need. Sometimes we need to see our bodies and recognize that we don’t need to be a number on a chart to be the best version of ourself.
Losing her was only made worse for me because her life was perfect and she never knew it.