I grew up in a traditional Italian household that loved food. For us, something like pasta with red sauce was just a regular everyday meal. It was also the ‘90s, which wasn’t nearly as health conscious of an era as the one we live in now.
On top of that, mom was a single mother, and we didn’t have much money. So we did the best with the hand that we were dealt, but unfortunately, given the circumstances, we didn’t have the luxury of prioritizing the healthier foods. It was more about what we could afford, as opposed to “Is this healthy?”
I got accustomed to that lifestyle, and by the time I was old enough to realize how unhealthy it was, I had been obese for years.
I first became aware that I had a problem when I was about 7 years old. It was Halloween, and I had dressed up as Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. My mom was dating a guy at the time, and when he saw me in my costume, part of which was a crop top, he said I was “too fat” to be Jasmine. That’s when it all started.
Shortly after, the comments began coming from my own family. It wasn’t brutal when I was younger. It was more like “Maybe you should join a sports team” or “Maybe you should drink less soda.” But as I got older, the comments got progressively nastier. “Nobody will ever date you.” “You’ll never find a husband.” “You won’t have a career because nobody wants to hire a fat person.”
The thing is, as a child, you can’t control what you’re being fed. I couldn’t go out to the store and buy my own food. There was a big lack of responsibility on my family’s part. They blamed me for everything by saying “I couldn’t control my eating,” but they were the ones feeding me the unhealthy foods that were making me gain weight.
Their comments made me extremely depressed. But my family has never been very supportive when it comes to mental health. They think that things like depression are just excuses to be lazy. So then, when I became depressed, I was told that I was “lazy” or “not trying hard enough.”
At the time, I believed everything they said. I believed that I would never find a husband or have a career, and anytime I had a relationship that didn’t work out or I got turned down for a job, I blamed myself. I blamed the weight.
At my peak weight I was 242 pounds. I did try to lose weight, but I was really just doing it to get my family to stop with their comments. I was on and off of Weight Watchers and every other diet program imaginable for years. But nothing worked because I wasn’t doing it for myself.
That changed when I found out I was close to developing polycystic ovary syndrome and was also pre-diabetic. I sat down and had a conversation with myself. “Do I want to be dealing with this when I’m in my 30s?” The answer was no. “Do I want to keep struggling with my weight if and when I have a family?” No.
That’s when I started looking into weight-loss surgery. I eventually decided it was the right thing for me, and I requested that my primary care doctor refer me for the procedure. But she denied me. She knew how damaged my family situation was, and she mandated that I had to go to therapy for at least six months before she would even consider referring me. (I know, I used to think surgery was the easy way out, too, but it’s actually a big commitment that requires a clear, focused mind and dedication.)
I’ll be honest, at the time, I wasn’t happy that she didn’t refer me right away. But now I see that it was the best thing she ever did for me. If it weren’t for therapy, I never would have learned how to identify my issues and then start healing them. I never would have learned that I can’t change my family, but I can establish boundaries with them.
When my doctor saw the progress I had made, she referred me for surgery. I took time off from my job as an SEO specialist at InVue Digital, and I asked one of my friends to come with me to the hospital because I decided not to tell my family about the procedure. Then, in September of 2017, I had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, which means a large portion of my stomach was removed. I was left with a much smaller stomach that makes me feel full after eating very small amounts.
As I ate less, I lost weight. But it’s not as easy as just eating less. I also had to change what I ate and follow the strict diet plan that I was given by my doctors. I was told I could expect to lose about 70 pounds, but just a little over a year after surgery, I had lost 115. I couldn’t believe it.
But losing more weight than expected also meant I was left with more loose skin. I now have pounds of it hanging off my stomach, constantly tugging at my body. It’s very uncomfortable, and it’s a real confidence killer. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I still see the old me because everything hangs the same. It also deters me from dating. Just the thought of having to explain my body to someone gives me so much anxiety.
Still, it’s 100% worth it. I would much rather have loose skin than be miserably stuck inside a 242-pound body.
I recently made a GoFundMe page to start raising money for surgery to remove the loose skin. I’ve accepted my body and learned to love myself despite the skin, but I do look forward to being relieved of the constant tugging. I was also overweight since I was a child, so I have no clue what it’s like to have a so-called “normal” body, and I’m excited to experience that.
For anyone else going through what I went through, try to tune out other people’s opinions as much as you can. Just because your mom or your friend doesn’t support surgery, that doesn’t mean it’s not the right decision for you. And even if it’s not surgery, if anyone criticizes how you want to achieve your weight-loss goals, remember that at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to live in your body. You’re the one who has to find happiness.
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