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Jonathon and I discovered a new addiction last night:  My 600 lb. Life.

Yep.  It’s yet another show on the The Learning Channel, created to educate us about the lives of the enormously obese.  Yes, it does pander to the lowest common denominator in the human galaxy of failings: incurable curiosity.  What’s it like to be so large you can’t walk any farther than the bathroom?  Is it true you can’t even drive a car because the steering wheel gets in the way?

I started it.  I was looking for something a little inspirational, turned off by the plethora of Halloween movies making the rounds as that day draws ever closer.  Truth be told, I was flipping between a Jonathan Taylor Thomas Christmas movie (!) and the 600 lb. Life show.  I was hard up, folks.  Just killing time until Zac went to bed, looking forward to a quiet evening with my husband who spent most of the weekend working on an assignment for his doctoral program, a 10-page lit review.

Turns out, the foundation of the show was following 4 people over the course of 7 years, starting in 2004.  Each of these four people – Melissa, Ashley, Henry and Donald –  had gastric bypass surgery from the same doctor.  This is not lap band surgery, where a plastic band constricts the size of your stomach.  That band can be loosened or tightened based on a person’s particular need. This is more drastic.  This is changing the physiology of the stomach.  Wikipedia says:

Gastric bypass procedures (GBP) are any of a group of similar operations that first divides the stomach into a small upper pouch and a much larger lower “remnant” pouch and then re-arranges the small intestine to connect to both. Surgeons have developed several different ways to reconnect the intestine, thus leading to several different GBP names. Any GBP leads to a marked reduction in the functional volume of the stomach, accompanied by an altered physiological and physical response to food.

Each of the four people profiled in the series weighed over 600 lbs. This surgery was a last-ditch effort to save their lives.  When naked, you could see nothing of their genitalia because of the rolls of fat covering their bodies. Not that I was looking, mind you. That fat literally suffocated the life out of their bodies.  It was their predator and their lives were the prey.

I say that not to make fun of them or humiliate them.  As I watched I thought, We’re coming in on the middle of a story.  How did they get this heavy? Why isn’t everyone around them this size, 400+ pounds heavier than most?  What makes people eat 10,000 calories a day? They could not control their weight through diet and/or exercise and this operation would save them from an early grave.

I watched the stories of two different gals, Melissa and Ashley.  Melissa got me hooked.  She was honest about her struggle and her marriage.  Her husband, Chris, she discovered, married her because he wanted to take care of her.  For her part, she admitted she didn’t want to be alone.  They created, in essence, an arranged marriage.  Her openness about gastric bypass not being a magic bullet and having to work at eating well and exercising despite having a much smaller place for food was enlightening.

I watched as she recounted her husband’s emotional affairs.  I’m sure he didn’t appreciate airing his dirty laundry on national TV and it seemed to cool his ardor for a while.  She lost her weight.  She got too skinny by year 4 and the doctor told her to put some weight back on! She lost weight too quickly and spent more than 3 months in the hospital. She conceived a child which she promptly lost.  It devastated both of them.  Then, miraculously, she got pregnant again and carried to term.  She had a little girl.  Now, they needed to work on their marriage some more.  Once you have a child, it changes everything and realigns priorities.  She said, “I think my marriage is worth fighting for.” Chris entered therapy. They recommitted to their marriage and moved into a home together.  Ta da!

Now, I know that a TV show isn’t always about happy endings.  But something kept coming up.  Melissa said, and I paraphrase:  “I thought everything would be great once I lost the weight.  My life would be perfect.  But it isn’t true.”  She had to deal with the fact that her husband wanted to be her caretaker and she didn’t need that anymore.  He needed to let her take care of herself and trust she would still come home to him.  She admitted she needed him and appreciated his support through thick – literally – and thin.

The other gal whose story I watched, Ashley, had unique issues.  Her mother made fun of her; it was painful to watch.  Ashley’s sister, Megan, was normal sized and active.  Megan didn’t have a weight problem.  Ashley’s mother didn’t worry about Megan and Ashley felt her personal shame keenly.  Ashley’s  mother nagged, nagged, nagged her about eating and her size, yet wouldn’t change her own eating habits to help her daughter.  Ashley, a twenty-something still living at home, was stuck.  She did her best to get her life moving forward again but only truly succeeded when she moved out. After her dad died of a fast-acting cancer, she and her mother had to confront their contentions head-on.  The root of Ashley’s unhappiness and overeating lies there.

The great mystery of life abides.  Each of these women felt demoralized and hopeless.  Our culture makes it a sin to be fat.  To be a female who doesn’t fit into a size 8 means our youth-oriented, appearance-obsessed culture looks down on you.  You face ridicule, ostracism, and if you’re seriously large, premature death. Though each of them had surgeries to remove excess skin as their weight dropped, it was only a small percentage of their weight loss journey.This struggle with size is something most of us fight.  And don’t we believe the same lie?  “If I could only fit into that dress, I would finally be popular!” Okay, now that we’re….older…the parameters of the lie may have changed, but the lie itself remains. Our size does not dictate our happiness. It’s an inside job and always will be. Take it from the (formerly) 600-lb. women. They discovered that life, no matter if they reached a single-digit size, was worth living.  They inspired me.

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