DEAR FFG: I am reading your book, Secrets of a Former Fat Girl, and love your advice. But I have to say, at 5’4” and 185, you weren’t that fat. As of this morning, I weigh 217 pounds. At 185 and 5’5 I was still pretty OK looking. Maybe you were a little hard on yourself growing up: Your body wasn’t big. I am big. If you were really a stuffer and stasher of food you would have started your weight loss journey at over 200 pounds. Sorry—I just think you need a reality check. — Debi
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DEAR DEBI: No need to apologize; you aren’t the first person to make this point. But I have to disagree. At 5’4” and 185, I had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 31.5. Anything over 30 is considered obese. Now, there has been a great deal of criticism of using BMI to determine a person’s body composition. There is no way of telling, for instance, what percentage of a person’s weight comes from muscle, bone, or fat. So it’s possible for a stocky person who works out regularly to have a body fat percentage in the healthy range to measure “overweight” and “obese” by his or her BMI. But that, dear Debi, was not me. When I topped out at 185, the only thing I was exercising was my right to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I don’t know what my true body fat percentage was then, but it was highly likely over the 32 percent considered to be obese as well.
The other thing — I reached my peak weight in the mid-1980s. Since then, not only are there more overweight and obese people, but those overweight and obese people are heavier than they were back in the day. Surveys by the National Center for Health Statistics say that in 1988-1994, for instance, 33 percent of Americans were overweight (BMI of 25-29), 22.9 percent were obese (BMI of 30-40), and 2.9 percent were morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or more). Now, 32.7 percent are overweight, almost 34 percent are obese, and just under 6 percent are morbidly obese. So compared to the people around me, I was markedly bigger. And you know how THAT makes you feel.
Finally, I have said this many times: The true measure of whether you are a “fat girl” or not is really in the way you feel and behave. I was weighted down as much by my fear of attention, fear of change, fear of risk — fear of just about everything — as I was by my flabby thighs and hips. Who I was and how I behaved in the world was very much entangled with my weight, my size, my appearance; it was impossible to separate the two. And just as you can’t measure a “fat girl” by the scale, you can’t measure a “former fat girl” by the scale either. Real change, for me, wasn’t just about dropping pounds. It was about confronting those fears, working through them, taking risks, experiencing disappointment and imperfection, and bouncing back from it. Yes, I agree — I needed a reality check. But maybe not in the way you suggest. I needed to know that I was never going to be perfect, and that was OK, that I was OK. I needed to learn to forgive myself and start fresh. And I still have to work at that, most every day, although it’s easier now than it used to be.
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl. Send your questions to [email protected].