Thirty-four percent of adults age 20 and over in the United States are obese while another 34 percent are overweight (and not obese), according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and type 2 diabetes. Despite the health hazards, many of the rotund claim contentment.
“I’ve never met somebody who truly deep down is happy being fat because you realize it’s not just about how you look but you don’t feel so good,” Dr. Veronica says. “Everybody’s looking at you and laughing and judging. You can’t get into the airplane seat. Your car is too small. Clothes are too small. Life is miserable. Your knees hurt. Life is not pleasant when you are overweight.”
A prime example is 5’5” Star Jones, who ballooned to 307 pounds while continuing to profess her happiness on her television show The View and in interviews. Finally, the prosecutor-turned outspoken talk show host faced reality. In a first-person article in Glamour in 2008 she wrote about what led her to gastric bypass surgery in 2003:
My weight gain began to take a physical toll: I couldn’t breathe without sounding winded; walk without getting tired; sleep without snoring; or take a flight without using a seat belt extender. I pretended not to see how big I was getting — but not only did I see it, I was disgusted by it. I also pretended not to see the side looks and smirks from friends and strangers, or to comprehend the backhanded compliments I often received, such as, “You have such a pretty face” (I knew they really wanted to add, “for a woman of your size”). Each mean-spirited comment hurt, but I reacted as I was trained to do as a prosecutor standing before a hostile judge: “Square your shoulders, Star; speak louder, Star; show them they can’t hurt you.” Through it all, food was there to comfort me. Food never judged me — even when I judged myself.
Carson, who had unsuccessfully dieted for over 40 years before dropping 62 pounds and going from a size 18 to a 6, can relate to refusing to face facts. She blamed getting older and genetics, convinced herself that she didn’t have time to work out and that she wasn’t that plump in comparison to other fatties.
“Denial is such a powerful mechanism,” says Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction. “I had a basket of excuses that I used but it was never really okay with me.”
Just before turning 60 she finally confronted reality when she stepped on her scale and broke it. “I looked up at the ceiling and said, ‘I get it Lord. I’m fat.’ ” That led her to come up with the FIT philosophy she employed to lose weight. She wanted to do something fun (F), right for her because she had torn her hamstring (I) and with a team (T). After going from “butterball to butterfly” as she likes to say, she invited others in her Northern California community to do the same, resulting in more than 1,000 people teaming up to lose nearly four tons of fat in two months.
Before she began her program she ranked in the 90th percentile for heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Six months after losing weight, she was in normal range. “In my case, I was walking around with a gun to my head and didn’t know it,” says Carson, adding that she now saves between $400-$500 a month in medication costs.
In a way, America encourages the corpulent problem. We have fashion shows for the stout, make new stadium seats wider to fit our gigantic butts and in some circles, particularly the African-American community, bond over blubber. African Americans had a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity, and Hispanics had 21 percent higher obesity prevalence compared with whites, according to 2006-2008 data analyzed by the CDC.
“In the African-American community there’s a fat club and it’s okay to be fat,” says Dr. Veronica, pointing to actress/comedienne/talk show host Mo’Nique, who titled her book Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World, (she weighed 262 pounds but has since lost weight) and Precious actress Gabourey Sidibe, “who is absolutely gigantic (but) who we’re not supposed to talk about because she has a wonderful inside.”
Add Oprah Winfrey to that unflattering category. “I think our friend needs some assistance and although looks like life is fabulous, life is not so fabulous and you know that from going through your own weight issues,” Dr. Veronica tells Dr. Denise, who once weighed 250 pounds and has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine.
Carson notes that her son, who is married to a French woman, lost weight when he moved to the south of France, where he indulges in wine, cheese, chocolate and bread while eating three sit-down meals a day with silverware. But throughout most of Europe not only are the portions smaller and preservatives a bad word but eating is a social – not just personal – stimulation. People converse while dining, thus drawing out the meals, instead of cramming fattening fast food down their mouths on the go.
The question is why do we eat? Weight loss expert Dr. Edward Abramson, author of Body Intelligence, says only 10 percent is due to hunger while the other 90 percent it is in response to something else, Carson says. When she stopped to think about it, she had 12 different reasons for eating ranging from emotional to celebratory to recreational and none had to do with hunger. However, many people possess a fear of hunger. To them Carson suggests, “Make friends with hunger. It’s okay to be hungry for an hour.”
When Dr. Denise, who says she’s been half her size and twice her size, turned 50 she went on a “vision quest” in California’s Death Valley. During the four-day, solo camping experience with no food – only a gallon of water per day – she prayed and meditated to be clear on how she could help people in this country. She returned and wrote The Taming of the Chew: a Holistic Guide to Stopping Compulsive Eating.
“I realized that the way to begin a path of health is to look at the whole picture,” says Dr. Denise, whose mother put her on an unnecessary liquid diet when she was 11 and who suffered from eating disorders for years afterward. “You’ve got to understand why you’re behaving this way, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.”
As many as 10 million females and one million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia while millions more struggle with binge eating disorder.
People eat for physical reasons, not realizing they are addicted to the sugar, fats and salts in their foods. A good night’s sleep, staying hydrated (thirst can be mistaken for hunger) and exercise are vital. Because we eat to soothe and calm ourselves, which sometimes works for the short term, the holistic doctor works with people on how to express their emotions. She’s a huge fan of Bach Original Flower Remedies, a system of 38 Flower Remedies made from the flowers of wild plants, trees and bushes that corrects emotional imbalances, replacing negative emotions with positive.
“It’s like a miracle,” Lamothe says of the Remedies.
What some also see as a miracle is keeping the weight off once one reaches their ideal weight.
Once you lose all the weight, Dr. Veronica predicts, you’re going to love yourself so much that you’re not going to want to put it back on because you invested so much work in losing it.
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