by Sandra Cruzen
In December, the Blog Committee announced our decision to “open up” the blog and ask for submissions from our readers who are HAES advocates/practitioners/activists, but who may not be members of ASDAH. We asked for reader feedback, because it is our intention to broaden our community and make it more inclusive. This week we are happy to welcome Sandra Cruzen and share her post with you.
Excuse me? Obesity—a gift? Yes. Let me explain.
Born to two short, very round, well educated parents obsessed with neither mental nor physical health, my fat childhood was pre-determined. With the energy and fervor of adolescence, however, I managed to become lean and athletic for almost two decades before my status as a double-x-chromosome-wielding person caught up with me.¹
Marriage, pregnancy, childhood sexual abuse, depression², death, divorce, single parenting, and menopause all guaranteed a resurgence of external obesity.³ I say external because even when I was lean and athletic, I was a poseur: I managed to pass as a person without “weight issues,” while the multi-media Inquisition in my head remained an endless loop of demanding, negative messages.
As these life events accumulated and compounded, the priority became surviving—both economically and with regard to mental health. The luxury of indulging those old media files demanding that I be thin and “attractive,” was not an option when my teenager was who-knows-where, doing who-knows-what, with who-knows-whom!
Not surprisingly, the physical weight returned with abundance, spread over half a decade. After the storm subsided though, some interesting bits had washed ashore. First is that we had all survived. Next, because survival meant dealing head on with all those life events, the conversation in my head changed. Circumstances forced me to turn from external to internal self, gradually beating down The Inquisition. This conversation-with-self gradually became a relaxed discussion over coffee with my new found “best friend”:
Self: “So, what do you think about such-and-such?”
Self again: “[Insert pithy and brilliant response]”
Self yet again: “Well done!”
No longer was there an accusatory voice nagging at me saying, “If only you would choose discipline and lose weight, then (blah, blah) life would be so perfect (blah, blah)…”
The next regular exam at my doctor’s office entailed the usual file update. Sitting with the clipboard on my lap, I was heartened and grateful to read that she had added screening questions that would begin a conversation with women about domestic violence, sexual assault, and nutrition. I moved down the form and read through the expanding list of dozens of diseases and conditions. I don’t have any of those things that are claimed to be “caused” by obesity, like diabetes and hypertension. I ended up checking one box: “Depression.” There was no box for “Obesity.” In a split second waiting-room epiphany, my visceral feeling of what “health” and “disease” really meant changed quite drastically.
“But,” one might ask, “given the choice, wouldn’t you really rather be thin?” Well, it would be easier to tie my shoes, I won’t lie. Also, were I thin, I might not emulate as accurately Winnie the Pooh doing his Stoutness Exercise Toe Touches. But the point is, I haven’t been given a choice: I got what I got, and I can no more “choose” to be thin than I can choose to be a rock or a tree. I can still do my toe touches every morning, but trying to turn myself into a thin person for the sake of being—what, more acceptable? More pleasing? More attractive? For whom? This would be just as ridiculous as trying to become a rock or a tree—and just as likely. Moreover, in the effort to become a rock or a tree, I would surely be irreparably damaged (perhaps even fatally) in the process, and in an effort to become “not me,” what would I become, and at what cost to my health? Even if I could, would I trade who I am right now, with the health I have, for one of those other check boxes on the form? Nope. Not even close.
So, the thing is, that in the big picture, for me, obesity is not such a bad deal after all. It is the outcome of my genetics, life circumstances, and gender. What it has “caused” for me is an evolving conversation with my best friend—my own voice—who accepts it as integral to who she is, where she has been, and how far she has come. And that, like my good health, is a gift.
1. The incidence of depression in women is 1.7 to 2.7 times greater than for men.
Burt VK & Stein K The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2002, 63 Suppl 7:9-15. last accessed January, 2015.
2. Key in the neurophysiological process in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the re-uptake of serotonin. If a particular serotonin receptor (HTR2C) helps regulate appetite and body weight, what does this mean about the relationship between depression and obesity? Pooley, Edward C. et al., A 5-HT2C receptor promoter polymorphism (HTR2C − 759C/T) is associated with obesity in women, and with resistance to weight loss in heterozygotes. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics. Volume 126B, Issue 1, pages 124–127, 1 April 2004 doi: 10.1002/ajmg.b.20143.
3. There is well-established evidence that depression causes obesity.
Blaine, Bruce. Does Depression Cause Obesity?A Meta-analysis of Longitudinal Studies of Depression and Weight Control. Journal of Health Psychology, November 2008 vol. 13 no. 8 1190-1197, doi:10.1177/1359105308095977.
Sandra Cruzen has a background in vocational rehabilitation, public housing, and federal grant management. Her exasperation in not finding professional, comfortable and stylish clothing prompted her to leave her day job and open an online Etsy boutique that caters to plus sized petite women, Petite Plus Style. She is a fervent feminist progressive, advocating for equal treatment and social justice for every human. Her dream is to use proceeds from her wildly successful business in order to end the euthanasia of unwanted animals. She has considered tattooing “Spay and Neuter your Pets!” on her forehead, but has so far acquiesced in the interests of aesthetics and not scaring children.