Making reality a little more real

Afraid to face the truth — that was my reality for probably most of my life. It wasn’t like I would have admitted it because I don’t think that I truly was aware of the situation the way I am now.
Youth and lack of experience in life along with a good dose of denial led me to gloss over the facts.
The fact is that almost all of my life I have been overweight to some degree, with my waistline growing almost continually to the point that I have reached now: the point of super-morbid obesity. That’s right, super-morbid obesity, not just morbid obesity.
Being overweight in the beginning didn’t seem like such a big deal. I could always lose weight, and I tried; but obviously I never got control of my weight and here I am, needing to lose the weight more than ever before.
I don’t remember when I entered the category of being classified as obese, but I’m pretty sure it was pretty early on in my life. Sadly, I imagine it was probably when I was a teenager. By the time I was in ninth grade, I was already wearing a plus-sized 22/24 in both tops and bottoms. For a ninth grader, I’m pretty sure that’s not a healthy size to be.
Did it bother me? Sure.
The problem is that being this size didn’t bother me enough.
I wasn’t afraid for my health. I could get around pretty well and by that time I hadn’t seen much of a doctor’s office since I was about the age of 4 or 5 years old — and that was for an earache. I had no reason to be scared — not yet anyway.
I cared about my appearance, I cared about what other people would think of me, but I didn’t care enough about what the weight was really doing to me.
For a long time I wouldn’t wear shorts and I wouldn’t wear sleeveless shirts. I didn’t want people to see my fat legs or my fat arms. So even in the heat of the summer, I would dress in clothes that would cover these things up, sometimes to my detriment.
I remember one hot summer day, when I was wearing jeans, a top that I can not remember, and I was standing next to the trash compactor in my grandmother’s home. Suddenly my vision went away, everything turned white and cloudy, and I felt myself about to faint. If I had not had the presence of mind to yell in those last seconds to my grandmother that I was fainting, she would not have caught me and I probably would have had a nasty knot on my head after that. But fortunately, I have a quick-acting grandmother who did catch me and knew exactly what was wrong when I went down.
It was the heat. I fainted because I was not dressed appropriately for the hot summer temperatures.
How she got me from the kitchen to laying on the couch in the living room, I’m not sure.
My self-consciousness had caused this fainting incident, but fortunately I had a nurse for a grandmother and she knew just what to do. She got me cooled down, and that day I ended up wearing shorts. They felt so much better than the jeans I had been wearing. I probably also ended up wearing a cooler summery shirt too, but my memory of this detail is long gone. After all, I wasn’t exactly all that with-it at the moment, if you know what I mean.
I think it was that event that got me to set aside my silly idea that I needed to cover myself up so much because of how I looked, but it still didn’t provide the additional wake-up call that I really needed.
Obesity gave way to morbid obesity. I don’t remember when I became morbidly obese because I didn’t even really know it existed until someone battling with weight issues had decided to get gastric bypass surgery. They told me that I was morbidly obese and should consider getting the surgery myself.
I didn’t like how this sounded, me being called morbidly obese. Yet as much as this didn’t exactly make me happy, I didn’t face the reality of what this meant.
I knew that health problems sometimes were caused by obesity, but I didn’t quite understand that concept the way I do now.
Fast-forwarding to the present, I am now super-morbidly obese. I’ve gained a lot of weight in recent years and with it I have gained a lot of obesity-related health problems too.
My eyes have been opened up to the reality of what it means to carry extra weight. Just because I seemed so much healthier in my earlier years when I wasn’t quite so heavy, I shouldn’t have been free of concerns about my health. I should have cared. I should have realized what I was doing.
But now it’s too late to go back and undo the damage that I had done.
If I could go back in time, I would do things differently.
If somehow the me of today could talk some sense into the me of yesterday, I would try to convey that message loud and clear.
The thing is, I knew then that being heavy led to a larger waistline and that this wasn’t considered healthy. But I didn’t make the connections the way I should.
For instance, I knew that decisions to emotionally overeat would lead me to gain weight, but I never looked at it the way I do now.
How is that?
I take out the middleman, so to speak.
Instead of thinking that emotional overeating causes obesity, and that obesity causes health problems, I go straight to this: I think that emotional overeating causes sleep apnea, GERD, dyspnea (shortness of breath), diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, tendonitis, and more.
How can I make that claim? Emotional overeating does not actually cause those problems in and of itself; but yes, it does cause all of those problems — and it does cause those problems every day all over the country and maybe even all over the world. It’s common knowledge that obesity has become increasingly more of a problem nowadays than it was before. While obesity is not always caused by emotional overeating, I mention it here for the purpose of demonstrating a point.
The point is that the decisions I make each day do matter.
When I decide to lose control of my eating behaviors, it’s like making a decision to have an obesity-related illness. It’s like saying, yes, it is okay. Bring on the pizza, wings and hard arteries please. I’ll take that with a side of GERD and sleep apnea please. There’s a reason people don’t order their food like that. We want the pleasure, but not the consequences.
But ignoring those consequences has consequences.
So I think it helps to take out the middleman and associate my decisions and my actions with the consequences that could result. It helps bring me face-to-face with the reality that even though I don’t see the health impact of those decisions immediately, years down the road, I may regret that pizza or those wings.
I may regret not having exercised. I may regret not having gotten enough sleep. I may regret not having taken care of myself the way I should have right from the beginning.
In fact, I do regret those things. I regret those things now, because I do have sleep apnea and I have GERD. I have arthritis and I have tendonitis. Then add to that, I have chronic dyspnea.
To spell all of that out in layman’s terms, I stop breathing when I sleep. I also have terrible acid reflux if I don’t take medication to control the production of acid in my stomach. I used to pop Tums and Rolaids like they were candy until someone told me that having too many of those tablets could cause problems and that I should see a doctor.
I’m glad I did because now I can get through a day without suffering from the acid.
I also have arthritis in my knees, and frankly I have it in joints all over my body. It hurts to stand too long and it hurts to do simple things like holding on to a clipboard in a doctor’s office.
Then there’s the tendonitis. I have foot pain every time I stand without the proper arch support. The condition got so bad at one point that I could barely walk across a room. The moment I woke up, the first step I would take would be excruciating. I thought that if only I could lose weight I could make it go away, but never did I think until much later that I should tell a doctor about the pain. I’m glad I did. I’ve since had physical therapy for the pain, have gotten better shoes and wear arch supports. I can walk again without the pain. Then having pulled my Achilles tendon while doing squats, I had another pain at the back of my heel. I babied my feet after that for a while, and then created a whole new pain on the side of my foot I think because I have a bad habit of trying to accommodate an injury by changing the way I walk. That’s how I turned one bad knee into another bad knee, so I should have learned my lesson earlier on. But I didn’t.
But getting back to the point, I wish I could go back in time and change the decisions I made that led me to be the weight that I am, because I am now facing health issues that I would not otherwise have to face. In fact, I think that although those problems are clearly worse now because of the excessiveness of my weight, I think that it’s important to make the connections between these types of illnesses and being overweight in general, no matter what category one falls into on a BMI chart, because one does not have to be super-morbidly obese to face these health issues.
How many people weigh a whole lot less than I do and face Type 2 diabetes every day? I don’t know the number, but I know that it happens, and that it’s not all that uncommon anymore.
In fact, I don’t think any of the illnesses I have listed is exclusive to those that are super-morbidly obese. If I had continued on the path of simply being overweight, obese, or morbidly obese, I may still be facing the same health problems, albeit perhaps to a different degree.
So if you’re overweight, obese, morbidly obese or even super-morbidly obese, please take a moment and think about how your everyday decisions and actions could lead to the types of conditions I’ve mentioned and what that could mean. Is that cheeseburger worth the risk? Is it worth the sleep apnea, the GERD, the arthritis, the shortness of breath? Is it worth making it hard to walk or is it worth the risk of Type 2 diabetes?
I realize that every now and again a person may have a cheeseburger or even a piece or two of pizza. But having it all of the time can be a problem. If the majority of one’s diet is healthy, one may be able to afford the occasional treat, but if the majority of one’s diet is not healthy, then something needs to change.
I know, because I’ve been there and I’m still facing the consequences of all those moments I chose to indulge excessively and all the moments I chose to give in to emotional overeating. I may be able to distract myself from my emotions by eating and I may even feel a little bit better for a moment, but that moment will pass and what am I left with? I’m left with a long-term consequence if I do that type of thing too often.
It’s better to face the consequences before they happen than it is to be forced to react to them after they become a reality.
So if the things I’ve written about somehow speak to your circumstances at whatever level it may, please, take a moment to face the potential consequences and do a course correction before it’s too late. If you’re like me, and it’s already too late, the consequences have already settled in, don’t give up. The body is an amazing thing. It can heal itself if given the chance. Give it that chance.
If you’re already at a healthy weight, hold on to that. Don’t let it go.
And while I realize that carrying extra pounds does not necessarily lead to obesity related illnesses all of the time, I think it is important to be conscious of how our decisions can affect our health, especially because all too often that un-glossed over realization comes after the damage is done.
Somehow, I hope the lessons I have learned will help someone avoid the consequences I have faced. And for those that already face those consequences, I hope that you find your way out of those consequences and back to health. That is my journey now.

If you want to follow my weight-loss journey, read about it occasionally in my column, “Healthy steps” or you can watch my weight-loss journey unfold and show your support by liking the page on Facebook or following me on Twitter @GretchenGetFit. Contact the writer at

Healthy steps is written by Gretchen Balshuweit, news editor and now health and wellness page columnist for The Daily Review in Towanda, Pa. as she pursues her own journey to health and wellness in hopes of losing a total of 200-250 pounds of excess weight.

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