I think that I have been overweight ever since I was 10. Not obese, but certainly overweight. But I never really identified myself that way. I didn’t look in the mirror and see a fat person: I just saw me—who I was. I also never saw my 4’9” self as short. I am who I am, the way Hashem created me. Not perfect, but the way I am.
Now, however, I see that my weight was at least one of the challenges that Hashem chose to give me. I may not have always recognized it as a challenge, but there it was: this challenge that I faced throughout my life.
When did I think I was heavy? Every time I went to the doctor as an adult. And it just got worse as I grew older. I would walk into the office and the first thing I would hear is that I needed to lose weight. Not do I feel good, do I have any issues that I want to talk about, just lose weight. Before the doctor listened to my heart, checked my lungs or took blood, or focused on any part of my anatomy, her only focus was on my weight. I quickly learned that my weight would be blamed for any ailment that I had; I felt worse, shamed and embarrassed, with none of my medical issues addressed.
Did I really need to be told that I needed to lose weight? Did the doctor really think that her telling me to lose the weight would magically make the difference?
I became depressed. It got to a point that I started skipping checkups, not going to the doctor when I was sick. I gained more weight, going from overweight to obese to morbidly obese, resulting in skipping medical appointments and endangering my health.
This kind of shaming is too common an experience for women who are overweight when they go to the doctor, especially as they get older. We find it easier to stop going. Two years ago, I was so depressed that I was ready to give up. I thought that the only answer was either to listen to the doctor and have surgery to lose weight (which in my mind equaled being a failure) or to die. I thought that those were my only choices.
I didn’t want to have surgery: For me, I did not believe that it would work long term. I believe that losing weight has to be a life change, not a drastic action without a learning process. I had tried every diet I had ever heard of; they all worked for the time that I was on them but then I gained the weight back, with more. So where did that leave me? Death? Not my choice either.
I was lucky enough to have one doctor I trusted. As I burst into tears and told her what I was experiencing, she told me that there was in fact another option and suggested a metabolic medical specialist named Dr. Elion Krok.
It took me six months to get up the courage to go and meet him. Honestly, I didn’t believe a word he said at that first meeting. I think I laughed when he gave me a goal weight. He told me that it wasn’t about a number, but about being healthy and living my life. He asked me why I wanted to make this change. My main goal was indeed to live a healthier life. I wanted to live to see my grandchildren grow up, attend their life cycle events, and enjoy them! I wanted to enjoy spending time with my husband as we reach the next stage of our life together—both of us as healthy as we can be.
Dr. Krok said that he believed in me and that we would go on this mindful, life-changing journey together, and it didn’t matter how long it would take. For the first time, someone looked at me not as a number on a scale or as a fat body, but as a person inside. It was exactly what I needed to hear and what I was searching for.
And so, with the help of Hashem, and with the guidance of this doctor, I took the leap and started the journey. Not to a lower number on a scale but towards a healthy way of life. That was the key: living a healthy life so that I could live the life I had been dreaming of.
I realized that a proper diet was not the only part of the journey. This doctor stressed that exercise and movement were key to life change as well.
I needed to take the next leap. Working in the world of disabilities, I knew a woman who was a parent, a nurse, and a personal trainer. She was also someone I had considered my friend for many years. I knew that I could talk to her.
After much soul searching, I picked up the phone and called Bassie (Beth) Taubes from Wellness Motivations and asked her to meet me for coffee. I explained what was going on in my life. I told her what I wanted to try to do—to start working out. I explained how I had been going to Weight Watchers forever! I still go to the meetings every week, and I’ve lost and gained weight over the years. I really go because I’ve met a group of “like minded” people there who care for each other and share ideas. The leader is wonderful and motivating. But I realized that I now need more.
I explained to Bassie how I wasn’t sure that I could really make this commitment; I was scared that I would fail. (Remember, my doctors for years had kept reinforcing to me that failure was the only result I would have without surgery.) I was overweight, I had bad knees, hips, and ankles—basically, I could find every excuse possible to fail.
But I needed someone whom I could trust, and I knew that Bassie was the one. We had “run” half-marathons together. (Well, she had done them in quicker time; they took me over four hours.) Bassie ran, and I crawled! We soon started this part of the journey. Truth be told, at first, I couldn’t even get out of the chair. We “worked out” slowly, sitting and barely moving. She encouraged me over the months, telling me not to give up. I began, little by little, gaining more strength and stamina. Slowly we moved from the chair to standing and down to the mat!
Then COVID-19 hit. Statistics show that most people during the last year have gained weight. People are home; they are moving less; they are depressed. I have been so blessed because I have the right support system in place to encourage me throughout this new journey. I have the right doctor who started me on the proper path, believing that I could accomplish what I set out to do.
And I have a friend and mentor in my trainer Bassie Taubes who is patient and willing to put up with my “crazy” life and keep moving me forward! Since COVID started we have met twice a week on Zoom, for 60 minutes each time. I am still losing weight. I am moving in ways I never thought possible, faster than I ever thought possible. I also have a loving family of children and grandchildren who have become my cheering squad. Not the least, I have an amazing husband who has always loved me “through thick and thin” but has been by my side through this entire journey, never wavering in his belief, support, encouragement and love for me.
This journey is far from over—it is a journey about changing your attitude about yourself, not just what and how you eat. If you aren’t prepared to commit to alter every part of your lifestyle forever, it cannot last. Now I understand that the journey must last the rest of my life. It is only through the support of my loving husband, family, friends, trainer and doctor, that I have had success. It is through belief in myself that I will keep on the path that I began 20 months ago, trying to get my life back, working to become a healthy person.
I have my complete emunah, belief, in Hashem and in His love for me. Hashem made me who I am, no matter how I look, thin or heavy. My journey is about being healthy, not about a number on the scale. My journey is about becoming an even greater servant of Hashem, serving Him by doing mitzvot and being an example to others. The people I have in my life are there because Hashem put them in my life. This is the bracha that I need to remember: to stop and say every day: “Thank you, Hashem, for the life you have given me.”
Batya Jacob can be reached at [email protected]