When You Gain Control of Your Weight and Others Don’t

Losing a significant amount of weight takes you through an incredible life transformation. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s changing more—you or how people and the world treat you. One of the most difficult situations you could encounter is if you have a friend who faces severe challenges in their life. They see you taking new paths and exploring new opportunities as you gain control of your weight. Life is opening up for you and they are dealing with the same frustrations and problems that may plague their life. I was reminded this past week of my friend Laura. If she were still alive, I’m sure she would never have described her life as tragic but it seemed to me like it was.

Laura nearly died at six years old when she was diagnosed with severe Type 1 diabetes. Sticking herself with needles and managing her blood sugar were a constant in her life. I met Laura in college. She was brilliant and driven. She earned membership in the state’s most prestigious honor society, Florida Blue Key. I’m not sure how she was able to do it given her medical condition, but as a devout Jew she felt an obligation to serve in the Israeli army and spent a few years there. Back in the US, she worked for many years in the PR department of one of the nation’s largest hospitals. She needed the best possible healthcare and she was able to get it. Throughout her professional career, she donated a large percentage of her income to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation because she said she wouldn’t live to see retirement. She was right.

Through the years, Laura struggled with every major health problem that severe diabetes can induce. She needed eye surgery to save her sight. She had a heart attack in her 30s. Her body rejected a kidney and pancreas transplant. The last time I saw her I could barely maintain my composure when she showed me how hacked up and literally deformed her body had become from multiple surgeries. She was forced to end her career and go on permanent disability when she had a stroke in her 40s. I remember her telling me how her ability to think had been affected.

I wrote a blog during the time I was losing weight. Laura commented regularly but mostly she would call me shortly after every new blog post. She either had criticism or “suggestions” for how I could be making better choices. Friends for decades, we started to fight. After awhile, I dreaded her calls. Finally, she criticized a blog post in a way that I thought crossed the line. She sent me an email all about how lives can be ruined if we don’t take the opportunity to humble ourselves and simply apologize. It seemed to be an impassioned, sincere attempt to reach out and save a friendship. But she made it clear she expected me to apologize to her. I never spoke to her again. I got a message from Laura’s sister when she died about six years later.

I’ve known a few people who dealt with life-debilitating medical issues. Eventually, they become bitter and angry. It’s easy to understand. But it isn’t so much that if they can’t control their lives, they’ll try to control someone else’s. Mostly, they are desperate for attention. They want to feel empowered in some way and that means being heard. They want their opinions to be considered important. The situation affects them in another unusual, more inscrutable way. They can become seemingly…a bit nutty. As they struggle to understand why they’ve been robbed of their lives, they may concoct all manner of theories. They will also invent theories that attempt to undermine people who are getting what they can’t have. They’ll be full of criticism for anything that is likely to work out well for you but would be ineffectual, futile, or just plain impossible for them.

If you were training for a marathon or phasing in a vegan lifestyle, you’d be unlikely to get an earful of “advice” from seemingly everyone you encounter. Everyone has an opinion about how to lose weight and manage your health while doing it. Choosing weight loss surgery especially can put you in what feels like an extreme situation to defend yourself. Many people you’d be able to blow off but some will get under your skin. Like everything else you undertake when making decisions for your body and your life, you have to do what’s right for you and you know what that is. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.


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    • Jen on April 28, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Well said.

    • Emily on May 8, 2013 at 9:18 am

    I found this post through another blog. It hit home for me. I had a cousin who died from a muscle wasting disease. When he was alive he became so filled with anger that he made it very difficult for anyone to be around him. It made us all feel very guilty about hating to be around him but we had to care for him. I started to hate what the disease had done to him mentally as well as physically. He did get “nutty” too. He started to believe he was the victim of a conspiracy that had exposed him to some kind of poison and we were all going to get sick too for eating certain things and using certain products. I used to think he saw us all living normal lives and he wanted to believe that if his life was taken away from him it wasn’t fair and he wanted us to all go down with him.

    What stands out for me in this story is how I think of how nothing anybody did was good enough for my cousin. He would criticize everything, no matter what. We couldn’t do anything right anymore in his eyes. I get it.

    1. Thank you for comment, Emily. I think it’s about needing attention for something other than their burdens and limitations and feeling “needy” because they require care. Their condition becomes what their entire life is about, it’s practically their identity and they need to express and project something else.

      My friend Laura did indeed criticize everything I said or did and I finally just had to put a stop to it for myself. She had been a very successful public relations executive for many years and in what should have been the prime of her life, a stroke rendered her unable to even think in the same way anymore. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for her, the final blow after decades of health complications that had simply beaten her down too hard by then.

      While these are extreme cases, I do think also that when a person loses a significant amount of weight and begins bringing change into their life, it can touch the insecurities and vulnerabilities in those around them. I devote a chapter of my book to this.

    • Anonymous on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Your a completely hateful person if you’d abandon a dying friend just because she wasn’t as “perfect” as you think you are. Someone like you needs prayers but you won’t get them from me.

    • Marlen on May 9, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Hateful behavior is what I see, as well. It is on the part of the people who embrace a way of thinking that makes them hapless victims of a situation that they cannot control. We see postings and blogs by plenty of people who don’t let such situations control how they would treat others. They maintain dignity and live their lives to the fullest. Where those with a victim mentality see limitations and defeat, such people view life as being worth living, no matter the circumstances. I don’t think, Anonymous, that you are being rational in your judgment of Dagny or Emily. They are honest about a very bad situation that had no solutions that could have had a better outcome. It seems obvious enough to me that these were very painful events in both Dagny and Emily’s lives, and that their decisions were neither easy to make, nor easy to uphold. Your prayer comment makes you an embarrassment to those who embrace the religion that you flaunt to try and make yourself appear better than others.

  1. Thank you for your comment, Marlen and while I do not owe anyone any explanations, I will provide some clarification. I didn’t “abandon” Laura when she was dying! That’s quite an assumption to make and what happens when you assume? An anonymous basher who threatens withholding prayer. My week is made.

    The bottom line is this—There are no medical conditions that give anyone license to be abusive. Laura’s phone calls to me had turned into verbal beatdowns several times a week and no one with an ounce of self-respect is going to allow themselves to be treated that way so I stopped answering the phone. It was how Laura had always been, only much worse. When her sister relocated to the Chicago suburbs and she came to visit, I drove out to the far-flung burbs and took her out for an evening. She hated the restaurant, she hated my car (it was German, built by Nazis), she hated my driving, I was dressed inappropriately… Good times!

    Years earlier she had come to visit at a time when I was living with my partner, whom she decided she didn’t like. So she changed her plane flight and left in a cab in the early hours of the morning. We got up that day to discover our houseguest had literally vanished in the night. This was before email and cell phones so I didn’t hear from her for days and of course she was completely justified as my partner was such an awful person and I was ruining my life with that relationship.

    Major medical issues punctuated Laura’s entire life from the earliest years I’d known her in college. Laura in the hospital for something was almost like a normal thing. I’ll never know how she got through those years she spent in Israel. The transplant rejection was worse than the stroke but she couldn’t get through her workday anymore when her short-term memory had been affected. I think what really drove Laura over the edge was losing her career. By the time of my weight loss, she’d been on permanent disability for about four or five years.

    Laura died about six years after we parted ways. I don’t know what happened to her in those intervening years and her sister’s email was generic, citing no cause of death.

    Laura was not the only person I’ve known who died from a condition they’d fought for years. It stands to reason that kind of thing will wear a person down and make them feel cheated out of a normal life. Each of those people seemed to go through similar phases of turning angry and bitter. They all began to concoct “theories.” I’d probably do the same. Feeling in control of our lives and our bodies has a dramatic effect on us. People tell me my personality changed quite a bit after I lost weight. I felt in control of my body for the first time in my life.

    Gore Vidal said “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” When I lost half my body weight, I also lost various friends. It was strange how their behavior toward me changed. One even created a blog just to mock me. When anything major happens in our lives, it WILL have an impact on those around us. Losing a significant amount of weight will change the way people treat you. I actually had no idea and was not prepared for it. It’s an unpredictable experience but inevitable.

    • Emily on May 11, 2013 at 8:22 am

    I think you are right about the theories. For a long time I felt a lot of guilt over my cousin but I know he was just trying to figure out why it happened to him. Why him and why none of us?If he couldn’t make sense of it he might believe whatever seems to explain it. I would like to think maybe in some way he wanted to be less angry.

    This was interesting to think about, thank you. I would like to buy your book.

    • Meagan on November 1, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    I too have lost half my body weight, and I know what you’re saying. It changes you in ways you can’t imagine when you start, and that has a follow on affect with friends and family.

    For some people, you become the instant expert. They want to run every dietary and exercise decision past you, to see what you think about what they’re doing. Some are just happy for you, and share in the new joy you have about what you can do… they’re the really great ones.

    But some are really threatened by your success, and see it almost as a judgement about them and their behaviour. I have one particular friend who comments that I’m exercising too much, that I’ve lost too much weight. Others encourage me to relax my eating, and have a few drinks because I look great, so I should let my hair down… I find these really hard, because I’m still new to this. In many ways, even though I’m much more self-motivated now, I still need their support. I wish I could relax, but I’m pretty sure this is a lifestyle thing – if I want this body, I need to maintain control of my eating and exercise. I’m not one of those people who can “eat whatever they like”… I don’t think my body is built that way, and I don’t think that’s going to change.

    I have had to put some strict boundaries in place around that particular friend. Looking at it now, I know she’s always been like she is, but I was different before so it didn’t matter so much. She was always thinner and fitter than me. She’s not anymore. But she also always made excuses, started exercise programs with great gusto, but dropped them a week or two later. I used to do the same thing. Now I don’t she finds that confronting, and I think she feels it’s a judgement of her. It would make her feel better in some way if I failed.

    I have offered support, I have tried to understand. But I now find it draining, and I find a lot of her comments not just unhelpful, but hurtful. I don’t want that in my life, so I avoid her company, and just make small pockets of time to see her. I choose to spend most of my time with people who are supportive, and increasingly with people who share similar goals and make similar lifestyle choices.

    I can imagine it would be an even harder choice is she was actually suffering from a serious health condition, and there would be even more associated guilt. But I’m at a point where I think that even then, I would have to make the right choice for me… maybe that is selfish. But I guess I’m learning to breathe deeply and accept that I am a flawed human being. But I understand where you’re coming from. Friendship and support has to go both ways. And when there’s no reciprocity, sometimes you have to make that most difficult of choices.

    1. Hi Meagan—
      Thank you for coming by! Your comments really hit home in MANY WAYS!! What you’re experiencing is what happens but you don’t know it’s coming and when it does, it’s a challenge!

      The most important thing you said—

      I’m not one of those people who can “eat whatever they like”… I don’t think my body is built that way, and I don’t think that’s going to change.

      THAT IS IT! I don’t know you at all but I’d be willing to bet you do NOT deal with your weight because you are emotionally wounded, broken, weak-willed, and there’s something in your head that needed to be “fixed”…but rather your body is very efficient at managing fuel and your brain craves food. You understand that’s how you’re made and you’re working to handle it for what it is! That’s the best we can do!

      I have put Chapter 14 of my book online for you. You’re going to feel like I wrote it just for you and, really, I DID write it for all the Meagans out there!

      Chapter 14: Powerful Hunger

      I caught a lot of flack for this blog post. What I did not admit was that it was inspired by a blogger I’d been reading at that time. She no longer reads my blog so I don’t think she’ll ever see this. She got really angry at me. She weighs 500 lbs because of a serious medical condition so I think that makes her situation different from those of us who struggle with what we eat and how our bodies manage fuel. But her blog is an endless litany of bizarre conspiracy theories and her own theories like how calories are a “myth” and weight loss surgery kills people in high percentages. I don’t know what I would do if I dealt with a condition that caused my body to be so out of control I weighed 500 lbs but I don’t think I would post crazy ranting lies on a blog. She can’t fix what’s wrong with her body and I think she resents everyone else who finds a way to take care of what we deal with.

      I hope you’ll write back after you’ve read Chapter 14! And please drop me a note anytime if you’d like some advice on maintaining your loss. The adventure has JUST BEGUN!!

      Light & Strength—

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