Coming To Terms With The Pressure Of Weight Two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight. In this week's For the Record, NPR's Rachel Martin talks with people about how weight shapes their identities and what it means to be healthy.
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Coming To Terms With The Pressure Of Weight

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Coming To Terms With The Pressure Of Weight

Coming To Terms With The Pressure Of Weight

Coming To Terms With The Pressure Of Weight

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Two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight. In this week's For the Record, NPR's Rachel Martin talks with people about how weight shapes their identities and what it means to be healthy.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And this is For The Record. We hear it all the time, Americans have a weight problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control, two-thirds of the adult population in the U.S. is either overweight or obese. And we as a culture are consumed with stories about other people's weight problems.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BIGGEST LOSER")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Tonight, on "The Biggest Loser."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Yelling) Go to work.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: After 15 grueling weeks...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Yelling) Push yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You made it to makeover week.

MARTIN: Weight loss has even become part of our politics. Here's CBS news anchor Gayle King talking to would-be GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie, not about his political agenda but about his physical appearance and what his wife thinks about his weight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAYLE KING: So can you say how much more you'd like to lose, or when will you be satisfied with how you look?

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: I'll know when I'll be satisfied and so will Mary Pat.

KING: Yeah.

CHRISTIE: And those are the only two people that really matter in all this, right?

KING: We're hung up on the numbers, Governor.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I'm not going to be.

MARTIN: For The Record today, the pressure of the weight. This morning, three voices from three people who have found their own resolution to their struggle with obesity, CeCe Olisa of New York City, Nicole Bullock (ph) of Berkley, Mich., and Sean Anderson (ph) of Ponca City, Okla. For Nicole and Sean, the weight problems started early and so did the bullying.

NICOLE BULLOCK: I was teased a lot in elementary school, junior high, high school. The earliest one that really hurt was fifth grade, in the lunch line. And he called me a fat bitch.

MARTIN: Sean remembers one episode in particular when he was just 8 years old.

SEAN ANDERSON: I was walking home from school one day. And I was almost home when a group of guys was teasing me about my weight. And one of them said, hey, you need to wear a bra. And it hurt my feelings so much; I remember going upstairs to our small apartment and just collapsing, just in tears.

MARTIN: CeCe didn't experience the same kind of bullying - far from it.

CECE OLISA: I used to feel like the things that happened on TV to the fat girl - like, I was waiting for those things to happen to me. And, like, they never did (laughter).

MARTIN: But there was this one time.

OLISA: I can remember auditioning for a role in, like, the school play. And it was kind of clear, talent wise, that I should've gotten the role. But I didn't get it. And I remember having a conversation with the drama teacher at the time. And I said, you know, is there something I could've done better to get the part? Like, I want to make sure for next year I'm on top of it, you know. And he was like, oh, no, you were perfect for the part. But there's a line, you know, in Act 2, where they say that you and your husband or whatever were making love in the back of a Studebaker. And it just - it's unrealistic that you would fit in the back of a car like that.

MARTIN: They each coped to varying degrees. What got Sean through adolescence was making people laugh.

ANDERSON: Embracing the whole funny, fat guy character. It started as a kid, seeing Louie Anderson and his first "Tonight Show" appearance. And really, that's when I made the connection that I can be this big guy, and I can make people laugh. And a lot of it's self-deprecating. But as long as I'm making them laugh, then I'll have that acceptance and love that I didn't feel that I would get in any other way.

MARTIN: But into adulthood, there was always that pressure to lose the weight and a seemingly endless cycle of diets.

ANDERSON: 2004, I lost 100 pounds. I quickly gained it all back. 2008, I lost 275 pounds. I maintained it a year and a half, and threw it all away.

MARTIN: It was the same kind of cycle for Nicole, brought on by a host of other health problems.

BULLOCK: I was prone to respiratory infections - so during the winter, bronchitis, pneumonia. Anytime someone would get sick, I would also get sick but to a worse degree. So I'd go to my pulmonologist, get on steroids, be on steroids for a couple months and balloon out, gain 20 or 30 pounds in the winter. Then, in the summer, when I felt good, I would lose weight. And then it would be winter, and I'd gain weight again. And it was just this back-and-forth for years.

MARTIN: For CeCe, the big effort came when she was in her early 20s.

OLISA: I did a really extreme diet. I went to a hospital in New York, and they put me on a program where I ate food from a box that didn't need to be refrigerated. So it just sat in my cupboard. And then I would, like, open it and warm it up and eat it. So I'm eating space food (laughter). And by the end of it, I lost a significant amount of weight. So I probably lost 50 pounds and then some. And the minute I got off the program, the weight all came back. It almost felt like I blinked, and it was back.

MARTIN: Each of them, CeCe Olisa, Nicole Bullock and Sean Anderson, can point to a moment when they started thinking differently about their weight. For Nicole, it came in 2012. She was suffering from depression and weighed more than she ever had.

BULLOCK: And that was 373 pounds. I just felt helpless.

MARTIN: So she made a pretty dramatic decision to have gastric bypass surgery.

BULLOCK: They make a pouch inside of your stomach that is about the size of an egg. And then, they reroute your intestines to this pouch. So it bypasses the majority of your stomach. And that not only gives you restriction in the size of how much you can eat, but it also is mal-absorptive. So the things that you eat aren't processed through your body the same way. So by having the surgery, you can't eat as much. But you also don't maintain as much of what you actually eat.

MARTIN: Sean's epiphany happened after a visit to his doctor, who told him he was in such bad shape...

ANDERSON: If you walked across this parking lot leaving this doctor's office today and you dropped dead, none of us would be the least bit surprised.

MARTIN: And that was it. He was going to change.

ANDERSON: September 15, 2008, I decided that would be the day. And it's going to be different. It's going to be unlike any other attempt.

MARTIN: And it was. He followed a strict diet, counted all his calories and exercised a lot. And it worked.

ANDERSON: I lost 275 pounds in two years, two months and one day.

MARTIN: It did not, however, stick. A year and a half later, he went through a difficult break-up. And the weight started to come back, more than half of what he had lost. Then, early in 2014, he committed again to losing the weight.

ANDERSON: And I have. My last weigh-in was 258.

MARTIN: Now to CeCe's revelation, which was different because she woke up one day and decided to stop dieting altogether.

OLISA: I kind of made a decision to stop focusing on getting skinny and start focusing on getting healthy. And removing the skinny goal opened me up to what a healthy lifestyle could really be. Removing the skinny goal also removes that sense of failure or that sense of constantly not achieving enough.

MARTIN: She's aware of what she eats but not obsessed about it. She swims regularly, and she feels healthy.

OLISA: For me, kind of where I am right now is that I've lost 55 pounds. But at the same time, the more important thing for me is that I'm so much stronger. I can hold a plank for a minute. I can do jumping jacks. Like, these are things I couldn't do before.

MARTIN: And she's not just comfortable in her own skin; she is showing it off.

OLISA: For Valentine's Day, I wore, like, this tight dress with horizontal stripes.

MARTIN: Whoa.

OLISA: For most fat girls, that's, like, a nightmare (laughter).

MARTIN: For most moderate-sized girls.

OLISA: (Laughter). Yes, for most women, horizontal stripes body-hugging you is, like, a terrible idea. But I was like, happy Valentine's Day, Boo. And he loved it.

MARTIN: Sean Anderson is also in a good place. Yes, he'd still like to lose more weight. But he's okay with where he's at. The key, he says, is to focus on the stuff that doesn't change when the scale does.

ANDERSON: I was always a good person. My likes, my dislikes, my talents were the same when I weighed 500 pounds. And they're the same as I sit here today.

MARTIN: Today, Nicole Bullock is still getting used to her new life after surgery.

BULLOCK: I've done things that I didn't think I'd ever do. I completed the Detroit Half Marathon, walking most of the way, a couple months ago. I took an amazing bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge in California. And this year, I have plans to go skydiving.

MARTIN: But weight didn't automatically make her a happier person. She still has a lot of other health issues. She still battles depression, and she still gets criticized.

BULLOCK: Weight loss surgery is the easy way out. I've heard that over and over and over. It is not so. It's changed my life in ways that'll affect me until, you know, I'm gone. I have issues absorbing vitamins. And so I have to make sure I'm taking my multivitamins and B12 and keeping up with enough protein. Like, it's making sure that in these reduced quantities of food, it's actually healthy.

MARTIN: Even CeCe Olisa, who has stopped trying to lose weight, says she still has to watch herself. There are days when it's easy for all the good habits to slip away.

OLISA: One of my goals for this year is to try to navigate bad days with still, like, a healthy mindset. Or if I kind of fall off, like, my bounce-back period - 'cause there was a time when maybe, like, if I'm doing really well for, like, you know, a month, and then I'll have a bad day - whatever that means, right? And then, like, maybe I get the little six-pack of Oreos, and I eat that. And I'm like, oh, I shouldn't have eaten that. A week later, I shouldn't still be eating, like, muffins and, like, things like that. I should be able to, like, wake up, refresh and get back to what I know is right for me. And then, trying to face my emotions head on and not self-medicate with food, that's something that I still work on.

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