What does obesity look like in America?
I don’t know if you’ve seen the statistics on obesity in America, but they’re staggering. According to a CDC estimate, as of March 2020, 41.9% of adults in America were classified as obese. What does that mean? It means the people have a BMI, or Body Mass Index of 30 or above.
Want to know another startling statistic? During that same period, 19.2% of children age 2 and older were considered obese. That’s not even including anyone with BMIs of 25-29.9, who are considered overweight.
Well, I’m 5’1″ tall and currently weigh between 160-165 pounds, so according to the BMI charts, I exceed 30. I wear a size 8 in most pants, mediums in most women’s shirts, and I am considered obese.
The problem with Body Mass Index
There are many doctors who believe the BMI chart is outdated due to its age and how it was created. It didn’t account for a person’s age, ethnicity, body type, or muscle mass. That means that body builders with hardly any body fat will measure obese on the BMI chart. Women with large, dense (and heavy) breasts may also have issues. There are a lot of other ways to test the physical health of a person without using weight as the only indicator.
If you want to read more about it, check out this info from Healthline.com.
Child and teenage body image
I’m in the midst of raising a preteen daughter at the same time my childbearing years are coming to an end (actually, I put them to an end 10 years ago when she was born, but I digress). My daughter was a bigger baby at 8lbs, 4 oz., and was admittedly a chubby infant. She slimmed down after she started walking and is now within a normal weight range for her height according to our pediatrician. But my girl thinks she’s fat sometimes because her stomach isn’t perfectly flat. A little girl at school pointed it out to my daughter, and I’m willing to bet the little girl heard the body hate speech at home. It breaks my heart.
When I was a child and teen, I had some body issues of my own. Looking back, I was never what I would now consider “heavy.” And despite the fact that I never had a stick-thin body, perfectly flat abs, or a thigh gap like a girl I often compared myself to, I wasn’t overweight. But there were many times I thought I was fat, like when I was 13 and cried as I moved from a size 5 to a size 7 and from an A-cup to a C-cup bra over one summer.
I’ve heard several women say they wish they could go back in time and be as fat as they were when they first thought they were fat. I’m not sure how much I weighed at 13, but I doubt it would be good for me now.
Just for perspective, my prom dress was a size 6 in Misses, which is similar to a size 7 in Juniors. At the time, my bra size was 34C.
My body before and after UC diagnosis
When I started college, I actually lost a few pounds from all the extra walking and gained some muscle. Then, when I was 20, I started having some stomach problems. A lot of testing showed that I have ulcerative colitis. It took several months and a 5-day stay in the hospital to get my symptoms under control and find the right medication combo to keep me in remission.
At the time I was admitted to the hospital at age 21 in October 2002, I had been severely sick for several days and weighed about 84 pounds. Before that, I had struggled to keep my weight steady at 95 pounds, which was still underweight for my 5’1″ frame. This photo was taken in August or September of 2002. I looked like a skeleton and had to wear size 1 pants in Juniors that hung off of my hips.
It took me years and some rounds of steroids to get my weight back up to a healthier 115 when I was in my mid-20s, but I was still thinner than I had been during my teens. That is, except for my breasts, which had grown a cup size from the steroid weight gain. For reference, my wedding dress was a size 3/4, and I wore a 34D bra.
During and after pregnancy
Of course, as I aged, my body changed. When I got pregnant for the first time, I watched my weight go higher than it ever had. And my breasts, good Lord, my breasts were huge! My D-cups became DDDs by the end of both pregnancies. Talk about some added weight, plus the extra 40 pounds of pregnancy weight.
With Drew, I weighed 155 at full-term. At my six-week check-up, I remember being upset that I was still at 126 pounds (It sure would be nice to be that weight now). But, I was able to get back down to 117 pounds, and I stayed fairly stable until my next pregnancy four years later. I wore sizes 4 or 6 in clothing.
With Meredith, I was so sick I didn’t gain any weight in the beginning and finally made it to 145 pounds a few days before she was born (I would also love to be that weight now).
By six weeks later, I was at 123 and it took me another year to get back to 115 again. And my breasts stayed large for my frame at a 34D. I was able to wear my 4s and 6s again.
What happened later
As I got older, I put on weight, going from 125 to 135 to 145 to 155 and then 165 before topping out at 175 after the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress of losing a job I loved. Most of that weight was in my breasts and abdomen, with a bit settling in around my hips.
Diets and exercise failed
When I first hit the 145-ish spot (that wasn’t pregnancy weight), I tried a high-protein, low-carb diet. While I lost some inches, I only lost 3 pounds the entire time I was on the plan. Even with regular exercise, it just didn’t work for me.
Then I tried counting calories, limiting myself to 1400 per day. My weight plateaued after a five-pound loss. I think my body went into starvation mode. I felt terrible and was starving all the time. After about six weeks, I gave up on that one, too.
Intermittent fasting worked
Later, when I had reached my highest point and had cried after stepping off the scale, I talked to my doctor about what to do. She suggested intermittent fasting. I was to limit my calories to 1500 per day and only eat between noon and 8 p.m. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, I got started, and sure enough, it worked for me. But it was so hard not eating breakfast. I spent every morning absolutely starving, trying to fill up on my first 32-ounce water serving of the day.
It took me about seven months to lose 25 pounds. I was so proud of myself. Even though I was still overweight at 150 pounds, I’d accomplished something.
Oops, life happened, and I gained back some weight
Life happened after that and I was lax on the fasting. We had a water pipe burst in June and then our house caught fire in October 2022. I was still trying to watch what I ate, but I began eating breakfast again when I was hungry. Weight started to come back, and now I am teetering between 160-165 again. I’ve lost progress, but I am trying to get back in the habit of intermittent fasting, which is probably more of a lifestyle change for me rather than a diet if I truly want to be successful at getting back to a healthier weight.
But what is a healthy weight? And why do I feel like I failed so badly when I’m not exactly sitting around eating junk all day long? I eat a lot of protein, baked lean meats, and rarely get fast food. I try to exercise regularly.
Why is this so freakin’ difficult? It’s eat less, exercise more, right? Simple—or maybe not. There are medication side effects, hormones, genetics, and environmental factors like stress. And who knows, maybe it’s because Mercury is in retrograde, or the flowers bloomed too soon? The hell if I know.
Don’t even get me started on women’s clothing sizes
Women’s clothing sizes aren’t known for being consistent across brands or even within the same brand. Before and even after pregnancy, I could generally wear sizes 4 or 6. As I gained weight, I traded in my smaller clothes for sizes 8 or 10 (sometimes 12 or 14 in dresses to fit my chest). Even now at about 165 pounds, I have multiple sizes of pants depending on the manufacturer. My jeans are mostly 8s with one random 6 that fits (and by “fits” I mean I can wear them comfortably without risking the lives of those around me with the threat of a ricocheting button). My shorts are sizes 8-12. Strangely some of them are the same brands in different sizes. My shirts are sizes S-XL depending on the brand and style.
Earlier this week, I tried on an 8, a 10 and a 12 in the same shorts at Old Navy, and while all went on my body, not a single pair was flattering. Higher waisted styles just don’t work for my body. I ended up scrapping the shorts-buying idea and bought some linen pants in a size medium (8-10) that fit great.
So in general, I tend to take a guess with shirts based on how wide they look, 8-10 in pants, and 10-12 in dresses and hope for the best. Is clothing shopping this frustrating for everyone?
Coming to terms with my body now
Well, I’m obese on my medical charts now.
But you know what else? I’m also a person, just like everyone else who is struggling with accepting their bodies, no matter what those bodies may look like. I’ll admit I’m not 100% happy with mine. I think my current size 36DD chest makes me look heavier than I’d like, and I only wear minimizer bras! I often wish I could snap my fingers and be 40 pounds lighter, but I can only do so much.
I’m trying to encourage body positivity with my daughter at the same time I am actively trying to stay as healthy as possible. I exercise and try to eat healthy at least 80% of meals. But I’m also not going to starve myself to fit into what an outdated BMI chart considers a healthy weight. And I’m not going to tell my daughter that she or I can’t have a damned brownie because it’s “bad.” It’s all about self-moderation. Eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. Avoid eating out of habit and drink plenty of water.
In reality, how much I weigh is the least interesting thing about me, and I’m willing to bet the same for everyone reading this. While I’m not completely pleased with every aspect of my body, I don’t hate it either. This body carried and nurtured two children. This body holds my heart and soul and allows me to be with my family. I’m able to live my life with this body.
As long as I’m able to function, I will continue to try to live in a healthy way no matter what the tag on the inside of my pants reads. Now, I’m not delusional enough to think I’m fitting my 41-year-old ass back into the size 2s of my youth, but if the tags in my pants offend me, I’ll just cut the damned things out! Problem solved. Clothes are made to cover my body and make me feel comfortable. So that’s what I’ll focus on for now and not worry too much about what those clothing sizes are as long as they fit my current body, whatever that may be.
Changing the narrative
I won’t let my daughter talk about hating her body, and I NEVER say anything negative about anyone’s body in front of her. I allowed her to name a part of her body that is her “least favorite” only after she named her three favorite parts. (Hair, eyes, smile being the favorites with non-flat stomach being the least.) Body hate is not allowed in our house, and that applies to my son too.
Following the same exercise, I like my green eyes, my long fingers and my muscular calves the best and like my large breasts the least. I’m not a huge fan of having UC either, since it often makes me feel bloated and otherwise yuck.
If you’re out there struggling with your own body (or parts of it) whether you think it’s too thin or too fat, too short or too tall, I’m sorry. I know how hard it is to struggle with body image. And being good to yourself doesn’t mean having to fit into a certain size or stay below a certain number on the scale. If you love your body for what it is, I am so proud for you. But the main thing is, as long as your body is working for the way you want to live your life (and even if it isn’t), it’s nobody’s business but your own. Work on acceptance for what you have and work toward being the healthiest “you” you can be.
And at the same time you’re learning to appreciate your own body, try not to judge others’ bodies. You don’t know that they’re going through or what they’ve been through. You don’t have to tell people they’re fat or thin. Most of the time we already know. Just be kind—especially to yourself.
Thanks for reading,
-Brandi Easterling Collins
Cover photo: Image by Anastasia Kazakova on Freepik