Coming to terms with the fact that extreme obesity is likely an early death sentence has been one of the toughest challenges in my life. Notice that I use the word “extreme,” which I intend to mean 100 pounds or more overweight. Levels lower than that also have negative health effects, of course, but I am writing from my experience as someone who has been 100 pounds or more overweight for their entire adult life.
I’m an overachiever and a perfectionist by nature. The fact that one very significant area of my life seemed to always be beyond my ability to control caused me a lot of pain and anguish. I have achieved many things in my life of which I am proud, yet those achievements were always overshadowed, in my mind, by my weight.
“Jon’s super smart,” I’d hear people say, “If only he could get that weight off. It’s going to shorten his life.” I’d feel momentary pride at hearing that I was smart, only to have the emotion washed away in a wave of self-loathing when I heard the second part.
I recall being sat down more than once by church members who would praise my musical talent, my sensitivity to the needs of others, my ability to memorize Scripture and speak eloquently, only to have the conversation end with chastisement. “You know what the Bible says about gluttony, Jon. You must get your eating under control. You aren’t pleasing God.”
These statements were generally couched with statements of concern as well. “We want you to be around for a very long time,” or some variation thereof.
I heard all of this, but in my earlier days, I didn’t understand it. It just made me feel bad. I was young enough that I didn’t notice or realize any effects from my weight. It wasn’t until the threat of diabetes and heart disease were approaching quickly that I began to fear for my life.
At some point, I decided that my single most important achievement in life was going to be staying alive. People who are 400 pounds or more don’t generally make it past 60. Think about it. Do you know any extremely obese people in their 80’s, or even their 70’s?
I decided that I wanted to live.
Now, I’d like to say it was easy once I made that decision. But it wasn’t. It was hard, and it continues to be hard. I’ve had many setbacks along the way and have come close to death’s door again because I prioritized career and achievement over staying alive. It’s been a very hard pill to swallow to realize that staying alive, in my case, demands much more time and energy than I think it does for most people. I am confident many of you reading this feel the same way.
Here’s the good news. Making the decision to stay alive and making that your most significant achievement in life doesn’t mean all the other parts of life have to go. You probably don’t want or need another lecture on priorities, but really, that’s what it boils down to in the end. I’d likely be dead or well on my way to an early death if I didn’t prioritize me. That’s not selfish. Prioritizing me keeps me alive to serve others.
One last thing I wanted to say about this. I struggle with negative self-talk. It’s something I have to think about and work on every single day. One thing I’ve found helpful is to train my brain to think positive and healthy thoughts. I’ve read some studies that found training the brain through rhythm, patterns, or music can be very helpful.
So, when I walk, I set my pace to the cadence of “I want to live,” which I repeat over and over in my head to the pace, cadence, and rhythm of my feet. Sometimes if I’m having a really hard time combatting negative thoughts while exercising, I’ll say “I want to live” out loud and not just internally. I want my brain to believe that I want to live. And I want you to live a long and healthy life, too.
Remember, you are worth it. Prioritizing you is not selfish. Prioritizing you keeps you alive to serve others.