I Just Binge-Watched “My Big, Fat, Fabulous Life,” and I Have Some Thoughts About It.

Today is Presidents’ Day, and thus far I’ve spent most of my day doing yarn-related things. I de-cluttered part of my stash, rolling loose skeins into balls, ripping half-done projects that would never be finished, cutting and tossing what couldn’t be ripped or was knotted and wasn’t worth de-tangling.  I also worked on a hat:

knitting, knit hat, dpns, wip, wool

For the record, a toilet paper tube is great for winding yarn into a ball. I’m not ashamed.

Fat Fabulous Life

I heard about My Big Fat, Fabulous Life a few weeks ago and to be honest, it wouldn’t have piqued my interest at all had her angle not resonated with me. Whitney Thore has PCOS and says that it led her to gain over 100 pounds during her college years (and another hundred since then).  I can relate; I put on 80 pounds over the course of three years, which sounds like a long time when I see it in print, but seemed to have happened in the blink of an eye.  And, just as with Whitney, it’s been ridiculously difficult to consistently lose weight.

mel over the years

(Above, top row, left to right: 2001, 2008, 2006, bottom row, 2011, 2013, 2014)

I can relate to her feeling of relief to finally have that diagnosis.  Yep, it sucks to have PCOS, but it helped to know that there is a legitimate medical issue and my weight gain is not just because I’m a lazy pig (here’s a Mayo Clinic article about what PCOS is, because I don’t want to butcher the science).  I’d say that knowing is half the battle, but that’s a load of crap since I was diagnosed in 2011 and gained another 50 between then and when I finally managed to take control of my health last May.

I can relate to feeling like you’re being stared at when you’re eating at a restaurant and you have something other than say, a salad or some desperately sad piece of chicken and steamed broccoli.  Feeling like people are laughing at you when you’re out running (as if fat people shouldn’t be exercising).  Never wanting to wear a swimsuit or go to a pool or the beach ever again.  Feeling invisible when you hear people talk about women who are “beautiful.”  I remember how much I struggled at the Monkees Convention knowing that my one and only chance to meet my idols was going to be as this fat, monstrous version of myself, and that amazing moment in my life was going to be forever immortalized in film with me at the biggest size I’d ever been.  It was depressing.  So, while I’m nowhere near 380 pounds like her, I know the pain and self-loathing.

I can even get behind her message of embracing who you are at the moment and recognizing that you can’t put your life on hold and wait to have meaningful moments until you’re “thin” or “fit.” If I’d done that, I never would have met the Monkees.  I sing at church fairly often and our services are televised; I’d never do that if I waited until I was “pretty enough” to be on tv.  I fully believe that we need to make the most of each day, since we don’t know that we’ll have tomorrow.

There were a couple of things about her story that didn’t sit well with me, though, and so I DVRed all 10 episodes of the first season and have been watching them in chunks (usually whenever Joey is out or otherwise occupied since he finds her personality grating and the entire concept of the show annoying).  I’d just intended to watch two or three episodes to get a better grasp on my feelings about the show, but (as Joey feared), I found her story compelling enough that I watched the entire series.  I finished it up today with the season finale and, quite honestly, it disturbed me.

It all boils down to personal responsibility for me.  I think that, too often, Whitney gives herself a pass on her current condition because of her diagnosis.  PCOS definitely makes weight gain easy and weight loss difficult, but ultimately, much of our health condition depends on our own decisions.  I recognize that her case must be different (or more severe) than mine; I didn’t gain 100 pounds in a year, and I’m not 250 pounds overweight. However, I also recognize that my extra 80 pounds resulted from my own lack of discipline.  We can’t use our diagnoses to give ourselves a pass on making good decisions.  She casually mentions that she is partly responsible for her weight gain, but there’s no real visible recognition of that or focus on making better food decisions (on the contrary; she gets irritated at her father when he suggests that she have an egg sandwich on wheat bread rather than a banana and mayo sandwich on white bread).  While she does focus on dancing to get back in shape, which is laudable, physicians indicate that weight is lost in the kitchen, not the gym, and her few weigh-ins during the course of the season bear this out for her as she doesn’t appear to have much success.

At the end of the Season Finale, Whitney learns that she’s been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, which should be surprising to no one.  What really gets to me, though, is the response she and her parents have.  Thus far in the episode, she’s house-shopping with her best friend/future roommate, but when she gets the letter with the lab results, her parents encourage her NOT to move out on her own so she can get her health in order. She’s 30 years old.  Thirty. Years. Old.  She doesn’t have diabetes; she’s got pre-diabetes, which means that her fasting glucose is over 100 and her a1c is outside the rate for a regular non-diabetic, but not high enough to officially diagnose her with diabetes (more about prediabetes here). Dietary changes can usually control and/or reverse the problem.  And a responsible adult would look at the situation, recognize that it sucks but that s/he is squarely responsible, and make plans to fix it/mitigate the damage.  But stay home with Mom and Dad just because you almost have diabetes??  That’s not a viable answer.  That’s not a mature decision.  How can you expect to succeed in taking control of your health if you believe that continuing to depend on your parents to take care of you is the proper response to being almost-diabetic?  Even if the whole situation was orchestrated for television (which certainly could be the case), it still promotes the behavior that leads to unnecessary dependence.

It irritates me on two levels; first, I’ve got a similar diagnosis.  I have impaired fasting glucose (which goes hand-in-hand with PCOS).  And, while I don’t always feel like a functional adult, I do know that I need to make good food choices (for me, avoiding carbs and gluten) to control the problem and keep it from becoming diabetes.  Somehow, I continue to manage working a full-time job, being actively involved in church, and being a wife while trying to get a handle on my health.  At thirty years old, she should be able to do the same.  Second, I think this is part of a larger societal problem of not taking responsibility for one’s own situation. Where on earth have we gone as a society that moving back in with one’s parents is the solution for a relatively minor (in the vast medical spectrum) diagnosis rather than making a plan and taking control of his/her health condition?  What happens in twenty years when Mom and Dad are in a home, or even worse, have passed away?  How are people going to cope when they haven’t learned the basic skills of self-sufficiency and the concept of personal responsibility?

Once I finally decided to take control of my health, I started seeing success.  I’ve lost 35 pounds by eating low-carb and gluten free, and I’m (mostly) successfully training for a 5K at the end of March.  I’m not going to “settle” for life as-it-is, and I consider every poor decision I make a victory for PCOS.  It’s a battle, and it’s fought and won by choices.

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5 thoughts on “I Just Binge-Watched “My Big, Fat, Fabulous Life,” and I Have Some Thoughts About It.

  1. You inspire me! I am in the same boat with PCOS (as we’ve discussed) but, as you know, have the additional issue of using a wheelchair, which makes exercising, at best, a difficult proposition. And, as a chronically picky eater, I don’t make the best food choices. My biggest hurdle is motivation: I basically don’t have any. Or, somehow worse, I get intensely motivated for a short period of time, don’t see any results, and then get discouraged. Vicious cycle. Still, knowing that we share a similar struggle, as well as a love of words, makes me feel like all is not lost.

    • Thanks. You’ve definitely got an additional challenge with exercise options being so limited. Motivation is a huge struggle for me too. I found out about the PCOS in 2011, but it took me three years to get my “give a damn” button to work. All isn’t lost, though:).

  2. I totally boycotted the show because my mom gave me the rundown. I gained over 100 since I was diagnosed 17 years ago. I worked like a mad woman trying to figure out what to do. Nothing worked. Last year I started eating clean. But, I was so anemic and no matter how much iron I took I couldn’t keep up with the blood loss. But, I have lost 20 lbs. It is definitely a self control use and taking responsibility. Also being educated and applying it. Hopefully more people don’t take on her ethics with the fight we face!

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