This Is What Life Is Really Like When You Weigh Over 400 Pounds

I am an “infinifat” person. I prefer this term than the medically meaningless, and offensive, “morbidly obese” most would use to describe my body. At almost 44, I have spent nearly three decades weighing over 300 pounds. My lowest adult weight was 325 pounds in June of 2000. It took extreme food restriction, plus a lot of walking (I lived in New York City) to get me to that number (from a starting point of 380 pounds roughly 18 months earlier). There was also a lot of weight cycling (AKA yo-yo dieting) during that time.

My behaviors were far from healthy, despite my weight loss being lauded (by the people who even noticed it) as evidence that I was working to be healthier. Ha! Not so much. I was working to be thin, and if you don’t think there’s a difference, you are deeply mistaken. Thinness at any cost will not make a person healthy, but that’s exactly what society wants from fat people. 

In the nine months that followed that one-off sighting of 325 on my scale, I gained 75 pounds back. I am currently at 445 pounds.

That was just one example of my many years of dieting “successes.” I will never be thin, and I am so done with being asked stupid, insulting, ridiculous, invasive questions about life in a fat body, as though I am an object of lurid fascination. 

In an attempt to “shame” me into a smaller body, I’ve been told that I’ll drop dead from a heart attack any moment now (I’ve been hearing that one since I was 15). Bodies that look like mine are apparently a bigger threat than even terrorism! Do they think we’ll all explode? I say this with a certain amount of laughter mixed with derision, but it’s also incredibly alarming to know that a Surgeon General of the United States would make such a statement

I’ve been directly told to just kill myself in order to spare the taxpayers the cost of caring for me and to spare my loved ones ― assuming anyone could love me, har har! That insult happened in the comments on a YouTube video I was in. And if you’re thinking don’t read the comments, I urge you to read what the anonymous writer Your Fat Friend has to say about that ― especially if you’re thin. 

And sure, much of the time this shaming is couched in “concern” for our health. Yet, it frequently comes from people who have proven repeatedly that they do not give a damn about the health of someone who looks like me ― people who, in fact, are perfectly happy to shatter our physical and mental health to try to make us smaller (looking at you, Jillian Michaels), especially when doing so makes them rich and famous. 

Bodies that look like mine are apparently a bigger threat than even terrorism! Do they think we’ll all explode? I say this with a certain amount of laughter mixed with derision, but it’s also incredibly alarming to know that a Surgeon General of the United States would make such a statement.

It’s so important for voices like mine to have an outlet. The shame is constant. It comes from everywhere. Family. Friends. The nightly news. Doctors. Trolls on the internet. People with powerful platforms like Oprah (yes, even if she’s claiming “healthy” to be the new “skinny” as she shills for Weight Watchers).

This shame is without equivocation, harming me and those who, like me, live in very fat bodies. These are our homes. Does anyone really think it’s healthy to be told over and over and over again that you’re essentially on the verge of death every moment of every day? 

In early 2007, I thought about starting another diet, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. Instead, with the help of an eating disorder therapist, I embraced Intuitive Eating, an eating plan that is based on what your body intuitively knows is good for it. I am ashamed to say that if that therapist had looked like me, I doubt I’d have trusted her, but she was thin, and she was telling me it was okay that I wasn’t ― that it was okay to love myself just the way that I was. I wish it hadn’t taken validation from a person who had never been fat to get me to realize this. 

Suddenly, my world had changed. I was so ready, after so many years of hating myself, to just feel neutral about my body for once. It wasn’t even that hard for me to embrace it at the time. I took it for granted ― something that would later come back to haunt me. 

In 2016, while on vacation with my husband (we’ve been married almost 16 years. I am fat and I am loved, despite hearing for years no one could possibly love me looking like I do), I fell. We were eating in a very small cafe. People were crowding in the vestibule as they waited for tables to open. I grew increasingly anxious about having to navigate through a crowd, both from the perspective of being somewhat claustrophobic and because moving my fat body through a crowd is never fun; I don’t think most people enjoy trying to push our way through a crowd ― it’s worse because I dare to take up space by simply existing.

Juliet James on a Lake Michigan beach in October 2016.

Juliet James on a Lake Michigan beach in October 2016.

My husband sensed my growing anxiety, so we quickly finished lunch and got up to leave the restaurant. I had failed to remember the steep step into the building from the sidewalk and in my haste to get out I stumbled down it. I held on to the door, foolishly trying to remain upright. It is bad enough to fall in public. It is worse when you’re roughly 520 pounds and wearing a bright kelly green shirt. 

I’m pretty sure I was in shock. It’s believed I tore my right bicep by holding on to the door ― “believed” because an MRI or other scans were not an option at my size. I knew this, so I didn’t bother to go to the emergency room. When we got home, I had major bruises, and my arm hurt like hell. I went to my primary care doctor, who advised me to rest my arm for 16 weeks, use ice and take anti-inflammatory drugs. After that, it was going to be as good as it would get. I still regularly have muscle spasms from even minor movement in that area.

Sixteen years earlier, while working at a New York City daycare center, I fell on the job. That time I braced my fall with my left hand. Seriously, don’t try to brace a fall unless you’re on the side of a mountain or something. I partially dislocated my shoulder. This was an on-the-job injury, meaning workers’ compensation had to be involved. It took them five weeks to approve physical therapy, but by then permanent damage had been done. Ten years later, I somehow managed to dislocate it again ― in my sleep (what can I say, I’m talented). The permanent damage means my range of motion in that arm is extremely limited ― and it makes further dislocations more likely.

I’ve written extensively about these injuries and my fear of future health issues going undiagnosed because, despite the rampant “concern” for the “health” of fat people, we are still denied access to care afforded to our thinner peers. These fears were entirely valid, as fat people die regularly from diseases that go undiagnosed.

For instance, around this same time, my grandmother was being treated for cancer. She had to get repeated PET scans, among other tests. As an infinifat person, these tests are off limits to me. What if I got cancer? Suddenly, I felt trapped. Not by my body so much as by a medical community that would not provide me access to quality care and that would then shame me for my injuries or illnesses that came about as a result of that lack of access. 

No matter what injury or condition I was struggling with, I knew traditional dieting wouldn’t help me; it never had, and I always gained back more than I lost. 

Juliet James "glamping" in Moab, Utah, to celebrate her 15th wedding anniversary in April 2019.

Juliet James “glamping” in Moab, Utah, to celebrate her 15th wedding anniversary in April 2019.

In March of 2018, I had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy. During that surgery, roughly 80% of a fat person’s stomach is amputated in an effort to make them smaller. And while, yes, I was able to regain some mobility I’d lost over the years, most of the time, I still wish I hadn’t done it. The reality is, I am far less healthy now than I was before my surgery. My mental health has suffered. As it turns out, though we were never warned of this during any of the pre-op counseling, there’s a significant increase in mental health issues among patients who undergo bariatric surgery, including self-harm and suicide.

Post-op, you can forget about Intuitive Eating. How can you eat intuitively when you’re literally never hungry? Or, when after months of starving it, your body decides to fight back, and you’re ravenous? While my surgeon made a weight “goal” number for me to hit following the surgery, it was unrealistic. I knew better than to believe these predictions. But what about his patients who don’t?

When you see my body, you’ll have questions. How did she get so fat? What does she eat? How does she wipe? Can she have sex? Who’d want to have sex with her anyway? You’ll make assumptions about me. She must eat all day long, non-stop. Bet she loves McDonald’s. She doesn’t care about herself. She must be so sad. She’s clearly miserable.

If you see me daring to live my life on Instagram, where I share travel adventures and my love of makeup pretty regularly, you might think, another fatty glorifying obesity! Trust me; whatever you’re thinking, I can almost guarantee I’ve thought it or worse about myself. Well, aside from the truly absurd things (like the glorifying obesity B.S.).

If you see me daring to live my life on Instagram, where I share travel adventures and my love of makeup pretty regularly, you might think, ‘another fatty glorifying obesity!’ Trust me; whatever you’re thinking, I can almost guarantee I’ve thought it or worse about myself.

Fortunately, I’m strong enough to not listen to this type of trolling. I was bullied as a kid, too, but the way my brain is hardwired, it never really bothered me much. This is something I view as a privilege. It’s not a skill. It’s just the way I think. Not everyone has this privilege. Sometimes, I’ve intentionally engaged trolls just to distract them from another, possibly more vulnerable, target, but just because I can handle it doesn’t mean it’s fun. Spoiler alert: It’s not. 

I am deeply, profoundly tired. I’ve spent almost three decades hearing how I am a ticking time bomb, told all the time I’d be dead by 30 (which later changed to 50 once I passed 30). I was hospitalized for seven weeks at 15 for non-purging bulimia. I’ve been suicidal. I’ve been 100% able to accept my body, and I’ve been unable to accept it at all. Right now, I’m somewhere in between, but it’s irrelevant because it’s the only body I will ever have. 

I just want to be happy, but no matter how wonderful my life is, I can’t be. Not completely. Not when the world refuses to bend. When it views me, and those who look like me, as a “problem” that needs to be not just fixed, but outright eradicated. When eating disorder behaviors are lauded as “self-control” or “discipline,” and caloric content info is in 20-point fonts on the fronts of boxes. I have to turn nutrition labels away in the cabinet to prevent a lapse into moralizing my own food choices or lapsing into eating disorder behaviors I’ve worked so hard to conquer. 

My body size is not going to change in any significant way. However, my life, and the lives of other fat people, could change. If only the world would accept that bodies come in a variety of sizes, our lives could be so much better.

Infinifats like me make up a pretty small percentage of the population, but we’re here; we’re not going anywhere. We fall in love, we get our hearts broken, we have great sex, we have bad sex, we laugh, we cry… in other words, we’re just like people in much smaller bodies, and we deserve the same privileges afforded to others: access to attractive clothing, comfortable seating, and good medical care (including imaging). We deserve basic human dignity and respect, and we do not owe you explanations for our bodies

So yeah, I’m tired, but I am determined to spend whatever of my incessantly ticking time bomb of a life I have left to try to fix the real problem: Fatphobia.  

Juliet James is a queer, bisexual, fat babe who writes about mental health, eating disorders and the social and emotional challenges of being fat in a thin-centric culture. Born in New Jersey, she spent six years living in New York City, where she completed a BA in anthropology at Hunter College. She currently resides with her husband and their dog in the mountains of Colorado. Her hobbies include traveling with her husband, spoiling her dog, reading, music and makeup. You can follow her on Quora or read more of her work on Medium. You’ll also find her on Instagram and Twitter under the username @IAmJulietJames 

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