“I feel like I can’t breathe,” I told my doctor. “I mean, I can breathe, but I feel like my chest is getting tight and I’m not getting enough air.” I didn’t want to be melodramatic, but I also didn’t want her to ask why I waited six months to get treated.
Sure, I had occasionally felt like my chest and throat were being vacuum-sealed, but I could deal with a little throat-closing-feeling if it meant avoiding one big thing… the scale.
Yeah, I wasn’t scared of doctors or needles or the inevitable “I can’t find anything wrong” results. No, I was scared of a number. You’re always weighed in at the doctor’s office, and I wasn’t ready to see numerical proof of my obvious weight gain.
Eventually, after a particularly bad bout of not-breathing-quite-right, my husband got scared and convinced me to see the doctor.
“I can’t find anything wrong,” the doctor said. Of course—this is always the answer. “Nothing physical, at least. It’s anxiety.”
Oh. That’s new.
She told me I was having mild anxiety attacks (I hadn’t put together that the month I went off antidepressants was the month this anti-oxygen campaign started). She suggested I start therapy again, get bloodwork done just to cover my bases, and take Ativan in case of emergency.
I walked out of the office with a print-out of my doctor’s recommendations and got another fine surprise. The top of the note said:
Name: Amber Petty
Cool. I’ve gained 100 pounds. Great news for my anxiety.
That was eight months ago. Since then, I’ve lost some but mostly played the “I’ll start tomorrow” card. But now I want to do this for real, to commit to a plan of healthy eating and stick to it—despite my cravings for nachos and the injustice that other people get to eat whatever they want at restaurants, and I can’t. I’m going to lose weight, and you get to hear how it happens.
Now normally, weight loss stories focus on the happy, teeth-whitened “after” photo and barely introduce you to the sad, blurry “before” photo. But personally, when I only hear people talk about how great losing weight feels, it makes me feel like an a-hole. I think, Why is this so hard for me when it’s apparently so easy for everybody else?
Well, it’s not easy for everybody else.
So if you’ve felt similarly, this story might be more up your alley—I’m going to share what the process of losing weight is like in real time. I want to share with you all the sad times (crying in the dressing room because XXL is too small) and inspirational moments (seeing a pic of me in a swimsuit and not wanting to die) right as I go through them. I know this journey will be hard. Because this ain’t my first weight loss rodeo. I’ve spent most of my life wanting to change my body, and of course…
It all started in middle school.
My social status ranked somewhere between not cool enough for the theater kids but not weird enough for the goths. I hung with a group that made fun of me because I hadn’t seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but let my wardrobe of stretch pants and baggy shirts patterned with whales slide.
And I loved my baggy t-shirts and leggings (because jeans are uncomfortable—how does everyone not acknowledge this?). I didn’t care what I looked like and was perfectly fine with my chubbiness… until my friends starting playing that wonderful adolescent game: Who Can Hate Themselves the Most!
It’s a game most girls play, even the completely uncool kids I hung out with. Sitting under the sickly fluorescent lights of the bright orange lunchroom, one girl would say, “Ugh, my hair is so horrible.”
Immediately, another girl ups the ante with, “At least you have good skin. My skin is terrible.” Then a few more skin and hair complaints ping-pong back and forth before someone busts out the big guns:
“Well at least you’re not fat. Ugh, look at this roll. It goes over my jeans, I’m so fat right now!”
Once fat is on the table, each girl will take a turn pointing out the “fat” part of the body that she hates. The game is over once everyone feels like garbage.
And then there was me, sitting silently, amazed that girls so thin could think they were so ugly. I never chimed in because I figured if those “fat rolls” (a.k.a. skin) were disgusting, my actually fat stomach would cause fear and panic throughout the school. “Look away!” they’d scream, a stampede of Gap khaki and butterfly hair clips. “The fattness! My God, the fattness!”
In seventh grade, we played this game on a near-daily basis. And I went from thinking, “If these skinny girls think they’re fat, they must think I’m some kind of monster,” to thinking, I am fat and I am some kind of monster.
And a life of body issues began.
Despite the fact that I’ve felt bad about my body for most of my life, I never seriously tried to diet until I was about 25. This is when I finally gave up the fantasy that I’d been suffering from a mysterious disease, one which had caused me to gain weight and could be eliminated just by popping a few pills. So, starting at 5’8″ and 220 pounds, I counted calories, worked out, and lo and behold, I went from a size 16-18 to a size 12—from 220 to 185 pounds.
Good for me. I must have felt great, right?
Of course not! I’d spent my whole life hating my body, and I wasn’t gonna let a few lost pounds change that crappy attitude. Though I felt moments of pride, I mostly just wanted to lose more. And when I plateaued for a year at the 185 mark (still 20 pounds overweight, according to the BMI), I felt like a fat, ugly, stupid failure.
If these skinny girls think they’re fat, they must think I’m some kind of monster.
In desperation, I went on one of those “just drink protein powder smoothie” diets, even though I knew it was a bad, unsustainable idea. That siren song of weight loss kept calling my name—and I lost 10 pounds in a month. The plateau was over; I was 175!
I waltzed into the dressing room at work (I was a performer in a parody musical at the time) and waited for the rush of compliments to wash over me. But no one noticed. And I was in a room full of actors who had to witness me change costumes multiple times every day. If a group full of young actresses (a.k.a. the most body-conscious people on Earth) didn’t notice I’d gotten thinner, then I must still look fat, I thought.
But hey, I wasn’t losing weight for a group of musical theater girls. I was losing it for me! Plus, how can I expect people at work to notice every little change in my body? I was by far the fattest girl there, so the fact that I got slightly less fat probably wouldn’t make much of an impression.
So, I took the lack of interest in stride and headed out to my much-anticipated vacation to Disney World. And I felt good. My husband and I took lots of pictures (which is rare for us), and for once, I was excited to get them up on Facebook… until I actually looked them over. And my fat face looked back at me.
Even I couldn’t even tell that I’d lost an extra 10 pounds. I still looked fat. All that work, all those nonsense protein shakes, and this is what I get? A girl who could politely be described as “Well, she’s not that fat.”
Now, in reality, those pictures weren’t bad. Sure, I wasn’t skinny, but I wasn’t the obese monster I made myself out to be. In fact, I would love to be that “fat” again. (Oh, hindsight! Why must you be so cruel?)
It was around this time that I moved from New York to L.A., which sparked a wonderful opportunity for my depression to come out of hiding and really show itself off—this time, in the form of emotional eating. I gained all my weight back, plus a bit more. The anti-depressants added an extra 30 pounds (you know, just for fun). I was never really the most social person to begin with, but now I had a whole new reason to not go out: I thought that my friends would be ashamed of me because I gained so much weight.
One day, as I was about to go see a movie by myself, I thought, You really don’t need to go out in public. You’re disgusting. You shouldn’t make people look at you.
That little demon voice was the last straw.
I put Cher on Spotify, ordered a Lyft, and sat in the fifth row for A Quiet Place. Sure, it wasn’t a big, flashy victory, but it was an important moment: That’s when I decided that horrible, damaging thoughts couldn’t dictate my life and that I wouldn’t live out my life in a crappy Hollywood apartment scared of the world because of my weight.
Sure, I wasn’t skinny, but I wasn’t the obsese monster I made myself out to be.
Yes, I am fat. But, no, I’m not disgusting. None of my friends seem to care, co-workers don’t care, and everyone in Hollywood has seen way weirder sh*t than me.
However, I do still need to lose weight.
My knees ache all the time. I started getting plantar fasciitis because my feet were like “Ugh, I’m done with this.” I get winded with the slightest of jogs. I’m tired all the time. And my family is prone to diabetes. So basically, I’ve got to change things up. But this time, I’m going to avoid some mistakes I made on my last diet. For instance, I will not be:
- Crying because I gained a pound
- Crying because I didn’t lose any weight
- Crying because I didn’t lose enough weight
- Crying because of my weight at all—Good Lord, there are so many better things to cry about. See: climate change and Pixar movies (I’m looking at you, Bing Bong!).
Instead, I’m hopeful that I can lose weight in a mentally healthy way—and maybe make a dent in my complete body hatred while I’m at it. But who knows what will happen. And just a note: Please know that I’m never insinuating that anyone else needs to do what I do or that they need to lose weight. This is just my deal. If you’re my size, bigger, smaller, or whatever, and you love your body, that’s freaking fantastic. Stay healthy. Don’t change.
Check back in two weeks to see how much I’ve lost so far, and hear about my first attempt at fitness—a co-ed softball league.
Amber Petty is an L.A. based writer and a regular contributor to Greatist. Follow along as she shares her weight loss journey in her new bi-monthly column, Slim Chance. Follow her on Instagram @Ambernpetty