Overcoming Obesity: One Woman’s Intense Journey for Fitness

by Fit After Fifty
Jenny Marshall holding up an old shirt to show her weight loss

By Jenny Marshall

Growing up in a dysfunctional and abusive family, food was my escape. Genetics were not on my side either. Both my mother and father struggled with obesity and diabetes. Mum used food as a means of emotional comfort. Food was the main way we related as a family. It was the answer to everything in life.

These conditions were a “perfect storm.” I had an insatiable hunger for food. Bigger than all the other kids at school, I weighed 290 pounds (132 kilograms) by the time I was 12.

Rolls of fat had grown over my abdomen and under my breasts. Rashes and ulcers festered; my skin turned dark around my wrists, elbows, and neck; my period stopped; and hair grew on my face. I was obese and I was ashamed of myself, and so were my parents. Discrimination followed me wherever I went. 

My life was sedentary. The smallest walk made me breathless, sweaty, and fatigued. I could not fit into seats, my car dipped on the driver’s side, and people stared at me. My diet consisted of sweet and fatty foods. By my late 20s, I reached around 551 pounds (250 kilograms). My health was on the same road as Mum’s, who died young. Depressed and believing I was worthless, I lacked motivation to change.  

[Related: Obesity and Baby Boomers: A Guide]

Then, a friend saw beyond the rolls of fat. She cared enough to let me know her. She wondered what her life would be like without me. I mattered. This was the turning point. For the first time in my life, I chose to take care of myself. Working on my shame and the psychological pain of my past was the only way I could bring about real change to my lifestyle. There would be no quick fix. I set about dealing with my destructive coping mechanisms.

 

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At 551 pounds, I began walking. Exhaustion, blisters, hurting joints, burning legs, and a sore back made it difficult. But I walked every day. Some passers-by mocked, some worried I would die, and others complimented me. Rubbing worsened the rashes beneath my folds of skin. My posture was poor from childhood obesity.  

I altered my diet, reduced my intake of processed foods, and ate foods with reduced fat, low sugar, and low glycemic index instead. It was a slow process, changing one thing at a time with my insatiable desire to eat drawing me back to old patterns.  

[Related: Choosing the Right Foods After Age 50]

Hormonal fluctuations brought about emotional swings and abdomen pain. Then I developed flu-like symptoms along with exhaustion and depression. Finally, I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue from the stresses of my childhood and physical changes.  

 

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As if this weren’t enough, my thyroid died, and I gained weight. I was devastated; all my efforts were wasted. Advice from medical staff reinforced my sense of failure. Obesity defined my life and that was how they saw me. Yet I pressed on, hoping that things would improve.  

Then my friend showed me a pamphlet advertising abdominoplasty, the removal of excess skin from the abdomen. Terrified of being rejected for my weight, I decided to go through with the procedure.

“You have a new life now.”

The removal of the fat cells triggered weight loss. They were formed before puberty and were affecting my metabolism.  

I had the next roll up removed. When the surgeon visited me in the ward, she said, “You have a new life now.” She was right. My first taste of freedom came when I had a coffee in public. For the first time in my life, no one stared at me or mocked me. I was invisible.  

And finally, I took a test that revealed intolerances to over 60 foods. During the first three days of eliminating these items, I lost fluid. Then my abdomen pains subsided. My head was clear, my joints stopped hurting, and the fatigued lifted.  

Jenny Marshall post-surgery with her dog

Jenny Marshall post-surgery with her dog

After the final surgery, the enormity of it all began to sink in. At first, I could not comprehend it. I wanted to scratch in places that no longer existed, and I found myself grieving. Without the fat, it was clear that I was big-boned, stocky, knock-kneed, and hunched from obesity. Mum’s diabetes had left me with a large chest cavity.  

Despite the disappointment, I began to accept the immense physical and psychological changes. I was free, healthy, fit, and a good weight for me. My work prospects greatly improved. I am an accountant and HR manager, and teach part-time at the local university. I have adopted a rescued greyhound, who has become my daily walking partner. I am currently writing a book about my journey.

There is hope.  

 

How has your weight affected your life? Share your story with us!

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