Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer “radical empathy” and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.
Today the Sugars hear from a woman going through radical physical — and emotional — changes. She was “extremely overweight,” but lost 100 pounds. Now she wants to have a “grand adventure” and feels that her husband is holding her back. If you lose weight, do other parts of your life inevitably change as well?
To help answer this and other questions, they’re joined again by Lindy West, a writer, editor and performer whose work focuses on pop culture, social justice and body image. She’s the author of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.
My husband and I got married four years ago. I was 28 and he was 31. It was the happiest day of our lives. We were excited for the future, happy in our relationship and ready to give marriage a go. We were also both extremely overweight.
After marrying my husband, let’s call him Dylan, I began feeling motivated to make positive changes in my life. I changed my eating habits, started moving more, found a love for yoga and decided to become a yoga teacher. I lost 100 pounds. Dylan was supportive and encouraging the whole way through. He would cook me healthy dinners, celebrate my weekly weight losses (whether 1 pound or 5) and was my cheerleader throughout my year of yoga teacher training. He never left my side. He is the epitome of unconditional love.
What they don’t tell you about weight loss is that after you lose a large amount of weight, an entire new world opens up for you. For the first time in 10 years, I am able to ride roller coasters. I can zip line, rock climb, kayak and paddle board without having to check weight restrictions first. I discovered hiking and found that nature makes me feel alive. I feel like a teenager again, Sugars. The world is mine for the taking, and I want to see it all.
Dylan is ready to settle down. He wants to start a family. He wants to buy a house. He wants a garden and a yard for our dog. We will work at 9-5 jobs, come home to dinner every night and raise our children.
Those things sound lovely to me, but while they are what I wanted before, they are not even close to what I want now. I want to travel. I want to try new things. He’s willing to compromise with vacations and weekends of travel here and there, but I want more. I want a grand adventure. The “next chapter” for us couldn’t look more different. I’ve changed so much while he’s stayed the same. I’m not even sure I want children anymore.
So what now? I love this man, but I worry that if I’d been this person four years ago, I wouldn’t have gotten married. I feel like he is holding me back. I feel like I have a ball and chain. I feel selfish. I feel inspired. I feel like a jerk. I feel strong and confident and capable. I feel like I am ruining my marriage, like a terrible wife, but I feel amazing. I can’t imagine my life without Dylan, but at the same time, I don’t want to live with regrets.
Lost in Love
Steve Almond: I’m not sure how much this has to do with weight. She seems like somebody who has gone through a radical shift in what she wants out of life. I’m not saying weight isn’t a relevant issue, but it seems much more fundamental that she wants to follow a different map.
Cheryl Strayed: It’s really a fascinating dichotomy she’s set up. She sounds like somebody who allowed her body weight to make her world smaller than it should have been, and now she’s like, “I want to have this gigantic life.” She’s so clear about this feeling of being held back.
Steve: Lost in Love, if you want to consider the possibility of remaining married to Dylan, then you have to talk with him. It sounds like the issues and differences in your priorities, and even what you inwardly feel toward him, are conflicting enough that you should be in counseling or individual therapy.
I don’t think you’ve said to him, “Sometimes I feel like you’re my ball and chain, and I just want to get away and have a big life, but you’re an anchor.” You’re not going to be successful in the marriage, or even moving out of the marriage, until you settle up and are honest with him.
Cheryl: The final paragraph of this letter is fascinating. She says, “I love this man, but I worry that if I’d been this person four years ago, I wouldn’t have gotten married.” This is interesting — the idea that you lose weight and then you’re a different person.
Many years ago, I was a waitress and I worked with a woman who, over the course of the year that we were employed together, lost about 100 pounds. And it seemed like she was a different person. She went from being this kind of shy, reserved woman to suddenly showing up in these incredibly tight dresses and dancing on the tables. I remember watching this — not just a physical transformation, but the way she presented herself to the world. I ran into her years later, and she hadn’t gained back all of the weight, but she’d gained back enough of it. She was back to being that first person I met.
Lost in Love, maybe this is a strange era where you feel like you’re out of the box that was both of your own making and that our culture defines for fat women. I think that you should be very careful as you make decisions based on this moment in your life.
Lindy West: The way that our culture’s weight-loss narrative works is that weight loss is this magic ticket to a perfect life and all of your problems go away. If you read literature about people who’ve undergone really drastic weight loss, what you hear over and over is people saying, “I discovered when I became thin that I had all the same emotional problems I had when I was fat. I had all the same self-esteem problems, all the same confidence problems.”
It’s not magic. You still have to do all this work on yourself, emotionally and psychologically. It seems like she’s in this really electric moment, and it might be a good idea to take it slow and assess where she is and if she has realistic expectations about what being smaller is going to do for her life and for her problems more broadly.
You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear about a man who wants to talk about his girlfriend’s weight.
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