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Confusing, disconnected memoir of gastric by-pass surgery
on September 17, 2010
I read this the same weekend I read Edward Ugel's "I'm With Fatty" and not on purpose, but the books make interesting "bookends". Both are about people in their mid-30s who are seriously overweight (but not super-morbidly obese) and who lose weight (by different methods) in 2008, write and blog about it in 2009 and have books published in 2010. One is a man; the other a woman. The similarities and differences are very interesting.
This, "Designated Fat Girl", is the better and more honest of the two, but both are problematical. In the first book, Mr. Ugel wades through nearly 300 pages before telling us his height, a critical component of understanding how fat (or not) someone is. Ms. Joyner NEVER tells us; after finishing the book I still had not a clue if she was 5'1" (severely obese at 336) or 5'11 (very obese, but not as severely). This is essential information and certainly not as private or embarrassing as your weight, so why not say it upfront?
The major problem with "Designated Fat Girl" is the structure. This is a sympathetic story, but it meanders all over the place. One minute she's a newby TV reporter and weighs 180. Next she's getting married and weighing 200 lbs. Then it's back to her childhood. One minute she says she was normal weight until college. The next, she was ridiculed all her life by cruel brothers, and so fat other children mocked her. A chronological storyline would worked far more effectively.
The thing that comes through, however, with shining clarity is that being obese is a relatively MINOR part of Ms. Joyner's problems. It is very obvious she has mental and emotional issues that run very deep, certainly to childhood, and her REAL defining problem is obsessive/compulsive behavior. She's not eating out of joy or love for good food, as most fat people do. She's just mindlessly stuffing tasteless crap in her face. We don't hear, for example, if she is a good cook, or enjoys the taste, texture, smell of food. Only that she's a very serious McDonalds addict, on the level of a crack cocaine junkie. And her consumption of Mountain Dew is off the charts! Surely her loving husband or family must have noticed at some point that her consumption of Mountain Dew, while an INSULIN DEPENDENT DIABETIC, was more than just "eating too much" but had all the markers of an obsession.
No one ever seems to think of therapy, and she only sees a bariatric doctor briefly and never has serious mental health counseling (she does take Fen-phen for a time). No family or couples therapy either. No introspection into her childhood issues or sexual problems. She never seriously joins Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or anything similar...never on Opti-fast. Never goes on the Atkins Diet. Mostly, her 16 year struggle with weight is about hopeless resignation, and sneaking off to McDonalds, and guzzling massive quantities of Mountain Dew.
It struck me that Jennifer Joyner could have made a serious effect to simply do NOTHING ELSE, not even cut down eating, but just gave up Mountain Dew and a significant portion of her problems might have decreased in severity. Also, I myself would not have gone in for major surgery BEFORE quitting the Mountain Dew and establishing that I had the serious committment to do JUST THAT ONE THING, that one OBVIOUSLY horribly bad and self-destructive thing, to be absolutely positive I could handle the rigors of bypass surgery and the after-effects.
In all the dozens of weight loss memoirs I have read in my life, I have noticed that almost all of then are written in the 1-2 years following a big weight loss; sometimes they are written DURING the weight loss or immediately afterwards. In other words, they are just getting off an huge high, and big success -- but they have not proven they can MAINTAIN this loss over time. (This is also true for those optimistic articles in People Magazine each year about folks who have lost 100 lbs or more without surgery.) Every serious dieter, every doctor and researcher, knows that it is not simple weight loss that is so hard -- it is KEEPING WEIGHT OFF PERMANENTLY that is nearly impossible. Until you have passed at LEAST five years of permanent maintainence, it is foolhardy to talk about.
Though gastric bypass is the most successful weight loss option ever invented, it has high risk and costs. Ms. Joyner has some very severe and disheartening complications; she doesn't even recommend the surgery to others, despite her own incredible success story.
I am troubled by both what she went through (lung collapsing, abcesses, re-hospitalization, months of recovery) as I am by her behaviors AFTER losing 150 lbs. She still adamently refuses to eat fruit (she is a super picky eater, even at 38) or most vegetables, and she "lives" today on PEPPERONI SLICES, peanut butter, scrambled eggs and JUICE BOXES -- the diet of a small child, and most of those foods unheathy or incomplete, and the juice boxes LOADED with High Fructose Corn Syrup.
I was left with not a sense of joy that Jennifer Joyner was at last normal weight and could live a happy life with her husband and children, but that she was only a few steps away from more compulsive behaviors, since she has never remotely addressed this part of the problem. And that her present diet is so unhealthy and extreme, she is at high risk of undoing her surgery (as about 20% of gastric bypass patients DO) by eating crap, or stretching out her stomach pouch.
I have to state here that a very dear friend of mine had gastric bypass surgery in 2003. She lost over 155 lbs in a year, though she was so heavy to begin with she never became actually thin (just thinNER), and over 2-3 years (with bad eating habits like Jennifer Joyners) eventually she regained all and MORE of her old weight. All that pain and money went for naught. Gastric bypass is a powerful tool, but it's just that -- a tool -- not a magic potion. And if you never address the issues of compulsive behavior, self-destructive tendences, "super picky eating", poor nutrition, addiction to sweets or soda or fast food -- then YOU HAVE NOT SOLVED THE RIDDLE OR PROBLEM OF OBESITY.
I think that today Jennifer Joyner probably looks substantially better on the outside -- but is just as sick, self-hating, poorly nourished and incapable of eating healthy food in a healthy way as she was at 336 lbs.
I know she did not intend the book to promote gastric bypass surgery as a "be all, end all" solution, but unfortunately it comes off that way. She needed to have the patience to wait and see if this truly solved her problems (over 5-10 years) rather than rushing a book or blog to print. Not to mention, deal with the many pyschological issues I mention above.
In conclusion: a little creepy and overall, depressing. Most ordinary overweight/obese people will probably not relate to this.