Warning: this is not a blog post on weight loss. You’ll need to look elsewhere for that. Instead, this is a reflection about what I learned from steadily gaining weight over the course of about 15 years. My hope is that what I learned might be helpful to others. Again, I am NOT trying to help you lose weight. I’m aiming for something bigger. And, yes, this post is full of puns; humor is one of my coping mechanisms.
Let me start by giving some background. Around the middle of 2023, I stepped on the scales one morning and the scales read just a smidge under 300 pounds. Even if you’re on the metric scale, that’s still fat. How I got to that unideal weight was no mystery. I like to eat, and I don’t really like to exercise. Between work and family and plenty of other things to focus on, I let my health deteriorate. For the first few years of weight gain, I fought it and denied it. I was better at denying than fighting. I eventually kind of accepted it. I never really liked it, but I did learn to be okay with it. I wasn’t okay with it in the sense of “fat is beautiful” or something like that. I’m too in touch with reality to believe the Dove beauty campaign, let alone apply to myself. No, I accepted that I was overweight and that even though I didn’t want to be, there might be a silver lining in that big, fluffy cloud. So I started paying attention to what there was to learn from being big. After all, I’m far better at learning than at being lean. Here’s what I learned.
Fat is the proper word. There is a Chinese proverb that says the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. The first thing I had to learn was that using terms such as “overweight” or “bigger” skewed the issue. Fat is descriptive, not a pejorative. Once I stopped using fat as a slur, I was more capable of receiving wisdom from my unwanted reality.
By the way, if you’re fat, feel free to refer to me as fat. Otherwise, it can be kind of insulting unless we really know each other well and have developed a ton of trust.
God loves the fat person. What does God think of me as a fat person? God loves me. God doesn’t look at my excessive weight and love my condition, but He does love me. For decades, I’d read in Romans that nothing could separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39). It took me a long time to apply this powerful truth to myself. My own shame at being fat twisted my perception of what God thought of me. God may not love my fat, but he loves me.
Earlier in Romans, Paul ponders whether he should sin more so that God’s grace could abound (Romans 6). I don’t think being fat is a sin, but I do think there are parallels to what Paul is saying in Romans 6. When I feel most unlovable is the very moment I can experience God’s love most fully. I wouldn’t recommend getting fat just so you can know that being fat will not separate you from God’s love. But I have experienced God’s love in richer, deeper, and more powerful ways because of being fat.
There is a lot of talk these days about self-acceptance, which I think is a great thing. That said, I learned that self-acceptance needs a stronger, more stable foundation. Self-acceptance must rest upon God-acceptance. And God-acceptance is not “You are beautiful just the way you are.” No, it’s more like, “You are fat and I love and accept you just the way you are.” To paraphrase a message from Jesus: What good is it to accept an acceptable person? Even the sinners do that.
Nobody else cares all that much. Like a lot of people, I worried that other people would think less of me because I was fat. Maybe they do, but not to any great extent. Most of the people who’ve made a big deal about my weight have been people who don’t function at a high level of life. A few family members make a big deal about it, probably because they knew a version of me who was a cross-country runner in high school. I don’t hold it against them that they notice and are maybe even bothered by my weight gain. They’re flawed and faulty humans, too, after all. But most people just don’t care all that much – at least not to any degree that has mattered.
I learned that most people are willing to show compassion and know me as a person, not just write me off as a fat person. Most people value personal traits such as kindness, intelligence, willingness to help, discernment, and loyalty far more than personal appearance.
Being fat doesn’t hold me back – shame did. There’s a standard narrative that society discriminates against fat people. I haven’t found that to be the case. If anything has held me back, it’s been my own shame at being fat.
Over the past decade, there have been plenty of times when I’ve been tempted to stay home, shrink from attention, or not put myself out there because of my own shame. Being in the public eye isn’t all that comfortable when you’re not happy with how you look. And the enemy speaks the languages of lies and shame fluently. I remember many social outings, speaking engagements, reunions, and kids’ sporting events when I heard the enemy whisper that I should isolate, hide, and avoid because of my weight.
I learned that being fat wasn’t what held me back. Believing the lies that I should be ashamed held me back. As I’ll share with the next point, I am grateful that I was not very good at overcoming being fat so I could address the actual issue of shame.
The obstacle became the way. Here is the meta lesson in all of this. Being fat has become the way to some valuable treasure.
Being fat has been the way to heightened confidence. Yes, you read that right. Confidence comes from fighting and winning. Being fat has forced me to fight through doubt, battle the temptation to hide, and wrestle with the reluctance to be seen by others. While the enemy told me that fat and shame are inseparable, the Lord told me otherwise.
Being fat has been the way to greater purpose. Many times I have to choose between serving a greater purpose and staying home out of shame. I could stand in front of a classroom and teach Sunday school or hide. I could host a conference with hundreds of community leaders, or I could let shame keep me in the shadows. Why go out in public? Because I have a mission, a calling, a purpose that matters to me more than any discomfort I might experience from being fat in front of others. I never knew how much I cared about making a difference until I had to care enough to overcome my shame of being fat.
Being fat has been the way to expanded purpose. This one’s a bit different. While I have never wanted to get on the positive body image bandwagon (I am at heart a big believer in merit), I have found that my obesity has allowed me to communicate an important message to others: your weight need not define you, detour you, or diminish you. When I step in front of others, whether it’s a classroom of high school students, an audience with business leaders, a workshop, or the leadership conference I host each year, I know there will be someone who gets a little extra nudge toward living fully because they see a fat guy step into the spotlight and serve a higher purpose.
Being fat has been the way to increased competence. When Steve Martin was asked how to become a famous comedian he replied, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” While most people don’t really care that much about my weight (or yours), I am not so foolish as to think that others don’t judge my being fat as a weakness or character flaw. In order to overcome their doubt, I have had to be increasingly good at what I do. Because of my weight, I am far less likely to get the benefit of the doubt, so I have to be good enough to remove (or at least reduce) doubt. The need to overcome doubt has forced me to become far better at what I do than I otherwise would have been.
Being fat is limiting. I think I’ve mentioned this already, but I am a realist. There is nothing attractive about being fat. Life is not better as a fat person. My joints ache. I have limitations. I am prone to sickness. I am weaker than I want to be. Truth is, the less fat, the more muscle, the better my cardio, the more energy I will have. And I sure would like more energy.
But here’s the thing: while my energy is tied to my health, my confidence is not. In fact, I refuse to let my confidence be tied to my weight.
One of my life mottos comes from the state motto of North Carolina: esse quam videri (to be rather than to seem). Does my confidence, my value, my worth, and my drive come from my appearance, or from my being? I demand that it come from my being.
Since July I have dropped some weight. At least enough that people have noticed. A friend commented, “I’ll bet your confidence has increased with the weight loss.” Nope. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like anyone who ties their confidence to their appearance isn’t truly confident. Being fat has lots of limitations, but it needn’t limit the things that really matter.
I don’t know what situations, conditions, or experiences limit you, but I hope my experience serves to shine at least a dim light forward for you, or maybe for your clients. I don’t know what tempts you to believe the enemy’s shameful lies, but I hope you will hear the good news that in Jesus there is no shame.
One last thing, a powerful resource for me in my journey to overcome shame and tie my confidence to things that really matter is The Soul of Shame by Dr. Curt Thompson. I highly recommend it.