IT'S A FAIR ASSUMPTION that the great majority of obese people desperately want to lose weight. A multibillion-dollar industrial complex has arisen around that desire, offering diet plans, drugs, surgery, therapy and even reality shows to help. Despite all that, it is rare for anyone to succeed. A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that just one in 20 obese people manages to lose weight and keep it off.
I've always been curious about what it is that allows some people to change the course of their lives, despite long odds. As far as weight loss goes, I was one of the lucky ones. Thirty to 40 pounds overweight in my early teens, I was regularly taunted by schoolyard bullies. In gym basketball scrimmages, being on the team declared "skins" was a week-destroying catastrophe.
Something humiliating must have occurred on the day I came home too depressed to do anything but lie on the couch and brood. I sank down deep into the cushions and felt sorry for myself. Then I began to get angry. I hated being the fat boy in school. I hated the way I looked in the mirror. And, more than anything else, I hated the feel of the swollen belly I carried everywhere I went.
And then I decided: I didn't want to be fat anymore. I refused to be fat anymore.
From that moment, I simply did what it took to lose the belly. I changed the way I ate, changed the way I thought about food. It wasn't particularly difficult. There was never any doubt in my mind that the pain of changing was insignificant compared with the pain of remaining the way I was.
Losing weight is one thing. All I had to do was talk myself out of eating too many french fries. Overcoming the kind of childhood abuse and trauma experienced by Jody Arlington, the subject of the story that begins on Page 8, is quite something else. I'll leave the horrific details in the capable hands of the article's author, Laura Wexler. But trust me when I tell you that it is nothing short of miraculous that Arlington emerged from a childhood hell and not only became a creative and highly functioning professional, but also developed strong, emotionally healthy relationships of her own.
So again, I wonder: How can some people beat astronomical odds against them, seemingly through a singular effort of will? For Arlington, that moment arrived when she entered Georgetown University and saw all the opportunities that stretched before her, if only she could manage to leave the crippling events of the past behind.
"I didn't want to get stuck," Arlington recalls thinking. "I didn't want to be depressed and limited by my issues."
So, she wasn't.
Tom Shroder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.