One Woman’s Struggle To Shed Weight, And Shame

Joana Johnson, from, found the following story on the NPR iPhone App:

One Woman’s Struggle To Shed Weight, And Shame

by Tovia Smith

Part of an ongoing series on obesity in America.

In her 37 years, Kara Curtis has seen every dress size from 26 to 6. Looking through old photos, in her slimmer days, you see a young girl standing tall and pretty in her tiara as high school prom queen, and strong and lean in team shots of her track and swim teams.

Growing up in rural upstate New York, Curtis and her family were totally into fitness and nutrition. Her mom used to send her to school with a lunchbox packed with liverwurst on homemade whole-wheat pita, topped with sprouts grown in their kitchen cabinet. It kind of makes sense, Curtis says, that she went a bit crazy for chocolate and cheesy stuff when she was finally living out on her own. But it still took her by surprise after college when she gained nearly 100 pounds in a year.

“I remember the first time I ever heard myself called obese — it was terrible,” Curtis recalls. She was at her doctor’s for a regular check up when he started dictating notes in front of her, describing her as “an obese 22-year-old.” “I was just shocked to hear the word obese related to me.” Curtis says.

No Easy Solution

Fifteen years, countless failed diets and another 100 pounds later, “and now I’m morbidly obese,” Curtis says. “And it’s just overwhelming.”

Indeed, as one of the 70 million Americans who are obese, Curtis has watched her weight become the overriding fact of her life. It’s why she put off buying a new car, and stuck with a less-than-fulfilling job (she worried her size would limit her options.) It’s why she bought a custom-made bathrobe and porch swing and why she can’t comfortably go to the movies or get on a bike or in a boat.

“I love to kayak, but I haven’t been in years because I’m afraid my hips will get stuck,” she says.

At 300 pounds, every day is a struggle with the little things — like chafing on her inner thighs or tying her shoes — and with the biggies — like love. With bright eyes and high cheekbones, Curtis is as pretty as she is engaging and witty. And she’s into kids and family, but totally down on the idea of ever getting back into dating.

“It’s not like I can just fix myself and be done,” she says. “If you lose the weight, you’re still stuck with the stretch marks and the extra skin, and the toll you’ve taken on your body already. And I’m probably still not going to be excited about getting naked with somebody.”

She has poured all her energy and untold resources into trying to get fit. But it’s hard to stay motivated, Curtis says, when the challenge begins to look not just difficult, but impossible.

“Really, if there was an easy solution, Oprah would have bought it,” she says.

Many Factors

There is little that Curtis hasn’t tried. Making breakfast one day — a pureed concoction of hemp and rice protein, coconut milk and avocado — she recalls the gamut: macrobiotic diets, Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous, acupuncture, aerobics, meditation, therapy and all kinds of exercise — from punishing pre-dawn runs to what she calls more “joyful movement.”

She starts most days with a vigorous hour-long walk, escorting a group of neighborhood toddlers to their day care. Pulling several kids piled into a big red wagon, she breaks into a sweat just minutes into the mile-long trip. Several times a week, she sweats through a rigorous dance or yoga class.

But sitting down later to a lunch of a squash soup, Curtis concedes that what she really needs is not to burn more calories but to eat less. And yet every time she tries to diet, she ends up binging.

“This is not a simple thing,” she sighs. “There are genetic components. I mean, I look just like [my] grandmother and my aunts.” Looking back, Curtis says, she has battled serious food addiction and body image issues since she was a little girl. “Clearly, there is this piece that is programmed in.”

But it’s not the only piece, Curtis says.

She’s as conflicted about what’s behind her obesity and how to deal with it as society seems to be.

One minute she’s sympathetic and cutting herself slack, and one breath later, she’s beating herself up.

“It’s a very schizophrenic relationship we have with obesity,” Curtis says. “I understand it as addiction, but then there’s also this other piece of me that knows that there is a lack of willingness on my part. So really, who’s to blame for that? Me!”

But another moment later, Curtis will pivot again: It can’t be all her fault, she says. Those who make and serve or sell really unhealthy food also have a role to play.

Walking through her local grocery store, she points out the junk food that lies, like a trap, right inside the front door while the healthy foods section is at the far corner of the store.

“It would be really hard to walk out of here without something with sugar on it,” she says. And once she starts, “I’m never going to eat just one cookie. And there are times recently where I’ve eaten most of a box.”

The Personal As Political

What’s brutal, Curtis says, is that your failure is out there for everyone to see and judge. So, for example, at the checkout, she says, “There will be that moment of being like ‘Oh my gosh, I have ice cream on my conveyor belt.’ Like there is that pint sitting there. And I catch someone checking me out, like I shouldn’t be doing that.”

It’s the same kind of glares she gets on an airplane. These days, Curtis says, it’s like her personal problem has become political.

“Now, it’s not just like ‘You’re fat and I feel sorry for you.’ It’s like ‘You’re fat and that’s taking a toll on my life. You’re burning more fossil fuels, you’re raising health care costs.’ It’s more vigilante. It’s more harsh.”

And that tends to be counterproductive, Curtis says. It just ends up making her feel bad — and eat more. But she’s working hard to get past it. It was a huge step for example, to go on NPR and talk about being fat. It’s taken a long time, but she’s begun to measure progress by more than just her dress size.

“I’m really proud of myself for being honest about my situation,” she says, fighting back tears. “I feel like it was gutsy to come on and say this is what I struggle with, and I want it to stop.”

It’s all part of a very uneasy paradox, Curtis says. She’s got to accept herself and her body, even as she’s desperately trying to change it.

“There were periods of time when I used to hang skinny pictures of myself up on my fridge,” she says. “But that was brutal and mean. And I don’t want to be brutal and mean to myself.”

Curtis says she had a huge breakthrough recently, when she came out of the shower and caught a reflection of herself in the glass door.

“It was the first time that I’d seen that body and not been horrified,” she says. “It was not like I don’t want this to change, but it was just about standing there and seeing the entirety of my shape — and still feel loving toward it.

Curtis actually took a picture of her reflection, and she still looks at it, almost giddy with hope, that she might finally be on the way to shedding her excess weight by shedding the shame that surrounds it. But on the other hand she adds softly, “I’m also at the highest weight I’ve ever been, so that might be complete delusion.” [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

23 thoughts on “One Woman’s Struggle To Shed Weight, And Shame

  1. I think I need to drop about 30 pounds. Have been exercising and eat nothing fried and lean meats and poultry. Devil is chocolate ice cream. But aren’t blood pressure and psych meds weight “enhancers” as side effect?


    • true blue on that carl. blah. many medications cause hyperphagia (increased eating) and there are different reasons amongst the different classes of medications given. some affect insulin resistance in the body or increase insulin levels in the blood. some just plane make us hungrier. these metabolic issues r a bugger and must b taken seriously. however, there are worse things as kaily and clara said. let us know how it continues to go w that 30#’s. have u tried the daily weigh-in’s, food journaling and competition trio-approach? keep on mr. carl.


  2. I absolutely HATE the weight gain from some of my meds. I’ve been working out and eating a healthy diet and healthy portions but it seems like a losing battle. I’ve had conversations with friends who share similar experiences, but I just can’t bring myself to accept that it’s totally the meds. I just keep thinking that I must be doing something wrong. But it boils down to this-I can be “fat and happy” or back to “thin and psychotic” 😉


      • dear ms “i eat candy every day and don’t gain a pound,” (smile) does it help to think about eating addiction like all-or-none thinking, catastrophizing or any other addiction to extremes? i’m just wondering. luv your thoughts lady friend. keep on.


        • You always wrap things up nicely with a question that guides me to know what you need us to know. This is the story of one person with personal weight gain/loss… without any reference to what you expect from us. When ever you have a new post, I always read the question first so that I may know what subject to look for in the story.


      • I related deeply to Kara’s experiences. Currently at the age of 45, I have been a self-identified compulsive overeater (or binge eater) since I was a child. It has always loomed large (pun intended) in my life. I have successfully dieted and lost 30-40 pounds at a time, and then I’ve gained everything back — with interest. It has been my obsession and my bete noir.

        Eight years ago, out of pure desperation, I went to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. I didn’t necessarily like it at first, but I recognized my problem as an addiction. If you hold my experience up next to an alcoholic’s, there is no difference. I struggled a long time with the program, but today I am living what OA calls an abstinent life. My definition of abstinence is three reasonable meals a day with nothing in between. I am shrinking to a healthy body weight.

        I have also developed my spiritual side and my relationship with my higher power (that I get to define) is what makes it possible to eat like a normal person. My obsession has been lifted, one day at a time. Like an alcoholic, this is not something I can do on my own. This is supported by about 25 years of data.

        I am experiencing freedom I couldn’t even imagine walking in the doors of my first meeting — freedom from fat, freedom from compulsion, openness to change and growth and a life that is no longer nearly as self-centered.

        Sana, you asked if it helps to think of it as an addiction — for me, it’s not an analogy; it IS an addiction. I use the Big Book for the solution. My recovery is just like that in any other program. And it’s the ONLY thing that made a difference — not just for me, but for the dozens of people I share OA with. I hope this is something health professionals will understand one day. OA is an underutilized tool, and I think that could change with better understanding and guidance.

        Thanks for letting me share. And thanks for taking on the issue — I really appreciate what you’re doing here.



  3. This must be on all the blogs today. All I’ve read has to do with weight loss. Prolific living a blog I subscribe to is all about intention and the July 13 post it pointed to was all about the comments section where everyone was wanting to lose weight.
    The lady on NPR is very brave for confronting herself on radio and sharing her problem with the world. She brought up some touchy stuff, about the shame she is made to feel if she has ice cream on her belt at the super market and such.

    @Kaily, yes, the meds make you fat. They change something in the brain that metabolizes food differently. Be fat and happy.


  4. Excellent post, Sana – you have highlighted the fact that for many people it is a very complex issue, and not as simple as ‘eat less, move more’ in the way that it is for those of us who are lucky enough not to battle like this. Sure, overeating is the mechanism in most cases, but what underpins this? Often serious psychological factors, the vicissitudes of life and possibly even epigenetics. But, also, that is not to say that people are right in playing the blame-game and not take responsibility for themselves – schizophrenic indeed!


  5. excellent! i became so sad reading this blog and smiled also when oprah was mentioned! too funny. yes oprah would be slim if there was a cure or quick fix to weight loss.
    i strongly believe eating like this is truly an addiction much like drinking or drugs or even sex addiction. there are roots. roots which must be addressed.
    my heart goes out to this woman. i also bond with her knowing dating sucks due to men want size 2 with huge breasts.


      • dr quijada i have dated ten years off and on. had one 4 year relationship but 24 years younger i knew could never work. but boy did i have fun!! best sex ever, sexually addicted. never thought about food for comfort.
        men i have dated want slim or skinny or petite. they tell you straight out. they date me and find out i am late 50’s not 40’s and drop me. so shallow. some have said to my face you are too fat for me. they say they want someone to rollerblade with them but they at 70 and fat! or ask what do you look like in a bathing suit? men do not want their wives back? well maybe women do not want their asshole husbands back. i man said he was over 5 7. i am 5.5. i looked down at his bald head. why lie?.


  6. Here is what I know to be my truth. And trust me its been a journey and I have had some pieces put into place recently. What I can tell you is my weight and compulsive eating, and addiction to drugs and food are the very things that saved me. Honestly. They were the only tools I had to keep myself sane growing up and self medicating. Now I am a conscious (for the most part) adult and I “catch” myself doing destructive behaviors. 12 Step programs are incredibly important. I have been clean almost 20 years. I AM BLESSED AND SO HAPPY! However the eating is still something I look at every day. Hence why I look at, I direct all my attention to eat. I am learning to look at healthy nutrition instead of fat fat fat. I am looking at health and wellness.

    I have been seeing an image in my head of me wearing a fat suit, and I am in this body that isn’t mine and I am going to unzip the fat suit and step out of it.

    What is really interesting is the fact that my older sister recently told me how are mother made a restraint for me when I was in my crib and she was forced to zip me into it and tie me into my crib. I was old enough to be well aware of what she was going to do. She said I looked like a striken puppy while she did it. My mother said it was okay that I would get used to it. Now as I write this I am keeping it quite neutral in my mind and body, or else I would be eating or whatever else. BREATHE!!!! I was not a tiny infant I would have been upwards or 2 or more when she did this from my understanding.

    As I was describing this to a friend the other day, I was driving around my home town and we were visiting all the sites, and what I realized as I was driving full circles from one place to another was indeed I was going full circle.

    I turned 50 on July 22nd and I was back in the city I was born in on that very day. I do not go back to that city very often in fact didn’t for almost 30 years. Go figure!

    I have come full circle, as I was describing from beginning to end while I was driving some of my life story, I realized that the “zipping” of the fat suit was the zipping of the restraints. And my fears of my mother are so profound (for my siblings too) that we still live in this huge fear deep in our bodies without even knowing consciously what we are doing.

    I am hear to tell you that I am now aware of the restraints my mother physically, mentally and emotionally put on me and my sisters and those restraints are coming off. The fear of her has kept me restrained in my fat suit doing all the things she ingrained in me, even though I haven’t had her in my life but a handful of times since I left home at 16. Don’t move, don’t defy, be controlled.

    My mother has been diagnosed with 5 distinct personalities, along with every other mental disease known to man, including alcoholism.

    I am sorry that she is so sick, I just can’t have her in my life. I am sorry she has lived this tortured life, and I have forgiven her long ago, including my father who sexually abused me from infancy onward.

    I am speaking the truth and to tell it is pretty huge I guess when I look at it in black and white. So you see, drugs, and food have kept me sane while I lived through this. I repressed so much just so I could stay alive and not fracture into a million little pieces (good book by the way).

    What we see as a detriment can actually be our saving Grace. I have come to find God in my sobriety. I love God, I love Jesus, and I love the Holy Spirit. My grandmother once said to me that God didn’t promise to save our bodies but he promised to save our souls.

    What my parents did to me had nothing to do with me and who I am. The were sick. Very sick and it doesn’t mean I don’t get angry or sad, I do. Its just different now. I have peace, I have wholeness, I have blessings and joy.

    I have been married to the same man for 25 years, I have 3 beautiful children, family and friends. I have so much.

    I do my best to embrace this amazing body each day, to count my blessings and health, and all special things around me.

    I have my health, mental, physical and spiritual. I am very blessed.

    I also let my sister know that I loved her deeply and under no circumstances did I hold her responsible in any way. She had her own cross to bear with that. I actually am angrier for her and what our mother made her do and the burden she has had to carry.

    Feldenkrais (a movement practice) has saved me, I found I loved the moving and was trying to heal a very broken physical body, and found I would laugh and cry through the movement and couldn’t figure out why I responded so deeply to this.

    When my sister told of the restraints it all made sense.

    I pray for each of us, we shake off our restraints and move with ease and grace.

    Love and Peace


    • dear col, what a story. thank u for sharing this w us. so many of us r survivors of abuse and u r another who has blessed us w your generous willingness to connect.
      i can see, as u said, how what u did to cope may have helped at the time and i luv the way u help us remember that God see’s the picture clearly, not us. God is our witness and knows. Keep on lady-courage. keep talking and stay connected.


  7. It is easy when you are in the forest to not see the trees. To not be able to see the whole picture as you said, however God does. Because my memories are stored in my body and not so much in the conscious brain (I have done lots of counseling and reading, and just been “delivered” as it were by God) its easy sometimes to second guess myself. To say “that didn’t really happen”. I have learned over 20 years of being clean and healing that it did happen. These things did happen and I have been given bits and pieces over time to say they are a truth. My own body (trust thy self!), God, my family.

    For me your words mean a great deal. It helps to remind me that I am courageous “lady -courage” and that I was willing to connect.

    Thank you so very much, it helps me to keep on keeping on!

    Love and Light – Colleen


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