I haven’t done a book review on this site before, but I just finished reading 703: How I Lost More Than a Quarter Ton and Gained a Life.
In her memoir, Nancy Makin describes what life was like for her as a 703 pound woman. Besides the intense physical trauma that her body suffered from holding that weight, the emotional trauma that she endured was tremendous. She was ostracized by the people in her building, and teased and taunted by complete strangers. As she became heavier, she isolated more and more. Eventually, she became a shut-in and stayed that way for more than a decade. Of course it was painful to go out into the world because of the reactions of others, but physically, movement was barely possible. She lived on disability in subsidized housing. If she had to leave her home, she needed the help of her friends or family as well as a double wide wheelchair just to go to the doctor. She slept sitting up, and showered sitting down, and would only leave her house at night when she was less likely to see encounter other people. She does not go into detail about what she was eating or how much she was eating. However, she does a great job of evoking the emotions involved, the loneliness she felt, and how she used food to cope with her feelings that seemed intolerable.
What I loved about the book is that she never discusses dieting, weight loss regimens, or what she did or did not eat. She never even specifically tells the reader exactly how much weight she lost (more than 500 pounds, we know that). That’s because the weight and the numbers were unimportant. This isn’t a book about weight loss, it’s journey to find self love and discover a sense of worth. Nancy never planned on losing weight. She was almost committing psychic suicide, by letting herself be taken over by her food issues. Randomly, her sister brought her over a computer with internet access. She started connecting with people in chat rooms, and as she became more active, she began to feel a sense of connection. People looked to her for support and guidance and as she gave that help to people through chats, emails, and personal insights, she began to feel a sense of purpose. She began to find her worth and her value in the world. When she began to have purpose, food became less important to her. It wasn’t her world any longer. She was spending so much time nurturing these relationships and receiving nurturing, that she stopped using food to take care of herself with. She noticed one day that she was losing weight. As the weight came off and she started feeling better about herself, not just physically, but really liking herself as a person, she realized that she wanted to be out in the world. She wanted to live, she chose life and love and self love. In this, she began to make choices that were healthier for her. She does not directly go into what kind of choices she made or what she actually did to lose weight. It’s not a “how to” book, but it’s more about the experience of discovering what was good about her, rather than focusing on what was not. So many people focus on what’s wrong with them when they are trying to lose weight, that they lose sight of what’s amazing about them. What she discovers is that self love is what made weight loss possible. Not self hatred. Not self criticism. When she criticized herself and restricted her food, she wound up bingeing more. When she felt that she had a purpose (beyond being on a diet and losing weight) food held less of a hold on her, it was less important. She was able to focus on her and that is what helped her to find health.
So many people are afraid that if they choose to love and accept themselves as they are, they will gain weight or give up on trying to lose weight. They believe that self love and self acceptance are a recipe for disaster. I think it’s the opposite. When you choose to love and accept yourself, it gives you more space to care and nurture yourself. Nancy really makes that apparent in her book. It’s not about numbers on scale or numbers of calories in a piece of toast. It’s about choosing you. When you choose you you choose health, life and self love.