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MY TURN

Thin, healthy and weary of unfeeling busybodies

August 17, 2009|Lisa O'Neill Hill

The next time a stranger asks me how I stay so thin, I'm going to say "methamphetamine" or "bingeing and purging." Then I'll wait for the reaction. The shock -- or better, stunned silence -- will have to be better than the disbelief my explanation normally encounters.

I'm 5 feet, 2 inches and 95 pounds. I sometimes buy clothes in the children's section. At my heaviest -- if you can call it that -- I was 112 pounds. But that was before a blood vessel burst in my brain and before a twice-daily dose of seizure medication changed my metabolism. Now I find it extremely hard to gain weight.

My friends and relatives all know this, of course. They know I eat as much as I can. They know I have a trainer who has helped me add muscle to my body. They know I just want to be healthy.

But strangers -- some nosy, some perhaps envious -- routinely inquire about my weight and look me over, as if trying to figure out whether I am anorexic or bulimic. In their minds, there's probably no other explanation.

I resent having to divulge my medical history to answer these prying questions -- my eating habits and my weight are really nobody's business -- yet I feel compelled to provide an explanation for why my body is the way it is.

But the questions are one thing. The insults are another. People often, and quite unthinkingly, describe me as "bony" and "emaciated" when speaking to me.

Recently, at my doctor's office, even the staff member who escorted me into the examination room made repeated remarks about my thinness. I explained that Dilantin, the seizure medication I've been on for years, makes weight gain difficult. She stared hard at me, then said if I were any thinner I'd blow away. I showed her my muscles and tried to convince her that I'm healthy. She wouldn't accept it.

She said, "People who don't know about [the Dilantin] would think you are anorexic." Gee, thanks.

I mumbled something along the lines of "This is just how I am." But I became outraged upon reflecting on the incident. Would this woman tell overweight patients they are fat? Of course not. But it's somehow socially acceptable to make such comments to thin people.

I told some girlfriends about this experience, and they were suitably appalled. But later in the evening, one of the women, trying to be funny, told me to "eat some ice cream."

In some ways I'm healthier than ever. Weight training has made me strong.

My body has failed me before; after the blood vessel burst in my brain, I was paralyzed and had to learn how to walk and talk again. I understand how precious health is and would never do anything to deprive my body of nutrition.

So, please, keep your comments to yourself -- and get off my skinny back.

--

Hill is a writer living in Fullerton.

loneillhill@yahoo.com

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail health@latimes.com. Although we read every essay, we can't respond to every writer.

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