At 36 years old I am a Content Marketer for a creative agency by day, busy mom of four (aged 16-6) by night.  I would now consider myself an outgoing social person, truly passionate about life.  In my free time you can find me in my home studio where I also work as a portrait photographer, attempting to capture the personalities of the little (and no so little) people I photograph. 

As if my life wasn’t full enough, I also volunteer for Obesity Canada, sitting on the Executive Board of the Halifax Chapter, in a Patient Advocate role. I also participate in research at Dalhousie University, where we are looking to improve care guidelines for obesity in women in pregnancy.

You yourself are living with obesity but have seen great success in the recent years.  Can you share your story with us?

My journey as a person living with obesity began when I became pregnant with my first child.  Gaining almost 100 pounds during my pregnancy, I struggled with the idea of living an overweight life, but believed that once everything was said and done and the baby was born it would be easy to return to my pre-pregnancy body.  In fact, I thought the weight loss would be rapid!  I planned to breastfeed, I planned to be active with the baby and really did believe I would be successful. But, as most can imagine, this wasn’t the case.  I suffered with severe postpartum depression after my son Jacob was born, and actually continued to gain weight for many months post.  Antidepressants, partnered with minimal energy due to lack of sleep, and next to zero physical activity, all contributed to significant weight gain.  It is important to point out that I had never had issues with weight in the past, living an active childhood, being heavily involved in competitive sport from a young age, so the idea of being significantly overweight and not knowing where to start was a hard pill to swallow.

Now, I did go on to have three more healthy children (not quite gaining the weight I did in my first pregnancy), but nonetheless gaining weight with each subsequent child.  My weight gain always fell outside the ’normal’ range per pregnancy, but to be honest, I had the same belief each time:  if I worked harder at losing the weight, I would be successful.  So, for the 14 years that followed, I continuously dieted, attempting to lose every, single pound I had ever gained.

I tried every diet on the market, from Weight Watchers to Slim Fast to South Beach to no carbs to lots of carbs to Mediterranean, you name it, I tried it.  Sometimes I would be successful with whatever weight-loss craze I was partaking in, sometimes losing weight, but ultimately, I would put it on quicker than the time and effort it took to lose it in the first place. It was as if dieting was always going to be part of who I was.  

Over the years I became more and more self-conscious about eating in front of other people, even close family members and friends as I felt people judged me on the food choices I made – almost to the point that I avoided social gatherings where food was involved altogether!  I tried to compensate for this by making fun of my weight, cracking jokes at my own expense.  It is important to note that never once did I relate being overweight to my overall health and well-being.  For me, being overweight became an aesthetic issue when in reality, my body was crying out for the help. 

Living with obesity started to dramatically impact my overall physical and mental health.  I had brought up my weight in the past with my family doctor but was faced with the same dialogue each time: “Crystal, it’s a simple equation.  You need to eat less, and exercise more!”  Each time I heard these words I instantly felt ashamed, like I was a failure.  That if it was such a simple equation, why couldn’t I do it?

2015 was when I had my ‘ah-ha’ moment.  Now, to preface this I am incredibly fortunate to have a mother who is a nurse, diabetic educator (now obesity educator) who started to change the conversation with me about weight, shifting to obesity as a chronic disease.  My mom and I talked at length about the different options that were now available for managing obesity- from pharmacotherapy to behavioural therapy, there were many options out there, I just needed to find the right support to help me on my journey.

Eventually finding a family doctor here in Halifax who was obesity certified is where my journey shifted from a struggle to a journey to health and well-being.  She listened to me, actually listened.  She developed a treatment plan that encompassed both pharmacotherapy and behavioural therapy, providing me with regular support which I needed to be successful.  She helped me set realistic expectations, making weight-loss sustainable for the long run.  My plan changed over time, I encountered hurdles, but my support team was there to help me overcome – if my journey took a turn, they were ready to blaze a new trail right along with me.  

My support team helped me focus overall health, taking the main focus off weight alone.  It wasn’t a numbers game anymore; my success wasn’t determined by a scale anymore.  The more my support team encouraged me and listened, the more success I saw, the more empowered I felt.  

The success was somewhat bittersweet though as I grew frustrated watching other people close to me (who were also living with obesity) not have access to the same type support networks, especially living here in Nova Scotia.

Do you feel your journey has now concluded?

No, not even close! Although I did see significant weight loss along and positive overall physical and mental health results, obesity is a chronic disease requiring chronic management.  It will be something I will manage forever, but what I know is that with the right tools and support it IS possible to manage the disease and lead a healthy life.  

What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions regarding obesity?

My favourite misconception is when people think obesity is caused about food consumption alone.  What we know about obesity is that there are many other contributing factors, biological, psychological and situational factors that contribute to a person’s weight and ability to manage their weight.  

My other favourite misconception is that there is only one solution to the obesity epidemic.  So many companies advertise that their diet or pill or exercise regime is the ‘one’.  This couldn’t be more far from the truth.  Obesity treatment is so individual to the person, and think about it, we are made up differently. Some people are receptive to behavioural therapy alone, some are not.  Some people respond well to medication, some do not – so why would one diet or weight loss plan alone be the only solution?

How do you think we can change these misconceptions, and where do you think we go from here with regards to obesity education?

Firstly, I believe education is the key.  The more we know, the more empowered we can be as patients, healthcare providers, etc.  I also feel by educating people on the topic of obesity we start to eradicate the stigma associated, breaking down social barriers many people living with obesity face.  From discrimination in the workplace, prejudice within the healthcare system, even in our personal lives, the more we share and talk about obesity, the better.

With regard to educating people on obesity as a chronic disease we need to get more vocal.  We as a society need to start drumming up conversations with our policy makers, lobbying our government for better access to obesity care for all Canadians.  This is key to a future where treatment options will not be available to only a select few who can gain access to the type of care that is required.  Did you know that there are only 2 obesity certified healthcare professionals practicing in Halifax, with only 45 in all of Canada?  This needs to change. By continuing the conversation and getting more vocal we are changing the landscape of obesity care in this country, and I myself am passionate about having that voice and being heard! I want other people to know they are not alone, and no matter how many times you’ve tried and have been unsuccessful, that with the right support and education, achieving your best weight and managing your obesity is possible, achieving optimal health is possible!