Advanced search
MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 16-Jan-14 14:10:25

To get thin after weight-loss surgery, I need to be selfish

Last year Mumsnet blogger and political activist Emma Burnell wrote movingly about being 'morbidly obese' - and her decision to have gastric surgery.

Two months on, she describes the impact of the break-up of her marriage; and how, in order to recover, she's resisting years of conditioning, and putting herself first.

Emma Burnell

Scarlet Standard

Posted on: Thu 16-Jan-14 14:10:25


Lead photo

Emma Burnell appearing on Channel 4 News in September 2013

I didn’t get fat because I am stupid. I didn’t get fat because I am especially greedy. I got fat because my relationship with food became about so many other things. So much beyond nutrition and giving myself the basic energy needed to power a living body that I was willing to incrementally give up what I loved to be and to do, in order to maintain my messed up love affair with the worst possible foods.

That is what had to change. But to change it I had to understand not just what I was missing, but what was keeping it missing. Adding weight when you are already fat is very like the old adage about boiling a frog. You don’t notice the damage piling up until you are bent double with back pain, unable to walk from one side of Trafalgar Square to the other.

There are many reasons why I decided to have weight loss surgery. None of them have anything to do with the question most frequently asked of me: “is it because your husband left you?”

In fact I had been on the waiting list for several months when that happened. I had been looking forward to a life of us exploring my new body and its new capabilities together. Us both benefitting from my renewed interest in my health and my renewed ability to do something about it.

But that wasn’t to be. And actually, oddly, I’m quite glad about that.

I owe nobody any explanations or excuses. If I fail at this it is only myself I am failing. What I need to do now (and what I have clearly needed to do for a very long time) is learn not to fail myself. To learn that failing myself is not allowed.

I’m glad for many reasons I won’t go into here (but am considering writing about – so if any MNers fancy sharing their own stories of surviving divorce, I’d be delighted to hear from them). But mostly, I'm glad because what I have really had to do since the day I began the incredibly restrictive pre-operative diet is become a – hopefully temporary – entirely self-centred person.

To make sure this surgery works I have to think of myself. I have to listen to my body. I have to concentrate on me. What I need. What I can and must do. Doing this alone is not as brave as my wonderful supporters tell me. It is easier.

I can go for a walk by simply leaving the house. No muss, no fuss. I eat what I need to, when my body (not my cravings) tells me to without having to balance my needs with another’s dietary requirements. I can exercise when I want to, monopolising the living room and then collapse in a sweaty heap on my own sofa.

I owe nobody any explanations or excuses. If I fail at this it is only myself I am failing. What I need to do now (and what I have clearly needed to do for a very long time) is learn not to fail myself. To learn that failing myself is not allowed.

Women are taught never to think of themselves first. We are rarely encouraged to think of ourselves positively at all. We are set up to fail on such a regular basis by being too fat or too thin; too smart or too dumb; too loud or too quiet; too pushy or too acquiescent. Women can’t win.

Unless of course, we stop allowing others to define our failures. Stop putting the failing of ourselves at the back of the queue for attention and take seriously what we are telling ourselves. That we need attention. That we need to look after ourselves. To value ourselves not for others, not to attract men or repel criticism, but for what we can do at our best.

I won’t get through this journey if I focus on benefits that are not yet obvious. I am not suddenly sexy. I am not going to find the man of my dreams (at least in part because he’s a Joss Whedon scripted vampire who probably doesn’t really exist). But I can be a me I really like. I am already a me I like a great deal more. I am a me who walks. A me who cares about herself and treats herself with respect and love.

And most importantly, I am a me who has learned not to be embarrassed to like myself and tell you all exactly how much.

By Emma Burnell

Twitter: EmmaBurnell_

WaitingForMe Thu 16-Jan-14 14:15:56

I think you are well rid of your husband because none of the things you say are easier without worrying about another person would be a problem in my marriage. I don't mean that to sound smug, rather that he clearly wasn't the supportive person you needed.

Joules68 Thu 16-Jan-14 15:17:30

women can't win

Really? That's not how I feel.

exWifebeginsat40 Thu 16-Jan-14 16:36:00

this was a good piece but I can't agree that 'women are taught never to think of themselves first'.

i am a fatty fat fat. i am the heaviest i have ever been. this is not due to society oppressing me. i am fat because i eat too much, and the wrong foods.

i feel your pain. i really do. but, in the end, aren't we responsible for ourselves?

hottoddyplease Thu 16-Jan-14 16:56:23

Bravo Emma! And good luck.

Hopasholic Thu 16-Jan-14 17:52:11

Good luck on your journey Emma. I hope you are getting some support, I don't agree with some of the statements you make about how women don't think of themselves positively or that we are set up to fail.
That is where you will need support as it's how you feel, not how I, nor any of my female friends define ourselves.

Merrythulu Thu 16-Jan-14 19:21:45

That's very nice for you and your friends Hopasholic, and Joules, but I think you're taking Emma's words far too literally. I think, and I could well be wrong about this, but I think she means that women in general are made to feel a failure - and I have to say, that I too, am a fattyfat, and while I have many successes in my life - a wonderful husband, kids, career, and home, my health has not been so successful, so I have subsequently ended up a fatty-fat. Not that it's an excuse, for there are many sedentary-from-necessity people who aren't, but I also happen to have developed bad eating habits and a bad relationship with food.
This is not helped by a society which idolises youth, sticky-thinness, and a government which ensures unhealthy food remains cheap and available to all, by allowing sugar, fat, and salt guidelines to remain as high as they are.
Why else would we have an obesity epidemic? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't if eclairs weren't £1.28 for 4, and fruit salad boxes as much for 1 portion! (A singular case in point, but you take my meaning.)
And if you really think we aren't fed negative images from the get go, you haven't seen this.
(By the way, I grew up in a photographer's studio in the West End, so if there's something I do know about, it's the beauty and advertising industry.)

Merrythulu Thu 16-Jan-14 19:22:46

And all the best of luck to you Emma - we're rooting for you!!

Merrythulu Thu 16-Jan-14 19:34:12

And also, (sorry, just thought,) men are fed equally vile vitriolic shite too.

Hopasholic Thu 16-Jan-14 19:47:13

Apologies if I offended, that honestly was not my intention and maybe I didn't word it too well.

I just meant that Emma will need support to change this mindset to help her succeed.

catwithflowers Thu 16-Jan-14 20:34:04

Emma, I wish you every success. However I take issue with your beliefs that we are 'set up to fail on a regular basis' and that 'women can't win'.

It's good that you are finally able to like yourself. That's the way it should be. Very best of luck smile

2014newme Thu 16-Jan-14 22:32:03

Of course people get morbidly obese because they eat too much of the wrong food. Call it bad relationship with food if you want but at the end of the day it is greediness pure and simple, eating too much. Until people can recognise that in themselves they can't stop. Gastric bands help as they physically stop people eating too much I.e they take the place of willpower.

Good luck to Emma but it is a shame it takes surgery to stop people eating too much

NightLark Fri 17-Jan-14 09:15:09

Thanks for the YouTube line Merrythulu - and that is what I understood 'set up to fail' to mean - the structural pressures, social norms etc.

Good luck Emma. And I agree, you do need to be 'selfish' about this, and that is not a sin, or a crime.

OnBoard Fri 17-Jan-14 09:37:45

Good luck Emma, you sound very positive and determined. Having kept a few stone off (4+) myself for a few years I admire your braveness going through with surgery I wasn't to sure about this bit though "I eat what I need to, when my body (not my cravings) tells me to without having to balance my needs with another’s dietary requirements. I can exercise when I want to,"

Every time you eat the high sugar high carb junk food, your brain releases reward feel good chemicals, so it's reinforcing and conditioning that behaviour. Most (not all) people who are a fairly normal weight are doing it because they are watching their calories intake - sacrificing short-term pleasure for long-term gain.

As an example i try and eat a healthy breakfast every day, whether i want to or not, if i waited for my body to tell me it was hungry i would probably pass out due to low blood sugar. I don't think that weight loss surgery is a panacea on its own, constantly reinforcing good eating habits
for me was the way to go.

Best of luck, keep that determination oh and the approach I followed was Gillian Riley's 'Ditching Diets'.

charitygirl Fri 17-Jan-14 11:01:33

Oh for heaven's sake, Emma is talking and thinking about more than just her 'mindset', but about the cultural context in which women exist, and the very valid argument that we are set up to fail on many levels. You can all pretend this don't exist if you want, and that you live in a vacuum.

Great piece Emma, and good luck.

frugalfuzzpig Fri 17-Jan-14 18:25:44

Great posts Emma, best of luck. smile

I am also learning to be a bit more selfish as I recover from a chronic illness.

Merry, could you please give me a rough idea of the video you linked to? For some reason YouTube wouldn't let me watch it confused

NumptyNameChange Fri 17-Jan-14 19:10:01

i wish you the best of luck. i do however think there is a significant difference between, being 'entirely self centred' and taking care of oneself. being entirely self centred is not an option for me, not because i'm a saintly martyr of socialised femininity but because i have a 6yo son whose well being matters to me and is 'a' priority.

i don't think you have to become entirely selfish to deal with your disorders. in fact a large part of dealing with our disorderly behaviours and issues can be found in being less self centred for some of us.

anyway. i wish you well and hope you make good use of this surgery

LoveAndDeath Sun 19-Jan-14 23:44:41

2014NewMe that was a nasty post.

Rooting for you, Emma!

MillyRules Mon 20-Jan-14 02:11:24

I don't think that cheap food like for example tge eclairs can be blamed for being overweight. You don't have to eat them all, just have one and enjoy it. Same with all food, eat when your really hungry and stop when your satisfied and eat consciously.

MillyRules Mon 20-Jan-14 02:13:45

I'm guessing OP that you are an emotional eater who uses food for many reasons other than hunger. Good luck to you and I'm sure you will succeed if you really want to smile

essentialbabyland Fri 11-Jul-14 11:43:29

I had Bariatric surgery two years ago and it was one of the few best decisions I have made in my life. I have so much more confidence, my health is very good and most important of all I am able to walk, run and in fact, enjoy life. I used to feel very ill but could not put a finger on what was exactly the matter with me. It was just a general feeling. That has gone completely. Life is now lovely.

ElizaPickford Fri 11-Jul-14 12:47:00

I really hate this whole attitude of "eat less, move more" as if that is the answer, as if it is that simple. It's so bloody patronising, I think the people who say that have no real understanding of the fact that the relationship with food is rarely about hunger, it is far more complex than that. You wouldn't tell someone struggling with anorexia to just "eat more pies".

Best of luck Emma.

dawndonnaagain Fri 11-Jul-14 12:52:12

Gosh 2014 you're a delight aren't you. I'm glad you're not one of my friends!
Would you tell an anorexic to 'just eat'? No, thought not, it's the same thing. Still, if you're not bright enough to do the reading and comprehend that relationships with food have a huge impact on any number of things, then perhaps I should just feel sorry for you.

Good Luck, Emma!

Louiseweez Fri 11-Jul-14 14:50:17

Good luck Emma and you're so right. Think of yourself and your health. Some people (me included) are mostly driven by pleasing other people, such as cooking what OTHERS like for dinner, buying the treats OTHERS like in the supermarket, and not listening to their own desires. The flopping on your own sofa thing made me laugh. You can do it.

stumpweasel Fri 11-Jul-14 18:34:22

Oh Merrythulu, it's not just about the salt and sugar intake guidelines and the cheapness of these products. It's also that we've been sold a pup when we're encouraged to buy diet products. Studies show these don't work and that oftentimes they're worse for you than the "full fat" products. The food industry is playing dirty with us.

Of course family economics have their part to play, it's tough out there. But food is such a powerful tool - from the person who insists you eat up everything on your plate rather than letting you stop when you're full to the person who has to eat a little treat when they're down. It's complicated.

But we do need to re-learn portion control. We need to be educated again about food - it should be understood by everyone that if you want your body to work properly you need to eat a balanced diet. I don't want to outlaw sugar, sweet things and processed foods, I love them but I am aware that too much will do me harm.

I'm fairly plump as my kids regularly inform me so I'm trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to do something about this.

So good luck to everyone carrying those extra pounds - I am willing you to succeed.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now