My Story, A Dietitian’s Story of Obesity

I’ve had obesity since early childhood. This is my story of living with it. In my immigrant Italian family, chubby children were considered “healthy,” a sign of “making it.” I was lovingly, but, unwittingly, overfed. Up until my early 20s, nothing worked to control my dietary intake or for lasting fat loss.

I knew back then, before it was described as such, obesity is a disease. I remember telling my parents that my body was fighting to stay obese, “from within.” Obesity was my body’s “normal.”

A Profession and a Godsend

Studying nutrition and dietetics has been a godsend. A source of revelation. I’ve learned to manage obesity. It’s hard work. It requires discipline to keep my dietary intake varied and balanced, but regulated, to deliver the best nutrition for caloric content, while keeping meals and eating joyful and pleasurable.

I never feel full satiation, I’m not hard-wired that way. Thus, intuitive eating is a bust for me. I exercise four to six days per week. Awareness of the biology and physiology of obesity has helped tremendously. It puts things in perspective, gives pause, and bestows a measure of grace as I seek to understand and manage my disease. Some days are better than others.

Help and Gratitude

I’m thankful to researchers who explain the realities of obesity. I’m thankful, equally, for those who advocate for access and coverage for proper treatments.

Help and support are essential. Today, the pressures of food domination and sedentary lifestyles far outpace the availability of helpful and effective options for managing obesity.


I’ve endured bullying, gawking, sniggering, missed opportunities, and probably even worse. People ignored me – both professionally and personally – because of having obesity. A major, particularly humiliating “blip” occurred when I moved to the Netherlands after marrying a Dutch person. Even though I weighed a hundred pounds less than my highest weight and had done so for almost 12 years, people asked: “How did you get so fat? Why are Americans so fat?”

The mission began. It was an effort to mold me into the thin, long-legged lady, like other females in the Dutch family. Something I could never be. I was put on a diet. They prayed over me to rid my body and soul of the sinful gluttony of my family legacy.

I survived and became a better dietitian and stronger person. I realized that for as many people out there who act in hurtful ways, without compassion, without understanding, there are also wonderful, loving people who make life worthwhile. But that experience was a setback that almost destroyed me.

Finding Peace

Nutritious, balanced eating (which, by the way, everyone needs!) and regular, moderate physical activity (ditto), has enabled me to sustain 40, often 50 pounds less than my highest weight, across living in seven countries. Aside from finding out I’ve had hypothyroidism (undiagnosed for 20+ yrs) and hyperinsulinemia, both for which I am now on proper meds, I am healthy. My genetic predisposition and disease history continue to present challenges as I strive to drop the next 20, 30, perhaps 40 pounds. But, not at the expense of my spirit and sanity. I feel at peace, as long as I am staving off further co-morbidities.

I hope my story is helpful and hopeful to others, especially other healthcare professionals and dietitians with obesity.

We’re deeply grateful to our good friend Mary-Jo Overwater-Gervasio for sharing her journey today as a skilled healthcare professional and educator living with obesity.

Story, photograph © Nasir Nasrallah / flickr

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November 21, 2019

6 Responses to “My Story, A Dietitian’s Story of Obesity”

  1. November 21, 2019 at 6:26 am, Al Lewis said:

    Despite your valiant efforts, which to a large degree are successful, and your being a role model for others in your situation, many large companies would see fit to fine you for your weight. But I for one would love to have someone like you in my organization.

    • November 21, 2019 at 7:20 am, Ted said:

      Al, thank you for helping employers realize the mistakes they’ve been making. Together, we’ll get to a better place.

  2. November 21, 2019 at 8:19 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Is that happening?! It sounds discriminatory and illegal. Thank you, Al, for your recommendation.🌻

  3. November 21, 2019 at 9:46 am, Eileen Myers said:

    Thank you for sharing your story with so many important points. I often forward these blogs and will definitely share this one.

  4. November 21, 2019 at 11:08 am, Jagoda Jorga said:

    Great text so true. I think this is right way to go and fight with all these fancy diets. I am MD, diet therapist treating obesity for more then three decades and strongly recommend this approach.

  5. November 22, 2019 at 7:45 am, Rhomar said:

    As a dietitian who always struggled with weight I can completely understand your story. Laughing it off when patients said “well you could do with losing a few pounds yourself” … but I honestly feel that it did make me a more empathetic and sympathetic dietitian, a long time before the knowledge about the multi factorial nature of obesity was recognised. I always tried to ascertain the reasons WHY people were overweight or obese before jumping in and accusing them of “eating too much and not taking sufficient exercise.” Even back in the 80’s I knew some (but by no means all) of the profession were actually disgusted by obesity and really all many patients needed was someone who could at least sit and listen to their plight.