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Heavy Burden 

Being overweight is not only a social and professional albatross, it's becoming America's number one killer.

If you think smokers or young guys blasting loud music from their cars are social pariahs these days, try being fat. There is perhaps no bigger social or professional stigma than being overweight. The attitude that overweight people are lazy, slovenly and incompetent, even if it's not spoken outright, is commonplace -- and manifested every day. It's the resume tossed in the trash because the applicant doesn't fit the "company's image." It's the knowing looks and smirks at restaurants. And it's the countless social situations when folks are made to feel unacceptable, or just plain invisible. But even though it's undeniably unjust to equate someone's weight with their competence or worth as a person, there are some definite links between a person's weight and his or her health. Namely, being overweight can kill you. Surgeon General David Satcher stated recently that the nation's obesity epidemic has gotten so bad that it will soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable deaths. Some 300,000 people will die this year from illnesses directly caused or worsened by being overweight (namely heart disease, not to mention diabetes, hypertension and a host of other health problems). Studies also indicate that over 60 percent of adults in America are overweight or obese, as are nearly 14 percent of children. What's worse, these rates have steadily risen over the past decade, and the deadly trend is expected to continue.

Growing up fatCarol Taylor is down to a healthy weight now, but it's been a long, long struggle. Taylor had been heavy all her life -- it ran in the family. Her mom and niece both weighed over 300 pounds, and her six older brothers were all big, hulking men. Part of Taylor's weight problem came from her upbringing on a farm in a small town in Ohio. Around the Taylor household, eating was a favorite pastime, and the idea of exercise a foreign concept.

"My parents came up during the Depression, so food was very important to them," Taylor said. "Every meal was a big family event, there were always huge portions, and we were expected to clean our plates. Exercise was doing your chores. The idea of physical activity for fun or benefit was beyond anyone's comprehension."

School for Taylor was filled with all the stereotypical worst case scenarios -- sitting down for lunch only to have the rest of the table get up and leave en masse, always being the last one picked during gym class, and being teased relentlessly as the "fat kid."

"It was horrible," Taylor said. "I was a very lonely, unhappy and withdrawn child. I just wanted to disappear into the woodwork. And of course that only reinforced my bad eating habits because food was a comfort for me. It became a vicious cycle."

After high school she went to the University of Akron, landed her first job, and rented her own apartment. It should have been a great time in her life -- she was miserable.

In February 1983, she looked in the mirror and saw a depressed 265-pound, 23-year-old woman who was suffering from a number of health problems. She decided it was time for a change. "I said enough is enough. I felt bad all the time. I was unhappy. And I knew I could be a damn attractive woman if I just lost some weight."

With the help and support from her friends and co-workers, she started making lifestyle changes. Instead of pigging out on fast food for lunch, she ate sensibly and walked two miles. If she really wanted a candy bar, she had one, but then she balanced it out later with exercise or cutting calories elsewhere.

One of her biggest challenges was, of all things, her mother.

"When I would visit my mother she would make all these fatty foods that she knew I was trying to avoid," explains Taylor. "And if I didn't eat it, she would say, "I spent all day cooking this and you won't even try it. You don't love me anymore.' It wasn't that she didn't want me to lose weight. It's that she didn't know what was going to happen to me. Fat me she knew. The person she saw emerging had far different goals and values, and she didn't know what to make of it. It's not uncommon for people trying to lose weight to be sabotaged by the people they count on the most."

Despite the ups and downs, Taylor stuck to her guns, and over the next year lost 100 pounds. Taylor's life took off on a new direction. She began teaching part-time at college, got involved with community theater, joined the bowling team at work, and started dating.

"It was an entirely new me," she said. "For the first time in my life I shopped for clothes to look good in, not to hide my body. I had to learn to put on makeup and style my hair. I had never done it before; I never cared. Suddenly I was having fun and enjoying life."

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