Charity Pierce, 38, has an ambitious endeavor. Weighing in at 765 pounds, Pierce, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa has the dubious distinction of being the “world’s fattest woman.” But she’s determined to lose 280 pounds so she can have gastric bypass surgery and eventually wants to get to 200 pounds. Why? She says she plans to marry her 22-year-old boyfriend Tony Saur and walk down the aisle wearing a wedding dress, cowboy boots and a cowgirl hat.
“I don’t want much. I just want a life,” Pierce is quoted as saying in The Huffington Post-UK.
Extreme Measures Needed
Housebound since 2001, Pierce was told by her doctors that her weight would kill her. She suffered a hematoma in 2000 after slipping down the stairs. Two years later, she was diagnosed with lymphedema and her left leg kept getting bigger.
After having a 40-pound fleshy lump removed from her side in 2005 due to flesh-eating bacteria, she developed lymphedema in the back of her hip, an area that wasn’t affected before. She still has open wounds on her side that haven’t healed.
The build-up of fluid in her left leg has left her virtually immobile and unable to care for herself. Her daughter, Charly, 18, and Saur look after her.
How She’s Trying to Get Healthy
Before she began her current 1,200-calorie per day diet in February, Pierce consumed 10,000 calories daily. Where she previously ate massive amounts of food – two pizzas, cereal, two big sandwiches, five doughnuts, two plates of lasagna, a Kit-Kat chocolate bar, a large bowl of popcorn, and Pop Tarts in one day, now she’s down to three yogurts, a banana with peanut butter, grilled chicken, mixed veggies, hummus with crackers and a vegetable pizza.
Pierce does more than just watch her calories. She works out each day for two hours and has a physical therapist visit her at home three times a week. Her current exercise routine includes lifting three-pound weights to work out her arms and walks around the house for leg exercise.
While news accounts of Pierce’s situation don’t mention any counseling she’s receiving, addiction treatment experts say that compulsive overeating, sometimes called food addiction, can be treated through counseling and therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be a highly effective tool in combating this disorder.
In addition, 12-step programs, such as Overeater’s Anonymous, can help those struggling with overeating to learn how to become more accountable for their food intake and develop a supportive network of others in recovery from compulsive overeating.
Overeating Began in Childhood
By all reports, Pierce had a dysfunctional family environment. Her father, an alcoholic, was overly strict and she began to stuff herself with food as a coping mechanism.
“My dad was a drunk, and he was really strict with me,” Pierce said. “He controlled everything my family did, and the one thing I really felt that I had control over was what I ate.”
Things are quite different now that Saur is in her life. Pierce says, “Tony has given me hope for the first time in years and I’ll do whatever it takes to turn my life around.”
According to Dr. Pamela Peeke, internationally recognized expert, physician, scientist and author in the fields of nutrition, stress, fitness and public health: “Obesity involves a very complex psycho-social-cultural-biological process, including genetics, neuroscience, addiction and environment.”
After the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates voted to recognize obesity as a disease, Peeke commented in her blog that “the present and profoundly hurtful stereotype [of obese individuals] needs to be replaced with compassion, understanding and realization that people with a BMI of 30 or more need to be respected and honored as individuals trying to live their life as best they can, just as folks of average weight.”
What’s the outlook for Pierce? Time and her continued determination to reclaim her life will tell, but once she’s again mobile, seeking professional counseling and attending 12-step meetings may prove the ultimate life-saver.