Fitness Fridays: Family By The Ton‘s Naomi Anderson On Hating “Pretty For A Big Girl” Comments And Losing Weight On National TV
I’m sure that by now you’ve probably watched or heard about TLC’s new series, Family By the Ton. It follows a family, three members in particular whose collective weight is nearly 2,000 pounds (hence the title), as they all try to embark on a weight-loss journey and cultivate a healthier lifestyle after many years of less than healthy habits. One of those individuals is Naomi Anderson. Despite her best efforts as a child and young woman to avoid the obesity that had plagued everyone from her mother to her sister and her cousins, at her highest weight, the 30-year-old Atlanta native weighed around 400 pounds. Sick and tired of being “uncomfortable” and being told that she’s “Pretty for a big girl,” and also concerned desiring to be a mom (her period halted due to her weight) we’ve watched Anderson try to overhaul her diet and go the surgery route to change her life.
“I work in health care so I know what kind of risks there are and I was just like, ‘You know, maybe I should try,'” she told us. “I’ve tried everything else, what could it hurt?”
It hasn’t been easy, as she was caught by her boyfriend hiding candy when she was supposed to focus on a diet of mostly smoothies. However, she’s already made some inspiring progress, and we’re only three episodes in.
We talked to Anderson about what her goal is with her weight loss, dealing with family members and friends who aren’t so supportive of how serious she takes this whole process, and what it has been like going on a very personal journey in front of a national audience.
MadameNoire: How has it been going through this journey with so many people watching you and having their opinions?
Naomi Anderson: I would say honestly that even going into this project, that probably was the most difficult part for me. Because I don’t think there’s a person in the world who doesn’t care, even a small, tiny amount, what people think of them. So watching the first episode, I was super, super scared. And then I started getting so many messages, and DMs and friend requests with people like, “Oh my God, I love it!” “I can relate to it.” “You’re me!” Or “That’s my family.” It made it so much better because I even said while I was recording, I was like, as long as I can touch one person and one person feels affected by it and they can relate to it, then I feel like it’s not in vain. So I’m super excited at the way it has been received. I am anxious, I’m not going to lie, every time I watch a new episode with everyone else. But overall, the feedback has been amazing. It really, really has.
How has it also been, at times, to have family members or friends who kind of negatively impact your ability to stay on track? For instance, your cousin Drew ordered a burrito in front of you while you were on a liquid diet. You were so upset you had to walk out!
Aw man, that was not a fun day at all. They made it look so much more beautiful than it actually was. Shout out to TLC for that. It is very difficult. And then that timing of everything hitting me at one time. I said on the show, I’m an emotional eater. So when you have a lot of things going on, that’s like a person who is a cigarette smoker. If something is stressing them out, what do they do? They go smoke a cigarette. If you keep their cigarettes from them, they’re usually super, super mean. So I would say it’s the same exact thing. When all that food came out, I was just…speechless. I was annoyed, irritated. And he said that he didn’t even really understand the diet. That’s what he told us. So for him he felt like, “Ok, if I have one meal, it’s one meal of my choosing.” And you can have one meal a day, but it’s a three ounce piece of meat and a two ounce serving of vegetables. It’s not a steak or mashed potatoes. You can’t have that. It was irritating. Even now, you’re going to struggle with it. You can’t control everyone else having a good time and enjoying food. You just have to control yourself and make healthier decisions. You can still go out. Even during that time, I could still be around people, I just had to be better prepared. Make sure I have my shakes. Make sure I have my fruits on deck. But it was very difficult. And it smelled so good [laughs].
I know you said you were on a lot of diets and took part in a lot of sports growing up so you could avoid putting on the weight that you have. This is probably a silly question, but knowing how active you were, did you try naturally losing the weight with a trainer or through fasting before going the bariatric route?
Definitely. It was always like, before even meeting with Dr. Proctor and all the steps you had to go through to even get to the liquid diet, you discover why you eat the way that you eat. You discover what your triggers are. That was the missing link for me. When I was younger I would diet and try to stay as active as I could. Workout with my friends, walk to Stone Mountain and just stay as active as I possibly could. I did Weight Watchers and I’ve always had successes, but the minute turmoil hits my life and something happens, then it’s like I spiral down again. My older sister, which you’ve seen on the show, she had the surgery. She was pushing for us like, “Why don’t you just consider it?” I don’t have diabetes, I don’t have high blood pressure and I don’t have high cholesterol. I’m not unhealthy, I’m just fat. That’s my frame of mind. So it was like, let me figure out something to do before any of those issues come about because my mom has those issues. My sister has those issues. So it’s like, why not do something more drastic because everything else worked for a time, but then it doesn’t work anymore.
And why do you think your family has struggled as a whole with weight? I know in some cases its a hereditary thing.
Everyone in my family isn’t big. I just think sometimes weight gain can be situational. Being complacent, like for me — I don’t know if they’ll air me saying this, but I can remember when I hit 250 pounds at the doctor’s office and I was damn near in tears. I remember the nurse who was getting my vitals, she was like, “Don’t worry about it, girl. You’re still pretty. You still look good.” And sometimes, I know for myself specifically, I would put that in my head: “Ok, well I’m still cute. I’m not having no problem in the men department. I’m still comfortable.” Until it got uncomfortable. Sometimes with weight gain it’s comfortable and you remedy that however you do. You move your lifestyle around to accommodate you. I think Chitoka said that. You move your life around to accommodate you until it does start to bother you, and at that point, something has to change.
Does it also have anything to do with the Southern-style diet and the family dinners you guys were having?
That could have something to do with it because I know my mom is an amazing cook. I’m not going to lie. And we’re born and raised here and my mom cooked like a Southern Atlanta mama. Like, holidays she throws down. So I think that plays a large part in it. But it does and it doesn’t. I think being active plays a large part. Because once I stopped being active, weight piled on faster. I think being active is a part of it. Diet is definitely a part of it. Any doctor will tell you 80 percent of weight loss is specifically your diet. So I think that does play a role.
As you mentioned about the nurse’s comments, and I know you mention it on the show, there are the “Pretty for a big girl” comments. How long have you heard that?
I’ve been hearing “Pretty for a big girl.” It probably started when I was 24. It wasn’t just pretty anymore. It was “Pretty for a big girl,” “thick girl” or something like that. I hate when people say that. I don’t think when people say it they mean to be offensive, but if you’re going to compliment me, you wouldn’t say “You’re pretty for a skinny girl!” or “You’re pretty for a short girl.” You just say, “You’re pretty.” “You’re beautiful” or whatever. I hate when people say that because it’s like, are you trying to say that big girls aren’t pretty and that I’m an exception? What is it? Most big girls are very pretty. They really are. Most of the big women I’ve seen are usually very pretty. I don’t understand why people say that. Either I’m pretty or I’m not. Either you like it or you don’t. Either it’s your taste or it’s not. It’s somebody’s taste! It may not be yours, but it’s somebody’s [laughs].
Was there a specific weight-loss goal or number you were trying to reach? Not that you have to have one, but I was just wondering.
My number is anything under 200 pounds. I’ve never wanted to be a tiny girl. I don’t want to be skinny. That’s just not my thing. I’m from the South. For me, skinny is just not something I’ve ever wanted to be. Even when I was smaller, I’ve always had big legs and big boobs, which are not as big as they were at one point. But I would love to just be under 200.
After the surgery, what is the long-term goal you have in line to keep this weight from multiplying in the same ways in the future?
Changing the way that I eat and being active more. It’s easy being active when you’re a child but being active more as an adult, trying different things and trying activities that don’t involve food or don’t surround food is hard. But that’s my goal. Stay active, eat differently. Because whether or not I get the surgery, that surgery is just a tool. It’s not a quick fix. You still have to work. I saw my sister go through with it and she had to work. Now everything is always diet, or sugarfree. It’s a lifestyle change. She’s completely changed for the rest of her life. So I would definitely say changing my eating habits helped me tap in to the fact that I’m an emotional eater. Finding something else to put that frustration and that stress-eating into. Finding another outlet for it is also very, very helpful. So my goal is changing my diet, staying healthy, finding an alternate outlet for my stress, frustrations, anxiety, and just trying to be the best version of myself, honestly.