Tracey-Lee Lusty visited our phones years ago as FitnessGirl_ZA, a woman on a weight-loss mission while championing body positivity and a kind approach to health and wellness. Now, Tracey-Lee has opened up about her struggle with binge eating and how it’s resulted in her opting for life-saving bariatric surgery to recover from obesity.
We sat down with Tracey-Lee to talk about her thoughts on the surgery, body positivity, and what it means to her.
Firstly, what does the body positivity movement mean to you?
I’ve always maintained that body positivity is about ensuring that your body is functioning healthily and optionally for you. Therefore, you can still be body positive and actively work on bettering your health which could have the consequences of a changing size. I don’t believe that it is a club reserved for plus sizes persons, nor do I believe that only certain body-size persons can be body positive. To me, body positivity is about accepting and learning to love your body in every body season.
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You’ve always had a body positivity platform while losing weight and working towards your goal weight. Did working towards a goal weight challenge your body positivity?
Initially, I was conflicted as mainstream schools of thought require that in order to be body positive you have to accept your body in its entirety, therefore ANY attempt to change your body whatsoever (even for health reasons) would be the antithesis of body positivity. I reconciled this issue with the fact that the very core principle that underpins the Body Positive movement is self-love. And surely ensuring your body is functioning healthily and optimally for you is the very act of self-love?
When did you realise you had an eating disorder, and how did this impact your work as a public figure?
I’ve suffered from disordered eating patterns from as early as 13 years old. I went on my first diet at 7 years old and by 13 I was already in a terrible binge-restrict cycle. I don’t think my disorder has had a negative impact on my work because I’ve always shared openly and authentically about my life. However, I will say that in recent months I’ve felt the impact of my declining health, especially when it comes to pursuing more fitness-orientated performance goals.
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You’ve called your obesity a disease that’s impacting your health. Do you feel the same is true for all obese women, or that this issue pertains only to you?
It is an established scientific fact that obesity has now been recognised as a chronic disease by medical professionals which may require medical intervention like other prominent chronic illnesses. This has been a massive win for those who suffer from obesity and who have continuously been stigmatised by society who believe that obesity is a result of a lack of willpower, discipline or greed. I’ve learned that hormones play a huge role in weight regulation and often a breakdown of communication between the satiety centre in our brains and our gut can lead to a lifelong weight gain struggle (as is the case for me).
Whether or not a person wishes to seek medical intervention or not is a personal choice. I believe that if someone who is medically categorised as obese (using preferred medical standards and testing) and who is also suffering from the co-morbidities associated with obesity (such as diabetes and chronic hypertension or high blood pressure), then the consideration for obesity medication and/or surgery is an option worth exploring.
I am, however, proof that you can be overweight/obese and still be fit and healthy. I have been overweight, yet fit and healthy, since 2017 so I do not think it’s correct to assume that every obese person should undergo surgery. It was only in recent months that I recognised my obesity had reached a point where I personally felt it needed medical intervention.
READ MORE: Download Your Free 28-Day Essential Guide To Self-Care
For your upcoming surgery, what are your hopes on how this will impact your journey going forward?
In the last year and since contracting Covid in 2020, I’ve really struggled with my health. I’ve also been unable to get my weight under control and have seen a steady incline despite undertaking a conservative caloric intake and regular weight training sessions and cardio.
Despite my best efforts, my body felt like it was in complete free fall and I knew something was wrong as it just didn’t make scientific sense. It was only on my honeymoon when I was precluded from doing certain activities such as horse riding and parasailing due to my weight that I realised I needed serious help. The moment of realisation really came when we had finished snorkelling and it took 3 grown men to pull me out of the water onto the boat because I couldn’t lift myself up (despite being a very strong woman).
The decision to have surgery was initially a really difficult one. I was very conflicted before I knew and understood the science behind obesity as a disease (and not self-inflicted as many assume) as well as the science behind the surgery itself. However, after my first consultation with my team, I had so much clarity about why this surgery is certainly not the easy way out or a cop-out.
I was very sceptical before I understood that this was far more than “weight loss surgery” but rather a life-saving surgery. That really helped me put everything into perspective and it fully aligned with my body positive principle of ensuring your body is functioning healthily and optionally. At the end of the day, this decision is for my health and does not negatively impact others in any way.
“I was very sceptical before I understood that this was far more than “weight loss surgery” but rather a life-saving surgery.”
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As someone who has been through extensive therapy and teaching others to love their bodies in every season, I was very nervous about going public with my decision for fear that some of my audience would feel betrayed by my decision. I knew that the only way to prevent this was to come out and be completely open and honest and approach this new chapter in my life from a point of education.
Just as I was sceptical because of how the media portrays the surgery, I knew many people would be too. This is why I made the decision to use my platform to dismantle the stigma associated with not only obesity but also surgery. Educating and encouraging positive discourse around this topic is my aim for 2023.
I am excited to be able to meet my performance-related fitness goals again and to be able to run with my husband and hike again. I would also like to start a family soon so I’m doing this for family planning purposes too. This surgery is life-changing for so many people and I am really looking forward to being able to do the things I love again.