My Health-Related Weight Gain Left Me Feeling Like a Prisoner in My Own Home

Amerley Ollennu

Content warning: This article contains descriptions of binge-eating disorders and discusses weight issues.

“You look amazing!” was a phrase I got very used to hearing after years of yo-yo dieting, obsessive exercising, and disordered eating. But it wasn’t all these unhealthy practices (that I worked hard to ditch) which led me to my apparently socially acceptable body weight that drew all this praise – it was needing to get my gallbladder removed and subsequently having to cut out a range of foods, which saw me shed 60 lbs. in under a year.

Every time I posted a picture on Instagram, or saw friends and colleagues in person, I was inundated with compliments. But these unsolicited comments that were intended to make me feel good, left me anxiety ridden and chipped away at my self-esteem. I became so fearful that I would gain weight and then go back to what clearly people thought was not an “amazing” or “beautiful” body that I started to equate my self-worth to the number staring back at me on the scale.

And after four years that’s exactly what happened. I developed an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis), endemetriosis, and a hormonal imbalance (high testosterone and low thyroid function) creating the perfect storm of symptoms – weight gain, hair loss, facial hair, depression, chronic fatigue, facial rashes, puffiness and more.

As I gained back every pound, and another 15 on top, the rise of Ozempic – a diabetes drug turned weight loss aid – seemingly reignited society’s obsession with thinness. We’re seeing celebrities looking thinner than ever – and everyone’s weighing in on their transformations. Looking around it can seem as though all the hard work done by the body positivity movement has been all but erased. So much so that the starlets whose weight has gone in the opposite direction like mine, are now being put under the spotlight once again.

Amy Schumer is one such celebrity. She recently resorted to posting a statement on Instagram about her change in appearance, hitting out at critics who have been relentlessly speculating about her weight and specificaly the puffiness of her face. Like me, Schumer has endometriosis and a hormonal imbalance, and shared that yes, her face, “is puffier than normal right now” due to her medical conditions.

She went into further detail about her hormonal imbalance over the weekend, sharing that she was recently diagnosed with Cushing Syndrome. In an interview featured in Jessica Yellin’s “News Not Noise” newsletter she revealed: “While I was doing press on camera for my Hulu show, I was also in MRI machines four hours at a time, having my veins shut down from the amount of blood drawn and thinking I may not be around to see my son grow up. So finding out I have the kind of Cushing that will just work itself out and I’m healthy was the greatest news imaginable. It has been a crazy couple weeks for me and my family.

“I also had to be on camera having the internet chime in. But thank god for that,” she continued. “Because that’s how I realized something was wrong.”

Despite all the chatter about Schumer’s appearance leading to her getting the medical help she didn’t know she needed, she also stated on her Instagram that women don’t need any excuse for their appearance or owe an explanation to anyone.

She also advocated for “self-love and acceptance of the skin you’re in”, but I personally have found the change in how I look a hard pill to swallow. Christina Applegate, whose weight has also drastically changed due to a decline in her health after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2021, seems to feel the same. She regularly comments on her weight gain in interviews (without being asked), and most recently she ‘jokingly’ stated, “body not by Ozempic” while receiving an award at the 2024 Emmy Awards. Despite the fact I’m going through something similar, it’s sad to see someone so successful and accomplished perhaps feel like she still needs to comment on her size, rather than simply revel in the praise and accolades.

Related: How Viral “Hot Girl” Rhetoric Harms Women Dealing With Real Illnesses

And while I’m not a celebrity, there are some parallels to the struggles Schumer has described. As a freelance beauty editor, I’m expected to film content, post on social media, interview celebrities, attend events, network with brand founders, pitch to editors, and host events – all of course while looking like someone who works in beauty (read well put together, with the majority of my counterparts being slim, straight haired, white women). But because of the way I look now, not just bigger, but puffy in the face (often sporting red rashes that come and go with no warning), with hair along my jawline (which I’m treating with electrolysis and can’t remove between sessions), and sporting a short frizzy hairline (post a hair transplant), I often find myself turning down personal and professional invites because I can’t bear to be seen in public or explain why I look the way I do now.

This has seen me miss out on opportunities and spend countless days at home, my longest stretch being 18 days without stepping out of the house.

I feel like a prisoner, but it’s not locked doors or barred windows keeping me inside, it’s my body and the prison I’ve created in my mind. It tells me I can’t be successful in my career if I don’t look a certain way, that I will remain single if I weigh this much, and that people who have seen me at my slimmest and complimented me on my appearance will now be secretly judging me for my ‘failure’. And sadly, despite the fact that my weight has increased due to a number of health conditions (and even medications I’ve been prescribed) it’s also triggered a binge eating disorder that’s left me feeling like I’m partly to blame for the fact that I’ve gone up five dress sizes.

It’s a feeling that’s hard to shift, but I’m determined to put the work in to feel better about myself. For me that does include trying to find a healthy way, despite my medical conditions, to lose weight – as well as working on the relationship I have with myself and valuing who I am outside of my appearance. It also includes, like Schumer urges, attempting to accept the skin I’m in.

To do that, I decided to make a little statement on my own Instagram account, sharing my diagnoses, how they have impacted my weight and how my weight and other symptoms have impacted me. I felt a massive sense of relief afterwards and the response was so positive and kind. I hope the feeling of freedom and acceptance stays with me and helps me to stop hiding away. I also started following curvy, and plus size creators on Instagram to diversify my feed and widen those rigid standards of beauty we’re all exposed to. Plus, I’ve forced myself to say yes to invites from friends, and not insist on somewhere very casual so I can rock up in athleisure and no make-up.

It’s early days but a recent outing meant digging out my make-up bag and being reminded of the transformative power of the stuff. I looked at myself in the mirror for the first time in a while and gave my physical self some positive attention by way of an all over glow. I accentuated some of what used to be my favourite features, like my lips, cheekbones, and brows. I actually felt ‘pretty’, and that’s a massive step in the right direction.

Amerley Ollennu is an award-winning beauty and lifestyle journalist who has been writing for the UK’s most well-known glossies, websites and newspapers for well over a decade. Known for her ability to predict the next big trend, there is really very little she won’t try for a story.

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