Isabel Garcia is and has always been an attractive woman. Only her legs did not correspond to the common ideal of beauty from her youth on. In spite of sports and diets they became more and more full-bodied, while her upper body remained slim and slender. Later your upper arms also became stronger and stronger. It was not until she was 27 years old that she discovered that there was a disease behind it: lipedema.
Lipedema is a disorder of fat distribution that affects almost only women. The disease is associated with pain in the affected areas of the body and is not only a physical burden for women, but also a psychological one. The consequences of the disease are obvious and for many of those affected it is a major aesthetic problem.
The German-Spanish woman from Hamburg is intensively engaged with her disease and wrote a book about it (“Lipödem. I am more than my legs”, published in TRIAS Verlag, 19.99 Euro via amazon.de), in which she describes her often painful path from the diagnosis of lipedema to a self-confident life. In the interview she explains how she came to terms with her lipedema physically and emotionally and why she calls herself a happy person today.
When and how did you discover that you were suffering from lipedema?
At the age of 27 I worked as a singing teacher in addition to my job as a radio presenter. And a student asked me about my character. She said that a friend of hers knew a clinic where everyone looked like this. And that would probably be a disease. In order to find out, I immediately made an appointment at the Földiklinik in Hinterzarten and it was confirmed that I had classic lipedema.
You can tell from these signs that you suffer from lipedema
Has the diagnosis changed the way you look at your body? If so, in what way?
It did something to me psychologically in the first place. I’ve had lipedema since I was 12 years old. My legs became more and more full, in contrast to the almost lean upper body. I did sport and threw myself headlong into the diet carousel, but this disproportion remained. Especially these bumps, which nobody expects from a young, athletic woman.
In all the years up to my diagnosis at the Földiklinik, I was accused of lying: it could not be that I do so much sport and pay attention to an adequate calorie intake, otherwise my legs would not look like this. At some point, I no longer believed myself and asked myself whether the one carrot was perhaps too much after all.
When I was diagnosed, I felt like I had been crying for two weeks. Out of relief, because now I knew it was not my responsibility. Out of shame, because I no longer believed myself. And of course also because in retrospect I realized how unfair the many insults I had heard because of my figure had been.
What else has changed: I knew now that there was something I could do. And I knew those legs belonged to me. Before, I had the vague feeling that my own legs were buried under the fat masses and that this fat did not belong to me.
It was a long way for Isabel to come to terms with her body and accept her legs. © Westermann & Buroh Studios, TRIAS Publisher
What was the trigger to no longer see oneself as a victim of lipedema?
There has always been a fighter in me and she got the wind in her sails with the diagnosis. I immediately had compression tights prescribed, a diet and sports recommendation given and set about tackling the fat masses with verve. Half a year and 10 kilos of weight loss later I went to the Földiklinik for a cure.
For me, the diagnosis of lipedema was a blessing, because I was now milder with myself when I was losing weight very slowly and when I couldn’t do everything while doing sports. Now I knew what the problem was and that perseverance was required. I strictly followed the instructions and even weighed 16 kilos less after the cure. The diagnosis was a chance for me and no reason to despair.
Many women with lipedema hope for help from liposuction. How do you feel about that?
Under certain conditions I am absolutely for liposuction. These conditions would be:
- Surgeons should stop pretending that the lipedema is gone when they’re done. Serious doctors told me that this was a lie and that the course of the disease is only turned back 5 to 20 years.
- The women must no longer be “sucked dry”. More than 6 kg per operation is not healthy for the body.
- Affected patients may also no longer be operated on every four weeks, but may have one to a maximum of two such operations per year.
- First an existing eating disorder must be treated. Over 60 percent of those affected by lipedema have an eating disorder. Some women regain weight several years after the operation when they start eating again due to job and/or partner loss.
- Only women who have kept their weight constant for at least five years should be operated on, because the results are then worth seeing. When overweight yo-yo candidates are operated on, they unfortunately often look worse than before after a new increase, which happens frequently.
- If a person suffering from lipedema has no or little pain for at least five to at best 20 years after the operation, then that is great – and should definitely be supported by the health insurance company.
Why, despite all these points, are you even FÜR the liposuction?
Well, because it suddenly takes away or at least significantly reduces the pain. And hardly any surgery lasts forever. A new hip is also operated on about every 15 years, and this fact does not speak against the first operation.
They rely mainly on sport and nutrition. Why?
In fact, I had a skin tightening and corrective liposuction for the contour when I lost so much weight at 27. I did not know about these special pain-relieving lipoedema liposuctions at that time and never did them. I have no plans to do so now, although I am keeping my options open for the future.
Resignation does not exist’s: With the right training, figure and pain can be positively influenced. © Westermann & Buroh Studios, TRIAS Publisher
At the moment it is out of the question for me, because I know how much I could achieve with sport, compression and nutrition alone. Thanks to my research, I also know how important it is to reduce stress, to be mentally fit, etc. And I don’t think that I am only beautiful when I have a figure like models on a glossy brochure. What kind of role model am I when I write about how much I could achieve with sports and nutrition, only to take the shortcut of liposuction?
I am happy for all those who decide to have the operations and are happy afterwards. For me it is out of the question at the moment. I have not yet kept my weight constant for five years, and operations are always the last resort for me anyway. If I have one – then I want to make sure I have the best possible conditions.
How you learn to love yourself
Do you receive rude, hurtful comments about your character?
Oh, yeah. I could write a book of humiliation. Partners who told me I was only beautiful up to my waist. Viewers of my lectures who said they had to advise me on style because I “look fat around the bottom”. Teenagers who laugh at the fact that I supposedly have no visible knees.
How do you react to this?
I used to be sad. I retired and went out even less often. The older I get, the calmer I deal with it. Today I just agree when someone tells me that my legs don’t look nice. You have a point, at least as far as the classic ideal of beauty is concerned. If somebody says to me, “Your legs are fat” – I say, “That’s right.”
Why bother with that? It doesn’t make my life more beautiful and more colorful. And since stress is poison to lipedema, I tend to stay relaxed.
5 tips to make you more confident
Do you think we need a new beauty and fitness ideal?
I would like the new ideal to be: “Fit and happy”. It is of course important that we do sports and not just stuff ourselves with fast food. But not every woman with slim legs is sporty and not every woman with thick legs is unathletic. How about focusing more on the happy feeling after exercise? Or on a body as fit as possible?
What do you think is the basic requirement for a happy life with lipedema?
More happiness, more self-love, more mindfulness.
You can read more about Isabel Garcia’s research and life in her book: “Lipedema. I am more than my legs”, Trias Verlag (about 20 €)