We’ve all had moments in our lives where we needed help from others and moments where we’ve needed to give help and support in return. That’s the beauty of belonging to a community, and OAC Member Lisa Hernandez embodies this spirit perfectly. Lisa is known in our Community for her positive attitude and the warmth she radiates to everyone she meets. As a bariatric patient and someone who has struggled with weight since childhood, she is an incredible advocate for people with obesity. The OAC sat down with Lisa to ask some questions about her personal experiences, what drives her to be involved with our work and what she has to say to others who are looking for a community.

Q1: How are you connected to the topic of obesity?

Lisa Hernandez

Growing up as a kid, I was always told my weight was just “baby fat.” As I got older, my pediatrician continued to say this. In my teenage years, I started to question why it was still considered baby fat when I was no longer a kid.

Obesity is hereditary in my family, but that never stopped me from being me! I was not very physically active growing up. During elementary school events like “Field Day,” which were supposed to be fun and exciting, I struggled but would never give up. When I was around kids more similar to me, I felt like I was fitting in. However, when I was in line to run the 100-yard dash, I remember thinking, “I can do this!” but quickly losing my confidence.

When the whistle blew, I ran for my life. I gave it my all but ran out of breath about a quarter of the way through. I heard others cheering me on, which helped me keep going despite gasping for air. As I continued to run, everyone else in my group had already finished, but I kept going. I knew I couldn’t give up with supporters waiting for me at the finish line. I didn’t want to let anyone down, including myself.

Through the sweat and pain, I kept running even though I knew I was in last place. What mattered was to finish strong, and without the support I had, I’m not sure I could have finished. I look at those moments from growing up as a reminder that I can do anything and never to let myself quit.

Q2: How did you discover the OAC and what compelled you to become an active part of our Community?

I heard about the OAC through a bariatric support group. I wanted to be part of its Community to know that I wasn’t alone. I learned that while we each come from different backgrounds, there are common issues we face with obesity. Hearing everyone’s stories compelled me to reach out, teach and learn from others. I’ve learned that speaking up and reaching out to others helps me in my own life, too. We can learn from each other and find ways to cope and grow together. Sometimes we just need to be a listening ear or to find a shoulder to cry on. Many of us don’t have a lot of support, so I enjoy engaging with people in the OAC to remind them that they’re not alone.

Q3: You are a loyal and enthusiastic attendee of OAC’s annual Your Weight Matters Convention. Why do you enjoy it so much and what keeps you coming back every year?

The people at OAC’s Convention are what make it truly unique. From OAC staff and volunteers to bariatric patients and other people in the OAC’s Community, meeting everyone was amazing!

Q4: How have you seen OAC’s Your Weight Matters Convention evolve over the years?

There have been different transitions in format, new faces every year, different themes and continued growth. The different sessions and workshops offered, exhibits with sponsors and resources, and other events during the Convention are constantly changing. Things are always fun, informative and compelling. It’s a learning experience that you will never forget!

You can find happiness and comfort in meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones. At one Convention, I was asked to describe the OAC in one word. My word was ASTONISHING because it’s so fulfilling that you don’t want the last day to come. I always exchange contact information to keep in touch with friends well past the Convention. I also appreciate that OAC offers scholarships for those in financial need to have the opportunity to attend. They reach out to people in need, and there are always opportunities to find help and support during each and every stage of your journey.

I attended for the first time in 2014 in Orlando, Florida. It was like walking into the middle of a book chapter. I couldn’t judge the book by its cover because I only knew half of the story. To know someone, I had to hear their full story from beginning to end. Within the OAC, there are a lot of unpublished and unfinished books. I can comfortably tell my story while knowing that others will understand I’m not done with it. Hearing the stories of others evolve motivates me to stay connected.

People need to hear our stories and find a community where they won’t be judged. We all matter and have the potential to do more. We may be struggling with various issues, but we can turn our “wants” into “cans” into “wills.”

The support within the OAC is phenomenal. It feels like a family where no one will judge you because you have a story to tell. Some people are similar, but each is a little different in their own way. I learn something new each year and every day at the Convention. That’s why I keep coming back!

Q5: You were a caretaker for your mom for many years and have been very vocal about this part of your health journey. How did this affect your personal experience with obesity?

Dealing with obesity myself is difficult, but being a caretaker for my mom brought new challenges. She recently passed, but she had diabetes and I helped her manage her diet and health. Obesity can lead to bone and joint issues, higher cholesterol, and other health issues. My family has a history of heart disease, so it’s something I’ve always made a note to monitor. My father passed away from a heart attack at age 59 and my oldest brother had one in 2019 at age 41 with additional complications seven years later.

Lisa smiles with her mom

Growing up as a kid—laughing, playing and eating without a care in the world—I didn’t know any better. I was just being me and would always eat what others were eating, even when I wasn’t hungry. I followed other people a lot. As I started to care for my mom, I had to learn what foods she could eat and what other health issues she was facing, like becoming dehydrated often. At times, there were trips to doctors and emergency rooms. I sorted all her medications and helped her get organized.

There were a lot of responsibilities with being a caretaker, but I never labeled myself as one. I just loved my mom unconditionally and I wanted to care for her like she would with our family. Keeping an eye on her health impacted my own decisions. I watched my portion sizes, but I also made sure my mom ate enough so she didn’t lose weight and get sick.

I had lap band bariatric surgery in 2010 that changed my life forever. Knowing that my family background was critical, I had to make an important decision for my future and long-term health.

Q6: What is something you’ve learned about obesity since discovering the OAC, and how has this shaped your journey?

I’ve learned that obesity doesn’t define me! The number on the scale is part of a chapter that is not yet finished. It only makes me stronger to know that obesity is a disease that I not only deal with, but many others dealt with as well. I’m not alone and I will
never be alone.

I think back to the 100-yard dash in school, and I still look forward to encouragement and cheers from my supporters. My advice to others is to never look down. If you do, only do it because you’re helping someone else get back up. We are stronger than we think. Keep fighting, keep going each day, don’t let a setback sidetrack you, and have faith that you will overcome in the end. Each achievement matters. You matter, I matter, we all matter, and your weight matters.

Join the OAC Community today to discover science-based obesity education, find support tools, make meaningful connections and take action to make the world a better place for people living with obesity!

Do You Want to Share Your Story? Whether you have a story about navigating obesity, facing weight stigma, or inspiring others, your voice is important. Visit the OAC’s story project at WeightoftheWorld.com to share yours today. Not sure what to say? Consider one of our question prompts to guide you. If you would like your story to be featured in a future issue of Weight Matters Magazine, please email [email protected].