Her father is Spencer Haywood, a former Olympic basketball player and a legendary scorer in the NBA. Her mother is a supermodel so famous she needs only one name: Iman.
But Zulekha Haywood wasn’t like her parents. She wasn’t a super athlete like her father. And where her mother was sleek, “Zu,” as everyone calls her, was chunky.
OK, maybe a bit more than chunky. But let her tell you how it was: “Imagine you are the daughter of a supermodel. Now imagine you weigh 330 pounds.”
Those are the first two sentences of a first-person article Haywood wrote for the current issue of Glamour magazine. In it, she chronicles her lifelong battle with obesity and her eventual decision to have gastric bypass surgery three years ago.
Spiritual and physical transformation
After dropping to 160 pounds, which turned out to be too skinny for the six-footer, Haywood has settled in at 180 pounds. After a lot of soul-searching into what it means to be a woman and what it means to be beautiful, Haywood told TODAY’s Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford Friday that she’s found happiness.
“Now that the weight is gone and it’s no longer an issue for me, I really had to look within and figure out what is it that makes me happy and what is my self-worth now,” the 31-year-old writer said. “Now I’m so much happier — not because I lost the weight, but because I feel such a sense of contentment with myself. With the weight gone, I really went through a sort of spiritual transformation, and it wasn’t just about buying some skinny jeans and getting a new jacket.”
“There was no pressure at home for me to fit into any sort of ideal,” Haywood said. “At home, I am a daughter to a mother and a father. At home, it was a completely different situation. I’m just their daughter and at the end of the day, they just want me to be healthy.”
The predisposition to obesity came from her father’s side of the family, she wrote. His way to deal with it was what he called, “eat like a pig, run like a horse.” The more he ate, the harder he worked out to burn it off.
Back and forth
As a teen, Haywood tried that approach. She played tennis all summer and dropped 30 pounds, impressing her girlfriends when she got back to school. But without the constant exercise, she gained it all back.
“I tried pretty much the standard fare,” Haywood told Gifford and Kotb. “I tried SlimFast, Atkins, Jenny Craig, some those fad diets like the cabbage soup, and lemon juice. All of them worked for a while, but I would always gain the weight back plus interest.”
Happy but not healthy
Health issues made her start thinking about a gastric bypass.
“I was always happy. At 330 pounds, at 320, at whatever weight I was at, I was always happy,” Haywood said. “But what happened was at age 26, I was having an increasingly hard time getting out of bed. I had started to develop osteoarthritis. That leads to heel spurs, deterioration of the bones, and I just wasn’t feeling vital anymore. If this is at 26, then what’s going to happen down the line? I tried everything, and gastric bypass was the last resort.”
Suddenly, she started getting attention that she wasn’t used to.
“I get a lot of reaction from other people. At my lowest, I was 160 pounds, and a lot of people would run up to me and just, ‘Are you a model?’ which is a strange thing to run up and ask anybody,” Haywood said.
It sometimes annoyed her, and one time she exploded at a clerk in a store who said she looked like a model. Relating the incident in Glamour, Haywood writes she exploded, telling the woman: “You know, being a model is not the only thing an attractive woman can do with her life, and being beautiful is not the only thing that women should aspire to. I'm so sick of a woman's entire stock being in her looks!"
Haywood said she’s learned a lot about herself and about life since losing the weight.
“My takeaway is that whatever size you’re at, you have to find happiness within and all the answers will come from that place,” she said. “At the end of the day, the numbers on the scale are inconsequential.
“It’s about health, and if you don’t feel healthy, you have an imperative to do something about it.”
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