“If you’ve been fat, you will always feel and see the world as a fat person; you know how difficult it is… It’s the same coming from a working-class background… it never leaves you.”
― Caitlin Moran, Moranthology
Living my life as a fat person has been the hardest of all the challenges I have encountered. Overcoming emotional abuse and the dysfunctions of my childhood pale in comparison to my struggles of self-acceptance and finding a place of self-love that transcends what I look like. My existence has been marked by a shame spiral that circulates between my humiliation over my weight and the weight of the shame that holds me back from tackling my problem. My strategy has been to overcompensate for my largesse by trying to distract people from really seeing me. Humor and intelligence, accomplishments and pleasing are some of the sharpest tools in my bag of tricks. Yet, every day I have looked in the mirror and focused in on my fears about what people would see and how what they see might influence how they perceive me. My goal was always to find a plan to shield them from what I internalized as ugliness. What looks back in the mirror at me is viewed, by me, as an abnormality – a misfit who is unacceptable and, surely, unworthy of love. When I reflect on all the struggles throughout my life and the darkness that has lurked so deep within me, I know the truth is that my weight helps to keep perpetuating the pain and reinforcing the message that I have been running to escape – no one will love me.
This is not a new story for me but, like everything else in my life, it has shifted as my life has evolved. As we work through our challenges and commit to improvements, we have to keep diving deeper to study the roots of our emotional baggage. There are layers of experiences and pain that have resulted in our current selves and, sometimes, what looks to be the source matter is, in fact, just a projection, distracting us from the more painful reality that is out of our reach. My relationship with myself and my journey of self-acceptance has finally led me to here and now I have the space to explore this deep and secluded area of myself. All the work I have done to move past the traumas and deep scarring pain has led me to this place. I know, with certainty, that this is the final frontier and truly the last piece of the puzzle for me. Around the corner, I can see peace and love and acceptance but first I need to confront the darkest core of my soul and unlock the safe where I keep all the shame that plagues me.
Despite all of the unpleasantries that have marked my difficult life, my weight has, hands down, caused me the most pain and has most held me back from being the person I always believed I could be. That simple acknowledgement causes me even more shame and discomfort because it feels like failure. Hiding behind my weight feels like I’m using a lame excuse to cloak and protect myself from the heavy lifting required to live an authentic life. So, when I decided to write this blog, I had to be metaphorically ready to stand in the middle of Times Square, fully naked, with the words “I am fat” tattooed across my stomach. And I had to be comfortable with everything that came along with that. Alright then. Here I stand. And, for the record, I am really not comfortable at all. Give me what you’ve got. I can take it as it is all part of the process.
To be clear, I have travelled a long road to where I am today and I’m confident that I’m close to reaching a destination that feels awfully good but, in order to get through the final leg of this journey and ensure my admittance to the Emerald City, I need to confront the truths of how I got to where I was. I have had to burrow down a bit further to understand the roots of my weight issues. And, most importantly, I have to step out into the light and acknowledge who I have been and who I am becoming today.
I had a deeply traumatic childhood, riddled with emotional abuse and abandonment. Food served as an emotional pacifier for me, providing a salve for my wounds and serving as a stand-in for the love that was so painfully withheld. I can intellectually lay that out on the table and I grieve for that young girl who was so tortured as she sneakily comforted herself with cake and cookies. The most distant element of my battle – the part I struggle to wrap my brain around – is the emotional understanding that would afford me a level of self-acceptance. For me, while the truths behind my addiction to food are abundantly clear, there has been no absorption of this deep in my psyche and I have continued to abuse myself by reinforcing the disappointment and shame. Over the years, I have read stories about people who have lost large amounts of weight, only to swiftly gain the weight back because they never addressed the underlying pain that resulted in them gaining or maintaining their excessive weight. They were incapable of making the mental adjustments necessary to see themselves as anything but the overweight person they were. For me, being fat is what I know. It is, quite frankly, synonymous with me. I cannot imagine a world where I am not a fat person. Yet, for the first time in my 48 years of life, that might be the case.
I have had a private and dysfunctional relationship with food. Food has been my best friend and worst enemy. I am not one of those people who loves to eat but, instead, I eat to soothe. For me, eating has always been a private affair. I would eat late at night or when no one was looking. Even after I was married, I would quietly slip downstairs after my husband was asleep and pour myself a bowl of cereal or fill a large bowl with ice cream and tiptoe back upstairs, eating the food quietly, hoping my husband would not wake up and find me. Or, I would wrap a sleeve of cookies into a napkin and pour a glass of milk, feeling my anxiety and sadness slip away as the sugar made its way into my bloodstream. This was my heroin. I could numb myself standing in the darkness of my nighttime kitchen, flooded by the light of the open refrigerator, shoving leftovers into my mouth, silently hating myself with each bite. I would lay in bed at night thinking only of the food that called out to me from downstairs. I needed to fill the bullet holes left behind from the massive assault I experienced throughout my childhood and young adult years. Food was a bandage that stopped the bleeding but, of course, couldn’t ward off the infection that was inevitable for I never dealt with the underlying disease. What has been hard for me to accept and absorb is that, as I grew older, I was creating more holes by repeating this cycle. No one was hurting me anymore except for me. Food became my drug of choice and my weight became my weapon of choice.
Alarmingly, my food addiction and associated weight issues became a comfortable place and I used them as a way to distance myself from the rest of the world. Despite my desire to have intimacy and close relationships, I spent my life living life on the fringe, withholding myself from others. I could more easily tolerate my disruptive upbringing by letting my weight be what distanced me from the rest of the world. Being fat meant that I lived outside of the mainstream and I didn’t have to address the loneliness left from the abandonment and loss of family. When I struggled with dating when I was younger, I would always blame it on my size. All I could see was an ugly girl who grew into an even uglier woman. I believed what my mother and sister told me for years (as an encouragement to lose weight) that no man would ever date me if I was fat. Instead of looking at my emotional dysfunction, I would focus my disappointment on my weight and neatly distance myself from the realities of having to engage in an emotionally mature relationship. While I can never deny that living outside of the lines of conventional beauty is challenging, I never had the emotional maturity to understand that I had the ability to emanate beauty from a different place and could attract love just as easily as my more traditionally attractive friends. Instead, even when I met my husband, I quickly attempted to pawn him off on my more attractive friends because I never believed he could sustain an attraction or love towards me because I didn’t fit the part. I was really fucked up. Focusing on the fat meant I never needed to zero in on the truths that I was too scared to face which was that I wasn’t sure if I could emotionally endure an intimate relationship with anyone.
“Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of fucking yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the “luxury” of their addiction making them useless, chaotic, or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that’s why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice. All the quietly eating mums. All the KitKats in office drawers. All the unhappy moments, late at night, caught only in the fridge light.”
― Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman
I have often believed that it was some type of miracle that afforded me the opportunity to secure myself a husband and, rather than using that as evidence of my worthiness, my self loathing deepened even more over the years. As a result, I found myself moving further away from a sense of normalcy and deeper into a dark cave of loneliness and depression, padded with humiliation. Over the past 25 years I have gained and lost weight, never achieving any significant results and, like most yo-yo dieters, adding more weight in the end. I would secretly attend Weight Watchers meetings or try fad diets, never admitting to anyone what I was doing. There was some twisted part of me that believed if I never told anyone that I was on a diet, they wouldn’t notice that I needed to be. While all I saw was fat and all I believed that anyone else ever saw was fat, I worked tirelessly to hide it. My life was a costume party with me donning disguises to mask the truth. I think I was the only one I was fooling.
I endured myriad struggles. I could never really shop with my friends. I’d go to stores and pretend that nothing was of interest to me and then secretly shop on my own. I could never admit that I was relegated to the plus size departments. Shame. No one could ever know my size. Shame. Perhaps the most humiliating experience came when I should have felt most beautiful. After I was engaged, my girlfriends wanted to shop with me for my wedding dress and all I could think was how dreadful that seemed. I couldn’t bear them knowing the truth about my size. I was dying on the inside as the seamstress took my measurements and announced to the group that I would need a size 18 dress. There was no place for me to hide and I averted their eyes in fear that they would judge me. It has taken me a long time to understand that my real fear was that they would stop loving me because I secretly believed that my weight was to blame for my family’s lack of acceptance of who I was. So much bigness wrapped up in that small little word. FAT.
When I was pregnant, I struggled to find maternity clothes in my size. I found plus size shops and purchased whatever I could find to fit my rapidly growing body. I was disappointed to not have the cute outfits I saw my friends wearing and tried to create looks that would emulate theirs. During my pregnancies I couldn’t wait until my stomach got so large that there was no question as to whether or not I was just that fat or, in fact, I had a baby in my belly. I never experienced that exuberance of “popping” like so many of my girlfriends did. Well, I knew that I had popped but it was months before anyone could see the protrusion of my uterus beyond my otherwise thick belly.
“We fatties have a bond, dude. It’s like a secret society. We got all kinds of shit you don’t know about. Handshakes, special fat people dances-we got these secret fugging lairs in the center of the earth and we go down there in the middle of the night when all the skinny kids are sleeping and eat cake and friend chicken and shit. Why d’you think Hollis is still sleeping, kafir? Because we were up all night in the secret lair injecting butter frosting into our veins. …A fatty trusts another fatty.
― John Green, An Abundance of Katherines
To further cover myself, I often avoided hanging around other fat people, choosing instead to surround myself with the most attractive people I could find. I had this twisted perception that I would stand out less as the one fat person in the group because I would be overshadowed by all the beautiful people. It felt like I could become invisible in this group. This served to be an even more painful version of torture because it was a constant reminder of how much I was not like those around me. All I focused on was what people looked like and I berated myself for not being able to look “normal.” I moved so far away from the core of who I am and neglected the parts of me that most needed my love. The recording in my mind was repeating hatred and disgust, pushing me further and further down. And, even worse, my existence became even more solitary because I never had anyone with whom to share my struggle. When I was finally ready to confront my truth, I realized that no one around me really understood my challenges or could relate to what I was going through. I had distanced myself from anyone who looked like me and stood alone. No one I knew understood what it meant to have this branding from early in their life. No one shared my identity that was marked by only one characteristic – FAT. When I was finally ready to broach the subject, I didn’t know how to openly discuss my feelings about my size. So, the first time I publicly confronted these emotions was about two years ago in my blog. To an anonymous audience, I revealed the secret truth about how I looked at myself and, for the first time, acknowledged how much my weight influenced how I traveled in the world.
In the beginning of 2011, I hit bottom. I am not sure how much I weighed at the time but I know I had ballooned past 280 lbs. (When I weighed myself for the first time after I started working out, that became my starting point. Yet, I’m fairly certain I hit a mark closer to 300 lbs., which is painful to even acknowledge today). I recognized that something had to change but I was so very lost. I’ve shared before that, sort of by accident, I began a journey of transformation. The universe led me to what I needed right then and I first found a pathway to fitness. At the time, while I had no diagnosable illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension, I could barely walk down the stairs in the morning because of the pain in my knees and my feet. I struggled to get myself out of bed in the morning because even sitting up was difficult and walking up a flight of stairs was overwhelming. I was in denial and frightened about my future. On a drunken dare, I began kickboxing, finding the courage somewhere deep inside me to make myself vulnerable and show up in a way very different than I had ever done before. Fitness and exercise became a fundamental part of my life for the first time ever. But the underlying issues were never addressed. Within a year, I had lost 50 lbs. and started to see myself in a whole new way. My body began morphing into something different but I was still emotionally eating. I was like so many of the people that I read about. And, sure enough, about a year later, after an injury, I was not able to exercise regularly and the weight started piling back on. And within another year, I had gained back 25 lbs. of the weight I had worked so hard to lose. I was free-falling back towards a place I swore I would never return to. After feeling such great accomplishment, I was awash in a new level of embarrassment and disappointment in myself.
Like most of us, I have watched people on television or read magazine articles about people who have managed to have success with extreme weight loss. I’ve always paid attention to these stories looking to identify their secret. What changed for them? How did they finally find the willpower and discipline to change their lives? What I realized is that no one can ever explain the shift that takes place in your brain when you are ready to change your life. It just happens and you know it. And then you have to be ready to endure it. No one rolls out the red carpet for you, enabling you to strut your way to transformation. You don’t reach the end of the line, walking past the black rope in a new body. You trip and fall and get back up and cry and struggle and breakthrough lots of pain. And then, if you have managed to endure all of that and still have the discipline to stay the course, you might actually make it to the other side. In the late winter of 2015, the switch flipped in my head. I can’t exactly say why and I am not sure I will ever truly understand. Perhaps I was simply ready and had found the strength to look at myself for real for the first time. What I do know is that on March 1st I committed myself to being open and honest about the deep pain associated with my relationship with food and my self-loathing and I knew I was ready to really change my life. I started an emotional and physiological cleanse. I chronicled the journey in my blog, publicly sharing my battle with my weight and holding myself accountable to whomever might have been along for the ride. I started unpacking some very heavy bags and couldn’t help but notice the shifts occurring. The heavy weights that had been buried so deeply inside me were starting to melt away and, with them, the fat on the outside of my body disappeared too. After three weeks, I had shed 15 lbs. and, within months, I was down nearly 30. I felt different and began to see glimmers of sunshine that had never made its way to my eyes before. In August, after maintaining my weight for a while, I decided to cleanse again, as if to exorcise any remaining demons. And, another 15 lbs. were gone. And then more. Today, I hit a milestone of 70 lbs. lost. I can actually see the end of this road in sight.
After my first cleanse ended in March, I sat with my best friend and shared small pieces of my struggle with him. It was the first time I had spoken so openly about my weight with him and he listened intently, aware that this was a breakthrough. In all of our deep discussions about the various elements of our lives, we had never touched this and he didn’t dare ask because, instinctively, he knew it was a place I was not ready to visit. This time, I told him that I was ready to tackle my issues head on and was committed to take control of my weight and find a place of self-acceptance, wherever that might be. I knew I would know it when I saw it. About a month ago, I sat in therapy and told my therapist (who, by the way, also acknowledged that I had not been very open about my weight battles) that I no longer feared that I would regain this weight. I implicitly knew that something had shifted inside me. I am no longer hiding. This shit is all out on the table. It doesn’t feel great but I know it is where I need to be.
This transformation process has been rough and emotionally challenging. Seeing my body become something I am not familiar with has been both wonderful and disruptive. I struggle to see what others see and often try to imagine how someone who meets me for the first time perceives me. I don’t think the first thing people see is the fat girl anymore. In fact, while I still have a ways to go before I will stop thinking of myself as overweight (and before the medical charts will stop referring to me as obese), I am not entirely certain that the rest of the world sees me as the fat person I once believed I was. My friend explained to me that he thinks I have rewritten my script so dramatically and have made so many other emotional and internal changes that how I show up is so very different than how my old self did. I am not hiding nor pretending to be someone else. I am living out loud and proudly strutting my peacock feathers. I feel bold and beautiful and, most of all, proud and confident. My arms are jiggly, my belly is saggy, my neck is wrinkly and my thighs will forever touch but I feel so good about myself. After covering my body for years when working out, I am now wearing tank tops and funky bottoms. I am coming out of the shadows and confidently showing up, less concerned about what others see. I want everyone to know my story. I need everyone to know my truth. My wish is that it will help another person come out of hiding and feel comfortable enough to confront their own truth.
And, something really remarkable happened to me last week. While, for most, it will not seem all that amazing or noteworthy, for me it was a truly incredible experience. I was out shopping with a friend and we walked into Banana Republic where I saw a jacket I liked. I tried it on, out in the open of the store, and it fit perfectly. I calmly walked up to the register to get in line to pay and, on the inside, I was doing a victory dance. Right there in the regular people’s department I found a jacket I loved. Just a plain old size Large. That was pretty cool. For the first time I can honestly say that I like being Large.