As a small child, I didn’t struggle with weight. Thanks to a fast metabolism and rambunctious activity, I was pretty trim. But my family didn’t exactly make healthy choices. I was the product of a household that had bottles of soda delivered to the door. We ate fast food frequently and although we had healthy homemade meals, too, we were always overly stocked in the snack department. Making matters worse, we were rarely active.
By the time I was in the fourth-grade, I was starting to get “chubby.” I first realized this when the brother of a classmate hurled the insult my way after he got caught trying to molest me. As if dealing with the shame from his attempted assault wasn’t enough, I now had new questions plaguing my mind. I began studying myself in the mirror. Was I fat? I asked my family for constant affirmation. “Of course not!” They always replied. “You’re beautiful.” Despite their validation, the seeds of doubt had been planted. For a while I was able to keep them at bay, but by fifth grade, it was all my mind fixated on.
I kept asking myself how this could have happened? I always had fit in with the “pretty” girls and in my early days of elementary school, I was the object of a playground love triangle with two crushes both vying for my attention. And then there was that boy who had tried to hurt me in the previous year. In spite of his proclamation that he would never actually want me, his actions had demonstrated that he surely had some interest in me, right?* So, where had I gone wrong? Dealing with the insecurity about my weight seemed more than I could tackle at the time, so I employed one of the oldest tricks in the books for young girls: I developed disordered eating.*
I began “forgetting” my lunch at home. I also started skipping breakfast. I told myself I was a failure every time I took a bite of something. I said I was a loser if I couldn’t starve. I avoided teachers who I feared would ask where my lunch was. Inevitably, around 3:00pm every day, my hunger would get the best of me. After coming home from school, I’d binge on soda, sweets, and processed food. Occasionally, I would chew food just to enjoy the taste, but spit it out before swallowing. More often than not, I allowed myself to digest until I felt sick. That was my pattern for years.
By high school, those patterns had persisted, but I picked up more along the way. After a ninth grade math teacher decided to weigh everyone as part of an activity (which I dodged by feigning sickness), I decided it was time to ask my mother to buy me a scale, so I could monitor things myself. It was around this age that she told me her sister had suffered from anorexia. Apparently, my aunt had also been overweight and then starved herself so badly that doctors thought she had become infertile. Reluctantly though, my mother bought me the scale and for the next three and a half years, I secretly weighed myself an average of 7-8 times a day… In the morning with an empty stomach. After coming home and binging. A few hours later. Before dinner. After dinner. A few hours after that. After a bath. In the middle of the night. Once more in the middle of the night just to make sure. As you might imagine, these behaviours just resulted in more weight gain and continued the cycle of dysfunction and self-abuse.
I continued to skip meals and when my friends questioned me, I made up a fake medical reason and told them I was rarely hungry despite being so heavy (yes, I really told that lie). I always declined offers to go anywhere where my body could look the least bit unflattering. Bowling? Ha! As if I was going to bend over in a compromising position. Shopping? No way was anyone going to watch me struggle. Going to an amusement park? Um, how big was too big to ride a roller coaster… no thanks, busy! As I write this now, I see in retrospect how sad this was. In all honesty, I was happy in many ways, too, but I was also the girl who spent my entire high school experience refusing to eat in front of friends, or go anywhere where my shame would be on display.
Finally, I was hit with a turning point in senior year. My mother was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. In my effort to support her, I made very gradual decisions to alter my own life habits. I wasn’t even thinking about weight anymore. I just wanted to help my mom and prevent myself from getting the same disease. So, I started by cutting out soda and I began eating breakfast, which made me feel a bit more fuelled. I wasn’t perfect. The breakfast was simply some eggs with toast and I still had diet pop to fill my craving without the sugar; it was just my way of beginning to wean off of my addictions. Nonetheless, those two small and imperfect decisions started something. Weight began to drop without me obsessing. Next, I decided to give up my favourite fast food chain and I stopped eating after 7pm. Long before “intermittent fasting” became trendy, I had the idea that going to bed full may not be great for me. So that also minimized my binging. Before I knew it, I was safety-pinning my school uniform together because it wouldn’t stay on my body. Yet, I still didn’t really accept that my appearance was changing. I saw myself the same. My mind told me I was still fat. So I continued to shroud myself in slimming black clothes, avoid doctors who might deliver scary news, and hide from every group photo if I could help it.
In university, I finally began to realize it. Between clothes no longer being salvageable and my brother’s expletive-filled: “Where did you go?” I knew something was up. I found what few pictures I had lingering around from high school and I compared them to present-day pictures. I definitely saw a difference, so I weighed myself again after having taken a break from the scale. In a year and a half between the ages of 17-19, I had dropped 60 lbs.
That transformation was a lot to process, but everyone around me wanted answers. I was getting messages from girls on Facebook – girls who I had once wanted so desperately to look like. It seems they were struggling too and in want of my “secret”. At a birthday party, a young woman told me her boyfriend had shown her my pictures on Facebook. Apparently I was a topic of conversation in their relationship, and she wanted advice on how to slim down in a healthy way. I was complimented, but couldn’t talk about my progress because I hadn’t sat with myself and consciously examined all the steps I had taken over time. Questions continued and soon morphed into “how have you kept it off? Most people gain it back, you know.” I also began to receive more male attention around this time. Guys were telling me that I looked good and while a part of me defaulted to dismissing it, something within me thought they were being sincere. Maybe I wasn’t ugly. Maybe I wasn’t exactly “fat” anymore. Maybe the narrative first fed to me at 9 from my failed molester wasn’t the way all men would view me for eternity.
I then spent my young adulthood doing things I never thought I would. With a lot of fear, I did things I avoided during my teenage years and I began to appreciate my body for what it could do for me. I saw it for something greater than I ever had before. I wanted to treat it with respect by making healthy choices not just because I expected it to look a certain way, but because I wanted to thank it for literally carrying me through and refusing to give up on me even when I treated it horribly and spoke to it even worse. And treating it with respect is exactly what I started doing. With each passing month and year, I continued integrating more vegetables and fruits, I used diet soda as a “once in the while” treat, I listened to podcasts and read up on health and wellness.
So, here I sit in my thirties with the weight loss advice I have been so often asked for. It isn’t revolutionary, but even just doing a couple can help if you’re stuck:
- Drink water – lots!
- Sleep – don’t underestimate rest. At my heaviest weight, I was also usually running on 3-4 hours of sleep each night and so much restoration happens during that necessary period.
- Eat smaller portions – humans have become conditioned now to go for excess. Eating smaller quantities, but all throughout the day, can make you feel sustained and more observant to your hunger cues. (Although I’m not fully a proponent of “intuitive eating,” there are some principles I support.)
- Have a diet filled with healthy fats, protein, and fiber.
- Don’t deprive yourself. I have a sweet tooth, but now usually opt for fruit or dark chocolate. At restaurants, I usually order miniature versions of bigger desserts, or share the full-size one with company.
- Avoid alcohol (or keep intake low). I have red wine occasionally if I think it pairs well with something. But since alcohol converts to sugar, moderation goes a long way.
- Get in daily activity – even a walk.
- Meditate/reflect on your triggers, pain points, and successes.
- Know that weight will fluctuate, so don’t weigh yourself daily; it’s not a good measurement that way.
- Don’t miss out on life. By taking part in life, you’ll probably achieve your aim anyway as a natural byproduct of truly living.
- Don’t go for quick. Go for sustainable. It took years to get comfortable with all the foods I am now, and even more years to get in regular movement. But the result is that I am now nearly 80 lbs lower than my heaviest weight.
- Change your perspective about food. Although it can be for convenience or celebration, it’s really for sustenance and fuel. It’s also not something to be at war against; if you have a day where you eat something that isn’t ideal, it’s okay. You can make space for being imperfect. Sometimes, maybe it is fun to have a slice of cake all to yourself without being too in your head; that can lead to a whole other eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is marked by an obsession with “clean eating”. The trick is really in being mindful (not consumed), so that you know why you’re eating what you are and what your main habits should be.
- Love yourself.
That last one is especially crucial. Changing yourself from a place of love is so much more empowering than when you hate yourself. I mean, the fact that when I was negative and hateful, my habits were equally destructive is no coincidence. It was only when I decided to get healthy instead of just smaller that my body began to change. And that self-love became more necessary after I shed the weight. To this day, I have people who deem it appropriate to weigh in (no pun intended). I’m told that my collar bone protrudes too much now and looks a bit “ sickly;” I have people check-in whenever they notice I pass on a meal, as if I require an emergency intervention; I’ve been told that my very act of weight-loss was anti-feminist and that I should educate myself on how to say “F*** you” to conventional beauty standards. On the opposite side, I have people who inquire about my next body goal. They want to know if I plan to “reward” myself with a little nip/tuck to “perfect” things. Either way, people will continue to come at you with varying intentions. Some will express genuine concern for your wellbeing and others may not love to see you change, or they may want you to adopt whatever their goals would be. For that reason, you need to have thick skin and feel right with yourself and your trajectory, while still being open to hearing from those who you feel do actually care.
All in all, I have learned that while I am certainly no athlete, wellness on all levels is important to me. Although it would be easy to seek out people who promote “fat acceptance,” I know first-hand (and from my aunt’s experience) that you do need to have a balanced lifestyle and a healthy body weight that is neither too small, nor too big – but you can still love yourself during that process of transformation. In fact, the people who love themselves the most are most likely to change. I’ve also learned you have to take accountability for your life. You might come from a family like mine that didn’t always model good behaviour, but you have the power to make new decisions and break cycles. Finally, I’ve learned that the body is an awesome thing. It is built to recover and heal, but not everyone is blessed with one that can function quite the same way. So, when you make that choice to do something as simple as go for a walk, you’re not only treating yourself with respect, but you’re showing gratitude to God/the Universe/Source (whatever) for being able to do something that many people would hope to be able to do; something we should not take for granted. On that note, there is a beautiful spoken word poem by Shane Koyczan called The Crickets Have Arthritis. When I feel like I’m treating my body poorly, I think about his recitation, in which he details sharing a hospital room with a little boy who has cancer. He says, “I’m trying so hard not to remind him I’ll be out of here in a couple days, smoking cigarettes and taking my life for granted. And he’ll still be planted in this bed like a flower that refuses to grow.” That gets me… I go into tears and gratitude overdrive. It makes me go for a different type of walk.
With respect to my lessons, I could go on… but since this post already became an unintentional essay, I’ll leave you with some pictures that detail the physical changes and the psychological ones as well:
This was me at my heaviest. You can really see the discontent in my face at needing to be pictured.
In the second picture, I was very deliberately hiding my arm behind my body because I thought it made me look smaller. Also, you can see an untouched crepe on the plate before me because I didn’t want to eat with anyone around me.
Here’s a more recent selfie… not much to report. I look happier and I wear colour sometimes now!
Taken this past summer, here I am jokingly showing off a tennis racket and purple kicks. However, looking this picture over, I see two noteworthy things. #1 the racket as a symbol of trying new things. Whether it was teaching myself to ride a bicycle, saying “yes” to bowling with friends, or attempting to try and hit a ball with a racket, I can appreciate that a younger version of myself would never have tried any such things out of a fear of failing. #2, no matter the temperature, past-me always would’ve been fully covered. With time, I’ve come to realize that skirts are sometimes more comfortable, so despite my lingering self-criticisms, I dress appropriately for the weather or activity these days.
As for the in-between, I thought I’d share some pivotal images as well.
This was taken shortly after starting University. Despite having lost 60 lbs and buying a whole new wardrobe that I felt good about, almost all items were still black – not a stylistic preference, but just because I was still hiding. On the day this picture was taken, a boy in my Intro to Christianity class asked me out and I remember feeling scared – so scared that I declined the date because I was still feeling unsure about myself.
In 2012(ish), I finally agreed to go to an amusement park! However, my fears of being humiliated made me dress up in layers of clothing (still hiding). I was convinced that I was still so large that I would be a spectacle at the park…I think this image is a good reminder how awful our minds can be to us. The reality is that I certainly was not “that big” anymore and the day itself proved to be a blast with no embarrassing episodes.
This was taken this year with Be Human, Not a Zombie creator, Pawel. The 2008 version of myself probably wouldn’t have befriended Pawel. I would have seen him as an athlete, and myself as a fat girl. But, one more thing I’ve learned in this process of continuing evolution is that much like the Buddhist adage encourages, you really do have to “die before you die”… the labels that we create for ourselves aren’t real. When all is said and done, we aren’t defined by our track histories of victories or losses on a tennis court, or the number on a scale. These external things are parts of who we are and they do have some value to the qualities of our lives on this Earth, which is why I wrote this whole post… But the real takeaway here is that our labels can always be deconstructed, broken down, and ultimately, we can be made new – only to be broken down and made new all over again.
With that, I leave you. In truth, I’m not special. I’m really just a girl who lost some weight. We’re all stumbling together as humans here, every day, in a million ways.
*intentionally used the phrase “disordered eating” instead of “eating disorder.” Previous psychological resources would likely have claimed that I had something referred to as “Eating Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).” This was characterized by having a mixture of symptoms from a variety of EDs, as opposed to being diagnosed with one. For instance, I didn’t meet the criteria for anorexia or bulimia, but some of my habits were aligned with those diagnoses.
*just wanted to add a footnote here that as an adult, I recognize that abuse is not a reflection on a victim’s appearance, but rather an abuse of power and trust.