Losing weight and liking myself have been linked in my mind since I hit puberty at the tender age of 11. As a barely chubby and really just curvy girl of 15 I wouldn’t ride on roller coasters that went upside-down because I thought I would break them. I’d be racing along and over a bend and my weight would snap the bar and straps and I’d go plunging to my death. It didn’t matter that all the grown men on the ride were heavier. I was going to cause the disaster. I was going to die because I was just so fat. I’ve always seen myself as bigger. At 140 pounds I felt I looked like 300 pounds and somewhere along the way I actually became 300 pounds. Then I became more than 300 pounds. Part of that is from eating like a 300 pound person. I can eat a lot. Yay, I’m vegetarian and eat a lot of tofu, kale, and organic fruit. But I also love cheese, ice cream, bread, pizza, donuts, and french fries. Not just a donut here and there. Two or three or maybe more. To be “nice” to myself or to relax after a bad day or to reward a milestone or to celebrate I will eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Crunch Ice Cream. When I fail at eating healthily and in reasonable amounts I don’t just eat a little bit bad. Why get a small french fry? If I am ugly, stupid, fat, worthless, sloppy, disgusting, repulsive and embarrassing why not go for the large fry and add a large chocolate milk shake? I tell myself, “why bother with controlling myself when I fuck things up every day?”
In the spring of 2003 I was hospitalized for two weeks after a suicide attempt (I was in one hospital of 72 hours, out for a week, and then back at a bigger hospital). I suffered from clinical depression and PTSD. My psychiatrist maintains that I am Bipolar, but I disagree with that diagnosis. What was truly surprising was my diagnosis of compulsive eating disorder. Here is what a compulsive eating disorder feels like:
You feel you eat enough, but you can’t stop eating. However much you eat, you keep on having more. At times, it feels as if you have been taken over by someone else, and you can feel physically bad and very guilty when you stop but you do it again anyway.
You might make promises to stop, but, whatever triggers you, starts it off all over again and you feel out of control. You try to diet and you can’t even get started, or you may lose weight, only to put it all on again and even more. You have probably tried lots of diets but you may be fatter than ever.
It seems like an unending cycle of eating, remorse, dieting and overeating again. You feel very ashamed of your eating habits and so you may eat a lot in secret. You can’t make sense of what you do. You long to eat normally like everybody else, just take food or leave it. But it’s never enough. (source here)
So there I was, in an Atlanta-based mental hospital in a women’s ward that specializes in eating disorders. I was the only fat girl. Around me were anorectics and bulimics. One girl had to be rushed to the hospital because her kidneys were shutting down from abusing laxatives. A few were in wheelchairs and recently had feeding tubes removed. I saw bulimics with the uncanny ability to puke silently. They just opened their mouths and quietly spilled out so much silent shame. We had to leave bathroom doors open and couldn’t be alone after meals. No outside food was allowed and we had to each fill out sheets indicating what we ate and how we were feeling. Snacks occurred at regular times. Snacks in lovely portions that would send me into a panic because I couldn’t have more. The bulimics couldn’t throw-up in secret, but that also meant I couldn’t eat in secret. On Tuesdays we had a challenge day. The anorexic women had to eat ONE bite of chocolate cake (oh how they cried!), the bulimic women had to eat ONLY ONE bite of chocolate cake and not throw it up (oh how they cried!) and I had to eat ONE bite of chocolate cake and not eat the rest (and oh how I cried).
I didn’t feel out of place among the emaciated. Half of them thought they looked 356 pounds and the other half cowered in abject horror that a cracker would send their 80-pound frame hurtling towards my doughy, fleshy size. We had lots in common. Every last one of us had either been raped, physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected. Maybe our lack of eating or eating too much was a twisted way of making our bodies our own again, of controlling things we could, or making people not look at us as sexual beings to be consumed and owned. The abusive man who raped me when he was drunk was very happy I was fat. If I ate something healthy he would get angry. He would go to the store and buy junk food. He told me losing weight meant I was trying to “cheat” on him. He wanted me fat so no one would look at me. As long as I was fat and ugly I was his. When he wasn’t drunk he could be really nice and I felt so honored that someone would be willing to go out with me. Despite my horrific weight (at the time I was right around 200 pounds) someone would consent to be with me. Then I realized the bigger I was the less it hurt when he abused me. It is harder to forcibly spread one’s legs when you have large, hefty thighs. When some one is spitting out a string of curse words and calling you a fat slut it is helpful to have a wide expanse of stomach and breast between you and he; you get less saliva and beer breath stench and it makes it so much easier to disassociate.
But I digress. The point is I was fat. Really fat. And unhappy and I hated myself. The nutritionist, therapist, and psychiatrist were in agreement on one thing:
I should never diet. Ever.
As my psychiatrist said: “drink water, go for a walk, and eat until you’re full.” He also said that I could very easily swing the other way and become bulimic. In fact, at one point I ate so much I would throw up without trying.
My problem wasn’t purely about food. It was about depression, control, self-loathing, and safety and it was all wrapped up with a giant “prone to addiction” bow.
When I got out of the hospital I did as the doctor ordered and very slowly, very very slowly the weight started to come off. Between college graduation in 2004 and June of 2008 I lost 108 pounds. I was down to 248 pounds. I lost the weight gradually at a barely perceptible 25 to 30 pounds a year.
Then I started to gain weight how most people gain weight. I started dating. We went out to eat, we snacked while watching TV, we got married and I started cooking home cooked meals instead of the simple meals I ate when it was just me and Hope. I got pregnant. I got big. I lost a little and got pregnant again. I had her and now here we are. I’ve gained back up to 305 pounds. 57 pounds heavier.
And I hate myself. I can try to intellectualize and say I want to lose weight for my health. I can say it has nothing to do with body image and everything to do with making sure I live a long life for my kids. This is all mostly bullshit. I want to feel pretty. I want to wear what I want. I want to not have sores on my thighs from my legs rubbing together. I want to know what it is like to be calm with someone looking at me. I want to be okay with sleeping with my husband. There we go; there’s a TMI. I no longer want to have sex with my husband. I don’t want anyone to see me in my clothes, so I certainly don’t want my husband to see me naked. I should also point out that I know Sam thinks I am beautiful. He loves my thighs, and hips, and butt and EVEN MY STOMACH. He loves my stomach. He is sexually attracted me at 248 and at 305 and he will be sexually attracted to me at 145 and at 400 (he certainly didn’t mind how big I was when I was pregnant). He loves me … all of me. My hang up is I don’t love myself even a little bit. When we go out I think about how handsome he is and I feel worthless. I don’t deserve someone so personable, and handsome, and talented. At the same time I KNOW THAT I DO. I’m smart, I’m creative, I’m a good mom, etc… and I can tell myself these things until I’m blue in the face, but it doesn’t matter until I learn to love my body.
Ultimately, until I learn to honor, appreciate and cherish every dimple, dent, and roll I will not lose weight and I will not be healthy. It just isn’t going to happen. I have to love ME even if I never get to ONEderland. I must appreciate the body I am in. When I love myself I won’t need to eat Ben and Jerry’s to feel better, I won’t want to cram myself with food to stuff up the feelings of loneliness and hatred, I’ll be actually tasting my food and not in a panic to scarf it all down. Even if I don’t lose a single fucking pound I will be healthier. Yes, there are health risks to being 300 pounds. Suicide and depression are actually health risks as well and if we wanted to go by my health file I’m more likely to die of suicide or drug addiction. Once you have a suicide attempt and four psychiatric hospitalizations under your belt and a year and a half of meth use mental health becomes far more important than creaking knees, high cholesterol, or midsection fat.
I’ve completely changed the way I think about my body and my health in the past few days. I may log my food intake, but only as a way to keep binge tendencies at bay. I spent a portion of my tax return on clothes. Nice clothes. I haven’t bought nice clothes in a while because I was waiting to lose weight. As I type this I’m at work (on my lunch hour) wearing new black slacks, a black tee with chiffon insets, an antique necklace I wore at my wedding, earrings, cute shoes, and I’m wearing makeup. I feel pretty. I feel like I might kinda like me right now.
I completely didn’t intend to write all of this. I meant to write about dieting and how I’m going to embrace healthy eating and then mention my new clothes. As I began to write this all came flooding out of me. Shame. The shame of being fat. And hope. Hope for learning to love myself like my friends and family love me.