I naively thought that as soon as I was out of New York – perhaps as soon as I was on the plane leaving New York – all my troubles would go away. The things that had been weighing heavily upon me mentally and emotionally would dissipate into a thin layer of fog – one more piece of someone to cloud the murky skyline. But of course, that did not happen. Once I was alone in Denver I was faced with myself. As a friend later pointed out to me, I was busy helping take care of other people in New York. Too busy to focus on myself. Here I was, alone, forced to really look at myself, inside and out. I was faced with fears I had buried for survival, and self-hating thoughts. Perhaps the biggest challenge was something that began to surface when I was packing for my trip back in New York. After my last day at work and the frenzy of a quick trip to Virginia and Christmas had died down, I was left to to turn my room into a small storage space. My days were dedicated to inviting friends to hang out while I packed up my room and all I could need for my trip into a hiking bag and waist pack.
My mind wandered to my body. I began to scrutinize every part of me. Back in August I weighed myself at a friend’s house. It was the first time I stepped onto a scale – outside of a doctor’s office – in perhaps ten years. I learned that weighing myself caused me to fixate on the number, obsess over bringing it down. In my younger years, I had done very unhealthy things to lose weight: thrown up and followed a horrific diet that made me lose ten pounds in three days. When I weighed myself in August, I was giving into the temptation to obsess, to know what number I was at, to hopefully disprove my suspicions of weight gain. I discovered I had gained almost twenty pounds in a little over a year. The next few days were a spiral of downward emotions. I had a breakdown and was so angry and disappointed in myself. I told two friends at first who I thought might help offer me some comfort, but I was not made to feel better – rather worse – by their assurances that I looked great. The point was, I didn’t think I looked great, and I felt even worse having known for certain I put on weight.
After feeling myself sink deeply into sadness, I decided to do something I never had. I reached out for help. I wrote out exactly what the issue was, how I was feeling, the despair that encased me. This – my body and my weight – has been a lifelong struggle. I have always been overweight. I have always been treated unkindly and often cruelly because of my weight. This isn’t just about wanting to look a certain way, it’s about wanting to have some sort of control over my emotions, and to not feel so badly about myself. In addition to being a lifelong fat person, I’ve always been an emotional eater. Food has suppressed my anxiety and comforted my depression. It has brought me moments of ease. It still does. Of course, the irony is that food has also greatly contributed to my anxiety and depression, as well as physical ailments.
I have had digestive issues as far back as I can remember. By the summer of 2011 I was so sick that everything I ate practically passed right through me. I soon was eating primarily rice, potatoes, avocados, and bananas. I feared anything else would incapacitate me. Even those foods were not always kind. Finally, after feeling a serious impact on my school, work, and social life, and being told by my general physician I simply had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), I saw a holistic doctor. I was afraid to leave the house most days, for fear I wouldn’t make a short subway ride without needing an emergency bathroom break. The holistic doctor did something called Nutrition Response Testing and told me I had Candida – an overgrowth of yeast in my stomach. I was put on a strict diet of no yeast, no sugar, and nothing fermented (in summary). This was a three week intensive diet that once cleared the Candida would require I keep to it 80% of the time for the rest of my life. Additionally, I was given supplements to help me detox and later probiotics to repair the damage done to my stomach. Due to my illness, I had already lost a significant amount of weight from my inability to eat. The detox caused even more weight to drop. For the first time in years, I did not feel physically sick, and I was admittedly excited about the weight loss. I could finally fit into clothes I liked. I could shop in the not plus sized section. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying being plus sized is bad, I am saying that I felt excited about how I looked and what it meant in terms of my shopping. I am fully admitting that I liked being smaller.
I also began to notice a shift in my mental and emotional states. I realized that gluten made me sluggish and depressed. Dairy and caffeine made me anxious. It was amazing to finally make connections between what I ate and how I felt – physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically. The thing about being an emotional eater is that I was never really aware of what I had eaten. If I was asked at the end of the day what I had eaten, I couldn’t remember most of the time. I ate to push emotions down, to cover feelings, to hide myself deep down inside. For at least five months I stuck strictly to the Candida diet. Once I began to eat outside of it, I slowly felt more and more that I could eat whatever I wanted without getting sick. It’s a funny thing, my stomach still gets upset from time to time, and I can’t help but momentarily panic that I am sick all over again. I found that mental health was just as important to treat in conjunction with my physical health. I was already seeing a therapist, but I needed to talk about these issues specifically and draw more connections between all the aspects of me.
The thing about weight is, no one really wants to talk about it. Yes, I could discuss it with my doctor and therapist, but weight and body image conversations still border on taboo. It took me years to even broach the subject with my therapist, mostly because I didn’t want to acknowledge that my weight was in any way contributing to my states of anxiety and depression. And most of the time, I didn’t even think about it. I learned to not think about my weight. My residual self image was so far removed from my actual body – I so often thought of myself as much smaller than I was. It was a sort of way to cope with my actual size. I found that I was getting a lot of compliments on my weight loss, never mind it was all due to sickness. But it got to a point where some people expressed concern, and specifically about how much I talked about diet. I suddenly felt I needed to keep my mouth shut about my diet and weight. It was so central to my life at this point, and having never been thin, it was all new to me. I needed to talk about it. I had this new body and felt lonely in it. As with so many things in my life, I learned to bury what I was feeling. And so, as addicts do, I returned to food. My occasional strays from the diet became daily acts of consumption. I kept telling myself that I could get back to a healthy diet, that one meal a day with something unhealthy wasn’t bad, and then two meals a day, then maybe three, snacks. I began to wonder if in order for me to succeed at healthy eating habits, I would need to completely cut junk out.
I have an ability to maintain focus and follow strict rules, but once I falter, I lose sight of myself and my goals. It’s not only with food, but with food it’s the most difficult. So much of my day is me thinking about what I will eat, and what I will eat based on where I am going and what I am doing, and what will I eat for the next few days and how much will I eat. Food consumes me as much, if not more so, as I consume it. In order to be able to heal from this body hatred and to move forward in a healthy fashion, I need to be open and honest about the role(s) food plays in my life. I need to learn to love myself, to truly love the body that I have, no matter its state. And at the same time, I need and want to work on my relationship with food.
I could write so much more about this. I could write essay upon essay about the impact weight and food have had on my life. I am going to take a break here because even opening up – despite being helpful – brings so much focus to the issue that I need to step back and not fixate and obsess.