Like a lot of girls, I started putting on some chub at the onset of puberty. Unlike a lot of girls, the weight continued to pile on. In junior high, I was 5’2” and 185 pounds. I come from a naturally tiny family: multiple members have been rejected from getting health insurance for being underweight. I, on the other hand, am built like a yak herder: legs like tree trunks, wide hips, barrel chest, broad shoulders. And then, to top it off, I was fat. After 12 years of never hearing my parents ever discuss weight or eating habits, suddenly it was all I heard at mealtimes.
I guess it snuck up on me, but at some point I realized that I was profoundly unhappy. Being young and naïve I figured the solution was to find something bad about my life and fix it, and the most obvious problem that I was fat. But part of the fact that I never had to worry about my weight as a child meant that I didn’t really know what to do. Self-control regarding food was not something I’d ever considered having to exercise, and I found I wasn’t very good at it. And so I took what seemed to be the next best route: I started throwing up. And it worked. Marvelously.
When the weight came off, I was left with a woman’s body; I was pretty much fully developed by the time I was 14. Suddenly, instead of being the fat kid I was someone who was accidentally served alcoholic drinks in restaurants and had middle-aged men hitting on me when I would go to the grocery store to buy food I had no intention whatsoever of digesting. At times I would realize how absurd my patterns were. I remember a night when I realized I hadn’t had anything but Diet Pepsi and cigarettes for three days, so I had a few saltines and 40 calories worth of chicken soup. I then threw up, followed by twenty minutes running up and down the stairs just in case. I remember talking to my therapist about how if I started to gain weight again I’d probably have to kill myself before I got fat, because I would rather people think of me as a skinny girl in a coffin than some land-whale lumbering around.
When I got down to 104 pounds, I started to realize I couldn’t keep it up. I was incredibly sick: I had zero energy [and as a consequence of depression and not eating I had already dropped out of high school], was losing my hair, constantly freezing, had throbbing headaches, passed out often, skipped periods, and my resting heart rate was down to about 50 [as opposed to my usual 80something]. I was under medical supervision, but since I drove myself to clinic appointments I simply wouldn’t go when I knew they would hospitalize me. I sometimes only consumed 3,000 calories a month. But I was also Thin: I had ribs, and hipbones, and when I sat on the side of the tub in the shower [because it took too much energy to stand the whole time] I couldn’t make my thighs touch each other no matter how hard I tried. But I could not keep up the vomiting; it was awful. So, after a dalliance with chewing food up and spitting it back out to avoid the step that involved acid, I started working out.
Officially, it was because I quit smoking and, naturally, was afraid of gaining weight. Like my other forms of weight control, the workouts soon became obsessive: I would run on the elliptical for an hour to an hour and a half, lift weights, and walk four to seven miles. Sometimes all three in a day, but no less than a few times each every week. Meanwhile, my eating was still awful: I had started to digest real food sometimes but I almost never had more than 1,000 calories in a day. Sometimes I’d go for days on nothing but baby carrots, diet pills, and a little bit of extra sharp white cheddar when I knew I needed the fat to not fall off the elliptical.
In the end though, it was probably working out that got me to start eating again. The idea that I could control my weight [albeit at around 125 pounds instead of 110] and still get to have food was almost devastatingly wonderful. I missed food so much. After all, I really really love food; that’s how I got fat in the first place.
And now I’ve come full circle: I’m a full-time student and I work, and between the lack of time to exercise and money to buy food that isn’t fast convenient junk, I’m overweight again. Not as bad as before, and I carry it better now, but still overweight. But the big difference is I’m no longer incredibly unhappy. My life is fulfilling, and while there’s always going to be a voice in the back of my head about what I eat or how little I move, I am content. I hope someday I can lose weight again in a healthier manner, but I would rather be fat and happy like I am now than go back to the way things were.
I guess there’s no big lesson to this story; maybe it just helps to get it off my chest. But when I look back, I’m both amazed and incredibly grateful that I came out the other side. I guess not eating for six or seven years can give you that kind of perspective.