I live with a lot of disordered thoughts. Some of those have to do with the world around me, some about how I interact with other people, and some are beliefs I hold about myself. Sometimes, the latter are the hardest to deal with because there’s no escaping them. Circumstances and people around me have the capacity to change and evolve, but I’ve held some very strict opinions of myself for as long as I can remember.
One of those, is that I am inherently unattractive because of my fat body. I have lived as a fat person practically my whole life. It started when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I went from average to pudgy in my earliest years of school. Other kids called me the ‘human garbage disposal’ as I dipped my chunky little hands into their snack sized chips when offered, happy to consume anything the other children didn’t want from their lunchbox. Muesli Bars, a spare orange Prima, sugar dusted lollies, I ate it all. I wasn’t really hungry, mostly envious and indulgent. Food made me feel good.
My lunches generally consisted of a banana and a multigrain sandwich filled with tin spaghetti, cut into quarters and stuffed into an old bread bag. I would tote the banana around until it was black and slimy and rotting amongst school newsletters in my foul smelling maroon bag until my Dad would notice, and make me present the bag to him on the kitchen table for him to clean out in disgust. That’s where most of my lunches ended up, at the bottom of my school backpack. Instead, I would hover around other kids with more appealing looking lunches like a seagull on a hot chip. I begrudged the visually appealing lunches, the crisp white bread ham and lettuce sandwiches that other children freed from their starched wax paper casings, and their tiny snack size packets of Samboy’s or Tiny Teddies. When my parents could spare a few dollars, I lived for the simple pleasure of a lunch order -2 Party Pies with Sauce , 2 Steamed Dim Sims and a small strawberry Big M (Please). I can still remember the scent of hot pies steaming in paper bags and the the aroma of home brand Tomato Sauce that would arrive in the classroom every lunch hour.
The heavier I got, the less desire I had to involve myself in Phys Ed. Truth be told, I’ve never been much of an athlete but what desire I did have was beaten out of my by the verbal berating I’d receive from the other kids, who thought the sight of a fat girl running was comedy at it’s finest. I was consistently last in school yard picks for teams in P.E. class. Nobody wanted the fat girl in budget Aerosports sneakers on their team.
“Run, fatty boombah! Run!” they’d cheer mockingly as I took my eventual turn in relays. The kids at the other end beside themselves with anger as I fell further and further behind my opponent. “Good one, Fatso!” they’d seethe under their breath as I took my place in the line, having put them last in the race. Once, as the year level performed morning aerobics in the quadrangle, I heard some girls behind me tittering and giggling about my body as I attempted to stretch and perform with grace. “God, she’s so fat!” they quipped with disgust amongst each other. Tired of their unending commentary, I turned around and kicked the leader of the pack square in the shins with my Grosby. She cried, and I got into trouble and had to perform yard duty as penance, picking up trash in the quadrangle. Every year, my school uniform would get a little tighter. Growing up, it made perfect sense to me that the size of one’s dress should coincide with their chronological age. It didn’t occur to me that it should mean I had to stop growing exponentially in accordance with my frocks.
By High School’s beginning at age 12, I was a ladies size 14. The following year, oversized coloured jeans like Cross Colours were all the rage. Desperate to fit in, I searched everywhere for a cheap knock off pair of my own. Eventually I found a pair of Kermit green jeans at the local mall, but on my body, they lacked the oversized element that made them so ‘cool’. On me, they were tight just jeans that made me look like an overweight frog.
I detested P.E. class, not only because it showcased my complete lack of physical ability, and left me winded, but because it concluded with nuding up and showering with 28 other girls. My humiliation was only compounded the days we were forced to do a weigh in. I’d step on to the ancient scales clumsily, looking straight through the teacher as she tutted under her breathe and tallied up my BMI. I’d feel my face flush with embarrassment and shame under her scrutiny.
At 17, I ran away from home to live with my boyfriend in the country. It was a bad move. I was homesick and in a bad state mentally. I ate to comfort myself through my Depression and gained somewhere in the vicinity of 30kg in the months I was gone. Years later, my mum would go on to tell me I looked unrecognizable when I returned home, crossing the line from chunky to just plain fat. Over the next decade, my weight would fluctuate with my yo-yoing mental health. In my late 20’s, I began suffering from Gallstones. In addition to crippling pain, it left me unable to keep anything I ate down. Everything I ate, came right back up. I was constantly in the bathroom being sick. Sometimes, upwards of 20 times a day. Over the next 12 months, I would come to lose sixty odd kilograms. It was the first time in my entire life, that I was actually close to resembling an ‘average’ person without a weight issue. I was still voluptuous but I was back to the weight I’d been as a pubescent teenager. I was finally physically acceptable in the eyes of the people around me. People commented endlessly about how good I looked, and how much better I must feel. I resented hearing such compliments. The truth was, that I was disgustingly sick. I didn’t feel better, I just felt more aware and self conscious of my body than ever before.
Even after surgery to remove my gallbladder, I was still unable to properly digest food. Every time someone commented on my new figure, I felt a strange simultaneous dichotomy of pride and disgust. I was at war with my new body, physically and emotionally. In my head, I still saw myself as much larger than I actually was and I had difficulty recognizing myself in the mirror. I was covered in loose, sagging skin that was obvious when I was naked, but when I was clothed I had all the appearances of someone who’d worked hard to achieve a new, socially acceptable body. All of a sudden, I could pick clothing off the rack. I wasn’t relegated to the plus size section or laughed out of the store anymore. Cute salesgirls addressed me like an actual customer. Nobody looked twice at what was in my shopping basket. Men who had previously dismissed the idea of dating me appeared from out of the woodwork, telling me how suddenly beautiful I was to them now. It didn’t take me long to equate my shrinking body with acceptance and praise.
As my gut healed from illness, it began to cease bringing up the food I’d eaten. I was no longer in a constant state of nausea. I began to feel an insatiable hunger, like my body wanted every piece of food it had dismissed for the last 18 months. My stomach growled for sustenance. I was now faced with eating relatively normally again, but still attempting to maintain the smaller frame I’d found myself in. I tried desperately to diet, counting every calorie and reading the nutritional guide of every item that went in my trolley at the supermarket. But everything I ate made me gain weight. It was like my body had literally been in starvation mode, and now that it had a reasonably regular intake again, it was holding on to to every gram of fat and carbohydrate I could provide it for dear life. I’d grown so accustomed to the ache of emptiness inside me, that I hated feeling satiated. Feeling full was uncomfortable physically, and the prospect of regaining the weight was even more uncomfortable mentally. It started with chewing my food, but spitting it out before I swallowed it. I figured it was a way I could indulge in all my favourite foods without any of the discomfort it brought me when I digested it. It didn’t seem odd or strange to me at the time. It didn’t take long for me to become sloppy and lazy, scarfing down the occasional morsel that was just too delectable to spit out. It began to dawn on me, that if vomiting was a good enough way to lose the initial weight, it stood to reason that it would help me maintain. And so I began to consume the foods I’d missed previously. And when I began to feel that sense of discomfort, I’d purge myself of everything until I felt empty again. For quite a while, it was after every meal I ate. I’d chase all my meals with litre bottles of water and disappear to the bathroom with my toothbrush tucked into my waistband or up my sleeve, for twenty minutes at a time. Some days, I would just gorge on take away for all three meals. Other days, I’d subsist on a single cup of chicken noodle soup. Any weight I lost from the days I only grazed was undone by the binging I was doing. Soon, it didn’t seem to matter what I put into or evacuated from my body, I kept gaining. As the scale went up, my binging and purging became more erratic. As I lost control of the weight gain, I found relief my after purging grew too. It became a go-to way to instantly rid myself of the guilt and shame I felt after eating. Eventually it solidified itself as a means of purging all the bad feelings and anxiety I had inside me, and less to do with weight maintenance. I began to regain the weight I’d lost fairly rapidly. By the time I realized it wasn’t an effective dieting tool, it was too late. I’d already found how much I lusted after the feeling of reprieve it gave me from the absolute lack of control I felt in all areas of my life.
It took me quite a long time to bring up this coping habit with my Psychiatrist. I’d never heard of an obese bulimic, but he assured me it happens. I began to consider the relationship I’d had with food all my life. It’s never been a healthy symbiosis. It’s always been disordered in some way. Either too much, or not enough. For comfort, or to inflict pain on myself. These days are no exception. I recently went on diet to lose the weight I’d gained on my antipsychotics last year. I was consuming as little as 450 calories some days. I rapidly lost the 25kg the medication helped me stack on, but within a matter of months I’d put back on 10kg. Today I ate 2 packets of M&M’s and drank a litre of sugar free lemonade. The reason I wrote this was to prevent myself from going to the bathroom to purge. A long, wordy distraction from an inefficient and fucked up coping mechanism. I’m getting better at fighting the urge, but I won’t lie, at times it gets the better of me. I really need to work towards finding a healthier balance between what’s good for me and what just plain feels good. It might not be what’s most appealing in the mirror, but what will keep me well physically and mentally.