It’s Okay To Be Fat

Holy emotions! I may have had a mini breakdown (break through??) after listening to this TEDx Talk!

At first I just felt upset after watching and I couldn’t understand why, then a bunch of memories started coming up as I started thinking about the message “It’s ok to be fat.” Here they are:

1. My habit of binge/secret eating began sometime in elementary school, probably as early as 7-8 years old because my mother started counting the Weight Watcher points of my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (low-fat peanut butter on low-fat whole wheat bread, in case you were wondering. “Yuck” doesn’t even do it justice). The more food restriction that was forced on me, the more I had to sneak food to feel satisfied.

2. My pediatrician (who I hated) told me every single year at my physical to lose weight. This, despite my blood work always being normal. This, despite always participating in my town’s team sports like basketball and softball. This, despite being a kid who loved fruit and vegetables, never drank soda, and lived in a house where junk food was a rare find. This, despite never actually needing to go to the doctor other than a yearly physical. In short, my health was fine.

3. My high school tennis coach, of a junior varsity team where I was put on first doubles and was called up to varsity whenever a player was sick, repeatedly told me to lose weight. I played for three years before quitting in my senior year of high school, not wanting to return to a team having failed their only request of me. This was also the year that I quit a lot of clubs that I was in, starting drinking more and more at parties, and took binge eating to a whole new level having the advantage of my license and a car.

4. I did, however, become a lifeguard during my senior year of high school. I loved swimming and loved going to the Y and swimming laps in preparation for the test. Following getting my certifications, I would go back to the Y to swim in secret, lying to my parents about where I was because I didn’t want to be a part of the inevitable conversations that would follow about how great swimming was for weight loss. I just wanted to enjoy my secret gym visits without wondering how it would affect the size of my waist.

5. When I got my first “real” job after college as a reporter for a weekly paper, one of the first things my mom asked me was if I was going to join Weight Watchers now that I had some money coming in. I remember feeling so much anger and hurt in that moment, and it comes back immediately when I think of that conversation.

Now, in my mid-20s, I mourn for my past.

The people in my life as I was growing up treated me with concern for my health because I was fat, not because my health was poor, and all I heard and felt was that there was something wrong with me, and that became deeply internalized.

Binge eating (and later binge drinking) became a way to escape those feelings, until it just became a way of life. I had all the habits of a healthy kid and teen, yet was gaining weight at an alarming rate because eating was the only thing that felt safe. There was joy when I ate, a fleeting feeling that I was okay.

I wish so much now that someone had just told me that I was okay. That there was nothing wrong with me. It felt as though everything in my life was tied to my weight, or rather my failure to lose weight, so it shouldn’t surprise me now that I still feel that way. I’m working against a lifetime of influence. It’s going to take time.

A large part of my weight loss has been letting that go. For too long, I held on to resentment toward my parents, my doctors, coaches, and other people in my life who focused on my weight and my failure to lose weight.

I am lucky that I did not internalize this outside view of my body and health to the point that many girls do, and have a more serious eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. When I went to college, I found out most women at some point have tried to starve themselves or tried to throw up and I had done neither. You have no idea how blessed I feel that all along I had the whisperings of an inner voice telling me I was okay. I only wish I had been louder in those convictions.

My weight loss now was not the result of me realizing how disgusting or unhealthy I was. My weight loss was about me figuring out how wonderful and powerful I was and accepting myself as worthy of attention. It doesn’t work the other way around. I can feel confident saying that, because of Golda Potesky saying that 95% of people who diet, fail at their diets. The best predictor that someone will gain weight is to put them on a diet.

I am what Golda refers to as the outlier. I am not what she says are the 5% of people who have lost around 10 pounds, I am in an even smaller percentage of people who lose a radical amount of weight and I know, with complete certainty, it’s been because of this fundamental belief that I am okay no matter what the scale says.

There are moments I get tripped up, like what I’m going through right now, and have “scale-based self esteem,” but I’ve been blessed to always be able to return to my inner guide that got me through those childhood, preteen, and young adult years.

Yes, I am eating emotionally at times right now. But there is no complete backslide, I’ve come too far and, even in the weak moments, believe in myself too strongly. I know how powerful love is. I write, or pray, when my feelings from my childhood become too much to bare. I am devoted to a more peaceful way of life where I am not at war with my body and I won’t let anyone else tell me that I should be at war with my body.

There is no one in my life who I would let treat me the way people treated me when I was a kid. We know, as adults, how harmful the words “you’re fat” can be, so I don’t know why it’s become a good practice to tell children over and over again to lose weight “for their health” when doctors cannot prescribe a diet that works, or link fat to being unhealthy, but that’s how it is in our society. Sometimes I think I’ll never stop being angry about this.

There is nothing so wrong with me that love and acceptance cannot heal, and while I don’t always feel that way, it’s what I continue to believe in. It’s scary being this honest, but I also know that my honesty and my telling these stories is my path to freedom, and may just be a light for others, too.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown

Also, happy, happy, happy birthday to my sister – who I will forever think is the most beautiful, talented, funny, smart and wonderful person on earth. I’ll always want to be exactly like you when I grow up 🙂

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13 thoughts on “It’s Okay To Be Fat

  1. I definitely share some of your experiences with binge eating. The more I felt restricted, the more I binged in secret. My desk drawers were filled with snacks I wasn’t allowed to have.

    Letting go is big. It’s the only way to move on and be happy. Good for you. Have a wonderful day!

    • Restriction is such a hard mindset to deal with, it’s easy to fall into and hard to get out of. Letting go is a daily practice 🙂

  2. Wow, Jodi. I am so, so, so sorry that you had to experience that. I try to make it a point to correct people on their language and attitudes about body types and weight, knowing that it’s about being healthy and feeling good, not what you weigh. Your story illustrates how people who love us try to do what they think is right, but ultimately do more harm than good. I hope that in the next few years the health communities on the Internet and their (general) attitudes become more commonplace outside of the web.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Yup! I think people genuinely act with concern when they talk about health and weight, but there is a lot of misinformation out there! People’s health is so personal, advice from others should definitely be limited.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing you story. I was bullied a lot in middle and high school and turned to binge eating as a way to cope. Then in college whenever I got stressed or worried because a paper was due food was my comfort. I was such a horrible binge eater for years that even though I now admit my problem and work on it I find I still have occasional binges. I am trying hard, but it is tough, love hearing other people’s stories. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.

    • Ugh…the binges I used to go on trying to get a paper done in college…the worst! I don’t think I’ll ever be “free” of binge eating, but I think the more you are aware of it the more manageable it is. Sharing is the key – I had no idea anyone else went through what I went through. Thank goodness for the internet! lol

  4. Hi Jodi!
    You story left me speechless.
    Being overweight increases your risks for so many health problems, and yet those well-intentioned people only made it worse by constantly pestering you! I think this is an important message!
    Thank you!

  5. That is so interesting. I had an opposite experience – no one told me that I was doing myself no favors by continuing to gain weight. My overeating was no secret (although I did a fair amount of “secret” eating in private.) It was only when I developed insulin-dependent gestational diabetes during my pregnancy that I was hit with the harsh reality that I had really messed up my health as a direct result of my choices.

    Anyway, all this is to say, I had to work through a lot of anger with my husband for not expressing any concerns to me. (I came to discover, after I had lost the first hundred pounds or so, that he was actually deeply worried about my health — but didn’t tell me because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings.)

    I feel like there has to be a way to convey some sort of concern without encouraging a restrictive mindset and without making the person generally bonkers. I don’t know what that looks like or what that is. I only know that I wish someone had said something, anything, to me. And maybe I’m totally wrong – maybe there’s no way to communicate concern without actually doing some sort of unacceptable body-shaming. I don’t know.

    but I completely agree – it’s okay to be fat, it’s okay to be thin, it’s okay to be in-between, and it’s okay for a person to be the size that s/he is… whatever that size might be. FWIW, for me, that size appears to be quite small. A happy weight for my body is under half the size of my highest weight. & maintaining this weight makes me even more sad, in a strange way, that I put my body through hell for so long.

    Apologies for the stream of consciousness! and happy Saturday!

  6. I feel like there has to be a way to convey some sort of concern without encouraging a restrictive mindset and without making the person generally bonkers. I don’t know what that looks like or what that is. I only know that I wish someone had said something, anything, to me. And maybe I’m totally wrong – maybe there’s no way to communicate concern without actually doing some sort of unacceptable body-shaming. I don’t know.

    MR — This is something I struggle with all the time. There’s a member of my family who generally eats very poorly, and the rest of us are concerned about his health. I feel all our remarks tend to come out very negatively and as such he’s very defensive and just causes him to go out and buy more high-processed carbs and poor quality dessert. I wish he felt more of an impetus, a motivation to change, but he doesn’t, and our comments also end up sounding like that, too. I want to be supportive, encouraging and yet no bullshit, but I feel I just make it worse and end up being an enabler, as well as going against my beliefs.

    • That member of your family sounds a whole lot like me, circa 2010.

      I don’t know what the answer is to situations like that. The best I have come up is to try to be really conscious of modeling good habits and taking control of what one can – i.e., for a family bbq, bringing a fruit/veggie tray with all kinds of delicious choices rather than yet another cake. Can you propose a walk after dinner or something like that?

      And then – for me, at least – eating poorly was reflective of a large amount of self-hatred. (I tried to drown my negative feelings in bags of cheetos, and the cheetos always won.) So – insofar as that might be true for your family member – perhaps fixing the exterior circumstances or root of the problem would help set him up for better choices? It is so tough and such a hard line to walk.

      • I love the conversation that is going on here! Overall, I just think health is personal. I was a kid when most of the stuff about my weight was said, so maybe that’s why my reaction was different MR. Looking back, I feel really defenseless in being able to stand up for myself. The truth is, you can’t tell what a person’s health is by their size. I feel like unless the person brings it up first, or you see them trying to diet, it’s really best to keep your mouth shut and focus on your own behaviors.

      • I couldn’t agree more, Jodi, re: size not being indicative of health in many cases, and I apologize if that didn’t come through in my earlier comments. I can’t imagine how bad the constant criticism must have made you feel. 😦
        And yes – health is personal, multifaceted, and dependent on a whole lot of things that are out of an individual’s control. There’s no getting around that.
        I wonder if there’s a way to encourage healthy habits without encouraging body- or size-shaming. It seems like a difficult, if not impossible, task.

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