Today is the three-month anniversary of the end of the most unhealthy relationship of my life. I feel happy, healthy, and energized after leaving all of the dead weight and unnecessary trauma that food caused me behind. Doing so saved my life.
I remember gathering at the top of the slide during recess in fourth grade with my peers, huddling up to talk about which of the boys was the cutest. Everyone went around the circle, and when it was my turn, I told them who I wanted to flirt with. For a second everyone stared at me in stunned silence. Then the leader of our friend group said, as if it was the most obvious fact, “But you can’t, you’re fat.” Just like that, as if that was all the explanation needed. All the other girls agreed.
I have always been different from other kids. I’ve always had a gut and love handles, my thighs have always rubbed together, and I’ve always had a few extra chins. I also have a personality that fills any room I’m in, no matter its size.
But I never felt like those qualities made me ugly or wrong until other people told me they did. Only then did I look in the mirror and see myself from that perspective. At some point, it seemed like everyone decided that these things were worthy of ridicule, that they qualified me as less than them, and that I needed to be reminded of this constantly.
“You can’t, you’re fat.” Those four words became ingrained in my mind and my being. They dictated every decision I made. They made me very small and quiet and angry. They made me hate myself.
But then, during middle school (the worst time of everyone’s adolescence), I realized the power food had to make me feel better. It felt like all of the problems of the world were absent during our brief but magical encounters. Eating made me feel as if there was solid ground beneath me again. I took solace in knowing that no matter what happened, this was something I could fall back on.
But it got out of hand quickly. I became dependent on food to make all of my problems go away. Looking back, I understand that eating didn’t solve any of my problems — it only intensified them.
It sometimes felt like food was all I had. I remember on a trip to a museum in middle school, everyone had gathered into groups to go explore, but I was alone. One of the popular boys came over and said, “Why doesn’t anyone like you?” I was stunned. I didn’t know how to respond, so I said, “I don’t know.” I went home and cried over Doritos, Cheetos, pizza, Oreos, oatmeal cream pies, and my favorite combination: glazed donuts with bacon. Then I’d top that all off with extra helpings of whatever my mom cooked for dinner. She always knew to do that when I was sad. We spent hours together until I became sick, throwing up in the bathroom until I had nothing else in my body.
I was afraid to be seen in public eating food for fear of being ridiculed: I couldn’t let them ruin food for me. I needed that comfort, but I abused its ability to make me feel better. Relying on food for validation became instinctual. If things became too difficult, I felt a trigger in my head: My mouth would salivate, my body would warm, and I knew I had to have it.
But then I began to hate the person this relationship had turned me into. I was sick, weak, and angry, and I resented every second I spent eating. It got so out of control that whenever I looked in a mirror, it seemed like all of my imperfections had blown up to twice the size they once were. I knew I had to let go but it felt like food was all I had. I had become so dependent that I didn’t know if I could live without it; I didn’t know if I even wanted to.
Then, all of a sudden, food was evil to me. Being near it made me hate myself, so I starved instead, which drove me crazy. I tried every trick in the book, everything they say to do to quit — all the programs and the diets and the fasts. Every time I tried something new, I’d be OK for a while, until someone would remind me of all of the things that made me different and, by their definition, inferior. And I would feel that trigger in my head again, feel my mouth salivate and my body warm. And I’d cry like I used to — but this time food was the cause, not the solution.
Food and I didn’t know how to be healthy with one another and, accordingly, my health deteriorated alarmingly. A doctor told me that if I didn’t change something in my life, I would die. That was the push I needed to change my relationship with food. I imagined how eating would kill me, how I would balloon to an unimaginable size and move slowly, how my breath would slow to a wheeze until it just stopped altogether. I wouldn’t give in to the satisfaction of dying, despite thinking, in those days, that it was all I wanted. It would have been easier than just dealing with my problems.
But I knew I wanted more. And though it was buried very deeply inside of me, I did find that strength. So here I am, three months into a changed relationship with food, because I understand who I am and don’t need a crutch anymore. I feel better than I ever have. I love who I am more than I ever have, and I’m not looking for anything else to make me feel whole. I’m starting to feel like I used to before everyone tried to ruin me. I’ve learned to not let anyone make me feel small or ugly. I’ve learned that “fat” isn’t an insult. I’ve learned that the most important relationship I can have is a healthy, loving one with myself.
If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, visit the National Eating Disorders Association for information and resources.
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