I remember that when I was thin, I had friends who would look at a fat person and ask (not really looking for an answer), “How could they have not realized they were gaining weight and do something about it?” I kinda wondered the same thing myself. You know, being skinny. But turns out, it is not really all that simple. Or, maybe it is. Uh, maybe not. I don’t know.
What I can talk about is my own path to obesity. It is at once simple and complex. I’m pretty sure it has mostly, though not entirely, an emotional root. Not a physical one; it’s not just hand-to-mouth disease.
I was a size 4 and weighed 127 pounds when I got married in 2003. Three months after my husband cheated on me and we separated in 2010, I weighed 178. Seven months later, I weighed 227 pounds. 15 months later: 253. And so on and so forth. If gaining weight was a job, I would be so rich I could retire. I can pack on 40 pounds in a month. I’m not proud of it. It’s just that it can actually happen so quickly that your mind doesn’t have time to compute, “Hey, why are these size six jeans I just bought not fitting; oh, I need clothes 4 sizes bigger?!” Clearly, based solely on the above example, obesity is a physical symptom of my mental health. I got fat because my heart was hurting and I couldn’t handle it, so I let loose and tried to soothe my damaged psyche with food. In the moment, it tasted good and it felt good. Afterwards, I felt like the weakest person alive. So, I ate some more because why not, what was the difference and at least there was a kind of happiness in the taste. In the freedom of relinquishing control. And every day I woke up and hated myself and felt hideous, ashamed and guilty. I didn’t like me, I didn’t think anyone else did, I felt unloveable and so I ate. I know it doesn’t make sense. But there it is.
It’s not just will power, however. It’s–for me at least–self esteem power; mental health power. The pleasure receptors in my brain needed that hit. So food was my high, my friend who saw me through so that I could get out of bed everyday and pretend to function. I kept hurting myself so that I could keep going. Killing myself with food, with fatness, all the while. Unless you’ve been there, it is impossible to understand.
If I look beyond the situation of my failing cum failed marriage, I can find other contributors. Plenty of tragedy, abandonment, pain. In a life lived, though, everyone has those stories, at least to some degree. So beyond mental health, what else is it? Looking elsewhere, I can see disordered eating throughout. I took laxatives from age 11 through my 20’s and less so into my 30’s. I can see that second and third helpings were a model. I started binging in adolescence. Purging? Not so much. So I learned how to put on weight. Then I learned how to take it off. In particular, the alcohol diet in my 20’s worked like a charm. What’s the alcohol diet? Alcohol and as little food as possible. I’m talking 5 peanuts, or gum. The problem with that particular diet is that you end up having trouble resisting the drink. The rewards are too great: skinny and emotionally numb–a powerful aphrodisiac. The trouble is that the problems become even greater over time. So, I stopped drinking and started eating. I replaced one addiction with another.
Keep doing things like that and you eventually lose control over all of the shenanigans. My fat is a bio-psycho-social problem. Those parts–bio, psycho, social–are greater than the sum that equals me. I am not sure I will ever achieve the kind of tripartite health that I want to, but I have to grow up and try. Grow a pair and try. For me. At the very least, to know that I can. To know that I didn’t have to fail…myself. I didn’t have to fail myself. The one thing I want to be sure of at this point in my life is that I can count on me; I can like me. A big part of that is using food to fuel my body not to mend my heart. I have a hunch that if I heal my body, I will have learned a lot and my heart will begin to heal, too.
It’s worth a try at least.