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I am fat. I have fat on my body. I was fat as a child and am now fat as an adult. I am happy with being fat and don’t think the word fat is derogatory. It’s just something I have more of than some people and less of than others.
Being fat doesn't mean that I am less worthy than others, it doesn't mean that I am unloveable or that I am unhealthy. It doesn't mean that I am not sexy or capable. I am all those things, but the majority of my life I had the opposite reaction to what the word "fat" meant.
If you would have told the 12 year old Victoria that she would be fat when she was older she would’ve been so disappointed. I always had the idea that when I grew up I would learn how to become “good” and being good meant being slim.
The first time I realised I was fat I was about 5. It was a hot summers day and I rolled my shirt up exposing my belly. It felt good, all the other girls were doing it and I was now one of them. That was until one of them came over and said “You’re too fat to do that”. She had a good point, it was shameful to show off my body, it did look different from theirs after all.
I made the connection between being fat and eating food that was “bad”. It was a love affair that began young, it was fiery, passionate and helped me in my darkest moments.
I was raised in a poor household and the food we had in the cupboard was always the most basic and unglamorous. Even when the “bad” food was brought in you had to grab it quick as it’d be gone in a flash. I would spend evenings quietly watching TV whilst sneaking packets of crisps from the bottom cupboard in the kitchen, hiding the wrappers in places they would inevitably be found.
What I didn’t know at the time was that food was a tremendous comfort to me, my closest ally and enduring best friend. As a child, if you feel unsafe then you take to behaviours to ground yourself, comfort yourself. You miraculously manage to blame yourself for all the difficult situations you face as a way of making sense of the world.
I experienced many reasons to seek comfort as a child.
And there was food, beautiful, loving food to embrace me.
Food never turned me away, always soothed me, tasted so good.
There was a problem though; I knew that wanting food, desiring food, was bad. Eating too much food was gluttonous, it meant I was lazy and stupid and worthless and all the horrible things I could imagine.
The love affair got more secret and my shame began to engulf me.
My Mum would tell us about how she was the fat one of her sisters and would go through cycles of restricting what she ate.
When I looked at her all I saw was my beautiful, perfect Mum.
She wasn’t fat, and even if she was, she taught me that being fat is bad, a personal failing. If my loving, kind, funny Mum wasn’t good enough, then as her daughter I certainly didn’t measure up either.
One day my Dad, who was sat next to me on the sofa, patted my leg. I was about 12 years old. He said “I think it’s time to do something about this”, as he wobbled the flesh on my leg. Immediately mortified and suddenly very aware of my fat body I very earnestly replied “Yes, Daddy”.
That’s when I started my first diet. Of course, I had no clue how to diet, all I knew was that dieting meant not eating, punishing yourself with exercise and eating yucky food. The next morning, I ate the pack up lunch that my Mum had made me for breakfast and then nothing for lunch. I wanted the teachers and kids at school know that I had realised I was bad and that I was doing something about it: starving myself. I fantasised that I would become anorexic and finally worthy.
But I couldn’t. That desire for comfort was too strong and after a few months I finally caved and started eating lunch again. Instead, I swapped my regime into eating boiled pasta with salt and running up and down my hallway corridor a hundred times. This didn’t work either but I seemed to get a lot of praise from my family for doing it, helping the idea grow in my mind that trying to be thin was an admirable pursuit.
I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be fat until I grew up to be an adult and then suddenly something would happen and I would be slim and beautiful. The fantasy of what my future would be like, got me through until I got my first boyfriend at 17.
Unluckily for me (and because of my terrible low self esteem) that boyfriend turned out to be abusive. He was 13 years my senior and knew the ways of the world. He knew that I was fat and that would simply not do. He put me on a diet. A slice of toast for breakfast, half a can of beans for lunch and a bread roll with a processed cheese slice with half a can of beans for dinner. I lost a lot of weight.
I wasn’t allowed to ever deviate from this diet. Of course this didn’t stop me sneaking food whenever I could even though I would be terrified he would catch me red handed with contraband. I needed to, food was still my best friend, my protector, with food everything was ok with the world for those stolen moments we spent together.
On days he would work I would go the local store and get a bounty of sinful items. Salt and vinegar crisps, Snickers, ham and bread, chocolate mouse, crackers. It was glorious. I was free. Alone with my feast I was happy.
Years later, free from abuse I felt ready to start another diet, become good, finally. Weight Watchers was my chosen route for penance. This time I told myself that I didn’t need food, I had had enough, had my fill, it was about time I paid for my sins. For months I counted points, measured and weighed food, counted every single calorie that went in my mouth. But it was ok, because once I had met my goal weight I would be slim, I would finally be worthy. I would be loved.
I lost 50lbs but I didn’t seem to get that magic feeling that I thought I would experience.
Yes, people praised me, cooed over my dedication and sacrifice, wanted to know how I did it, what my secret was.
The secret was abusing my body. Feeding it too little, with food that had no nutritional value. Eating diet foods that made me feel lousy and punishing myself at the gym. Why would I eat a banana which was 2 points when I could eat a packet of crisps for 1 ½? Why would I eat a delicious and nutritious and healthy lunch when I could eat cucumbers for zero calories.
Even though I had lost all that weight I didn’t feel happy. I still didn’t feel worthy and I still felt a ton of shame. Yes I was slim, but others were slimmer.
My Weight Watchers leader told me that now is the time when I have to be REALLY careful about what I eat because people put on weight if they don’t stay on the program.
That’s when I realised that you don’t just starve yourself, become thin and then get to eat normally again. No, I had to continue this disordered and completely unhealthy eating for the rest of my life.
I threw in the towel. I couldn’t continue weighing my breakfast cereal, eating jelly for lunch and cabbage soup for dinner as they had zero points.
Within months, I put on all of the weight I had so painstakingly lost and with it my self worth plummeted again, not that being thin made me feel more confident anyway.
It was official: I was a loser, a failure, an embarrassment to my family and the unthreatening wingman for my friends.
I had to make up for my disgusting body in other ways. I excelled at work, I became outwardly confident and gregarious.
I was an over achiever in all the other areas of my life. I had to make up for my deep personal failings as a sister, daughter, friend, partner.
I hoped that I would still be loved because of all of my achievements despite the fact that I was fat.
Luckily I finally had the emotional intelligence to go and see a therapist, although it took probably a couple of years to even bring up the fact that I had a deep love affair with food.
The shame telling my secret was unbearable. How could anyone like a greedy monster like me, never mind love them.
I hoped the therapist could fix my gluttonous brain so that I could finally lose weight once and for all.
What I didn’t know then was that I was perfect just the way I was and accepting that was the route to happiness, joy and self worth.
Slowly I worked on taking the shame out of food, the emotional charge began to dwindle.
Those feverous desires subsided and one day I even felt like I wanted to give myself a hug. It was a strange feeling, kinda like I cared for myself like you would a friend.
That was the first time I realised that I had never loved myself, even though outwardly I was confident and successful.
Since then, my mind has been opened to the concept of loving my body the way it is right now, not focussing on losing weight but on being joyful with what I eat and how I move.
It is hard though; with the massive amounts of messages out there telling us we are not enough.
Sometimes I have those flashes of thoughts like “If only you were 20lbs lighter, THEN you’d be truly happy!” or “Your body is too fat, you should be ashamed!”. I observe these thoughts lovingly and wonder what triggered them, knowing that they are not true and as a human being I am inherently worthy of love.
To truly love yourself is a magnificent feat and something that I wish for everyone.
If you are tired of feeling ashamed about yourself, food, your weight or your life in general then know that there is another way to think, there is hope and you can get there; I did.
When a negative thought comes up then just try to observe it without judgement.
If you hear yourself saying something mean about yourself then replace that thought with the opposite statement, even if you don’t think it’s true.
Celebrate everything that your wonderful body does for you: it breathes, blinks, walks and moves.
It is constantly working to survive and we continually berate our bodies in return for it’s hard work. Thank your body for all that it does for you.
Look at the media you consume and unfollow/unfriend people who make you feel less than awesome. Try to avoid reading gossip magazines with airbrushed unrealistic images of beauty.
Know that 95% of diets do not work and it has nothing to do with the people doing the diets failing. It’s just that dieting is flawed, useless and counterproductive. A massive chunk of those 95% end up putting on more weight that they started with.
There is not ONE single study that proves that dieting makes you healthier or happier in the long term, yet we have a $60 billion dollar diet industry. Companies profit massively from you not loving yourself.
Learn about body positivity and self love. Read books, listen to podcasts, go to talks.
But above all else, be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself.
Know that there will be bumps in the road. Getting to the stage where you can even contemplate another way of living is MASSIVE so celebrate where you are today.
We are brainwashed everyday to believe we are not enough but slowly you can decode those messages.
You can lose your anxiety around food.
You can feel truly worthy and loved.
You can look at your body and say “Wow! I am smoking hot!” and really mean it.
Victoria is a confidence and life coach at BAM POW LIFE. Learn how you can be exceptional at whatever you turn your hand to with free advice by signing up here. Read more articles, and register for her sublimely entertaining online courses.
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