Feeling fat

What feeling “fat” meant for me when I had an eating disorder:

1/ I felt physically bloated because:

How can such a short word be so loaded?
Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com
  • I’d binged
  • I hadn’t eaten
  • I’d drunk too much water to stop hunger pangs
  • I hadn’t drunk anything
  • I’d deliberately eaten something that triggered my IBS

2/ I was feeling ashamed, guilty and hating myself because I’d binged, purged or both, and was taking it out on my body.

3/ I was struggling to deal with difficult emotions completely unrelated to my eating disorder, such as struggling with criticism because of my perfectionism. Or sadness, or anger, or fear, or disappointment, or lonliness, or any other strong feeling.

So many people talk about feeling “fat”. But “fat” isn’t a feeling. And our bodies don’t change massively from hour to hour. So if you’re looking in the mirror, hating your body, and feeling “fat”, ask yourself what’s really going on.

Is it fullness or bloating, or are you blaming your body for something else?Because I can pretty much guarantee it’s not your body’s fault, and if it’s not, then changing your body won’t fix it.

And as for feeling “fat”, but not being fat, and not understanding why that’s an issue?

If fat wasn’t seen as a bad thing, you wouldn’t be feeling “fat” would you? If fat wasn’t seen as morally inferior, something to be feared, the worst thing you could possibly imagine, you wouldn’t be feeling “fat” at all.

And there you have it: fatphobia in action.

A fortnight of fatphobia

These last couple of weeks the anti-ob***y rhetoric seems to have hit an all time high. First the UK Government announced it’s going to start weighing children in school. Then a group of dentists in New Zealand published a highly suspect study about their miraculous new device designed to keep fat peoples jaws’ closed.

Both of these developments completely ignore the science. Both of them are potentially extremely harmful and could, directly or indirectly, lead to the deaths of the people they are intended to “cure”. Both by leading to eating disorders, the second through the risk of choking. Both place the blame for obesity squarely on parents, or the obese themselves, while ignoring the 100+ other factors which play a part.

Fat people like me live in a world where we are judged by everyone around us, from the mainstream media, to healthcare professionals, strangers in the street and online, to our loved ones. We are labelled as greedy, unhealthy, lazy, a drain on the NHS, a scourge on society. If we would just lose weight and fit into society’s neat little boxes of what good human beings look like, all would be right with the world.

Except that’s not possible. There is NO truly effective permanent method of weight loss. No, not even bariatric surgery. Diets fail 95-98% of the time, not because fat people are greedy, but because human bodies are hardwired to stop us from losing weight. But that never makes the international headlines. Presumably because no-one stands to profit from that.

For decades I blamed myself every time my weight trended upwards. I thought it was my fault, that I had no self control, no discipline, that I needed to exercise more, keep purging, just stop bingeing. Why couldn’t I be happy living on lettuce? Why wouldn’t my body do what I wanted it to? Why couldn’t I shame or hate myself thin? Because I was deeply ashamed, and I truly hated myself.

Then I started treatment. The first thing the Eating Disorder Team taught me about was the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. I didn’t understand. It explained what I was going through, and yet contradicted everything I had been told since I was a small child. It meant that in order to heal, I had to stop restricting. I had to stop starving myself all day to counteract my binges, because that was actually causing my binges?

In order to recover, I have had to unlearn everything that society has taught me about dieting and ob***y, and accept the weight I have gained in the process. But the rest of society hasn’t unlearned those lessons yet. Every day I have to make a conscious decision to prioritise my mental health over society’s expectations of me and my body.

Not a day goes by when I don’t wish I were thinner. Because the world was built for thin people. Because the demand for thinness is all-pervasive; there is no hiding from it. But my determination never to go back to that dark place, to live my live free of constant thoughts about food to the exclusion of all else, just to allow myself to be happy, stops me from restarting that destructive cycle.

I dream of a time when universal acceptance and equality exists. When stereotypes and stigma in all their forms are a thing of the past. Until then, I know there will be fortnights like this one. That they will be hard to deal with. But also that I have been through worse, and I will get through them too, bruised, but still intact.