Let’s go beyond literal answers to this question. Yes, I was overweight because I ate too much and moved too little; but, I eat less and move more now, and that’s how one fixes symptoms without ever fixing the root issue. Why was I fat?
It was safe.
When I was larger, I was less visible. Not because I was fat, but because I believed being big meant I didn’t deserve love, attention, or to be noticed by those more worthy than myself. I made myself less visible because I was fat and ashamed of it all the while convincing myself that my size was the reason that nobody wanted me. The truth is that many people tried to love and get close to me when I was fat, but I didn’t allow myself to receive it because of my self hatred.
Being fat also made me an easy target for some people’s bullying. And, somehow, it seemed safer to be on the receiving end of that. If I was a target, then I was not a threat. If I was not a threat, maybe they would stop tearing me down. These were people who I wanted to love me but who were unable to do so because of their own issues, but I didn’t understand that at the time. All I knew was that I desperately wanted to be good enough for them, and that seemed to mean losing weight. It seemed like the only thing I had to do to finally be good enough for them was to lose weight. But it was never enough. I would starve myself down 40 pounds, and they would push for 10 more. 10 more, and I would be good enough. But, I was starving, and I hated myself for still not being good enough. Inevitably, I would gain it back and remain a target. I was never allowed to stop being fat…even when I wasn’t fat.
An assortment of theatre/drama photos from high school. Can you find me?!
I believed it was inevitable.
One side of my family has always struggled with weight; three people on that side of my family have had weight-loss surgery. In fact, when I joined Weight Watchers, I did so in order to prepare myself for weight-loss surgery. My mom had told me that Weight Watchers would “teach me how to eat,” which was a skill I would need after surgery. I fully believed that surgery was going to be my path (and know that it is a path that I do not judge – it has worked wonders in my family members’ lives).
I was shocked when I began losing weight on Weight Watchers. I thought, like with everything else I tried, it would be unmaintainable. I thought that I would fail. I thought that I’d give up. That was my real resignation: I believed that I would give up; I believed that I would fail. Attempting something while believing you will fail makes you about a hundred times more likely to quit. I’d say I was about a month or more into the program before I started believing that it might be possible for me to do this.
“That look” hahaha
I tried to fill the void with food.
This….this is probably the biggest reason I was overweight. I still struggle with this today.
For every happy memory, special person, and celebrated occasion in my life, there is a food. There’s my Nana’s mac and cheese, my grandmother’s doughy rolls, my ex-stepmom’s Moroccan stew, my dad’s meatloaf, my mom’s spaghetti. There’s the crab soup we ate at the beach, the cold watermelon we ate all summer that my dad taught me how to pick out, the sweet tomatoes with salt we pulled from my great grandmother’s garden. There’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the tang of ocean water still on my lips, there’s fried chicken before Santa shows up to pass out presents, there’s red velvet cake before we sing happy birthday. For everything, there is a food. My memories are tied to food. My emotions are tied to food.
I have a void inside of me. It comes from a desperate desire to be loved, to be good enough. Sometimes, I try to fill that void with food. I make and eat my Nana’s mac and cheese and, for a few moments, she’s alive again, and I am loved by her. I have my dad’s meatloaf and, for a little while, it’s a really special day during my childhood (he only made meatloaf on special days). I’m good enough in the past for those few short present moments. I re-create my ex-stepmom’s Moroccan stew and, for a time, that divorce never happened, and my family never fractured. I eat and eat, remember and feel, and I try to fill the void.
Only the void can’t be filled with food or memories. I can’t go back and make the people who didn’t love me in the past have loved me then. I can’t bring back my grandmother or my great grandmother; those goodbyes have been said for the final time. I can’t be a child again and get to experience all of the things I missed out on. I can’t go back; I can only go forward.
So, how do I fill the void left by what I missed out on in the past? Not by trying to re-capture what’s gone, but by creating love now. By capturing the love around me today. Not through food but through the experience of love and those people who give it now. Through being fully present for today’s times of love, care, and being good enough. Slowly, piece by piece, the void is filled…as I let go of the old, worn-out pieces I’ve been trying to cram into it, set them aside to be valued for what they are, and allow new, solid, foundational pieces to fill the void. This will allow me to be filled by something much more permanent than food — by love.