Content Note: The following post contains description of eating disorders and exact weight numbers
I was unhealthy at 86 pounds, 106 pounds, and 136 pounds. I have had severe, life-fucking-with depression at every weight my body has been. I have had IBS in a forty pound weight range. I have had arthritis since my teen years, without respect to my size. But beyond the conditions that have nothing to do with weight, I’ve had years of ill health as a direct result of trying to lose weight.
I started throwing up after meals when I was eleven. I started fearing “bad” foods like ice cream and compulsively exercising by age twelve, pushing my joints far beyond what was good for them. I started taking diet pills at fourteen and laxatives at sixteen. I started using legal stimulant pills meant for long-haul truckers at 17 and drinking energy drinks as meals by eighteen. I lost weight too fast, too soon, too often and strained my heart.
And of course, I binged through all of it. No matter how much “willpower” (mental illness) I had compelling me to avoid my human need for food, I’d eventually snap and eat everything in sight, emotionally and calorically starving. Sometimes I’d eat in my sleep and wake up to find candy wrappers in my bed, as if eating was so shameful I had to hide it from myself. My body became my enemy and instead of learning how to listen to it, I tried everything in my power to ignore what it was saying.
I started smoking as a preteen as a way to curb my appetite and to give my mouth and fingers something to do to replace the act of eating. I would smoke marijuana for the munchies, and purposefully not eat anything, instead allowing the stomach acid to tear apart my insides. I couldn’t fall asleep at night until I felt hunger pains, scared that I would wake up fat otherwise.
I moved my body, not to feel good, but to burn calories. I obsessed over the numbers. I wrote down every item of food I ate and kept a running tally each day of how many I had consumed. I raked over nutrition labels seeking the magic food without calories that somehow tasted good and left me satisfied, a food I never did find. I knew how which condiments had more hidden calories than others and ate bitter dill pickles with mustard. I put too much salt on everything.
When I did have to eat in front of people, I had to make sure I could throw up shortly after. I learned to prefer soft foods that hurt less coming back up. I learned to eat foods in layers, so that I could tell when I was I done throwing up and had gotten it all. Every holiday and dinner date and movie pig-out with friends was polluted by this concern. I couldn’t just enjoy my time with friends. I had to think about the food.
I joined pro-ana groups online and I compared tactics with other equally unhealthy young women. We pushed each other to impossible diets – 1000 calories a day was for athletes, don’t ya know, and everyone else could get by on less. I told myself I was “running on empty” and turned it into a sick mantra. “Look at me, look how much I can do on so little. I’m running on empty and leaving everyone else in my dust!”
As my body went into starvation mode, my mind would suffer. I would be irritable and depressed. My arthritis pain would be more abundant and my bony frame would make supposedly comfortable things like lying in bed hurt, so I would be sleep deprived and sore. Thinking clearly became more difficult and I was always on edge. I couldn’t relax, not with that kind of all-consuming obsessive anxiety and not with the stimulants I took to compensate for my lack of sleep and keep my metabolic fires burning hot.
There are fat people suffering all these symptoms. There are thin people suffering all these symptoms. Eating disorders don’t discriminate based on body type, and many popular diets include some of these very unhealthy methods. Fat people are routinely encouraged – by friends, doctors, and strangers – to exercise while ignoring injury and to ignore hunger pains. Fat people, and to some extent all women, are taught to deny themselves what they need in the name of body aesthetic, to obsess over numbers, to think of their body as nothing more than a metabolic machine, to waste time at joyous events making sure what they consume won’t consume them.
I have to wonder now, if the health risks of fat really outweigh all I’ve done to my body over the years. Stomach acid is corrosive, and crash diets can damage the heart. Starvation mode isn’t good for you, during or after its occurrence. The next time you want to encourage someone to lose weight, ask yourself why you care so much. Is it really about health? If so, moderate exercise and balanced eating should be the goal, not weight loss. Is it about aesthetic? Go put yourself in time-out and think about what kind of person that makes you. And leave your poor loved one alone while you do so.