I was eight years old the first time someone called me fat. The word came to me from one of the little girls that lived down the street. We were playing some silly game, and she off-handedly made the remark: “Well…you know, you can’t because you’re fat.” I shrugged it off and went along with what she said, not wanting to argue or disrupt the game, but it stirred something in the pit of my stomach. It created an uncomfortable feeling that was made worse by the fact that I so readily accepted that word. Fat. I was fat. The word sank into my brain, and made itself comfortable. It would live there for many, many long years to come.
At the age of 11, I would stand in front of the mirror and just look at myself, taking inventory of my flaws, each time reaffirming that word and feeling its presence grow in my mind. Fat. I was fat. I hoped that as I got older it would get better. Surely it was just baby fat.
My mom and I went clothes shopping when I was 14, and absolutely nothing fit me. That was the first (but far from the last) time that I cried in a dressing room. I was repulsed by all 200 pounds of myself as my mother led me to the women’s department, since nothing in the juniors section (the section girls my age were supposed to shop in) even came close to fitting my body.
When I was 15, I made myself throw up for the first time, a habit I would struggle with on and off until I was 22. The bathroom tiles were cold and rough beneath my hands, and I cried when I was done. But food had made me what I was, so perhaps this was the answer. The whole time, all I could think of was that word. Fat. I was fat.
At 17–217 pounds, and a size 18–I thought maybe if I deprived myself of solid food for long enough, perhaps I could finally beat that word. I began a liquid diet, lost 40 pounds and went off to college feeling on top of the world. Of course, the moment I started eating solid food again all of the pounds came right back…and they brought more with them.
That started a roller coaster of binge eating, obsessive exercising, yo-yo dieting and self-hatred that would last until, at age 23 and 230 pounds, I feared food and associated eating with shame. I avoided mirrors and even showered in the dark because I couldn’t stand to look at myself. I knew I had to break the cycle. My lifestyle wasn’t actually living at all. It was hiding. And I refused to spend the rest of my life hiding.
So I began reading about healthy nutrition and how to begin a work-out program. I started making slow, small, gradual changes in my life and with each change I entered further into a battle with that word that had controlled my life for the last 15 years, and over the next three years of slow, steady progress and change I am so proud to say that I am winning. It is a fight I still fight, and will continue to fight, every day for the rest of my life. But the most important thing I have learned in my struggle with my body is that I am not alone. Through reaching out to others through online forums (much like this one), community support groups, and other venues, I have found the support, the courage and the motivation necessary to conquer that word. It no longer lives in my brain. It has been replaced by a multitude of other words. I am fit. I am strong. I am healthy. I am happy.
My name is Dani. I changed my life through nutrition education and weightlifting. If I can do it, you can too. I promise. It will be long, it will be hard, but I am here to tell you, whole heartedly that it is possible, and it is worth it. In my next article I’ll go into detail about how I made the small changes that so radically changed my life, but for now I hope only that anyone reading this who may be struggling with some of the things I struggled with knows that you aren’t alone. Your journey may be long, but I understand, and I’m here to cheer you on.