Fat: How the Word Tore Me Down and How I Fought Back

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.

Dani in 2010.

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.

Dani in 2014.

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.


About Author

Dani Russell is a freelance health and fitness lifestyle writer living in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is currently working to complete a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and is a practicing student therapist. In her free time she can be found playing in the ocean, hiking and weightlifting. You can keep up with her daily quest to balance multiple jobs, fitness and graduate school via her tumblr.

Posts By Dani Russell
  • me

    Thank you.

  • Sadim

    great ,

  • sangeet

    Could you post the link to your next article I’m kinda suffering from what you did and I would really appreciate your advice. my self hatred is at an all time high ever since I put on all the weight I lost few months back. Your article really resonated with me thank you so much for being brave!

  • Veronica Wheatley

    I discovered after giving birth that I had food allergies. I cut out milk, gluten, and processed foods. Using sugar only sparingly (in my morning coffee.) Now I use Stevia. Occasionally I’ll have a cookie made from scratch, but space it out so that I’m not overloading my system. The best part about baking your own cookies is that you can make only a few at a time, freezing the rest of the batter. I’ve found that when I cut back on sugar, I don’t crave it as much anymore. I drink plenty of water. And without exercising (just taking care of a newborn/infant) I’ve lost 60 lbs in 5 1/2 months. My face cleared up, and I have more energy than I’ve ever had before. I’ve discovered that I don’t miss cheese as much as I thought, and wonderfully there’s no more bloating after meals!

  • hi


  • Dani R.

    Sangeet I’m so touched to hear that my story was able to bring you a little hope in what I know can be an overwhelming situation. I encourage you to read my most recent article on how to start slowly changing the patterns of negative self talk.

    Remember to be gentle with yourself! Your struggles are temporary, but your relationship with yourself is forever…make sure it’s a healthy one. I believe in you! You’ve got this!

    – Dani

  • Veronica Wheatley

    Hi back! Yes. The food in-tolerances caused by the candida has been a hard battle to win, but the weight is still off and I’ve lost a little more. Cutting out starches and eating slightly cooked veggies (to help my body digest them) has helped. There’ll be days when I feel amazing, so then I think I can cheat a little and have a starch, but it always bites me in the butt. There are tons of diets out there to help get rid of candida. I just have to stick to my diet. But I’ve found that simply cutting foods out is not enough, good bacteria have to be taken as well. Kefir (which re-populates your good bacteria,) Greek yogurt (which cleans your gut and feeds the good bacteria that you currently have in your stomach,) and lots of bone broth (which heals your stomach, joints, and clears skin.)

    Sorry to Dani- after coming back and reading what I wrote a month ago, I realize I high-jacked your article a little. I just thought maybe someone could benefit from some of the research I’ve done. It’s been a living nightmare battling with weight, blood pressure, panic attacks, mood swings, depression, and now the in-tolerances. At first I didn’t even know what was causing the dizziness and doctors just chalked everything up to anxiety, without even bothering to find out what was causing the anxiety. Anxiety stems from an imbalance in your body. People don’t just have to deal with anxiety or depression. You don’t have to just treat symptoms. You can do your research and heal yourselves. It takes a while to bring your stomach, body, and mind back to health- but it’s worth it.