Letter: Taking Back Control
A Response To “Am I Too Much?”
I’ve been involved with university newspapers for a while and I’ve always wanted to write on the topic of weight and health in university. More specifically, I’ve wanted to write about my personal struggles with weight and the impact that this might have had on my mental health, but I never found the time, or the courage, to do so. A couple of weeks ago, however, the Daily published an article called “Am I Too Much?,” which discussed fatphobia and body image. Reading it made me reflect on my own experiences with these issues, with my own fatphobia and my eating disorder. I wasn’t sure, at first, why I wanted to respond to the article. I realize now that sharing my story is part of a healing process. I hope that by talking about it, I will allow myself to take back some control and agency over my body. I hope that as more people share their stories, we might be able to better understand the complexity of this topic.
Discussing weight is a strange thing, or at least I find it to be. It’s not a very glamorous topic, and I am always scared about the implications it could have on the way people see me, or what my weight says about me. I feel that acknowledging that I’m not always happy with my weight might devalue me. Discussing my weight is like admitting that I have a problem, that I am not comfortable with the way I look; and no one wants to admit that. I don’t want to just be known as the “fat girl.” Nothing terrifies me more than the idea that people will label me as such and see nothing else. It seems clear that my views about weight are based on self-doubt, selfhate, and my own prejudices when it comes to the weight of others. As terrible as I feel admitting this, nothing makes me feel more relieved than when I’m no longer the fattest person in the room.
I’ve been struggling with weightissues since I was nine. After 12 years, I can safely say that it’s been an issue for most of my life. I’ve done the crash diets, I’ve seen my weight yo-yo over the years. The summer before starting university, I even attended a fat camp. Its supposed “positive effects” lasted until my first month of university, when I proceeded to go right back to my old eating habits, but worse. In fact, from what I’ve seen, the kind of restrictions often used in these sort of camps seldom translates into any long-term sustainable weight-loss or “healthy eating habits.”
I’m an addict when it comes to food; I think that’s the best way to describe my relationship with it. As a kid, I would lie, sneak around, steal. So when I arrived at Mcgill, coming from a home where we rarely had sugary cereal or beverages, and never ate fast food, the options on and around campus led to an exacerbation of my poor eating habits. I reached for the options that were the easiest to access and the cheapest, which often meant the least healthy. I gained 25 kg over my four years at Mcgill. I reached a weight I could never have imagined reaching. I pushed my “addiction” too far.
Overall, it felt like these four years went by like a blur. I spent them feeling trapped in a vicious cycle: my weight either a symptom or a cause of my poor mental health. In my case, I think a lot of the weight gain came from a negative place, a way of protecting myself from pain instead of dealing with it.
While at university, I never acknowledged that I was unhappy with my weight, because most of the time I didn’t care. It didn’t bother me. Most of the time, I loved my body. And on top of that, I had other things to worry about, like school and extracurriculars. I was stressed all the time, so how could I have functioned without my pain relief, my drug, my food. I didn’t have the time to do sports, eat healthy, meal prep, or do self- care, I told myself. I was busy.
Truthfully, I just didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t believe I needed to care about my weight in university. I was tired of thinking about it as a problem, I was tired of feeling guilty for not “taking care” of it. In my mind, it didn’t affect me at all. However, when I look back, I don’t think that was true. I “remembered” my weight any time I shared a couch with someone, every time I stepped into an elevator and was scared the alarm would go off because it was too heavy. I never seriously pursued romantic relationships either. I was always extremely cautious so as to never put myself in a situation of vulnerability where I could have faced rejection. My self-esteem couldn’t take it. I couldn’t risk the chance of confirming my worst fears: that people actually saw me as unappealing and unworthy. And although I never got direct remarks about it, I felt it sometimes. As a marketing major, where all work is group work and a lot of your value, inside and outside the classroom, is determined by the way you “brand yourself,” I felt that my weight, my “fatness,” affected my credibility. My clothes didn’t fit right. I thought “I’m fat and fat can’t look professional.” So once again, more often than not, I would reject those I felt threatened by before they could reject me.
In my second year, I went to see a counselor to talk about dropping out of a class and we talked about my mental health and its link to my weight. I saw her twice and that was it. I didn’t even know Mcgill had an eating disorder program until after it was closed. I saw the campus nutritionist during my last semester, but after long waiting periods and having an appointment canceled the morning of, I decided not to go again. I would take care of myself, but not at Mcgill.
And so I did. I graduated and declined a job contract I had signed the year before, because my parents suggested that maybe it was time for me to start caring about my weight again. They suggested it was time to think about treatment and dealing with all the issues linked to food while I was still young, while it wasn’t too late. My weight gain has caused me health problems. Physically I’ve had issues with my knees for several years because of the extra weight, I had been diagnosed pre- diabetic the year before, and had trouble holding a conversation while walking because I was so out of breath.
Now, I’m taking a gap year before working to look after myself and try to heal. But I’m still not over the feeling of shame that I associate with my “fatness.” I still find it hard to admit that I’m “trying to lose weight.” Most of my friends don’t know why I’m taking this gap year, why I’m not working right now. If I fail, I don’t want them to know that I was ever bothered by the way I look.
Admitting I need help is admitting I’m not in control, and that scares me a little. However, being able to say I’m not in control feels like the first step towards regaining command. As I mentioned, I hope this will inspire more people to speak up if they wish, to help us better understand this layered and complex issue. I know how useful writing this was for me, I can only hope it can help others too.
I realize now that sharing my story is part of a healing process. I hope that by talking about it, I will allow myself to take back some control and agency over my body. I hope that as more people share their stories, we might be able to better understand the complexity of this topic.