Let­ter: Tak­ing Back Con­trol

A Re­sponse To “Am I Too Much?”

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Ma­haut Engérant Au­thor con­tent warn­ing: eat­ing dis­or­der, fat­pho­bia

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.

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