This is my testimony about growing up fat. It is my story to tell. I do not want pity or anybody to feel sorry for me. I want to explain who I am through reflections on my life. I have recently lost weight and feel it has been a healthy experience. To that end, I wanted to share some thoughts on how others might do it too. This is just one fat person’s story. A fat boy’s story…I know it must be different for girls going through these same things. Still…here goes:
I was born 11 lb 12 oz. From day one I was bigger than every one around me. I grew from a cute chubby baby to an adorable tubby toddler to a husky teenager and finally to a fat adult. Genetics and my passion for eating insured that I would stay on the highest end of the growth and weight charts. While I was active throughout my childhood, I also could eat with any adult. It was not long before my eating outstripped my activity and a fat child was born. I gave up on happy meals before I entered kindergarten, instead choosing to pound quarter pounders and large fries while pilfering the prizes from the other children. I was the biggest kid in the room.
I realized just how big I was for the first time at the start of the fourth grade when we were measured for some national fitness program and I came in at 5’3″ and 135 lb. I was the “most” in both categories and it wasn’t even close. At first I embraced the advantages of my size. I could throw a frisbee and hit the top of the gym wall, I could carry four of my classmates on my back across the playground , I held every eating record from cookies to prunes in the Amber-Pocasset Elementary School cafeteria. Slowly though as I grew older being “big” started to become being “fat”.
It started on my elementary school basketball team. When it came time to hand out uniforms, none of the purchased shorts or jerseys would fit me. After trying on extras from the junior high, we finally found a fit in some retired uniforms from the high school As a result, I played every game that year in a different uniform than the rest of my team. For the first time I started to hear whispers, real or imagined, that I was different than everybody else and the difference was not a good thing. To cope with this difference, I developed the slogan, “I’m not fat, I’m just big-boned.” Unfortunately, those big bones were packing on a lot of meat as I continued to eat my way into obesity.
Finding clothes of any kind that fit me became a chore. I was forced to buy grown up clothes even though I was still in elementary school. The style was never quite right so I always felt different than everybody else. Pants in particular were difficult to find. I carried a lot of weight in my thighs so regular jeans did not fit me. I had to buy oversized jeans that gathered at the waist in order to make sure my giant thunder thighs would fit in them. To hide the bunching fabric at my waist, I started wearing my shirts untucked. Eventually, my mom found a brand of Levi’s at a particular store in the City that I could wear in my actual waist size. But then I discovered another reason to wear my shirt untucked…an untucked shirt disguises your stomach. If my shirt is just draped over my stomach maybe no one will notice how it jiggles or spills out over my belt. The habit of wearing my shirt untucked would follow me all the way into adulthood…just one of many ways I learned to compensate for my abundance.
My size was not just noticed by me, it was topic of conversation for everyone. My friends gave me nicknames like “big’un”, “bulldozer” and “hoss”. I liked being big…it was my identity. However, I soon learned to hate being fat. Obviously, if someone wanted to hurt me or was mad at me, they immediately played the “fat” card. But the hardest hits were the casual and thoughtless comments and actions from friends. In the seventh grade we were changing in the locker room. As you can imagine this was not a desired situation for a fat kid, but I learned to stay in the corner and change quick so nobody noticed me. On this particular day though, one of my friends grabbed my jeans from the floor. He held them up for everybody to see how wide the waist was. They were so wide in fact, he bet that he and another friend could both fit in them at the same time. As I watched, two of my friends climbed into my pants and proceeded to parade around the locker room to the laughter of the rest of the class. I laughed too. What else could I do. But my face still burns when I think about it. I’m still ashamed I was fat enough for that to happen.
Being fat became my identity more than being big. Instead of all the positives of being big, all I could see were the negatives of being fat. Suddenly as I went into the miasma that is puberty, my self-image was taking a hit. No longer was I strong and powerful—big. I was sloppy and disgusting—fat. My self esteem started to take a nose dive. For me it all came to a head one Saturday afternoon behind an old TG&Y. My class was doing a bake sale to raise money for a competition. Our parents agreed to man the booth so we, the kids, were free to roam the shopping center. The main group took off walking around the building while I was in the restroom. When I came out, I took off to catch up with them. One of my friends in the group saw me coming up from behind and peeled off to wait for me. When I caught up to him, I was blindsided by what he had to say. He told me I was fat and I disgusted everybody and nobody wanted me around. He told me my friends all secretly wished I would just go away. Having said his piece, he ran off to the rest of my friends. I could see him catch up to them and blend right back into the group. I remember in that moment of self-pity waiting for someone in the group to look back. To motion me to catch up. For whatever reason, it did not happen.
Sometimes I wonder if he even remembers that day. I think about it all the time. If I have a bad day, I hear “you are fat and disgusting and nobody wants you around.” Intellectually, you can tell yourself that’s not true. But part of you always believes it is the reality. People may tolerate you because they are nice, but inside they find you fat and disgusting and would prefer you go away. Ironically, my coping mechanism in those moments of self-pity is to eat. Eating always makes me feel better. Some of you are thinking, it only makes you feel better in that moment…you will regret it later. That is probably true, but we only live in the moment. The moment is what we feel, we taste, we experience. Moments strung together are our reality…so when something makes that moment better it is enough.
Today I am a decently well-adjusted adult who copes with being overweight and the low self-esteem that comes with it. I believe in accountability so I have strived to better myself. In late elementary school, I went from 180 lbs to 125 lbs. I did it through weight watchers. Nothing says cool like a 6th grader counting his food points. Again in my freshman year of college I went from 315 lbs to 235 lbs thanks to the glories of basketball and a schedule that did not give me time to eat. In my early thirties I went from my peak weight of 415 lbs to 275lbs by working out and eating protein bars and meal replacement shakes. There are countless other times I have lost 30 or 40 lbs only to swerve off the path and gain it all back. I truly believe inside skinny Jason is a fat Jason ready to eat skinny Jason and a couple Pizza Hut pizzas as well.
As an adult being fat is somewhat easier. Most people learn to tame their tongue enough not to overtly shame me for my weight. Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and even Lucky Brand have started to make clothes for the overweight. They still assume all fat people are short for some reason, but now at least I have the possibility of wearing nice clothes. Also nobody wants to sit by you on a plane. If there is even one empty seat left on a flight it will be next to me. The extra space on the side almost makes up for the cramped leg room. These perks tend to offset the judgmental stares I get from the pizza guy when I order two pizzas and I’m alone at the house.
Recently, I went from 370 lbs to 245 lbs. I eat largely paleo and work out consistently at the gym. I am coping better with being fat on the inside than I have in the past. I know how hard it is to let that part of you go. I don’t think I ever will, but I do believe I can continue to be healthier as I move forward. I have these thoughts on losing weight.
- It has to be intentional. By this I mean you have to plan to lose weight, you have to plan to maintain, you have to plan to be healthy. Most of us fat people will tend to gorge if left to our own devices. We cannot trust ourselves. Therefore, we have to cage the beast and take its choices away. By planning your meals and taking away your choice to eat something else, you eliminate the option of binging. Be ready to take that to extremes. I would go so far as to bring my own food into restaurants with my friends or eat quickly in the car before going in to socialize while they eat. If I eat out I study the menu before hand and I order exactly what I can eat. No ranch on the side…instead it is simply no ranch. Be intentional in what you eat and do not let the beast decide t.
- Exercise. Exercise is not optional. It is mandatory. You don’t have to become some gym rat throwing plates around, grunting and sweating in some ripped out rag that used to be a muscle shirt. Be that person that does 3 sets of 10 reps at medium weight on the chest press machine. Be that person that does 25 minutes of cardio on the elliptical bike. Be that person that joins the yoga class and does each discipline in the modified easy setting. Just start exercising. You will find it becomes easier and you can do more than you thought possible. Also I believe you should exercise at a gym with a lot of people if possible. Being around people committed to exercising is inspirational. Yes…sometimes all the beautiful people make me feel fat and ugly, but they also give me something to aspire to. Who knows…some day I may be able to wear spandex too.
- Burn more than you eat. Diet plans are awesome. Somebody has lost weight eating under all of them. Atkins, Paleo, South Beach, Weight Watchers, the Cabbage Soup, the Fat Flush, the Grapefruit cleanse, Jenny Craig and the list goes on and on. They all are awesome, they all are horrible. They worked for somebody…they all failed for someone else. Nobody knows you better than you. Think about your weaknesses, how you failed before, the when and where of your failures and eat in such a way as to limit those roadblocks. I have to eat out, so I modified a paleo approach to work with that need. Then I make sure I exercise enough to burn off what I eat. Generally, weight loss is a simple concept. You have to burn more calories than you eat. Find a way to do that that works for you.
- Accept failure. Eating right is no longer natural for fat people. Eating for most of us is a lifelong crutch. There will be days when you simply have to gorge. Accept it. But it does not mean that tomorrow you have to binge again. Diets don’t start on Monday…they start right now. If you fail at lunch, you can still eat right at supper. If you fail on Monday, you can eat right on Tuesday. If you fail in February, you can eat right in March. You are not off your diet if you have a bad day. Like I said earlier, we all live in moments. That apple fritter was a bad moment. That moment is gone. This moment is not that moment.
I hope my story helps you in some way. If you need to lose weight I hope it inspires you to keep trying. If you are a fat person like me I hope it helps you realize you are not alone. If you are a skinny person that interacts with fat people I hope it helps you understand us a bit better. If you think I am just a weak-willed person trying to justify my actions and humble brag now that I have dropped a few pounds, you may be right. I am weak willed. I do tend to seek justification for my failures. I also like to brag when I do good things. Still…it was my story to tell. 🙂