Since puberty, according to my BMI, I’ve been “overweight.” When I was 19, I started reading about what “healthy” food looked like. I started restricting what I ate. Food had to be organic. Homemade. Sustainable. If I failed to achieve those “clean eating” goals, I felt ashamed. I lost weight and I told myself it was just a byproduct of being “healthy.” Eventually, I found my way back to normal eating — and thinness didn’t come with me. If I could go back and talk to that version of me, here’s what I’d like to tell her.
Dear Skinny Me,
I know you want me to congratulate you. You’re thin! You’ve won the fight against your body. You want me to say your persistence, passion and drive have gotten you here. You’ve learned to cook, learned where your food comes from, stopped eating “junk.” After years of viewing food as an enemy, you are trying to feed yourself well by learning which foods are poison. This is the right way to starve, you think, though you wouldn’t call it that.
But here is what I want you to know: I will love you when you get fat again.
Being thin, you feel strangely at home. You feel like you can swim through the world unnoticed, less cumbersome. Clothes are easier to find. You’ve stopped thinking that people look at your body to consider the ways they would change it. People tell you how good you look. People have, for the first time in your life, called you petite. Your body is no longer “too much.” You are feeling a dogmatic kind of certainty, like you’ve mastered the animal within you.
But this certainty is a trap that will show up again and again for you. You want to believe if you do everything right, like eating perfectly, no one can judge you. You think you’ve found the secret and now you can live there, pain-free, forever. You think you’ve found your real body, that the fat one wasn’t really you. You want to believe that you can be the 3 percent of dieters who lose weight and keep it off. You want to think the 97 percent who gain it back are doing something wrong.
I know that seems like I’m doubting you, undermining you, patronizing you, and I’m sorry. All I really mean is that I will love you when you are fat again.
Let me tell you a little about Fat You that may surprise you. Fat You isn’t drinking energy drinks and counting calories like she was in high school. She’s not weighing herself every morning or pinching her skin or hunching her shoulders. Fat You likes moving her body, takes pleasure in it. She can do a push-up — several push-ups. Fat You likes hiking. She started dancing and goes to yoga. She still likes vegetables, but she doesn’t fall into a wormhole of “good” and “bad” when she goes to eat. Fat You has friends and love and a fun job and is paying her bills. Fat You isn’t trying to shrink herself in space.
Of course it’s not the fat that did those things. That would be silly. Fat is neutral. It’s there or it isn’t. It means nearly nothing.
But you think it does. You think that Fat You is a curse of your genetics, a failure of your will and determination, proof that the world is unfair and you will always have to work twice as hard to prove to people you are worth something. You think you have to prove that you are worth something.
You think the way to do that is to view foods as morally “good” or “bad.” You read labels like bibles. Vegetables? Good. Sugar? Bad. Fruit? Good. Meats? Bad. Corn on the cob? Good. Corn in the package? Bad. Bread? Bad. Bread… Good? Sometimes, your head goes spinning. You think that the more “good” you eat, the more “good” you are. You want to be all “good.”
The thing that you will come to know later, after you are exhausted by the hustle, after the obsession wears you out, after you realize the panic that motivates you to succeed isn’t benevolent, the thing you will realize is: You have always been worth something. You have always been enough. And no matter how you hustle, you will never be more than that. You will never be less than that.
Fat You sometimes wakes up and hears your voice, screaming. She sees you tearing at her skin, trying to carve it away. Fat You has to ask herself if she’s eating what feels right or if it’s you in her ear again. Fat You has to watch out for recipe books where you’ve hidden your desire for purity, for pseudo health science that tries to wire her jaw shut. Fat You knows how convincing you sound, that you think you’re helping.
But Fat You can handle it because Fat You is not trying to be less of herself. Fat You knows that you are afraid. Mostly, she just wants to hold you, to tell you it will be OK. She wants to tell you: I will love you when you get fat again. I already do.
If you or someone you love is wrestling with an eating disorder or a difficult relationship with food and your body, there are resources for help. Contact the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Hotline (800) 931-2237.
A version of this story was published July 2016.
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