“You’re not as pretty as you used to be. You’ve gotten fat.”
I stare at my then-boyfriend in shock. I’m upset anyone would speak to me like this, especially someone who regularly professes their love for me.
I tell him to leave if he hates how I look. He doesn’t, so I end things myself. There are better ways to express your disdain for someone’s appearance if you absolutely can’t resist keeping your mouth shut.
His harsh words take me back to my childhood, and I remember the stress of dealing with a weight-obsessed family member. Out of respect for my family, I won’t reveal this person’s true identity here, but we’ll call her Sheila.
Sheila took joy in reminding me of my obesity during my teen years, even though I was underweight at the time and clocked in at just over 100 pounds. I was shamed for eating regular meals and warned that nobody would love me if I didn’t stop gaining weight.
She was right to an extent. I lost the aforementioned boyfriend after my weight gain, and he certainly wasn’t the first guy to make a rude comment about my body. Some guys were flat out rude, and some attempted to disguise their criticism as concern. As if comments like “I’m just worried about your cholesterol” and “You could get diabetes” are believable when they come from shallow people.
Then I actually got fat.
I hate that word, so I sugarcoated my weight gain with words like “thick” and “curvy.” I selected options like “average” or “a few extra pounds” when I completed dating site profiles. I described myself as voluptuous when I was feeling confident.
After nearly a decade as a fast food manager, my diet primarily consisted of french fries, chicken nuggets, and sodium-packed breakfast sandwiches. Value meals were free for employees, but we had to pay for bottled water or salads. I was a single mom on a tight budget, so I stuck with the complimentary meals.
I was piling on the pounds, but ironically enough, Sheila stopped bashing my weight. Well, at least to my face. She resorted to making comments like “I don’t know why boys still want to date Missy” and bashing me with family members.
I tried to let her comments go because I didn’t want her to think I was only losing weight to impress her. I didn’t want her to think her bullying prompted a lifestyle change. She didn’t deserve that satisfaction, and I wasn’t about to give it to her. I told myself that if I lost weight, she’d get what she wanted, and so would every guy who ever criticized my curves.
So I kept slacking on my fitness routine and describing myself as thick. I squeezed into my favorite jeans until they no longer zipped, and I secured them with a hair tie. I stockpiled hoodies and baggy sweaters and learned to style my hair so my face appeared slimmer than it actually was.
This resulted in a near-death experience when my blood pressure skyrocketed to the mid 200s.
I knew something had to change, so I promised my doctor I’d take better care of myself. I had one child at the time, and we started jogging each day. We did one of those couch-to-5K programs together, and as the program progressed, I went from wheezing while I walked to my top-floor condo to exercising for hours without getting exhausted. I ditched the processed foods that were once my dietary staples and went vegan.
As my weight decreased, I felt great physically and mentally. I had plenty of energy, and my blood pressure was nearly normal for the first time in years. My career was thriving since I worked in a field where appearance mattered, so my income was stable. I reenrolled in college to finish my teaching degree.
Everything was going well, so I decided to start dating again after a long break. Much to my surprise, I became pregnant after just a few months. I had a demanding career where I was always on my feet, and as my pregnancy progressed, I was told I could no longer work.
“It’s a liability thing,” one of the event managers said. “We can’t have you out here lifting heavy boxes and assembling displays.”
I was upset, but I quickly transitioned to a career as a full-time writer. I earned less than I did as a marketing manager, but I could be home with my family. I had plenty of time to work while my daughter was at school.
I also had plenty of time to eat.
By the end of my pregnancy, I was heavier than I had ever been, and my growing baby wasn’t the culprit. As an extrovert, I found it stressful to stare at a computer screen for hours when I previously spent my workdays managing events at crowded venues. I missed executing promotions at ballparks and concerts even though people kept telling me how lucky I was to work from home.
My disappointment in my career took the form of excess body weight until I decided I was ready to lose weight again. I decided to do a weight loss challenge inspired by the Biggest Loser with my boyfriend and some friends. I took a few pics to track my progress and posted them on a site where I was a regular contributor.
“I really hope you lose the weight, you look awful now.”
My eyes teared up as I read my friend’s cruel words. I knew it was a friend because my weight loss article was unpublished; I had shared the preview URL with my Facebook followers. That meant the comment came from someone I knew and trusted.
I didn’t want to lose weight anymore. I was afraid whoever left that rude comment would think I shed my excess pounds for them, so I stayed fat.
A decade later, I’m overweight again. A small part of me still thinks my haters win if I get in shape, but I don’t care about that anymore. I know that by losing weight, I win too.
I deserve to live a healthy life, and my kids deserve a healthy mom. Some people can be overweight and healthy, but I’m not one of them. I love nutritious meals loaded with vibrant veggies and fresh herbs, but I abandon these dietary habits when I’m stressed. If you see me buried under a baggy hoodie, it’s likely because I’ve spent the last few months devouring potato chips and nachos.
I’m an emotional eater, and that’s why I’m overweight despite my otherwise-healthy diet.
It took me more than 15 years to recognize that. I eat when I’m sad. I eat when I’m anxious. I eat when I’m annoyed.
It also took me a long time to understand why I cared if someone thought I lost weight for them. I was tired of doing things for other people. I spent years dealing with manipulative family members and toxic exes. I sacrificed my own happiness to survive in these emotionally draining relationships. I based my choices on their moods, and as a result, I was angry.
I was sick of other people influencing how I lived my life.
Refusing to lose weight was my way of regaining control over my own life — or so I thought. When I gained weight, my body claimed the control my brain desperately wanted. My body decided I was too tired to go for a run. My body warned me I might have a heart attack if I overdid it at the gym. My body ached when I tried doing simple tasks.
Holding on to excess weight might have angered my critics, but it also upset my body.
I’m tired of battling hypertension and heartburn. I hate that I can’t even jog to the mailbox without gasping for air. I don’t want the body I’ve created anymore.
So I’m doing something about it.
I walk with my family each day, and when the pandemic dies down, I’ll go back to trekking the neighborhood with my friends. I’m eating fewer potato chips and less ice cream. I’m incorporating fitness throughout each day, such as dancing while my kids and I do chores or scrubbing as hard as possible when I wash dishes.
I’m contacting friends, family, and medical providers when life gets rough. This is important for people who are emotional eaters. I’m working on accepting people the way they are instead of letting predictable actions frustrate me, though I’m not quite there yet. I’m reminding myself that I can only change my own behaviors, and when people do things I dislike, I can’t make them stop.
I don’t care if my ex thinks my weight gain makes me ugly. It’s not a big deal if family members think I’m fat. I’m not upset if frenemies make hateful comments about my figure.
Nothing matters except how I feel about my body, and I’m making that statement my personal mantra.