Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a two-part blog. Dear Contributor, Thank you again, for your courage in sharing.
TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorders, food addiction
“You’re not fat, you’re just big”.
This was a common refrain that I heard from the pre-teens till well into young adulthood. The various theories about deranged thyroid hormones to a heavy bone structure to the fact that the sinuses could be playing up offered little comfort. As time went on, the pants size only increased and the need to keep finding excuses as to why I was the way I was grew.
It wasn’t always like this. I grew up as a energetic young boy who played and ran around more than most kids. I was thin in every sense of the word and enjoyed my time out in the open. Sports were a useful release for the excess energy and also helped me find focus from a harmlessly debilitating habit of attention deficit.
Then came a setback for a family member, which meant that my parents could not spend enough time with me once I got back from school. I was all of ten years old and often felt lonely and alone. Paradoxically, the more I found myself alone, the more I wanted to be alone. It was then that I remember that my only solace would be food. Nothing in particular, but everything in general. I would eat my normal meals but would love to go out when possible to taste some of the more fattening stuff. Then the meals portions began to grow. For a child of of my age, I was probably consuming that of a young adult. But I couldn’t stop. I would feel the warm comfort of food taking some of the loneliness away. It was like a drug that made you feel better.
As things on the home front improved, I came back to a more normal routine. Only that normal meant overeating three times a day. My doting mother, probably with a sense of guilt of having not spent enough time with me, fed us lovingly. At first, my weight gain was not obvious. Many pre-adolescents are heavier and tend to lose the excess fat as their bodies undergo the hormonal roller coaster that is adolescence. Then one day it happened.
During the annual height and weight measurement that was mandatory as part of our school’s physical education curriculum, I was amongst the tallest, but also amongst the heaviest. I was 13, nearly six feet and weighed close to 90 kgs. I remember how my classmates laughed with glee and childish meanness that we thankfully lose with age, as they saw the needle on the scale move energetically towards the 90 kg mark. A few girls sniggered at the fact that I weighed as much as the two of them put together. The weight and how it looked on me ensured that a promising talent in swimming was given up and given a decent burial. I just could not stand the way people looked at me in the changing room. I was determined to let go of all situations where I would have to be in a changing room with other people. I took recourse to avoid rather than confront what was becoming increasingly clear and unsustainable.
While this shook my confidence on the inside, I was still a different person on the outside. Outgoing and gregarious, full of self-confidence, I took the weight in my stride. The only comfort came from food. Ironically even more food. I remember the time, when I was taken to restaurants and instead of asking the food that no one ate to be packed; I polished off with a great sense of accomplishment. I would eat in between meals that were heavy to begin with. The “this is how men must eat” bravado of some of the senior members of the family, gave me a false sense of everything being all right. They say you consume food, but in my case, the food consumed me.
There were dinners at home, when I would overhear friends of my parents refer to how much weight I had put on. Whether my parents intended to “do something about it”. I remember my parents requesting their friends to not broach the subject because I was sensitive about the issue. This made me take to food even more, but with a subtle difference. In order to show how normal my eating habits were, I would consume a normal meal when in company of others. As soon as I would retire to my room, I would look for food to eat and satiate my desire which took the form of addiction. There was a time when I would hide food in my room, just so that I could have access to it when everyone was asleep, or when I was alone. I could not at that stage in my life differentiate between normal desires for nutrition and the occasional need to indulge, with that of what I was experiencing, the overwhelming need to satiate an unnatural appetite.
Slowly but steadily by the time I was 16 years old, I weighed in at 110 kgs. It is no exaggeration to say that I could not find clothes of my size. This was not the days when ‘plus sizes’ were acceptable. I had run through most of the men’s sizes and the only option remained to go to wholesalers to find bigger sizes. With a shirt size of 46 and a waist size of 40, finding clothes became a task. This at a time when my friends had girlfriends and were looking at donning the latest in fashion. I on the other hand was looking for clothes to fit and someone to accept me for what I was.
The moment of truth when it really hit me was in a changing room in a men’s clothing store. The cubicle with its functionality of ensuring privacy yet offering a closer look, did just that – only at a more profound psychological level. The trousers that I was trying on, just did not fit. With tears in my eyes, I did not have the heart to go out and ask for a bigger size, knowing fully well that I would be the butt of all jokes amongst the salespeople. I took a long hard look at myself. This is not what I wanted to be. I did not want to be intricately linked and associated with being fat (or big or whatever). I did not want food to have a hold over me anymore. I knew that just as determined as I was to ensure that the snide remarks, the jeers and the innuendoes about how I looked didn’t effect me on the outside, I did not feel good on the inside.
I came out of the cubicle; quietly handed over the trousers to the salesman, making some per functionary excuse about how it was not the shade I was wanted and told my parents to leave the store. I went home, locked myself up in the bathroom and cried. I didn’t want to be this way anymore. Food had consumed me. It was the elixir that offered comfort but at a price. It was a price I wasn’t willing to pay. I decided to do something that I had not done for years – I got onto a weighing scale myself. The needle finally stopped moving at 117 kgs. At 6 feet 2 inches and 18 years old, I was more than big –- I was hurtling towards disaster. It was time to change.
Coming soon: Part Two — The Journey to Health.
If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, please don’t hesitate in getting help. Check here for a publicly available list of psychologists and psychiatrists who should be able to help.
(*Disclaimer: The Health Collective cannot substitute for trained mental health experts)