You don’t know until you understand.
All these new phobia words… are they really necessary? Here are my path and my findings.
I learned how to cook at a very young age. I didn’t have much access to processed food, so I grew up knowing what real fooders nowadays learn on Instagram. I also saw how important it was for my grandfather to lose weight to get a surgery done. My grandmother would remind him every day how fat he was. You don’t care if you die, do you? She would blame it on his beloved greasy food and alcohol. And on his lack of willpower too. I was still a teen when, following TV show advice, I designed a diet for him that allowed him to lose about twenty kilograms (44 lbs). I was proud of my healing skills. Looking after my grandfather and later my mother is how I developed an interest in a healthy lifestyle and why I decided to study nursing.
An essential part of a nurse’s job is to look for potential risk factors, obesity being, quite frequently, at the top of the list. As students, we learn how obesity affects patients’ lives and worsens their conditions. We study diabetes and sedentary lifestyle (another two critical risk factors). And finally, we get to understand how to design a diet adjusted to every patient’s needs. What excitement to be able to change a person’s life only by controlling what they eat! Of course, we don’t forget about exercise. But that’s obvious: you get fitter if you move your body. Right?
I tried it on myself, and yes, keeping a healthy diet and exercising often enough to burn those extra calories eaten on occasions was easy. Like most humans, I love cookies and chocolate, especially chocolate cookies. And sometimes, after eating one, I would eat the whole pack. But if this didn’t happen more than once a week and if I made sure to get up off the sofa a few times a week, I would keep my BMI within range. Just like my grandmother used to say, all I needed was a bit of willpower. Everybody overeats sugar to pace anxiety, and here I am managing it like a pro.
Then my anxiety got out of hand. I wasn’t even aware that I was stressed out. I did notice that I was thinner, even fitter. My colleges would tell me so. Some would even ask me what did I do to stay in shape. Back then I used to cycle to work and, being a nurse, I had quite an active job. It must be all this exercise I am doing. So I adapted my diet to a high energy one, ensuring I was getting enough calories throughout the day. And off you go. I did it again! Proper diet is the key!
Careful! Pride talking
As long as they don’t hurt other people, I value and respect anyone. Even if we disagree on how we should run our lives because I know that the consequences of a bad habit will fall upon ourselves. I just couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t educate themselves on a healthy diet (a balanced diet, not those quick-results diets) and an active lifestyle. With a bit of effort, they didn’t have to be fat.
Unless you don’t feel like eating, you are hungry and want to eat, but your throat is closed up like a hose under a wheel.
You prepare the best lunch you can think of it. It looks delicious.
Even swallowing saliva hurts, but anyway, you start eating. You have to eat because if you don’t, you will not get the energy you need. Your colleages look at you while you are eating. Are you not hungry? I smile. I am a sloweater. And I continue eating until I can feel the gagging, stronger at every mouthful. I stop before it is too late. I would rather keep a little inside than eat any more and throw it all up.
Until one day, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I saw my chest bones showing off. My face has reached a point in which a zombie would pass by and high five me. I would cry out of tiredness. I was losing myself, and there was nothing I could do.
It is only when you accept your vulnerability that you can see the strength in others.
Self-awareness is the real key
I had to stop working. I had anxiety. I was depressed. Being unable to eat when I was hungry made me feel very frustrated. That didn’t improve things. Doctors would ask me why I didn’t want to eat. I did want to. But it hurt. I had to forget about any kind of diet and eat whatever my body accepted. (Yoghurt was the worst, its viscosity made me throw up before the third spoon. I know, weird.) I would go for walks, to relax, but nothing more. I could not. It took me a lot of work and a few weeks before I managed to get back to a safe weight. And when I did my body was not the same. I had lost my muscles. I was fluffy and weak. I was still feeling uneasy. I didn’t know… And I started wondering.
So I read. I had questions, you know.
Why is it so difficult to stay on a certain weight?
What if I was misjudging fat people?
What if people who have overweight also struggle with anxiety?
What if their tendency to gain weight works the same way as my “ability to stay in shape”?
Was I being fatphofic?
I needed to understand. So I read.
Oh, God! All these people!
Hearing offensive comments daily about their weight.
Looking at plenty of advertisements, unable to buy clothes that make them feel comfortable on their skin.
Being stared at every time they open their mouth to get a bite.
Receiving unsolicited advice, useless advice, all day long.
And I understood.
If you don’t struggle with your mental health to start with, you’ll probably do after gaining some weight!
I looked at myself in the mirror again. I didn’t care about my fluffiness anymore. Shit! I was privileged in today’s society. I was alive, and that was enough.
My personal take
We are not defined by an image but by our genetics, environment, culture, financial status… Actually, we are not defined at all. We learn who we are and how to manage ourselves the best we can given each individual starting point. Luckily we evolve, but that doesn’t mean we can ever reach that image or keep it healthily in any case.
Even our health care systems are not acknowledging our diversity. Diagnosis and treatments are based on a particular model, and nothing is researched on the alternatives. Professionals are not being trained, so we often deliver more damage than care. Something has to change.
We have to stop judging other people’s lives based on our own experiences because we haven’t had the same experience or the same conditions most of the time. We have to listen more. We have to understand what we hear without immediately comparing it to what we know. Remember: You don’t know what you don’t know, and ignorance is bold.
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