Editor’s note: Discussion of eating disorder and control may be disturbing to some.
My weight has been a lifelong struggle. I was born overweight. In fact, I can’t recall a time in my life where I wasn’t aware of my pudginess. It’s always been there, suspended over me in the tense air.
In elementary school, it was fat jokes. I’m not sure if I was even medically classified as overweight at that point (it was mostly just baby fat), but I was still called “BB” (short for “Big Butt”) by the entire fourth grade.
In middle school, I realized my hatred for jeans shopping because the feeling of not fitting into a size in front of my mother would make me panic.
In high school, I developed social anxiety and an eating disorder.
I think my parents are to blame.
I always feel bad for thinking such a thing, because I know they have always been well-intentioned. They want me to lose weight so I look better, so I feel more confident. So I’m healthier. But the methods my parents have employed to “help” me get fit caused me to gain over forty pounds in two years.
My mother signed me up for a gym membership in seventh grade.
At that point, weight hadn’t become the soul-sucking burden it is now, but I do remember a very strong desire to be skinnier. I seldom touched junk food but ate large portions of food at home, so I didn’t end up losing weight.
I think my parents are to blame.
I resorted to wearing sweatpants anywhere and everywhere. It wasn’t that I didn’t fit into jeans; instead, I didn’t feel comfortable knowing what size the jeans on me were.
I knew it was a fact that I was fat.
I was fat, I had always been fat. It was the way things were. My mother didn’t taunt me or ridicule me, but it was just common knowledge in my family. I was fat.
In tenth grade, my mother started pushing harder for me to lose weight. My thighs, calves, and backside were problem areas, and my daily gym visits didn’t work. This was when my mother started hiding food.
She started hiding snacks around the house. Any chips, cookies, cake…everything was gone from sight. There would be food hidden in her closet, the drawers under her sink- anywhere and everywhere. And it all came back to control.
My parents had always been very controlling; they took my phone away at least weekly, read through my texts, and basically instilled a very strong sense of guilt in me whenever I did anything they disliked. They liked to have full reign over me, and I definitely felt subservient to them.
Food was yet another thing they controlled, but it also became a way for me to take control of my own life.
It became a way for me to do something for my own self.
They liked to have full reign over me, and I definitely felt subservient to them.
Any time I had the garage door open, I was downstairs in an instant. This meant my mother had left the house, that I was home alone with the kitchen to myself. I would scavenge the entire area. Every cupboard was opened, every shelf explored. Sometimes I could find hidden snacks, sometimes I wouldn’t. If I couldn’t find anything, I grabbed the bag of chocolate chips or squirted whipped cream into my mouth. Ate spoonfuls of condensed milk, or hot chocolate powder.
Anything was game. These were my moments of freedom.
I was a fat girl, but I found comfort in the fact that- as strange as it sounds- bingeing was something I could control. My mother controlled everything else. Even if I wasn’t hungry, I would never pass up on the opportunity to wander the kitchen without the watchful eye of my mother.
Afterward, I’d sit on the bathroom floor, crying, panicking, or simply staring numbly at the floor, filled with self-hatred. I wished I could purge, because I had heard of bulimia and supposed that’s what my obsession was called. I retched over the toilet, but nothing happened. I had dreams about making myself throw up and woke up feeling happier than I had in a long time.
As wrong as it sounds, I also wished I had anorexia so that I could lose weight. It was a sick wish, but I was sick at the time, even if I couldn’t see it. I went a week on 500 calories a day but ended up passing out and giving up promptly.
And the guilt. Oh, the guilt. It was wrenching. My mother would come home and always, always know what was missing. She was always one step ahead, always had full control. She had counted the cookies, or the chocolate, or eyeballed the number of chips in the bag. When she came home, I sat tensely on the sofa, waiting for the inevitable question about the food I had eaten. I could never lie about it, and it never occurred for me to do so.
There was no point because she knew.
When my parents went to sleep, I would often try to soundlessly open a bag of pretzels or a granola bar wrapper. Most of the times one of them would jerk awake and ask what I was taking from the pantry. The shame that accompanied my answer was the same shame that sat with me on the bathroom floor.
My mother would come home and always, always know what was missing.
My mother made snappy comments about my body, about the way outfits looked on me. It was the days of “BB” all over again. From there stemmed my anxiety about the way I looked when I walked. At school, I grew distant from my friends, became angry all the time. I was afraid to walk in front of anybody, for fear of how I looked from the back. Multiple times, I avoided going to the restroom in class because it required me to walk in front of people. At home, I would go so far as to casually walk always facing my parents, so my back wouldn’t be visible.
It sounds ridiculous, I know.
But it was a crippling fear of the way I looked, and it grew with every pound I gained. Every disappointed look from my father or judgmental glance from my mother added to my anxiety and my weight gain.
Today, I am only beginning my recovery from my struggles. I weigh much more than I did before my parents started hiding food. When I’m left at home alone, I still often pace the kitchen floor, but more as a ritualistic comfort rather than a forage for food. I still find myself too self-conscious to do commonplace things, like standing up for the Pledge of Allegiance at school.
I’ve grown some, of course. I’ve found comfort in friends again and tried to communicate these worries with my mother. I am growing out of only purchasing baggy tops and appreciating the gift that is a good pair of leggings. I am trying to get better, to be better, and to put my energy into useful things.
But the sound of wrappers or food packaging being opened still makes me anxious and shaky.
When I hear that sound of wrinkling paper, it’s like I’m back in the kitchen with the covert shame. The burdensome guilt sits heavily in my chest, and it stops me from doing productive things, like going on a walk or riding a bike.
So yes, I blame my parents.
They put that feeling there.
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