- Dr. Lisa Ghent, ND
Inside the mind of a fat girl
Updated: May 24, 2021
**Warning: This blog post contains content that may be triggering to people with a history of or are currently struggling with an eating disorder.
I know it’s not politically correct to use the word ‘fat’ to describe someone but this post is about my truth, and I have thought of myself as fat for most of my life. I remember it starting early in high school, as it does for many, particularly girls. I remember with clarity a conversation with one of my very best friends at the time who asked me about my weight gain. I’m not sure that prior to that I had considered my weight or thought of myself as fat, but I did afterwards, even though she didn’t call me that and it wasn’t her intention to be mean, and I definitely don’t blame her for my interpretation of her question. By that time, I was already primed for anxiety and depression and this was just one more thing to fuel those fires. Generally speaking, in high school I felt like an outsider. It’s why I ran for student council, worked on the yearbook, joined as many clubs as I could. I was trying to find my place, but I never actually felt like I found it. I had a few great friends, but I never felt like any one person’s best friend, and that sense of not belonging resulted in me engaging in activities that I hoped would fill that void, but of course never did.
It didn’t help that I understood nothing about nutrition or properly taking care of my body. My parents did the best they could, but I don’t recall any conversations addressing the chocolate bar and coke I had almost daily. To me it was just yummy and I had my own money to spend so why not? They made me feel good at the time, and it was years before I connected that type of behaviour to my mental health. Going away to university was just the icing on the cake. The ‘Frosh 15’ was certainly more than that for me. This combined with the fact that university was a way of running away from my former life. I wanted something completely different though I didn’t know what it was at the time. Lots of counselling has showed me that it was always in a quest to fit in. My self-esteem and mental health hit an all-time low during those first years of university, and eating (and drinking) was how I treated it. I manifested myself as a fat girl, which just reinforced how I had felt about myself all along.
In retrospect I struggled with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) from early high school. This is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance that are typically unnoticeable to others. It’s something that I still struggle with today and that’s what this blog post is really about; highlighting the fact that when some people look in the mirror, they don’t see what others see. BDD is more than insecurity; it is something that takes over your brain and you think about it all the time. Insecurity involves ignoring your positive attributes and focusing on the negative. While that has been an issue for me at times, it has really been in moments when my anxiety was lying to me. For most of my life I’ve been able to see what is good about me and what is special, but how I think about my body has always been different.
Since university I have gained and lost weight several times. I am fortunate enough to not struggle to lose weight; for me it’s literally about moderate caloric restriction, making good food choices, and moving my body. What I have struggled with in the past is using food as medicine for my mental health, and that has sometimes been a roadblock to physical health. At the beginning of this year, I started on a path to treat a medical condition that has as a side effected resulted in significant weight loss. What I know in my head is that I am not fat. I objectively know that by the size of my clothing, but it’s not because of what I see in the mirror. Do I think I look healthier? Yes. But do I still fixate on certain parts of my body that aren’t perfect? 100%. Despite all my hard work, I still only see the area of my abdomen below my c-section scars that pooches out, and the fact that I think my arms are too large to wear a tank top. Does this sound ridiculous to you, or can you relate? At the beginning I could look in the mirror and like what I see, but that feeling is always fleeting. It only takes a couple of weeks for what I perceive in the mirror to be very close to where I started. Even now, the word ‘fat’ is something that I use in my head to describe myself.
To be clear, BDD has never caused me to engage in dangerous food restricting or other activities to remove calories from my body. I have never been a compulsive or excessive exerciser. Especially now as a naturopath, I value health over vanity and approach any weight loss through this lens. But for many, this is not the case. I have been seeing a growing number of teenagers lately who show signs of potential BDD and that are engaging in dangerous behaviours that are on a slippery slope to a more serious eating disorder. These kids often come from caring homes, with engaged parents. They tell me what they are doing and talk about specifically hiding it from their parents. When I discuss it with parents, they are often shocked. It has really turned me inward to examine my own broken relationship with food and with myself. I’m not sure if I’ll ever think of myself as anything other than fat, but I hope so. For my daughters, but more importantly for myself. I’m doing the work, and part of that is sharing my story. It’s something to consider when you are engaging with others and choosing your language. It’s so easy to say to someone, ‘wow, you’ve lost weight and look fantastic.’ It’s meant as a compliment but to people (like me) who are/have struggled with the image of themselves, it really just reinforces that skinny is good, fat is bad. I prefer when someone says, ‘I can tell you’ve been working hard on your health; well done.’
If you’re wondering how to help yourself or your kids, there are some resources online that are good starting places:
· 10 Steps to Positive Body Image: https://bit.ly/3u9ZYHM
· 53 Body Positive Influences You Should Follow: https://bit.ly/3oO0j29
· Promoting a Positive Body Image [to your kids]: https://bit.ly/3hJ3ne5
· Body Outlaws [book]: https://amzn.to/3fBqcOj
· Anti-Diet [book]: https://amzn.to/3hFwgrP
If you or your child are struggling with BDD, binge eating, food restricting, compulsive overexercising, anorexia, or bulimia, please seek help from a professional as soon as possible. These resources are a great start, and will help us do the hard work of changing diet culture in society, but acute struggling requires extra help. In BC please visit the Kelty Mental Health website for eating disorders to figure out where to start: https://keltyeatingdisorders.ca/
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