I'm Fat & I Have An Eating Disorder
It’s #eatingdisorderawarenessweek, something I only realised when I hopped on twitter this afternoon and saw the hashtag trending, because I am nothing if not an awful mental health advocate. Anyway. Of all the things I have written about on this blog when it comes to mental health, the one thing I haven’t really touched on is my (what feels like) lifelong battle with disordered eating.
This is for several reasons. The biggest one is that I still haven’t quite made peace with it all myself. Body image and eating is still probably the biggest thing I struggle with, but the thing I keep quietest when it comes to my advocacy because I’m still not entirely sure how to talk about it. I can talk about self harm, suicide, depression, and BPD until the cows have come home and fucked off again, but eating?
Something inside of me just rebels against it.
I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I have never been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder, although a lot of my mental health ‘journey’ has been focused on it. I also have a feeling that the fact I was never formally diagnosed with an eating disorder is because I was and am fat. Although how fat I used to be is not really fat at all, despite being told again and again that I had to go on a diet and lose weight.
Let’s go back to the beginning before I make this any more confusing than it already is.
I grew up as a dancer. I began when I was 2 ½, and my dance obsession only grew from there. By the time I was 13, I was doing every dance class under the sun: ballet, tap, modern, contemporary, musical theatre, street jazz - you name it, I had probably tried it. (Never got to do classical greek though, and I will regret that forever). I loved dance. I had every intention of my life path being dancing. And I was, not to toot my own trumpet, good. I had passion and a natural talent for performing, and I was never happier than when I was on stage.
However. And it’s a big however. However, being in the dance world meant my body being scrutinised at every opportunity. I come from a stocky people - we are tall and big boned and broad shoulders, with wide hips. My dancing friends were tiny - tiny boned, tiny shoulders, little delicate wrists and ankles. Next to them, I looked huge. From a very young age, this immersion in the dance world ruined my body image.
Up until about 3ish or 4ish years ago, I was never fat. I won’t talk weight numbers, because that doesn’t help anyone, but I was a size 10-12 with muscle. Unfortunately, this muscle sent my BMI into the ‘overweight’ category, prompting a school nurse to tell me, when I was 13 years old, that I had to lose weight.
It was in my head.
It’s never left.
Lose weight. You have to lose weight. Lose weight.
A constant refrain in my head for years and years and years. It’ll probably come as no surprise, seeing as this is basically the point of this post, that that advice sent me - a young girl who had already been struggling with her body image and knowing she was bigger than every other girl in dance class - into a downward spiral when it came to my relationship with food.
Within months I had developed a binge-restrict cycle that I still haven’t managed to break.
Years of restricting and binging and restricting and binging have done a number on my body and mind, and quite frankly I don’t really know what a healthy relationship with food is or how to have one.
But it’s the thing I talk about the least, because I’m so afraid of not being taken seriously. So afraid of people looking at me and thinking that the only eating disorder I could possibly have is binge eating disorder. And maybe that is a big part of it. But long periods of intense restriction would say otherwise.
Between the ages of 15 and 19 is probably when my disordered eating was at its worst, and most restrictive. This was the period in which I was really trying to make a go of my dance career, whilst also battling my mental health. It was a dark time, and the time in which I ended up in the unit (which, coincidentally, is probably the only period of time in which I’ve ever really had a normal eating pattern because I had people making sure I ate, and taking all decisions out of my hands).
My weight was spiralling down, I was constantly out of breath, my sleeping pattern was nowhere to be seen, I was doing intense dance days from 8-8/9 with barely any food, and my health was shot to pieces. It wasn’t a great time, and when I left uni I realised that my mental health probably meant that my dancing dreams were out the window. They just weren’t compatible. And for some people they are, but for me I had to remove that trigger.
I had to get out of this world where I was told, the minute I walked into a dance shop for a new leotard, that I would need a big one. I had to get out of this world where there was so much emphasis on my body and what it looked like, where I had to fit into costumes made for people much smaller than me, where I spent hours and hours each week comparing my body to the others in the mirror and not focusing on the actual dance.
So I got out.
I miss dance more than I miss anything else. It’s this constant pain in my chest, this hole where performance once used to be. I miss the stage. I miss the hours and hours of rehearsals, of bleeding toes and sore muscles, of the intricacies of learning a new piece and getting to grips with new moves, of spending hours backstage in a cloud of hairspray, constantly getting into and out of costume. I miss everything about it.
But for the sake of my health and my mind, I can’t immerse myself completely back into that world again. Drag fills a little of the void, and for that I am thankful.
And so with that, we come to present day. I am fat now. For a long while, after I quit dance, the binge/restrict cycle got completely out of hand, but without the hours and hours of exercise. And so I put on weight. Quite a bit of it.
The cycle is not so bad now. I still have the urges to restrict and the urges to binge, but I immerse myself in the body positive world, and I follow incredible people like Stephanie Yeboah (Nerd About Town), Megan Crabbe (bodyposipanda), Jes Baker (The Militant Baker), and Dani Adriana (iamdaniadriana). I follow the work of Your Fat Friend, and I try so hard to change my thinking, instead of changing who I am. It’s slowly working. I’m getting there. I dress way differently to how I used to, showing off my body more than hiding it away.
My relationship with my body and with food is changing in a positive way, and I have removed myself from the world of dieting. Now at work, I’ve told people that I can’t be around them if they’re going to discuss calorie counting and ask how many calories are in my sandwich. I know that I can’t look at the calories in things or know my weight. I know who to follow and who not to follow on social media. I’m doing all the ‘right’ things, but my eating is still disordered.
I want, more than anything, to have professional help with this. But I worry that people would never take me seriously if I told them about my eating problems. I know that my doctor ignores that fact completely, believing that I don’t have periods of restriction. But the truth is, fat people can and do have eating disorders.
And that’s something that we need to start recognising more, because it’s just as detrimental.