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As I sat reading It Happened to Me: I’m a Fat Bulimic, my heart broke, as many others' did I'm sure. The voice of the piece brought me back to my own days as a fat bulimic. I felt like I was reliving so many nights of my life through her words.
While the whole piece was desperately sad, the part that stayed stuck in my head was her belief that it is impossible for her to ever love her body; her belief that she can somehow recover while skipping that vital step. I know from my experience, that recovering without loving yourself is an impossible paradox.
For years I couldn’t figure out the origins of my eating disorder, but the more I’ve learned about fat acceptance, the clearer it became. I grew up in a family that hated their bodies. This, combined with the cultural message that fat is evil, brewed to create my ten-year battle with ED.
As a child I wasn’t totally aware that my body was unacceptable, but by the time I was a teenager it had become unavoidable. I started a diet that seemed as innocent as any other, but aided by the adoration of my friends and family for the weight that I’d lost, it quickly toppled into a full-blown eating disorder.
A few years into it, I’d become exhausted and overwhelmed by the constant hatred of my body, and decided to try my hand at recovery. I was too scared to seek professional help at this point, living under the false idea that if I just pulled myself up by my bootstraps I could get by on my own.
I enforced a no-purging rule, and tried to avoid restricting as best I could, and recovery was semi-successful, but I couldn’t get past hating myself. I stopped all eating disordered behaviours for a while, but unsurprisingly I gained back all the weight that I’d lost (and probably a bit more), amplifying my obsession with the size of my body. For a while I thought that this could be ok. Some recovery was better than nothing, even if I still hated myself, but it didn’t take much to send me back down the same eating-disordered path again.
At an appointment with a specialist, it was recommended that I lose weight. The doctor asked if I’d ever lost weight before, and for the first time I thought I’d try confiding in someone. I told her that I had, but admitted that it was done in a very unhealthy way. The statement was a bit vague, but enough that you’d expect it would raise concerns coming from a teenage girl.
Her response though? “Whatever works.”
My will for recovery was shattered. It had been based on the idea of health, but knowing that even healthcare professionals thought it was better to have an eating disorder than to be fat broke that idea.
I went back to a cycle of occasional bingeing and purging for another few years, until I hit my lowest point. The long-term relationship that I’d been in for nearly as long as I’d had an eating disorder fell apart, and I was at my highest weight yet. I was a fat high school drop out in a dead-end job, and the one thing that I felt like I could at least kind of keep together was disintegrating by the second.
As we divided our lives and our possessions, I gave in to the worst turn my eating disorder had ever taken. I berated my body when I looked in the mirror, appalled at how horrific it looked. Every moment of the day I was consumed by thoughts of how my body looked and felt; fixated on the sensation of fat on my body, not necessarily the way it moved or touched anything, but feeling it simply existing on me.
I was horrified and ashamed. I refused to allow myself to eat, lying to family and friends about every fake meal I never consumed, and when my will broke, my body and mind grasping at survival, I threw up everything I ate, regardless of how much or how little it was.
The bright side of all this is that it brought me to therapy. I started seeing my first therapist after ten years of living with an eating disorder. I still wasn't totally sold on the idea of recovery at the time, but I was so sick, so tired, and so depressed that I didn't know what else to do with myself.
After a few months of weekly sessions, she helped me to work through a number of my problems, and my eating disorder eased up a little. I was no longer throwing up absolutely everything I ate, but I wasn't totally sold on the idea it was okay for me to stop. She suggested I see a dietitian, and I expressed my hesitation, part of which came from the continued desire to lose weight. She reassured me that of course I could still lose weight.
It didn't strike me at that point how weird that was. All her reassurance did was act to further instill my beliefs that my still undeniably fat body was something that needed to change. The dietitian seemed to agree, and started me out on an eating plan that involved restricting my food intake.
I’ll always be thankful for the steps that my first therapist allowed me to take, as without her I wouldn’t have been in a place where I was ready to take on fat acceptance, but I knew even then that there must be more. For the next year and a half I floated in what felt like eating disorder purgatory. The frequency of my eating disordered behaviours had been significantly reduced, but I couldn’t quite seem to reach real recovery. I was trying to learn to love my body, but couldn’t figure out how to achieve it. Nobody had taught me how, or even told me that I could, and so without that crucial piece, I continued to float from restricting to bingeing and purging from time to time.
But then I found fat acceptance, and everything changed.
I hadn’t gone looking for it, but one day while casually browsing through some blogs online I saw mention of the Health at Every Size and fat acceptance movements. The desperate-for-full-recovery part of me was intrigued, and I went out the next day to buy the books. I raced through Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon and Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby, and I stayed awake many nights reading the archives of Shapely Prose. My days were spent walking through my neighbourhood listening to the Two Whole Cakes podcast.
For a while I was angry, so angry. At first, I was angry at fat acceptance for even proposing the idea that I would never be able to lose the weight that had been the all-consuming obsession of the last twelve years of my life. Then, I became angry at society for teaching all these messages, all these lies and myths, and angry at the industries that spend billions of dollars making sure you never forget. And finally, I grew angry with myself for spending over a decade wasting my time on that bullshit. And then as the anger subsided, I was finally able to love my body as it was.
Embracing fat acceptance has allowed me to reach a level of recovery I had thought would be impossible. I have no question in my mind that if I hadn’t discovered it, I wouldn’t be as healthy and happy as I am today. I no longer hide my body behind clothing in an attempt to apologize for my size; I can wear what I want. I exercise for how great it makes me feel both mentally and physically, without a thought about the number of calories I’ve burned. I eat vegetables because they taste good, and they make my body feel better, not because I’m supposed to, and certainly not because it’s all I’m allowed to eat. And as I lay in bed at night, I stroke my stomach and appreciate it, because it’s soft and full, and because it just feels nice.
I understand where the author of It Happened to Me: I’m a Fat Bulimic is coming from; before fat acceptance, I was there too. But trying to recover from an eating disorder, while still following the ideology that you need to change your body, is a paradox that can never be solved.
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