The fat kid’s “normal” — obsessions and concessions

When you're overweight, you have a different "normal"

One of Sara Rue’s comments in her Jenny Craig “before” interview struck me for its honesty, sadness and truth. When you are overweight, many of your behaviors are not “normal.” Sara’s example is not wanting to go outside because you don’t like how you look in your clothes. This is a bit extreme, but a valuable topic: when you are a “fat kid,” many of your inherent behaviors, thoughts and relationship with yourself and food are not normal. It is not normal to:

  • rummage desperately through your clothing, maybe even digging into the dirty pile, to find a shirt that flares at the bottom… because you are wearing pants that day and you need something that covers your “over flow” (or, if you will, “muffin top”)
  • avoid sleeveless shirts because you don’t want people to see your fat upper arms (or “Oprah arms” or “wings” (because you can flap them))
  • wash your jeans as infrequently as possible, because you don’t want them to shrink, even a little bit. That little bit = more fat over the waist band = need more empire waist shirts to hide your fat.
  • have to measure your portions out and force yourself to stop when you’ve eaten a serving size
  • force yourself not to eat everything on your plate, and either throw food out or save it for later
  • have to write down everything you eat
  • avoid parties/social functions/places that provide junk food/fatty food/trigger food, because you cannot control yourself
  • purposely spend time with friends you know will enable you to eat junk, or go to someone’s house because you know they have the food you won’t buy for yourself
  • get upset when plans change at the last minute, and you end up going to a different restaurant as planned. You spent your entire day (or possibly week) looking forward to this particular cuisine/place.
  • get upset when/if someone eats the last cookie/finished the bag of chips, etc. that you were saving for later
  • question when someone flirts with you, whether or not they’re doing it because they think you are easy (because you are fat/have low self-esteem/not wanted by many others)

These are just examples, and mostly personal ones — when you are fat, you make both conscious and unconscious decisions about what you wear, where you eat, who you hang out with and often have emotional responses to situations that normal people just don’t. There’s the food side and there’s the physical body side — not all fat people have issues with both, but I imagine it is most common that they do.

Some of these things may go away when you lose the weight, but the real fantasy that is spun by erstwhile fat kids in weight loss campaigns is the idea that when you get skinny, you suddenly become “normal.”

No matter your weight, food & body issues are life-long

My life revolves around food. I plan my days around meals, and get incredibly flustered and unhappy when things change unexpectedly (don’t change a restaurant on me. Ever.). I can’t not pay attention to what I eat on a daily basis: when I eat like a “normal person,” I balloon. I’m not a normal person — I have to watch what I eat, and limit what I eat, at all times. To wit: I have been and always will be on a “diet” — the trick is morphing that diet into an all-around healthy lifestyle, without relapse.

As an adult, a huge part of this is controlling when and what I eat in order to keep my weight under control.  When I was younger, it was an all-around obsession with food that, well, got me fat. When I’m not in control, or am in a toxic environment (such as my current job which feeds us 1-2 times a day and provides us with a massive snack closet for three months straight), I become incredibly stressed, I lose control, and I gain. Last summer, I gained 20 pounds at work. I’ve had co-workers get exasperated with my exasperation, saying “then just don’t eat it!” But I am not normal — the whole problem is that I CAN’T control myself around certain foods. One of them is Chex Mix. So the Cost-Co sized back ten feet from my desk? Is not a good thing. I pray to God my next job doesn’t have a snack closet!

This will never change, no matter what I weigh. You don’t have to be overweight to have food issues and, in fact, I have some good friends who are very thin who have similar issues with food as I do. This fixation and need to control my food environment and what I eat will be with me forever. It’s not normal, insomuch as normal is a relative measure of how the majority of society behaves. Most people just eat when they are hungry, are generally active, and don’t put on massive amounts of weight in a short time — I can gain 20lbs in a month, if I’m not careful. It doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person, but it does mean that I will probably need to attend support meetings for the rest of my life — probably Weight Watchers (though I know people who rave about Overeaters Anonymous).

Do Not Want

The body issues are another thing. It is frustrating, embarrassing and painful to have to spend ten minutes in the morning trying to find “that dress” or “the A-line top you wore last week” because you put on your pants that morning and there was so much fat spilling over the top and you either a) couldn’t breathe or sit comfortably and have to change your outfit completely (into something that isn’t pants — dress or skirt) and/or b) you had to change out of your fitted top to find one that could hide your fat. It’s an awful feeling. Don’t get me started on having to buy new clothes because you’ve become too fat for your old ones.

This is a fat person’s pain, and it is not normal. I am with Sara on wanting to get rid of this sensation — feeling uncomfortable in your own body is not a good feeling. Losing weight definitely fixes it. I know the fat acceptance movement would tsk at me for this, but it is true: being skinny doesn’t solve all your problems (which I covered in my last post), but staying fat certainly doesn’t either.

Weight is a complex issue, with complex solutions. And that solution is different for everybody. For me, losing weight is essential, but the key to that end result is to slowly but surely gain control of my larger issues with food. I’ve come a long way on Weight Watchers, and have gradually morphed what was once a diet into a relatively healthy lifestyle. I avoid trigger foods (don’t buy them). I’ve trained my friends not to enable me. I don’t go to certain restaurants. I’ve found healthy substitutions for my favorite comfort food (but still have to watch portions). But I will have food issues forever. I will probably have body issues forever, too, but I won’t know that until later. One step at a time.

3 Responses to “The fat kid’s “normal” — obsessions and concessions”
  1. Robin says:

    I kind of feel guilty responding to this because I know that I’ve never struggled with weight to the degree you have – I’ve struggled with a lot of the same mental issues, which you’ve already touched on being common to people of different sizes. But I think there’s a big difference in how those thoughts are reinforced in thin vs. fat people. Society thinks it’s normal for someone who’s overweight (over what weight I don’t know, depends on the person right?) to log all food, resist constantly, obsess over food, feel uncomfortable in one’s own skin. The message is that the self-hate is normal, that the careful counting and measuring of food is a good thing in someone who is fat. It’s silly or disordered or sad or unnecessarily obsessive in someone who is not.

    To a great degree though, the behaviors are the problem. When I say that weight loss is addictive, I mean that they don’t go away. They only get reinforced, and stronger. It’s totally possible to get rid of a lot of your self-hatred by getting rid of the things you hate. But it’s also totally possible not to. It wasn’t weighing more than I wanted to that made me self-hating and obsessive, with my life revolving around food. It was starting to lose that weight and feeling that now it was in my power I must hate myself more and obsess more. Likewise, it wasn’t a body change that made them start to go away, it was a lot of hard mental work changing my attitude).

    I do think you’re better able to separate the behavior from the body than I am (i.e. I am someone who is constitutionally incapable of counting calories without having disordered eating), so maybe this doesn’t apply to you in the same way. But what galls me, absolutely galls me, is that if a thin person is eating so little food she’s dizzy and lightheaded, logging everything, and planning her day around only being around healthy food, it’s sick. If a fat person’s doing it, it’s diet and discipline.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This was a great post. I still think you should try out an OA meeting, because they really do sort of promise that although you never get to pretend that you’re “normal” around food (I think a better word might be “moderate”, because I haven’t met very many of these normals), your life gets so so so so so so so much better. Like. omg. Miracles. Anyway, as a funny aside, on Thursday night I went to an OA meeting for people who have lost over 100 pounds in the program, and a woman was describing how, when her coworkers noticed how she had lost so much weight and gained this new serenity, they all wanted to know what diet she had found. So she told them about OA. They all went to Weight Watchers. I lol’d. Love you.

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  1. […] reckon this is another aspect of the “fat kid’s normal,” about which I’ve previously written. Correct me if I’m wrong, my thin friends, but […]

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