Chapter Seventeen: What If I Never Stop Gaining Weight?
Content Warning: Fatphobia, discussion of weight gain numbers, discussion of eating disorder behaviors, discussion of suicidal ideation.
I knew I was going to gain weight when I stopped relying on eating disorder behaviors. Even though I was never technically underweight, I knew in my gut that my body wasn’t the size it wanted to be. Though I didn’t want it to be true, I knew that my body wanted to be bigger.
I knew because every time that I wasn’t diligent about my precise diet and grueling exercise regimen, I gained weight. The amount of weight was different every time, but I always gained. I knew because I’d only achieved my thinnest size by consuming nothing but smoothies and juice for more than a week. I knew because as soon as I’d been prevented from exercising by an injury, the weight had started to come back. I knew because my body was clearly telling me that it wanted to be larger.
So, I started bargaining with my body. If you want to be bigger, that’s fine, I’d tell her. But it’s only okay if you don’t get too big. I started defining “acceptable” amounts of weight gain — 10 pounds, 15 pounds, maybe 20 pounds. Certainly not 30 pounds. 30 pounds would be unacceptable
It didn’t take long for me to leave each of these benchmarks behind. My weight gain was not gradual. It seemed like it happened all at once. In reality, it took some time, but not much. Within a few months, I’d already gained 30 pounds. Even then, my body wasn’t done gaining weight.
My hatred for my body grew as it grew. With every piece of clothing I grew out of, my hatred increased. With every additional pound showing on the scale, came additional animosity. With every new roll came new disgust.
At the time, I didn’t know that this deep loathing was a manifestation of fatphobia and internalized fatphobia. I thought it was my hypercritical eating disorder voice trying to get me to go back to my old behaviors. I thought it was something external worming its way in, not something internal, already buried so deep within me that I couldn’t expel it.
The hatred seeped into every inch of my ever-expanding body until it completely enveloped me. I hated my body so much that I was suicidal. I wish this wasn’t true, but it was. I hated living in this fatter body so much that I wanted to destroy it, and since destroying it with eating disorder behaviors didn’t make sense to me anymore, killing myself did. Twisted? Yes. Absolutely true for me? Also yes.
The winter after I went into outpatient treatment was one of the darkest times of my life. I spent hours in front of the mirror pinching and pulling, imagining slicing my fat off the way you carve a Thanksgiving turkey. I spent hours sobbing. I spent hours fighting overwhelming, intrusive thoughts of self-harm and suicide. I smoked thousands of cigarettes and drank gallons of coffee and energy drinks. I slept very little.
During one particularly hard therapy session I remember literally screaming, “What if I NEVER stop gaining weight?!?”
My therapist gave me the look that I was very used to by then — a gentle smile accompanied by compassionate, understanding eyes.
“Well, the understanding we have of weight says that you will stop gaining weight when your body reaches the size it wants to be. So, I do think you’ll stop gaining weight eventually. But what if you don’t? What if you kept steadily gaining weight forever. What would be wrong with that?”
I’m sure my answer was belligerent. I don’t remember exactly how I responded. I do remember my disbelief that he didn’t see the problem with getting fatter and fatter for the rest of my life. I was already so fat that I wanted to die. How could it possibly be okay to get fatter when I already couldn’t stand living in this body?
From my current vantage point, more than five years into recovery, I’m embarrassed that gaining weight caused me such authentic agony. With the perspective I have gained through years of therapy and work in the body liberation community, it’s clear that this agony wasn’t necessary. I’m much fatter now than I was then and it never causes me agony. It causes discomfort sometimes, but never agony.
Part of me wants to shame early recovery me for her intense fatphobia, her blind faith in thinness, her devotion to weight stigma. But another part of me has such deep compassion for early recovery me. That part of me is so sad that she was taught to hate herself so much.
It took me several years to understand that the hatred I felt for my fatter body was not inherent. It was given to me by the people in my life, by the media, by society, by doctors. It was given to me at such a young age that I didn’t know I didn’t have to take it. I’d been holding that hatred for so long that I didn’t know it wasn’t mine originally. I had claimed that hatred as my own and it had grown as I nurtured it.
Slowly, I stopped nurturing that hatred. A favorite phrase of mine borrowed from my program of recovery is “you can’t think your way into right acting, but you can act your way into right thinking.” So, I started acting as if I didn’t hate my body. I stopped staring and pinching and pulling in the mirror. For awhile, I didn’t look at myself at all. I put clothes that didn’t fit in a bag and made my husband take them to Goodwill. I did clothing swaps with friends to get clothes that fit. I started talking back to the intrusive thoughts of self-harm and suicide instead of gritting my teeth and sitting on my hands. I thanked the thoughts for the information that I was uncomfortable, and I took a concrete action to make myself more comfortable.
After repeating these actions over and over, for months, I eventually stopped hating my body, even though I hadn’t stopped gaining weight. I didn’t like my body, and I certainly didn’t love it. But I just stopped caring about it. My body was just a reality that I lived with. This body neutrality saved me from agony.
Slowly, it dawned on me that if I could reach body neutrality, I might actually be able to reach body positivity. At that time, body positivity was this mythical thing that I’d only seen on Instagram and read about it recovery memoirs. But I thought maybe it was possible for me too.
So, I took the same action over thoughts approach I had before. I did incredibly cheesy things like writing affirmations on my mirror, looking myself in the face and saying I love you, gently rubbing lotion on the parts of my body I hated the most. I also did incredibly empowering things like finally getting the tattoo I’d always wanted on my bicep, the one I’d been refusing to get for years because my arms were “too fat.”
Eventually, these, and many more, actions really did change my thoughts. I could say I love you in the mirror and believe it. I could look at my body and think this is okay. I could relish in getting new clothes that fit comfortably. I’d found the mythical body positivity. And interestingly, I found it before I stopped gaining weight.
At some point, I did stop gaining weight. My body found a place where it was comfortable. For about a year, no matter what I ate or how much or little I moved, my body stayed the same size. I’d gain or lose five or ten pounds here or there, but I always stayed in a ten-ish pound range.
Then I got pregnant. Then I had a baby I was breastfeeding. Then there was a pandemic. And my body changed again.
Right now, I’m in another period of weight gain. My body can’t seem to determine the size it wants to be and it’s changing rapidly. I won’t lie, it’s caused me a lot of discomfort. I was sure that my body had found its happy size and that I wouldn’t have to deal with seemingly endless weight gain again. I’ve been angry about it, sad about it, annoyed by it. But I haven’t been in agony. Somewhere along the way, I learned that my body size doesn’t determine my worth, my value, or who I am. It’s just a fact that I don’t have much control over as long as I want to be a healthy person.
So, I’ve had to go back to watching my body from a distance, trusting that it knows what it’s doing, trusting that it will find its happy place again. This time, I can do this with the knowledge that my body knows what it needs, and I definitely do not. I can trust that my body will eventually regulate itself and that it does not need my help.
So, I will let my body do its thing.