I still remember the day when I first realized I was fat. “It's time for seat assignments”, the bus driver roared over the din of 60 elementary students that hadn't seen each other for three months. Silently, I crossed my fingers, a second grader's prayer to be seated with Amanda or Cassandra, the only two friends I had on the bus. As the driver tapped each seat and listed names, I began to get nervous. Amanda had already been seated with someone else. Suddenly, I was jolted to reality by the driver tapping my own seat. “Amy, you can stay here”, he said. “Tina , Tracey, you'll be sitting with Amy for the rest of the year”. My heart sank. Tracey, a student in my second grade class and Tina, a 4th grader, were best friends. They were also known to be two of the meanest girls at Walnut Elementary School. Tracey and Tina made their way to the seat and sat down, giggling to each other about some private conversation. I turned toward the window and pretended to be extremely interested in the farm land outside of it. Just as I began to relax, a shrill voice interrupted my thoughts. “Hey Amy”, Tins said, her breath hot on the side of my face. Without waiting for my reply, she kept going. “How much do you weigh?” I considered the question, trying to decide where the conversation was heading. I needn't have thought about it because Tina was going to show me. “I weigh 80 pounds”, she said, her voice light and airy, friendly even. My eyes lit up. What a coincidence. I weighed the same! Deciding we had something in common, I turned around with a smile. But, once again, before I could say a word, Tina continued. Her voice was different now, cruel as she spoke. “But I'm taller and older and if you weigh that much, you're a fat piggy”. Then she nudged Tracey, who fell out of the seat, loudly complaining about the lack of room in the seat because of my “big, fat butt”. I turned back to the window, tears streaming down my face, and pondered what I had just found out. Was I fat? Did I weigh too much? Why were all of the other kids so much skinnier than me anyway?
I'd like to say that was the worst bullying I have ever dealt with. I'd like to say that, overall, kids were nice to me. I'd like to say that I outgrew my chub and grew up to be a svelte 120 pounds. But I'd be lying. The truth is, it only got worse.
In third grade, my best friend would call me a fatty anytime we disagreed on something. She knew it was the easiest way to hurt me. In fourth grade, the gym teacher would tell me I was fat on a daily basis. One time, during our mile run, I was far behind the others. The gym teacher walked behind me as I ran, oinking as I cried and struggled to speed up just to end the torment. In fifth grade, my nickname was Shamu. But the real hell didn't begin until middle school.
By the time I started middle school, I was shopping in the plus-sized section for old women at any store. I have no idea what my weight was. I know I went to the doctor often. I know I was weighed. But I suppose I've blocked the numbers out of my mind. In a larger school, a mixture of students from the three area elementary schools, things only got worse. I was called names daily. Some of my friends stopped being my friend so they wouldn't be seen with the fat girl. The only boy that liked me stopped talking to me because he was being made fun of. I began changing for gym in the bathroom stalls after one girl said that nobody should have to look at me naked. I cried every day. I had daydreams about just cutting the fat away, just waking up skinny. People would be my friend one day and slam my head into the bus windows the next day. I always took them back because I wanted so badly to be liked.
The first time I binged, I was 11. I woke up in the middle of the night and I turned to food for comfort. I ate as much as I thought I could get away with without my mom being mad that the groceries were gone. Food made me feel better. It didn't turn on me because its friends were making fun of it. I knew what to expect from it. I began binging several nights a week, making up lies when my mother began to question where the sweets (my food of choice) were going. “You must have miscounted”, I'd tell her. “Maybe Cassandra [my little sister] ate it”. She didn't believe me. I know that now. But she didn't question me either.
When I was 12, I read about bulimia and anorexia in a magazine. I knew it was bad for me. I had read the sidebar with all of the dangers listed. But I couldn't get the idea out of my mind. So many women lost so much weight like this. Maybe I could too. I thought I could just do it to lose weight and then I'd be fine. People would like me. I'd be happy for once. After weeks or debating between the two, I just did it. One night after dinner, I went into the bathroom, pushed my toothbrush into the back of my throat, and vomited. It was one of the worst experiences of my entire life. But I was convinced it would work. It had to. So I kept doing it. I'd say I didn't feel well. When that excuse got old, I'd keep the water on so people couldn't hear me. Eventually, I had made myself vomit so often that I could do it almost silently and only by flexing my stomach muscles. Nevermind the fact that I wasn't actually losing weight and that the teasing had even gotten worse. I was in control of something in my life and I wasn't going to give up on it. Through fake boyfriends who dated me for two days on dares, through the drawing of my fat that was left on my cafeteria seat by my “friends”, through the ridicule in gym class all through high school, through not being able to comfortably fit in some of the desks at my high school, through it all, I kept my control over what stayed in my body. Deep down, I knew it wasn't helping. I knew there was something wrong with me. I also knew that I was terrified to ask for help. My family was stressed out enough. They didn't need to worry about me. I tried to stop doing it, but I felt so terrible if I didn't purge. I felt like I was going to gain 20 more pounds overnight, like people would be able to tell how much I had eaten, like there was a huge rock inside of me. So I just kept doing it.
I'm not exactly sure when my life hit its lowest point. Maybe it was when I overheard my two “best friends” talking about my weight and I handled it by cutting up my arm. It might have been when I dropped out of high school in my senior year because the ridicule became so much that I was on the verge of suicide. It could have been years later, when at 21 years old, I stopped purging and began drowning my pain in cocaine and sleeping with anybody that showed interest in the pursuit of love. Maybe it was a combination of the three. One thing I know for sure is that the low point in my life lasted entirely too many years.
Eventually, I did find love. I moved to California to be with someone I had met on MySpace. He was a very good guy and is still a good friend, but neither of us were stable in our lives. We went from being homeless to living in motels. We spent a few months living with a drug-addicted roommate who introduced me to methamphetamine. Between the methamphetamine and constantly walking all over Los Angeles due to a lack of transportation, I began to drop weight. I was smaller and I was happier, but I certainly wasn't healthier.
In 2007, I began to get homesick for Ohio. My grandmother was sick with cancer and I wanted to be near her. I was tired of my life in Hollywood and I wanted to go home. On July 9th, 2007, I said goodbye to my first true love and I boarded a Greyhound bus for Ohio. I thought it was a turning point in my life. I stopped doing cocaine and methamphetamine. I was happy to be home with my family. I was close with my siblings. I thought life was finally changing for me. I even reconnected with someone from my past. We decided we were in love and in October 2007, he moved to Ohio from Chicago to be with me. It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
Once again, I was in an unstable relationship. My fiance and I were fighting constantly. He had cheated on me with his ex-girlfriend. He was having an emotional affair with a woman online. He was attracted to yet another girl on the Internet. Instead of just saying “Hey, we're great friends, but we're not so great in a relationship”, we kept trying to make things work because I was terrified to be alone. We'd have a long talk and things would be good for awhile. But then I'd feel him pulling away again. I'd find nude pictures of his friends on his phone that he would explain away with “She just sent it to me”. Once I found an overly flirtatious letter that a friend had mailed to him. I knew we weren't working, but I was so scared that I would never find anybody that would want me, that still I stayed. I would alternate between months of spending every weekend getting trashed to the point of blacking out with friends to months of barely leaving the house at all, comforting myself with soda, ice cream, cakes, pizza, anything that tasted good and made me feel good for even just a minute. I gained over 100 pounds by January of 2010. And still, I stayed.
For my 27th birthday in 2010, my mother bought me a scale that worked for people up to 500 pounds (at my request). Scales in normal stores wouldn't hold me. I stepped on it the day after my birthday. As the numbers climbed, I felt my heart sink. 350. 375. 399. Over the 400 mark. It just kept going and going. I tipped the scales at 453 pounds that day. I sat down, dumbfounded. And I comforted myself with Ben & Jerry's. I was so far gone, so depressed, that I just didn't care. I didn't feel like I could ever drop the weight. I didn't feel like it mattered. Deep down, I wanted to die. I was too afraid to attempt suicide, so I was going to eat myself to death.
In May of 2010, I ended my relationship for good. I don't even remember what the final straw was anymore, but something in me snapped. I was done. Soon after, I began taking a long look at my life. I went on a kick where I quit smoking (that lasted a month). I stopped eating red meat (yep, only a month there too). I found a free clinic that would help me get medication for my thyroid disorder (yep, there it is – the thyroid “excuse”). I knew that my medication wouldn't help me lose all of the weight, but I also knew that it was important for my overall health, as weight gain is not the only complication from Hypothyroidism. Within a month of starting my medication, I dropped 20 pounds. Throughout the fall, I dropped another five. And still, I could not pull myself away from comfort food. My scale got put up. I fell into a cycle of staying home all the time again. I ate my feelings; every single one of them. I told myself that I wasn't gaining weight. All of my clothes fit just fine. I could walk, even if it was with pain. I was fine. I didn't want to face my reality. I spent the remainder of 2010 in a slump. That slump carried over until May 23, 2011.
On May 23, 2011, I was cleaning my kitchen. My back was hurting and I was sweating just from doing the dishes. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my scale, tucked away in the corner, lonely and dusty. “You should weigh yourself”, I thought to myself. “No, you already know what you weigh”, I argued with myself, casting a sidelong glance at the black and chrome contraption. I thought about that scale all day. Every time I picked up a piece of food or took a swig of my soda, I thought about that scale. Eventually, I decided to see what it said. “It won't be that bad”, I thought to myself. “I was 432 the last time I was on a scale. I won't be much more than that. 440 at most”. Gingerly, I put one fat foot on the scale and then the other. And again, I watched as those numbers climbed. 350. I wish. 375. Yeah right. 400. Not surprised. 435. I can deal with that. 445. Okay, what? 450. No. That's almost to where I was before. And slowly, the digital numbers stopped changing. I stared at it, first in disbelief and then in terror. And then I sat down, right there on the kitchen floor, and I wept. I now weighed 455 pounds, my highest weight ever. I sat there for what felt like hours, although it was only about 20 minutes, my dog circling me slowly, obviously worried. I sat there and I thought about all of these things I've told you in this story. And something inside of me snapped. I was no longer sad. I was angry. I was angry at the people in my life that had made me feel like I was nothing because I was fat, but even more than that, I was mad at myself for letting it go this far.
I started making changes in my life that day. Twenty-five days ago, I made the decision to change my life. I track calories and fat grams. I make sure I eat enough protein and get enough iron. I don't drink soda. Nothing in my refrigerator or cabinets can be made simply by pulling off the plastic and tossing it in the microwave. The only sweets in my house are in the form of fresh fruit. I work out now. I can feel muscles in my arms and thighs. I can already go up my stairs without being winded. I am no longer in pain when I stand to do my dishes. I have an amazing support system of the true friends that I do have in life. I am never going to be a victim again. Cruel people do not control me and more importantly, food does not control me. Today, I stepped on the scale. As I watched the numbers counting up, I smiled. I smiled because I knew that they would be even lower than they were yesterday and because I know they will be even lower tomorrow. They stopped at 431.2 this morning.