Being shamed, bullied, and teased about weight significantly increases the odds that a person will gain weight, binge eat, and also participate in radical techniques to lose weight. (NEDA)
I sit in the school library at a table tucked in the corner with a textbook, a few loose-leaf notebook pages, a stubby pencil with the eraser worn down to the nub, and two pens, one blue and the other red, spread out before me. The textbook is wrapped in a deconstructed brown paper grocery bag, tucked and taped at the edges, hearts and lopsided stars and spirals doodled across the front, the word MATH handwritten in purple block letters. Odd-sized yellow daisies bloom from the serifs, green vines weave through the letter M and sprout wide curling leaves.
A group of boys comes in, heads tipped back and laughing. The librarian shushes them. They pile around a long rectangular table not far from me. I feel their stares against my back. My grip tightens. The pen goes still. Ink bleeds from the tip in a spreading blue stain, blotting out part of the letter A. I take tiny sips of air. I close my eyes briefly. I think: Go away, go away, please go away.
They don’t go away.
Instead, I hear their whispers. “Like ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.”
“She gets any bigger, she’s gonna split the seams.”
“My dad would call that a stuffed sausage.”
My scalp prickles. My face burns. Sweat beads along my hairline. I press my thighs together. I curl over the table, trying to make myself smaller. No way to hide myself, not really. Even the shirt, which is dark and baggy, still shows the rolls underneath. Flesh spills over the waistband of my jeans too. The button strains. Just the week before, I busted the zipper on another pair of pants, the stitches coming clean out, and my low belly pushing through the opening.
I know I’ve gained weight. I don’t know how much. I won’t stand on a scale anymore, not since the dial hit two hundred pounds. All I know is that I had to lie flat on the bed and suck in my gut and yank as hard as I could just to get the jeans to button. I look from my lap to the pencil beside the red pen, the tip sharpened to a fine razor point, to the homework I was trying to finish. My eyes are brimming. The math problems have gone blurry. Blink, Shelli, blink. Don’t you dare spill a tear.
I gather my belongings, stuff them into my backpack, then slide out of the hardbacked chair. My thighs rub together as I walk. Thwish, thwish, thwish. I stare at my feet. I give that table of boys a wide berth, skirting the edge of the book stacks, passing the entire collection of Encyclopedia Britannica with their wide embossed spines, the gilded letters glinting beneath the florescent lights.
One of the boys stands then leans over, hands flattened on the table. I catch him out of the corner of my eye. I don’t know him, other than he’s a senior. He wears a button-down shirt with thin vertical blue lines, the top button undone and a sliver of white T-shirt showing underneath, a few black chest hairs curling out from beneath the collar. His eyes are chips of flint. His mouth is a thin line.
He scrunches up his nose and says, long and low, “Moooooo.”
The library is mostly silent, just the faint scritching of pencil tips against paper and the copy machine making its fainting whirring, and someone whispering with their voice too low to make out the words. The librarian looks up from the desk, brushes strands of black hair from her eyes. She shushes the boys again. I hurry out the door and into the bright light of the hallway. It smells like rubbing alcohol and faintly of lemons and something burning from the chemistry room a few doors down.
I reach the girls’ bathroom and lock the stall behind me. I sit on the toilet and curl over my lap and let my breath out in a rush. Tears slide hot against my face. They fall off my jaw and dot the collar of my sweatshirt. My chest heaves. I breathe shallowly at first then in vast, sucking gasps. I wad the hem of my shirt into a ball between my palms and bring it up to my face, muffling the sound. Then I rummage through my backpack for a bag of puffy orange circus peanut candy I swiped from home. I stuff them one after the next into my mouth, wolf them all down without tasting, without even chewing all that much. I finish off the bag. The sting of those words is still there, but dulled now, manageable, not like a sucker punch to the jaw every time I remember them.
I am seventeen years old.
Being shamed, humiliated, and stigmatized by weight has a significant correlation to both mental and physical health. Studies have shown that people who carry a weight stigma are at more risk for depression, low self-esteem, and being unhappy with their body. (NEDA)
Weight shaming leads to binge eating
Weight shaming can come from strangers, peers, colleagues, and even people who say they love you. Shame, according to the dictionary, is defined as a painful emotion caused by shortcomings or a condition of humiliating disgrace.
- makes you believe there’s something wrong with you.
- keeps you from telling the truth about what you do and who you are.
- is a major reason, in my experience, that people abuse food.
According to a friend of mine who is a psychologist, shame is the most painful emotion there is because it hits at the core of who you are. Shame says: I am bad, I shouldn’t be who I am. A person’s first reaction when feeling shame is to make it stop by any means necessary. People with eating disorders, myself once included, turn to abusing food in some way just to numb, dull, and/or avoid the pain that shame brings.
Food will not fix it
No matter what was done to you or what you did to yourself, food will never fix it. Never. Food is an object that goes where you tell it. It has no emotional component at all. Food has no power except what you give it. Food may numb you (or give you a feeling of courage, or comfort you, or [insert why you’re using food in a way it was never intended here]) briefly, but that’s short lived, the physiological reaction only lasting about 20 minutes or so.
And then when the food reaction wears off, you’ll come to find that whatever caused you to abuse food is still there. Food will not have fixed anything at all, including any feelings of shame.
People who are judged, labeled, shamed, and humiliated about their weight are at a higher risk for eating disorders in general, tend to binge eat more often, and have increased odds for developing binge eating disorder. (NEDA)
Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
Repeated occurrences of eating when:
- a larger-than-average amount of food is consumed in a short period of time (within 2 hours) and the person eating feels out of control while eating
Binges consist of:
- eating rapidly
- eating way beyond fullness signals
- eating a lot of food when not hungry
- eating in isolation because of shame
- feeling shame and humiliation after bingeing
Binge Eating Disorder is diagnosed when it:
- happens an average of one time a week for at least 3 months
- does not include purging afterward
Warning signs of Binge Eating Disorder:
- being afraid/uncomfortable while eating around others
- sneaking food and/or hoarding food in unusual places
- dieting often
- changing routines to set aside time for bingeing
- having a high preoccupation with weight and body shape
The first step in treatment for Binge Eating Disorder
What you can do to help yourself (this is what worked to start the healing process for me):
- Write a list of people you trust.
- Pick the one you trust the most.
- Tell them you have an eating disorder.
- Ask them to help you find the resources you need to help you.
Eating disorders thrive in secrecy
I know that secrets keep you stuck in a cycle because I suffered from various eating disorders (bulimia, binge eating disorder, and anorexia) for nearly 30 years. It’s going to take risk to take action and change your life. You’re going to have to risk telling the truth. The way to minimize that risk is to tell someone you trust. You are worth both the risk and the effort, I assure you that you are.
And if you don’t feel like you have anyone in your life that you can trust, you can contact me and let me know. Communicating the words and speaking the truth is the first step to saving yourself. Do yourself a kindness, and speak your truth today.
My weight-loss journey & how it can help you on yours
I got free. Your life can be that way too.
I made my own path because I needed to get myself out of the crazy-making behavior I was having around food. I needed no restrictions, no weighing and measuring food, no off-limit foods, no more judgment around food, no more judging my self-worth based on the scale, no more you’re-not-doing-it-perfectly diet rules that were only fueling my constant thinking about and obsession with food. I needed to modify and change any weight-loss technique I found useful to suit my own personal needs.
- I lost 160+ pounds naturally & have kept it off for 8 years and counting.
- I no longer have any eating disorders.
- I no longer have a fear of food.
Just imagine what you could be doing with your life, following your own dreams and reaching your own goals, cultivating your own passions, making both your inner and outer worlds a more blissful and peaceful place, if you weren’t running in circles on the diet-go-round.
I got that for my life. I want it for yours. My books will show you how.
Let 2020 be the year you make peace with your body and with food.
For more information, check out the Start Where You Are Weight Loss page.