Content warning: This post contains multiple references to weight loss, working out, diet culture, suicidal ideation, chronic illness and pain, and self-image. Please keep these in mind if choosing to read.
I don’t want to write this, but I need to. It’s always been so much easier for me to talk about my love life than it has been my body. I owe myself this post though. I owe myself the release in putting it out there. Perhaps by sharing these feelings they will hold less power over me. Hopefully there will also be some of you who might end up feeling less alone after reading this. Phew. Here goes.
Two years and four days ago, on November 15th, 2019, I had a gastric sleeve “weight-loss” surgery. I had never considered a sleeve before until the year following my pacemaker (PM) surgery on November 19th, 2018. The PM was supposed to improve my quality of life. For almost two years I’d been dealing with getting short of breath when exerting myself. At first it was just occasional, climbing a few stairs, doing some squats, and it would go away. Eventually it became more constant, making it hard for me to breathe while going for a 600m walk around the block. The PM was implanted to fix that and yet I still felt like absolute trash for almost all of 2019.
A full year passed before my pacemaker clinic admitted their error; they had a setting wrong. A quick little bleep bloop hack on the computer and I no longer got short of breath from walking a few feet. In an instant everything was better, but I’d spent a year of my life feeling so embarrassed. I believed them when they said it was my fault the PM didn’t fix everything because I was out of shape. I was out of shape, even with going to the gym frequently and I was fat, so it must have been true. Their gaslighting really messed me up and increased my disdain for this body. Maybe if they’d realized their error (apparently a common error, according to the “Young Pacemaker Patients” Facebook group I’m a part of), I wouldn’t have felt like having weight-loss surgery was a last resort to help me at least get physically smaller so I could breathe again. Instead, I had the sleeve surgery one week before the PM appointment where they basically said “oops!”
From the very beginning, I’ve insisted that I didn’t have the sleeve surgery to “get thin”. It wasn’t about becoming a calorie-counting diet-culture obsessor. I was ok with still being fat, still being curvy, still having a belly. My motivation was weight-loss but I believed that my main focus was dealing with the logistics of being fat in a non-fat friendly society and the fact that I could barely move, even with an electric heart that was supposed to fix me.
When I decided to have the surgery I didn’t hate my body but I did hate how it affected my interactions with the world. I hated sitting on the TTC and trying to slide my extra large hips up the wall, hoping that an incredibly small person would sit next to me so I didn’t have to feel guilty about overflowing into their space. I hated flying solo without one of my smaller partners next to me so I didn’t have to worry about taking up some of their seat too. I only ever asked for a seatbelt extender the one time, stole it, and then never put myself through the embarrassment of asking for one ever again. I hated that Steph would hit my hips while driving when I was in the passenger seat and he was changing gears. I hated that I used to start dating messages with “Just want to be sure that you’ve seen my full body pics” so that no one would tell me how fat I was to my face upon first meeting.
Society hates fat people. I do not hate fat people, but was I sick and tired of being one? You bet your ass. It’s exhausting living in that world, especially when a literal computer setting had me panting like I’d climbed the CN tower when I actually just crossed the street. I was frustrated, embarrassed, and felt like I had no other options.
Most of all though, I resented my body. I resented that pain took away from confidence and kept me trapped in my skin. I resented the fact that I was born with shitty metabolism. I resented the fact that I had to be excited about ugly floral options at the few main clothing stores that cater to larger bodies. I resented the fact that other people’s genetics didn’t affect them this way. I resented that so many “normal” people got to move through the world without ever considering how physically (and mentally) challenging it was to do so as a fat person. That’s not to say that smaller people don’t suffer with their own body dysmorphia; people of all shapes and sizes do. That’s a well established fact. But imagine taking a happy picture of yourself, sharing it online and being told that you’re promoting obesity, simply for daring to exist.
I envied the fat woman who feels comfortable (and looks stunning) in her crop top as I grew up long before that was socially “acceptable.” I envied the fat person who felt comfortable eating in public because, even though I fight against it, I still have the instinct to hide when feeding myself. I envied the fat people who showed their entire bodies on the internet without filters, without twisting into a more “acceptable” shape so as to not offend others.
Occasionally when I look at other fat bodies, I see sad eyes that feel so familiar; someone else who feels trapped by an unwelcoming world that wasn’t built for their build. But, more often than not nowadays, I see peace that I long for myself. I also see beauty. I don’t see my years of disordered eating or apologizing for my body when I look at someone else. I don’t look at other fat bodies and see the struggles they’ve had in a change room, trying on something that should fit but doesn’t because sizing is a nightmare. Instead I see people reclaiming the word fat from being an insult to simply being a descriptor. I see more and more fat liberation activists, fighting for less discrimination against us. I see fashion changing and expanding. I see more, though not enough, fat people in media. It’s only baby steps so far, but I see a world that’s slowly changing and giving me a little hope.
I probably over explained myself there. Truth is, I know that there’s a lot of stigma around weight loss surgeries. The haters will say that it’s the easy way out. (It’s not). My fellow activists might say that me having surgery means I hate fat bodies. (I don’t). However, after that year post PM implantation of blaming myself it felt like the only option for me at the time to be able to move and breathe freely, albeit an expensive one. It was my first year in real estate, I had just sold my first house, so within just a few months I shelled out $17k of my own money and got it done, because waiting the maybe 2 years to get it free through OHIP felt impossible.
I lost approximately 90 lbs in the first 9 ish months and then I hit a plateau. I could talk about all of the BIG emotions that I went through that first 9 months, but it’s the time since the plateau that I’m focused on today. We all know that 2020 was a shit show, and said shit show continues into 2021 and will likely keep going into 2022. If you live in a non chronically ill body though, you might not realize just how much the effect that all of that stress can have on a body with the most sensitive nervous system out there.
The pandemic for me has been one gigantic fibromyalgia and migraine flare-up. A few small breaks here and there. Some months that are “ok”, but more months than not that are really, really hard. August to December of 2020, or hurricane season” was my almost breaking point. I felt trapped by my pained body, claustrophobic just existing. I had no plans to kill myself but I honestly resented that I could never go through with it because getting through each day felt absolutely impossible. The timing of this very large and very persistent flare-up aligned with the time when I started having more and more trouble feeding myself. And when I have trouble feeding myself, I tend to eat nothing for a while and then carbs and sugar when I realize I’m hungry. There were multiple days when I self-soothed with ice cream. Heck, I could eat some ice cream this very minute.
Now, I will never be someone who believes in restrictive dieting. I will never say that I’m going to cut out ice cream. Can you even imagine? Me? With ….. no ice cream? Trust me, that would be a topsy turvy time in history. I can’t lie though; growing up with media that told me that you must eat like a rabbit to be worthy, it fucked me up. On the flip side, there’s also the body-positive movement telling me that I can eat whatever I want and don’t have to participate in diet culture.
Can we be real and say that it is honestly very hard to live in between those two ideologies? On one side you have to be small to be inherently seen as good but on the other side you deserve whatever you want to have. So I’d self-soothe myself with sugar in the evening because I believed that I deserved it, but in the morning I’d have regrets. Bigger than regrets though, is the resentment. I began to realize that I was attempting to distract myself from pain in any way I could. When you’re hurting so much that you’ve lost the will to live, it’s very easy to get lost in the dopamine rush that comes from some mint chocolate chip. When you’re so exhausted from the pain and the stress that you can only manage crackers and cheese for lunch, it’s very easy to convince yourself that you’re listening to your body’s needs and making the right choices. “At least it’s food, right!?”
Trust me. I don’t believe that crackers and cheese are a wrong choice all the time. I do believe in indulgence, in hedonism, in taking pleasure from what we eat. I believe that all people deserve to not only enjoy their food but truly experience it. Could I make better choices for myself? Absolutely. And I haven’t been. Plus after having the three of us all working from home since March of 2020, I am so tired of food and wish that it was a pill we could take every day so I could just stop thinking about it. Because, and here’s the big truth that I’ve realized, now a full year and a couple of months into this apparent “plateau”, I am terrible at managing my eating and it’s only gotten worse. Having a tiny tummy means I often don’t need full meals. I can fill up relatively quickly, and speed is key when you’re having a hard day mentally and know you need to put something, anything in your face hole.
Admittedly, I am not functioning very well in all aspects of my life. Some are going very well. I’m getting my work done and doing a great job, yes. I’m managing multiple (hopefully) successful relationships, yes. I’m making time and space for friendships and being more honest than ever before, yes. This mental shift away from chronic pain being my identity and simply something I deal with, which has strangely led me back to dating, it’s going really well! How is my actual self-care though? One look at the piles around the house that used to last a few weeks and now sit there for months at a time will tell you that I’m not taking very good care of myself mentally at all. I’m indulging in dopamine rushes however I can get them and that has completely messed up my relationship with food.
For the first year or so after the sleeve surgery, I didn’t have to try too hard. When they remove 85% of your stomach you really can’t eat very much and the weight starts to fall off you. I also could barely handle sugar for the first 10 months, until, well, suddenly I could at the very same time that pain became unbearable in 2020. I’ve tried to cut myself some slack, said that it’s only temporary as I deal with the stress of the pandemic, but it’s been over a year now. I have been functioning poorly because my ADHD masks have failed me and I need help to figure out how to move on from here.
I’m in the early stages of hopefully getting an ADHD diagnosis, but I’m 100% sure that I have it. What does this have to do with my surgery and hitting a plateau? Predictability. A Dorito is always reliable whereas a celery stick isn’t and I even legit love celery. A plate of crackers and peanut butter is exactly the same every single time, but sometimes my protein shakes make me feel ill so I might stay away. The pandemic has made everything harder and that includes navigating taking care of myself physically while dealing with these symptoms becoming more prevalent in my day-to-day. The more I learn, the more I realize just how intrusive ADHD can be when it comes to food.
Familiar textures are attractive to me when it comes to food, thanks ADHD. I also hyper focus on work and forget to eat when I’m actually hungry, leading to eating too much of not great choices later. I can’t meal prep to save my life, unless it’s for maybe 3 days at a time, once every 5 months. But the biggest challenge is that I sometimes use food to distract myself from pain. On one hand if I can make myself feel sick with some snacks, maybe I can just feel that sensation instead of the migraine. (Spoiler alert: I literally always feel both and yet I still do it constantly). On the other hand the dopamine rush of something reliably tasty wins out with me every single time. I have zero impulse control.
I have a lot of shame about how I spent all of that money and only lost so much weight. I know that I told myself that it was fine if I didn’t get super skinny, that I was ok with always being curvy, but I would be a liar if I said I hadn’t hoped I would be smaller. I’ve existed in a fat body my entire life; even if I didn’t say it out loud for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings, I was secretly excited to potentially exist in a small one. I was excited to become a gym rat again after a few years of not being able to move much at all. I wanted to be the hot girl with the pretty face AND the hot body. I certainly didn’t anticipate a pandemic rolling in and making everything so much harder.
When I see other people having the same surgery and losing weight just fine during the pandemic, I forget that I’m chronically ill and hurt a lot. I forget about ADHD and that I’m always exhausted. Heck, I forget that I had some hard months where I wasn’t sure I would survive – and literally only did because my doctor trusts me with opioids. Instead I see other people succeeding and tell myself that I’ve failed again. That this should be so easy; I’m obviously just not strong enough to “go all the way”, whatever the fuck that means.
For months and months I told myself that I was doing whatever I could to survive 2020 and then 2021. I certainly believe that we should all extend ourselves this grace. We all self-soothed during covid; I mean how could we NOT? Lots of people gained weight during this time and, while I didn’t, I stopped losing which is kind of the same thing after this surgery? I’ve tried telling myself that it’s ok because I never planned on being super small anyway; I just wanted to be strong again. Truth is though, I’m failing at that too because I’ve become too afraid of exercises that I’ve always loved hurting me now. My body reacts so intensely to absolutely everything that I’m afraid to be starting from the bottom one more time. I’m afraid of having a slightly good day and overdoing it, because my body doesn’t do consistent process. One day a 15 lb weight might feel fine. The next time I might only be able do lift 5 lbs.
This inconsistency has kept me from a lot of movements that I used to love. I feel like all of the energy I used to have for working out is gone. I can barely keep things tidy anymore; how can I expect to have any energy for weights at home, never mind at the gym? When I combine this fear of movement with my current lack of ability to truly nourish my body, I feel defeated. I am embarrassed that I stopped losing weight, (even though I also am very proud of what I did accomplish). I don’t allow myself any grace for being chronically ill … during a pandemic … with all of my ADHD masking falling to the wayside. I do wish I was smaller and that I didn’t just stop at one number. I’m mad at myself for what I’ve seen as failing. For spending seventeen thousand dollars and still having this belly and this ass and for not working out on the daily which would literally be impossible for me right now and yet I’m still mad about it.
I said it wouldn’t matter if I was still a big girl after surgery, but the truth is that it does somewhat and I hate that it does. Even though I know what I’ve been up against, I’m extremely disappointed in myself. I’m embarrassed to still have a belly; I hate feeling it hanging there when I’m lying in bed. I hate how it influences what clothing or lingerie I feel comfortable in. I hate that I have loose skin on my thighs instead of strong muscles that I should have been building all this time. I hate that my bum looks like cottage cheese. I hate that I was so convinced I was going to become something else and that this global pandemic has turned me into not that person. I hate that the joy I felt at being smaller when I was finally able to get rid of so many clothes and buy new ones from multiple stores has been replaced by feeling big again at the same size for a year. I hate that I have anger that doesn’t have anywhere else to go so it comes back to me. I hate that I have any of these anti-fat feelings in the first place!
Let me be clear though. I don’t actually hate my body nor do I hate myself. All of this anger also comes with a side of empathy for what I’ve dealt with, especially since I’ve realized the extent that ADHD has had over my ability to take care of myself. I may end up staying in this particular version of my body forever and I am ok with it, even if I often feel angry about it too. My confidence levels are still high and I’m honestly ok with having insecurities about my body parts still. I’ve found a lot of power in being able to name them, especially when with new people intimately. If I tell you that I’m a bit embarrassed about my belly it means that you’ll understand if I have a slightly odd reaction to it being touched. We tell each other when something affects our physical health; why not talk about our mental health this way too. Insecurities don’t have to be our rulers. I wish I didn’t have them, but I can co-exist with them at the same time.
So now that I’ve written it all out, I’m sitting here wondering what my point is. I’m honestly not sure but it did feel necessary to share. This anger and resentment and frustration isn’t doing me any good as it resides secretly inside of me. I can pretend it’s not there all I want, that I’m all for “fat liberation” and “body positivity” and “health at every size” for not just others but me too, but only by truly acknowledging it can I help myself find freedom from these feelings. I don’t think this is it for me. I might always be a bigger woman but I also believe that strength building movement will return again. That I will one day be able to get those muscles back that I’ve missed for so long. Now that I’ve realized how much ADHD has been affecting my eating severely for the past year, I can take steps to nourish my body, working within that framework. This is simply where I’m at right now, but it’s not the end, it’s yet another beginning.
Now that I’ve named the battle I’m fighting, I do believe I can make peace with this meatsack of mine.
I didn’t start a global pandemic.
I didn’t ask for chronic illness.
I didn’t cause my shitty metabolism.
It’s not my fault that things are harder.
It’s ok to wish things were different.
I can and will forgive myself.
I am worthy as I am and however else I will become.
You are too. Thanks for reading.