At the beginning of the year, a vlogger I follow on Instagram uploaded a picture of herself holding a flat tummy tea type product in one hand and a mug in the other. I was immediately disappointed because 1) she was already skinny in my eyes, 2) her vlog gave me the push I needed to start lifting weights and snack smarter and 3) it felt so desperate and off brand for her.
I wasn’t the only one, the comments under the picture were flooded with opinions about how effective a tea could really be for long term weight loss. Eventually, trolls came out and it got so bad, she turned off the comments.
Before I go any further, there is something I should disclose: I’m fat. I have been fat my entire life, even when I shed 80 pounds in college, I was still “the fat girl.”
First day of sophomore year, after a 90 minute workout. I was exhausted.
The new year, new me crowd has died down and officially turned into the “I gotta get my summer body, NOW” crowd and it’s all too much. I hesitated to write this because I’m not sure I—someone who is not the pinnacle of health—should be writing it. But I decided to write it anyway because everyone assumes only skinny women deal with disordered eating and body image issues, because not eating at all isn’t the only way people try to lose weight fast.
Flat tummy teas, disgusting green smoothies and cayenne pepper lemon water are not long-term solutions for weight loss. They’re band-aids for a society that’s obsessed with eating too much, while simultaneously obsessed with being thin.
Although I probably don’t look it, my obsession with being thin has led to a lot of problematic behavior—none of which has worked for me. My hope is that my experience will save someone else the years of hate and ridicule I put my body through.
* * *
In junior high and high school, my nights were dedicated to MTV’s Laguna Beach and The Hills. The kids on those shows were nothing like me. They were white, crazy wealthy and stick thin. But at the same time, they were everything like me—dramatic, complex and excited for the next chapter. I watched them and really believed my life could turn out like theirs (the good parts, not the break ups, excessive black tears and dancing off beat in the club).
The one thing that felt the most out of reach when it came to having a life like Lauren Conrad’s wasn’t the nice house on the beach, or the stellar internship at Teen Vogue, it was her skinny body. I was obsessed with being thinner, but I didn’t actually know how to be thinner, a theme that would continue well into my twenties.
I had a best friend in eighth grade that reminded me so much of Kristin Cavallari. She was mean, judgmental, skinny and white. I remember thinking she was so pretty, but all she’d ever focus on was her weight. She’d forgo pasta day at lunch (our favorite) and fill up a lunch tray with green grapes instead—which she’d barely eat. One day she proclaimed “anyone over 200 pounds cannot be seen with me.” It was the same day I had a doctors appointment, the same day I found out I weighed 204 pounds. Suddenly, that number on the scale mattered in a way it never had before. I too started eating green grapes at lunch.
* * *
I’d been playing volleyball for about six years when I sprained my ankle during tryouts. I got it wrapped, iced and elevated like crazy and got back up the next day for tryouts. I didn’t make the team. It felt like the end of the world. Not because I wouldn’t get to practice and play alongside my best friends, but because my free morning strength and agility classes and afternoon sweat sessions were gone. The things that helped me manage my weight had suddenly vanished (I didn’t learn until later that you cannot out exercise a bad diet). I tried to go to the YMCA for cardio a few times, but I was too intimidated, so I stopped.
I spent the rest of high school somewhere between telling myself “you’re not that fat,” and eating grapes at lunch again. Nothing ever quite stuck.
* * *
The first couple days on the University of Missouri campus I remember thinking I’d shed weight in no time. There was so much walking and it was so humid, the fat was bound to melt right off. I think that happened at first, but then it stopped.
All you care to eat dining halls, midnight McDonald’s runs and the amazing talent I had for never (and I mean never) walking past the on campus Recreational Center ensured that I gained the freshman 15, which if I’m being honest was actually the Mizzou 22.
I came home for Thanksgiving, stepped on the scale and vowed to do better. No more excuses, no more moderation, no more 20 ounces of soda and collosal Arizona cans of ice tea. I had to do something. So, I started counting calories. It was a lot easier than I thought and when I picked the right foods, I was actually able to eat a lot in a day and feel satisfied.
Shortly before I decided to do something about my weight. December 2011.
The weight started coming off, faster than I expected. I became addicted to the feeling. I added cardio. First it was twice a week, then three times, then five times. What started out as a quick 30 minute workout slowly became 45 minutes, an hour, then two. There were times I blew off plans to workout and there was even a point when I’d do two-a-days—Zumba in the morning and cardio at night.
At that point, what I ate after or before a workout didn’t even matter. I was exercising so much, I was guaranteed to lose weight. After all, that is the “secret”—calories in versus calories out. But your quality of food does matter. I wouldn’t learn that until much later.
Somewhere between 8 and 10 months later. I look happy, but I remember being tired all the time.
My crazy workout schedule continued until I moved off campus my junior year. I wanted to be close to campus so I could walk to class and to the gym, and I was, but my 6 a.m. workouts became a lot harder to commit to when I had to make a 20 minute walk just to get to the gym. Cooking for myself was no better. I only knew how to make baked chicken breast, which I hated. I resorted to frozen meals, which weren’t filling or healthy.
I slowly felt my body gaining weight. One day my pants wouldn’t button. Another day, I’d stare at myself in the mirror for too long and my face wouldn’t look like it was mine. I started reaching into boxes for my “fat clothes” (what I lovingly called them at the time) until I eventually hung them in my closet. I was thankful I didn’t throw them away. I put my scale into one of the empty boxes that once held my fat clothes. I acted like I didn’t notice.
By the time I graduated college, the weight I had worked so hard to lose over the last two years, had almost soared back up to where I started. But this time, it was different. I was in love, I was working multiple awesome internships, I was in therapy dealing with my other issues and surrounded by the best friends I could ask for. I was fat, (again) but I was happy. Which I didn’t know was possible. For the first time since I was a teenager, my weight didn’t feel like it defined me. It felt like something that just was.
Then it got unhealthy.
When I lost my job at the end of 2015, I binged. I didn’t have much money to speak of, but what I did have went to food. It felt like a disease. I’d make brownies at 1 a.m. and eat half the pan, I’d ask for extra rice and meat at Chipotle even though I wasn’t that hungry. My weight kept climbing and for every time I’d open up my weight loss app and start counting calories again, I’d fall right back on my ass even harder.
A week before my 23rd birthday, I got sick of my own shit. I had just moved into a new apartment with a free gym that no one used and I was determined to do better. I was determined to be better. I was unhappy at my job, so I figured I could at least focus on something I could control.
I started going to the gym three times a week and I counted calories. Only this time, I forgave myself when I ate one too many wings, I enjoyed one scoop of ice cream on the weekends instead of two and when at the bar, I drank a tall glass of water after every alcoholic drink (I did my best to stay away from the sugary stuff too, but amaretto sours and margs have my heart). I didn’t spend two hours in the gym after a night of too much Mexican food, I did my regular degular workout and went home. When I felt myself getting too off the rails, I journaled. I wrote out exactly what I was feeling so that I could deal with the problem instead of turning to food.
About a month after I started working out. I hated that this picture was being taken. I was still very unhappy with myself. June 2016.
You know what, it worked. It’s been almost two years since I decided I wanted better for myself. Yes, I have a goal weight in mind, a size I’d like to say I wear in jeans, but mostly, I just want to be better. I want to be happy, really happy and I can honestly say I’m well on my way.
We place a lot of emphasis on looks. We praise women every year in January when they shed half their size, we make fat women go upstairs or to the back of the store at the mall to find clothes that fit them. We gently suggest our fat friends join us at our ‘super fun’ spin class, we insinuate they’d have better luck finding love if they just focused on their weight. But we never talk about how these people feel. Fat isn’t a feeling, it’s a state of being. People don’t feel fat, they are fat. Fat people are talented, driven, imperfect and sometimes broken just like everyone else, but those things have nothing to do with our weight.
I just wonder what my life would be like if weight hadn’t ruled it for the last decade, I’m not sure, but I want to spend 25 and beyond figuring it out.
So no, flat tummy tea is not a weight loss plan. But neither are green grapes, excessive amounts of cardio or avoiding scales and mirrors.
Christmas 2017. Much healthier, much happier, excited for what’s next.