Weight Weight … Don’t Tell me … I’m Fat?

Like many people, my relationship with food and body image has always been a complicated one. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t the happiest with my body when it looked lean and was full of big muscles. And while I’ve always aimed to achieve that physique, the truth is, for the majority of my life my body has not looked like that.

I don’t exactly remember when my body image came on my radar, but it was probably around the time I was in elementary school. I remember swimming at the community pool and some girl took a long, disgusted look at my pale, pudgy body and told me to put my shirt back on. After that I remember going home and looking at my body in the mirror and not being happy with what I saw. I’m not sure how much that girl’s comment influenced the new perception I had of my body, but it certainly didn’t help and definitely wasn’t the last time someone’s judgmental remarks about my body affected how I see myself.

After that day at the pool I tried to change what I looked like — I did as many sit-ups and push-ups as I could each day. I even started dying my hair blond as if that would make my body lean and chiseled like Justin Timberlake and the rest of *NSYNC (This was in the 90s). Though, I was never much of a fan I still desperately wanted to look like them.

But this was before I made the correlation between the food I consumed each day and what my body looked like. So when I didn’t lose weight, or even look better, after exercising, My young, naive mind thought something had to be wrong with the mirror I was using. I couldn’t possibly be that so overweight, especially with the baseball and basketball I was playing on top of my calisthenics.

Despite my lack of nutritional awareness, I didn’t eat unhealthy. In fact, I was a vegetarian as early as seven. It didn’t add up to me, but my body was going through prepubescent changes — body growth, hormonal shifts, you know, all the good stuff. So perhaps it was just unavoidable for my body to be chubby at that time in my life. Eventually I leaned out and started building muscle, but now twenty years later, I find myself in a situation even more frustrating than my prepubescent days. It reminds me that my body has undergone substantial transformations over my life and there will be more to come.

My Body

I was a healthy baby…

I was a good looking kid, too…

At 10 years old I was still healthy and looking good, but I started to put on weight (and bleach my hair blond). This is around the time I started becoming unhappy with how my body looked and subsequently questioned the efficacy of my mirror…

My body changed a lot as a teen — I started to go to the gym and add muscle to my physique. I was generally happier with how I looked…

By the time I made it to college I was what the kids these days call “jacked” (Actually, I’m getting older, do the kids still say that?). This is the happiest I’ve ever been with my body…

Then I got sick, grew a beard in honor of The Outlaw Josey Wales (and because I was too weak to shave). I started to lose a lot of weight, though I don’t have any photos that do it justice…

In 2013 I started to feel a little better (enough to shave again), but a lot of the muscle I put on before I got sick in 2010 had already withered away as the illness dominated my body. I didn’t realize it at the time, but four years into the illness I was really starting to get thin (and probably malnourished)…

In 2015 my condition worsened again. This time it hit a new bottom — the worst it’s ever been. I became bedridden and severely malnourished because I couldn’t eat solid food (but I could wear pink tanning goggles, so there’s that)…

In the last couple years, as my health has bounced around, but mostly trended upward, I’ve been able to eat solid food again and consequently put on a substantial amount of weight (Oh, and my hairline receded, but that’s for another blog post)…

Now

Much like looking at myself in the mirror in elementary school, I now find myself frustrated with how my body looks. I know I have all the excuses in the world to put on excess body weight, not that I, or anyone else, need an excuse. I hate how society puts so much pressure on us to look a certain way. I suppose I’m not the best advocate for the change we need around body image, but I do hope it changes. My thoughts and views expressed here are purely about myself, not how I see anyone else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting on weight and there is nothing wrong with the way I look. But that doesn’t change the fact that I want to look different and if it were within my control I would.

It’s hard to tell exactly how much weight I’ve put on because I’m too debilitated to stand and step on a scale. And perhaps that’s a sign that I need to worry about more important things than how I look. But when I see myself it’s hard not to focus on how my face is puffy, my stomach is bloated, and generally my body has layers of fat that I’m just not used to having. Right now my body is not a comfortable place to live. A lot of that comes from my illness, but weight gain definitely contributes as well.

The most frustrating part, however, is that I’ve done everything I can think of to try to get back to a body weight that feels comfortable to me. I’ve done juicing. I eat a gluten-free, low carb diet. I’m doing intermittent fasting — I only eat two meals between 6pm and 10pm. Yet I haven’t seen any noticeable improvements in how my body looks or feels.

I realize this may seem like a trivial complaint, especially when you consider the health issues I’ve faced, and that’s true, but it’s still a concern for me and doesn’t change the way I feel. Besides wanting to look and feel better, I also want to have a fairly healthy body weight when I start to walk again or just get into my wheelchair. After all, added body weight is added resistance when you’re trying to walk.

Lots of people have told me that I don’t look fat (I don’t like to use that word), but there’s no denying that my body does have more fat on it and less muscle than it used to. It’s an odd situation for me — I used to love my body. I still love my body. I love the amazing things it can do despite being plagued by illness. I just don’t love the way it looks. But that’s okay with me, at least for now.

In college I was a true narcissist, always obsessed with how good I looked. I was always posing in front of the mirror or for modeling photo shoots; I did bodybuilding competitions, flexing on stage wearing glorified underwear in front of hundreds of people. But things change, bodies change and deteriorate over time. But I guess I thought I had a couple decades before I ran into any issues with my body.

Perhaps that was naive of me, though. I mean I couldn’t have seen the illness aspect coming, but maybe my weight gain is partially a byproduct of inevitable aging — turning 30. Maybe it’s because I don’t burn as many calories as I once did — my metabolism, which is already impaired by MECFS, has surely slowed. But one thing is true, my issues with body weight and body image aren’t new. And while my outlook on body image may not be the most positive, at least I’m self-aware enough to admit that.

I’m also realistic. I know my weight gain is not from overeating or an unhealthy diet. As I said, I only eat two meals a day during a four hour eating window. It’s just not healthy to eat less than that. Take what I ate today — a tempeh patty with salad, then for my second meal — shrimp and green beans. Oh, and I had some cashews. It’s less than 1,500 calories. If my body was in a coma it would burn more calories than that by just keeping my organs functioning. So I guess it’s safe to say that my caloric intake isn’t the issue.

Then what is the issue? Maybe there isn’t an issue at all. But I think there is … I think it’s probably a combination of taking hydrocortisone, the steroid I’ve been on for the last three years, which is synonymous with weight gain. And the fact that I can’t exercise and my metabolism has slowed now that I’m in my 30s is probably in the mix too.

I’m sorry to say there’s no happy ending or even a transcendent epiphany to this post, though I definitely tried to think of one. The cold truth is that my critical view on my body is not going to change anytime soon — as long as I look the way I do I’m going to want to look different. But at the same time I don’t blame myself. I’m not over here beating myself up for something I have done everything in my power to change, something I have little or no control over. And perhaps that’s a good lesson for me — part of life is accepting the things I cannot change. Oh, and avoiding mirrors — sometimes life is all about avoiding those damn mirrors.

BEFORE YOU GO…

1. Thanks for reading!

2. If you would like to donate to support this blog I would be equally grateful!

3. I am fundraising to pay my medical bills so if you’d like to help out by buying a shirt or hoodie I would LOVE to see you rocking some Show ME the Money apparel like my lovely friends here…

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