It’s impossible to get away from. When you’ve lived your life as a food addict, it shows. No matter how carefully you hide your eating, the results are painfully evident. Unsightly rolls and pounds of extra flesh: clinging to you, filling out super-sized clothes, and chubbing up your cheeks.
Your inner struggles are on display. For all the world to see.
Introversion Makes it Worse
For me, it’s a deeply painful reality, because I crave personal space above almost anything else. Even before my weight became a problem, I was a person who tried to hide myself. As a child, my number one ambition in life was to someday have my own room. I sought out deserted nooks and crannies, places no one else knew about, to be truly alone. At recess, I climbed trees to be above sightlines, and built snow caves to curl up in, going so far as crafting various implements to block the entrances behind me. I just couldn’t handle being around people constantly. I wanted a few moments of solitude.
But back then, I could deal with the world, when I had to. In between these little escapes, I interacted with others fairly confidently. Perhaps even too confidently. I wasn’t afraid of voicing unpopular opinions, even when it lost me friends. I didn’t mind standing out, a little bit. I was ok with who I was, and people could take me or leave me, as they chose.
It’s different, now. Because now, I’m ashamed of who I am.
Obesity: it’s not just unsightly
Being fat isn’t like my (formerly) crooked teeth or my frizzy hair. Those are just embarrassing. I’m not responsible for them. The unnecessary pounds, on the other hand, are evidence of an inner weakness. A lack of discipline. Self-indulgence.
I can spin it to myself any way I like. I can acknowledge that I have an addiction that makes it more difficult than most people to resist overeating. I can accept – and am grateful for – God’s repeated, never-ending forgiveness. I can have compassion for others who struggle with the same temptations that I do. And when I’m alone, with only myself and the God who made me, these things give me peace. But they don’t help me face the outside world.
When other people see me, they make judgements. I know they do. Most thin people have no idea what it’s like to have a food-addicted brain, and can’t help looking down on those who can’t control their food intake the way they can – even if they make a conscious effort to suppress that instinct. When they look at me, they see a fat person. Because that’s what I am. And the things they assume about me, from that one physical trait, are not all wrong. There are some hard truths, there. And when I see myself in their eyes, I have to face those truths, without all the reasons and science I’ve used to blunt my own self-judgement.
I’m not safe around overweight people, either. While at least half of Canadians are overweight themselves, few have a brain as addicted as mine, and even fewer understand what food addiction is. And overweight people judge those who are more overweight than themselves – or, because inside every fat person is a thin person – more overweight than they think of themselves as. I know. I’ve been that person. I sometimes still catch myself at it – it’s momentary, a judgement quickly replaced by the recognition that these people are sick, like me, and need the same compassion – but it’s a knee-jerk reaction that is difficult to eliminate entirely. And I have not only 18 years of addiction and all the science of Bright Line Eating to back me up, but 5 years of intensive education in compassionate, jon-judgemental healthcare. So yes, when I walk out of my house, I see judgement in the eyes of every single person I meet.
I’ve been insulated from those eyes, for a while. I spent months studying for exams, venturing out only to visit family – who I know love me unconditionally – to church – where at least I know most people’s judgement is tempered with a knowledge of their own sin – and the grocery store – where, thanks to the Canadian winter, I’ve been able to shroud myself in a long, puffy coat that lets me feel like I blend in with everyone else. But to be perfectly honest, even the brief interactions with cashiers make me self-conscious. It’s a little better now that I’m back to strict bright lines, and don’t have to be embarrassed about the food I’m buying. But a part of me knows that they know I didn’t get to be this size eating carrots and broccoli, whatever I may be purchasing today. I know that’s ridiculous. I know that strangers don’t care about my eating habits nearly as much as I imagine they do. And that even if they did, it wouldn’t matter – I haven’t once gone through the checkout and had someone publicly humiliate me, frown in disapproval, or even fail to smile and wish me a good day. My life has been blissfully free from prejudice or discrimination, and I have nothing to complain about.
But very soon, I will be facing the real world again.
Into the Lions’ Den
Next week, I’m travelling to Thunder Bay, where I hope to start practicing as a Naturopath as soon as my registration is finalized. I’ll be meeting with clinic owners who are interested in renting out space. They will be asking me questions about myself, and deciding whether or not I’m the right person to join their team. We call it getting to know each other, but it’s really just one giant judgement-fest: I’m judging them, they’re judging me, and most importantly, they’re judging me.
This is one of those unfortunate instances where 1st impressions, really, really matter. Do I fit in with their vision of their clinic? This is their business, their livelihood. They need to look at me critically: my appearance, deportment, personality, intelligence, verbal skills, facial expressions, even my smell. That might seem a funny one, but it’s a narrow path we in the natural health business have to tread: maintaining an odour that is inoffensive (and ideally, pleasant) to all noses, without the help of any strong scents – never mind perfume (totally out of the question), a soap or deodourant can be overpowering for some of our patients. Try walking that line when you’re losing weight, breath mints are against the rules, and you’re stress-sweating.
It’s anxiety-inducing. These aren’t strangers on the street, whose opinion I can shrug off. This is my future. And it’s only the beginning of my future.
Assuming I manage to convince one of these clinic owners that I’m not a fraud, I will soon have to repeat this arduous process. Every day. With every patient. For the rest of my life. I have a few, precious minutes, the 1st time I meet every one of these people, to convince them that they can trust me with their health.
I’ve been through something like this before, of course. In my final year of school, I worked as an intern in the clinic, and had to face the judgement of dozens of patients. But I had my supervisors to fall back on: even if a patient didn’t trust me, they might trust my supervisor. I was facing a lower bar, both because my patients knew I was a student, and therefore expected less of me, and because their visits were either inexpensive or free. And I had a lot less riding on my success. I needed to meet a minimum quota to graduate, but I wasn’t trying to build a practice. I wasn’t concerned about my long-term reputation. I wasn’t trying to earn a livelihood, pay rent or business expenses, or start making a dent in my student loans.
It wasn’t real life.
This is real life. And I am entering it as a fat person.
It sucks. There’s no way around it. If I’d just stuck to the lines through the fall, this experience would be a whole lot different. But I didn’t, and these are the consequences. On the inside, my mind is clearing, and I’m looking forward to shedding the excess weight. But my outward appearance doesn’t reflect that. Not yet. And people are going to be looking at this body when they decide whether or not I can help them. Whether or not I’m a good bet.
Let’s just say, I’m going to be praying really hard. Because regardless of how I look, I don’t always make the best 1st impression. I’m introverted and awkward, and I run into things. To overcome that, I need my best self to shine through. I need to be calm and unhurried, but I also need to have energy. I need to think on my feet and not become flustered. I need my hair to behave. And I need my natural mouthwash and deodourant to work.
And even if all those things go right, I will still be fat. I will still feel uncomfortable in my body.
I’m not sure how I’m going to do. There’s a very real chance that I’ll chicken out at the last minute and run away. Where to, I don’t know. But I sometimes fantasize about abandoning all my responsibilities, cutting all my ties to friends and family, and adopting a new identity somewhere. Getting a simple job, like a cashier, where all people expect me to do is check their groceries, smile, and wish them a good day. I could do that. Sometimes, that looks like a really good life, and I could kick myself for going down the road of university education, instead.
But here I am. And I’m going to try. I may or may not succeed. But I’ll try.