• It seems that other men my age have been given permission to take it easy, but I can't. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
What was the point of losing all that weight if I was still going to agonise over being fat?
By
Nick Bhasin

18 Sep 2017 - 8:08 AM  UPDATED 3 Aug 2018 - 3:08 PM

When I was in college, at 21 years of age, I met a friend for lunch. I sat down, looked him dead in the eye and announced with an aggressive resignation, “I’m going to be fat for the rest of my life”.

After years of pointlessly trying to pass myself off as a normal-sized person, hiding my soft lumpy marshmallow of a body in billowy shirts and baggy jeans, it felt good to come clean and accept the situation.

It was around that time that I was at my heaviest – roughly 108.9 kgs. I’m 5’10”, so according to the Heart Foundation’s BMI calculator, I was obese. And that was unlikely to change.

Of course, that kind of acceptance – even when it comes in the form of an actual movement – couldn’t begin to topple the fortress of self-hatred I had built. I hated how being fat made me almost completely untouchable romantically. I hated how my folds of fat flapped when I ran. I hated how I could only wear certain kinds of clothes – and how I needed to contort my torso and/or stretch a shirt out throughout the day to ensure that those clothes did not accidentally catch on a fat fold and reveal my shame.

It was around that time that I was at my heaviest – roughly 108.9 kgs. I’m 5’10”, so according to the Heart Foundation’s BMI calculator, I was obese. And that was unlikely to change.

Memories of My Melancholy Fatness (that’s the title of my pending coming of age novel – don’t steal it) are filled with moments of humiliation on various levels…

  • After not seeing me for a long time, a relative once grabbed my stomach, jiggled it around and howled “What is this?!” like it was a normal, jovial greeting.
  • When I was 10, playing ‘truth or dare’, a boy dared a girl to “hug my large stomach”.
  • On my thirteenth birthday, my aunt entered the house with a gleeful announcement - “Nicky’s 13!” – which was immediately followed by my cousin saying, “No, he’s not. He’s fat.”
  • As a teenager, I was a member of Weight Watchers, where I had my weekly weight gain shame announced to a room full of middle-aged women.
  • In order to avoid the pain of having to take my shirt off in front of other people in high school gym class (every fat kid has a gym class story), I joined the track team. Then, in order to avoid the pain of bad, slow running, I limped around the track with a fake injury. Then, I was sent back to gym class. 

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I had been fat since birth and I’m sure genetics played a role in keeping that way, but I did my part with some very unhealthy eating habits. Midnight cheesesteaks, chewy chocolate chip cookies by the fistful (“gimme 35 CCCCs – stat”), canned spaghetti with smashed crackers sprinkled on them, inspired by Kurt Russell in Overboard… it was a magical time.

Attempts to lose weight in my teen years were fruitless. Diets didn’t work. I was physically active, playing basketball regularly, but that clearly wasn’t enough to make a difference. At one point, desperation forced me to look into liposuction, but the procedure was too expensive.

And then, when I was 23, I began losing weight.

It started with the Atkins Diet, a program I could actually follow thanks to its one rule – don’t eat carbs. So I didn’t. And it worked. For longer than is probably advisable, I ate enormous amounts of meat and eggs like some kind of Viking king before he goes off to war.

Attempts to lose weight in my teen years were fruitless. Diets didn’t work. I was physically active, playing basketball regularly, but that clearly wasn’t enough to make a difference.

When I couldn’t lose any more weight with the diet, I did what I should have done from the beginning: I ate healthily and exercised. A lot.

I became obsessed, eating the same thing every day and spending two hours a day in the gym. I subscribed to preposterous workout magazines that are literally the same issue over and over again. I bought diet and exercise books, combing them for bits of advice on how to eat or work out better. I even read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding from cover-to-cover. 

At the end of a four-year journey, I had lost around 30 kilograms.

 

To go from feeling hopelessly fat and doomed to legitimately slim was undeniably thrilling. People noticed the change and they were very complimentary. I confidently wore clothes I never would have dreamed of wearing and I got more attention from women. After years of feeling utterly invisible, this was tremendously satisfying.

But it wasn’t good enough. I still saw myself as fat.

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As I moved into my mid 30s and started a family, I had less time to spend in the gym and my family didn’t have the same tolerance for my Spartan lifestyle. As a result, I am now at 42 a little softer, a little heavier than I was at my slimmest, which only makes me look and feel fatter.

I still structure my day around exercise, but it’s never enough.

The situation is infinitely worsened by the fact that, somehow, the hunger of my youth has come back to torture me. I think about food all the time: what I just ate, what I’m eating, what I’m going to eat next. When ordering at a restaurant, I break out into a sweat, panicking that we may not have ordered enough. “Dear God, what if I’m still hungry at the end of all of this?” I’ll silently agonise. “I could very well die.”

If my wife makes the mistake of asking me what she should get to eat, I tell her to get something I want, but I make it sound like it’s something she’ll like. I know she’s not going to finish it and I know that I will. I pray that my children will order something I normally don’t allow myself to eat. I’m not really eating it if it’s off their plates because I can’t finish it, leaving them nothing. But the fact remains that I’m literally taking food out of my children’s mouths to carboload.

(Don’t I sound like a great dad?!?!)

The situation is infinitely worsened by the fact that, somehow, the hunger of my youth has come back to torture me. I think about food all the time: what I just ate, what I’m eating, what I’m going to eat next. 

And when it comes to sugar, like someone who hasn’t yet watched Breaking Bad, I am constantly on the precipice of a binge. And like a crystal meth addict in Breaking Bad, I have to be kept away from cake, cookies and ice cream because if I can see it, literally nothing stop me from having it. Not the exorbitant cost of a Ben & Jerry’s pint in this country. Not my poor, beleaguered wife, who’s been forced to hide chocolate chip cookies in weird places so that I won’t eat them in seconds while she weeps, “But it’s for the children…” And certainly not my dignity and self-esteem, both of which eagerly, happily wave the pillaging hunger through the gates.

I don’t want to alarm you (or the authorities), but I’ve gone to deep, dark places in pursuit of those highs and lows. Like some sort of possessed sugar badger, I’ve burrowed to the bottom of pint after pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, only to find emptiness and pain.

“What have I done?” I’ll whisper. “What… Have… I… Done…”

Anyway!

The upshot of all of this is that I live in a constant state of body anxiety. If I stop obsessing over exercise, the way I eat will put me in the hospital. If I stop obsessing over what I eat – even the post-sugar binge self-flagellation – I will balloon up to cartoonish proportions. If I don’t stand guard in front of the mirror, scanning myself for expansions and contractions, my old fat body will return.

So I can never relax.

As part of some cosmically cruel joke, it seems that other men my age have been given permission to take it easy. They even have a term for its acceptability. Dad bod. Like it’s cute. These men wear slim fitting shirts without a care for how their stomachs protrude through them. They’re not hunching their shoulders over to hide anything. And they certainly don’t appear to be carrying around any shame or pain.

Am I better off than them because I work so hard to stay in shape?

Now that I’ve been not fat for almost as many years as I was fat, I have to ask myself: what was the point of losing all that weight if I was still going to agonise over being fat?

I know how ridiculous all of this is. There are ways to exercise more efficiently and maximise gym time. And I could adjust my eating habits. Indeed, there are lots of resources for diet and exercise advice. But what I need – and what I should have been developing all along – is the mental fitness required to realise that, as with the pursuit of any goal in life, we never “arrive”. We never achieve perfection. So we need to enjoy and derive satisfaction from the journey – otherwise happiness will remain constantly out of reach.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to “love my body”. That sounds gross. But there is a healthy balance between effort and acceptance that I am trying to find – and it begins with giving myself a break. And ends with me locking myself in the bathroom with a tiny spoon and a large chocolate cake.

Just kidding, you guys.

I’m not kidding.

Well, I’m mostly kidding.

Sort of.

To follow the writer on social media, visit his Twitter feed.


If you or someone you know needs support contact Lifeline 13 11 14, or talk to a medical professional or someone you trust.

Watch How To Get Fit Fast on Mondays at 8.30pm on SBS. It is also streaming on SBS On Demand:

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