Fat and Furious: How I Got Fit, Stayed Fat, and Found My Purpose
And I’m fat.
The problem is, fat people aren’t welcomed in fitness communities.
We’re told to lose weight. That we’re a scourge of society. We’re derelict in our diets. We’re a sign of sloth. We’re medical money-pits.
I’ve had a lifelong battle with eating disorders, body image, and physical health.
But what if I told you that weight is an imperfect indicator of health?
What if I told you that weight isn’t even a good indicator of health? And even if weight could reliably predict health outcomes, shame is a terrible strategy for behavior change.
Spoiler alert: That’s what I’m here to tell you.
I’m devoting my experience, my story, my shame, my body, my wounds, and my research to changing this idea.
To start, let me share some of my story and wounds:
About two years ago, I broke. Mentally (bi-polar, anxiety, depression, trust). Physically (a sports hernia, smoker’s sinuses, and plantar fasciitis). Spiritually (I’d totally given up).
Years of bulimia and crash dieting left my digestive system ragged. Add onto that the booze I was pouring on top of body shame and hurt, and the cigarettes that fueled my late-night mania just trying to keep up.
And in repentance for all my shame, I would kneel on the cold bathroom tile after putting the kids to bed. In a pseudo-religious, self-mutilation ritual I purged my shame. It was really just bulimia. I stuck my fingers into my throat until there was nothing left inside my body.
I was mending my wounds with poison — mentally, physically, and socially.
Sometime in October 2020, my wife April sat me down and told me it was time to deal with my body issues. It was time to stop numbing with booze, filling holes with cigarette smoke, and letting bulimia run my life.
We doubled down on counseling, we hired a coach, and we had conversations about a lot of tough shit we were avoiding.
And I started running again. Not to punish my gut and lose weight, but to clear my mind and connect to my body.
I want to talk about this pain so that others will feel comfortable shining light on their own darkness.
Going on a fitness Journey
Here we are 16 months and more than 500 miles later. My cardio-respiratory fitness is nearly as high as it was when I was playing hockey and climbing mountains in high school. (I was fat then too).
This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you about all the weight I lost. But I didn’t lose any weight.
I was about 300 pounds when I started this journey, and I’m about 300 pounds now.
I run 20–25 kilometers each week (a little less after a recent COVID bout). And my wife is a nurse with a nutrition degree who makes regular trips to our organic farm stand. So I’m putting a healthy amount of healthy food in my body each week.
Plus there’s the yoga, the lifting, and the recovery workouts.
I think I’m probably just a 300-pound guy, and that’s the way it is.
Once I realized I was able to stare down my shame. And the people I love faced that shame with me — even though it meant looking into their dark corners.
I want to talk about this journey so that other people with “non-normative” bodies can join me in sharing their journeys.
It wasn’t the fat that was making me less healthy, it was my shame responses. My self-destructive behaviors were destroying my self.
Turns out, that when society tells you a story about yourself, you start to believe it over time.
So when society told me I was a fat, worthless piece of shit, I began to mumble that under my breath. I still mutter that phrase in my darkest moments.
People who feel worthless don’t value their bodies. They don’t value their experiences. After all, what is the value of something that’s worthless?
St. Brené Brown has been telling us this for years.
Lucky for me, I’m a born researcher and storyteller — a master of communications sciences if you will (well, I will be in August after graduation).
And the University of Mississippi gives me access to all of the peer-reviewed research the world has to offer.
I’m capping my graduate studies off with a research project exploring the effects of shame on bodies of “non-normative” size and ability — but specifically fat bodies.
I want to share this research because writing helps me process, but more importantly, I’m super privileged in my access to this information. And I want to talk about this research so that everyone can join me in this conversation about shame.
Making “Non-Normative” the Norm
I’ve put “non-normative” in quotes this whole time because “normative” is a bullshit idea. For instance, the Center for Disease Control reported the obesity prevalence in the US in 2017–18 was 42%. Combine that with people in the overweight category, well over half of Americans are fat.
In fact, the BMI was developed by a mathematician (not someone with any advanced knowledge of the body) in the 19th century. Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet based his BMI categories on what he determined the average man to be.
Our universal measure of physical fitness is based on arbitrary numbers applied to a scale of what a 19th-century Belgian white man decided was average.
So overweight, by Quetelet’s definition, mean’s a person has an above-average weight. By that logic, the average American can’t be overweight.
An absolutely wild report under the heading, “Obesity is a common, serious, and costly disease,” the CDC warns:
“From 1999 –2000 through 2017 –2018, US obesity prevalence increased from 30.5% to 42.4%. During the same time, the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%.”
During that time, the National Institutes of Health MOVED THE GOALPOSTS! That’s right, they changed the definition of fat, and millions of Americans became medically defined as fat overnight.
(For those of you who have never been “medically fat” in a doctor’s office, it sucks.)
There is no norm because no body is the same. Every body is different.
I want to talk about “Non-normative” so that all the “normies” and “non-normatives” alike will see there is no normal.
- If this resonates with you, reach out, please.
- If you want to know what research I’m looking at lately, let me know. I’m happy to share.
- If this makes you angry, please consider reading some of the research I’ve linked to.