When you’ve been heavy most of your life, you can never lose the feeling of being large
This is the latest installment in the Body Issue, our weeklong examination of the male form, where men get real about what they look like, how they feel about it, and everything in between.
My most vivid memory of being heavy was when I was 14 and around 275 pounds. At least that’s the number that’s lodged in my head, it was likely higher. I was walking home through the London Underground, and two girls walked up behind me and grabbed my ass — two hands on each cheek — before screaming with laughter and running away. It was crushing — one of the few moments in my life I can think of that were just mean, with no context or reasoning beyond, “Let’s do this — it’ll be funny for us, and horrible for them.”
I’d love to say this was when I decided to lose weight, but it wasn’t. I was brutally depressed already, and my high school — a teacher-approved bullying boiler room — only served to continually remind me that, yes, I was fat, and as a result, I was both stupid and incapable of going anywhere in my life.
I got to a point where I’d simply not check my weight. It was likely not going down, and it only served to remind me that I was really, really heavy. Plus, whenever it was otherwise brought up, it was followed with a stern warning that I was “over 20 stone, which is unhealthy.” The British system — 14 pounds in one stone — served to make every incremental decimal point that much more demeaning. I’d be regularly called out in classes. I’d be shoved. I’d be told I should skip lunch by teachers. The only upside: Finding out I had a learning disability at age 12 wasn’t that emotionally painful because I’d already heard how much I was mentally challenged because of my weight.
When I eventually lost weight at 16, it was because of a borderline religious commitment to the Atkins diet. My parents were very supportive, and I was privileged in the sense that I could find healthy ways to do it. I dropped about 50 pounds in one summer, and I walked into my high school and had people I’d known for six years ask me who I was, genuinely not recognizing me, treating me as if I was such a better person because I was thinner. When I dropped another 50, leaving me with only a shred of high school left, I was euphoric.
Even at the time, I knew my strategies weren’t healthy — that this wasn’t how I should live my life — but I’d stuck a rod in my brain that said, “Thin is good. This is why people are nice to you.” Keeping that rod in place, though, took constant vigilance. Anytime I went to the bathroom or anywhere with a mirror or scale, I’d constantly check my weight, and every extra decimal point would drive me insane. I’d restrict. I’d pretend I’d eaten something. I’d lie and say I wasn’t hungry, because food and fat were the things between me and happiness, which I defined by girls liking me and people not talking down to me.
If I went above 160 pounds, I’d feel physically sick — that at any moment I’d simply balloon back to 275 pounds. The first time I got into size 28 jeans, I nearly cried from happiness. But a few years later, when I had to step up to size 34 jeans, I actually cried from sadness.
Even now, some days I’ll walk into the bathroom and just stare — and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ll grab at my sides or my tummy, and think “Fat, you’re getting fat.” It’s always there, always in my mind. If someone talks about my weight negatively, I feel awful for a week. The number on the scale (202 pounds) is a nightmare mentally, as I’m in the zip code of 275 pounds, despite valuable context saying that getting that large wouldn’t be possible with the amount of working out that I’m doing…