Hefty, sturdy, solid, sumo, chunky, lardy and dumpy. They sound like plump Disney dwarfs. I was called all of these (and worse) as a teenager. All by so-called friends and even my brother. They could have just said overweight or plain fat. I was fat. If you believe the wonderful BMI calculator I still am.
As a baby complete strangers would squeeze my cute chubby cheeks. Fast forward several years and those chipmunk cheeks made me a target for every bitchy girl at school. The bullying started at primary school when I was the first girl in my class to get a bra. By age 11 I was a 36C and became a walking freakshow. The straps were pinged countless times a day, to the point I started wearing a vest under my bra so it wouldn’t hurt as much.
When I would stress over outfits my mum would say “it’s school, not a fashion show.” That was easy for her to say. She wasn’t a teenage girl. She didn’t burst the zip on her school skirt and have to hold it together with an elastic band. I had grown out of children’s sizes before I reached high school and was wearing a size 14 skirt, which clearly no longer fitted. My friends were skinny with long legs that could easily slide into Topshop jeans. Their thighs didn’t chafe in the summer when they wore shorts.
My “friends” brought up the issue of my size regularly, fascinated by how heavy I was. I had no idea, I never weighed myself. One day at a friend’s house they forced me to step on the scales. I was three stone heavier than any of the other girls. I was officially a heifer. Shortly afterwards I was ousted from the group because I didn’t “fit in”. I spent the last two years of school miserable and alone. Oddly my parents never discussed my weight with me, maybe for fear of upsetting me – it became the proverbial elephant in the room – ever present but never spoken about.
Since leaving school I have been a size 10, size 20 and everything in between. The cause of my weight problems was easy; food was my comfort, my constant, my best friend and worst enemy. I would eat my feelings. It didn’t matter what the emotion was, I could inevitably make it better with food. I was also incredibly lazy. I hated exercise, as an asthmatic child I was convinced that working out would kill me. I tried near starvation to get me to my lowest adult weight by surviving on thin chicken broth and crackers. I thought if I was skinny I would be happy but I was utterly miserable with obsessive calorie counting and fear of social events derailing my diet that I stopped going out altogether.
I’m now 33, a size 12-14 and am almost comfortable in my own skin. How did I get here? A lot of bloody hard work. In 2012 I started the Couch to 5k running programme with colleagues. I hated how unfit I was, running for even a minute seemed impossible. One minute turned into 10 and I slowly started to feel the emotional benefits of exercise. I thought “runners high” was utter crap but the endorphins helped cancel out a lot of the stress I was under. Clothes started to get looser and I stopped rewarding myself with chocolate or a takeaway after a shit day at work. I would walk or run instead. Exercise became a habit and in 2013 I completed a half marathon. It was slow but I made it round the course and that’s all I cared about!
I am not faultless. I still have a weakness for chips; can come up with a dozen reasons not to get off the couch and most days I still see the chubby chipmunk looking back in the mirror. Exercising in front of strangers scares the shit out of me. I turn purple, sweat buckets, pull awful faces, I feel like a hippo without a hint of coordination. I’ve only just become brave enough to start regularly attending group exercise classes. Luckily a good friend is a fitness instructor who is incredibly motivating and made me realise that most participants probably feel that same fear when they walk into a class. My attitude to food has changed so now I eat for nourishment rather than comfort, I try to make as many meals from scratch as I can and make better choices when eating out.
I recently started therapy and processing my self-esteem issues. I don’t cringe any more when people compliment me or assume that men who flirt with me are doing it for a bet. I have realised that as imperfect as my body feels it is fully functional. My legs will never be skinny but they have walked 500,000 steps in the past 100 days. My arms are wobbly but give great hugs. There’s no one size fits all solution to weight issues: diet and exercise is completely personal. It’s about finding what you enjoy, admitting that you might be rubbish at first but allowing time to progress. I recently started yoga and as much as I would love to be doing handstands in week one I am looking forward to being flexible enough to touch my toes. Baby steps.