As a former fat kid, I found myself stuck in how I viewed myself. That is, after I lost weight, I still saw myself as ‘the fat kid’. I worked really hard to see myself as I actually was rather than as I used to – essentially silencing my past as a part of my present and future. As I’ve now been thinner longer than I was fat, I have a new perspective on things that I think is valuable to share.
I was 248 lbs at the height of my obesity, at age 17. There was a distinct rotundness to my shape, and my height (6’2″ – not giant, but taller than most kids in my school) drew even more attention to my proportions. I lost most of the weight the summer before my senior year, and really toned up through that year. I didn’t really see myself as this in-shape or good looking guy because I never saw myself that way (justifiably), and the people around me had always known me as ‘the fat kid’. My whole environment had sort of type-cast me, if you will. And people had always complimented me to be nice (e.g. my mother saying something like, “You look so handsome in that suit.”), so the compliments I started to get after losing weight sort of rolled off my back as niceties no one actually meant. They were just being polite.
As for girls, none in my environment were interested because they had formed a bullet-proof sense of me as unfit, unattractive, unathletic, uncool. If I was at a party with kids from another school, and a girl showed interest in me, I didn’t have a clue what to do about it, and didn’t usually even pick up on it. I mean, why would she, right?
Fast forward to college – new kids, no one with a pre-determined sense of me. That is, no one but me. I worked on how I viewed myself while in college, and did so by basically ignoring who I had been rather than finding a way to really deal with it or take power from it.
This is the key.
Like anything we go through in life, the right way of dealing with it is never to not deal with it. If that sentence didn’t read right to you or didn’t make sense, go back and re-read it. I didn’t mistype it. You cannot suppress or ignore things that happened and ultimately expect to move on completely. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good life or be happy, but just that you won’t have truly dealt with it or faced the issue. If you can successfully do that, you will be in a much better place than you could have been if you just suppressed or ignored.
There are obviously much tougher situations than childhood obesity that people go through, and I’m not saying it’s easy to deal with any of this. But being ‘the fat kid’ is easier than we may allow it to be – ridicule, self-doubt, lack of self-worth and all. They key is to take power from it.
So what does this mean? For me, it’s about remember who I have been, and what I’ve done to get to where I am. Not just physically, but mentally – especially mentally. I wasn’t fat because of physical reasons. I was fat because of mental. My understanding, my mental strength, my emotional strength and my sense of what I was worth. Looking at what I am today feels great, but doing it in light of what I was before feels immensely better.
I let that fat kid in me live. I seek to understand why I ate how I ate and had the attitude I did toward physical activity and being outside. It is because I allow those thoughts into my head so that I can understand them that I’m able to move on from them and do better. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have the tools to deal with them should those feelings crop up again.
As an example, I didn’t like exercise because it was always done to me rather than something I chose to do for me. That really is the root of my feelings toward it. It’s about choice. Now I choose to do it. And I choose what to do. I didn’t want to play soccer as a kid, but my brother, father and mother made me. Now, I don’t mind playing it, but if I don’t want to, I do something else. And I’ve come to understand who the exercise is for. It’s not because my father is mad at my weight, or my sister is making fun of me for being fat and lazy. It’s also not even because I want to look good for my wife (who is beyond out of my league), or to be a good role model for my son. It’s because I feel amazing doing it for me. That high I get from doing for myself is why I do it. But it took breaking down my deep-rooted feeling toward exercise to understand why I disliked it, and try to look at it another way. Looking at it another way took structuring my approach to it differently. None of this would have come if I had just suppressed my past feelings.
I know because that was my old approach. I exercised through most of my 20s, and I did it because I was afraid of getting fat again and because I wanted people to like me. I wanted to find a wife, and I’d never do that if I was fat (obviously, this is flawed thinking, but that’s what was coursing through my mind). I did it, essentially, out of fear. And I wound up taking months off at a time because I’d be burnt out on it (and I did maybe 20% as much exercise as I do now, and slept twice as much, so it wasn’t due to physical exhaustion).
Let the fat kid in you live. Become his or her friend. Understand what motived good and not good choices and behaviors at a very deep level. Break this down into understanding how you can use it to help you today. We are who we have been, and we can only move ahead by allowing for that to be ok and to grow from it. Go ahead – enlighten.your.body.