**I wrote about this struggle because I don’t think I can tell the story of ME without it. It has made me stronger, more resilient, more understanding, more forgiving, more empathetic, and has definitely humbled me every day of my life. I don’t think there is an ideal human form. Fit, fat, skinny — it doesn’t matter. But the media will forever have a bias — and new products and magazines will always exist to make us feel shame. I don’t offer solutions — only relatability.**
To this day I have an affinity for former-fat-people. There is an unspoken bond between us. We all feel like we take up much more of the room than we actually do.
This story is a long-time coming. Almost my entire existence, actually. I can’t tell the story of me without mentioning those three letters: F-A-T. Anyone who has met me casually in the last 20 years probably wouldn’t use the word “fat” if you asked them to describe me in 10 words. I doubt it would come up if you let them use 100 words. It would surprise me if it even came up in 10,000 words.
But, for me, it’s top 5.
For the past two decades — every single morsel of food I have put into my mouth has given me a tinge of anxiety and dread. Which is really tough…because I love food. It’s a complex relationship. I’m even a two-time raw garlic eating champion, and a speed-eating champion (burritos).
I want to tell this story because I realize lifelong body dysmorphia and vulnerability is rare for men and boys (to publicly admit). I knew Calista Flockhart and I were both going through the same shit…but I never saw anyone who looked like me admitting to it.
I also recently read “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon — a memoir about a fat/fit black kid/adult from Jackson, Mississippi. Although most would assume Kiese and I don’t share much commonality aside from being raised by powerful single mothers — our lenses of life are both viewed through a prism of, “a fat guy” — regardless of the number on the bathroom scale that day.
The Paris Review says Kiese, “discusses weight and bodies and the way all these things lend themselves to a heaviness that can be both physical and emotional”. Kiese talks about his problems with the white patriarchy, sick family members, addiction, systemic oppression, unrealistic expectations, emotional abuse, and more — but none of these things occurred, or was discussed, without him referencing his weight.
That’s what it feels like to grow up hating the human form you’ve been given (or gave yourself). When you hate the skin you’re in, when you hate your human vessel, everything else is shifted & tainted.
You’re not “a guy riding your bike to the store” — you’re “ a fat guy trying to ride his bike to the store”. You’re not just “a guy shooting a basketball”, you’re “a chubby guy throwing a ball into a cylinder”.
But the reason Kiese, and I, decided to “take charge” and lose weight probably wasn’t due to some intrinsic motivation to be healthier. For years — I thought it was due to peer pressure. I was called fat almost nonstop and teased in school. ESPECIALLY by people I trusted and loved and considered to be my friends (or more).
But, looking back, I realize it was about control.
My weight was the one thing in the world, as a dependent 12-year-old, that I was in complete control of. I didn’t have the hardest life of any 12-year-old in the world — but most things in my life were chaotic, difficult, and beyond my control.
I could make my body look any way I wanted to by taking extremely specific actions. The results were stark. People made all sorts of comments (99% positive). I enjoyed the attention almost as much as I liked the control.
I don’t know the exact numbers — but in total I lost close to 70 pounds in a period of about 3-months over a summer. To call that “extreme” or even “insane” is putting it lightly. I went from a glaringly-obese child to a walking (barely) skeleton. The fact that anyone (teachers, or the checkout people at Blockbuster Video) allowed me to evaporate in front of their eyes is, to this day, concerning.
Diet: I would eat about 4 saltine crackers a day — along with some fat-free Kraft singles (why did these exist?) and a can of mixed vegetables.
Exercise: Aside from pushups, crunches, and pull-ups from my childhood swingset — I purchased a bowling ball and a trampoline from Goodwill.
Every day, I would take my bowling ball and run across the yard holding the bowling ball, toss the ball down at the trampoline, and then grab the ball in mid-air while performing a “torso twist”. I did this religiously for hours while consuming about 200 calories a day.
Although this hyper-extreme dieting and exercise only lasted about a year — and my knowledge about micro/macronutrients and what it meant to be healthy grew immensely — I was forever impacted.
In the midst of my weight loss — I became a strict-vegan — just to take my level of extreme impulse control to the next level (and maybe even to punish myself for years of bad behavior by depriving myself access to delicious foods — at one point I went about a decade without having a piece of candy.)
Prior to this extremism — I didn’t know I was fat.
I mean, people called me fat every single day. And I saw the big numbers on the scale. And I heard people mocking “fat Americans” and McDonald’s. Yet, I was an athletic and happy kid, so I thought it didn’t matter (does it?). All I knew was that two-double cheeseburgers, Super Size fries, and a shake made me feel good. So, aside from the occasional box-sleeve of 12 Taco Bell soft-shell tacos, that was my go-to meal. Every single day.
How to Fix Difficult Situations (in my 10-year-old brain):
- Scared? Eat.
- Tired? Eat.
- Nervous? Eat.
- Stressed? Eat.
- Sad? Eat.
- Bored? Play videogames. And eat.
- Hungry? Yeah. Always.
My grandma drove me to McDonald’s every day at the end of elementary school. Growing up — my mom didn’t cook. She didn’t even get home from work until well after dinner. The only time my food didn’t come out of a microwave, or a fast-food window, was on a holiday.
By age 10, I was picking out my own groceries. (Spoiler: At 10, I had no idea how food intake and/or nutrition affected appearance/health.) It definitely doesn’t help that I grew up in the midst of the, “don’t eat eggs, eat lots of margarine, avoid natural fat, and eat a lot of bread/cereal” pseudoscience of the 1980s/90s.
What I’ve now learned over the past 30+ years is that I can’t blame myself. I’m an impassioned, slightly-addictive, thriving person. If I’m gonna do something — I’m gonna go all-out. It’s not my fault the calories that surrounded me were low-quality and never-ending.
Growing up in the Midwest — portions are usually measured by the number of belt loops you need to undo. Eventually, I learned you can go from, “ouch, it feels like my tummy is about to rip open from the inside” to, “I feel satisfied and will probably not be hungry anymore if I drink a glass of water and wait a few minutes”.
PLUS — in the part of Wisconsin I grew up in — every single meal is eaten with a giant cup of milk. EVERY. SINGLE. THING.
To this day, when I go back to visit my grandma or something, she’ll be like: “here’s some lasagna and I’ll get you some milk real quick”.
Thanks, because I really needed to wash down my cheese-pie-cake with thick udder cream.
What kind of world did I grow up in?! I even had 3 or 4 birthday parties as a child at McDonald’s — is that normal? Some of the games we played involved holding a straw under your chin with a large soda beverage cup between your feet and seeing if you could get the straw to land in the cup. Best out of five chances wins. WTF?
Anyway…to this day I have an affinity for former-fat-people. There is an unspoken bond between us. We all feel like we take up much more of the room than we actually do (not in a good way).
I know I’ll never feel “normal”. I know I’ll never go even one day without thinking about the size of my body. I know it sounds exhausting — but this is my reality and I accept that. It’s a part of who I am — and I really like who I am and who I’ve become. Logically, I know there’s absolutely no good reason to tie self-worth to body-image. Emotionally…well let’s just say I’m an emotional guy.
I currently weigh what I weighed when I was about 11 years old. I’ve been around this weight for the last two decades. In the end — we get one body. You can choose to love it;you can choose to hate it. You can attempt to preserve it;you can drain it for all it’s worth. You can be big, small, or somewhere in between. It really doesn’t matter. All that matters is you accepting it.
I honestly have no profound takeaways or advice — you just need to learn what works for you and how you can become comfortable in your own vessel. I would suggest humor. If you can laugh at the ridiculousness of self-consciousness and ideal body-image — if you can truly find humor in the insanity of the human experience — then I think you can live a fulfilling life. Maybe go to the gym, or cycle, or trail run — but laugh at yourself. Laugh at the fact that we are so lucky to have an excess amount of food that we sometimes pay money to burn excess calories.
Laugh at everything — because everything is ridiculous.
“When we learn to take ourselves slightly less seriously, then it is a very great help. We can see the ridiculousness in us… The humor that doesn’t demean is an invitation to everyone to join in the laughter. Even if they’re laughing at you they’re joining you in a laughter that feels wholesome.” — Archbishop Tutu
“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” — Dalai Lama.
Craig Wiroll is a frozen custard aficionado from the Midwest. He is the author of 26 unpublished books that mysteriously burned in a barn fire in 2014. He is a has-been a reality television “star”, game show failure, Asian elephant rehabilitator, waterfall repairman, two-time garlic eating champion, and also worked at Pizza Hut and The White House.
He lives alone with nobody — oftentimes out of the back of his Subaru.