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Starving a Fat Child (Part One)

September 11, 2007

Easter, Age 8 with Bunny

I see all of this hysteria surrounding ‘obese’ children and I can’t help but think of my own story and how that same hysteria in my childhood affected me—long term. This is one of those stories that has to be told so that, in the future, it helps you understand my point of view about a few things.


I always thought I was a pretty normal child. That’s me above, age 8. That’s the year I was forcibly starved and I got a puppy. My mother was told that I needed to be put on a diet because I was fat. She thought she was doing the best for me and it took me 20 years to acknowledge that and forgive her for actually doing me harm [there will probably be a future post about how this whole ordeal, aka my fat life, affected my mother]. At the age of 8, I lived on 800 calories a day. That’s considered starvation folks—especially when you’re talking about an active, growing child. And I was an active child. I rode my bike everywhere. I spent all summer swimming to the point where I always slept in my bathing suit and my mom had to beg me to get out of it every few days for a bath. I ran and jumped and played in the woods and went tubing and fishing and, well, you get the idea. I was a wild child.


Then starvation started and instead of being a carefree kid who acted more like a fish, I spent my time devising strategies to find food. A very strong survival instinct kicked in and it thrives within me to this day. I stole money from my mother’s purse to buy food. I ate at friend’s houses whenever possible. I made lunchtime trades at school for peanut butter sandwiches and I hid food. ‘Cause damn it, I was hungry, truly hungry.


My father’s favorite phrase when I complained during that time was, “You don’t know what hungry really is and pray that you never do.” I know my father grew up very poor and he knew what it was like to be truly hungry. The difference between dad and me was that for him, the food just wasn’t there, for me, it was sitting right across the dinner table and dad was part of the reason I couldn’t eat it (although I do remember him sneaking me food from time to time when my mother wasn’t looking). I could see it and smell it, but it was forbidden. So if you want to know where my relationship with food began, it was right there. At that dinner table. At the age of 8. At 800 calories a day. At the endpoint of my childhood.

I’m glad that my parents got me a puppy that year because I felt like she was my only friend. Don’t get me wrong, I had human friends my own age. But, there were many times when I felt like she was the only reason I had to live. Should any 8-year-old ever have to feel that way? Little Dog let me hold her when I cried (and I cried a lot). She never judged me for being ‘fat’. And she provided me with the positive attention I craved since the only attention that everyone seemed to project at me was negativity about my weight. So yeah, starvation and a puppyit was a mixed year.


Later that year you could find me repeatedly screaming in pain while lying beneath the dining room table. My stomach hurt so badly. My parents really didn’t know what to do. I ended up in the hospital for a week. My final diagnosis—duodenal ulcer. I had an ulcer by 3rd grade. Personally (and I’m no doctor), I think my stomach acid didn’t have enough to digest so it thought it would just leak into my small intestine and digest that instead. I know that’s not what causes ulcers, but that is still my psychological take on what happened. You know what temporarily cured the excruciating stomach pain—eating something—preferably something starchy. I have this sneaky suspicion that my body was looking for a way to convince others that I needed more than 800 calories a dayso it made me very ill.


My mother eased off a bit with the calorie counting and I had to take antacids with every meal—but at least I got to eat normally—for awhile at least. My mother eventually had me join her in every diet program available. I remember when she went on NutriSystem and she wanted to sign me up and they actually told her that I was too young. So she took me to the meetings and instead of sitting in on their discussions, I worked out in the equipment room and I thought that was fun. When you’re 10, being left alone in a room full of cool exercise equipment is like being at Disneyland. See, I’ve never been opposed to activity, only to restricted caloric intake.


I did tons of active things growing up. My parents encouraged it and I loved it. I played basketball in a mixed league, took swimming lessons up through lifesaving, learned to snow ski, learned the hard way that I suck at waterskiing (being towed face-down in the water and forgetting to let go of the towline is really a bad look), took horseback riding lessons, and played softball (I do regret that I never got to play first base ‘cause they always make the fat girl play catcher—now ask me why my knees hurt sometimes). In short, I have always been an active person—except when I was starving ‘cause that’s when the lethargy and the crazy set in.




You’ll learn more about ‘the crazy’ in part 2–Shame, Scare Tactics and Teenagers




[and I promise there will be cool, fun stuff about art and frogs and cats in the future–you’re just gonna have to deal with the fat for a few posts ’cause, well, it’s the backdrop to my entire life. So if I’ve managed to deal with it this long–I think you can handle a few posts 🙂 ]

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