I never wanted to play football at school; I never really wanted to take part in anything like that. I did occasionally partake in table tennis. But on one of the rare occasions I was forced to join in with the PE lesson, I didn’t really know what I was doing.
So when I missed that oh-so-important goal and our side lost the game, I was pinned against the wall by a classmate who vented their frustration at losing the game because of a ‘fat q***r’. Friends comforted me about the blatant homophobia thrown at me, but I never cared or noticed about that. With hindsight I can see that I wasn’t overweight at all, and the reason nobody picked up on the word ‘fat’ was because it was completely untrue. Well, nobody picked up on it except for me.
It took me over and all I could hear for the rest of the day was the word fat, repeating in my head. Without even knowing I was doing it, I began sucking in my stomach and hiding my chin with my hand. I still catch myself doing that now, 22 years later.
I remember that day so clearly and the trigger that has stayed with me to this day. I didn’t eat lunch that day; I was too self-conscious to eat in front of everyone. I knew what they would be thinking. ‘He is fat enough, he doesn’t need any more food’. I also came up with a cunning plan that skipping that one meal would solve all my problems. On my way home from school that evening, I walked past a bakery and a sweet shop and spent what little money I had at the time on junk food, which I ate as I walked, before eating my dinner when I got home.
The cycle had begun and the pattern became established as guilt took over after my ‘binge’. I couldn’t sleep that night out of worry that my uniform wouldn’t fit me the next day and that I would look even fatter than I had before. In reality I had probably not eaten that much, but rational thinking had vanished in those seconds it took him to make a comment about the way I looked.
Waking up the next day and skipping breakfast and then lunch, I was proud of what I had achieved. I was going to be thin. That day I even made it as far as the evening without eating and had thrown my dinner in the bin when nobody was looking. Days of starvation began and my resolve grew stronger the longer I resisted the urge to eat. Ignoring the obvious signs of hunger and loud rumblings coming from my stomach, I taught myself the usual tricks of covering up these tell-tale signs.
It was less than a week before I cracked and I took as much food as I could carry up to my bedroom, closed the door and began to binge. I didn’t come out until the food had all gone and my stomach was hurting with the amount I had eaten. I was crying with the pain and the guilt was quickly descending and taking over all of my emotions so the starvation stage of the cycle was quickly put back into place as I swore to myself I would never allow it to happen again. The cycle usually took about four to five days to repeat and went on for about 10 months, until one day I ate too much even for my stomach to handle and I was sick.
All I could think of was how wonderful this had been. I had the pleasure of food, and the comfort of emotional eating and I didn’t have the guilt or risk of gaining weight. That little accident had opened up a whole new world of opportunities to carry on my pattern.
Two years on from the initial PE lesson and my weight hadn’t changed at all. Even though I had grown and my body had developed, I was still the same weight I had been that day. How could I have gone through all of this and not lost any weight? What was happening that was stopping me achieving the body I wanted? Why was I still fat? There was only one thing for it – I had to make sure I purged every time I ate anything and not just when I binged or overate.
Despite growing much taller in those two years and my weight remaining the same, the mirror was telling a different story. I would spend hours looking at my body and feeling physically sick whenever I saw it. I didn’t leave the house without a jacket or coat and I covered up at every opportunity. I wore tight t-shirts under my clothes to hold everything in and try to hide myself from the world. To stop people seeing what I looked like.
For the next 20 years I coped with various eating disorders, culminating in binge eating disorder and massive weight gain to the point where my physical health was in real danger.
It was just a comment, just a throwaway comment from somebody who probably never thought about it again. I don’t give them all the credit, they were not important enough in my life to be the only reason this happened to me, but they were the trigger that started it all. People can be wonderful, inspiring and amazing but they can also be thoughtless and cruel. I will never know if anything else would have changed my life and set me on the same path I ended up on, but I will never forget the word being spat at me. Fat.
A word that didn’t even describe me and said for no other reason but to hurt me, changed my entire life. I like to think I would be strong enough to ignore such comments now, but the 13-year-old me took it to heart and fundamentally changed the way I thought and acted. One little word that changed my entire relationship with food, people and myself.