The last time I cried as a kid
It wasn’t when my dad beat my ass. I stopped doing that when I was little – but I do wonder whether he hit me harder because I stopped crying… I don’t know whether I was any more of a little badass than my brothers, but he must have thought so, because I was the one who got most – if not all – of his attention when it came to beat downs and I was always guilty until proven otherwise. Usually I was just proven beatdown. I was pretty headstrong and I think he saw a lot of himself in me, and so he pushed the limits of punishment out of self-hatred. When I’m talking about beatings I’m not talking about spankings I’m talking about the “can’t lift your legs to get up and move because you can’t even feel em” type of beatings. Bruised and aching, you just pass out on the floor from the exhaustion of the ordeal.
He did it for my own good, or so he thought. Because he was afraid I would turn out less than desirable and of course like him, I had a hard head. The derogatory nickname he had for me growing up was Fat-Head. He might have meant it similar to thick skull, in regards to my stubbornness, but as a kid all I did was wince inside when I heard the fat part of the name screamed out at me. It was like time moved slow for the first half of it …FAAAAAT-head. It broke me just a little more each time. You see, “bad” for him meant “fat” because the worst thing in his eyes was to be fat. Not bad like some parents mean it – you know, lazy, greedy, maybe you heard these words yourself when you were growing up. No, he really meant bad. When he was a boy, he got beaten by a fat priest because he was “bad”.
Natives have a long history of mistreatment by church officials and this has reshaped our family interactions to this day. Whether it was in the residential school system or in many other institutions, this was “normal” for authority figures. This was just how they “spoke” to native kids for generations.When they grew up to be mothers and fathers themselves, many of them passed on the pain. Even those that did not attend residential school are affected by others in the community that did. My dad didn’t like to talk about his childhood but I got the idea. He hated that fat priest and others like him that mistreated him in a similar fashion and associated fat in a negative way as a result.
So maybe it wasn’t surprising when he saw fat where there wasn’t any; he saw bad when there wasn’t any either, looking through they eyes of his tormenters. Through visualizing it in me, he actually helped create it out of thin air.
Did you ever grow up thinking that you were fat, then look at an old photo, and see that you were perfectly normal? I was nine in the photo to the left. Do you think I was fat? I don’t anymore, but I did then because my dad did.This perception eventually became reality. Before it even existed, the fat was there in my dad’s eyes and in his childhood memories.
Half a loaf of bread on the table
One of my earliest memories of an incident that warped my relationship with food is of a loaf of bread on the table in the kitchen when I was about four. I was hungry, so I ate a slice, went back and played and then came back for another slice, and so it continued until suddenly it was half gone. I didn’t understand why I did this then but I do now. I should have been left to determine my own body’s needs by intuition. My father instead became very angry with me and said, “You can’t just eat a bunch of bread like that, you’ll get fat!.” From that day on, the bread was no longer to be found on the table. Nothing was said, but I knew why and it deeply bothered me.
I didn’t ever have issue with gaining weight until a few years later when my parents divorced. It was a big change and was affecting me in a lot of ways. As a result, it appeared that I started eating more, so my father started weighing me. Not any of my brothers, though. Just me. At most, I may have been a few pounds overweight at that stage, if that. To me it didn’t show at all especially when I look back at photos. I didn’t even have little kid-boobs, a gut or anything to even say I was chubby just a “thick appearance”. Anyway, WTF pops? Was I really in need of an intervention?
The weigh in
So, picture the scene: I am nine years old and all summer I have been dieting to lose weight. When my dad first made me stand on the scale, I weighed 91lbs. I wasn’t counting calories but I had been working hard splitting and stacking wood and other heavy duty chores as well as exercising daily and cutting down on food like he said. (oh, and he monitored to make sure I didn’t eat “too much“.) So I get back on the scale, holding my breath for the results as the needle bounced back and forth, holding my self worth in the balance. I’m hoping that my hard work is going to show. My dad stands over me, watching the scale like a hawk.
And the scale says 91lbs…… diet fail
I wasn’t much for crying at all at that age but that hit me like no pain ever had. I instantly burst into tears. I had attributed so much importance to that number on the scale. I was “fat” so the number needed to go down. In my young mind everything was riding on it all summer long. He really does care so he is upset by my unhappiness. He tells me that maybe I grew this summer, and so the weight I have lost through my efforts has come back on as muscle and bone. But I couldn’t see it. Perhaps I already had the distorted body image of the average dieter. I do remember thinking: if I added muscle, wouldn’t it show in my appearance? Why did I need to prove it with the scale if he already noticed that I grew and thinned out? He didn’t say “let’s go see how much you lost”, he said “well, today is the day, so let’s go see if you lost anything” This indicated to me that he had just made the “growing explanation” all up on the fly to calm me down as I cried. He wouldn’t have said the second statement if he noticed an improvement in my body composition. Red flags flew up and my bullshit censor was going off on high alert. I pretended to accept his rational so he would leave me alone but intuitively I knew something didn’t add up with the eat less move more method. That in itself was what actually calmed me and brought me to my senses. I’m sure he really though I was just sneaking food though.
Changed for life
I realized after my diet fail, the eat-less/move-more obesity model did not hold up in real world testing and even more importantly using it as a methodology did not put me in control of the whether the was weight coming or going. I ended up with a complex about that scale and would not talk about my weight when other people brought up the subject but I weighed myself constantly in private. I started fixating on the number because it gave me a sense of control, albeit a false one. (Now if any of you out there still have a scale in the house throw that mudderfucker out! cuz you’re gonna fuck your kids up! Guaranteed!)
Regarding obesity, I should have had a better guide in life than someone that never had an issue with weight. It’s like listening to those diet gurus that were all star athletes with amazing genetics. Of course they have washboard abs using their diet scheme- they were never fat and most likely never will be! My dad was quite proud of the fact that his weight never deviated – “It always bounces right back to 201 lbs” he would say often, always with a big grin. This gave him the confidence that every naturally lean person has in regards to obesity and leads them all to insist they have the solution without any experience with it what so ever. It should be as simple and as easy as it is for them….
“It’s so simple”
I just liked the taste of food too much. That was my problem, he explained. His thoughts were very similar to Stephan Guyenet’s palatability theory. He would say the same mantra many times “You have a “tastebud problem”. You like it too much so you eat too much of it. When you eat too much you get fat! It’s that simple. just quit eating extra food you don’t need just because you like it.”
But it wasn’t that simple. I was never that crazy for bread, or for many of the things I ate in abundance. I was just plain hungry. When I was four and I ate that half a loaf of bread, I couldn’t understand it myself at the time. To this day, I don’t go out of my way to eat a bunch of bread unless thats the only thing there, because it’s far from one of my favorites. I was confused, and his explanations were even more confusing because they differed heavily from my own observations. I would eat things I didn’t like at all, just because I was driven to eat them. Sure, like anyone I was eating for the great taste of food, but I wasn’t in the sense he thought (strictly for pleasure). I was doing “all the right things”, but the scale wasn’t moving. So it must mean I was doing something wrong…failing. I would ask myself “Do I like food more than any of my brothers do? How do I go about changing how I taste things?” I remember concentrating on the flavor of foods as I ate them saying to myself “maybe to my brother chocolate tastes like over-fried zucchini.” I was testing his flavor theory fully and trying to “fix “ myself even though the only way I knew how was by applying what I learned from the failed “eat less and move more” mass hysteria all around me.
Sadly, my parents had broken up before my big weigh-in, due most likely to money issues and my mother gaining weight. He wasn’t beating her, but he wasn’t treating her nicely either – especially in his choice of words. My mother had her faults too, and wasn’t a relationship expert either, but that’s of no concern here. The main effect she had on me and my weight was that she was always doing some kind of exercise system like “Sweating to the Oldies”, some fad diet, or focusing on salad “meals” or just reading about or discussing weight loss. It really doesn’t set you on a good path when you have all the genetic factors and everyone in your house is obsessed with obesity, and you’re only four years old but already are made fully aware.
So my real fat problem started with dieting, not with a weight problem. It started with my dad’s fears and his childhood memories. It started with my sense of failure and shame. The one thing my fat problem did not start with was actual fat.
The ground was laid for that however, because I definitely have the hereditary factor down. My mother was overweight, and constantly battled it and in fact my issues began before I was born – these familial epigenetic influences impacted even my mother by the time she was born. Even so, had I grown up in a different environment, I likely would have never dealt with obesity, even with the genetics in place.
I am who I am because of my life and I don’t really regret any of it. I did inherit a lot of toughness from my dad, some of it as a result of the very severe beatings he gave me. When I was a teenager and skinheads hunted me and my friends down with baseball bats, I wasn’t afraid of ’em… not at all. I was ready for them. That’s a whole other story in itself, though. My father was harsh but I learned one of my most valuable lessons because of him at 9 years old : Calories don’t count for shit.
Only after some serious soul searching did I get to the root of my problem. Coming to terms with the events in my childhood was a big part of getting to the root of it all; and I didn’t get anywhere with my weight ’til I learned that dieting was like throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out. Dieting is probably hands down, the best way to encourage obesity. It’s no wonder people walk away badly burned 99% of the time.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I actually become fat for the first time..Yippee!