Why did you get so fat?

Howdy! I am having a busy bugger of a week so I found this entry that I wrote back in January 2008 but couldn't find the nerve to post at the time.

Lately I've been doing a bit of publicity for the book; email interviews and the like. I always get stuck on one inevitable question:

Why'd you get so bloody fat?

(not actual phrasing)

Every time I see that question I sigh at the laptop screen. It sounds so accusing, like I committed a terrible crime.

"I don't knooooow" is always the initial answer. Then I poke Gareth in the ribs. "What should I say?"

"Just say you were really hungry! I dare ya."

Seriously, it's a difficult question. It's easy to be flippant like I was on the About page: It was a love of Nutella that knew no bounds. Then there's the basic mathematical reason: Ate more food than my body required.

Calories in, calories out; who ate all the pies. Just like losing weight was just eating less and moving more, right? If it was really that simple, I'd have just posted a food log for the past seven eight years instead of these endless sprawling brain dumps. Calories in calories out is a how explanation, not a why.

It's especially tricky to answer the question in a precise, soundbitey manner. It took 23 pages to explain. And of course being a chronic procrastinator I left that section right until last. I thought the other 90,000 words were a bastard to put together, but the 5000 words of Introduction were the worst. I was eager to drive on to the guts of the story with all the happy adventures and improved self-image, but the allegedly fabulous transformation wouldn't be convincing unless the scene was properly set. How the bloody hell does someone reach nearly 160 kilograms at the tender age of 23?

I gave my sister the shoddy first draft of the Introduction back in April. She told me bluntly that I wasn't being honest. "You're glossing over everything," she said, "And hiding behind jokes. You have to dig deeper."

Of course I got defensive and bawled my eyes out, because I didn't have time to bloody dig deeper! And I didn't want to, either.

But we talked it through for two whole days, picking over the past. I was afraid of offending people. I was afraid of sounding sorry for myself. I was afraid people would think I was making excuses. I was afraid of looking like a dickhead in print. It was confronting to stop and think about how I got into such a big fat mess. Why did I let it carry on so long?

The Introduction was finalised five days before the manuscript was due, after endless consultations and rewrites. I was happy with it in the end, but be buggered if I can reduce it to one simple sentence. There are no easy answers. I really did love my Nutella, but food was more than just food. From a very early age it was always there, easy to find when lonely or angry or anxious. And the more I ate the more I felt detached from my body and just lived inside my head. I'd barely notice another layer of fat wrapping around me, then another and another, like rings on a tree.

43 thoughts on “Why did you get so fat?

  1. I’m fat. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to admit it to myself. And the reason? Same as you. Food is always there, no matter what else happens.

    Loved your book, you’re such an inspiration xx

  2. Good post!
    I think I got fat because I wasn’t paying attention.
    I need to use exercise to make myself feel better, but that takes some forethought. I can reach for the frig door without having to lace up my shoes or find the right clothes.

  3. That is such a good question and the answer for me is similar as well.
    I started off comfort eating as a teenager, I think as soon as I left school and got my first job, hence my own money.
    First of all it wasn’t too bad, but then I met DH and we started having meals in and out and it was like a constant celebration.
    After that eating became my comfort and a celebration, and took over from other things.
    Now it’s the one thing I can rely on, the one thing that is always there for me, but it’s ruined my life in so many ways it has to stop. I’m trying to find something else to rely on…

  4. Having read both your book and your entire blog, I just want to say thank you for struggling through the tough bits and sharing your entire story with us. I personally find it very rewarding and inspiring to read the hard parts too. We all have that, and that’s what makes the good parts even more inspiring.

  5. I could go on and on but fear either hijacking the post or diminishing how powerful it was for me.

    this: I’d barely notice another layer of fat wrapping around me, then another and another, like rings on a tree.

    made my arm hairs stand on end.

    the image is perfection.

  6. I get bored and then I reach for food and mindlessly eat when I don’t need to. And then I get angry with myself when I start to feel sick after stuffing myself unnecesarily and vow there and then to start exercising and dieting, but I always find an excuse not to. Too tired, its too cold, I’ve got something else to do. I know I can lose weight when I make an effort to watch my diet and exercise regularly, but I seem to be in abit of a funk at the moment where I have no motivation to attempt it. I think willpower has a big part to play when trying to face up to reality when the pounds are piling up, which is sadly the bit I lack!

    And with that I am off to step class.. which will probably do nothing to burn off the 3 bits of caramel shortcake I ate today (3.. why?) but I’ll pretend it will!

  7. And this is why your blog, and others like it, are so compelling: that moment of transformation, of re-inventing yourself, and keeping that moment of inspiration alive. Your entry today illustrates an important step in that: finding the courage to identify the problem. Anyone who is stuck, struggling with herself, trying to find a way out of a narrow path, fighting her instincts to cower or run away instead of facing up, can be inspired by stories like yours, Shauna. It’s why I keep coming back.

    Also, do the Scots put bacon in their porridge? We did today, and it seemed to me like something you might have written about…? 😉

  8. Good post! I´m actually planning to post about the same subject in my own blog: “Things That Skinny People Don´t Understand About Fat People”. The first question is probably “How could you let yourself go like that” and the second is “Why don´t you just eat less and exercise more”. Argh. And there are no easy answers to those! (Plus there are numerous other things that skinny people just don´t get).

  9. In my opinion, I don’t think we “got” fat, in the same way we “got “normal””. The fat just kind of was…then when faced with a platter of fries, it wouldnt make a difference because we were already where we were, so one more wouldnt really make a difference tomorrow would be soon enough to start a diet. It sneaks up on you that way I think.

    Versus finally getting into the mindset to loose the weight, that one fry DID matter, the walk around the corner was important and the pound that was not there last week was a triumph. And before you know it, the platter of fries is no longer a temptation but a dirty little pile of time travel back to where we once were.

    Thanks for your book and continued blog, I love listening in to you!

  10. I got fat the old fashioned way. I ate too many one pound bags of M&M’s by myself, sat on the couch much of the day, and then ate some mint chocolate chip ice cream after a huge dinner.

    It is a hard thing to really put into words though. I ate too much, but so do a lot of people. They don’t all end up 305 pounds as I did.

    I’m just so glad I’ve lost it and kept it off! And I loved your book’s first chapter!

  11. I used to claim that my overeating was my form of teenage rebellion. As my classmates were indulging dangerous activities like sex, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and sneaking out at night, surely it was a good thing that I was only sneaking a second (and third, and fourth and fifth) cookie from the cupboard, right?

    As difficult as those first 23 pages were for you to write, I think they were the ones that spoke to my own experience the most clearly. When you have people – parents – telling you you’re too fat, what choice do you have but to eat all your junk in secret? Those 23 pages made me realize I wasn’t alone. So thanks for putting it all out there, painful as it was.

  12. Thank you for this. I have been thinking about this lately. I got fat because I thought I was. With an idea that I was so overweight so firmly in my head I ate like I needed to fill this large person up, like I didn’t care about what other people thought, like it didn’t matter because I was fat right? But I wasn’t. I wish I could go back and convince that 23 year old I was fine- how I would love to be the weight I was then now (age 38)- 1 stone and three quarters to go!

  13. This makes me want to read your book again. I loved your intro. So you did it right. Obviously. You are having such great, continued success with the book. Congrats!

  14. Why did I get fat?
    There are sooooo many reasons;
    I’ve never been skinny.
    I love food, especially chocolate.
    My bodies doesn’t work properly.

    But really they’re excuses. I got fat because it’s easier to eat your emotions away than dealing with them.

    Going to check out your book. 😀

  15. Its a complex difficult question – I’m not surprised it took 5000 words! For me I was trying to fill myself up with something that made me feel loved. When I was just hungry for love. And the fat kept me safe from the world. It gave me an excuse to not get involved. And it was part of my funny fat girl persona.
    But I’ve turned a corner and so far its working…

  16. I would like to outlaw the phrase “calories in calories out” because it makes it sound easy. It is simple, that’s true. Simple but definitely not easy.

    I would go back to the Oracle, Jillian, who said in one of her podcasts: “To make a change, you have to believe it is possible and that it is worth it.”

    I do think a lot of people got their start as fatties by being told they were getting too big when they were kids. If only people quietly steered kids toward the right things without making a big deal out of the weight, there might be a lot less overweight adults.

  17. And that, my dear, is why you’re successful at keeping the weight off. Any idiot can figure out the HOW of weight gain/loss, but way too many never ever confront the WHY.

    As you well know, you have to keep on doing it, right through maintenance, because the old “lose yourself in food” habits are still lying in wait and will pounce when you’re not looking.

    And I loved that part of your book. Glad you had the guts to do it right. *hug*

  18. The introduction to your book make me sit back and bawl after I read it. Honesty can do that. And it put my mind and heart in the right place to receive the rest of the book so completely. It was actually the first book I’d read, cover to cover for a long time, so it helped me get back into reading.

    So thank you. Your honesty is inspiring. And endlessly free setting!

  19. First off I have to say that I adore you! Your book was one of those “read it and it’ll change your life” kind of books. I saw so much of myself in you, at times it almost felt as if I was reading something that I had written. I know how I became fat. I used food as a comfort to escape an emotionally abusive childhood. But while the abuse eventually stopped, the eating never did. When my friends were going on dates or hanging out at the mall, I was home with my food. Recently it hit me that I have spent my entire life hating myself and my body. So I said no more. I had to relearn how to eat properly and slowly but surely the weight is coming off. Food is not my best friend and it will not make my problems magically disappear. It’s just that…food.

  20. I think when it is such an issue, when it’s not just a ten kg pile on, (and face it, we all know someone who is beside themselves at putting on ten kg), then it is no longer about the food itself. It becomes an addiction, a satisfaction of a primal need for happiness, a terrible circle of self loathing and instant gratification that ends up in a gain of 80kg without one really knowing why. I mean, if we knew why, then we probably wouldn’t have done it. I think the biggest thing I have learnt about myself over the past couple of years is that I love to appear to be coping, I love to be admired for being the funny one who never falters. But in the wee small hours when one is alone with one’s thoughts, food is a comfort, just as some turn to drugs and some turn to alcohol and even some turn to sex, we turn to food to make us feel good. Food acts on the hormones of the body in a very similar way to other drugs and has the ability to make us feel good, if only for a short while. It then lulls and we get the NEED for the upper again, if only it wasn’t such a harsh way to be addicted. You can lock yourself away in rehab and avoid alcohol and avoid drugs and avoid sex, but we need to eat to survive so it is like ceasing to be an alcoholic but being forced to have one glass of wine a day, how much harder would that then be to give it up?? I’m rambling now. LOL

  21. In a weird way I think I got fat for some sort of protection, against what I’m not sure. Oh, and because I stuff my mouth with food instead of hurting someone’s feelings by telling them how I really feel but then I’m just hurting myself, right? I’m still trying to figure it all out which is why I still have layers upon layers to shed. I’m a very old tree.

    I’m doing my part to keep your book in stock in the Boston Borders. I hope the sales are massive and you get the urge to write another.

  22. I still battle with that question – why ? I know that food has become ‘a friend’ I know that its also ‘self sabotage’ and I know what I need to do, I even know that I feel great when I ‘do it’ right, confirming to myself that I can ‘do it’.

    Its blogs like yours that help me know that I am not alone. But most of all – you are an amazing example that it is possible.

    Thank you

  23. It’s true – it is hard to look at these things. I didn’t pay attention to what I was eating and wouldn’t admit how it added up during the day. I used food to anaethetise myself against stress and boredom. I used food as a “treat” when I’m feeling bad. I lied to myself in so many ways, or just chose to look the other way and ignore it. But, as hard as it is to look at myself under such close scrutiny, the more I do it, the more I discover and understand about myself, and the easier it is to stop it – after all, once you know about it, it’s mighty hard to go back to ignoring it.

    Maybe, just maybe, I can relegate food back to what it should be – just food and an energy source, rather than a primary source of pleasure and entertainment.

  24. Thank you for posting this. I’ve recently lost over 90 pounds, and every now and again I think about this question for myself. There are so many layers to it, and it’s not easy to answer. I really appreciated your last two sentences, “And the more I ate the more I felt detached from my body and just lived inside my head. I’d barely notice another layer of fat wrapping around me, then another and another, like rings on a tree.” This captures so much of it, especially how binge eating feels, I think. Anyway, thank you for the inspiration you’ve given to me and to many others.

  25. I’ve always found this question impossible to answer, because I’ve ALWAYS been fat. From birth to now. So there’s not a particular time when I “became” fat. Hard to know the causes – maybe not enough treadmilling as an infant? It’s hard to figure out why I didn’t try to do something about it sooner or with more effort. I think because I didn’t believe it was possible to change; it was a constant and eternal part of me.

    I’ve always thought this is one of the best posts I’ve read on the subject, and I wish this girl was still blogging:

  26. I’m glad you spent so much time on that section and got so personal. That’s what enabled me to identify with you. You shared so many of those inner thoughts and demons that I thought were mine and mine alone. Once I realized I wasn’t alone in this, the rest of your book was total inspiration to me. So far I’ve lost 50 pounds, in large part because you helped me realize that doing that was even possible. So thanks!

  27. Ahhh Shauna, you made me tear up. So true, all of it. Getting out of my head was the biggest part of the battle.

  28. I got fat because I am a glutton. That sounds like a cheat answer, but I really think it’s true. Ever since I was a kid I just wanted as much food as I could get my hands on. And because I was a skinny kid and teen, I never needed to develop self-regulation about food… up until the time that I did. But by that stage my love of mega-portions and junk food was established.

    Btw, Shauna, this is my first comment I think, so may I say: your blog and you are are super-fab-awesome!

  29. So so true. Figuring out the mental aspects and changing bad habits is key. It’s easy to eat less and move more for a while, but the only way to stick with it is to figure out WHY you weren’t doing it all along.

    The most succinct way I can put it is that I got fat because it was easier to eat junk food and laze around than to eat healthy and workout, and I stayed fat (and got fatter) because my career was a priority, not my health. It’s all about priorities. 🙂

  30. Such an important post. Well done for writing it and getting it out there. Your book is soooo important, too. A really honest and inspirational piece of writing that has touched so many of us. And will continue to do so.

    Keep being brave, DG. Keep writing. And keep doing what you’re doing.

    Thank you for sharing your struggle with such beautiful prose and evocative images.

    We are lucky that you are still blogging.


  31. I think it’s a mistake to try to answer this question in terms of food. I’ve been reading DietGirl (the book) over the past couple of weeks – slowly savoring it because the book as a whole answers this question so well. No matter what our challenges are, every single one of us must face those truly mean voices inside that are designed to take us down. What it looks like when they win is different for each of us, but we all must face the ways we buy into the sabotage, being less than who we really are.
    The really sneaky thing about the question “why did you get so fat” is that it’s just those same voices that are asking the question – as if most people don’t fall prey to this, only really fat people. That just keeps the separation and humiliation going.
    My friend and I call those voices the “Board of Mis-Directors” to help us remember the difference between what they have to say versus the kind of truth that DietGirl is such a champion of. We’ve been wondering what to call the opposite side since “Board of Directors” is so boring. Maybe it should be “Board of Superheroes,” with DietGirl sitting at the head of the table!

  32. I had such a difficult time realizing and acknowledging I was so fat. (Well, I’m still big but hopefully on a downward trend.) It must be a mental block or something, but I never really related or associated myself with other big people.

    I don’t think it’s easy to isolate one reason why I got so big. Yes, I like food, and I’ve enjoyed plenty of buffets. I’ve never been a big fan of exercise. I could have a problem with consistency. Or, maybe I am satisfying some psychological need by protecting myself with fat. Hard to say.

    I do know I need to be consistently focused on losing weight and exercising, and, for me, this is a life-long struggle.

  33. Wow. I’ve been pondering this question since yesterday. I started asking myself “why am I letting myself go?”

    In fact, why did I get so fat? The question has little to do with whether or not one is ACTUALLY fat. Then I read Meg’s post to supplement my search for the truth within. (someone posted her blog here in the comments)

    She writes, “If your loved one feels that losing weight would mean that you “won”, then they’re much more likely to stubbornly stay at their current weight, if not put more weight on just to spite you.
    What you have established at this point is that you will not accept them as they are. No matter if you yourself can see the difference between their identity and their weight: for your loved one, all that comes across is that you don’t love them as they are, that you are ashamed of them, that you want them to change so that you feel better.”

    The problem is, I am that person. I am not accepting MYSELF as I am. I am ashamed. And I am very, very stubborn. And I really don’t want that voice (the one that says I’m not good enough), to win. Sounds like a lose/lose situation to me. If only.

  34. Oh oh. I have just been pondering and wondering the same in my blog (in finnish sorry…). I know I got fat when I was replacing something with eating. When i got something reeally interesting in my life i stop eating and lost weight and when i lost something dear i ate. Feeling-eater. And at somepoint it did not matter anymore was the feeling good or bad, I ate. And now it is highly difficult to stop. It is hard to find other solutions in joy or sorrow. But I am on the search. At least I try.

  35. I love ya, Shauny. Just wanted to say that. Trees and rings and all that, what a beautiful analogy. It’s like all of us with different issues: how did I get so bitter and twisted about blah blah, how did I get so fat, how did I get so hung up on blah blah, how did I get SO DARNED gorgeous, etc. 🙂 And I reckon you could just say “read the book” to that question, in a non-poncey way! Isn’t that what celebs do on Parky and stuff?


  36. You write like a dream. I especially love your analogy of the layers of fat wrapping around you like rings on a tree. Beautifully put x

  37. So, I wanted to say hello – with all the thousands of new people saying hello I suppose I may be lost in the feeds of data but I wanted to put this out there.

    I just got done with your book, and while I cackled at your wit and dry humor it reflected a lot of where I am, where I’ve been and what I want to do about it.

    I have a lot of lovely excuses, they’re very clean and ‘reasonable’ but for the most part child hood trama lead to bad eating decisions and to top it off I got the dreaded depo shot. DUM DUM DUUUUM.

    Sometimes it’s important to remember and realize how we got to where we’ve been (so we don’t do it again!) but more importantly for me is how to remember to enjoy the now regardless if we’re at our happy weight or at our worst… or anywhere in between.

    So big virtual hugs for you my dear, who knows maybe someday I will get off my butt and begin my own web blog. If you are ever in Seattle let me know – If I ever make it to Scotland – you’ll have to show me that bloody hill.


    Peace in every step,


  38. Hey, I don’t comment much but I just wanted to say that the intro was my absolute favourite part of your book. Partly because I’ve read your whole blog so the rest of the book was kind of covering old ground for me. But mainly because you absolutely succeeded in being raw and honest without making excuses or looking like a dickhead, and writing about other people’s part in it whilst still being loving and understanding of where their heads were at. Good on ya! It was absolute gold, and I can totally understand why you can’t reduce that to a glib sentence explaining why you got so fat.

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