On Fatness and Food Addiction by Jeremy Radin

Editor Carrie Ivy, Editor's Choice, December 8th, 2016

"Anything I do in this body feels like a chore. This body is a chore."

Jeremy Radin Essay Nailed

My least favorite part of my body is the crease where my belly hangs over the rest of my body. My mother’s name for this place is “The Dunlap: where your belly done lap over your belt.” I just call it “the place.” No, not really. I don’t call it anything, because that would mean acknowledging it’s there. I’d like to forget it exists. It’s blotchy, tender, extremely ticklish, speckled with ingrown hairs. As a teenager I would lie in bed and stroke the place with my fingers. It was unbearable. Isn’t tickling oneself supposed to be impossible? It seemed my fingers and the place belonged to different bodies, ones that wanted nothing to do with each other.

Years ago I kissed a girl in the rain and it felt more like a chore than something as enchanting as that ought to have felt. The girl was wonderful and so was the the kissing but I was still in this body. Even though she bent like a crowbar against me, as if attempting to pry me out of myself, I remained locked in. And maybe she was someone I could have dated and, who knows, eventually made a life with, but she went up under my shirt with her hands and brushed the place with her fingers. I told her how uncomfortable that made me. She laughed and did it again. That was the last time I saw her. In the intervening years I’ve been touched there by other partners; each time I’ve had to stop and explain the place and the wicked sway it holds over me. One relationship was a full six months of lying in bed, her hands resting there, me trying to breathe. I think of those cave-dwelling animals with eyes designed to function in lightlessness. I imagine standing on a hillside, lifting one of these animals to the sun, prying its eyes open with my fingers.

When I say the kissing felt like a chore, I mean anything I do in this body feels like a chore. This body is a chore. Having and maintaining a body is a chore. I feel like a puppy has been left on my doorstep and and I’m not really in the place to take care of a puppy. So I’ve resented it. For years – even before I truly understood the connection between the idea of me and the physical expression of me that takes up all this space in the world. I look in the mirror and one of two things occurs; either I’m struck with the idea that this is all I am – my entire identity, a fatness; or I am wholly unconvinced that this is me in there at all.

My life as a fat person started when I was nine. 1993, the year my parents split. I was having a rough time in school. I faked sick every day so I could go home and be with my precious food. I was a solitary child who craved an imagination’s worth of personal space and the body that took up that space was expanding rapidly, into the size of an imagination, of a story; the eventual plot being that I was not to be loved because of this awful, fat body. I couldn’t have known it then, but I was building a fortress (and accompanying mythology) against proximity. The air around me had begun to vibrate with DO NOT TOUCH ME.

It would be easy, and seemingly logical, to say my obsession with food began there – that the genealogy is trackable to my parents’ divorce – but I was strange about food before that, when things at home were fine, when I had plenty of friends, when Lyla and I ran around playing Little Mermaid (we were Flotsam and Jetsam) on the playground and she named her pet lizard after me. Then it was the other way around. My parents worried about me. I wouldn’t eat. I have no idea why and neither did they.

My top weight hovered around 330 lbs (on a 6’3 frame) in my early twenties. Those were years defined by a crushing (and carefully curated) loneliness. I spent countless late nights/early mornings in AOL chatrooms trying to manufacture some semblance of romance, or, at least, sex, while listening to “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls on repeat. I would lay in bed as the sun began to rise, stroking the place, trying to imagine someone else’s hands. The revulsion was thick, swift, vicious. There it was, even in my fantasies. In my imagined lovemaking, I always had a shirt on. I’d roll over onto my side and stay in bed until three the following afternoon. I was a 22-year-old virgin – depressed, exhausted, terrified – but that’s not why I ate the way I ate. The answer to that is much simpler:

I am a compulsive overeater. Once my arm begins the process of reaching into a box of something, pulling that something out, and putting that something into my mouth, it’s nigh on impossible for me to get involved and halt the process. It’s purely physical. The sensation of getting farther and farther away from myself until I’m floating backward through space, knocking into stars, getting pummeled by asteroids, shouting at the me sitting at the table/in the car/on the toilet back on Earth to PLEASE STOP. I cannot hear myself. My body keeps going until thick, bursting. Until I feel my blood’s consistency changing in my face.

The first real instance of compulsive eating I recall: I was fourteen and ate a large box of Eggo waffles in a sitting because I was bored. Then, at dinner with my family, my cousins dared me to eat an entire pizza. My dad told me I didn’t have to but yes I did. Years later, alone at home, I’d order a pizza, The Big New Yorkerfrom Pizza Hut, and sit on the couch eating graham crackers dipped into a tub of frosting as I waited for it to arrive. And then the whole pizza. And then spoonfuls of peanut butter from the jar. And then a sleeve of Oreos. And then the Reese’s I kept in a drawer next to my toilet. And then and then and then. I remember when the doctor told me, at 21, I’d given myself diabetes, I drove straight to the donut shop.

For a long time I thought that this was an eating tied to loneliness, but that’s not true. It’s not tied to anything. I’ll do it by myself or with a partner sleeping in the next room. In the car driving to or from an audition. In a room full of people celebrating a book I wrote. As an act of rebellion, joy, grief. I ate so much at a friend’s wedding I vomited. I hadn’t had a drink; just pulled pork and cobbler. I watched my father have a heart attack – a clear warning about what’s to come for me if I continue down this path – I ate over it. He got better – I ate over it. He died – I ate over it. Circumstances may have led me to the food but it is, ultimately, about The Food, and I’m not convinced that the genealogy is trackable. If none of those things had ever happened please believe I would have been dipping that graham cracker into that frosting anyway.

I’ve been told by doctors a healthy weight for my body is 220 lbs. Recently I weigh between 265 and 280. I don’t step on a scale because it’s so easy for the obsession to shift from food to number. I’m on the right track when my clothes fit differently. For me. The right track for me, whose lust for food is the killing kind. I understand and support unconditionally my fellows in the body positivity movement, who have fat bodies and don’t feel the need (often foisted upon us by popular culture, which includes medicine), for whatever valid, deeply personal reasons, to change those bodies. That’s not, however, how this works for me. As far as I go, the first step towards any kind of positivity (body or otherwise) is having a body that is alive. Because that’s not how this thing wants me; it wants me dead on a couch in a darkened room, splayed out amidst a rubble of pizza boxes, candy wrappers, translucent fast food bags. It wants my blood on strike, leaving the factory to crumble.

There’s more weight I’d like to lose and, truly, I have no idea if I’m going to. I seem to exercise/eat healthily in spurts. As of this writing, I’m in the midst of one. I’ve been eating three meals per day (I’m fairly certain someone just had a variation of this thought: you should really do five small meals. Pal, what the heck is a small meal?), doing my imperfect best to stay away from restaurants, and completely avoiding desserts. This can sound like deprivation but I must see it as a little no in service of a big yes. But, again, this is me. This works for me. That’s the tricky thing about eating disorders. They’re shape-shifters. Legion and varied, it seems, as fingerprints. Your solution may be my downfall, and vice-versa. They have countless avenues into the countries of our bodies. When people ask how I’ve lost the weight I’ve lost my go-to response is, “I have a good therapist.”

Eating disorders are thorny, disheartening issues to deal with in a culture as triumph-obsessed as ours – specifically the idea that a fat body is something to be triumphed over. We see it everywhere: reality TV, memoirs, magazines; celebrities earn the cover of a magazine simply for losing a lot of weight. However, what so often follows (especially those reality shows where a significant amount of weight is lost in an insignificant amount of time) is the after. The near-ubiquitous slide back into the food, into fatness, and subsequent invisibility. And let’s not speak of fat actors who lose weight and seemingly never work again. Or the idea that all it takes to change is a magical increase of magical willpower (truly, I have willpower to spare; it requires tremendous willpower to continue eating when one’s body is in the tremendous pain of gross over-fullness). Point being, this is not something I get to “beat.” There is no trophy. It’s been a years-long up-and-down-hill battle. If anything, it’s a clinic on the fluidity of success, the way success blurs into failure and back – that they are rarely, if ever, two clearly delineated bodies.

What I must understand as I sit here is that I write not from the other side of the woods, but from the center of a wood there may not be another side of. I write this from the place beneath my belly. That unsure, tentative, shadowy place from which certainty has been evicted. A place that feels defined by a murkiness. But here, today, I lift it open. I let in a little light. Perhaps, eventually, a pair of patient, gentle hands. I say “today” because tomorrow I could so easily close it all back up and lock it tighter than ever, as I’ve done before. Such is the work of changing a relationship with a basic survival function. I don’t care how long it’s been; I walk into any convenience store and hear the chocolate singing; and from the place, a rumbling, a desperate willingness to crash into the rocks the chocolate is surely singing me toward. All I have is this moment – the memory of the work it took to get here and the knowledge of the work it will take to continue. Today, I choose that work; the work of continuing, of showing up. The work of beginning and beginning, again, every day.

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Header image courtesy of Theo Gosselin. To view his photo essay, “Vagabonds,” go here.
jeremy radin poet poems nailed magazineJeremy Radin is a poet, actor, and acting teacher. living in Los Angeles. His poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Winter Tangerine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Union Station, Sundog Lit, and others. His first book, Slow Dance with Sasquatch, is available from Write Bloody Publishing. He teaches acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and is the coach of the Get Lit Players. You may have seen him on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or yelling about wolves in like a Jamba Juice or something. Follow him @germyradin

Carrie Ivy

Carrie Ivy (formerly Carrie Seitzinger) is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Ivy is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.