When I was thirteen getting fat was my greatest fear. I was so afraid of it that I pursued thinness at the expense of health. As often happens in such cases, I developed anorexia. In that distorted reality, getting fat really did seem like the worst thing that could happen to a human being.
By God’s grace, I had overcome my eating disorder by the time I started falling ill in 2012. Unexplained rapid weight gain was one of my first symptoms and while it threw my confidence for a loop I managed to maintain my freedom from the obsessive thought patterns that ruled my early teens. It was a struggle but I knew that gaining weight wasn’t the end of the world. I may have been pretty chubby by ballerina standards but I wasn’t fat by any means.
Six months later, I experienced such a catastrophic health decline that I forgot all about my weight. I was in excruciating pain and I felt like my body was trying to kill me. I spent hours hooked up to IVs. I was bed bound. I suffered neurological pain, chronic nausea, headaches, mild seizures, blurry vision, severe sound sensitivity and very nearly lost my mind. Contrary to my 13-year-old self’s belief there were far worse things that could happen to a person than getting fat. Far, far worse. What I looked like was the last thing on my mind.
As part of the illness I continued to gain weight in spurts that seemed to come without any rhyme or reason. It didn’t matter if I was eating almost nothing. I gained weight until I was decidedly fat by most modern people’s standards. But I was too busy fighting for my life to care.
It wasn’t until I started to see some small improvements after two years of IV treatment that I really noticed how fat I had gotten. I wasn’t thrilled about it but it didn’t really bother me until I was well enough to go on short outings in my wheelchair. That was when I really started worrying that others might be judging me for my weight. I was terrified about running into people that knew me when I was thin. What would they think of me?
I remembered how I had just assumed that fat people were essentially lazy gluttons and I was ashamed of myself for being so judgmental. Now I knew that it was a lot more complicated than that. Now I knew that someone’s weight could change dramatically even if they were eating healthy and exercising. More importantly, I knew that every fat body had a real person in it. A person with a story. A person who suffered and hoped. A person who was capable of loving and working and creating.
Remembering how ungraciously I had judged others just a few years earlier, I struggled… I know that being fat doesn’t change who you are or decrease your value as a human being. But our culture still acts like it does. I know that being kind and responsible and honest are more important than being thin. But the media still acts like your appearance is more important than your character. What am I supposed to do?
I was still too sick to be able to lose the weight so I had to find another way forward. Several things helped me learn to be content in a fat body. First, I came across an article talking about reclaiming the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor. The word fat didn’t have to be an insult or an indication of moral failing. It could just be a description of my body size. It didn’t have to be a synonym for ugly and it didn’t have to define the whole of me. It was just a word that described one part of my appearance. It didn’t have to be any more negative than whether I had long or short hair, big or small feet. I could be fat and beautiful.
Now, I’m not saying that there is nothing objective about beauty or that weight never has any bearing on a person’s attractiveness. All I’m saying is that fatness and beauty are not mutually exclusive. And that a huge part of what we consider to be beautiful is subjective. The standards change with time and place.
Not only that, beauty is more than just the sum of your body parts. People talk about inner beauty being more important than outer beauty. While I agree with them, I don’t think they’re as separate as we think they are. We are whole people and the beauty that others see in us comes from all of it. Your smile, your eyes, the things you say and the way you carry yourself put your inner beauty on display on the outside as well.
Which brings me to the next lesson I learned: confidence. Everyone talks about how confidence makes you more attractive and I’ve come to believe they’re right. If you act like your body is something to hide and be ashamed of, others might start to feel the same way. But if you hold your head high and carry yourself confidently people will respond to you in the same way. They will see you as someone worthy of respect whether you’re fat or not. I decided to do my best to stop acting like an ugly person and start acting like a beautiful person.
It feels silly and superficial but it isn’t really. Learning to carry myself confidently helped me to let go of worrying about myself and just focus on living and loving others in the present. I thought of myself a lot less than when I was always trying to hide in baggy clothes and cover my stomach with a pillow.
One thing that gave me a huge confidence boost was getting rid of all my clothes that didn’t fit and investing in bigger clothes that I felt good in. I didn’t say, “Oh, I’m too fat to wear that color or that style.” I just picked out the kind of clothes that I liked and thought were beautiful. I started wearing makeup again and learning fancy hairstyles. I decided that I didn’t have to wait to lose weight to “be cute.”
Now, I’m not saying women have to be cute. I’m just saying, don’t let your weight stop you from doing what you would do if you were thin. Your weight isn’t a good reason not to do something. You can live a meaningful and happy life in a fat body. You can learn to swing dance in a fat body. You can go swimming. You can wear a dress. You can go hiking. You can paint your fingernails. You can eat healthy. You can have a happy marriage and great lovemaking. You can visit with old friends. You can meet new people. You can read. You can enjoy music. I’ve done all those things. I couldn’t do most of those things in my sick body but can do them in my recovering fat body.
Contrary to popular belief, the world doesn’t end when you unexpectedly get fat. You’re still you and the people who loved you for you will still love you. They will still see beauty in you because the essence of who you are hasn’t changed.
The woman in the picture above is my 13-year-old self’s worst nightmare. But guess what? The woman in that picture is far happier and more alive than the obsessed, insecure and tormented anorexic me ever was. It’s not that I don’t expect to lose more weight as I continue to heal from my illness. I think I probably will, but I’m not going to be striving for a specific size or look. I’m trusting that my body knows what to do and I’m not going to put my life on hold in the meantime.
By the way, Brett and I made a beautiful PDF of my favorite resources for suffering souls. I created the content and he made it look fancy with his superduper graphic design skills. It’s available for free to my email subscribers. Click here to sign up and receive 5 Resources for the Suffering Soul.
😍 I love this! I hate the way people think that fat is synonymous with ugly, because it’s really not! I totally agree with you that “inner” and “outer” beauty are far more connected that people say. And I’m so, so glad you’ve learnt to be comfortable and confident with who you are, no matter what other people try to say you should be. Keep being brave and beautiful!September 29, 2017 at 2:26 pm
Aww… Thank you so much Laura! You’re so sweet! Love you! 💕September 29, 2017 at 4:29 pm
Bravo!!!!September 29, 2017 at 3:25 pm
😊September 29, 2017 at 4:29 pm
Wonderful thoughts Anna!
I’m so glad you are doing better and better… your story is so encouraging and your honesty in all your posts is so refreshing .
I was wondering—after reading the comments on these past two posts on weight— why fighting a chronic illness/toxicity would cause weight gain ( you said it was one of your first symptoms— unexplained weight gain). Have you read anything causal? I’ve seen it go both ways with my friends struggling w Lyme – weight gained and lost… so I’m curious of you have read or learned the”why?”
Thanks for taking the time!September 29, 2017 at 4:09 pm
Again… so happy to read each post of better and better news!
SorrySeptember 29, 2017 at 4:13 pm
Thank you! 😊
I don’t think we really know for sure. I’ve seen it go both ways too. Some lose weight and others gain. In the case of weight gain it makes sense that it would be protective. The body is trying to ensure survival by storing up fat… that’s how my doctor explained it but it’s only a theory. Another theory which fits nicely with that is that if the body is really toxic the toxins are being stored away in fat cells away from the vital organs. I’ve heard this idea a lot but I don’t think it’s been studied or proven. Also, there are just so many things that affect the metabolism. So it could be that the toxins themselves are messing with metabolism and weight regulating hormones like insulin and leptin. Who knows…September 29, 2017 at 4:31 pm
Thank you for your thoughtful reply Ana.
When the body isn’t functioning correctly I think it helps to try to understand the whys… at least for me and my friends we find the knowledge to help when the emotions are telling us otherwise:)
Again, great to hear you are doing so well. It’s incredibly encouraging as our family is just beginning what we hope will be a road to better health …October 1, 2017 at 7:36 am
This is a post that all young ladies in our culture should read. It’s real raw and real truth!! People are more than the size of their bodies and our culture does more harm to women making them feel like all they are is what they look like. Several Christian bands now have songs out specifically targeting young girls to let them know that what they look like doesn’t determine their worth and bravo to them and to you for writing this. (And by the way, you’re NOT fat and I think you look fantastic!! I’ve followed you from the beginning and that smile and those lit up eyes are so awesome compared to the beginning of the journey!!! )September 29, 2017 at 4:10 pm
Aww! Thank you so much Chris! This is so kind! I do hope it will be an encouragement to young girls.September 29, 2017 at 4:33 pm
Beautiful post, very insightful and true ❤September 29, 2017 at 4:15 pm
Tía Gloria! 😊 Thank you! 💕September 29, 2017 at 4:33 pm
It seems that quite a few people actually gain weight after starting mold avoidance, even though they are feeling better in general.
I tend to think that the reason for this is that the toxins mess up the microbiome as they go through the intestinal tract.
It would be nice if we could figure out how to address that problem, but in the meantime, I think that feeling better and doing better is a lot more important than weight.
Eventually the weight issues very often do seem to resolve as well, but sometimes it takes a while.
I think that the attitude discussed in your post is a good one in the meantime.
http://paradigmchange.me/lc/weight-change-poll/September 29, 2017 at 5:11 pm
That’s so interesting Lisa! It makes a lot of sense to me. I was just thinking whether the microbiome might be part of the problem. I wonder if I should do something to try to rebalance it. I have done lots of probiotics in the past but not since starting mold avoidance (besides kombucha).September 29, 2017 at 5:18 pm
Truth, Ana! Thank you for sharing this much needed message. I am always trying to encourage my Mama. She has worked seriously hard to lose weight for years, but her low thyroid makes it extremely hard to lose weight, and super easy to gain. It is a constant struggle for her, and she is often discouraged. When my thyroid went wonky on the high end of the scale, I also had trouble losing weight. One thing that really helped, was when we set up our Wii Fit Plus game, and started exercising everyday. This is helping us exercise more regularly, but a big help is being able to see a weekly, or monthly, or multiple-month track of our weight fluctuation. I was able to show her for the first time in years that she really has been gradually losing consistent weight lately. Her efforts are paying off! I think it is huge to encourage people, no matter how long it takes, or what health struggles they may have. Weight is brought on by a lot of things, and majorly by stress. I love everyone, though I’ll admit I’m partial to my chubbier more “huggable” friends and family 😀 , because I’m a big hugger. Love you, Ana! You are beautiful inside and outSeptember 29, 2017 at 6:23 pm
Aww… You’re so sweet! Thank you for sharing Ruth! That’s awesome that you have a Wii Fit game. I’ve always loved exercising and I’m really happy to be getting back into it now.September 30, 2017 at 8:15 am
Love love love the truth of this post, and love love love YOU! Keep shining brightly, dear friend.September 29, 2017 at 9:42 pm
Aww… Thanks so much Stephanie! I love love love YOU! 💕September 30, 2017 at 8:16 am
Thank you for sharing. This is beautiful!September 30, 2017 at 6:06 am
Aww… Thank you Hailey!September 30, 2017 at 8:16 am
What wonderful words of wisdom that we all need to hear. God is doing a tremendous work in you and that is awesome. Start living like a beautiful person (I’m talking to myself too!) Because God has dressed you in the clothing of salvation. You are like a bride with her jewels and he delights in you. Is. 61:10 & 62:46. Blessings on your continued recovery.September 30, 2017 at 10:58 am
Aww… Thank you so much Mrs. Cleek. This is so encouraging! Thank you! ❤️September 30, 2017 at 4:23 pm
Thank you SO much for this encouraging post, being the same age as you when you went through anorexia, and having gone through anorexia myself, this was such an eye-opener. Thank you so much! <3September 30, 2017 at 11:54 am
Aww… I’m so glad Lizbeth. It’s not an easy struggle to overcome. I’m glad this was helpful. Keep fighting the good fight sister! 💕September 30, 2017 at 4:25 pm
Wow, this puts life into such a beautiful perspective! 💕September 30, 2017 at 2:43 pm
😊💕September 30, 2017 at 4:25 pm
You’ve come a long way, Ana, and we’re so proud of you! We are amazed and overjoyed at the insight and maturity God has given you. Keep sharing! ❤️September 30, 2017 at 8:36 pm
Aww… 😍October 1, 2017 at 6:59 am
Yes, Ana, a lot of insight and maturity God has given you….and wisdom. Bravo, Ana.October 1, 2017 at 6:26 am
Thanks Tamam! 💕October 1, 2017 at 6:59 am
Great post Ana! You never look fat for a second; even if you were nobody would notice because of your sweet smile and cheerful countenance 🙂October 2, 2017 at 2:17 pm
Love and prayers to you and Brett <3
Love this post! I wish I had something more substantial to say, haha, but you really covered everything. <3
AlexaOctober 5, 2017 at 1:54 pm
Ana,October 5, 2017 at 4:08 pm
You’ve been in my thoughts and prayers various times. It’s so good to see you here and looking so beautiful. You are a fighter and an inspiration! Much love and God’s abundant blessings!
I love you so much, sister, and what you say here is SO wise and beautiful. I love the truth that inner and outer beauty are more connected than we realize. Keep up the confidence!October 22, 2017 at 8:28 am
Wow. I’m really sure what to say. Just that this world is messed up and I’m a part of it anyways. It’s so hard to know what to do in life with eating and weight… People like you for who you are… yet no matter what there will always be somebody to tell me I’m too fat (or even too skinny). At times I’m confident and love who I am as I try to be healthy. At other times I obsess a bit too much… especially in hard times when friends become jerks. But you are right… being fat isn’t the end of the world. Or even a sign of gluttony/ laziness. We all need to be open to loving people more, judging appearances less. Great post!October 22, 2017 at 2:35 pm
Wow, Ana! Great post! I love your frankness and honesty! And I love that you have chosen to be content in all circumstances. 🙂 (And can I just say that, yes, you are beautiful! Really!) I love you, friend!November 10, 2017 at 7:45 pm
This brought tears to my eyes…<3 Bravo, Ana! Bravo!! My body is not the Ballerina body I once knew either…..and it's made me cry and feel depressed time and time again….specifically in this last year. Feeling the need to wear baggy clothes to "hide" areas of my stomach and legs…and not wanting to get rid of my jeans because maybe next time I try them on I'll finally fit in them again! I've been weighing myself almost every morning hoping to see the scale decrease instead of consistently increase…..and your post totally made me stop in my tracks and decide…."NO MORE." This is a season of *healing*….and judgement on my body is not aiding in that healing. And if I need to buy one or two or three sizes up for jeans….it's okay. My jean size doesn't determine my worth. <3 Goodness!!! I SOOOOO needed this, Ana. <3 Writing out this comment to help ingrain it in my mind. Here's to holding our heads up high and walking as confident, beautiful women who realize our worth has nothing to do with our weight! Thank you for speaking truth, Ana…<3November 14, 2017 at 10:23 am
I may not have any chronic illnesses but as someone that struggled with my weight, I can relate. I had other problems as well such as oily skin and hair. A favorite name that they called me was “pizza face” due to my oily skin and acne and of course, the all worn out “fatty” names.
It was a great hit on my self-confidence and it is such a shame that one body ideal type is the standard because not every person’s body grows and is built the same way. Some can’t have a small waist or thicker thighs, thigh gaps etc it just isn’t possible for their bodies.
I just wish that the beauty standard we grow up is that it should be our own standards, as you said beauty is subjective so why not be able to show it in a way that we can be comfortable and Confident in our appearance and who we are.
Being a certain weight should not define a person, someone’s weight should not be what they are known for.
I admire that you came forward with such a sensitive topic and to shine a new light on chronic illnesses and how it affects you and how weight gain isn’t related to having a poor diet or not having enough exercise and how it isn’t black and white as people may think.
Thank you for sharing. I hope you’re feeling better these days.💜January 30, 2018 at 10:57 am
I’m so glad my article resonated with you KC. I’m so sorry to hear of all the cruel names you had to endure growing up. Thank you for taking the time to comment! 🙂February 1, 2018 at 11:59 am
I know this is an post from years ago, but I’ve been reading through your blog and I just wanted to tell you how much I loved reading this! It was so eye-opening to read from your perspective, and was something I really needed as a 15-year-old who can definitely relate to your 13-year-old self at times. I’ve loved reading about your journey, you and your husband have been such an inspiration to me!! 😊❤️June 13, 2020 at 5:08 pm
(Btw, you are so beautiful!!)
Hello Mrs. Ana,August 12, 2020 at 10:12 am
I know that this post is from several years ago but I’ve just been introduced to your blog. Your thirteen year old self really resonated with me. I once struggled with the same battles that you’ve fought and I’m still learning that my identity doesn’t rest in my appearance. This was a welcome reminder and so helpful. Thank you so much for being vulnerable and authentic. When I’ve read articles by other people being authentic, they leave me feeling disappointed. While yours depicts some of the valleys that God has brought you through, you also shine such a brilliant light for God. You are an inspiration for me. I hope that one day I can look back as you have. Thank you so much for putting this out there!
Hello Mrs. Ana,August 12, 2020 at 10:15 am
I know that this post is from several years ago but I’ve just been introduced to your blog. Your thirteen year old self really resonated with me. I once struggled with the same battles that you’ve fought (anorexia) and I’m still learning that my identity doesn’t rest in my appearance. This was a welcome reminder and so helpful. Thank you so much for being vulnerable and authentic. When I’ve read articles by other people being authentic, they leave me feeling disappointed. While yours depicts some of the valleys that God has brought you through, you also shine such a brilliant light for God. You are an inspiration for me. I hope that one day I can look back as you have. Thank you so much for putting this out there!