I Was Fat, But It Wasn’t About The Weight

I was fat but it wasn't about the weight

Let me start by saying I am not a food addiction behaviorist. I am not a psychologist. I am a chiropractor who not infrequently, has found herself facing down the open end of a bag of Peppermint Pattie minis.

This is my story.

When I was young, I was largely left to my own devices.  I had a mother who allowed copious independence. I had two much older sisters and a dad that worked and traveled.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was lonely and bored. And because I had access to pocket money, I started riding my bike to the corner store two or three times a week for junk food. This may not seem like a big deal, but the amount I was buying and consuming would make your head spin.  

I would head home, hide out in my room and speed-eat licorice, gummy bears, and chocolate. I remember eating inside the confines of my closet, away from the eyes of my family.

I was a “closet binger” before there was a name for it.

During this time I was a competitive gymnast, so weight gain from mainlining candy was not a problem.

But then I grew.

I grew like a mastiff puppy and put on seven inches in a year. FYI – Mastiff puppies cant do back handsprings on a six-inch beam.  

I quit gymnastics.

About the same time, my mother and I decided that a private boarding school would be a great option for me. And it was. I loved it, and it was one of the best things that ever happened.

But, boarding school to an un-diagnosed overeater, is like inviting a cocaine addict into your cozy crack den.  

My moderate addiction to sugar turned into a severe constant struggle, and my weight started to become a problem. My food issues continued to spiral.

Fast forward to college. I was a spritely 175 pounds in my first year of college, 25 pounds over ideal, and stress, low self-esteem, and triple cheese nachos catapulted my weight to just below a precious 235 pounds by the end of my second year.

But here is the thing.

The problem was not the weight.

It was about what the weight represented.

The weight for me represented a total lack of authentic knowledge about how to nourish myself, a complete misunderstanding of the effective ways fitness can drive lean body mass over fat, and a failure to acknowledge that I was using food as friend instead of fuel. It represented sadness, loneliness, and a self-esteem that was subterranean. It represented fear, misplaced love, and an inadvertent attempt to self-medicate it all. Those were mine. Everyone’s will be a little different. 

As I gained the weight, I tried solutions. I fad-dieted, worked out like a demon, deprived, restricted, prayed, and begged.

Nothing worked.

For years I abused my body with food and did not fully understand the consequences. Insane amounts of sugar and processed food lead to such a state of inflammation that there will be physiologic fall-out. For me, that fall-out was a string of diagnosis over ten years.

  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • IBS
  • Joint pain
  • Raynaud’s
  • Sjorgren’s Syndrome
  • Digestive issues and leaky gut.
  • Fatigue and sleep issues

So what finally changed?

The change started when I landed at chiropractic school I was suddenly surrounded by people who were fit and healthy. People who knew how to eat and exercise to promote optimal health.

So I sponged.

I sponged every bit of knowledge I could from them, and I became a passionate life-long learner about what it takes to be truly healthy. I realized that it was going to have to be one change at a time. I reduced sugar, gave up gluten, eventually dairy, and finally addressed gut health and the other food sensitivities. I reduced portion size, ate more often, and came at my diet from a whole food and organic vantage point. I adopted a Paleo lifestyle and learned how to exercise to fire up metabolism. I looked at how food had been serving me emotionally and was filling voids in my life that should be filled with other things. 

It took a long time. Like decades-long time to get it mostly figured out. 

But don’t be fooled for a second.

I am still a binger.

Food addiction is just that, addiction, and you have it for life.

This crap is not easy to get over.

My mother died in April, and the grief and stress sent me into a tailspin of binging behaviors I had not seen surface in decades. It was shocking actually. But I called it out for what it was and started working hard to get back on track. I addressed the anxiety more consistently, became much more aware of what I was allowed in my body and applied an eyes-open approach to the grief. It’s not perfect, it never is, but I am back on track.

If you are struggling with weight, what about focusing on what the weight imbalance represents for you and addressing that instead?

Remove the focus from the scale and start turning over rocks. Could it be underlying anxiety, food allergies, lack of fulfillment in other parts of life, poor understanding of nutrition or a host of other triggers and causes?

If we address these “non-weight specific” issues could our future weight-balancing efforts be more effective and long-term? I truly believe they can. 

Just some food for thought.




4 Responses

  1. Heather, thanks so much for sharing your story! I can relate to some portions of it and it really gave me “food for thought” ?
    I appreciate all that you do.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Sharon, I think many of us have had these types of struggles. xoxo I hope this note finds you well.

  2. Awesome video, Dr. Heather! I can relate to it 100%, and I’m still trying to figure out what’s best for me. The array of information is dizzying. I’m currently trying Whole30 – knowing sugar is my drug of choice. It’s hard but I’m on day 23 and proud to have made it this far (no significant weight loss as I hoped, but realize that can still come later.) Thank you for sharing your story and congrats on finding your healthy lifestyle. You look awesome 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! That plan that works is the one that works for you. Cograts on the WHOLE 30. I think that is an excellent program.

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About Dr. Denniston

Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams, bridging the connection between personal well-being and professional success. She provides custom solutions for burnout and stress and facilitates cohesive habit-training strategies that maximize vitality, productivity, and resilience.

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