Michelle Delos Reyes: Do you know what it’s like to be “the fat kid?” Let me tell you.
At the age of 6, I was told I was bigger than the kids my age. At the age of 8, I was told lose 10 pounds because I fit into the “obese category.” When I turned 9, I overheard someone tell my mom in Tagalog, “Yung anak mo mukhang napabayaan sa kusina,” or “Hey, looks like your kid was left in the kitchen for too long.”
When I became a teenager, when family reunions or social gatherings were a thing, there’s always someone, or a relative, who greets you like this: “Uy ang taba mo na. Ano nangyari sayo?” or “Hey, you got fat. What happened to you?”
And then there was high school. Of course I was bullied, I was fat. I was the center of jokes, I wasn’t taken seriously, and the name calling was endless—“baboy, fatface, tabachoy, balyena, thunder thighs”—all of which destroyed my self-esteem.
Because of that, I spent most of my life trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. To see my reflection in the mirror, I felt disgusted. I hated being fat, I hated the way I looked, I hated my body. Eventually, that hatred manifested into a voice in my head that would tell me to starve myself, purge, and cause harm to my body whenever I felt hungry.
When I switched schools in 10th grade, sophomore year of highschool, I actively skipped meals and avoided eating. My mom would bring me packed lunch to school but I would just give it to my classmates or throw it away. I’m sorry, Ma.
Birthday celebrations or any gathering that involved food was a nightmare. Whenever I felt hungry, or was tempted to eat because—again, I was hungry—I would run out and head straight to the toilet, gripping the sink a few times and looking at myself in the mirror, repeatedly saying: “You’re losing control, get a hold of yourself. You’re already fat, you don’t deserve to eat,” over and over until the hunger subsided. But it doesn’t end there.
I was exercising to the extreme. I was putting in hours of all sorts of full body workouts, you name it. And the voice in my head said, “You do not get to rest until you feel light-headed or close to fainting.” Exercise became my form of punishment for being fat, for making a mistake to eat a meal, or for not purging.
One day in school, I was called to the guidance counselor’s office. I was scared, shocked, nervous even. There I was told, “You look sick” and that they were worried. Months later, through their assistance, I was able to get a diagnosis. It was UFED or Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder. It was an eating disorder that displayed both anorexic, bulimic, and binge disorder traits. I couldn’t believe it. They made me decide if I wanted their help or to seek professional help but I was too stubborn to understand what it was that was wrong with me. I mean, how could I? All my life, all I’ve known is that I’m fat.
It was a turning point for me when my parents started to pick on a few things: the after meal toilet visits, constantly weighing myself, brushing my teeth obsessively. They began to worry when my appearance changed drastically within that year, ever since I switched schools. They said to me, “Anak, tuyung-tuyo ka na” or “dry” was the word they used to describe the way I looked.
I was in a dark place. I didn’t feel right or comfortable with who I was anymore. I thought to myself: “Losing weight can’t be my life’s purpose. It can’t be.” I was living in fear of gaining weight, unable to experience life because this eating disorder is constantly telling me to exercise till I drop, skip meals, and avoid hanging out with friends. I thought to myself, whenever I talked to God: “Why did I have to have this body to begin with?”
It was around that time when at worship service, a minister read a verse that hit me. The verse encouraged us not to be anxious about our lives, about what we’re going to eat, about our bodies and what we’re going to wear, because life is about more than food, more than our bodies, and more than clothing.
That’s when I noticed. It was quiet up here—my mind. As if for a second, that voice in my head was gone. That negative voice that had been bullying me all this time, it was just utter silence. And after that worship service, I literally felt a shift. It really was like a light switch. It was the beginning of an answered prayer.
The next few years was a path of recovery. I now keep a food diary and a journal to practice venting out my thoughts and inner turmoil onto paper rather than verbalizing it all towards myself. When writing these negative thoughts down, I find that it strips away their power to hurt me and feed the voice in my head. Coupled with lots of prayer, I began to see possibilities of a more peaceful and mindful existence.
I met a wonderful support group of friends that have made me feel less insecure and start appreciating myself more. Slowly, I started eating out in public again. In fact, my sisters and I, we became closer through enjoying food.
I still exercise every now and then. In fact, just recently I got into kickboxing. I learned to shift my perspective and change my mindset with exercise. Exercise isn’t a form of punishment for what you ate. It shouldn’t be. Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do.
Through counseling and numerous therapy sessions, I learned that the voice in my head was a projection of myself being my biggest bully. I was my biggest bully. It was tough and uncomfortable coming to that realization but looking back and reflecting, it was necessary for me to let go of the restrictions and progressively be grateful for what God has given me.
And most importantly, I find mental peace when I’m in the house of God. During choir practices as we sing hymns of praises, all I can think of is how much God has helped me through my ordeal. There is never any time for me to give space to that bullying voice in my head to tell me all the things I lack and loathe about myself. Anytime I’m talking or praying to God, I notice that I focus less on myself and focus more on giving glory to Him. When I do more for God, whether it be in performing my duties or involving myself in Church activities, there is no room to think of my shortcomings and insecurities. It’s where the entire world and its unrealistic expectations that have been forced upon me are blocked out. That’s where self-hatred is replaced with gratitude for what God has given.
Today, while I was getting ready for this event, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I don’t feel disgusted anymore. I don’t see my body for its appearance. I see it for its function. I see the weight my arms have carried when helping my mom with groceries. I see all the beautiful places my feet have taken me there. I see the sparkle in my eyes whenever I see my friends, my family and my puppy. And most of all, I see myself wearing my toga and my hands firmly holding my hymnal book.
I feel empowered knowing that this body of mine has lived through so much in the span of 22 years. I feel strong knowing that my identity is not determined by the labels this world has put on me. I am more than my eating disorder, more than the comments I received and left, and I am more than what the voice in my head tells me I am.
I stand in front of you today, not as the fat kid that developed an eating disorder, but rather as a child of God, free of the world’s labels and insecurities. A child of God who may have been broken, but was pieced back together by His quiet strength, His comfort and His undeniable love. Thank you.