by: Justin Huang
I’ve had my share of bad relationships. But by far the most complex, most intricate, most twisted relationship in my life has been with food.
Today I stand at 5’10” and weigh about 155 lbs. I go to the gym every day, and I run at least a mile in the mornings. Eight years ago, when I was 16, I peaked at 250 lbs. on a 5’8″ frame. My skin was ravaged with stretch marks, and my inner thighs were always raw from constantly rubbing together. My belly was so large that it rippled from side to side whenever I moved.
My mom became tremendously worried about my size. Rice was banned from the house, and I was weighed daily, my eating habits closely monitored. So in the middle of the night, I would walk to the 24-hour doughnut shop down the street and gorge myself silly. Under my bed was a landfill of candy wrappers and greasy fast-food bags. I’d say the majority of my eating was done sitting on my toilet, quickly cramming food into my mouth while running the faucet, in case anyone might hear.
High school is tough enough; no one feels attractive during puberty, and being an overweight person of color made this doubly true. I was bullied relentlessly, and to this day, I will never forget the things that my classmates called me.
But I was so addicted to a feeling, to the numbness of fullness. After binging, when my stomach was so full and all the blood in my body rushed to my abdomen, there was this peaceful dullness that washed over me. I was a chronic overthinker, and the act of eating was just so mindlessly blissful.
When I got into college, I decided that I was going to lose all the weight and start anew. The summer before freshman year, I went into American Apparel (the models working there looked ready to harpoon me), and I bought a deep V-neck T-shirt, size XS. I hung it next to my mirror. “By the time summer is over,” I promised it, “I will rock you, natch.”
At this point I really wish I could burst into song like Jennifer Hudson in those Weight Watchers commercials and sing about healthy weight loss plans. This was not the case.
I started with purging, because the most difficult challenge to overcome was portion control, and every time I ate too much, I found the nearest toilet. When I got used to being malnourished, then I began to starve myself. And I began to run. I ran like Forrest Plump. Every day, two hours in the morning, two hours in the evening.
In three months, I lost 120 lbs.
This wreaked havoc on my body, the effects lasting to this day. My digestive system is still delicate, and I have had reflux disease. Now, I watch what I eat and I work out — perhaps a bit compulsively at times, but I give myself breaks. I try not to be addicted to anything.
In hindsight, I realize that being overweight was a way for me to manifest my self-hate into something physical and palpable. It made sense for me to have low self-esteem when everyone else looked at me in disgust, and it became an excuse, a crutch for the way I thought about myself.
Really, I think it was how I grappled with being gay and being in denial about it. When you’re not going to get laid, then why even bother to ponder about your sexuality? It was never about food, or weight, or caloric intake, or any of that obsessive nonsense. It was all just an elaborate, convenient lie. And it wasn’t until I finally came out to my family at 21 that I stopped being plagued by food guilt and body dysmorphia.
Because after that summer of bulimia, starvation, and torturous exercise, after my overjoyed mother finally helped me buy a car to congratulate me on losing that evil midsection, after my astounded friends stopped referring to me as Buddha, I went into my bedroom and slipped on the American Apparel deep V-neck T-shirt, size XS.
It fit like a glove, angling my figure into a tight, upside-down triangle shape. I looked into the mirror at my diminished body, the gaunt angles in my face. And I realized that even though I barely recognized him, I still hated the boy staring back at me.
Justin Huang is 25, Asian, male, gay, overly cocky, popular, insecure, shy, gassy, loudmouthed, promiscuous, guilt-ridden, nonjudgmental, hardworking, goofy and dead serious. Huang is a film editor and a personal fitness trainer in Los Angeles, both of which mean I sit in coffeeshops and gyms a lot trying to look cute. Follow me @justinhuang.