I believe in fat. Not too long ago, I would have said, “I believe I’m fat.” But my mindset has shifted, because I’m in the midst of recovery. This is me speaking, not my eating disorder convincing me that my body is a worthless, loathsome shell.
With each day, I believe in the importance of fat just a little bit more. It is reshaping me from the unrecognizable form I had taken on, back into the healthy individual I once was. Fat fuels me so I have energy and enthusiasm to perform activities I once found enjoyable. But most importantly, fat is knocking my eating disorder to smithereens. So yeah, even in this time of New Year’s resolutions teeming with messages of “fat free” this, and “lose fat” that, I believe in fat.
Before I believed in fat, though, I hated it with an indescribable fury. The dawn of this hatred began my freshman year at Penn State as my proclivity to exercise and eat healthy escalated beyond the point of control. I was sickly delighted with each backward tick of the scale, but never satiated: the eating disorder wanted more.
Perhaps I was convinced that less of me physically would make me someone else: someone skinnier, more confident, prettier, more vivacious, enviable… Yet most of what I experienced was loss and pain. My heartbeat slowed from a lack of cushioning fat. Porous bone-on-bone contact without the protection of muscle or fat caused me deep bone pain. Yet I continued to suffer through daily exercise. Since I was also restricting food, lethargy consumed me. I barely had enough energy to get through the day.
I had reduced my value down to numbers: caloric intake and expenditure, weight losses and gains, minutes exercising… It was all incalculably miserable.
During a break from school, I helped my mom cook soup in the kitchen. After pouring what I thought to be enough oil, she urged me to triple it. When we made her grandmother’s pound cake recipe, she said the secret was in the butter, cream, and eggs. My mom said fat is necessary to bring out the flavors in our cooking and that our bodies need fat to function. I was convinced that no amount of pleasure from food was worth losing control and getting fat.
But now I am beating my eating disorder with the help of physicians, nutritionists, therapists, family and friends, and I realize my mom was right all along. It does take a little fat to bring out flavors, to enhance something that otherwise would be bland and lifeless. This was clearly evident in the mundane life I was floating through with my eating disorder at the reigns.
Living with an eating disorder has been one of the roughest, most emotionally draining experiences of my life. But as I gradually become comfortable with gaining back weight, I am rediscovering who I used to be. Because I am sweet, creative, genuine, considerate, resilient—all flavors of “me” fostered by a healthy amount of fat for my physical self. And hey, I will add the extra oil, because I am not ashamed to admit that it tastes spectacular.
I believe in fat.
Natalie Sullivan is a student at Penn State University Park majoring in nursing.
This essay originally aired on February 2, 2017.