By Mariam Nouser
Content warning: This article contains descriptions of eating disorders and medical discrimination.
I remember wanting to go on my first diet when I was 11 years old because I was continuously being bullied by the same group of boys in elementary school. I had gained weight after my parents’ divorce a couple years before and went through a fast growth spurt between grades 4 and 6.
I was dubbed a ‘towel-wrapped elephant’ by these boys after I brought a towel to school for beach day in Grade 6. At the time, I was 150 pounds and 5-foot-7.
The taunting didn’t stop. It kept getting worse to the point where they would laugh at me in the hallway and get others to join in, and jam my lock several times to the point where I had to get the janitor to snap it off and replace it.
My Grade 6 teacher took me under her wing and let me eat lunch with her instead of the lunchroom. But sometimes I wish she did more to de-escalate the situation.
In the summer of 2007, after finishing Grade 6, I would swim laps, go on runs and play soccer daily. I did all of this while restricting my diet behind my mom’s back, who would be at work during the weekdays. I lost 20 pounds and I stopped getting bullied when I started Grade 7 that September, causing my self-confidence to skyrocket.
Looking back, this was extremely damaging to me because I was picking up the habits of an eating disorder, which would continue haunting me to this very day.
My relationship with food and dieting was a love-hate relationship. I would see all of my friends who were much thinner and more fit than me, while I sat there gaining weight like nobody’s business.
Fast forward a few years to Grade 12, my disordered eating habits got even worse. I would work out three hours per day, eat less than 700 calories daily and, if I ever went over, I would force myself to vomit or take laxatives that I found in my family’s medicine cabinet.
Obesity Canada said people perceive obesity negatively because they attribute extra weight to personal failure. Every time I couldn’t lose weight, I thought I was the most useless person ever.
No matter what I did, my weight wouldn’t come off. The only time I got the results I wanted was when I had C.difficile, a bacterial infection in the large intestine, which caused me to lose 40 pounds in one month in July 2015. I may have looked great after, but I certainly didn’t feel that way.
Navigating the healthcare system as an overweight person is very stressful. Most medical doctors would attribute any and all of my health problems to my weight. Period is irregular? Lose weight. Pain in my back? Lose weight.
Once, I had chest pain that was so bad I could barely breathe. I went to the ER and got an X-ray, after which they said I was fine and told me to exercise more. I begged them to give me a CT scan because I knew what I was feeling was not normal, and once they finally caved and I did the test, I had several blood clots in my lungs.
If it weren’t for my self-advocacy, I could have died. Even when I had similar pain months later, I was reluctant to see a doctor because of my previous treatment.
According to Obesity Canada, weight bias can lead to stigmatization and discrimination leading to “denying access to healthcare” and rejecting claims by insurance for obesity-related treatments.
When I became pregnant with my son in early 2020, I never imagined that I would be subjected to the same type of blatant disregard for my health concerns due to my weight. I was the heaviest I had ever been and, despite losing 30 pounds in my first trimester due to severe morning sickness, aside from my obstetrician, the nurses and doctors said I shouldn’t gain more than 10 pounds in my pregnancy. A nurse while I was hospitalized said, “you are an overweight girl you would deliver easily.”
My heart was broken. I was physically struggling with my pregnancy and all people could care about was my weight. My son was perfectly healthy when I was pregnant and still is today as a one-year-old.
Now, I’m on a journey to a healthier lifestyle for myself. Rather than looking at the numbers on the scale, I am focusing on how I feel mentally and physically. The way I nourish my body greatly affects how I feel. I’ve finally found a couple of doctors who do not disregard my struggles with weight and see me as I deserve to be seen: a human being with feelings.