Nick Ward shares his memories of his body not looking and acting like everyone else’s.
I’m 32 and laying on the doctor’s table.
First time getting a physical in about ten years.
I weighed 320 lbs.
I’m staring at my childhood doctor, whom I purposely avoided in my roaring 20s.
He looks down over me like a terribly disappointed father.
I could tell it broke his heart a little bit when I told him how many drinks per week I drank.
A humiliating and highly necessary confession to my medical sins followed.
Marijuana: Daily use.
Diet: Fat, fried and full of carbs and red meat.
Other drugs: Having seen the look of anguish when I told him about the weed I wimped out and kept my mouth shut.
Prognosis: If I didn’t take serious steps to turn my health around I’d be on blood pressure medication for life and at serious risk of heart disease, cancer(s) and a pretty shitty existence.
The first time I remember being fatter than the other kids was Grade Three.
Only it wasn’t called that.
It was called Junior Two and I awoke in September to a school in the Cayman Islands.
I was seven-turning-eight and walked to school in my gingham-checked uniform.
Tan coloured short-pants and a red checkered button-down.
My family had moved to West Bay, Grand Caymen.
My parents, both in their early 30s took us on an adventure of a lifetime.
We arrived in early August of 1988 and our national savior Ben Johnson had not yet received his humiliation.
And we as a nation had not received our shame.
Following Johnson’s steroid scandal, we turned the recent Order of Canada recipient back into a Jamaican overnight.
The Seoul Olympics were how we made fast friends with our local family of Baha’is. My parents were setup with respectable jobs and a place to stay until we found our own residence. Many a late summer night we spent whooping and cheering the olympians.
The night Ben Johnson dropped the hammer on Carl “Hollywood” Lewis, I was down for the count with a murderous case of constipation.
Gentle Ben smashed the 100m record in 9.79 seconds and we cheered. Well my family cheered, I drank flat pop drifting in and out of fever.
Within three days Ben’s medal was stripped for steroids and I was at school.
My younger sister and I were recent students in cushy East Toronto education system.
It was all creative expression, participation ribbons and hugs.
As we arrived at West Bay Primary on the first day of school, a slightly different horizon appeared.
It was like the first day at Shawshank. No swings, no monkey bars and no sand boxes. Classes were run on military precision with the teacher wielding unlimited authority.
Spankings were laughed at, detention was for kindergarten.
We got beat when we got out of line.
Well I got my beat, my sister toed the line because she’s was always more of rule-abider than me. Possibly smarter too.
Anyway, in walks in me, this chunky Canadian, speaking all weird and white as Casper.
I looked around to all this island kids who ran to school just for fun.
Maybe still a little bloated from the stomach issues or maybe I had put on weight over the summer.
I came to school one day with some crumbs on my face and was christened “Toast Bread Man” by some smart-ass classmate.
I decided to transfer my social ostracization to the kid whose dad was in prison.
“Joe-el, I hear ya daddy in prison,” I jeered. I had picked up the local slang in about 5-minutes.
“Don’t worry, fat man I’ma kick your backside after school,” Joel retorted.
And he did, up and down the school yard.
My guardian angels must have thought it was good for me.
What I remember most about that time was feeling like there was something wrong with me.
My first memory of my body not looking and acting like everyone else’s.
I told my parents I wanted to enter a triathlon and I trained as best as my 8-year-old self could. Motivated by the promise of being fit and fast like the other kids.
Following our year in the sun, we moved back to London, Ontario.
I remember a smattering of weight-related teasings over the years but nothing significant until about 13.
Parents divorced for 6 years, my Mom, Sister and I had moved to Central London.
I experienced a lot of anxiety about social interactions.
Naturally boisterous, funny and too smart for my own good I attracted bullies easily.
Also, I was raised by pacifists—well, one pacifist and one reluctant okra-eating peace-nik. I’ll save my father’s okra rebellion for another time.
Anyway I was no good at fighting but I was quick with my words.
Stinging words that I used to transfer my anger and shame onto other, even fatter kids.
I remember with some regret saying things like, “You think I’m fat, look at Jason!”
At home I remember my Mom hiding food from me. I’d consume entire tubs of yoghurt, trays of cookies and anything else fatty and delicious I could get my hands on. I used food to sooth my anxiety and social confusion.
Looking back I had something of an eating disorder.
My teenage years were a mixed bag of thrills and spills in the social department.
Ostracized one day, popular the next, I could never quite grapple with the social hierarchies and complex signals that seemed to separate me from the “cool” kids.
Eventually I found my place in sports and martial arts.
I still had emotional eating challenges but at least I was active and fit.
When I look around at home I saw both my parents use food to coat emotional pain and release stress.
Leaving home for university I still didn’t know what I didn’t know about my health or how much my body was connected to a healthy mind and spirit.
That’s life sometimes, you have to learn things your parents weren’t able to teach you.
Throughout my 20s I lived quite hard, as the above story with my family doctor demonstrates. Physically I look good, shedding pounds during the summer rugby season and putting them back on over the winter.
And then came the year that I decided to go back to school. Studying journalism full-time and working part-ime I let slip my workouts and rugby and quickly ballooned. This trend continued as I began to work high pressure jobs in the media industry.
Constantly sitting and interacting with screens my mental and physical health deteriorated.
Following the prognosis of the the doctor I refused to let my life continue this way.
I started a meal replacement plan with protein shakes and drastically reduced sugar intake.
I began running and committed to daily exercise.
Within a few months I’d dropped 50 lbs and was on my way to a better life.
After losing the weight through exercise and diet I returned to my poor eating ways.
I would do so well, eating healthy for days and weeks only to revert to junk food.
Chips and dip, candy, pizza and pop.
It always seemed to come when I was the lowest emotionally.
Food and weed worked like my dysfunctional mental health coaches, keeping me sane yet also pushing me further away from overall health.
However, the next physical resulted in a much cleaner bill of health.
No requirement blood pressure pills.
I think my doctor’s blood pressure improved just by seeing that I’d taken his advice seriously.
And then came my concussion.
Following months of heavy training and healthy-ish living – Rugby can be great for the body but not so much for the liver – I was suddenly stripped of exercise as a way to stay fit.
In Part 2 I’ll explore my journey to ultimate health, combing food, breath and exercise.
Thanks for reading.
This article originally appeared on Concussion To Conscious
Photo credit: Soldier’s Medical Center / flickr