Candy for Cigarettes

by Jennifer Ellis

Candy Cigs Pic

I met Lisa in grade nine. She was a model. She was literally the West Indian Niki Taylor (shout out to all my fellow YM and Seventeen mag readers!).  I was smitten with her extraordinary beauty and over all coolness. Lisa was a little dramatic; she was always telling me stories about her sexual escapades with guys and her modeling career. She was the Kelly to my Brenda. She was my coolest new friend. Until one day in gym class when she wasn’t.

A few us of were practicing our volleyball serves, and talking about having a perfect body and how unfair it is that food makes us fat. I started talking about why I was fat, blaming it on inheriting it from my uncle Dick and the fact that my Dad raised us on McDonalds and Dominos.

“I’d rather have cancer than be fat,” Lisa said casually as she served the ball to Mary.

Mary’s eyes widened as she shot me a horrified look.

My face suddenly felt hot and my heart dropped into my gut-which monstrous size was apparently making Lisa wish for cancer.

Everyone just awkwardly laughed and “I know right-ed” her in fear that disagreeing would probably make them look fat.

“Ugh. This totally blows. I wanna go out for a smoke,” Lisa whined as she pulled her long thick black hair into a ponytail.

I was seething. I wanted to yank her by her perfect pony tail tell her to go and fuck herself and that I hope she gets lung cancer and dies. But I didn’t want to risk losing the skinny bitch as my friend to maintain my cool kid status. I rationalized that because she was a model, and being thin was kind of like, hello, a job requirement, it was just her way of saying “Sorry man, that totally sucks.” Yeah, I’m sure she didn’t mean “I’d rather die from a terminal illness than shop at Cotton Ginny Plus with your fat ass.”

When a thin, pretty, popular girl wanted to be friends with me, it made me feel hot and thin by osmosis.  At the very least it made me feel like I was protected when we would walk down the halls together.  Like a skinny friend bully repellant. But, now it was feeling like I was sleeping with the enemy (oh my God I LOVE that move!? Straighten up those cans Julia! P.S Now that I’m an adult, I totally know people like her psycho husband who would make me want to jump off a boat an onto a bus headed to Iowa)

So, yeah, I said nothing. And I didn’t say anything for the rest of the year. We still hung out, but I secretly hated her and hated myself more for not standing up for myself.

I don’t remember seeing much of her the next year. I guess that’s how it is though. Maybe she was starting to think she would become fat by osmosis. I figured since she revealed that she’d prefer chemo over stretch marks, hanging out with me might be a liability. On some level, I don’t blame her. It seemed like the logical thought process considering the bullshit ideology we’re fed since the day we get our first Barbie doll. I spent most of my twenties and thirties chasing that phony plastic bitch. I’ve been trying ever since then to not be the girl they look at when someone makes a comment like being terminally ill is better than being fat.

In 2001 I was 23 years old and 330 pounds. Other than the number on the scale, a few moments pushed me to really find an exit plan to get out of the fat girl club. It wasn’t a club that was fun, or exclusive or that gave you discounts on Baskin n Robbins or Little Caesars. It was more like a jail that you were held in, located in the town square of your life for all to point and laugh at. I was sick of it. The tipping point for me was when I saw a picture of myself from a night out where I thought I looked pretty good. I had a shitty fake tan that I had clearly hastily slathered on and I was wearing a white top and a pleather jacket. I looked like a biker butch who’d just rolled around in the dirt.  Around that time, I was getting a physical and the Doctor told me if I don’t lose weight now it would be much harder to do when I was older. Great. This gets harder? Soon after that I went to see a sweet little Chinese lady at my community health centre named Annie and she gave me a paper pamphlet that listed all the foods I could eat and how many servings I could have from each food group. I just followed it. God knows how, but I did. And it worked. Eighteen months later I was 160 pounds.

It was like I was a visitor in my body. I had spent the last year and half eating crispy minis, a pot of coffee a day and trough full of salad with fat free Italian dressing topped with flavourless chicken breast. I counted each calorie in each stick of gum and in each packet of sweetener. Seemed like the logical thing to do to get skinny. I carried my calorie dictionary and a notepad around with me like an ESL student would with an English dictionary. I was learning how to translate the food world armed with my calorie dictionary! My bible. And I was ready to spread the gospel.

Soon enough, my sister and some of my friends all joined me in our revolution. We were breaking out of the caged fat girl club and plus sizes and into the Stitches and Sirens discount warehouses. It was glorious.

We hit the bars each weekend; I drank vodka sodas liberally because in my mind those calories don’t count, because vodka was like water, wasn’t it? I would pre-game with a half mickey of Smirnoff as I did my make up. I would pour the rest of the mickey into an empty water bottle known as the traveler (some people call it a roadie. No. Dude, roadies are the skanky looking dudes who set up the stages for bands) and drink it on the way to My Apartment or Crocodile Rock– our two favourite bars a.k.a places where you could get $2.00 drinks and an STD on the dance floor. We were smart.

I was high on attention. And nicotine. I had also traded 12-inch subs for cigarettes. I would only smoke on the weekends when I drank. I figured I was thin now and I didn’t smoke that much. And maybe I subliminally kept hearing Lisa’s words reassuring me. Everyone I knew smoked. But I was the only one who had yellow fingers on Sunday nights from binge smoking. I brushed it off. I was one of the thinnest chicks among my friends and after a while my head was huge, literally, and figuratively-my body was starting to slowly resemble a lolly pop. My inflated head was filled with the notion that this was my new life: being the skinny girl and getting attention from men. That was my job, my only M.O-stay thin and find a boyfriend. Weeeeeell, I did find boys. They were very friendly. And that of course meant they liked me right? And that would mean they totally wanted to be my boyfriend, right? Like I said, I was smart.

By the summer of 2002 I was a full-blown attention addict and had an obvious eating disorder. However, I couldn’t see then that dipping carrots in ketchup wasn’t a just a new flavour creation like Lays Chipotle Ranch. All I cared about was getting to the weekend to refuel my addiction with lapping men and free drinks all night. Drinks that never caused any weight gain; which was always many, many drinks. Maybe it was because for the whole weekend I’d eat two meals. Which consisted of a bag of Quaker Crispy Minis and cans of forty-nine cent green beans with tuna.

Finding a boyfriend wasn’t really working out. I had been seeing Jamie – the guy who was my “first.” He was a babe. He was also an alcoholic and former drug addict, who laughed at me in disbelief when I told him I was virgin after that first time. So, the smart thing to do of course was to keep seeing him because he was so cute. And well, he kept calling.

Jamie faded away soon after I started college that fall. I was going to be the tall hot skinny bitch in my class for the first time. I had left the fat girl club behind and anyone who knew me to be its flagship member. I was ready to be handed the hot girl crown and start my new life. I was finally going to grow up and be thin and happy and successful; writing concert reviews for the Toronto Star and live in a loft overlooking the city- with my gorgeous journalist boyfriend that I would meet in the newsroom.

It didn’t quite go that way. I ended up just being the loudmouth older chick that didn’t really fit in her oddly thin body.

Guys didn’t really pay attention to me. I wasn’t stared at for being fat or made fun of. I was just looked over. I was 25. But my classmates were about 19 and had firm bouncy skin and luxurious shiny hair, where as I looked like too much skin that was haphazardly thrown on a bag of bones with a few strands of dull curly hair. So, hot.

That didn’t stop me though. I was relentless. I obsessively budgeted each dollar I made at my part time job at Rogers video to buy the same groceries each week. And I would meal prep each Sunday and shove salads and tuna sandwiches on 45 calorie bread slices in my bar fridge for the whole week. I had to make sure I stuck to my diet. There was no room for the “I have no time” or “I’m too tired” excuse in my life, even if it meant that I would be eating soggy tuna sandwiches. I was thin, and I needed to stay thin. Without that designation nothing else really mattered.

I could only hold on for so long; and my grand plan started to crumble beneath my feet. By mid summer 2003 I started my love affair with bingeing. I would go through the days eating tuna and salad. Then I would rendezvous at night with a bag of Sour Cream and Onion Ruffles and a pint of Haagen Daz Caramel Cone Explosion.

One day I went on a forbidden food tour. I couldn’t sleep at all the night before, so as soon as the sun came up I decided that I wanted McDonalds to start my day-but a McGriddle and a hash brown wasn’t enough. Soon enough I was on the train heading downtown to figure out what would be my next indulgence. I found myself back at McDonalds for cheeseburgers and a hot fudge sundae, followed by Tim Hortons donuts and an Iced Cap for to wash it all down. I somehow found my way home despite my sugar and fat fog. I was literally like one of the walkers from The Walking Dead. If I heard a food wrapper crackling somewhere; hide your children. Carl? Where’s Carl?! I figured I would just round out the day with a pepperoni pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerrys Cookie Dough.

Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t have a stroke from the sugar and fat assault I ordered on my confused body.

My bingeing caught up with me of course. The Korean lady at my local corner store pointed it out to me on the first day back to classes.

“Oh, you having baby?” she smiled as she rang in my Diet Coke and Three Musketeers.

I could feel my face sting from the shame.

“Ha, ha!” I laughed. “I’m not.” I said with a forced smile. I quickly grabbed my snacks and practically tripped on the pumpkin display as I fled the scene; running away from my humiliation.

I was 230 pounds. My visitor pass was about to expire. It was like I was on a temporary visa in my own body. I was being deported back to the fat girl club.

In the winter of 2016 I decided that I wanted to get on the list to get this surgery. I was in and out of the fat girl club and now pushing 300 lbs after so many failed attempts of torturing my body with more obsessive calorie counting. I did the Dr. Bernstein diet that made me pass out on the way to working in his office (yes, I worked for my hero at the time), Dr. Poon and his diet who told me I didn’t need to eat vegetables, and would I please buy his book. And Weight Watchers who hawked their fake foods at their over priced meetings that had me just as manic when I was counting each calorie, to Ketogenic when I totally overate butter fried cheese and nuts and couldn’t shit for a week. None of this bullshit worked. It worked for about twenty pounds and then I would be making secret trips across the street for a box of fries and a cheeseburger. I would always anxiously wait in the restaurant looking over my shoulder like the I was a junkie meeting with my dealer and the cops were on my tail. I’d snatch the brown paper bag of forbidden fried carbs and scurry back into my apartment and eat in shameful peace.

I was also 38, not 23 like I had been when I first reached this weight. I’ve develop gall stones and, sciatica, and knee problems on both legs – all problems that can be partially or completely related to my ballooning weight.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the only reason I wanted to have this surgery was because I wanted to feel better physically– because hello-I’m a human being, living on the planet we live on that can be shitty, so that would be a lie. So, yes people like Lisa had something to do with this decision.  I did, after all have my organs re-arranged to not be fat. Of course, I want to feel better about how I look. I want to look more conventional, and fit into clothes that I like. I hate that being thinner has anything to do with that; and I wish I could rewire my brain to leave that kind of thinking behind. I’m so inspired and envious of women like Virgie Tovar, Tess Holiday, Whitney Waythore and countless other awesome fat chicks who are giving a big EFF YOU! to the world when it comes to body acceptance (shout out to #effyourbeautystandards!).  It’s because of women like them that I don’t feel completely repulsed by my double chin and baby arms. There is a new hope for the next generation. They are body image Jedis!

In September 2017, just under a year from my first orientation and about half a dozen screening tests/appointments, I got a call from my surgeon’s office asking me if I wanted to fill a cancellation spot and have my surgery that coming Monday. It was Tuesday. A life changing surgery that I was expecting to have in late November was being offered to me in six days. It was like being asked to meet Joe McIntyre in the pajamas I’ve been in for 3 days with unwashed hair. Um, yeah I’m not ready and I’m FREAKING out but lets do this!

They wheeled me in to the OR and I was all

“Wow this is totally like Greys Anatomy, can I select my resident to be Dr. Avery and McSteamy with a side of McDreamy please for my attendings? And can Dr. Avery be assigned to be my nurse/live in caregiver until I reach my goal weight?”

This was before the drugs. They moved me onto the surgical table and then I was given the fun stuff to get me to sleep.

I woke up feeling like someone was standing on my stomach.

“Help me, please help me” I moaned to the nurse. This is what almost dying feels like, I’m sure of it, I thought.

The nurse asked me what my pain levels were.

“Pick a number between 1 and 10 that describes your pain,”  she asked me.

I had my intestines rerouted and my stomach blown up like a balloon-it’s a ten thousand sister. Give me more dilaudid dammit!

I really don’t even remember going from recovery to my patient room. All I know was that I felt like shit and Dr. Avery was no where to be seen.  Soon enough my sweet my fiancé Mike was there to hold my hand and look terrified and helpless as the pain meds wore off every hour. My sweet darling Michael. Thank you for holding my hand when I cried and screamed in pain yelling regrets of eating myself into this hospital bed. I appreciate you being the stable one in our relationship. Jackson Averys’ got nothing on you baby.

Eating for the first few weeks was spent trying to figure out how to manage my fat brain and small stomach. Pretty much that even though you realize you can’t put a hippopotamus in a baby carriage, fat brain keeps trying to squeeze it in. This is still something I’m figuring out. Fat brain is a powerful bitch. She’s been in charge for a long time. She’s starting to know her role though. She gets up and stomps her feet every day but I’m learning how to put that bitch in her place.

So here we are and now its January 11, 2018. I’m 276 pounds. I’ve lost about 60 pounds in about four months. My wedding is in 10 months.  It’s looking like I will return to my previous weight loss glory by my wedding day this coming October, or pretty close to. It feels better to be lighter on my feet. It’s nice to fit into my smaller clothes. But it’s not the same experience I felt when I lost the first time around. Back then Lisa was in my peripheral on repeat wishing for cancer over obesity. Because that’s all you have when you’re a self-absorbed asshole. We were all assholes in our teens and twenties. Looking hot, at all costs, that was the priority, that was the job. That’s all we really needed to feel good about ourselves. Getting a return on your investment was getting picked up by the hot guys at the bar and getting cut eye from all the girls who envied you. I’m reflecting deep into my memories though, and I know that wasn’t always the only recipe for a fun night. When I was over 300 pounds, I feel like I always had fun when I went out. Why else would I keep going out otherwise?  I danced my big fat ass off, drank Mikes Hard Lemonade and had a great time with my friends. I never had any positive male attention from my peers, so I didn’t expect it at bar.

One time this “hot chick” that went to my high school was at this local dive we used to go to called Tommy Cooks and she said to me as we were dancing, “I just love how you can still have fun, regardless of y’know?”

The “y’know” being “big and fat.”

I looked at her with a furrowed brow, taking in what this presumptuous bitch just said to me.

“Uhhh yeah…why wouldn’t I? Fuck what anyone thinks right?” I said as a half smile formed on my face.

Inside I was furious with anger and embarrassed by my embarrassment because of her flippant comment. Her confirmation bias was showing so badly, I should’ve just kicked her in the crotch and kept on dancing to Beanie Man.

So, ok yeah, when I was 160 pounds I was “hot.” I had guys telling me I looked like Nicole Kidman as they bought me drinks hoping I would somehow get drunk enough to think I was out with my husband Tom Cruise. (Were they still together then? Oh gorgeous, couch jumping crazy Scientologist Tom.)  I thought back then that being “thin” or even average, came along with a certificate in self confidence.


All that BS about your true self being so much deeper is sadly true. But it’s not that sad, is it? Thank GOD! You need a lot more going for you than that when you’re a grown up.  For the last seventeen years plus it’s been my main goal to shed unwanted pounds. I had my insides re-arranged because I couldn’t do it myself anymore after years of dieting and poor nutrition. I traded Snickers and Nerds for Diet Coke and Vodka- throw in a pack of Du Maurier over the weekend and I was pretty much echoing Lisa’s “I’d rather have cancer” statement. Today at almost 40 years old, spending about 37 of them either grabbing for the candy or running away from it, I know now that Lisa can have her cancer. I’ll take the Snickers.

2 thoughts on “Candy for Cigarettes

  1. Youngest daughter Jen you are truly a brilliant gifted writer. Send it out to some top magazines they could sure use your gutsy story. Story is king but with you “Story is Queen” !
    Love Dad

    Liked by 1 person

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