After a lifetime of struggling with weight and feeling badly about herself, Patricia Eagles has some important advice to share — mostly that there is always hope for recovery.
Made to feel overweight by a doctor when she was just eight years old, Patricia Eagles says it quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She suddenly looked at herself differently, always comparing herself to her “tiny” brother and best friend. She vowed to lose two pounds. And when she didn’t, it kicked off a lifetime of struggles not only with weight and food, but also with self-esteem and mental health. This is her story.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I remember as an eight-year-old sitting between my brother and my best friend and looking down at their thighs compared to mine and I thought, ‘Mine are huge.’ I wasn’t fat, but I wasn’t thin. I was very tall for my age and I had strong legs. I matured really early, got my first bra early. No one else in my class had a bra so I always felt I was big.
Around the same time my mom had taken me to the doctor for a regular check-up and I overheard the doctor tell her that I “could afford to lose two pounds.” My mom thought that was nonsense and didn’t do anything about it. But I took it to heart and started dieting. But I didn’t lose the two pounds and I was very upset with myself. After that I felt I was big and started trying to lose weight all the time. I don’t think my parents realized how I felt because I never said anything to anybody.
We moved from Montreal to Calgary in the ‘70s and my mom sent me to school in a tunic. That was what we wore in Montreal, but they wore jeans in Calgary. The whole class laughed when I walked in the door. There was a popular doll around that time called Flatsy-Patsy. My name is Patricia but everybody called me Patsy, so it was a short jump to being called “Fatsy-Patsy”. When we moved to Toronto there were two boys who would follow me home and call me “whale” and “anchor”. I didn’t cry in front of them — I’d pretend not to hear.
I also had this image when I was in high school that I was supposed to be thin. Because I thought I was overweight, I was constantly dieting trying to get skinny, but when I look at [photos of] myself in high school I probably didn’t need to. I was active, did running, stuff like that.
A lot of it was my view of myself and then I sort of made it happen. I have chronic depression, which I believe started around 16 or 17. When I was in my early 30s, it got bad and that’s when I really started eating. I gained about 100 pounds in a year. I binged on chocolate bars, pasta, cheese, bread, fried foods, pizza. I would eat healthy food too, but that’s not what I binged on. I was basically self-medicating. Then I would try not to eat anything, and I would be very hungry so I’d eat. I was 310 pounds at my highest — I’ve come down about 60 pounds so far. I’ve lost weight many times, anywhere from 60 to 70 pounds, but it would all come back.
‘I wouldn’t go on rides because I was afraid the bar wouldn’t fit’
I’d go to amusement parks with my nephews but I wouldn’t go on rides because I worried the bar wouldn’t fit over me and I’d be embarrassed. My friends and I used to go to clubs and I wouldn’t get asked to dance. It’s hard if you’re not the shape you’re supposed to be. But I think it also matters the way you present yourself. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, people often don’t pick you. I always assumed everything was because of how I looked, but it might not have had much to do with that.
One time I was picking up groceries late at night, and as I was about to pay, the two ladies behind me asked to go ahead of me. Normally, I would have said yes, but on this night, I had been teaching all day and I was so tired. It was the one time in my life I said no. They started harassing me saying things like, ‘What is that bad smell? People who are fat are so lazy.’ They were so loud that everyone in the store could hear. I didn’t say anything, other than asking them why they were so mean. I should have said more but I was so embarrassed.
They were like so many others who think overweight people are lazy and have no self-control, that they don’t look after themselves, they’re out of shape and don’t exercise. Until about eight years ago, I was extremely healthy in other ways. I exercised, I went to the gym. Even at 250 pounds, I jogged, hiked, canoed, lifted weights. I was in pretty good physical condition considering my weight. And then I developed arthritis in my knees and that changed everything. I was told three years ago that I need new knees. I’m trying to lose at least some weight because I don’t want to start on new knees with that heavy weight.
I’ve been with WeightWatchers on and off for years. They’re often put down, but they’re more on the same wavelength now with what I’m learning — that everybody is different, there isn’t just one answer or one way to do things.
I think it’s really important that people find support. That’s what I was missing. I haven’t always liked groups but my turning point came when I joined a group called the 28-Day Intensive with Sandra Elia. She just started [interactive events ] with the advocacy group Obesity Matters. Her group offered something different than what I’d seen before. It really made a difference for me. I also have a counsellor for depression, and she’s hooked me up with a naturopathic doctor.
I want people to know that there is a way out of this, there is hope for recovery. We are not broken or lazy. It is not all our fault. Of course I make the choice to put the food in my mouth, but there is also a lot going on that I can’t change. Also, look for support and don’t try to do it all on your own, which I did for many years. I’ve learned not to beat myself up and berate myself. Love yourself first and foremost, whatever size you are, respect yourself and be kind to yourself the same way you would be to other people.
This article was originally written by Robin Roberts and published by Healthing on October 7, 2022 in collaboration with the Obesity Matters’ Community.