Most memories with my grandma revolve around slumber parties that almost always included a midnight snack. She had an abundance of choices, from sugary sweets like Hostess CupCakes to savory goodies like Chex Mix, all chased down with a fruit punch or strawberry kiwi Caprisun. She showed her affection with food; I never left Grandma’s house hungry, because if I did, that was an abomination in her eyes. A fed grandbaby was a happy grandbaby.

Most of my family growing up had the same idea about affection as my grandma. Family birthday parties, summer barbecues, even just stopping by to say “hey” almost always included some type of food: cakes, hamburgers, macaroni salad, Grandma’s potato salad, cups of coffee — if you can think of it, we probably had it at an event at some point along the way. For us, food was a well-loved member of our family.

My love of food, coupled with being an un-athletic kid, led to me being the “fat girl.” My clothes were always on the bigger size chart, or had to be ordered online because the store didn’t carry them. And for a while, it would bug me, because who wants to be the token fat kid everyone feels bad for?

And then I learned to embrace it.

Baby’s first Christmas, December 1999

I branded myself on being the token fat girl. Yeah, I would still get nasty looks no matter what I ate — but fuck it, I was having fun. I had friends, and, in my opinion (which I later questioned) “stylish” clothing. Sure, I wasn’t skinny, but that didn’t matter. Grandma didn’t treat me any different, and that’s all that mattered.

When you’ve been shown affection from one of your favorite people in the form of food, how do you cope with their death?

By eating, of course.

When said person also passes six weeks after the ship holding your parents’ marriage together has sunk, how do you cope with the combined grief of both?

Another obvious answer.

Between Grandma dying and my parents’ divorce, I turned to food for comfort because it wasn’t going to hurt me. Or abandon me in the way I felt like my grandma had, by dying at what could’ve been the worst possible time for me to lose her. Plus, whenever there’s a death in the family on my dad’s side, we coped with the grief by eating because, as my uncle John once proclaimed, “Grieving food doesn’t have calories!” We would be gifted plates of hot Italian food, six-foot-long heroes, boxes of coffee, cakes, cookies, even an Edible Arrangement showed up at my dad’s house the night between the wake and the funeral — from someone in the union my dad and uncles worked in. With this abundance of food, we all ate to deal with the passing of such a vital piece of our family.

I learned to live with the fact that no matter how badly I wanted my grandma to come back to life, she simply wasn’t going to. Once I processed that, dealing with the rest of the shit life was throwing at me was doable, with the comfort of eating. The turbulence from my parent’s divorce and the addition of a new sibling, dealing with the idea of life beyond high school, just stress in general was all solved with an iced coffee and a nail or hair appointment. I used food and hair dye as my coping mechanisms because if I was a different person I couldn’t be hurt in the same way I was.

And when my dad proclaimed he no longer wanted anything to do with me because I’m a “selfish bitch,” how do you think I handled that? A bottle of hair dye and, of course, more food.

But then the repercussions of being overweight and using food as a coping mechanism started to rear its ugly head. I was sixteen, sitting in a gynecologist’s office when I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The little Russian doctor looked me in the eyes and said, “There’s a good chance you could be infertile.”

That crushed me.

The next health scare came at eighteen, just a few weeks after high school graduation. I was diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri, which is medical jargon for an insane amount of pressure inside my skull. I had a spinal tap done, which led to three weeks of bedrest. Obviously I ate, because I was doing nothing all day, but I also revisited an old hobby. 

I started to crochet again, something I hadn’t done in years. Looping the yarn kept my hands busy so I wasn’t just eating and playing Candy Crush Saga — and it helped me connect back with my grandma too. I would think back to the times when I sat with her when she lived with us, Law & Order: SVU on in the background while she crocheted a baby blanket for whoever was pregnant at the time. She never finished that blanket. Maybe that’s why they’re some of my favorite projects to make.

The Dynamic Duo, September 2011

After I got cleared to go back to work and start school, a week before the fall semester, I had strict orders to “lose weight.”



If you picked 4, you’re the lucky winner!

It wasn’t until this summer that I got serious about dealing with my weight.

When my family went on vacation this past summer, we flew. And for the first time in my entire life of being the token fat girl, I needed a seatbelt extender. 

I was mortified. I’d always been able to squeeze my fatvass into a regular seatbelt, but here we are waiting to begin the safety instructions for the flight because I needed an extender. I remember crying across the aisle from my mom because I’d never felt so embarrassed in my life. For the first time ever, I felt like the fat people you see on TV.

Needing that seat belt extender was the final straw.

I had called a surgeon’s office three days prior to inquire about a weight loss surgery seminar. After the flight debacle, my choice was clear. Something needed to change.

What’s funny, though, is that no matter how well you color in the lines and follow the rules, things still don’t always go according to plan.

I attended the seminar and cried because, well fuck, I was the youngest person in that room. I changed my diet, took the stairs everywhere (which technically I always tried to do because fuck elevators). I dropped 27 pounds, the most I had ever lost and kept off, when I got the news.

“The doctor who took your insurance is leaving the practice. We don’t know when we can do your surgery.”

Not even going to lie, I cried. Blubbered like a baby in the nurses’ office. I was angry. I had followed their instructions to a T, yet they were taking away the one thing I had been working towards. 

In a perfect world, I’d be eight weeks post-op right now, and my stomach would be the size of a banana. But, spoiler alert, we don’t live in a perfect world. Hell, my sinus infection from last week threw off using the cute new CPAP machine I need to use pre-op — because I got formally diagnosed with sleep apnea. Am I annoyed? Sure, but I found a surgeon who takes my insurance, and has no plans on leaving NYU-Winthrop in the future. 

You know what I didn’t do in response to the entire collapse of my surgery plans?

I didn’t turn to food. I started crocheting again. In a way, it’s how I know my grandma is with me, and supporting me throughout this journey despite the fact that it’s been nearly six years since we last spoke. I don’t use food as a coping mechanism anymore. Therapy is wonderful for new coping mechanisms.

Same shirt, six months apart. July 2019-January 2020.

So yes, the token fat girl I once was may soon be a distant memory —  preserved only via Instagram and family photos. But that’s okay, I’m more than that.

As my friend Lexie put it, I’m just Emily.


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