Sophomore year, I was 15, 5’6, and 260 lbs. I wasn’t just fat, I was very much obese. When my sister had been in high school, she was thin and beautiful and elected to the homecoming court; and so my mom, hoping I would follow in her footsteps, asked one of my friends to nominate me. After voting, I was pulled in to the principal’s office and was told that I had won. I was surprised. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I wasn’t very well liked. The next day, they held an assembly to announce the homecoming court. I had bought a formal dress the night before, I had my hair and makeup done, I felt beautiful. Then, they announced me. “Tamara Shephard, Sophomore Duchess.” I was escorted onto the basketball court in front of 400 of my peers, and I was met with booing and laughter. Everyone else had been met with applause, and I was met with booing and laughter. I was furious with myself. Disgusted. My election was a joke. How did I not see that before this moment?
Very soon after homecoming, my mother brought home the photos from the previous month. I was going through the pictures, careful to avoid the homecoming pictures. I came across one of me from a family vacation. I was on a carousel wearing a Napoleon Dynamite shirt that read, “Tina, you fat lard.” It was irony at its finest. In the picture, my shirt was skin tight and my stomach was hanging over my pants, my hair was unkempt, my face greasy and bloated. I was forced to face what I didn’t want to see. I ripped up the pictures and threw them away. I was devastated, but I knew I had to make a change. I didn’t want to be this kind of an adult. I didn’t want to be bullied. I didn’t want to be a pushover and a victim. This was my turning point.
I started by cutting out fast food. I had no knowledge of proper nutrition, but I knew this was a good start. I dropped down to 220 lbs by the end of my Sophomore year, but it wasn’t fast enough for me. I wanted to be thin and pretty and well liked, like my sister. I didn’t know how to make it happen, but I didn’t care how it happened. I just wanted it. One night I was watching Intervention with my mom. It featured a bulimic who used her toothbrush to purge. Something went off in my head. I was too stupid and lazy to starve myself like my sister, but I could do this. I remembered that conversation my mom and sister had years earlier, and I used it to justify what I was doing. Knowing I could purge led to knowing I could binge, which quickly developed into full blown Bulimia. Bulimia became less about weight loss and more of just a coping mechanism. Whenever I was teased, or rejected, or screamed at, or hit, I would eat my feelings, and then I would purge them from my body. Once they were gone, I was numb and empty, and I preferred that feeling to any other. For the rest of my high school experience, I stayed about 190 lbs, I continued to purge, and I continued to be miserable.
When college started, I moved out of the house, I gained the typical Freshmen 15, and then gained 15 more. I was back at 220 lbs, and so angry with myself. I remember hoping it was a thyroid condition, so that it wouldn’t be my fault. I went for a check up, was pronounced healthy. I was hoping to have a sick body, disappointed to be healthy! I started binging and purging more frequently, and became vegan as a way to restrict food in front of people. When that wasn’t enough, I started taking laxatives and diuretics. My senior year of college, I got down to 149 lbs. My lowest adult weight.I was there for one morning. The day I hit 149 lbs I celebrated with a huge binge that was not followed by a purge. The next day I was 163 lbs. 14 lbs in one day? I was obviously severely dehydrated and desperately malnourished to gain that much water weight, but all I could see in the mirror was an obese and distorted body that I didn’t recognize.
At the end of college, I knew I needed a change. I knew deep down that I was killing myself, and I wanted a chance to live. I packed my stuff into two suitcases and moved to NYC.It was the best decision I had ever made. I was so happy, I felt great, I was walking everywhere, and without even noticing, I cut back on my purging. Then something happened to me that forever changed my life. I saw a casting notice for a new web series called “Life After Fat,” about a girl that loses 90 lbs and is trying to figure out how to live her life now that she is slimmer. I knew I had to audition. I went in to the room and I told them, “this is my story,” and though I wasn’t sure I would get it, I was cast! We filmed the first season, life went on, I stopped purging completely and about 2 months later I was up to 187 lbs.
Panicked at my weight gain, I found a doctor in Brooklyn that prescribed weight loss pills. They worked, but basically functioned as legalized speed. I was angry all the time, I started picking at my skin. At the end of 8 weeks I was down to 167 lbs, and my face looked like it had been ravaged by meth.
We started preparing for Season 2 of “Life After Fat.” There was a specific moment where the writer and I were discussing my character and what she was going through; her struggles with her body, her insecurities, and how she copes with it all. The writer suggested that maybe my character’s weight would fluctuate this season, and maybe she would get on diet pills. After I heard that, I knew that this wouldn’t be my character’s answer. Diet pills were not a long term solution for her. They wouldn’t make her feel any better about herself, or change her body image; and then something finally clicked in my mind. What if its not just about losing the weight at any cost? What if you have to fix the outside along with inside to truly be healthy? Yes, THIS was the “big revelation” I had after 10 years of suffering. I had heard it before, many times over; but this time, I finally understood it.
I stopped taking diet pills and dragged myself off to a therapist for the first time in my life. There, I was diagnosed with major depression. That also made a lot of sense for me. I decided “no more quick-fixes” to solve my issues, and opted to start exercising to treat the depression. I joined a gym with dance classes, and weight classes, and pole dance classes. Can you imagine, dancing again after all those years? It was no longer a punishment, but now a treatment for my mind and a celebration of myself. I loved it so much that I went multiple times a day. I felt wonderful. Initially, I gained 10 lbs (back to 177 lbs) after joining the gym. But this time it was different. I didn’t freak out. I knew some of that was muscle, some water, and yes, some was probably from eating too much because exercise made me hungry. I stuck with it. I started tracking my calories better and being very honest with myself. My skin improved, my health improved, my strength improved, my personal relationships improved. Life improved.
12 weeks after joining the gym, I’m down to 164 lbs at 5’8. I’m finally in a normal weight range, but this time, the healthy way. I still have a goal weight of 135 lbs -140 lbs, but it’s not a race. I know what I need to do, and I know sometimes I want a candy bar instead. It’s about finding balance.
I know that being a part of “Life After Fat” saved my life. I think media like this has the power to open up a good discussion about weight, weight loss, and how sometimes it’s less about your body, and more about your inner demons. Series like these are smart and fun, but they are also important. They are important for young people to see and be exposed to. Life doesn’t become great simply because of weight loss. We must also strive toward a positive mind and body image.
Playing a character in “Life After Fat” helped me heal in real life, but here’s the real plot twist: there is no life after fat. Not really. Once you’ve been there, you’re always going to have to monitor yourself, it’s hard, but it gets easier. You still see a big girl in the mirror and sometimes your weigh will fluctuate 5 pounds in a day, but you keep going because you’ve made the decision to love yourself and improve your life; and that is truly what is most important.
Tamara Shephard resides in New York City and is currently writing an autobiography chronicalling childhood, abuse, eating disorders and her personal road to recovery. She wants to inspire those dealing with similar issues and those that may be abusive to seek help and guidance. Tamara is currently pursuing publishers for her book project.
Writer: Tamara Shephard Twitter: @
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Thanks for the support and love 🙂 Your REglam Team xx
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