I have obsessed about my weight for the majority of my life. I think about it from the moment I wake up, through the day, into the night. I weigh myself every morning and can almost always guess my weight before the number flashes. When I search back in the darkening corners of my mind, there are dim memories of early childhood where I wasn’t like this.
From the ages of 4-14, I was a very athletic, very fit kid. I ran the gamete of the customary activities, My sport of choice was figure skating, and I spent countless hours in ice rinks all over the country. For a long time, it was freeing and fun. Racing around the ice, practicing jumps with reckless abandon. Pushing my body was exhilarating. Never did it cross my mind that this was a form of exercise, which was probably why I enjoyed it so much. After hours long practices, my hunger was ravenous and needed immediate satiety. Like most children (and adults), my fast food of choice was McDonalds. Happy meals wouldn’t touch this often crippling hunger. I quickly graduated to quarter pounders and large fries, wolfing them down in front of my wide-eyed parents. Never a pound was gained. Beautiful.
Then, at 14, I quit skating. I was entering high school and my interests shifted to friends and boys and cigarettes instead of axles and double toe-loops. I still played soccer and softball, but these weren’t nearly as time-intrusive as the rink. My mother was especially devastated and plead with me to stay with it, but it wasn’t happening. Gone were the days where I would have to wake up at 5 AM at a sleepover to be picked up for a 6AM practice. I relished in this newfound freedom and wondered why I didn’t do it much earlier.
While quitting my most rigorous physical activity to spend time to do dumb teenage sh*t sounded amazing in my tiny, uninformed teenage mind, there was a major problem: my appetite. Apparently, my brain forgot to send the “I QUIT!” notice to my stomach and that hey, maybe you shouldn’t keep crushin’ those quarter pounders and drop it back down to the happy meals. Instead I forged on, inhaling food as I always had with complete ignorance of how science worked. I continued on my conquest of all things carbs with ethereal delight, relishing in it’s delicious, carby-comfort. As you can imagine, the end result was soul-crushing, at best. I gained 46 pounds within a year. I went from 126 pounds to 172 in the blink of an eye. My body reacted like it was under attack, storing away food anywhere it could find space because holy sh*t, what was going on? Why won’t this barrage of food stop? WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF SPACE! Angry purple/red stretch marks scorched my skin, particularly my inner thighs. Their tracks looked like claw marks made from some beast living in my body. I was horrified and now, scarred.
I returned the next year and everything was great. People hardly noticed I had changed! “Hey, did you change your hair? You look wicked awesome.” Then we would go on about our day.
Just kidding! Teenagers are terrible. Of course that’s the first thing they noticed because, I gained 46 goddamn pounds in a year. That’s not something you can hide. My previously lean body (I had abs) was now replaced by some form I couldn’t navigate. This sudden expansion also caused an issue with style. First off, let me be clear: I never had much style. I do remember shopping with friends at fun stores and fitting into clothes from the junior’s section without a second thought. Now? My options were severely limited. Please remember this was 1994-1995, so cool stores with fashionable clothing for larger-sized people were a scarcity. If they were around, I wasn’t aware of them and my parents certainly weren’t shelling out any money for those threads. So, I made the next logical choice: I would wear my older brother’s second hand clothes! Thankfully, this was the mid-nineties and baggy flannels were in, so I didn’t look too out of place. I remember feeling protected hiding under these way-too-large pieces, like I could hide. The reality was there was no hiding, just me looking like I was swimming in boys clothes.
One day at soccer practice, we were sitting in a circle on the side of the field performing our warm-up stretches. As we were stretching, I noticed several of the girls looking at my inner thighs. Looking down, I noticed my shorts had betrayed me, exposing my secret. I tried to adjust but it was fruitless; they had seen everything. Then, to my horror, the beautiful, popular captain boldly asked, “Are those stretch marks on your legs? They look gross.” Boom. Hammer dropped. I don’t remember what I stammered out but I’m sure it was pitiful. I remember trying not to pass out or, even worse, cry. At the end of the season, I quit soccer altogether.
It was at this exact time the word “diet” entered my brain. My mother co-signed me to a gym where I would try my best to work off the pounds, but to no avail. She also took me with her to join Weight Watchers. The meetings were held in a small strip mall location, crammed with women who were all my mother’s age and beyond. I listened to these women talk about their daily struggles and challenges, but related to nothing. They were married, had kids, established. I was an overweight teen who’s main concern was fitting in and boys noticing me. There was no way they could understand. I dropped out.
Time passed and I eventually managed to lose around 15 pounds, but still hid behind those giant clothes. College came and shockingly, I lost some more weight my freshman year instead of gaining the notorious ‘Freshman 15.’ Looking back, it’s no wonder I lost weight; I was a broke college student who ate what I could afford, which was nothing. Even though I was losing weight and looking more like I wanted, I still felt I wasn’t good enough. I felt hidden. Sorority girls paraded around campus in their signature tight black pants, catching the eyes of anyone around. I hated Greek life and what it stood for, but I was jealous. That confidence was enviable. Jealousy sprang from my vanity and all I wanted was once, just once, to be noticed. It’s an awful thing to admit to yourself, but yeah, I wanted to be a hot girl. Instead, I was sanctioned to being the funny friend, the one who you could hang out with, but not hang out with. Like many college kids, my confidence booster was alcohol, providing liquid courage when I couldn’t muster it up sober. The nagging thought was ever present, that if I was just skinnier I’d be prettier and more accepted and isn’t that what’s important?
After college, I started laser focusing dieting. I restricted, tried Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers (again), vegetarian. If it was a trend, I was trying it. At any given point, these various dieting programs swam in my head, confusing me to the point I didn’t know what to eat. “Carbs are bad so I’ll have just meat and vegetables. Wait, what’s the glycemic index on the veggies? Wait, I don’t need to worry about that, I don’t think? Hmm. Maybe I can have some bread, as long as it’s whole grain. But what’s the dietary fiber? Is it ok for Net Carbs or Total Carbs? What’s the fat content? Is there monounsaturated fat in this?” And on and on and on.....ad nauseam. Somehow through all of this, I began dating my future-husband-turned-ex-husband. I was hovering around 150 lbs and (thankfully) had ditched wearing my brothers/baggy clothes. Once, at his house, I was wearing a new tee-shirt that was pretty form fitting. I felt good, but I also didn’t. My brain needed validation that yes, you can wear this! So, I asked how it looked. I was told it looked like I had a ‘belt of fat’ around my belly. I immediately got rid of the shirt and any shred of confidence I may have had.
This period of my life was a very low point. Frustrated with my fluctuations and infuriated by my lack of willpower, I looked for and easy remedy. I found it in laxatives. Up until this very moment, I have never admitted this to anyone. Aren’t you lucky! For some reason in my head, I wouldn’t bring myself to take diet pills because I had heard they were essentially speed and I didn’t want to feel like that. I couldn’t bring myself to actual purge after a binge because that would make me bulimic, and that’s just crazy! In my head, I thought if I took laxatives, that’s acceptable because you know, everyone poops! It started off with the recommended dose, slowly inching up to sometimes 10 a day. It’s amazing the way your mind tricks you into thinking everything is normal when clearly, THIS WAS NOT NORMAL. I was too ashamed to admit my behavior to anyone for fear of someone telling me this is a form of eating disorder. Finally, after about a year in, I saw blood in the toilet.
I stopped taking the pills; I was shook. I went to therapy but even then, I never admitted to my secret. All other life aspects were discussed and I did feel like a theoretical weight was being lifted. But I wouldn’t talk about this. This was mine to keep. Up went my weight, and down I went into depression. I hated myself. Really, truly, hated the way I looked, how I felt, how I my brain was processing everything. I hated that I cared so much about something so fucking vain. Who cares? Get over it. Except, I couldn’t. Before getting in the shower, I would look at my reflection and stand repulsed. Every part of my body was a reminder of my failures. My flabby stomach had no chance of returning to it’s once flat formation; a forgotten past. The arms hanging by my sides looked like hams. Those once bright red stretch marks on my thighs had finally faded into my skin tone, but not obscurity. Once muscular legs were now pocked with cellulite, taunting me in the bright light.
Advancing cell phone technology and social media added more terror to my life: instant pictures. Seeing real time how I looked drove me even deeper, crazier. These pictures made my head burn and my skin crawl, even if I was cheesin’. I bawled. Nothing felt real and my life was crashing out of control. Every day was a nightmare from which I would never wake. My marriage began to crumble around me and then, it was gone.
I was broken and exhausted. The constant barrage of self-hatred left me feeling like I ran a marathon. I just wanted it to stop. I starting reading about self-love and breaking out of bad behaviors and all the things to which I would previously roll my eyes. Baby steps. I went back to therapy, still never talking about my darkest thoughts, but managed to unload a lot of other baggage I’d been hauling around for years. My burden lessened. I was able to focus more on important things, like my relationships with people. I enjoyed life a little more. I was getting happier. Of course, the voice is still there, reminding me I’m not good enough and never will be. Most often, I can turn the volume down so it’s barely audible. Other times, it’s loud as hell and like obnoxious music blaring at 3 am. Thankfully, those are few and far between. Maybe it’s me getting older and understanding myself better, or maybe I’ve just run out of cycles to keep doing it over and over again. I’m not out of the clear though; I’m still very well aware of what I’m doing to my body. I still think about points and carbs and fat and sugar and all that sh*t, but I believe I have a better (love) handle on it. I’ve gotten better at recognizing when I start to wander down that dark path and promptly turn myself around. Society is changing; we’ve become more accepting and are removing unrealistic pressures of how to look. People are sharing their struggles. We are becoming better humans (ok, we still have a way to go) and it’s exciting.
Last night, before my shower, I stood naked in front of the mirror. I looked at my arms, my stomach, my legs, my back. Each spot my eyes landed on, I found something positive to focus on. Some of it was a real stretch for me, but I did it. Hey, I have freckles on my arms. Freckles are cute! It’s something I’ve been trying to do lately and I have to say, it’s working. It’s a huge exercise to retrain your brain, but it does work. I’m not perfect, I never will be, but who is?
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.