Six months ago, I had my Shattering Glass moment, and have since made some huge life changes, taking steps towards living healthier. But as I started writing about these changes, I realized that there was a lot of background to why they make a difference to me. And the more I thought about it, I realized that this background might have a lot in common with your stories. Weight is something that has become so engrained in our society, and so enmeshed in our self image. I decided it was time to share this part of my journey and introduce you to a really toxic relationship I have been involved with since I was 10 years old. An unhealthy relationship with food and weight.
This is a topic that could span 10 blog posts or more if I really tried. The perception that being thin = beautiful or even that thin = healthy. It is a topic that has been written about hundreds of thousands in magazines and newspapers and online forums. An topic that has been discussed for decades, and likely, centuries. A topic that has spawned millions of dollars for businesses capitalizing on the issue, from gyms, to diet plans, to food delivery services, to pharmaceuticals. The topic of weight.
I’ve gotta admit. I made it to this point in this article, and had a million things clamoring for the next line. The truth is, this issue goes so deep for me, as it does for many women. I could talk about the first time I recall “feeling fat” or noticing that I was a different shape and size from other girls at school. About how I was never able to shake the feeling that I was too heavy to be considered attractive, even when I (looking back now) really looked incredible in high school. How I would take multiple weight loss “supplements” in high school that always made me feel shaky and sick. How I dried to drown my misery and pain in college with cookie dough ice cream, and ultimately was left holding an empty carton and being just as miserable as before with an additional helping of guilt ladled on top.
Clearly, I have a poor relationship with food and more specifically, with weight. Or my perception of weight. I will get to that later.
Weight & Food
Don’t get me wrong, I love food! I love to cook, and there is nothing more delicious than a meal that I have put work into and can be proud of. I had been very physically active in high school, and could consume a Taco Johns super burrito on a daily basis without seeing any change to myself. Once I hit college, I didn’t have much of a grasp as to what to feed myself (which I think is actually pretty common) and would instead focus on exercise to compensate for my increasingly unhealthy eating habits. I had lost a lot of weight in middle school by doggedly exercising at home every day in addition to ballet classes and school sports. I had my determination, and thought that would be enough.
Then, after a car accident before my sophomore year of college, I found myself unable to exercise. Doctors recommended complete bed rest and relaxation as the pain continued to mount in a frightening manner, and comparatively, so did my misery. With a flood of medications messing with my body chemistry and complete lack of understanding of how to fuel myself, I continued to chase my misery with a spoon. The weight piled on.
Weight & Dieting
Over the course of the next two years, I tried a lot of diet fads. Most were met with a complete lack of success such as Slim Fast shakes (ick), The Atkins Diet (a bit extreme for me, and I didn’t feel like it was sustainable), Jenny Craig (who has this kind of money?!?!? And how is prepackaged processed food going to help me?).
When I turned 22, I’d had enough. I was so physically uncomfortable, and hated being inside my own skin. Finally, I saw a picture of myself at my mother’s wedding and something snapped.
No joke, I hate this picture. But I keep it as a reminder.
I hardly recognized myself, and was struggling to find clothing that was comfortable. Certainly, I didn’t feel that I looked good in anything, comfortable or not. At 213 lbs, I joined Weight Watchers.
And I didn’t lose weight. At first. It look almost a month before I actually started to see results. But, I did notice something right away. After my first meeting, I went home armed with a plan. I made a meal and calculated my points. Then went through my entire cupboard and marked everything in there with the points value. Weight Watchers gave me something, which the other plans did not. Control, and a measurable means to evaluate that control. In the course of a year, I lost 40 lbs without exercise. I hit my lowest weight in years right as I graduated from college.
Took this when I was trying on all of my clothes from the previous summer. Hardly kept a thing!
Then I moved across the state and started a new job. A great job, but an extremely stressful job, with too many hours, too much stress, and no outlet. With my college routine shot to pieces, I scrabbled to make something resembling a new routine and clung on with both hands, managing to only gain 10 pounds of it back throughout the next year. But I knew that I was unhappy and incredibly unhealthy mentally, and I needed to make a change. I moved back across the state to Sioux Falls and managed to snag my dream job at a company that, finally, valued people more than profit. Finally, I was at a place where I could focus on getting healthy, in so many different ways.
Choosing Health vs. Weight
But sometimes you have to choose what you want to heal. And this time, I chose to heal my self mentally. Starting in March last year, I began a weekly counseling schedule to finally tackle the PTSD issues I had been for so long ignoring. This was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and I turned to an old friend to comfort me… food. This time in the form of Swedish fish or Oreo McFlurries. Don’t ask my why, but after a difficult counseling session or the triggers that I simply couldn’t ignore any longer, all I wanted was comfort food. That would help me. And help myself I did.
Over the last summer and fall, I gained 20 pounds, putting me within shooting range of my highest weight ever. But this time, it was different. Sure, I was uncomfortable. But this time, I wasn’t on pain medication. This time, I was in a healthy relationship. This time, I was in a healthy environment. Most of all, this time, I was in control. It didn’t always feel like it, but I knew I was doing what needed to be done. I wasn’t happy turning to food. But I was happier with myself overall. I knew I was headed in the right direction, even if the weight gain was a bit of a detour. My destination was sound.
I have made lots of lifestyle changes, sure, but I think the biggest change happened long before my moment of motivation in January.
The harsh comment came in on the beard photo from my Christmas Photobooth. But seriously, how many chicks can rock a Santa beard? Im going to go with “nailed it!”
Even through he was right and I had gained a lot of weight… I still really enjoyed these photos, and for once was able to see me and not my weight.
It happened when I identified that I was getting healthier, even if I was physically gaining weight. I started taking steps towards my unhealthy weight relationship breakup long before I made the physical changes that show it.