I already know that some people may actually be a touch offended by some of my thoughts on this subject. I am aware that I'm being a touch judge-y when it isn't, at ALL, my place to do so.
When I see photos of online acquaintances in which they are significantly heavier than when I last saw them, I cannot help but feel sad, (and a touch curious.) ME, feeling sad that people, like myself!, have gained weight. It's dumb. It's judgmental. It's none of my goddamn business. But I start to wonder, "what happened?" "Did they injure themselves?" "Are they dealing with depression?" "Did they just let themselves go?" Again--none of my business.
In the event that I'm not alone. In the event that even some of MY online friends and acquaintances are thinking, "HA! Irony of ironies! What the f*ck happened to you, lardass?" here is my situation.
I have never been skinny. Never. Not a day. But I'm glad of that fact, honestly. Skinny doesn't necessarily mean "healthy" or even "pretty" in my world. It, in my world, means thin to the point of boney protrusions. It does not mean "unhealthy" by default, but it could.
Oh, no. I have always been a bit soft around the edges. But not until adulthood did I get actually fat. That never stopped anyone from calling me fat when I was younger, though. I was often picked on as a child, always for things well out of my control such as my last name, my height, and their warped perceptions of reality.
As an aside, I can recall a time--when I was at one of my smallest points in my adult life, of course--when complete strangers, a car full of them, took the time to roll down their windows and insult me for my "big ass." I was a size 9, and all that I had done was have the gaul to be out in public. How dare I?! Yeah. Not so good times. Not the first time to be put down by strangers for my appearance. Neither the last.
Aside from genetics, I can easily blame the lousy eating habits I picked up as a child for my size. When I was able to have my own household, I made a conscious effort to learn good food habits. I recognized a connection between what I ate and my overall health. I noticed that the many folks in my family struggling with weight issues were also, often, the ones who ate poorly. I decided that I did not want to be one of those people. I became a pescatarian, abstaining from eating any pork, beef, chicken, lamb, et cetera. I did eat the occasional fish or seafood. Within a month of changing my diet, I lost fifteen pounds.
I wavered a little bit at that weight for several years. I'd gain a pound or two, lose a pound or two. I had a physically demanding job. I was in pretty good shape without needing to focus on eating a certain way (other than my eventual vegetarian diet), nor needing to worry about exercise. But that all changed when my career drastically changed. I went from standing and moving for hours on end to sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. My clothes began to feel snug. Favorite pants that had always been flattering were suddenly unsightly for the roll of skin that bulged over the waist. And then I started to see photos of myself. Particularly, candid photos. Did I REALLY look like that? Was I REALLY that big? It was too much. I started saving my pennies and I signed up for Weight Watchers.
For the first time in my life, I was putting serious limits on how much I could eat. I did nothing else. I didn't exercise, I just altered my eating. Foods in my pantry started carrying the words "low fat," or "fat free." Diet soda replaced regular. Subway became my favorite "quick-fix" meal. The pounds melted away.
I can still recall feeling confused, and even doubting the experiences of some of my fellow Weight Watchers. They complained of occasional struggles. Surely, they couldn't have been following the program as well as I was. It was so easy! I could still have a donut every Friday morning and lose weight. I could still eat dessert from time to time. The weight just kept coming off.
I did eventually hit a plateau about five pounds from my goal. After a few weeks of struggling, my WW leader suggested that re-evaluate my goal. I was currently in the healthy weight range for my age and height. Did I really want to be any lighter? Would I be able to be happy eating even fewer calories every day? I decided that I was already starting to feel a touch deprived, and revised my goal. After a few weeks of maintenance, I was labeled a Lifetime Member.
(Ironically, in the weeks following my decision to revise my goal, the pounds started to come off again.)
So there I was--a Lifetime Member. I was CURED, right? No longer fat. No longer heavy. I was getting crazy compliments on my looks, on my weight loss. I was often asked questions like, "what's your secret?" "How did you do it?" Of course, most of the folks that asked the question, really didn't like my answer. My "fix" wasn't quick enough, wasn't easy enough, took too much time and too much work. Years later, I'd agree.
I remained a Lifetimer for a couple of years. I moved, and stopped going to meetings, but I was otherwise doing an okay job of maintaining my weight. Then I really mucked up the works--I changed careers again.
Going back to school meant that I was grabbing food on the go. I stopped measuring portions. I stopped counting points. I started gaining weight. It was a slow gain, but within a couple of years, I was back to my pre-Weight Watchers weight, only this time I convinced myself that I looked okay. Sure, I was heavy, but I was a good-looking heavy! And while I told myself this lie, I still felt awful. I felt broken. I felt like I blew it.
From time to time, I would eat a little better. Or, I'd say, "the heck with eating right, I'll just exercise this time." While I might lose a few pounds, the loss was never lasting. Additionally, every medical physical I'd have showed me to be crazy healthy chemically. No diabetes, not even a hint. No cholesterol trouble. No heart disease. I started to think that maybe I was just meant to be fat.
When I had been pregnant with my daughter, I was terrified about gaining weight after she was born. I'd witnessed a few women go from being fit, beautiful ladies into being heavy, dowdy moms. By jove, I was NOT going to let that happen. So I didn't. While I did gain a significant amount of weight during pregnancy, I lost it all postpartum thanks to a vigorous job and a fair amount of exercise.
When I became pregnant with my son, I knew that I was already starting off heavy. As such, I kept tabs on my weight gain. I knew that I needed to gain weight to have a healthy pregnancy, but I also was not about to go crazy-go-nuts and eat everything save New Jersey. At each prenatal visit, my gains were right on track. I gained exactly what I should have gained--even less than what I had gained when pregnant with my daughter! I knew that the difference of 17+ years would affect my postpartum weight loss, but I was already feeling great knowing that I'd have less to lose to get back to pre-pregnancy weight.
Alas, it didn't quite work out that way. I was on track for getting back into pre-pregnancy shape when I was hit with a devastating betrayal of trust. The stress of that situation brought my weight loss to a halt, and brought with in a weight gain. I was in agony. I was trying SO. HARD. to lose weight, but was seeing the numbers go up and not down. Soon I was recognizing that I didn't have all the answered. Sure, I'd lost weight before. Of course, I should know what to do to do it again. But it wasn't working. I decided that I needed help and I returned to Weight Watchers.
I've since learned why those other members in other meetings struggled, and it wasn't because they weren't on plan. I've since learned that getting older means working harder for smaller gains. I've since learned that I can do it--I AM doing it--and that I really do need the meetings. I've also learned that the answer isn't replacing my pantry with "fat free" items or diet anything. I've learned that I need to eat REAL food, like Michael Pollan says: not too much, and mostly plants. I've also learned that I'm much better when I exercise.
While I've lost over twenty pounds, I'm still heavy now. There may be some folks who, upon seeing recent photos of me, are thinking, "Damn, she's big. She was so fit a few years ago." Well, they're right. But I also know that I'm working towards a real, and lasting change. I know that I'm a product--a reflection--of all the struggles and stress I've had the last few years.
I write this because it helps ME to recognize that those folks who, like me, are heavier today than they were weeks/months/years ago are also a product of their travails. And who am I to judge them?! So, while I may feel sad, I need to recognize that they might not. They, too, might be working towards a goal. They, too, might be proud of their efforts. And they, too, just might be heavy now--but have still done so much good for themselves. Who am I to judge?
Do you struggle with image issues?