Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Weighing on my mind

In the bath this morning, I was thinking about weight. Something had triggered a specific memory about it from my childhood.

Starting when I was in maybe second grade, I began evolving into a chubby kid. I was very active--rode my bike everywhere, played avidly at recess--but I was chubby. Partly, I think my body was just gearing up for a growth spurt. My second grade school portrait shows a little girl beginning to develop a slight double chin. My third grade portrait shows a full-blown double chin. I was a roly-poly kid. I did whatever I could at school to avoid people bringing up my weight. It already made me unhappy. I also think I maybe ate extra helpings of dessert to make myself feel better, even at that tender age.

That year, my parents took me into their bedroom, shut the door, and had a talk with me about "losing my baby fat." "If you would just eat smaller portions/cut out candy/stop eating dessert. . . ." I can't even explain how hurt I was. My own parents were judging me by my weight. Who I was as a person wasn't the important thing; how I looked was. I was crushed. (If it sounds like I'm exaggerating, I'm not. I'm an emotional person and was a terribly emotional kid. Just thinking about the memory brings back the rush of hurt and sadness.)

In fifth grade, puberty hit, and I sprouted. I began to slim down some. I was a little bigger than most of the kids (boys and girls) in every way. I started the year at 4'9" but was suddenly five feet tall, maybe 5'1," by the end of the year. I went from not wearing a bra to wearing a B-cup for about two days to wearing a C-cup most of the year. I was taller than most kids in the class. I had an ass. I got my period. (I drank lots of non-organic milk and ate lots of non-organic beef, too, and those brought puberty on fast and hard.)

The memory that popped up in the bath today was the spring morning in fifth grade when they weighed each kid at PE. While the rest of the class waited, sitting on the gym floor, the PE coaches took us one by one behind a little curtain to be weighed. What do you think happened then? They didn't call our weight aloud, as I had originally turned purple with mortification imagining they might do. They told us our weight privately. But as soon as each child left the curtain, the people in the class called out, "How much was it?" With peer pressure, every kid came out and announced the weight they had just been told.

What were the coaches thinking? Were they thinking? Did they realize the effect this scenario would have on the kids? Why didn't they say, "Stop asking what the other kids weigh. It's none of your business." Did they think, from some jock mindset, that some of us needed to be mortified by announcing our weight? Being trim themselves, did they not even have any empathy for the pudgy kids?

I weighed 114 pounds. But when I got out from behind the curtain, I lied. "104," I announced to the waiting crowd. "104!" some of them shouted or screamed. Very few kids were over 100 pounds. I felt so huge and so embarrassed. A few moments later, one of the coaches at school, whom I had known through my parents since I was a baby, pulled me aside. "If you would just stop eating sweets. . . ." he said. I turned bright red and walked away. Crushed, again.

But you know what? According to the BMI chart--and let me tell you, since it was created by an insurance company to determine how much extra they could charge people for being 'overweight,' thus leading the chart to establish normal weights as 'overweight,' I don't even go by the BMI chart--but even by the BMI chart, I was a normal weight for someone of my height. I had curves prematurely, but I wasn't fat. I wasn't a toothpick like some girls in my class, certainly, but I wasn't fat. 114 pounds was a normal size for a 5' kid.

I didn't know that. I honestly didn't know until just now when I looked it up on the BMI chart. Even if I was, at that time, still 4'11", I was in the normal weight range. But I looked in the mirror and saw a fat kid, a kid who wasn't able to wear absolutely tiny clothes, a kid who was never going to grow up to be a size 4, a kid who didn't look like models in Teen and Seventeen.

If people had lavished attention on me about how good I looked at that weight, maybe I would have realized it. If my parents had tried to instill healthy eating habits for the whole family (we ate horribly), without bringing up the 'f' word about any of the kids, maybe I would have stayed in a healthy weight range. Maybe not, but maybe. I was certainly too young to do that for myself at that point.

Instead, I always felt fat. But I didn't see any reasonable way around it (steamed veggies? water? gross), so I grew up gradually gaining weight. Stop taking PE? Jump a size. Stop cheerleading? Jump a size. Go off to college and eat late-night goodies? Jump a size. Develop a thyroid problem and then cancer? Jump two sizes.

I had one long-term boyfriend, my first love, tell me he found it hard to be attracted to me because of the weight I had gained during the time we dated. I had wanted him to be honest, but that really hurt.

Meanwhile, my father left my mother for another woman, citing my mother's weight gain-- which, towards the end, he harped on her for, though he was not small himself--as one of the reasons.

Then there was the doctor who, when I told him I was gaining girth only in my abdomen, told me to quit eating sugar. If he'd listened, maybe they would've found my ovarian cancer earlier.

At my worst, after my first round with cancer, at 22-23, when my life was a mess personally, when my mother was remarrying someone I didn't like, when my live-in boyfriend was losing job after job and smoking weed behind my back, when I was an emotional eater like mad, none of my size 18 clothes fit me very well anymore. One day I checked, and I weighed 223 pounds. That is the first time I have ever written down that I onced weighed that number. Then I gained more weight, but I refused to weigh myself. I'm not sure how high I got, but I would guess the mid-to-high 220's. Embarrassed, embarrassed, I was always embarrassed at my body.

Enough was enough. I started doing WW. Eventually, I quit doing it, though; I was hungry all the damn time. I had to find a new way. The loser boyfriend eventually went away on his own, and I dropped about 15 pounds in a short period of time--not from sadness, but from a sudden drop in stress. It was a start . . . but I've basically hung out between 195 and 205 since then, and that was four years ago. Sugar Busters, South Beach, Body for Life, Change One . . . still between 195 and 205.

Last year, I finally went to see a nutritionist and worked out a plan that, with a little tweaking, has worked. I lost weight last year and then quit paying attention after my wedding--started gaining it back, to the tune of 15 pounds. Now I'm doing it again. Not counting calories, for the time being, but paying careful attention to what I eat, and doing what I can to increase my exercise without measuring (and therefore judging) the increase.

A few weeks ago, I was reading Bob Green's book The Best Life Diet. In the book, he asks you to consider why you gained the weight and why you maintained the weight. I was thinking about it and brought it up with my husband while we were curled up in bed together, late one night. I take a large dose of 1980's-style antihistamines every night for a medical condition, and they make me very sleepy--so the conversation is foggy in my memory. But somehow, I must have said something about being more attractive to my husband if I lost weight.

He responded with something like, "I hope you realize I'm not going to love you more if you weigh less. I love you more every day because of who you are. A change in your weight isn't going to affect that."

"You don't really mean that," I said, or maybe I just thought it, but then I realized it was actually true--he's never given me any evidence to the contrary. The love of my husband is one of the purest loves I have ever known. He loves me whole; he loves me because of and in spite of who I am and what I do. He takes it all in. He isn't waiting for me to change. He adores me as I am, and he always has.

I don't think he knew it, but I had tears streaming down my face while I was lying in bed with him. My nose stopped up; I had a lump in my throat. I lay in his arms and basked in his love, took in for the first time that he was not waiting to tell me some version of, "If you would just. . . ." He was just loving me. Full stop.

So I'm not doing this for him, to keep him, out of fear of losing him. I can let that one--which was subconscious till recently, but present--go. I'm doing it for me and me only: for a longer, happier life for the two of us together, but knowing that he's not going anywhere based on my weight. I'm doing it to nurture myself. To care for the gift of the body I have. With pleasure, not guilt. With love, not judgment.

This morning, I weighed in at 198.6 pounds. I'm on the way down. It's coming in baby steps. And when I reach 190 and 180 and 170, I will celebrate, and I will ask myself whether I want to continue to lose. And I'll make a decision about my size based on my life and my experiences, based on how I feel, not based on what any random standard or person tells me or thinks I should be.


Robyn said...

oh wow, I can so relate to this post. I've had that same conversation with my husband - in the dark, with silent tears running down my face, because he's made my weight such a NON-issue. He loves me no matter what. I think it's very hard for a person who's grown up feeling fat and not good enough to actually realize that they are LOVED UNCONDITIONALLY.
I love your writing style - I'm gonna have to go catch up on your archives!
Congrats on making it to ONEderland...you're on your way :)

the veggie paparazzo said...

Robyn, thanks for commenting.

Being loved unconditionally truly is beautiful. I think my parents did love me unconditionally--but accept me unconditionally? Maybe not so much.

ONEderland is a great way to put it! :)

PearShapedGirl said...

Robyn said it perfectly. I too have always felt like I'm not quite good enough for my husband because of my weight. He's a great looking guy and could have any girl! He's absolutely never made an issue of my weight and even asked if I was going to wear a bikini on our honeymoon this past August (I almost died laughing). He just doesn't seem to see the fat. I'm so happy for you that you have found that unconditional love that all of us need. Congrats on making it to the 190's, I'm hoping for that in the next two weeks! We're going to just continue to see the scale numbers go down...

Take care,

Kellie said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog and for the referral of the book. I will check on it!

Your post was beautiful and pure. It really touched me! I haven't had as much drama in my life as you, but I have still letmy weight get out of hand.

Thanks for sharing!!

Mal said...

this was a great post to read, even if painful. well written and wonderful. congratulations on getting below 200, too. it's wonderful.

~~Midnight Raider~~ said...

Perhaps it's not that your parents didn't accept you... perhaps it's that they thought losing weight would be the best thing for you (socially? health-wise?), but they simply approached it in a crappy way. I don't know... but I'd like to think that, when people say awful stuff like that, at least their intentions might be good... even though their approach is completely stupid. Your boyfriend who left because you gained weight, however, was definitely and unquestionably a total jackass.

the veggie paparazzo said...

Pear, I'm sure you'll get to the 190's soon! My husband loves your name, by the way.

Kelly, thanks.

Midnight, I think my parents did have good intentions--I don't mean to imply otherwise. But we were a house where four of the six people were overweight, so the answer would have been to shift our diet at home entirely to a healthier one, not specifically call out a third grader for her weight. Especially when lots of kids that age get a bit chubby before growing a lot (which I didn't know then, of course). As for my boyfriend, my weight was not a reason for breaking up with me; it was just one of many issues we had as our relationship progressed. He had major faithfulness issues, among other things . . . and as it turns out, he still does, from what I understand. He's one of the guys who loves to chase but struggles with what to do once he's caught. Oh well--not my problem now for many years! :)

crankybee said...

Thanks for this fantastic post, VP! I agree so much on the assessment of how your family could have done it better - there are so many benefits to getting the whole family involved in eating healthy! I wish my parents would have educated me, instead of giving disapproving looks...you can't ask a CHILD to have self control automatically when it comes to desert etc!

One of my friends has taught her kids about the importance of "sometimes" foods - cookies, sweets etc. I like that idea...and I like the idea of not having these things in my house and expecting the children to avoid them!

the veggie paparazzo said...

Cranky, when I have small children, I'm going to try to avoid giving them things that are terribly sweet, even as a treat. (We'll see how I do.) My husband and I are around quite a few people from other countries, and I've noticed a lot of the people from countries where sweets aren't as sweet--Korea, for example--have never developed a palate for uber-sweet goodies. I would love for my kids to be like that--to be able to take a couple of bites of sweet stuff and say, "Oh, that's so tasty, but I've had enough sugar now."

As they get older, I hope--HOPE--we'll be able to give them small doses of sweets, but mostly use things like fruit as sweets. We'll see how my ideals hold up when I actually have kids, though!