TW: Talk about anorexic tendencies

My parents are amazing. They’re full of unconditional love, supportive, and well meaning in every way.

But, for pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve heard them say the words “Be careful with what you eat, you don’t want to end up like us.”

I was never a skinny child. I always had a little belly, all round and front-facing. I’ve always carried my weight like I was pregnant.

I remember when I must have only been seven or eight years old that I looked down while I was wearing shorts, sitting on a chair, and noticed how my thighs spread out wide.

I remember when I realized that my hips aren’t built like most other womens’, with an extra bump that are called “saddle bags” in the plastic surgery community. Once I discovered this, I began the never-ending quest to find any sort of pants or jeans that disguised it, that didn’t make me look like a bumpy-hipped freak. That smoothed out my curves.

I must have been twelve or thirteen when I decided that I needed to take matters into my own hands. I was homeschooled, but my mother also taught dissection and science classes for groups of homeschoolers. I had learned about calorie intake recently in one of her biology classes, and knew what a girl my age was supposed to eat in order to maintain a healthy weight for growing. 1800-2200. So if I ate…less than that…I would lose weight. I would look better. I would stop the comments. I would feel better about myself, look more like the girls in my church youth group.

Me slumber party
May 1998–me at my most awkward, age 12 in my hand-painted desert sunset tee, hair made up for birthday slumber party “Glamour Shots”

And so I began counting calories, obsessively. I would sneak into my parents’ bathroom and weigh myself daily. I had heard about anorexia and bulimia, but that wasn’t for me, and that definitely wasn’t what I was doing. Besides, I hated throwing up. That was the worst.

But here I was, mentally tabulating each and every cracker, each and every piece of cheese, every Fruit By The Foot I ate. Making sure it was much less than what those numbers said.  And if I went over what I deemed was an acceptable amount, I would become extremely angry with myself and feel like a failure. I would eat less tomorrow to make it all better.

I felt lightheaded sometimes. But I told myself that it was ok, I was fine, plus, I was going to look great.

I studied the arms of girls in my church small group bible study class, and envied how tiny their upper arms were, how they could fit their entire hand to circle around it. Oh, how I envied their little limbs. I would use that metric as a way to find out if I had “made it.”

I studied myself in the mirror while in my underwear. Nope, that tummy bulge was still there. Those unsightly hip-bumps were not getting any smaller. I wished I could take a knife and shave off the undesirable parts of me until I sculpted myself into the perfect figure, with the perfect curves.

My AA breasts weren’t helping matters. If I had some boobs, I could at least balance things out a bit. Plus, I had to buy bras in the little girls’ section, and couldn’t find anything cute, even all the way through high school.

If I felt like I was doing well with my weight loss/maintenance, I would lighten up on the calorie counting. But almost as soon as I stopped obsessing over things, everything would return back to its chubby stasis, and I would have to revert back to my old ways.

Me 2002
July 2002–me on the left with my bestie, age 16.  I was so little!

There got to be a point in which I realized that what I was doing actually was a form of anorexia. I didn’t look “anorexic” in the traditional sense, but it was a disordered way of eating. And it scared me. No, I wasn’t like that. That was dangerous.  You could even die from it.

I vowed to myself to stop these unhealthy practices and just try and focus on eating a more balanced diet, make smarter choices.

I dated my first boyfriend my senior year of high school. He was overweight and had issues with acne, but tried his hardest to take care of himself. He was a huge boost to my self-esteem, because he marveled all the time about how he could “bag a girl” like me. I felt so thin and hot. It felt so amazing to finally receive validation from a boy that I was attractive.

Me 2004
May, 2004–my first boyfriend and I made my Senior Prom dress together.

I was about 120 pounds at 5’6” when I started college. I not only gained the “Freshman Fifteen” but possibly the “Freshman 25.” Unlimited frozen yogurt can do that to a person.

But my early college boyfriend (the emotionally abusive one I wrote about at length in this post) also found me extremely attractive. And he was cute too…so I could not only BE attractive to boys, but I discovered that I could even DATE attractive boys! And he thought that my belly was cute. So I didn’t worry as much about my weight gain.

After that relationship ended, I found it easy to date guys who found me sexy. My weight wasn’t an issue until that no longer happened, I decided.

What mattered most about my weight was that I was desirable to boys. Sure, I wanted to be happy about the way I looked, but if guys thought I was hot, that validated me in all the ways I needed.

In grad school, my weight yo-yoed significantly. Between the stress, going off and on antidepressants, the dry-heaves of anxiety every morning for months, the lack of sleep, the constant activity, I found myself back down to 130 pounds for the first time since my Freshman year of college. I had finally grown into my curves and had some boobs. I began receiving some comments from people asking if I was okay.

Hurrcut! 038
March 2009, me at my “most worrisome”

My “Japanese Mom,” a stitcher in the costume shop at my school, was always brutally honest about peoples’ appearances. She told me she was worried and that I should eat something.

I wasn’t even doing anything different at this point, diet-wise. I would grab a pint of Ben and Jerry’s after the fine arts building closed at midnight, and eat as much as I could of it on the way home by literally putting my face in the container and chomping away at it as I drove the two miles back to my apartment. I lived on Diet Sunkist and Monster and frozen dinners and takeout.

That summer, I guess I put on some weight, because when I got back to school in the fall my Japanese Mom commented “Wowww…last year you were like [made a sucked-in face] and now you’re like [puffed out cheeks and made a growling noise.]”

So when I was thin, I was sick, and when I put on a few pounds, I was a puffy monster?

How could I possibly win?

I began to pack on the weight with the help of my antidepressant Lexapro. By the time I graduated, I had put on at least 40-50 pounds.

Me July 2011
July 2011, right after I met my now ex-wife

Yes, this was getting to be a problem. I was bigger than I had ever been. But at this point, I had begun dating my now ex-wife, and she was much bigger than I was. She commented all the time about how little I was, and I felt guilty for feeling fat. At any rate, I needed to do something about it, and it would help if she joined me in my weight loss endeavors.

We tried. We tried cooking healthier meals, being more active. She lost weight easily, because she had so much of it to lose. But no matter what I ate, how little, how strictly I counted my calories (it was now much easier than when I was a kid, thanks to the Lose It! App) and what sort of exercise I did, nothing happened. I was weak and miserable, and I wasn’t losing any weight. I found myself slipping back into those obsessive calorie counting ways, the same self-punishing thoughts when my count was over the daily limit.  My weight gain was almost entirely to do with the Lexapro, I decided. And it was a losing battle, so I resigned myself to the fact that if I wasn’t going to be able to lose weight, I should just eat what made me happy.

I steeled myself when I went home for breaks, knowing that there would be comments from my parents and grandmother. Of course, from my parents, it was out of concern for my health, and not wanting me to “turn into them.” But each time, it hurt like a little twist of a knife in my gut. I knew it. I knew that I was big. I didn’t like it either. I didn’t want it to be this way. But I had tried and failed and given up. I just couldn’t do it any longer.

As I settled into the comfortable regularity of a long term relationship, and then married life, I lived in avoidance of the scale. While I was once a size 7 in grad school in 2009, I had ballooned to barely being able to squeeze into a size 16. This time one year ago, I was 206 pounds. I was shocked and gutted by that number. I remembered, growing up, that my 6′ tall father had a goal of being well under 200 pounds, and here I was, half a foot shorter than him.

I had been so depressed for years at this point, though still taking Lexapro. I realized it had stopped working, after being on and off of it for nearly ten years. When I wasn’t working, I was sleeping. It was my escape. I had constant heel pain, and I began to feel what it was like to have an extra 75 pounds of weight on my frame. I felt the exhaustion.

Those initial days after The Shit Hit The Fan with my marriage last summer, I talked with my parents on the phone a lot.  Because cell service was rough in my summer housing, I sat in my car in the parking lot and cried to them about everything.  I cut open my soul and lay it out between us.  And I told them how incredibly hurt I had been all those years by their comments regarding my weight.

I shared how I obsessively counted calories as a young girl, and how I realized I had anorexic tendencies.

“You were never anorexic!”  My mother laughed.  “You were never that skinny!”

And there, I found myself explaining to a registered nurse that anorexia wasn’t what a person looked like, their BMI, but a way of thinking.  It was my obsessively counting calories, my denying myself food.  I told her that obese people could be anorexic.  It’s the mindset about food, not how you look.  And yes, I teetered on the brink of anorexia for years.  And I still struggled with it.

After The Shit Hit The Fan, I made an appointment with a doctor in the town where I held my summer job. It wasn’t ideal, but I needed to make the transition to another antidepressant ASAP. Partly, it was a last-ditch effort to save my marriage, to show that I was trying to improve myself. Partly, it was trying to regain my libido, which had completely disappeared a couple years ago and made me asexual. And partly, it was to see if a medication change could help me with losing some of my weight.

After a lot of research, I found that Wellbutrin was the right drug for me. It was one of the only antidepressants that didn’t normally have sexual side effects, was sometimes used off-label to treat ADD (with which I have never formally been diagnosed, but definitely feel I have dealt with my entire life) and was also sometimes noted to contribute to weight loss.

Hallelujah.

I was terrified to change my medication, because I knew what it was like when I was off my meds. It was hell on earth. The constant anxiety, the nausea, the dry heaves, the suffocating depression that immobilized me. And yet…that was kind of my life now anyway. It was worth a try.

I had already begun to lose a bit of weight over the summer, initially because of that constant nausea and depression that comes with knowing that your marriage is ending. I had little appetite for months.

When I arrived back at my parents’ house after the three months away over that hellish summer, ten pounds lighter than when they had seen me last, one of the first things they told me was that I looked great, that it was obvious that I had lost weight.

And I fucking lost it.

This weight was lost because of my complete and utter depression, anxiety, and the worst experience of my life. And yet, here I was, being praised for it.

I had lost another ten pounds during the month I had to live in Chicago with my wife after she had told me she wanted a divorce.

As I visited my extended family over the holidays, I fielded numerous compliments about my weight loss. And each one was a bittersweet reminder that my validation came from my appearance, and my now-acceptable appearance came from my unhappiness.

By the time I started my new job in Delaware in November, I was down thirty pounds from that spring. And I was just beginning to heal emotionally. As I settled into my routine with Wellbutrin, I noted that it did actually help with my weight loss. Of course, I was more active and eating better, not eating take out food multiple times a week like I had been doing thanks to my ex-wife. But it definitely helped.

Those first 20+ pounds were because of my supreme emotional distress, but then it started melting off due to healthier methods.

I began cooking for myself. I began walking half a mile each way to work and back. Nothing much, just baby steps towards activity.  I bought a Fitbit and started becoming more aware of my activity (or lack thereof.) And I gradually became more content with my life.

And then…dare I even say…happy?

By this February, I was down 40 pounds. Lighter than I had been since grad school, before I met my wife.

Weight loss
Left: August 2014 at my wedding, size 16 pants, 195 pounds
Center: April 2015, pants size 16-18, 206 pounds (my heaviest I’ve ever been)
Right: March 2016, pants size 10, 165 pounds (and down 12+ inches through my bust, waist and hips!)

And now, I’m hovering between the 45-50 pound mark.

I’ve become mostly-pescaterian (fish only) with the occasional chicken or turkey maybe once a week. I’ve tried to use more whole and raw ingredients, to be more aware of what I’m putting in my body. I’m hypoglycemic, so I’m very vigilant about eating protein-rich meals, and start my day off with a smoothie supplemented with protein powder. I still have problems buying “aspirational veggies” but am committed to actually trying to eat them.

And I’ve discovered the joy of Black Bean Brownies and basically every other recipe on the Chocolate Covered Katie website, when I’m craving something sweet. (Which, let’s face it, is all the time. It’s my weakness.)

I purchased my first size 8 jeans since 2009. And there, in the Target dressing rooms, I cried.

I cried because I never thought that I would ever be able to fit into a size 8 again.

I cried because I actually felt good. I was actually happy. I was actually confident, and felt at home in my body.

I have rediscovered my lady-swagger of olden days. I forgot what it was like to receive compliments, to hold my head high and look the world in the eyes. I forgot what it was like to feel like I was treasuring my body, not abusing it.

I bought my first slutty dresses in years.

Me opening night
April 2016–pardon the Myspace Angle, but I had to get those studded shoes in!

I bought my first body-con dress ever, which hugged my curves…hip-bumps be damned.

IMG_0039And the next weekend I went to a club wearing this dress and sat down drunkenly in a puddle of alcohol #classy

And I have learned what it is like to want to take care of my body because it is MINE. Not because it will make some other person happy. I’ve only got this one, and it’s gotta last me for a while.

I’m a huge supporter of the Health at Every Size movement. I hate the fat-shaming culture, and how people insist that bigger people can’t possibly be healthy. Please don’t misconstrue my own journey as being against this.

All I know is that this weight loss was important for me, and has helped to give me the energy and zest for life that I had been missing for all those years.

The past couple weeks, I acknowledge that I’ve been not so good with my healthy eating. I’ve put on a few of those pounds I lost. But you know what? I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

My body is always going to be in flux. But now, starting at a new baseline, I feel like I can at last be a little more in control of it.

For me.

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3 thoughts on “On Body Image, Weight Gain, Weight Loss, and Disordered Eating

  1. I struggled with disordered eating in my late teens and early twenties and I thought I was completely “over it” (I’m in my 30s now) until I had to take antidepressants recently and am realizing that I am really NOT over it! But certainly I find that with age we tend to care less than we did in our teens/early twenties and it’s much healthier that way!

    Like

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