Since the beginning of September, I have lost 22 pounds. No one had said anything about it. Because, after years of yo-yo dieting, and years of me preaching a message of body acceptance I didn't adhere to -- I've trained everyone not to comment.
At just over 5 feet, I weighed 199 pounds. It wasn't the most I'd ever weighed, but it was close. For 30 years my body has been my greatest enemy and my most faithful companion. I do not remember a time when I looked at myself and did not find what I saw reflected back at me lacking. At night in bed I'd lay on my back and suck in my stomach and imagine what it must be like to be thin standing up. I'd see boobs in a movie and flush red that at just 13, my boobs were big, floppy, and pointing down.
That's when I went on my first-ever diet. My mom was so good not calling it that -- it wasn't supposed to be a diet, it was supposed to be a lifestyle change. I went to a nutritionist and I stood on a scale the size of an elevator. I thought, Someday I'll be big enough to need this scale.
The nutritionist held up plastic models of food, of pasta and chicken, to explain to me portion control. The pasta was cute looking. I wondered what it would feel like if I bit into it. I nodded at the nutritionist's instruction. I went home with a packet to help me.
I watched what I ate, I counted calories, and I exercised like a celeb frantically trying to banish her baby-weight. I never stopped to think why it was so hard. I never stopped to think about why I ate what I ate when I ate it. I never paused to wonder, Is it normal to think of food all the time? To think of nothing else? I just followed the program and accepted those things as my reality.
I lost some weight. People responded enthusiastically. "You've really lost weight!" Big grins, slow nods. I was passing muster. Me, the anxious, perpetually worried, perpetually approval-seeking kid had found a way to ensure I was always liked: Lose weight and everyone will like you. It set the precedent for a pattern I'd follow for decades.
I never called myself a yo-yo dieter. To me, that implied adhering to a trend diet for a few weeks before gaining it all right back. My game was losing just enough weight in a healthy way to be praised for it, and then ... quietly gaining it all back. Yeah. That's still a yo-yo.
When I think of the hours I have spent -- wasted -- talking about weight, and food, and diet, and calories, and my body, and workouts, it makes me sad. I could have been learning Portuguese. I could have been out at a new bar making friends. I could have read so many novels. I could have found somebody to love. Talking about all this stuff -- this food/body stuff -- kept me from realizing just how truly fucked up my relationship with food and myself really was.
After years of operating this way, it came to a head. In the name of 'journalism,' I was going to do the 'New Atkins' diet and record my experiences. It wasn't long before my obsession with food and how tied it was to my own self-loathing were impossible to ignore. By choosing a diet that made thinking and planning every snack, meal, and outing a necessity, I couldn't hide from it anymore.
As much as I preached self-acceptance and beauty at every size, there was a louder voice at large in my head screaming at me, reminding me that I didn't deserve a life, that I didn't deserve to think about anything else but carbs and fat. I was hideous and I always would be -- fat or thin. Stuck in that vacuum of hate, I felt paralyzed. Realizing something had to change and taking steps to do it was the bravest thing I've ever done.
I stopped the diet. I got some help. I tried out the words casually with some good friends and family, "It's not like," I said, "I'm saying I have an eating disorder. But ... I don't have a healthy relationship with food or myself and it's got to stop." I didn't mean the words when I said them the first time. Me? Have "issues"? But repeating them helped me see their truth.
Depressed, sick-feeling, and lost, I set out to try to find a part of myself that deserved not having to fixate on the calories in a cookie. After a while (longer than I would have liked), I found that part of myself, and I was shocked at how small she was. But should I really have been so surprised? With all the weight I'd shucked off my body over the years in fits of self-hatred, it's amazing, actually, that she was there at all.
I decided to treat this part of me well. I feed her good things. I have her take on challenges. I let her do the things she loves and not worry that she will be punished for them. I don't make her get on a scale twice a day. I don't call her names. I encourage her. She's well overdue for such TLC.
At my most recent doctor's visit, they asked me to step on the scale. I was shocked to see the number there -- but it didn't, for the first time ever, make me feel proud or worthy of existence. I walked into that office proud. I walked out proud. The number didn't mean nothing. It meant I am healthy. It meant I was well on the road to being happy too, and there was no looking back.
Have you had an ah-ha moment in your life?