OK, so I’m not skinny. I’ve never been skinny. The closest I’ve been was the first couple years of college, when I wore a size 4. And weirdly, I lived on Diet Cokes and Hershey bars out of the library vending machine. Even at a size 4, I found myself sucking in a little tummy pooch. I could never get that sucker flat. I obsessed that one day I could just relax in a bikini and not suck in at all.
I have been a yo-yo dieter all my life. During that same college experience, while dating an extremely tall guy, I attempted to match his monster food intake and soared up to a size 14. My mother of course began to nag. And I wasn’t very happy with how I looked. I spent a lot of time wearing my boyfriend’s boxers and oversized t-shirts, in an attempt to hide the extra weight. When we broke up, I lost the weight again.
I have had a love/hate relationship with eating and weight since I was real little. I begged my mother for a pair of blue jeans when I was around 11 and she refused. She said they just wouldn’t look good with my “little lazy tummy.” When I look back at prepubescent pictures of me, I see a tiny little girl who, if anything, had a tendency to stand a bit swaybacked, which is the only reason I had a “tummy” at all. But the seeds of discontent were planted early. My mother continued to dress me in coveralls and overalls.
I was 13 when I went on my first diet. I carefully followed a diet plan I found in Teen Magazine (remember that rag?). My mother applauded my efforts. I probably weighed about 110 pounds at the time, but I was already obsessed with that stomach pooch. I fell off the diet with a WHAM when we went to a school reception and I was faced with a plate of Krispy Creme Donuts and a table full of cookies and cakes. My mother wrinkled up her nose in distaste.
When I was in my teens, Mom had me walking around in heels with books on my head. She could hear me peeling a banana from across the house. She would scornfully swoop down on me, and whatever time of day, she would inform me that I would gain weight and spoil my dinner. I learned from my dad that stealth, cunning and gluttony were the keys. Stealth and cunning were the only ways to get snacks with Mom around. We learned to look for cooking ingredients like marshmallows and chocolate chips, which were hidden behind other containers in the pantry. Often we would get up to eat after she was in bed. And I think we both ate out of spite, just to prove that we could do it and get away with it, which set a very bad precedent for my future.
The rest of my life, my weight has swung up and down. I began eating to spite myself, gorging when I was angry with my life or sad or upset because I was gaining weight. Smoking curtailed that behavior a bit, high school through just out of residency, since smoking is another way to punish yourself when you are upset or sad. That kept the weight off a bit. There was a fair amount of drinking with the smoking, however, and that put weight on both via calories (my drink of choice has always been beer) and via complete loss of eating will power when I was drunk.
I have always had a closet full of clothes, but part of the reason for that was that I have kept a range of sizes from 6 to 12 my whole life. My weight swings that much. I only keep items that flatter at whatever size, although some sizes are just unflatterable.
When I got pregnant, I got the diet monkey off my back but good. Pregnancy was an excuse to eat whatever I wanted without the guilt. After all, I was eating for 2, right? And I would lose the weight after the baby came, right? At least I managed to avoid gestational diabetes. I remember one time eating two Cinnabons at the same time and feeling right queasy afterwards. I weighed 190 pounds when I had my baby.
Amazingly, the weight did come off. I dropped to about 135 just by breastfeeding and cutting back a bit. I sure wish I could breastfeed without having another baby. Boy, if I could pump those suckers out a couple of times and drop some weight, it would be totally worth it. Then I went on an extremely restricted calorie diet, which I maintained by writing down every single thing I ate and looking up the calories in a book I carried with me everywhere. I dropped to 123 pounds, which I loved, as I was hovering between a size 6 and a size 4, but my husband began telling me I was too skinny (huge mistake, in my book) and I lost my discipline and started eating again. It didn’t help that at the lower weight I began to get light headed and pass out at work, during surgeries when I had to stand for long periods of time.
My job finally got the better of me. I had hated that job, hated my line of work for so long. My stress level was unbelievable. My partner and I had been looking for a new partner, and it took us the better part of 2 years to find one. When we did, she turned out to be a total sociopath, and we had to let her go. We then entered a stretch where we were on call every other night for 2 and a half years. I ate. I stress ate. I ate when I was angry. I ate when I had a bad day. I ate when I was stuck at the hospital late at night. My husband became the nemesis that my mother had been, and I ate to spite him. I ate because I was depressed and I hated my freaking life and I had nothing to look forward to and it was the only thing that gave me pleasure.
I finally hit rock bottom. Or should I say, rocky top. My weight soared up higher than it has ever been since pregnancy. For 2 years, I weighed 175 pounds. At 5’3″. I have never looked so bad. I didn’t have pregnancy as an excuse. I was wearing about a size 16. I hated myself. I hated myself because I was fat. I hated myself because I love clothes, because I had an entire closet full of beautiful clothes that didn’t fit. I hated myself because I lacked the willpower to diet more than a day before backsliding. I looked so ugly. I wore scrubs all the time, because they came closer to concealing the fat. I actually had a patient scold me because I had “let myself go”. My face blew up – it looked like I did when I was pregnant. I lost all self-respect, cut off all my hair into an ugly haircut, and stopped wearing jewelry or makeup. And I hated myself every day. Not one day went by that I did not call myself ugly names and loath myself. I never looked in mirrors.
I found salvation when I finally ditched my shitty job. I quit and began work as a locum tenens, or traveling doctor. This meant when I was working, I wasn’t home and therefore was not feeling the stress of failure as a wife and mother. And when I was home, I was off. I could enjoy being a wife, mother and housekeeper. I made a rule that when I was on the road, I would not eat out. I allow myself one treat: a yogurt parfait with granola and fruit. And the pounds finally came off. Melted off. I’ve dropped from 175 to 142 and I’m still going. I’ve got 20 pounds more to go, to get me back in my 6’s, or even 4’s. I now am wearing a 10, and some 8’s are fitting. My closet fits again! I can wear all my clothes! I’ve been trying on the entire closet, reveling in the fact that everything fits!
I’ve never been so happy since that weight has come off. That 175 pounds was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I missed opportunities to see old friends, because they would see how fat and ugly I looked. I hung my head in shame when I met new people, because I knew they were judging me for my ugly, lumpy, misshapen bulging body. I love photography, but for 2 years I dodged every opportunity to be photographed, even if it meant having no pictures with my family, because I couldn’t stand the sight of my ugly self. For 2 years my Facebook profile pictures were pictures of my daughter. I have never been so full of hatred and humiliation. To hell with people who say, “Love yourself the way you are. You’re beautiful at any size.” I call bullshit. I looked like pure shit crap.
So now I’ve gone on this self-improvement bender. Not only have I lost weight, I’ve grown my hair out so it looks pretty, I’ve started wearing makeup again, and I had my teeth whitened (a whole other post). I’m enjoying my hobbies again. That ugly depression that dogged me for two years, it’s almost gone. And it’s a circular thing. The less depressed I was by work, the better I felt and the more able to improve. The more improved I became, the more I liked to strut my stuff and the more the depression faded.
My advice: change your life. Your whole life. It’s probably the suckiness of your life that’s keeping you where you are. You probably hate yourself because you hate your life. No matter how scary it is, make the bold move. Decide what you want, and do it now. Even if it means decreased income, decreased power, decreased approval from friends and family. Do what you love now, before your life is over and you look back and you realize you hated the whole freaking thing. Allow yourself to have dreams again. For almost 10 years, I had no dreams, no goals. I never imagined that things could be different. When I finally made the move, the whole thing came together. I have never been so happy. DO IT.