I have lived in a larger body most of my life. In early childhood, my body started to get rounder than most of my peers. I have no idea why. I never ate more than my peers and I got plenty of exercise, but still it happened. It was clear by the time I was in third grade that living in a larger body was unacceptable to pretty much everyone I knew—especially my parents.
I was expected to begin dieting by the time I was eight. My father began weighing me at the family dinner table once a week, apparently thinking that shame was a good incentive for me to lose weight. That strategy backfired, because what eight-year-old understands the strategy or mechanics of losing weight? What child can control what and when she eats when she’s eating school lunches and family breakfasts and dinners? So shame was my father’s tool without the slightest thought given to how an eight-year-old would possibly know how to lose weight. Yes, the strategy backfired, but it set me on a path of body shame, self-loathing, and distrust of my body, which I have fought against all my life.
My mother got into the act by the time I was ten, making me different meals than the rest of the family, shaming me in her own way (usually having to do with making cruel comments about my body, and buying me ugly, shapeless clothes while my thin sister got to wear really cute clothes), and giving me “pep talks” (“Your classmates will stop picking on you if you just lose weight,” or “You’ll never have a boyfriend if you don’t lose weight.”). Despite all this, my body did not cooperate and I did not lose weight.
That also set me on a path of disordered eating. Because I didn’t really understand how to diet, I thought the answer was not eating. When I got to middle school, I began skipping breakfast and lunch. But that “diet” backfired because when I got home I was so hungry that I’d eat everything in sight. My stomach was in constant distress. And yes, by now the bullying had begun. Because my parents had used shame to try and tame me and my “disobedient” body when I was a young child, my self-esteem and sense of self had never properly formed. I believed I deserved mistreatment by my parents and my peers because I was, at my core, unlovable, unworthy, and insignificant. By the time I was twelve or thirteen, I loathed everything about myself, but in particular my body.
And my parents did not stop. At age fifteen, they enrolled me in a weight loss program that allowed me five hundred calories per day. I can’t even imagine how harmful such a diet was for a still-developing adolescent, but no one worried about such things in those days. And I did not lose weight—most likely because my body and brain thought I was starving and it fought to hold on to every ounce.
The sad thing is that now I look back at photos of myself from that time and I don’t see what my parents or peers saw. I see a beautiful girl. Yes, I was chubby, but had I just been accepted as I was and not harassed day and night, that chubbiness would have balanced itself out as I grew. Instead, I entered into a hell where my body was a constant source of attention and shame.
And as I grew into adulthood, I began harassing myself. I tried severe diets and rigorous exercise. I did lose weight but as soon as I started eating a normal number of calories again, I gained it back. I dieted again and lost weight, and then I gained it back. A doctor in my present life—a metabolism expert— theorized that years of disordered eating, severe diets, and many pounds lost and gained had completely upset the intricate balance of metabolic hormones that dictate how much one weighs. Once these hormones are thrown out of balance, it’s next to impossible for them to regain equilibrium. It’s a little more complicated than that, of course, but you get the idea.
I went through more than three years of treatment with this doctor, and ultimately it did not work. I finally gave up this very expensive, intrusive treatment and decided to take my chances.
But for me, the real watershed moment came about a year ago. The metabolic doctor’s treatment had not worked, diets had not worked, and I was desperate to find something that did work. A friend told me about this amazing weight loss product she’d found that led to an astounding number of pounds lost without even trying. She knew several people who had lost twenty, thirty, forty pounds (although my friend had not lost weight). “What the heck,” I thought. “Nothing else has worked. I’ll give it a try.” It was easy—just some powder added to a beverage and then consumed. I was on it for two months, and not a pound lost.
And then…I had a hemorrhagic stroke. A brain bleed. It was terrifying. In the hospital they tested me every which way, but could find no reason for the stroke. The neurologist came to my hospital room and gave me the news that they could find no physical reason for the stroke. “We think it was caused by the meth you were using,” he said in a low voice. “What?!” I yelled. “I don’t use meth!” He cleared his throat. “You had methamphetamine in your system when you were admitted.” “I can assure you I do not use meth!” I said firmly. I was insulted. They thought I was a drug addict? “Well, it was hidden in something you were taking then,” the doctor said. My mind immediately went to the weight loss product I’d been using—the “magic bullet” so many had had success with. Is that where the meth had come from? I could imagine meth would lead to weight loss for a lot of people, wouldn’t it? My friend who was also taking this product got a drug test and yep! Meth in her system too. Now I knew. I am preparing to sue the company that made this product, BTW, or I’d tell you what it is. What I will say is please be very, very cautious about what you put in your body, and always look for supplements that have USP verification. Your life is precious.
I believe the Universe is constantly giving us guidance, and the guidance here was “Love and accept yourself the way you are.” I learned a valuable lesson. I would rather be a large person than a DEAD person. I was very lucky, but not everyone might be so lucky. Please be cautious!
So I live with the fact that I am fighting a losing battle (no pun intended). I must think about every little thing I put in my mouth, every single day. Every. Single. Day. I consider this food over that food, based on a complicated thought process: how many calories does the food have? How many calories have I already eaten that day? How many calories am I likely to eat later? Am I planning on exercising that day? Lest you misunderstand, I do not think about food all day long, and nor do I eat all day long, as many naturally thin people seem to assume. Let me repeat that: I do not eat all day long. Nor do I go to McDonald’s and order three Big Macs. Yes, I hate to break it to all the haters out there, but I do not do those things. I am guessing that many larger people don’t do these things either. In a typical day, I eat Weight Watchers Smart Ones for breakfast, Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine for lunch, a “sensible dinner,” and two snacks. I rarely have dessert. I exercise three to five times a week. And still I do not lose weight. In fact, I am basically the same size I’ve been for twenty years. This has been the great mystery of my life.
In case you missed it, the paragraph above says, “Naturally thin people.” Because some people are naturally thin. I know you know what I mean. We’ve all known those people who can eat pretty much whatever they want and never gain a pound. Maybe you are one of those people. I can’t do that. I don’t have less self-control than you, or a penchant for three thousand calorie meals. I have a propensity for being a larger person, and great difficulty losing and keeping off weight.
All this is to say that, forty-some years after I first began my obsession with my body, I have come to the conclusion that the calories in-calories out theory is a load of bullshit. If calories in-calories out were true, then how would you explain that person who eats a bagel slathered with cream cheese for breakfast, lasagna for lunch, a burger for dinner, and a slice of pie for dessert, and rarely exercises, yet does not gain weight? How would you explain someone like me? Yes, calories in-calories out is a colossal load of bullshit, advanced by people who have never spent a day of their life worrying about their weight, but think they have other people’s bodies all figured out just by looking at them.
Here’s a radical idea. What if some of us are just meant to be larger, just as some of us are meant to be short, or left handed, or brunette? What if it’s all a DNA crapshoot? Why can’t we just accept the natural variations in human bodies and move on? Why can’t we just focus on someone’s good qualities, their talents, their accomplishments, and their character, rather than focusing on what size they are? Why does anyone think it’s their right to comment or pass judgment on another person’s body without knowing ANYTHING about them? Or think it’s funny, appropriate or helpful to shame, ridicule or school anyone about their body? Believe me, anyone living in a larger body is a member of the same thin-obsessed culture we’re all members of, and we’re well aware that we’re a person of size. We don’t need anyone to tell us. It is not shameful to live in a large body. What is shameful is to shame others about their bodies and somehow think that is okay.
I have long said that weight will not be the defining issue of my life. I have done many years of therapy, lots of reading, and a great deal of writing, to ensure that this is NOT the case. My self-esteem and self-confidence are much stronger now. I appreciate myself a great deal more than I did forty years ago. I know that I have so much more to offer the world than a large body type. I am smart, talented, creative, funny, loving, kind. I am the proud mom of a seventeen year old son. None of that is changed or diminished by my size. Yes, I live in a larger body, and I am perfectly okay with that. I hope you are too. And if you’re not, I really couldn’t care less.
Kudos to you if you made it this far. I know this is a long one, but this is a complicated topic, and probably not the last time I will write about it. If you want more information about why diets don’t work and why health, not weight, is what is important, I strongly recommend the Facebook page, Health, Not Diets. There are also many body-positive bloggers out there. Find someone to follow who will lift you up, not tear you down.
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