The first time I remember be concerned with my weight I was four years old. I was an average sized kid but was never stick thin like a lot of kids are during growth spurts. I wanted more than anything to be a ballerina but didn’t feel like I measured up to the other girls in my ballet class. Their thighs didn’t wiggle when we leaped across the room, they weren’t panicked about the teacher picking us up at the end of class and they laughed at me. At such a tender age, I was already feeling that my size was the measure of who I was and mine would make me less worthy of good things.
In elementary school I took solace in being the teacher’s pet as the kids mocked me. Of course not all of the kids mocked me and I had friends, but even now criticism has a way of always seeming so much louder than support. I remember the taunting vividly, the “boom bada boom bada” chants when I walked across the classroom and all the awful name calling.
Throughout my school years my weight issues and suffering self-esteem affected every part of my life. By the time I got to college my entire identity was wrapped up in being the “big girl.”I had found ways to cope; I could try to be the “funny” girl, or the smart girl or just about anything that, in my mind, would somehow make up for being the fat girl.
I definitely struggled with overeating but had several times when I would get fed up and purge after eating for weeks at a time or go days without eating. These ill-advised plans resulted in dramatic yo-yoing of my weight, but it seemed every time I would lose weight I would gain even more back. This process of self hate leading to weight loss leading to weight gain clearly did not lead to a very healthy me. I also struggled to with unhealthy relationship patterns and depression.
Before finishing college I hit rock bottom in my personal life.I felt alone, deeply saddened and desperate for a change. Having already tried and hated anti-depressant medication I thought I would give exercise a “go.” I lost a good deal of weight and for the first time noticed a difference in my mental health as well as my body. Around this time I met my husband and moved to Kansas City.
The move brought with it a lot of growing pains. This coupled with the “happy weight” that so often accompanies the comfort of a steady relationship I gained every pound back . . . and then some. I was completely devastated and disappointed in myself, but also in complete shock that my boyfriend (now husband) was still there. We got married and had a baby. This man didn’t just “do me a solid” and forgive my weight gain. He made very clear he loved every part of me. I remember watching him look at me when I was pregnant, marveling at the size of my belly and telling me how beautiful I was.
By loving me unconditionally my husband had annihilated a belief I had carried with me my whole life; that I would never be worthy of love — not as long as I was fat.
These are things are not easy to own. But I hardly see the point in telling you how I got to where I am if I’m not willing to explain where I came from; and we are all only as healthy as our secrets.
When I found out I was having a girl I was a little terrified. I know that men struggle with many of the same body image and self-esteem issues as woman do. While I don’t mean to undermine anyone else’s suffering; I do think women get slammed a little harder from the start. Every facet of media and even well-meaning friends and family send a clear message to girls and women: they will never be quite good enough until they are thin. I was never worried about what size my unborn child might be, I would never be the parent who questioned my child’s decision for seconds or discuss her body shape. I simply wanted to give her everything; including a fair shot at a healthy self-esteem.
The first promise I made to myself was to never speak ill of my body in front of her. Our primary influence is our same-sex parent and I did not want to pass on any negative feelings I carried with me. I also decided I would do anything I could to become more healthy and be a positive role model.
Nothing changed overnight. The fat did not simply melt away. I did not take any diet pills or subject myself to any weird eating rules. I started small, taking walks around the neighborhood a few days a week. I set small goals; the first being to go from “obese” to “overweight” on the BMI chart. Yup, my first successful weight loss goal was to be overweight.
As I embarked on this journey to be a positive role model by loving myself and being healthy, I quickly learned how much I didn’t know. Here I had been eating and moving around my whole life and didn’t know how to do either in a healthy way. Even the choices I thought had been healthy it turned out were not. Slowly I educated myself about the affects of food on the body and how to exercise effectively. I went from goals like “walk the dogs a little farther” to “jog for one minute” to “run a half marathon.”
I kept trudging on, setting more and higher goals, challenging myself in ways I never had before.I wanted to create a new habits and a new lifestyle so that my daughter would view healthy habits as enjoyable things as well as “just what we do.” I wanted to continue to improve myself and take great care of my body and mind so that I could take better care of my family. In short, I just didn’t look back.
There were times when the scale didn’t say what I had hoped. There were days when simply putting one foot in front of the other didn’t seem feasible. Those were the days when I had to love myself enough to continue and let go of any feelings of guilt when I would fall short of my own expectations.
Over a year’s time I changed my body and changed my life. In total I lost 90 poundswhich is a lot physically and emotionally. I went from a size 18-20 to a size 5-6. Some days that is still hard for me to believe.
I now am happier and healthier than I have ever been, not because I like the size tag on my pants better but because I finally have a sense of control in my life. I am no longer controlled by food, body image issues or guilt. While I used to think about my weight all the time, now I seldom do. I’m not scared of swimming pools, summer, scales or gyms. I don’t dread going to social gatherings or being asked to be in a wedding. Taking control of my body by learning how to respect it more has given me the courage to challenge myself more in every aspect of my life. I now believe that not only can I achieve anything but that I deserve it, an example I’m proud to be for my daughter and a realization I thought I’d never have.