[NOTE — October 18, 2019: I wrote this blog post almost 5 years ago, and my journey has gone through many twists and turns. I have learned A LOT about diet culture, fatphobia, size discrimination and how to heal disordered eating, and I’m in a much different place. I no longer believe many of the issues and sentiments I wrote about in the post below. I am leaving it here as a record of where I was at the time, but look for an update from me soon.}
A few weeks ago, I reached a big milestone —I stepped on the scale, ecstatic to realize I’ve lost 100 lbs. since 2005. I used to watch The Biggest Loser and I remember how exciting that moment was for contestants, achieving that goal. It boggled my mind to think of doing such a thing myself. What would that feel like? Now I know…
My friend Serena tells me that my weight loss is great, but it’s one of the least interesting things about me, especially after the tumultuous year I’ve had, and the many changes I’ve made. After a lifetime of focusing on weight and feeling fat (whether or not I actually was fat), I love that comment of hers. I’m starting to believe it. Losing weight is really good for me because it’s improving the quality of my life and my health so much. But I am so much more than this.
But in honor of this milestone, I’ll share the story of how I got to where I am and what I’ve learned along the way.
For the first half of my life, I had a pretty normal body size. I was a bit chubby, but as I look back at photos of myself, I’m surprised at how average I looked compared to how I felt about myself. I was bigger than my thin sisters and I developed a butt and hips early. I was sturdy, but I was full of body shame early in life, felt fat, grotesque, unacceptable. I know this isn’t uncommon for a lot of girls and women, which is really sad, and such a waste.
My mom and a few others were preoccupied with my weight, and I became self-conscious and awkward, and this added another link to my low self-esteem. Our home life was chaotic and dysfunctional with addiction issues, and I didn’t have the security or support to cope, so by age 11 I was well underway to an eating disorder. After a little dabbling in anorexia, I became a binge eater (which wasn’t recognized as an eating disorder at the time, so when I tried to get help as a teen I couldn’t get treatment). My old journals from my teens (and my 20s, 30s and 40s) are full of angst about food, weight, my body, bingeing and my attempts to fix that part of my life.
I look back on the photos of my wedding and honeymoon, and in retrospect, I can see how normal-sized and lovely I was. But I remember how fat and unacceptable I felt on my honeymoon—too big, bloated and out of control.
I’d spent most of my life feeling fat, but I had no idea of what it was like to actually BE fat. That soon changed.
I started gaining some weight after I got married. I was finishing my college degree while working and adjusting to married life. I was completely stressed out. Then I got pregnant with twins and had a tough pregnancy with preterm labor, was on hospitalized bed rest for 6 weeks and gained a lot of weight. We became parents of preemies, dealt with the NICU, then brought them home and I became a stay-at-home mom.
For me, food was my primary coping mechanism to get through all the stress and challenges of my life. I’d been in therapy for years but suffered a lot of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I didn’t know how to feel or handle my feelings. I didn’t know how to get out of these traps that kept me stuck.
Cut to the quick—by 2005, I’d gained 200 lbs. since our wedding day in 1989. I remember stepping on the scale and seeing the number 348, my highest weight ever. I realize that if I took 3 more steps forward I would be closer to 400 lbs. than 300, and I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t do that. Also, we were planning our month-long trip to swap homes with a family in Germany. I wanted to be able to walk around with my family to see sights, I wanted to fit on the plane better. At the time, I could barely walk 2 blocks.
I started walking on the track at the Y, once around at first, then increasing little by little. I rode the stationary bike too. I gave up a few of my addictions, like replacing my frequent habit of McDonald’s biscuit breakfast sandwiches with a homemade healthier version of a whole wheat muffin, an egg, Canadian bacon and spinach.
By the time we went on our trip, I had lost over 30 lbs. and could walk 2 miles. It was a great trip! I was still morbidly obese, but now I had an exercise habit.
Over the years since then, I had times of achieving some healthy success followed by relapses. I still struggled with my eating disorder and all the personal issues that kept me stuck. My weight yo-yoed, mostly staying around 300 lbs. I sought help in many places and always kept trying—I had a personal trainer and started running, even made it through a 5K race once even though I was incredibly slow. I took many classes like Zumba, step and spinning. I read books and took online workshops trying to deal with my eating. It was always a struggle.
Gradually my extreme weight began to greatly affect the quality of my life beyond just the usual frustrations and annoyances of being big. My body couldn’t handle it anymore and I began to live with daily debilitating pain. My feet and knees hurt constantly, my legs stiffened up with arthritis; I hobbled around and received many comments about my limping. I had to give up the exercise classes I loved because they hurt too much. Even walking hurt. When Bob and I had our wonderful 2 week trip to England and Iceland last year to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, we walked a lot and I did my best to keep going. I was in great pain every day despite pain killers, and we had to stop frequently so I could rest. It was so discouraging.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know what caused all the great change in my life. When people ask me how I’ve lost weight in the last 7 months (down 62 lbs. since then), I ruefully tell them, “Well, first my husband told me he wanted a divorce, and then I lost my appetite…” That’s the simple version. I was so blown away by immense grief and overwhelming anxiety that I couldn’t eat or sleep for quite a while. That was the beginning. And in the process, I ended up taking a good hard look at my life and realized that I really hadn’t been happy with so much of it. I’d just been existing and complacent. With my new magnifying lens, I saw that my eating disorder and my extreme weight were ruining my life. I was handicapped with pain and could do less and less. My obsession with food was a factor in Bob wanting a divorce (it wasn’t the main thing, but it was part of it); it had affected our relationship. It was a raw, hard truth, and I was finally waking up to it. And I saw and acknowledged for the first time that It Just Wasn’t Worth It. I had looked to food with some excitement and anticipation for most of my life, and now I saw that what it had given me wasn’t anything I wanted anymore. Numbed out on food, afraid to reach for goals in my life, afraid of my own feelings, I wasn’t really living. And I decided then and there, I didn’t want it anymore.
It may sound strange to say it, but dealing with food and losing weight became easy after that. I suppose easy isn’t the right word, but I no longer struggled with the compulsive urge to eat because I didn’t expect it to be anything more than nourishment anymore. Having a treat, having something taste great was no longer a priority. And since I could no longer hold back my feelings anymore because they were too big, now I didn’t need food to cope with them anymore. Now I cried and screamed and yelled. I talked to Bob and friends about my grief and pain. I opened myself up through blogging, sharing my story and asking online friends for help. I was and am basically living a whole new life. And I got help from The Emily Program, and local eating disorder clinic as well, which has given me a lot of support.
As I lost weight, my pain levels started to go down drastically and I began to be able to exercise and walk again. Clothes started fitting better, and then I began to pull out things from the back of my closet that had been too small for a long time. I started feeling attractive for the first time in a long time—but part of this was all the work I’ve been doing to heal my heart and my self-esteem too. I am aiming to move beyond all the things that have gotten in my way before, and I’ve been plumbing the depths of painful issues from my past that I’ve carried around. Not only am I lighter physically now… I’m getting lighter mentally and emotionally too.
Over the years of being so interested in food, I have amassed a lot of knowledge about nutrition, fitness and health. These are topics that have always interested me, so I’ve read a lot and learned a lot as I’ve gone. Now that I’m not bingeing on junk food (as was my frequent habit), I’m able to eat for health most of the time. Pleasure is a factor and it’s nice to eat tasty food, but it just isn’t such a priority for me anymore.
There’s an old saying I heard when I went to Weight Watchers many years ago: “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” I don’t really like that saying—it sounds smug and patronizing. But I do have to say that for me, nothing tastes as good as being alive feels. Nothing tastes as good as finally letting my authentic self come out to engage with the world. I have been given a great gift though this whole painful process—ME! I’m finally able to love myself, to have a body that feels good, to feel my feelings and be vulnerable with people. Even with all the pain, I wouldn’t go back to where I was last summer.
Looking at these old photos of myself makes me very sad. I know all the pain that was hidden under all that weight, and I deeply regret how much time I wasted and how I felt about myself then. But I’m coming into a new compassion for Old Me now. I know how hard she worked, how she never gave up despite not being able to make lasting changes. And she did all the ground work for me to be able to move forward now.
I still have a long way to go on my journey to get down to a normal, healthy size. Another 100 lbs.! It doesn’t seem so daunting anymore, since I’ve already done it once. I’m so grateful to be where I’m at in my life right now. I still have a lot of painful emotions to work through and many challenges to face in my life, but I feel so much better now. Physically better, and better about myself as I really come to love myself. This is a good place to be. Thanks for all your support, my friends!
(Many photos by Bob Alberti)