Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Tag: body image

100 lbs: Lessons in Less of Me

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…

 

Pretty damn good! 🙂11072306_10153139153744431_1028452397_n

 

     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.

 

wedding     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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_0128

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.

 

IMG_0723IMG_0797

 

 

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.

IMG_0733

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.

 

10981798_10155369677360545_5085440350496665717_n     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.

DSC_3944_1024

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!

DSC_3933_1024

(Many photos by Bob Alberti)

 

Me and Jada Pinkett Smith

I never really thought me and Jada Pinkett Smith had much in common, outside of us both being married to funny, charming, smart and good-looking guys (lucky us!).  But recently, I came across articles about her 12 year old daughter Willow getting a colorful buzz cut and the reaction the media was having towards the haircut, but also their reaction towards Jada-as-Mom, in essence:  “how could you let your daughter do that to herself?”

Here was Jada’s response:

“The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self-determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain.

“Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.”

WOW.  That one hit me right in the heart.  An audience inside me started clapping and stomping and shouting “yeah!”  I have not always been so strong, but it was apparent to me that me and Jada had something very deep in common.

As parents of young kids, it doesn’t take long to be confronted with the concept that your child is an individual unto themselves.  Sure, as babies they almost seem to be an extension of ourselves, doughy bodies that have basic needs and could really care less whether you dress them in Baby Dior or garage sale hand-me-downs.  They can be just as happy with a pot and a wooden spoon as with some fancy plastic toy.  They don’t have real preferences outside of physical and emotional comfort.

But sometime as they near the two-year mark, they begin to get it themselves. The “hey! I’m a person, and I want that!”-notion that heralds the phase known as the Terrible Twos.  The kids get it long before the tired parents do.  It’s not terribly convenient when your child starts expressing themself.  Aw, why can’t you just go along with what I say… I’m older and I know better, and it’ll be faster and go more smoothly…  But no go, sorry!  Remember, your toddler’s favorite new word is NO.

I had my own Jada-moment when my daughter was 2 or 3 years old.  She started wanting to dress herself, and we’d be getting ready for pre-school and I’d see her come out dressed in some eclectic ensemble—her pretty purple flowered dress with plaid pants and a red-and-white striped headband and dirty canvas shoes.  Oh dear, I’d think.  I don’t remember if I got it right away, or if I tried to coax her into choosing something different, like “Your pink tights would look so pretty with that dress, are you sure you don’t want to change?”

What I do remember is that fairly quickly, I realized I had a choice to make:  I could try to force my daughter to wear what I wanted her to wear, by using shame or my authority to make her do it.  Or I could let go and let her wear what made her happy, to have her own self-expression.  What were my values here?

Sure, some part of me wanted to bring my pretty little girl out into the world in a pretty little outfit.  As Jada put it, making her a slave to her mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires.  That part was all about me, and how I wanted the world to see my daughter, and see me as her mother.  But stronger than that was my deep desire that she have “the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain.”

I wanted her to be MORE than my own petty wish to have her be pretty.  I wanted her to be MORE than how the culture tells us girls need to look and act and be.   I wanted the same for my boys, too—for them to know that it’s okay to be themselves, no matter how they choose to be.  But I identified with my daughter more, having an urge to make her be seen how I wanted her to be seen.

My daughter is now 21, and she’s grown to be a young woman with a strong sense of self.  I can’t say I was perfect in mothering her and keeping my issues from butting in—she is usually pretty good about pointing it out when I’ve crossed boundaries.  Just as I know she’s learned a lot from me, I’ve learned a lot from her too.  I’m so glad we’ve managed to push away a lot of the cultural messages about girls and women, or to have more awareness about them when we do get bogged down.

I applaud Jada Pinkett Smith for standing up for her daughter, and stating so clearly the pitfalls of how we and society handle our daughters.  She’s had to live out her parenting choices on the world’s stage—I just hope the world can listen and hear this truth.  For the sake of ourselves, our daughters, and all the girls to come.

 

 

© 2017 Pen and Moon

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑