I used to be a smoking hot lady. At the age of 18, I was a size 5. I had long, dark hair, and these weird eyeballs that change colors. My body held the tightness of youth. At that time, I only had a small inkling of how I truly looked to the world. I was never thin enough in my mind. I’d abuse my body by feeding it only cereal and cigarettes. I never drank enough water, I didn’t sleep, and I starved myself to uphold the very frailest of things that I thought I had going for me – my teeny size. I would get compliments like: “You look like a model!” or “You are savagely beautiful.” Those would fill me up for a while. I’d use those comments to fill the gaping hole of my stomach that was aching for food.
I am now 32… 33 in a week and a half. I’ve struggled with weight since I can remember. First, I starved myself to have control over the loss of something that I could never get back. Then, I starved myself to maintain the only image of myself I could be comfortable with. Then I got pregnant and ate to cover my fear that came with a new and unexpected twist in life that I was not prepared for. I figured if there were any time I was allowed to finally eat what I had so long denied myself, it was while I was eating for two. The scale kept increasing in number and my fear grew with it. I went from 130 pounds to 190.
After the birth of my daughter, life was difficult – and that’s putting it mildly. I can say with candid honesty that I am not sure how my husband, my daughter, or I, made it out of my daughter’s first year on this planet intact. My daughter was an exceptionally difficult infant (think the 60 pounds I gained has some affect on that? I DO!). While breast feeding helped me slim down initially, I was soon put on anti-depression medications. I would fall asleep while driving to work, at lunch, on the drive home from work, and on the couch after I’d put my daughter to bed. If you weren’t aware, drowsiness is a side effect of anti-depression medications -as is exceptionally fast weight gain. There’s also the added bonus of craving carbohydrates like a smoker craves nicotine. As I am prone to have a carb addiction without the help of meds, this only made matters worse. I lived this way for a year and half. I lived in a steady haze of not giving one tiny fuck about life. I ate what I wanted. I slept all the time. I fought with my husband. I barely smiled. I never wanted to go out or do anything with my life. I wanted to dig a hole in the ground and slowly dissolve in to the earth… if I could just sleep long enough to feel rested, then maybe I’d feel human again.
One day, I stepped on the scale and I saw the number 179. I could not believe the truth of what was staring me in the face. “I’m only 5’3″! There is no way! How did I let this happen???” I chided myself. I stared down at the scale in horror and felt an electric jolt to my overly medicated and tired brain. That day, I began weaning myself off the meds.
I learned quite a few important life lessons when living the life of an inactive, obese person. People view you differently. They view you as lazy and sad. They view you as goal-less and misfortunate. You are treated distinctly as someone that could maybe have a better life, if you just tried a little harder. I also learned that I was made up of spirit, fire, and gumption. It is exceptionally difficult to wake up every morning dreading that moment that you have to stuff yourself in to your pants. It is even harder to emerge in to a world where a specified type of beauty is THE NUMBER ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING in the country you inhabit. It is learned from a young age that an ugly girl isn’t worth much. It’s apparent from youth that women must measure themselves by the circumference of their waist and the size of their bra. I had lived like that once. I had lived up to the physical demands put upon me by society. And then, luckily, I was suddenly forced out of it.
When I was in seventh grade, I joined the cheer squad. I did it to be popular and loved. I did it because that’s what the cool girls did. I did it because we couldn’t afford for me to go to gymnastics. Mid-way through the season, I had an accident and fractured my ankle. I watched the girls I had trained with from the sidelines and had one of those moments; you know, the moment in the movies where everything slows down and becomes radiatingly clear… where the perfect music matches the horrifying dread of what happens before the characters now very open eyes: I did not belong on the cheer squad. They wore their glitter and matching shoes. They had their short skirts and plastic smiles. Never again did I want to be a part of that. I did not fit in to that world. It was a lie I had told myself and had accepted readily. I couldn’t be those girls.
The same sort of thing happened about a week after I stopped taking my medication. There was an exceptionally adorable young girl sitting in my office, talking to a co-worker. She was flashing her perfectly white smile, and batting her perfectly made up eyelashes. They were having a debate about something, and I remember thinking how clever she was. She was beautiful and intelligent, one hell of a dangerous mix. To my dismay, my co-worker wasn’t listening to a single thing that was leaving her mouth. Instead, he was focusing on the slightest hint of cleavage that would heave up and down when she laughed. Time slowed again, and in that moment, I realized how much more there was to me than the way I looked. It wasn’t about being a size 5, it was about feeling comfortable in my own fucking skin. It was about having an opinion that was listened to not because of my pretty face, but because of the intelligence in my head. I wanted to be clear-minded and strong. I wanted to feel as if I owned the powerhouse that was my body and I wanted to use it to become a better human being. I didn’t want to be looked at for my plastic smile and short skirt. I didn’t want to be seen as my laughing cleavage – I wanted to be seen as what I was — one kick-ass lady.
I began cleaning up my diet, began running at the suggestion of my husband, and lost about 15 pounds. I hovered between 160 and 165 for a while. I felt better. I felt renewed. I remembered what smiling felt like. Flash forward 7 years and I began doing CrossFit. About a year in to it, my husband and I hired a nutritionist and my weight of 160 finally started a steady decline. My lowest weight achieved was 143. But life has its ways of upsetting its own precarious balance and we had to move away from the home we loved so much, the community we’d come to love like our own family, and the comfort of the United States.
I’ve gained weight since moving. It bothers me immensely because I truly did work hard to lose. I had a few weeks of looking back on the situation like I was a very, very large failure. CrossFit isn’t the same as it was at home, I am lonely in a strange land, and I am 100% back to using food as a drug. The other day, by husband stumbled across a quote by Marilyn Manson. This quote was given during an interview two years after the Columbine shootings:
“When you’re watching television, you’re watching the news and you’re being pumped full of fear. There’s floods. There’s AIDS. There’s murder. Cut to commercial. Buy the Acura. Buy Colgate. If you have bad breath they’re not going to talk to you. If you have pimples that girl isn’t going to fuck you. It’s just a campaign of fear and consumption. That’s what I think it’s based on. This whole idea of ‘keep everyone afraid and they’ll consume.'”
I’m sure my use of this quote for a blog post about weight gain and loss would probably cause Mr. Manson’s’ brain to hemorrhage, but I use it here because it fits perfectly. I am in no way blaming the news for my weight gain. I am in no way blaming the vast majority of American people for my need to fill myself up with chocolate. What I am doing is seeing a very bright kernel of truth in Mr. Manson’s quote. We consume out of fear. My consumption is a mixture of food and buying useless, random shit to put in my house. For others it may be buying the newest electronic equipment, the newest car, the prettiest shoes or the most extravagant house. It may be drinking alcohol to the point of inebriation to choke down feeling overwhelmed by an emotion or exercising so much that every single motion in a day is calculated to help the next work out. It could even be sex, drugs, or extreme sports.
I believe that I over-consume food for two reasons: The first is grappling with the feeling that I do not matter. To put it cleverly, I matter more if I am made up of more matter. If I fill up physical space, I cannot be denied my existence on the planet. If I’m larger, you can see me. I don’t disappear in to the background. It won’t matter so much that I’m not currently contributing to the good of the world or my household by not having a steady job. It won’t really matter that the most I use my brain is reading the books that have occupied my book cases for years. It won’t matter that I feel like any words I utter are pointless.
The second reason I overeat is to overcome the denial of an emotion. Feeling sad? Better not let anyone see I’m not always a bright ray of sunshine! I’ll just swallow back my tears with this sugar-loaded coffee. Feeling lonely? Better not let anyone know because I may overburden them! I’ll just eat half this box of cereal. Feeling insignificant? That’s ok. Chocolate helps with that. It reminds me that happiness is out there even if happiness means coating my tongue with a dark, rich substance.
Here’s the rub (and no, I’m not talking about seasoning chicken), I could fight these feelings of fear and inadequacy if I just owned up to them and let them have their day. If I need to take up more physical space, I could do that by creating a healthy environment where I have broadened shoulders or thicker thigh muscles instead of a spare tire that reminds me of my despair. If every time I picked up a stray piece of sugar I asked myself, “Is this the healthiest alternative to what you’re feeling right now?” I wouldn’t be back at square one with my weight. I wouldn’t hate the image of myself in the mirror. I wouldn’t choke back tears when I can’t fit in to my favorite jeans. Somewhere I lost sight of what I’d originally set out to do – create a body that is a powerhouse. Create a healthy, well-maintained body to help me keep a healthy, well-maintained mind.
Through starvation, weight gain, medication, and food-to-soothe-the-savage-beast, there is always one thing that seems to leak out light in the darkness of my over-medicated or sugar-drowned mind. No matter how small or how large I am, no matter how I feel about the reflection in the mirror, no matter how much weight I lift, or how fast I run three miles, the size of my heart and the measure of my soul has been the same. Maybe its time for me to treat myself as a treasure, to treat my body like a temple, and see my mind as the amazing thing it is. And none of this can be done through the haze of over-consumption. I urge you, if you have had any of the same type of troubles as I have, look within and understand this: you cannot cover up what your body longs to set free. Look to your love handles to tell you the truth about what it is you are hiding from yourself. You are worth your own authenticity.