I’m talking weight loss this week. If you missed The Prologue, it’s right here. If you are not into this kind of stuff, here is your warning: Go ahead and skip this one.
I personally think weight loss and body image are fascinating topics. Hell, Oprah has practically built her career addressing these issues and while she may not be a role model for success in that particular arena, her openness to discuss her struggle is respectable. Context is key though, I think. Who wants to hear a supermodel talk about how they’ve lost those pesky three pounds and are finally bikini ready, right? So to give you an accurate understanding of what a profound change my weight loss journey has been in my life, I want you to have a little context about my life in this respect. That is where we are going to start this story.
I feel like I have struggled with my weight all my life. The more complete truth of that statement is that I have struggled with body image all my life. I know how to lose weight. I have lost weight. I’ve gained weight. You know that story, I’m sure. Though closely related, those things are two separate problems and gladly at 32 I am finally able to tell the difference. As an adult I have grown to love an accept my body and have less of a body image issue, but the weight was still problematic.
When I see pictures of my younger self I was certainly no waif, but I also wasn’t obese. I was just perfect, actually — but I was also the daughter of an NFL defensive Lineman, and my body reflected that — we’ve talked about this before. It became problematic because I was a competitive dancer and that is a subculture that doesn’t take kindly to all body types — this shouldn’t surprise you.
What may surprise you, is that I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was 9 years old. It was a gray room of old people (in my estimation at the time) and I remember leaving with books and bars and boxes of powders and no clue what they meant or what to do with them. I was probably also hungry.
Maybe this makes you wonder what kind of heathen parents I had to make me do this, but I assure you my mother only took me there after weeks of my persuasion — and I’m quite persuasive. The message from my ballet teacher was loud and clear: I needed to lose 20 lbs if I was going to have a career as a dancer and damnit if my little 9 year old Type-A self wasn’t a hair close to the character Natalie Portman plays in Black Swan. I was going to be perfect!!!
I knew that losing weight was going to be the solution to this problem, but at that age I had no idea how to get there. Losing weight is not something you know how to do at 9. I thought I would go to these meetings and get better. No one was discussing the basics of food and I certainly didn’t do the grocery shopping, so the relationship between what I ate versus what was happening with my body wasn’t linear in my mind. I attended these meetings where women talked about using food to soothe their emotions but I couldn’t even relate. I ate when I was hungry, I didn’t when I wasn’t — I knew I wasn’t “using food” but I also still had this extra 20 lb problem that seemed to not be getting any better.
The whole thing is ridiculous in hindsight. In defense of my parents, my mom meant well and I’m sure her perception of how things happened is much different than mine. Also, she was doing her best to help me with the tools that she had. I’m sure my ballet teacher meant well too — she could see my competitive zest and probably wasn’t trying to nip “my problem” in the bud early but the only real thing I remember during that time period was that I began to know shame. Shame about my body. Shame about my inability to solve problems. Shame about who I was allowed to be looking how I looked.
During one of my meetings I ran into another girl from my ballet class and I was super happy to see her. A friendly face! But her mother pulled me aside afterward and in an almost scolding tone took me by the arm and said “Please pretend you never saw us here. And DO NOT discuss it with others at the studio.” It taught me that I should be embarrassed about being in this club no one wanted to join, but still, no one thought to talk to me much about food.
Obviously this experience was not a success for me. I know, you can close your mouth from shock now. But at 13 I quit dancing altogether and transitioned to cheerleading with most of my friends and the point became somewhat moot. I still wasn’t tiny, but I was athletic. I was a good student with good friends and I was pretty sure the competitive body pressure was behind me.
To my surprise one day our (crazy lunatic of an) adviser approached me in front of a room full of people during our uniform fitting and said: “Wow, those are some boobs!” So yeah, that was awkward. Then she quietly suggested that I may want to try and lose 20 lbs and had I ever tried Weight Watchers, lots of people had had success there? And suddenly there was just bile-rising panic. I remember feeling so defeated, thinking I would never escape those damn 20 lbs and now all of a sudden I had to be worried about my enormous boobs? GREAT.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to take the necessary steps to look a little different at that point either, but honestly, I still had no idea how. I still wasn’t grocery shopping, I still wasn’t cooking, and all our meals at home were “healthy.” Why was I carrying this enormous albatross? I had friends who ate worse and looked better! Was I ever going to escape this?
In Part Two I’ll tell you about how moving out and managing my own kitchen finally started yielding some results. Though not exactly the the results you might think…