Weight has been a big concern for me all my life, though looking back at pictures of myself, I was a pretty skinny kid. I wasn't even overweight at all until my senior year of high school, when I started trying to diet and would come home from school starving and eat whatever I could find around the house.
I lost weight when I got to college -- I didn't like the food and I had to walk everywhere. My first boyfriend was verbally abusive, and even though he was overweight himself, told me I was so fat (at 135 pounds) that he was embarassed to be seen with me. I wasn't as skinny as some of the college girls, so it was easy to believe him. I had a butt and these were the days before J-Lo and Sir Mix-A-Lot. After I dumped him, I met my current husband, who was a runner. I tried running myself, but both of us were a unrealistic about what I could do and what my body type should really be. I worked harder and harder trying to get really skinny and really fast like the girls on the cross-country team.
I don't think I ever really had a serious weight problem until I graduated from college, started graduate school, and got married. We got our first "real" apartment. Big life events, lots of feelings associated with them and new stresses and pressures that I hadn't expected. I finally got to the point where all the overtraining I was doing made me very, very sick from anemia and exhaustion and just quit exercising. Rather than work on real solutions to my problems, I tended to snack away my anxiety, mostly on big bowls of chips. I also got in on the lowfat craze of the 1990s, and like most Americans, I grabbed onto my own version of it: I ate huge volumes of food as long as I kept the percentage of fat low. So I would think it was OK to eat two bagels with a tiny dab of cream cheese, or all kinds of cereal with no milk. Yes, I know now how dumb that was, thanks.
In 1995, I was probably at my highest weight ever, somewhere around 215 pounds. I didn't have a scale and stayed away from the doctor's office or anywhere I might get weighed, so I never saw exactly what the number on the scale was. I had some pictures of me from a trip to the Mall of America with my family around that time -- I looked about twice as wide as my sisters. I never have had broad shoulders, but I looked like I did because of the fat on my upper arms. My thighs looked very, very big too. These are my body's preferred fat storage tanks, along with the usual spare tire area. Now I can think back on that time with some compassion for the person I was, but at the time, I absolutely hated myself. I tore up those pictures as soon as they came back from the developer -- in fact, I didn't want any pictures to be taken of me at all. I really just wanted not to exist at all -- I wasn't suicidal, I just wanted to disappear.
My weight started to drop very, very slowly when I finally finished my master's thesis and moved back to work at my alma mater as an instructor. I started riding my bike to work, using the school's recreational facility, and rein in some of my worst eating habits. It went back up a few years later when I took a job in the computer help center answering phones. The staff of that center took a lot of abuse during the day, so we liked to go out and get hammered when we had a chance. My favorite drink at the time was the Petrifier, a mix of five different kinds of alcohol with grenadine that tasted like Kool-Aid and was guaranteed to mess you up quickly. I went out like that at least two nights a week, and those Petrifiers have a lot of calories.
Around this time, my doctor got the wheels rolling toward change when I weighed in at 197 and he suggested that I try Weight Watchers. I have a nice, nerdy doctor who really does try to do the right thing, and the poor guy had to deal with me sobbing in his office. I stayed away for a while after that, but it got me thinking. I had no interest in doing Weight Watchers, because I thought it was for old ladies in caftans and not for people like me. I read Oprah's Make the Connection and got the ball rolling in the right direction by exercising and really watching what I ate, but I had trouble really sticking to anything, so I had a lot of weight ups and downs.
Not long before my 30th birthday, I read a book called You Don't Have to be Thin to Win, about a 200-pound triathlete. I was around 180 pounds at the time and decided that if I was going to be fat for the rest of my life, I was going to be fat and fit like the author. I signed up for the Danskin Women's Triathlon and started training for it. My goal was simple: to finish. I didn't let my husband take over my training plan -- this was for me and I was going to do it my way. I also decided to make one more last-ditch effort to get thin, so that no one could say I didn't try. I seriously just wanted to get people off my back by being able to say I'd tried everything and nothing worked. I went to a nutritionist and got a food plan based on the American Diabetes Association diet. It was basically fat, carb, and protein exchanges. I started losing weight at about 1 pound a week.
In 2001, I had a great time doing my first triathlon. I liked it so much, I did a bunch more and did some running races too. I joined Weight Watchers after the racing season was over and I started to put on weight, and in Spring of 2002, I made my weight goal of 155 pounds. This seemed like a sort of heavy weight, but I was wearing a size medium in most shirts and could sometimes get into a size 8, so I felt pretty good about it, for a while.
I never got the hang of weight maintenance. I started in with my usual routine of "do more, try harder, try to get thinner." I started to try to become a "real" athlete and just ended up dreading my training. My weight slowly drifted back up as I started to get frustrated and overtrained again, to the point where I got sidelined by injuries and couldn't work out. I had some upsetting personal events and a long series of small annoyances at work and rediscovered stress snacking. By the time 2004 rolled around, I was about 20 pounds over goal. I tried to train for a marathon to get the weight off and ended up with a pretty serious case of tendonitis in my foot, requiring even more time off working out.
I've been struggling with that weight ever since, mostly unsuccessfully. I have also been trying to find the joy in my exercise again, which is difficult. There is always the tension between doing it for fun and trying to become some kind of superathlete so that other people will take me seriously. I start out doing it for fun and then that voice in my head starts in with the "if a little is good, more is better" stuff.
My biggest battle is not to get control of my weight but to bring some sanity to those voices inside my head. On my own as a normal, happy person, I really don't tend to overeat. I love food but it becomes just one thing in my life, not the thing. I don't like huge meals and never have liked greasy food that much. I enjoy exercise and have fun with it, as long as I can stay sane about the workouts and not feel like I'm not "allowed" to take a day off. The struggle for me is with those voices, who can alternately sound like family members, like my husband, or just like a crazy version of myself. I tend to worry too much about what other people think of me and not enough of what I think of myself. This promotes a cycle of "be good" and then "rebel."
I am trying to use the wisdom of the Twelve Steps to get out of that cycle. I am back in Weight Watchers again because it's a sensible plan that I know I can follow if I don't let myself get crazy about it. I am doing my workouts but being very conscious about not overdoing. I am trying to tell anyone who suggests (or even thinks too loudly) that I should be working out harder to kindly shut the hell up. I'm sticking with my original Weight Watchers goal of 155 and am committed to getting there and maintaining that weight for at least six months before I make any decisions about moving down further or staying there. I am trying to ignore that crazy voice in my head that is saying that isn't thin enough, and that people will really love and respect me only if I look like the models in Shape and win my age group in every race I do.
That was exhausting, but now I have that history stuff out of the way. Onward, hopefully upward to some sane place where I can be comfortable and happy and not swing wildly between The Queen of the World and The Biggest Loser.