When you read the title of this post, you might think I’m going to write about “why I gained weight.” After all, in our culture, “letting oneself go” is usually a euphemism for “gaining weight.”
I’m actually going to write about something else. This will be a long post.
Yesterday I published some content on my page about the Health At Every Size movement. That content consisted of a simple definition, and links to some more knowledgeable people talking about what it is. Even thought I didn’t consider myself knowledgeable to write my own piece about it, I wanted to share that content, because it is important to me.
This post is about WHY it is important to me to share that information, even when it is not my own.
Growing up, I was constantly told that there was something wrong with me. Doctors told my parents I was gaining too much weight, which led my parents to stress about my weight. They took measures to try and control my weight. They enrolled me in a weight loss class for children at the local hospital. One of my parents watched my food intake like a hawk, looking visibly worried and disappointed if I took seconds at a meal. The other parent would sneak me food behind the watchful parent’s back.
At first I rebelled. And I developed an eating disorder. I would sneak food and ate it in secret. Which, as you can probably imagine, led to more weight gain.
In school, I was teased by other children, which hurt a lot. I began to lose trust in my peers. I remember an incident when another student told me she liked my shirt. I didn’t believe her and told her to shut up. She was probably making an attempt to be nice. But I had so little trust in my peers at the time that I felt the need to protect myself. I feel very badly about this, but during the middle school years I went through a phase where I participated in the ostracism of some other students because I thought that it would gain me more acceptance.
Even though I rebelled against the idea that there was something wrong with me, I internalized the belief that there was. In high school I started putting hope into attempts to manipulate my weight.
In the ninth grade I had a boyfriend who enjoyed lifting weights in his basement. When my gym class had a unit on lifting weights I enjoyed it, and my boyfriend was excited about this because he enjoyed lifting too. I started lifting weights after school in the high school weight room. I was the only girl there most days, and the guys largely ignored me, except for one who was a friend of mine. I started reading women’s fitness magazines and books to learn more about lifting weights, and felt a sense of hope that maybe I could use fitness to manipulate my body. I believed that I could look like the fitness models, and I felt hopeful. I didn’t realize that those images were unrealistic for most people.
I attended a pretty highly ranked liberal arts college, whose brochure said “Think one person can change the world? So do we.” I was not focused on changing the world as much as feeling the need to change myself. I became a vegan while in college, but I did not lose weight. Internally, I thought that something must have been wrong with me. I read raw vegan blogs and decided to become a raw vegan.
It worked….for a while. I lost weight and wore a dress to graduation that I hadn’t worn since I was 16. I loved the dress and felt so happy to be able to wear it again. I felt beautiful, but I still felt I had a ways to go as far as weight loss. After graduation I moved to a new city. I heard about a training program to run the city’s marathon. I remembered reading in a magazine about a woman who had lost weight running a marathon. I told myself it would be a great way to lose weight, get outside, and make friends. I signed up.
I completed my first marathon in 2005. It was a fun, empowering experience. It was a beautiful way to see the city, and there were crowds all the way to keep me going, and the weather was beautiful. So, in 2006, I signed up to run my second marathon.
The pounds crept back on over the winter. I was concerned by this and signed up for consulting with a raw vegan coach to refine my program. My diet became more restrictive. I focused more on my running performance, even though I was never going to be a “fast” runner and didn’t have any natural talent for it. Even though my weight was the lowest it had ever been as an adult, it wasn’t as low as one would expect for being a runner. I believed I needed to get my weight lower for optimal athletic performance. I wasn’t satisfied with my weight.
My second marathon, in contrast with my first, was not an empowering experience at all. I started out way too fast, thinking I would use my 10K pace. Nope! I became sore very quickly. Most of the run was painful and uncomfortable. The weather was cold and this added to the muscle cramping. I finished the marathon and felt defeated. Soon after, I started eating foods that I had previously restricted, but had suddenly begun craving. Since I had restricted those foods for so long, they made me feel sick after I ate them, so I took that as a sign to restrict them even more.
Over the next year I attended a few expensive retreats to learn how to “do it better” and be inspired to continue with the raw vegan lifestyle. I really enjoyed them at the time. I see now that I was feeling desperate. I was terrified of losing control over my body and my weight. I thought to myself that if I could just REALLY focus on getting my weight in order, then I would be okay to move on to other things in life. Good things would happen. I would be happy. And when I couldn’t get my weight in order, no matter how hard I tried…I couldn’t move on. Despite my academic and artistic achievements and top tier education, this was the way I was focusing all my best energy in life. (And looking back, I realize it served NOBODY!). I couldn’t just live my life NOW – I believed I needed to “fix myself” first. When that didn’t happen, I couldn’t move on.
Predictably, as is consistent with all research that shows that lasting weight loss is only possible for a small percentage of the population, all the weight came back on and then some. I I was horrified and mortified and all those things. I lost all desire to maintain the dietary restriction I had practiced.
I remember the first time I watched The Biggest Loser online. I hadn’t followed earlier seasons because I hated the name and how it was referring to fat people as Losers. But one day I must have been bored and stuck at home. And I was mesmerized and full of hope. I signed up for a “Biggest Loser” challenge at my local gym, where we worked out on teams with a trainer. I was kinda disappointed that the trainer wasn’t “harder” on us. I signed up for more personal training with a different trainer. My fitness level improved, but I wasn’t losing any weight. I completed a certification to teach Spinning.
In 2011 I learned about CrossFit and decided to try it. I loved some parts of it. (And yes, I believed that it would change my body too….and that will be a post for another day).
What changed the direction of all this for me? Having a child. I know all the pain I grew up with around body size and there is no way I would ever want to create or perpetuate that for anyone else. We don’t talk about weight in our house as being good, bad or indifferent. We decided to take a Baby Led Weaning approach to food with our son. When I felt unhealthy, I set habit goals as opposed to outcome goals. I started thinking more from the perspective of caring for my body the same way I would want to care for my child: “what do I need most? What would be helpful to me? What would enrich my life? What will help me have more ease in my life? What would I enjoy that will also be loving self care?” Instead of:” how can I make myself into something I am not? What can I do to train and discipline myself? How can I control my behavior and eliminate my bad behaviors?”
You know the saying “Like attracts like?” Or “the Law of Attraction”? Well, once I started taking this new approach, I learned about the Health at Every Size movement. I read Linda Bacon’s book. I started reading Ragen Chastain’s blog. I joined the Fit Fatties Forum and started seeing people who were happy with their bodies the way they were. The first few times I saw pictures of fat people posting pictures of themselves smiling in swimsuits, it threw me for a loop. I honestly had NO IDEA that being happy with myself and not attempting to change myself was an option available to me, since I had never actually seen it in my life!
So, finding the HAES movement means so much to me, because it allowed me to finally let all of that control and fear go. I was able to understand and internalize that I am not broken and don’t need to fix myself. I was able to see that letting go of the control over my body size was a valid option, and that I would be in the company of others who had done the same. I no longer feel paralyzed by this aspect of my life, and I feel free to devote my energy to other things. I am free to figure out how I can best use my energy and talents to serve my community, my family, and myself.
It’s hard for me to admit publicly that I fell for the things I fell for, despite my education level. And also that I spent SO. MUCH. MONEY over the years these things. I guess I fell for them all because deep down, I felt so desperate to change myself, and because I had internalized the message that something was wrong with me for so many years. Anything that offered some hope was fair game.
And I believe that I can serve the world really well by sharing this information and my story, even though parts of it are really difficult and embarrassing for me to admit. That’s why I started this blog. If you feel this information is valuable, or if you know someone who might benefit from it, or it it resonates with you personally, please share it.