[Quick note: I’ve been keeping a journal about my weight and weight loss for the last few years, ever since I started the Dr. B diet. I idly wondered the other day how I would feel letting someone read it and I immediately knew that I’d be too embarrassed, too exposed. But I hated that reaction. I didn’t want to be scared to share this part of my life. So that’s why I wrote this post. Re-reading it now, I hope I don’t offend anyone who’s struggled with their own weight. My intention is not to speak on behalf of anyone else; it’s just to share my own feelings about growing up fat, because I needed to share them.]
Wow, you’d think this blog had called me fat on my birthday or something. Between crunch time at work, my awesome trip over the holidays to Orlando where I visited the spectacular Wizarding World of Harry Potter and my current preoccupations with writing for something that isn’t this blog, I guess I’ve been neglectful.
So what should I write about? Current events? A critique of some pop culture trend? To be honest, I’ve been kind of consumed with one, uh, project in particular.
Since I turned the big 2-5, I’m proud to say I’ve checked off a few important items on my to-do list. I moved out of my mom’s house, I settled into a great, full-time job that’s actually in my field, I FINALLY got my G license (I know, I was a late-blooming driver.), and now I’m working on a couple of other important ones.
I gave up on becoming fluent in French last year (it’s gonna’ take full on immersion to get me there), and I’m trying to overcome my debilitating, ridiculous fear of swimming every Thursday night. But the big one? I’m trying to lose weight.
Yeah, I know. Everyone’s trying to lose weight, or get healthy, or achieve perfect abs around this time of year. But unlike most of your New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been working on this one a while.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I “started” trying to lose weight. I’ve kind of always been fat. In fact, the first time I was on the receiving end of a fat joke was in grade 2. Grade TWO, you guys. And I’ve been sneaking food behind my mom’s back despite her pleas for me to lose weight and thinking of myself as the smart-but-fat sister since at least middle school.
As a kid, whenever someone would bring up my growing waistline – mainly my mom – I would get angry. I hated that look. That I-don’t-want-you-to-get-angry-but-maybe-you-shouldn’t-be-taking-seconds look. I know she was just concerned for me, and I regret making it so hard for her to talk to me about my weight. I didn’t hate her, or anyone else, for simply acknowledging what was a simple fact at the time. I just hated that it was true. I hated that I couldn’t eat what I wanted like my sister – the pretty one. I didn’t understand why it was so wrong to be the size I was, or to eat what I wanted. For a long time, I felt like any criticism of my weight was a shallow, superficial complaint. That I should be allowed to just be me. But eventually I grew to realize that I wanted to lose weight just as much as my mom wanted me to, though I would never admit it.
As I grew older, I did try to lose weight. A lot. Every summer, every time I started a new school, every birthday, every – yes – New Year’s since then, I’ve resolved to lose The Weight. I felt like I was wasting my life being fat. That I’d never be the person I wanted to be while I was overweight. That life would begin when I was “thin”, however I defined the term at the time. But for a long time I didn’t know jack shit about weight loss or eating healthy. I was a kid, after all. My idea of eating healthy was eating Sun Chips instead of Lays. (I can’t even explain that one, but yeah, I’m serious.) Plus, my favourite past-times were reading, writing and watching TV. “Running around the yard”, as my mom frequently suggested, just seemed so boring.
Then I got to university. I know it’s not an excuse, but university life is so bad for your health. Especially at York, where the ratio of healthy food to junk is something like 1:8, at least. And the scheduling. My god, the scheduling! If there was a way to pull an all-nighter without snacking, I never discovered it. I’m sorry to say I gained 10 pounds every year for 4 years.
People wonder how someone who’s morbidly obese got there. At some point, wouldn’t they have said “This has to stop. I’m not going to get any fatter. I’m going to lose this weight!”? Well, that’s not how it happens. When you’re the one gaining the weight, you just spend every day the way you’ve spent every day before that; normal for you is just eating the way you always have. Once in a while you resolve to finally lose weight, but most people don’t have the time, energy, knowledge, resolve or support to make the huge life changes that are necessary to a) losing a significant amount of weight and b) keeping it off. Frankly, it’s just a lot harder than it looks. And every so often, out of nowhere, you realize you’ve gotten fatter. And losing weight becomes that much more impossible.
And if you’ve never been significantly overweight but you think might understand what it’s like or how someone like me could go about losing weight – you don’t.
I once wrote (elsewhere) that if weight loss were one, huge, heroic feat – a sprint, if you will – then I’d be thin. But it isn’t. It’s every day. It’s every second. It’s merciless. It’s telling yourself that every little decision you make during a day matters, no matter how hard each one is, that they’re all worth it, that it’s going to work. It’s a week of good behaviour and one bad day until you’re back where you started. It’s every fear you had that you’re going to fail realized. It’s convincing yourself that you are not “meant” to be fat, that this time, after 1,870 tries, that THIS time will work. And, for me at least, it’s a lifetime of hating yourself for losing control of your weight, and thinking that maybe you deserve to be fat.
That’s exactly what it’s like, just so you know. I spent a lifetime defining myself as “fat”. And it wasn’t just one part of me. It affected every single part of my life. It’s a chair in a classroom. A narrow aisle in a store. A couch with three people already on it. It’s a friend’s mom meeting you for the first time and saying in a language you don’t speak, “wow, she’s big.” It’s trying to eat in public without shame. It’s your mother’s disappointed look when you go clothes shopping. It’s being told that fat = ugly, and avoiding questions about dating. It’s a complete stranger – or worse, a close friend – casually suggesting that you should take a brisk walk every evening and skip a meal once in a while. It’s binge eating at 10 years old and trying to make yourself throw up, knowing that you’ll hate yourself either way.
It’s a lifetime of walking around, feeling suffocated in a body you can’t escape. It’s hating what you look like, not because the whole world thinks you look gross, but because it’s an inescapable reminder of all those failures and weak moments.
So, in 2007, at 245 pounds, I took a bit of health insurance I had and spent it on 9 weeks of the Dr. Bernstein program. A strict diet + 3 visits a week with a nurse + B6/B12 injections + lots of money = miracle! Okay, I know there’s no such thing as a miracle cure. No quick fix-it scheme. Oh, and I got plenty of skeptical looks. Why can’t I just start “eating healthy” and get “physically active”? Because I didn’t believe that would work. There was just too much weight to lose. It would have taken years! Knowing that I would have to keep that up for years, with slow progress, all the while still living this life, in this body, was daunting and, ultimately, seemed futile. The fastest way to a thin me was automatically the best. I had already wasted so much of my life struggling with my weight; time was always slipping away from me. Besides, after so many failures, I just knew I couldn’t do it alone, that I couldn’t do it in a series of small life changes for a period of years. In the end, I didn’t get know-how or a magical injection from that program. What I got was the belief that I could do it – a promise – and then I did all the work.
I had to stop the program after 9 weeks, $1,000 and 40 pounds because I had run out of money and I was confident that I could lose the rest of the weight on my own. Over the next two years or so, I managed to lose a little weight here and there, but there was always an excuse when things got busy or difficult or stressful to start afresh the next day. There’s always an excuse to eat now and repent later.
I started lots of diet programs. Wrote lots of carefully balanced and nutritious menus that would be easy to follow. Tried lots of different exercise routines, sports, pilates, etc. etc. Gave myself deadlines, schedules, motivation – but I gave up on everything. Or rather, I postponed, I procrastinated, I rescheduled. In the heat of the moment, when you’re deciding whether or not to go to the gym or eat that brownie, you realize you can rationalize any decision, no matter how lame it is, or how much you know – on some level – that you will regret it later. At my worst moments, I hated myself for being this person that I had become and eating became a way of being self-destructive.
A month after turning 25, a couple of days after moving to Toronto, I enrolled in the Dr. B program for a second time. I was 8 pounds heavier than when I left the program in 2007. I had to renew my faith. I needed that support. I needed a nurse to scold me if I cheated. I needed a monetary reason not to say “I’ll start on Monday.”
Now, at 175 pounds, I’m just 7 weeks and 25 pounds away from my weight loss goal. I never kept track of my weight until I was in my 20’s, so I don’t know the last time I was this weight, but it certainly feels new. I finally feel like I could be that person. That thin person everyone wanted me to be. That there could be a version of me that isn’t Fat. And it’s terrifying.
I don’t regret the strict diet that got me here, but I do worry about what I’m going to do when I’m off the program. If I think it’s tough being fat now, imagine how it’s going to feel knowing how hard I worked to lose all that weight, just to gain it all back again?
After all, what’s to stop me from going back to my old ways? Well, I don’t have a good answer for you. I can make all the plans I want. I can research all the healthy foods I want. I can sign up for all the martial arts and yoga classes I want. But how often does a person really change? Permanently change? Even if I keep it up, what happens the next time I get too busy or stressed out to monitor what I eat?
On that show Hoarders, the people always say things were getting better – under control, at least – until some crisis ruined everything. That’s how it always is. On your best day, you can get to the gym and follow your carefully planned menu. But what about your worse days?
When I tell people about my weight loss and they inevitably ask, “but isn’t it going to be hard to keep it off?”, all I can offer is, “I’ll try.” And I’m not saying that lightly. It’s just the truth. But I will say this: There was no way I was going to lose such a significant amount of weight without a structured program, a strict diet, a support system and the motivation that spending a ton of money provides. So I have no regrets. And when I reach 145 pounds – for a total of 100 pounds lost all together – I’ll have something I’ve never had before, during all those other attempts. I’ll have a blank slate. And that makes me believe I can be something other than fat.