It has been made clear to me for as long as I could remember that the size of my body was both unacceptable and the source of all my woes. I was told that I was pretty, that I was talented, but none of that would matter if I stayed fat. The world was all about first impressions and your outside was what got your inside through the door.
I had no reason to doubt any of this. I was teased mercilessly at school and at home by extended family members. All the women I knew growing up were either on a diet or saying they needed to start a diet. I was assured that if I could just lose weight, I’d have the world wrapped around my finger (said finger potentially sporting the diamond ring my dad offered in exchange for dropping some lbs).
So, I dieted. And I hated it.
From the age of 8 on, my mom and I shuffled from one diet center to another. I was supposed to learn to make healthy choices. Instead, I learned that I could not be trusted to make choices. Left to my own devices, I would likely, what? Balloon up and roll away like Violet Beauregarde?
So, I followed strictly regimented plans, and stood in line, hoping I had been good enough to lose a pound. Then we could get ice cream.
I swung back and forth between wanting to lose weight so my family would be proud and being angry that this was what I had to do to win their approval. No one ever asked how I felt about myself or what I wanted to eat. I didn’t even know those could be my choices to make. I just got fatter.
Out from under my dad’s critical eye, I managed to lose about 100 pounds twice in my 20s, but the white-knuckled intensity was impossible to keep up.
Eventually my old habits and the weight returned. By the time I was in my 30’s, I’d quit smoking, had 2 kids and dieted my way to nearly 300 pounds.
I wanted to make a grand gesture. I decided that I would train for and run a marathon before I turned 40. I had learned to like exercise as an adult and would work out even if I wasn’t trying to lose weight. I figured this would be a long-term project and the training would refine me, body and soul. I would cross that finish line transformed, worthy.
Unfortunately, my body was having none of it. The harder I pushed, the harder my joints and tendons pushed back. I was in total despair. If I couldn’t work out, I would never, ever be able to lose weight.
It didn’t occur to me to try a different way of exercising that would be kinder to my body. It didn’t occur to me to give myself a chance to heal and maybe work with a coach. I started researching weight-loss surgery. Everyone thought it was a great idea.
I had roux-en-y gastric bypass surgery on September 26, 2009. Parts of my intestines were removed and my stomach was divided and re-routed. Going into surgery, I knew that I’d initially only be able to eat tiny amounts of food and my body wouldn’t absorb all the calories or nutrients from what I could eat.
The ability to absorb calories would eventually return, along with my hunger, but I would need to take vitamin and mineral supplements for life. I could die during the surgery, or afterward from complications. My hair would fall out. I would need medical follow-up for life. I didn’t bat an eye at any of it. Nothing seemed more unbearable than being in that body, facing another diet.
The weight came off quickly at first, 80 pounds gone in the first 6 months.
With it, went so much of the shame I had carried my whole life. I didn’t care about food. I was never hungry. I felt changed. The loss slowed and stalled, as was expected, but it made me nervous. My surgeon was pleased with my results, but I wanted to thrill him. I wanted everyone to gasp and hug me when I walked in the office. I wanted him to be proud.
I reached out to other WLS patients. We formed an accountability group and kept in constant contact on our phones. We were strict with our protein and exercise. We posted photos of everything we ate, every empty water bottle, every drop of sweat.
We ran when we were sick. Didn’t eat when we were hungry. We were hard-chargers, kicking ass, Never Going Back! We lived in each other’s pockets. We understood each other and did things together that I never thought I could do. I also hated it. I resented being called out when I didn’t post or my food got squirrely. I didn’t want to be questioned. I didn’t want to work out when I was exhausted. I didn’t want this to be the center of my life forever.
It was tough. These women were my friends, but I needed a break. I started backing away from the group. My family moved across country and it was an easy excuse. I would check in now and then just to say hi. It felt good just to BE.
Then came the day that my pants were tight. Like, need-a-bigger-size tight.
This would be the second time I’d gone up a size in a year. I bought a scale and was horrified to see that I was up nearly 30 pounds from my lowest. It was the worst sin: regain. I felt like I needed to confess. I posted a scale shot and a shame-filled profile to the group. I swore I’d mend my ways and never stay away from the scale so long again. I set a goal to be at my goal weight by my 4 year anniversary.
It was a feverish, prodigal-daughter-returns moment. I was shot with a rush of good feelings from the approval of the group, the hopeful upswing of a new effort. I sat down to make a fresh-start shopping list and it all just flooded into my head: I had asked these women to watch and consider my behavior because that’s what I’d done my whole life. I’d gotten frustrated and walked away because I’d done that my whole life, too.
And now I was back, still trying to earn that diamond ring.
I only felt badly when I was asking someone else to tell me I was OK. The rest of the time, I actually was OK. It was the first time I was aware of how I felt about myself without regard for anyone else’s expectations. It was the strangest feeling. I may have giggled.
My job now is to remember that I get to make these choices for myself. It is easy to forget, because the world does not encourage remembering our own goodness.
Every day, I get to choose. I choose to give my long-suffering body a break and stop trying to lose weight. I choose to eat with my awesome husband and kids instead of hiding in my room. I choose to love and enjoy this body because it is mine and I am awesome, whatever shape I come in. And so are you.