Sunday, April 24, 2005

The conversation I've been avoiding

Yesterday was the Salt Lake City Marathon. Last Monday was the “first day of the rest of my life” (again). Both days represent important goals to me.

Monday, I started Weight Watchers. I enter into this adventure with experience. I am a Lifetime Member – which means that at one point in time I successfully lost weight by following the Weight Watchers mantra. Not only did I lose it, I kept it off for at least six weeks and then was crowned a Lifetime Member. I lost about 25 pounds. I started my diet - oh excuse me, my lifestyle change - almost two years ago to the week. It probably took me about 6 months to gain half the weight back and another year to gain the rest.

I’ve struggled with my weight since I was about 18. I can distinctly remember the first time I dieted. It was a few weeks before I started my freshman year at Iowa State University. I was planning to follow in my mother’s footsteps and go through the “rush” process to join a sorority. My mother bought me some new clothes and I wanted to lose about five pounds to look my best. I don’t remember thinking about my weight before this point. I think it’s because I entered puberty so late in my adolescence – not getting my first period until a month before I turned 18. Seriously. It was awesome. I vaguely remember lots of people freaking out about the fact that I wasn’t menstruating yet, but I had it all figured out. I didn’t have to deal with cramps, mood swings or pads. What was so wrong with that???

After I headed off to college out of state, I discovered a lot of things. Beer and junk food were my particular favorites. I grew up with Depression-era parents who were frugal and practical to the bone. Food was always served in appropriate portions. The cereal in the house was sans sugar. The “junk food” we had consisted of pretzels and an occasional cookie. Pop was almost non-existent. Once in awhile if we were traveling or picnicking, Mom would splurge on a couple cans of Shasta. My reaction to unlimited amounts of food available at my fingertips, after a lifetime of restraint, was probably normal; however as I look back it appears to be the beginning of my demise. The beginning of my love/hate affair with food.

My freshman year I started drinking alcohol for the first time. I also was able to have more than one glass of milk with a meal due to those large chrome machines right in the dining room on the first floor of my dorm. Nobody was monitoring my intake. I ate fried foods more frequently, drank every weekend, ate late-night pizza at least once a week, and had make-your-own-sundaes more than I should have. Needless to say, I gained some weight even though I grew about three inches. By my sophomore year I had moved into the sorority house and my best friend was a swimmer for ISU. We were the same height, and the same shoe size, but not the same weight. I tried swimming laps, but could never keep it up to the level of becoming routine.

I continued to gain weight well into my 20s. I distinctly remember a long period when I thought that I may have to start shopping at Lane Bryant – or some other store for large sized women. I was a size 14 verging on 16. Every time I entered a room, I would become more self-conscious – sure that everyone was staring at my fat butt, or my wide hips. When I was about 26, my parents gave me the money to join “Diet Center” – a weight loss place where the consultants wore white uniforms complete with nurses caps. They had me on a strict diet of 500 calories a day. I helped my weight loss along by exercising a lot. Swam laps most mornings and then rode my stationary bike at night. Of course I lost weight – 38 pounds in about two and a half months. Gained it back in six weeks. To the pound. That six week period was the closest I’ve ever felt to reaching a pure mental breakdown. I tried laxatives a couple of times after that which eventually my boyfriend to force me into a counselor’s office. He listened, calmed me and told me that I indeed had not gone crazy. I will never forget that moment and think it had something to do with my decision to become a counselor. About 6 months later I started grad school and took up running. My entire outlook on life changed. I felt energized and happy. My mind was enriched and my time was busy with things I truly loved. I lost about 18 pounds naturally.

That new weight stabilized and I’ve struggled to get lower over the last twelve years or so. When Ella turned one, I joined Weight Watchers for the first time. I was a model pupil for awhile. The system is really good. It teaches portion control, well balanced eating and how to incorporate exercise into your life. These are all good things, but it is also feeds neuroses. Mine in particular. I am all or nothing. Good or bad. I follow the Weight Watcher ways or I don’t. When I follow them I feel in control and more attractive. When I don’t follow them, I often feel out of control or somewhat unhappy. I don’t want to say that my happiness is completely tied to my appearance, but it definitely has somewhat of a connection. As I have matured, I have gained self confidence. I don’t loathe myself anymore. I find happiness through my family, my work and from continually learning. I just need to make that enough.

I’m aware that there are many serious problems in the world. I know I’m lucky to have an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and fun husband. I also know how lucky I am to have two beautiful children who complete my life. However, unfortunately I have allowed my self esteem to become intertwined with my idea of happiness. Thinking about my weight, worrying about my body and planning around my self image have consumed most of my adult life. I have had periods where it has been less of an issue, but other times it’s as if I’m as insecure as a “pubescent” 21 year old.

I know that I am not obese, nor even overweight according to the insurance charts, but I don’t feel comfortable with how I look. That’s the bottom line. I would give anything not to feel this way. It feels like such a waste of time to consume myself with this, but I have yet to conquer this. My biggest concern is that I will give this obsession, for lack of a better word, to my little girl. I do not want her to grow up listening to me berate myself or counting calories.

Chris has offered to do Weight Watchers with me this time. He is learning more about healthy eating – something we were already doing, but just not well enough. Hopefully this will help me stay on track for the long haul. Or at least until I decide not to care about it so much.

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