I was incredibly lucky to grow up with a mother who valued health, wellness, and education. She home-schooled me, and in time I learned the basics of food – choosing, cooking, and eating the best possible options. I was pescatarian the majority of my young life, and ate whole, organic foods. I visited farms and delighted in u-pick fields, talked to farmers at farmers markets and ate carrots still covered in dirt on a daily basis. I recognize that these are advantages that most people have never and will never had, and I am eternally grateful for the grounding education I have in food, in health, and in habits. My eating habits growing up were impeccable, based in a solid education in food and health tied to food.
The rest of the world didn’t eat like we did – they had shiny food in plastic packaging, things with processed sugars that my young taste buds found foreign and incredible. When the sweetest thing you’ve ever eaten is a fresh strawberry you picked yourself, how do you fight off the cravings that come from candy? How do you exhibit self-control when you don’t care enough to control yourself? When I started school in the fourth grade, I rapidly began to gain weight, having left behind all my outdoor activities in favor of an indoor desk, trying to sneak skittles instead of sauteed vegetables whenever possible. My allowance started to go not towards artisan jams and jellies, but to drugstore candy and milkshakes and sugar.
When I started gaining weight, my father began to regularly chastise me for eating poorly or eating too much, nitpicking at my every choice whenever we spent time together. I already had an incredibly rocky relationship with my father following my parents’ divorce. When we fought, I ate. It was a way to make him angry and a way to defy him, as well as being a way for me to find some kind of comfort in an otherwise comfortless situation. Eating was a weapon against him and a comfort to me, albeit a hollow one.
By the time I was a junior in high school, I was quite overweight. I played lacrosse, and was very good at it, but still got out of breath a little bit too easily (which I blamed on catching pneumonia several times over the past couple of years) and still carried extra weight. I was more active, but my diet was not good. When a traumatic injury left me bedridden, I turned to food as my only outlet for emotional distress, and, unable to exercise, gained more weight. I graduated high school unhappy with my body, and with my injury having triggered my celiac disease, reformatting my relationship with food. I weighed 200 pounds when I graduated, a weight that on my 5’8 frame makes for a BMI at the lower end of obesity.
I’ve lost sixty pounds since then. If anything, I am a success story for eating clean and exercising, a success story that points to the value of lifestyle changes instead of diets and exercise instead of starvation. I didn’t have a day that I decided to lose weight, or get healthy – it just started happening. But I began to see changes, see weight loss affecting my body, see these changes that I delighted in. And as much as I am a success story, I am a cautionary tale as well. I became addicted to seeing and tracking changes, watching my progress and obsessing over eating healthy – but not too much, never too much, panic if you eat too much – and exercising regularly. It is important to find balance in everything that you do, including doing the “right” things when it comes to your health.
What I did to lose weight might not work for everyone, and what some people do to lose weight doesn’t work for me. It’s important to note that your happiness should always come first – if you are not delighted with your life, something needs to change. If fitness and health and dedication to that pursuit becomes a chore and something that you feel like you HAVE to do rather than something that you WANT to do, it’s time to reformat your goals and try something new.
If what I said about addiction, obsession, and panic sounds familiar or rings true for you, please reach out to a mental health professional – you may also want to look into orthorexia, the obsession with eating and being excessively healthy (and fearing foods that are unhealthy). Regardless, though, please know that you are worthy of love from yourself. Your size does not dictate the love you receive. And you are enough exactly as you are.