I used to cry because I couldn’t have pizza. Every week, the counselor I was interning with in grad school would go to Little Caesar’s and buy pizzas for her girl’s group and every week my mouth would water like crazy looking at those greasy, cheesy, saucy slices and those garlicky, parmeseaned doughy breadsticks. And every week I said no. One night I sat staring at my (then boyfriend, now husband)’s pizza sitting on top of our oven half eaten and actually cried because I wanted it. SO. BAD.
A couple years later, friends had cocktails and beer and wine and shots and ordered pizza when they were hungry. I could only allow myself one drink per week and no pizza, because I spent my calories on that cocktail. I remember vividly the hate in my heart I felt from depriving myself. I remember lusting after pizza and pasta like they were lovers I was having an illicit, dangerous affair with. Do you have any idea how much time and energy I spent thinking about all the things I could not have? Do you have any idea how depleted I was on every front (physically, mentally, emotionally) from restricting myself?
And what was my reason for this deprivation? I wanted to be thinner. I was already thin. But not enough for me. I had no medical reason to lose weight. I was healthy as could be, normal BMI, size 2-4, but can’t we all be a little better? Eating “healthy” as a lifestyle wasn’t something I could wrap my brain around. I was unable to maintain a steady “lifestyle” that kept me at an ever shrinking pace, and instead did my weight loss in intense bursts when it was most desirable. To me, healthy was too vague and nebulous, code words for what I believed was really important – weight loss. I understood math – calories in vs. calories out. I understood skinny. I understood deprivation.
Because there were no magazines and attention paid to “healthy” growing up. Healthy and thin were synonymous. We didn’t grow up in a culture where our world was super concerned about our health, no matter what our bodies looked on the outside. We grew up KNOWING that “healthy” was a code word for “skinny.” We didn’t grow up with a lot of emphasis on how our bodies felt, how our minds and bodies were able to function at their best, on energy. We didn’t grow up with anyone telling us to pay attention how our bodies actually felt. We grew up being told to pay attention to how our bodies looked.
And I did lose weight. I lost so much that I didn’t really need to lose, for no purpose except that I thought I always needed to be striving for smaller. Like losing inches or pounds would bring me joy or adoration or respect. I was rewarded with pants falling off my hip bones and a wedding dress that started out as too tight needing to be taken in. That’s pretty much it. Looking back at some points in my body’s evolution I can see how thin I was, but I never saw it in real life. It was never, ever enough.
The last time I restricted my diet was five years ago. Since then I have birthed and breastfed two babies. I went to counseling for over a year. I had several “come to Jesus” moments about my body image. I’ve had good moments and bad moments, strong months and weak months. Times where I have felt unshakeable about my body image, and times where I think I have made very little progress. Sometimes I want to be thinner. Sometimes I think I look great. Sometimes I still tell myself I look disgusting, though that happens far less frequently than it used to, back when I was much thinner than I am now.
My counselor would go through my thoughts, beliefs, feelings. We’d replace my maladaptive thought patterns with something more healthy, something I could say to myself that didn’t bring me deep, deep shame about my body. I was supposed to replace those negative thoughts with the healthier ones, but I confessed to her I still didn’t believe in the “healthier” thought. There was still a part of me snarling in the corner with snark and some cutting remark that it was all bullshit – that I should believe the shame. That the shame should rule my life choices – that the healthy thing to do was to literally cry hot, salty tears into my husband’s pizza so I could be a few pounds lighter. I wasn’t willing to let go of the shame. I still believed in it.
But I made a decision to fake it until I made it. I told myself those healthy thoughts. I told them to myself over and over even though that snarling, snarky part was still whispering in my ear.
I did it because I didn’t like who I was when I spent all my free time and energy and effort on making my body smaller. I didn’t like the way it consumed me, didn’t like it that after my last diet when I said out loud to my husband I didn’t know if I could ever diet again, he looked straight into my eyes and said “Please never do that again.” I didn’t become a better version of myself when I got thinner. I didn’t become someone happier or healthier or full of more energy – instead it zapped me of virtually all of those things.
I recently was listening to friends discussing a diet and exercise program they are on. I heard the familiar hatred, the desperation of wanting something to eat that they “couldn’t” have. One even said “I almost cried” about something she wanted to eat so badly but couldn’t. And in my head, in that moment, something snapped in me.
Five years ago I could have chimed right in. But this time I felt a distance, like a space had opened up in front of me between me five years ago and me today. A space I had not noticed had spread so wide until that moment. And I knew one thing for absolute certainty – I never, ever want to go back.
I faked it and faked it until slowly, with time, without me even noticing – I believed it.
Objectively, I am twenty plus pounds heavier than I was at my thinnest as an adult, about seven years ago. I sit more comfortably in a size 6 than a 2, and my pride gives zero fucks about what number is on my jeans as long as they are comfortable.
I hear the way people, even people I love very much, talk about those who have gained weight. It’s not easy to sit in front of someone talking about how “sad” it is that someone is heavier than they once were when it is blatantly clear that I have done the same. They aren’t saying it to me, not saying it to be hurtful, probably not even connecting the dots that I have also gained weight and that what they are saying might be a tad offensive. They are just speaking from their own life experiences and own body image. I don’t always think it’s “so sad” anymore. I don’t know how to explain this to people who still think it is, its almost too new of a feeling for me to explain to somebody else, so I don’t try.
I used to hate the gym with a passion. I went out of sheer hunger – I needed to be able to eat more calories and the only way to do that was to burn them off at the gym. I hated 98% of the time I spent there – counting down the seconds until I could go home and have exactly 2 small slices of pizza I’d saved up calories for.
I joined a gym for the first time in 5 years earlier this month. I had been toying with the idea, but a friend sealed the deal for me when she said she loved the gym because it was one hour a day where nobody was touching or talking to her. That’s pretty much all I needed to get sold on the idea. Now I go to the gym well fed, I know I can have whatever I want when I get home. I find myself sort of wanting to stay longer – its true what my friend said – no talking or touching for an hour is kind of paradise right now.
And it feels so good this time. If you would have told me years ago I would join a gym “for fun” and not to lose weight, that I would enjoy going, enjoy the feeling of moving my body without the obsession of how many calories I was burning, I would have laughed. I hated people like that, truly. Who are these freaks of nature who LIKE exercising? And who are these liars claiming they are going to the gym for anything other than getting thinner?
Because I couldn’t imagine a time where exercise wasn’t a war with my body. Now it’s a lot more like an act of love and as cheesy as it sounds, I feel that shit in my bones.