How I got here: my journey so far

16 Feb

Warning: Long, personal, rambling.

I’ve always been fat. Well… maybe not always. I’m willing to concede that there might have been a brief window in between when I was a typically chubby toddler and when I became a genuinely tubby kid, but I don’t remember it and I can’t find any conclusive proof. In any case, I’ve been fat as long as I can remember. I was the big girl in elementary school, the big girl in middle school, the big girl in high school, the big girl in college, and I remain a big woman. There were times when I agonized about my fat more (middle school) and times when I embraced it and lived my life to the fullest regardless of my extra insulation (college), and my relative fatness has fluctuated, but this blanket of subcutaneous lipids has always been here.

It’s funny — both my parents are skinny. Like, really skinny. Like, I’m pretty sure I weigh more now than my parents did combined when they got married. Okay, I’m not actually positive of that, but take my word for it that I do not come from a long line of heavy folk. I am like the cuckoo chick in the wren’s nest. My weight probably causes my parents more grief than it causes me. (Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, by the way, chill out. Nobody looks at me and thinks MY GOD WHO RAISED THAT BLIMP.) I know they both love me “no matter what” but they’ve definitely made it clear that they “just want me to be healthy” and “are concerned about me” and all those other lines that us fat people just totally love hearing from our skinny loved ones.

I’ve never really dieted. I would occasionally embark on various absolutist I WILL EAT HEALTHY FOREVER AND ALWAYS!!!1! campaigns (nearly always stemming from my parents), but they never really stuck. For a brief period around my sophomore year of high school I succumbed to pressure and started tracking everything I ate, weighing myself religiously, exercising like a fiend, and limiting my caloric intake, and I did manage to lose weight. But anyone who has ever been fat, especially a fat teenager, knows that anything you don’t do for yourself never sticks. I didn’t exercise because it gave me joy or track what I ate because it helped me feel in control; this was a joyless and frenzied time overall.

So we’ve pretty well set the stage for when I went away to college and lived on my own for the first time: food freedom! No one watching and judging! I’ll show you mom and dad, I’m going to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s and then go have waffles! BWA HA HA!

I got fatter in college. I also started learning to love myself, fat and all. I dipped my toes in the fat acceptance waters. I read wonderful studies debunking much of what we are told about obesity. I graduated college, started working, got even less active, had even fewer motivations to eat well, got even fatter, didn’t really care.

This is the part where in a normal fat memoir I’d talk about the moment when I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person looking back at me, or broke down in tears when my doctor told me about the grandchildren I’d never see, or some crap like that. But this isn’t that kind of story. This is my story, and I’m kind of weird. My moment when everything changed came when I won second place in a hotly contested medieval costume contest. I was so proud of myself! I had tackled this huge undertaking, making everything from my socks and shoes to all the parts of my hat. A friend helped me draft a dress pattern from an extant garment, and helped me figure out how to adjust it so that it would actually fit me, given that medieval people were skinny and I am not.

That was my moment, right there: making that pattern work on my body was hard. I realized that I wanted to sew more, and that sewing is easier when you’re smaller.

I should have warned you there wasn’t going to be anything profound in here. It turns out that I decided I wanted to lose weight because, at the age of 26 and of my own initiative, I discovered vanity. That year I started using My Plate, I tracked my caloric intake and expenditure religiously, and I lost 35 pounds.

During the next year, I joined Weight Watchers. I liked the social aspect of it, and the cutesy rewards system, but the reliance on processed food and especially artificial sweeteners grossed me out. I lost some more weight, probably another 15 pounds or so.

It was during this time that I started to seriously investigate eating paleo. I have a dog whom I love dearly, and I feed him a raw species-appropriate diet. I started to ask myself why I fed the dog an evolutionary based diet and didn’t feed myself one. I read more about it and jumped in with both feet. I wasn’t too strict about carbs and I fell off the wagon periodically, but I became more active, based my diet around meat, fat, vegetables, and fruit, and started to feel healthy in a way I had never previously experienced. I took some flak from my friends and my Better Half for my use of terms like “neolithic antinutrients” and “suboptimal MUFA to PUFA ratio”– I was definitely a strident convert.

I lost another 10 pounds, but very slowly. Mostly what I noticed was all my clothes suddenly fit differently. I believe that much of my initial weight loss was muscle weight, and during this period I was able to reduce my body fat further while rebuilding lost muscle, but since I don’t have a system for tracking my body fat percentage I’ll never know for sure.

The summer of maximum paleo awesomeness was also the summer my sweetie proposed. I was hip deep in water, had just finished eating a bag of raw coconut macaroons, and wearing Vibram Five Fingers at the time. Too much sexy 😉

Fall rolled back around and things were still going pretty well. But that winter and spring were an incredibly rough time for me. The short version is, work was really, really, really stressful. And I did not rise to the occasion, health-wise. I stopped eating paleo and started drinking and eating junk food again. I gained a good 15+ pounds, which totally sucked. Even though my weight loss had gone in bursts, I was always really proud that I had managed not to gain back any weight even when I wasn’t losing weight either, so this really hurt. I made a brief foray into jogging during this time, and was starting to really feel like a rockstar about it, but somehow managed to get prickly heat rash (IN JANUARY IN OREGON OH MY GOD MY BODY IS DEFECTIVE) and was actually told by a doctor to hold off on running. Suck fest!

I left my job. I got married. I was still not serious about eating well. I gained weight on our honeymoon. My weight fluctuated by about 5 pounds but mostly stayed steady. I was now up a solid 20 pounds from my lowest. I got a new job. I love my new job. I discovered that I’m gluten intolerant. I went on a gluten free junk food eating marathon between Thanksgiving and mid-January. I looked at myself and said “What the fuck are you doing?” and vowed to get back on track.

But I still don’t know what “on track” means for me. I’ve started running again (I’m doing Couch to 5K) and I love it. Once the weather warms up I’m looking forward to having more chances to get outside and move. I’ve really been struggling to track what I eat every day, but I have been steadily (if slowly) losing weight. I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of eating meat, fat, and vegetables, but I’ve also noticed that since I started running I really have been craving carbs more than usual. I do indulge in moderate gluten free treats more often than I probably should — for example I recently figured out how to make genuinely amazing homemade fritters — and I’ve been eating rice more than I used to.

I guess I want this story to have some kind of amazing solid ending, like, “And that’s how I lost 120 pounds and regained my health and never ate macaroni and cheese again.” But I don’t think my story goes that way. I think the reality is I’m healthier than I have ever been by a wide variety of measurements, and I might be ready to learn how to do something totally new for me: moderation. Can I be a six-days-a-week cavegirl? Can I have gluten free macaroni and cheese for dinner without it causing me go on a cookie binge the next day? I don’t know.

I guess what I’m saying here is stay tuned, because this story is far from over. I like to think I’m just getting to the good part.

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