Monday, July 12, 2010

A Weighty Issue

I've recently gotten in touch with girl I grew up dancing with through the wonderful
world of Facebook. I haven't seen her for 15 years, but I had heard that during that
time, she had developed bulimia. I didn't really know the whole story until this past
week when I discovered her blog. Reading it has made me look a little deeper into my
own relationship with food. I have no idea what it would be like to be bulimic, but I
have certainly thought about purging after binging before. I have even eaten so much
that I made myself sick without trying to. I am an emotional and "social" eater. I had
high metabolism and danced 30 hours a week when I was in high school, so I never had to
watch what I ate. I didn't think about food in a way that focused on being healthy. I didn't
think about food in a way that focused on being healthy - I saw it as being lucky I could eat
what I wanted to, when I wanted to. And in retrospect, for whatever reason I wanted to;
since it didn't make me gain weight, I could always find a reason to justify why it would be ok.
My metabolism came to a screeching halt when I turned 18, but I was still
busy dancing, and since I went to school in Colorado, I was also hiking, snowshoeing,
walking, and Rollerblading a lot. I did gain the "freshman 15" but I wasn't overly
concerned about it.

When I really started to put on weight was when I moved back to Kansas City
(statistically one of the fattest cities in the country, and I started my first full-time desk job.
I gained 45 lbs. in the first couple of years Iwas there. I worked a lot of overtime,
so I ate a lot of fast food. I was single, so I went out drinking with my friends a lot,
and on top of the fattening alcohol, we would go out to eat at 2am for post-partying
grub. I knew I was getting bigger - my clothes weren't fitting, I was out of breath
after climbing a flight of stairs - but it was when people who only knew me as bigger
saw pictures of me when I was in high school and would say it didn't even look like me
that I really got to the point that I felt I was officially "fat". They didn't say it
to be mean, but I was crushed to think I was so overweight I was unrecognizable. I
won't get into my insecurities about my looks in general (that's a whole different post!),
because I have never been classically "pretty", but I did always tell myself at least I
had a really good physique (except for being flat-chested). I felt like now I was ugly
AND fat. I entered the manic cycle of feeling depressed about being fat, then eating
because I was depressed, which just made me gain more weight, which made me even more
depressed, which made me eat...

I have always enjoyed exercising, so I used to think I could keep eating what I wanted,
I just needed to get out of that desk job and have more time to do physical activities.
And one summer they cut our hours, so I had to get a part-time job at Old Navy. I was
on my feet for the whole shift, and usually working on the floor, walking and stocking
shelves, so moving around a lot. I lost twenty pounds without even trying. That was
great motivation for me to really try to lose more. I knew I had pretty much hit the
limit for how much I was going to lose just through working retail at that point, so I
decided to join Weight Watchers with a friend. I can be very stubborn and focused, but
my staying power has always waned, so I have always done better with a partner to help
encourage, motivate and hold me accountable. We worked out and went to meetings together.
I lost another 10 lbs. Yea, me! I ignored the parts at the meetings addressing the real
reasons I ate what I did. I told myself it didn't matter; I would never let myself get
that big again.

I got engaged the next year and continued to work out but struggled with sticking to my
Points all the time with all the pre-wedding festivities - showers, bachelorette
parties, etc. (social eating) and stress (emotional eating). I had hoped to lose
another 5 or 10 lbs. but was happy to just have maintained my weight for the wedding.
And then marriage happened. I love my husband and am so thankful we are together, but I
really struggled with being married the first 6 months (again, another post for another
time). But suffice it to say that I did a lot of emotional eating that first year, and
I gained back 5 lbs. or so. And then pregnancy happened. We were so excited! I didn't
gain an unreasonable amount of weight - 30 lbs. - all of which I lost on maternity leave,
again without really trying. However, I had ended up needing a C-section and had a very
difficult recovery. Six months post-partum, I was still having pains when I did
activities that required any physical exertion. I would have to lie down after I cleaned
the bathtub, for example. So now that I was back working full-time and sleep-deprived,
I ate whatever was fast and easy and required no thought, and wasn't able to exercise to
work it off. Clearly a recipe for disaster - I gained back about 15 lbs.

Luckily, a community center was built next door to my office. Sweet!! A year after our
DD was born, I was able to start working out again on my lunch hour. "This was the
answer," I told myself. I can know admit what I was really thinking subconsciously,
"I still don't have to think about why I'm eating, I'll burn it all off at the gym."
And then a series of events happened over the next year that contributed to a downward
spiral for my weight. I got pregnant again. This was a good thing, but we put our house
on the market at the same time. We had 90 showings in 100 days, most of which were in
the evening which resulted in most of our dinners being eaten out. Then we sold our
house, and the one we bought fell through, so we moved in with my in-laws. They were
wonderful, but there wasn't a lot of room for extra food, so I ate lunch out almost
every day. Then we moved into our new house two months before our second daughter was
born. Miraculously, I only gained about 20 lbs with this pregnancy, putting me at about
the same weight I had been with the first one - which was also about the same weight I
had been at my heaviest. I lost all the baby weight in 6 weeks. But then I went back to
work full-time. And worked overtime. And got even less sleep with two small children.
And back to the poor eating/no working out cycle.

Which brings me to today. I am 8 months post-partum. I have no idea how much I weigh,
but I do know that I am too big for all of my non-maternity clothes. I feel like I'm
bigger than I've ever been, and I'm afraid to weigh myself to have that feeling verified.
Although I know I've always had emotional ties to my eating, I blew it off, attributing
it to conventional wisdom - everyone craves chocolate when they're PMS'ing, etc. But
deep down, I knew that wasn't all there was to it. I always blamed the weight gains for
external reasons (work/kids). And there have certainly been legitimate times in my life
where those factors were big contributors. But I would see friends who had been through
similar experiences, and they were never much bigger, but I would find some other reason
why it hadn't affected them the same way. There are so many reasons for me to want to
eat well and be healthy (not thin necessarily, just healthy.) Type 2 diabetes runs in my
family, I want to be able to run and play with our kids and not get too winded to keep
up, I don't want to feel self-conscious about my weight. I keep saying I want to lose
weight, and I do. But I also keep letting all those external factors get in the way
(again, some legitimately). And they are the perfect scapegoat. Because they allow me
to ignore the real reasons I eat what I do. It has little to do with dieting or exercise.
If I stopped eating for emotional and social reasons, I would resolve my fitness issues
and probably unearth some mental issues as well.

From my friend's blog: "If I've learned anything throughout my recovery journey, it's
that I can use as many tools as I want to-- going to meetings, using a food plan,
picking up the telephone, sponsorship, using a treatment team, etc.--BUT, none of them
really matter if I'm not honest with myself." Reading that was a slap in the face.
Though I certainly don't have a serious disease like bulimia, if I'm honest with myself,
truly honest, I definitely have a problem with my relationship with food. As I typed
this, thoughts started pouring into my mind that I've pushed away for so long. Too many
to recount in this already long post. There will be much more to come as I work my way
through it all. And so it's time to begin my own recovery journey to better health and
honest eating.

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