Things changed for me in high school though. I smartened up, literally. I spent my last two years in high school still very much overweight (and hating myself because of it) but I compensated by earning high marks. In those last two years my grades were so high that I ended up in the Honour Society of our school, a level distinguishing those with a GPA of 4.0 and higher. Naturally, I created friends. Classmates liked me. I was no longer the last one picked or the quiet, shy girl. Instead, I became more outgoing and confident. It didn't really matter that the majority of my friends liked me because I helped them out with their class papers or that I let them cheat off me during a test. I excelled at making myself the highest grade in the class. I would even do the extra credit just for shits and giggles. I recall one particular subject whose teacher was a very grumpy, miserable young man from Arkansas. He hated teaching, hated students and hated that everyone made fun of his accent. He deliberately made his tests difficult. He made it his life's mission to fail at least half the class on every test. Except me. Granted, he would reluctantly give me an A- (and in his class it was closer to a miracle), but it was higher, way higher than everyone else's grades. On one ill fated afternoon, he read the test marks out loud like he usually does after grading them. Given that everyone in the class was below 60%, it was no surprise that the entire classroom burst out laughing when he called my mark: 103%. I had a few minutes left during the test and answered the extra credit questions as well. From that moment on, classmates no longer referred to me by my given name. Instead, I was called 103. The whole thing was really very endearing but what stood out in my mind at the time was that size isn't everything (no, get your mind out of the gutter). I think if I had worked hard on losing weight, as hard as I did to earn those grades, that I would have been slimmer by the time summer rolled around.
University was a different experience than high school. For one, I was out of my comfort zone. On top of that, I had lost all my friends. They all went to different places. I was once again by myself, relying on nothing but my appearance to get me by because it's always the first thing people see. That's the way I saw things back then. When I had nothing else, I let my size define me. I let my appearance dictate how I acted. I had few friends. I was miserable. I thought I was huge and unattractive. In reality I was at the small end of the plus size scale. I most likely wore a size 12 or 14 (I still have a couple of jeans left over from that era). In any case, I did the same thing. Worked harder at getting good grades and made different friends. One of my closest friends was a very slim and beautiful girl. I think she hung out with me because she appreciated my dry sense of humour. But I remember one of the most hurtful and devastating blows to my self confidence was a remark (by a very mean & nasty guy) that made it's way to me. He compared me to a stray cat and claimed that I hang out with my friend hoping that some of her "pretty" might rub off and make me less ugly. I pretended to brush it off but it had an impact, a huge one.
Fast forward eight years (and very thick skin, yes, pun intended) later, I had ballooned to a whopping 280 pounds. My weight has always been an issue for me, my family, and friends. Everyone thought I needed to lose weight. My size was a constant factor in my life no matter what I did. It didn't matter what else I was dealing with at the time, my weight remained an issue in the background. At age 24, I was also sporting a size 24 in clothes. The bigger I got the more invisible I tried to be. I felt that if I could just stay quiet, say nothing and do nothing, that I just might be able to blend in the background, become part of the furniture or camouflaged by the hideous wallpaper. During one large family gathering, one family member (who shall remain nameless, bless her heart) complained to my mother about how she'd tried everything with her daughter who keeps fluctuating between a size 8 and 10. She was upset that her daughter was a size Medium, and called her fat. She then smiled at me and turned to ask my mother if they had tried to do anything about my weight. She proceeded to ask if my father had looked into the fact (and she sounded quite certain) that my weight problem could be hormone related and that I would look beautiful if they could do something about it because I had a beautiful face. She was talking to my mother about me, while I was sitting in between them. It's as if I was invisible, literally. It sounds like a scene from a sitcom, doesn't it? I promise I'm not making this shit up. Needless to say, I think she really meant well. She probably did not realize how hurtful and insulting that was (given that I'm a grown woman) but she most likely thought she was helping.
When I think about it, most people who encouraged me to lose weight actually meant well. They were not doing it to be mean. It's concern for my well being that drove them. And out of all those people, I believe my mother cared the most. I think part of her understood how hard it is to go through life as a fat person. Unlike me, she spent most of her adult life fluctuating between a size small and medium. This is precisely why she had a unique perspective. She judged heavy people the same way others do. And although she was not repulsed by me in the usual way that many feel about fat people, she habitually badgered me to lose weight. She loved and cared about me and it is because of this that she knew how hard it would be for me to be happy in a world that appreciates slim women. You would think that the shame that came with being fat should have been enough to get me to lose weight, but the truth of the matter is I just wasn't ready.
I know I'm going on and on about things that might seem disconnected but the point I'm trying to make is this: No one will ever be able to make you lose weight. Weight loss is as much a mental state as it is physical. Only you will be able to make you lose weight. I think people should be accepted for who they are not their size. No one should ever dictate who is fat, or who needs to lose weight but the reality we live in proves otherwise. If you are happy with your weight, whether it's 150 or 250, then do not allow anyone to tell you otherwise. I needed to lose weight because I was unhappy with my size. It's not a gradual thing, at least it wasn't for me. There is a tipping point at which one decides that it's time - time to get serious; time to set a goal; time to commit. I think it takes a series of events to get an unhappy person to that place where there is no where to go but up. I think we are largely responsible for the outcome of most situations. I may not have had much control over what made me fat. For as long as I can remember I've always been on the heavier end of the scale. But I am responsible for making the change and I'm accountable for the outcome, whether positive or negative. It's this mindset that started the whole process for me. If I was being honest with myself, I would admit that what led me to this simple revelation (and also was my tipping point) is a traumatic experience that caused a severe fracture in my pscyhe (a post for another time). The resulting physical, mental and emotional pain created an extreme distrust of my body. I felt betrayed by it. How can something that was working so well do something so horrible? Suddenly, there was a chasm between my mind and my body. Whereas I was mentally content carrying around all 280 pounds of me, I lacked faith in my body to do anything constructive.
I went through a phase where I treated my body as the enemy. It was a situation that was unacceptable to me. I felt like my body was out of control. Like anything in my life that runs amok and requires swift action, (and you know I'm a total control freak, right?) I took over my body. I decided that since I cannot trust it to perform in accordance to my standards then it was time to set it straight, just as you would a misbehaving teenager. But like any well oiled machine, I couldn't expect my body to work efficiently without using the proper tools to maintain it. I first had to empower myself with the tools that would enable my body to perform. I needed to think right, eat right and sleep right (although the sleep part is still a work in progress). For me, that meant searching for the right dietitian, one who understood my relationship with food and my body. That also meant finding a way to become more active. More importantly, it meant I have to admit that everything I have done so far has been a failure and that I NEED HELP. In a nutshell, I had to stop hating myself, forgive myself, and start working with myself to get better, mentally and physically.
I'm going to pause here to emphasize that I am not perfect and by no means am I free of all my demons. I still have issues, lots of them (my husband can write a book about that; in fact, I think he's hunting around for a publisher). However, I've learned that there are coping mechanisms and problem solving skills that make many issues much more manageable, weight being one such issue. Often looking at a problem and classifying it as an inconvenience can simply change things. Sometimes a shift in perspective is all that I need to help me focus. I perceived weight loss as an insurmountable problem and a goal I would never achieve, not in a million years. On the other hand, when compared to other much bigger problems that were out of my control and that I've emerged from intact (more or less), losing weight looks much smaller (pun intended). To break it down further - the pain I feel during exercise, the pain I feel when I don't satisfy my sweet tooth, the pain caused by the fear of failure is inconsequential compared to the tremendous agony I felt following my traumatic experience. I'm not saying that everyone does or should think that way. What I am saying is that this is the road I took and those are the actions that led me to the tipping point, which in turn motivated me to do what I needed to do. It's my experience and mine alone. That doesn't make it right or wrong.
I think the process of losing weight, which includes not only the decision but also the factors and events that led to it, involves a great deal of introspection. I think the act of examining our mental and emotional state reveals the underlying purpose of our actions. Almost like looking into a boundless mirror, it uncovers our fears, desires, strengths and weaknesses. And in turn enables us to understand what we're dealing with. I also think that the act of reflecting on our behaviour demonstrates that on some level, we are aware of any changes within ourself. I think self examination and contemplation help us understand why we do what we do, or don't, and are especially fundamental in determining the causality between deliberate and unintentional actions. It's then that we are able to accurately determine a course of action appropriate to the challenges we face.
And this, in a nutshell, is how I started my weight loss excursion. Mind you, I don't hate myself any more. But I am very critical of it and when shit goes sideways we have a serious talk. I can safely say that I am my own harshest critic. Sometimes my husband tries to compete with me for that title but inevitably I win. That said, I think my husband is one of the very few people who is truly proud of me for losing weight and is very happy for me. He was also the only person in my life that never asked me to lose weight and never judged me for being heavy. And I can't stress enough how important it is to have a partner/friend who can encourage without crossing that line.
I am very proud of myself for working hard to lose weight. It was a big challenge but turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences ever. I've lost all the weight and have successfully kept it off for the past 4 years. I continue to maintain my weight but it's a constant struggle. Despite that, I think it was a worthwhile undertaking because it makes me happy to remain fit. I'll let you in on a little secret. My motivation to keep off the weight today is a size 4 skinny jeans which I keep in my closet as a constant reminder that I have a goal and that it is reachable because I have faith that my body and I can do it.