I have struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. I was a normal weight for most of my childhood, even called too skinny at times, but around age 12 my body started to fill out. I blame puberty to a certain degree for affecting my hormones/mood/cravings, but I know that I wasn’t very active at that age. I stayed indoors mostly (my love affair with books started around this time- thanks to V.C. Andrews and J.K. Rowling), I drank a lot of soda and I was a picky eater who preferred junk food. When I had to enroll for my first year of high school, I remember dreading the line for the room with the nurse. It was just a room with a scale and a lady with a clipboard but I felt dread as I walked into that room to be weighed.
I remember my mom once had me stand next to my older sister and put my arm out next to hers. She wanted me to know that my arm was bigger than my sister’s arm, and that it was a problem. It wasn’t long after this that I went on a diet for the first time. My mom encouraged me to do The South Beach Diet with her. I would continue to struggle through my teenage years to lose weight.
The summer after I turned 15, we got a trampoline. I would jump on it for hours every day, and it was around this time I first started to withhold food. I had watched a Lifetime movie about anorexia and instead of having the intended consequence of scaring me, it inspired me to start restricting. It was the first time that I would lose a significant amount of weight and experience the high of receiving praise about my appearance. When I showed up for the first day of school Sophomore year, a lot of people noticed the changes in my body. I remember how great it felt when someone would compliment me on my weight loss. I craved that approval and it fed my desire to keep trying new ways of losing weight. The next year, I got mono and lost even more weight. (My recovery diet consisted of a protein shakes, white rice, steamed broccoli, and chicken breasts every day for months.) Every time I lost weight, I would receive more compliments, validation, and praise. Even when my weight loss was due to a long, excruciating illness.
By my senior year of high school I was waking up at 5am to workout at the YMCA before school. In college I started joining group exercise classes, like Step Aerobics and eventually fell in love with Zumba. I tried everything to lose weight and was never satisfied with my body. I remember one time that I had starved myself for 2 days and being embarrassed by the loud, cavernous screams of my empty stomach in the middle of class. (I would eventually binge and then feel horrible about myself afterwards.) I have made myself throw up, I’ve taken laxatives, used drugs, and exercised compulsively to shed pounds. When I was 19, my good friend (who had also struggled with her weight) started taking Adderall. I was amazed by her weight loss and bought some pills from her to try for myself. Adderall was awesome; I was never hungry and I had crazy amounts of energy to work out. I got down to 159 pounds, which is the lowest of my adult life, but it didn’t come without consequences. One night I laid in bed for what felt like hours, feeling like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. It scared me so badly that I stopped taking the pills and went back to restricting, binging, purging, and compulsively exercising.
I married my high school sweetheart when I was 20 and I quickly adopted the diet of my twenty-something husband. (A 5’5 woman can’t eat the same portions as a 6’4 male without gaining weight. I understand that now.) I gained 50 pounds in 1.5 years. My marriage was not working, I was isolated and depressed. Living hundreds of miles from my friends and family; I often turned to food to comfort me. Around this time I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism and although I began taking medication and had regained normal TSH levels; I never lost any of that weight. My husband would make comments about my weight, he would hide food from me (like candy and snack cakes), and it was painfully clear that he was no longer attracted to me. (We separated and eventually divorced.)
From 2012 to 2019 I was hyper-fixated on my weight and advancements in technology fueled my obsession. I compulsively counted calories in MyFitnessPal, eating only things that I could easily identify calorie counts for (mostly pre-packaged garbage like Lean Cuisines and Fiber One Brownies.) I was an early-adopter of fitness bracelets, often going for walks late into the night to make sure I hit my daily step goal. It was an endless cycle of restricting and binging. Later I did the keto diet, which helped me lose weight rapidly enough to slim down for my second wedding, only to gain it all back within 2 years. (The only positive thing about keto for me was the weight loss, everything else was negative. It isn’t remotely sustainable and I felt like garbage 99% of the time. My skin was dry, I had constant headaches, GI issues, and zero energy. I think it may have done permanent damage to my metabolism and maybe even my endocrine system. I lived for cheat days and counted down to the next time I could eat bread. 0 stars, do not recommend, do not try at home.)
I have spent my entire adult life, and most of my adolescence, dieting. I was never concerned about being healthy, I was only focused on the number on the scale and how to make sure it was getting lower. My self worth has long been dictated by those 3 numbers and it is exhausting.
By the beginning of 2022, I was determined to adopt a healthier lifestyle and have a better relationship with my body. But there is a lot of conflicting information about what is “healthy” and what is the “best” diet. The consensus from what I have read and gathered from reputable sources is to eat more plants and less processed food. The more I learned about nutrition, the more I leaned towards eating whole-foods/plants. And the more I learned about factory farming, the more I turned away from animal-derived foods. I quit meat “cold-turkey” and never looked back. I consistently saw studies about dairy, lactose intolerance, and cancer which prompted me to consider giving that up as well. I never though that I was lactose intolerant, but after I stopped eating dairy I noticed a shift. My energy was noticeably higher and the bloated feeling in my stomach that I had come to think was normal; vanished. (I would eventually go down the rabbit hole and recognize the dairy industry for the evil machine that it is.)
As it would turn out, my foray into plant-based eating would coincide with the Great Covid-Quarantine of 2020. Meat prices were skyrocketing and plant-based foods saw record sales. I was making whole-food plant-based recipes at home and falling in love with new foods like tofu. Being a plant-based eater definitely impacted my relationship with food in a positive way. I was eating more food (by volume) but these foods were less calorie-dense so I was losing weight with very little effort and it felt like a revelation. For a while, I felt like I had finally conquered my disordered eating.
But becoming a vegan is not the happy ending to this story, nor is it a magic pill. I would go on to suffer a major depression while battling chronic pain and struggle with my weight again. The surge of new vegan restaurants and options at the grocery store would be both a blessing and a curse for me.
My advice for myself (and to anyone in the same boat) is to be more focused on how you feel rather than how you look. Try not to get hung up on numbers, whether they are on the scale or on the tag of your pants. I am working on recognizing whether I am eating out of hunger or emotion and recognizing how my body feels when I eat certain things. Having a supportive, encouraging partner who loves me unconditionally has also helped me tremendously. He has never and would never say anything negative about my weight/appearance or try to degrade me like other loved ones in my past. But healing my relationship with food/my body is ultimately something only I can do and it may be something that I have to work on for the rest of my life. Be gentle with yourself and know that you are not alone.