Growing up, I was the “big girl.” I had the delightful genetic luck to start puberty at nine years old; had my first period shortly before my ninth birthday, shot up to 5’3” by age ten, and bought my first B-cup bra later that year. My medical records from the end of grade school (which were recently in a file with a number of other documents I got from my mother) listed me as 5’4” and 148 pounds. I was thirteen.
When I finally made the conscious commitment to losing weight, I was in my mid-20s and hovering around 200 pounds. My primary motivation was health; my blood pressure was worryingly high, especially for someone my age, and I’d seen both my grandmother and my aunt suffer through some pretty horrifying side effects as a result of diabetes. In the hopes of staving off a similar fate, I made a serious, dedicated decision to lose weight.
It’d be a lie to say I had a great self-image; that wasn’t necessarily the case. My weight had been a subject of jokes and occasional ridicule from my family ever since I was a kid – the former in an ill-conceived attempt at bonding, and the latter and an even more ill-thought out attempt at being motivating.
It’s really hard for a kid to not let that kind of negativity get under their skin, but I was nothing if not a stubborn little shit, and little else if not an adamant advocate for feminism and body positivity. It’s not that the comments didn’t hurt, but they always hurt more because they were intended as hurtful, and from people I otherwise loved and cared about – and it wasn’t that I didn’t know I was fat, it was more that I wanted to rebel against the idea that I had to be thin. I wasn’t necessarily about achieving the supposed “ideal” of thinness, but I liked the idea of a healthy blood pressure and lower risk of diabetes. So in the Spring of 2011, I started calorie counting through MyFitnessPal and started hitting the gym.
Working out was a game changer. Not that I always felt like going, or that getting off my ass and heading over to the gym was always easy (especially on a rainy day, when staying curled up with a cup of coffee in front of Netflix was an option), but once I got myself there, working out was amazing. I lived a fairly sedentary life – my social life revolving around food and alcohol, movies and video games – and had never really pushed myself physically before. Learning what my body could do was incredible; feeling the change in those abilities over time was even more so. I went from being unable to complete a ten-minute session on the elliptical to running four-and-a-half miles in under ten minutes on the treadmill three times a week; from struggling with biceps curls to routinely doing reps at seventy pounds. Jumping off a machine, covered in sweat and panting, was the truest I ever felt to myself. I felt strong, capable.
Calorie counting was another story; like working out, it became an integral part of my life, though that’s not something I want to frame as a positive. I hink the major difference was that working out was never about deprivation, where, for me, calorie counting definitely was. The first few weeks, I calorie checked everything I came across, and was shocked at how high in calories my go-to favorite foods and snacks were. If I was serious about losing weight, they’d obviously have to go. Then it came the weighing of the options – this handful berries have ten more calories than this handul of grapes. Do I eat the “sensible” berry option, or “splurge” on the grapes and find somewhere else to cut those ten calories later?
I don’t know if it’s just because I’m prone to obsessive thinking (which I am), but my daily life literally became about doing this kind of mental mathematics, to the point where it was causing me considerable anxiety. I never veered into ED territory, in so much as I never purged or starved myself (I always fell well within the calorie goal the MyFitnessPal recommended for safe weight loss), but psychologically, I was becoming food obsessed, and my food choices – “good” or “bad” – as well as the numbers on the scale at my weekly weigh-ins began to significantly impact my moods.
Arguably, it did an even worse number on my self-image.
I’d been a feminist since long before I knew the word, and as soon as I learned there was a label, I embraced it with pride. I believed in body positivity, I believed in “beauty at every size,” I believed and embraced the “fuck the patriarchy,” “riots not diets” credo. I found a number of plus-sized women graceful and beautiful.
And yet, I was becoming unable to apply those credos to my own sense of self. A week at zero weight loss (or worse, a gain) was a “failure.” Indulging in a night of take-out made me feel “gross.” I was having an incredibly difficult time synthesizing my own self-condemnations with my deep-seated and genuinely held beliefs about body image and feminism.
By 2013, I weighed 135 lbs., a total loss of 70 lbs. If I’m being honest, I loved the way I looked – most of the time – and physically, I felt fantastic. But I kept calorie counting to maintain my new weight, and there were plenty of times where, honestly, on a psychological level, I was probably happier just being the “big girl.”
When I got pregnant, I stopped calorie counting entirely, and slowly stopped working out, and only recently have I started thinking about weight loss again – I gained back 50 lbs. during my pregnancy, and poor diet mixed with a return to a mostly sedentary lifestyle has meant that the weight has stuck around, and with it’s return (And persistance) is the overall lethargy and high blood pressure that had plagued me back in my 20s. Being more active and a little more conscientious about my diet would be the healthiest choice, physically.
I’m still working on making in a healthy choice, mentally.