After each new turn of the year, I spend weeks, if not months, correcting the year on everything I write. But I’ve had less trouble remembering that it’s now 2018. While I’d love to claim that it’s because I’m less scatterbrained than usual, it’s simply because my mind keeps reflecting back on 2008.
And why was 2008 significant? A few days before Thanksgiving 2007 I went on a diet. It was not my first diet nor would it be my last. It was, however, the diet that, over the following year, would be pivotal for my health, happiness, and life.
Ten years ago, I looked like this:
I was 252 pounds, wavering between a size 22 and a size 24.
I had started my freshmen year of high school in 1995 wearing a size 10, an appropriate size for my 5’11” frame. Over the following 12 years, I gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) packed on the pounds.
Ten years later, an array of feelings arise in me when looking at that photo. In some ways, I find myself unrecognizable. In others, the hurts and fears and shame shining in my eyes are still my own. I had used food to deal with painful emotions and stress – a habit that I continue to struggle with to this day.
Hitting the 250-pound mark 10 years ago, however, was a tipping point. I was in my mid-20s, single, and working in a small county library in small town Texas. I was lonely and isolated. I also had a lot of free time on my hands, as the only other single twenty-somethings in town already had a kid or two, and the creepy, middle-aged, married man I occasionally ran into (and quickly learned to avoid) at the laundromat was the only one requesting dates. It occurred to me one evening as I sat alone in my house, stuffing myself with chips and guacamole for dinner, that either 1) I was going to continue the unhealthy spiral of binge eating and weight gain until I was so heavy they’d need a crane to get me out of the house, or 2) I could make use of all of my free time and lack of social life to make a change.
Not ready to give up on life at the age of 26, I chose the second option. With the help of my sister and good friend DM, I learned to follow the WeightWatchers plan and walked six days a week. By November of 2008, I looked like this:
Perhaps now it’s a little more clear why 2008 was a milestone year for me.
The massive weight loss thing – it’s something I’ve kept close to my chest. Obviously it comes as no surprise to those that knew me before I shed the weight, but I can think of only a handful of people I’ve personally shared it with over the past ten years.
When John and I were on our fourth date, he gave me an opening to talk about my past. I mumbled and stumbled my way through the weight loss story as quickly as I could. I still don’t show him–or anyone–pictures of myself from that time if I can help it.
I’ve been wondering lately why I’m not more open about my major weight loss. You’d think I’d want to shout it from the rooftops: Look what I did! And in my own way, I guess I did for a while. I joined Facebook and started posting pictures of my new, slender self – an unfathomable act to my former, heavier self. But as I changed career directions (building on the confidence I gained as a result of losing weight), I never, ever talked about my story while in grad school or in my first teaching job. It would only be about five years after the big loss, in the midst of major life changes (marriage, moving, a new job), that I began talking a little more openly with coworkers about my weight history and ongoing struggles. In the stress of those life changes, I’d gained some of the lost weight back, and as I sought to slim back down, it was easier to swap stories with those facing similar battles with the bulge.
After much contemplation brought on by this 10-year anniversary, it’s become clear that I haven’t shared my story more widely because I’d feel a fraud if I did. It’s less about the fact that everyday I carry lingering shame about being 252 pounds with me and worry that people will judge me for ever having been so big, and more about the fact that I haven’t finished what I started ten years ago. I still solace myself with sweets and junk food when I’m stressed, overwhelmed, sad, or overly tired. When seeing a new picture of myself, I take a quick mental inventory of every place on my body that I find unflattering. Hips looking too wide? Nope, that’s not going on Facebook. Too much roundness in my face? DELETE.
I can’t shout, Look what I did! because I am in the midst of weight struggles to this day. I’m just not a size 24 while struggling.
Part of me is proud of what I accomplished, of course. I’ll never forget the feeling of joy when I donated size after size of clothing to the local shelter and stood in a clothing store dressing room with a smile, rather than tears, on my face for the first time in a long, long time.
But the shame remains as I yo-yo between three different sizes of clothing and search elusively for peace with food.
Perhaps I’ll have found that peace by the time my 20-year weight loss anniversary rolls around.
At least, that is my daily hope and prayer.