Before anyone goes to put anything positively-affirming in the comments, let me just state the following:
Once a fat kid, always a fat kid. Even if only in your own mind.
Hi, my name is Claris & I was totally raised as a fat kid. I was raised with the phrase “you would look lovely if you’d just lose a little weight, dear” echoing in my brain. I was an art geek – I didn’t work out. My brother & sister were on sports teams, but other than the socially-required stints on town park & rec teams for a season or two at a time, I was told that there were other things I should be doing – like, going to Weight Watchers. Or trying the citrus diet. or the T-Fal diet. I was dosed with Apple Cider Vinegar for a while. At one point, I was given pills that later on turned out to contain Ephedra. You name it, and between the age of 8 – 19, I was probably run through that regimen.
For the record, both my mother & father are heavy, so as I’ve grown, I was able to intellectually recognize that it wasn’t particularly me, but rather an ongoing issue passed down due to my mother’s inability to deal with her own weight and quite honestly, an unwillingness to educate either herself or me as to the proper way to go about fixing the problem. I’ve often joked about a cookbook in my possession called Now We’re Cookin’, which contains recipes collected from an elementary school we attended on Long Island which was populated by people very similar to my parents — most no more than one or two generations removed from Europe, raised by parents who’d survived the Depression or World Wars, and chock full of hearty recipes containing ingredients like… lard. Like, actual, straight-up, cut it out of the Crisco container lard. I know, right? tasty.
The thing is that when you’re raised like that, in a world where food is both a treat and a forbidden enemy, it becomes this nebulous downfall. What’s the best way to rebel against a mother that’s trying to control your life? Eat everything she doesn’t want you to. Sneak around, get candy from the corner store when she’s not looking, scrounge change for yourself and get a package of Pop Tarts to accompany you while you read the the Teen Harlequins, Sweet Valley High, & other books that were brought home from the library by the stackful because once a week there would be a trip there and an admonition that your mom had other things to do, so could you just go entertain yourself?
So in that world, eating becomes your control. A handful of chocolate chips from an open bag in the pantry here, a piece or two of cheese there – one of the things I learned from my dad was taking a piece of shiny yellow processed American cheese, a piece of baloney, roll one inside the other, and ta-da, there’s a snack. (Which if nothing else, gives my father credit for at least being at the forefront of low-carb.)
The problem compounds itself as you grow up and then have the means & monetary ability to feed yourself whatever you want. I can have pizza every damn meal, and you can’t stop me, so neener, I’m gonna. I’ll have Combos, and Hot Pocket, and cheese curls, ’cause dangit I can, and fuck you and all your damn diets.
…and then comes the day where you’re 18 years old, taking a year off before college to work since there was a funding deficit for tuition, and step on the scale to discover that you’re 225 lbs and have a 32% body fat bmi.
That is a hard day.
I’d tried exercise before – in fits & spurts and on my own. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and in high school, slipping out to the exercise room in our condo complex to run three whole miles on the treadmill there was a Task of Epic Proportions. My eleven minute mile was, to me, an achievement of olympian effort.
So the day I walked in & signed up for a gym was one of the more psychologically challenging hurdles of my 18th year.
Here’s the thing – fat kids are taught to be ashamed of ourselves. I’ve actually had people I went to high school with remark to me in facebook that “Dude, I never thought of you as fat.” But the perception of what other people see, and what you’ve been taught to think — two totally different things. With that in mind, you have to understand that for a fat kid, working out in front of other people is automatically humiliating prospect because even though intellectually you know that people probably aren’t even noticing you or how you look because they’re too involved in their own workout or whatever is up on the tv in front of their machine, reflexively you spend time absolutely certain that they’re thinking, “ugh, look at that fat fucker, that’s so disgusting.” And the reason you have that thought is because at some point in your life, there has probably been those one or two jackasses who actually said it to you out loud, and because you’ve been trained to be ashamed of yourself & your body, that’s the voice that stayed in your head – sometimes literally for decades.
In my case, once I started going to a gym I learned a funny thing – turns out that all those years of repressed anger issues manifested in an extraordinary aptitude for beating the ever-loving sh*t out of people.
At the time, there were a couple of cross-discipline fighters at the gym that thought it was awesome to help me develop that – mostly through boxing, but also some hand to hand weapons training. In the course of this I also became a boxing & spinning instructor, and once I was on staff, I learned the basics of weight lifting from the other trainers who worked there.
Eventually, I walked away from fight training, due to my ability to recognize that while the good lord had seen fit to bless me with an abundance of aptitude, once in a ring I suffer from a severe dearth of conscience. By that time, exercise & the community of the gym was already part of my life, so I continued to work out, having found that large swathes of cardio did wonders for helping me remain calm in the stress of working full time nights & going to school full time days.
Over the three years it took me to get my undergraduate degree, I would end up losing about 35 lbs to finish college weighing in around 190 through sheer exercise.
However, my eating habits had not changed.
I would still stop at a convenience store on the way home and get Cheddar Cheese Pretzel Combos to snack on while reading before bed, or a Hot Pocket to pop in the microwave because it was easier than actually making food.
Once I moved to California, things saw a snail-paced incremental improvement. By sheer dint of the wealth of food options out here, I learned about things like… sushi. Indian food, which I’d never in a million years tried in New Hampshire. I discovered things like kale, and pomegranates. Fruit that wasn’t an apple or strawberry. Milk made of… soy? wtf is that? I remember having to admit to a co-worker that I had no idea what the hell a dim sum was.
The first few years here – not pretty, people. I was poor, I was hustling two to three jobs at a time, and food was something to be done on the run. Getting down to 185 was a huge achievement when you can pretty much only live off food that’s portable and you were raised to believe those options consisted almost entirely of sandwiches.
Then one day, I was introduced to rowing. Ah, rowing – a cardiovascular activity in which it’s an honest possibility that at times you may literally work so hard you throw up. Needless to say, that helped the weight loss as well, and a year into it I was hovering around 170.
At that point, I had lost… 55 lbs, and yet if you asked me, I would still have said that I was simply less fat.
Over the last few years, my weight has mostly settled in between 163-165. I’m 5’10″, so it’s not a stick figure, but the truth is that there’s still about 10 or 15 lbs that could be shaved off.
And yet, after all that, a couple weeks ago I found myself in a conversation in Lovely Poet’s LJ after she’d talked about her food issues where I confessed that to this day, I have to sit in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket and have the mental debate over the fact that I don’t need to have Hot Pockets for dinner, and I certainly don’t need to buy two packages of them, even if they are 2/$5 on sale.
To most people, I would be told that I’m crazy for thinking of myself as pudgy. I know I’m not what would be defined as obese, but when I think about it, I think about the fact that right now, I’m 8 lbs up from my normal weight. I would tell you that I don’t have a flat stomach, and when I go shopping for underwear, I buy hipsters not just because that’s the one I find comfortable, but because unlike a bikini or a thong, that style has a wider amount of fabric over the side of the hip, whereas the thinner straps of the other styles push into the remaining love handle that I have and cause a divot which makes me feel self-conscious about being fat there, even though there’s no one to see me in my underwear at this point in time.
Here’s the thing – I love you all, but I don’t want one comment below this about “Oh, Claris, you’re not fat, and I’ve always thought of you as… :insert platitude here:” It’s lovely of you to have the thought, & I appreciate that in my brain I can name off the top of my head who just repressed the reflex to leave that comment, because they are my friends & I adore them for it.
The reason I make such a statement is this: I know that it’s not logical to think that way. Everyone whose brain works like this knows it’s not logical. Most of us that were raised to think this way are fully aware on an intellectual level that this way of thinking is incorrect and unrealistic. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s been ingrained in you to work that way, so you’re literally talking about reprogramming your brain.
Food is not like alcohol. It’s not like pot, or heroin, or any other addictive substance. You can’t stop taking it. You can’t pour it down a drain, or flush it down a toilet and never have to bring it into the house again. There is no rehab, no cold turkey, no weaning yourself off of it. You never get to walk away from it, and you will spend the rest of your life dealing with the fact that you want it, it’s comforting to consume it in large amounts, and every day, at least three times a day, some part of you is going to have to decide between what you instinctively find comforting, and what’s the actual healthy course of action.
Because the thing is that it’s always there. Waiting. In the shadows. And you’ll have that day when you’re tired, and it’s just one night so it’s all right to just get a freakin’ DiGiorno instead of making a salad when you get home. Or to have the Old Fashioned Donut from Starbucks because you just got out of practice, and dammit you are freakin’ hungry and the orange you packed just isn’t going to cut it — I mean, let’s be real here: donut vs. orange, who do you think is gonna win? Exactly.
The best example I can give of this need for emotional comfort through food is Shauna from Gluten-free girl. Granted, her issue turned out to be gluten intolerance, but she talks about how, when she was just horribly horribly sick because her body was rejecting… everything, all she wanted to eat was mac & cheese. She didn’t know it at the time, but the one thing in the world that was her favorite meal that made her feel psychologically better was the very thing that was physiologically killing her body.
And you sit, and you listen to people show you the right way to do things, and you nod and agree, and then you stop on the way home & get food because it’s just… easier. And life is hard. And people are mean. And you’re tired. And there’s too much work to do. And nothing is ever enough for people. And you really just want to sit, and watch TV for a minute and eat and not have to think about things.
But the minute in front of the TV becomes two hours, and the one night of pizza turns into a week, and you have that night where you have finally caved & just gotten down to buying two double cheeseburgers & a small fry from McDonald’s on the way home and realize, “… yeah. It’s time to start everything all over again.”
Which is possibly what happened to me last Monday night.
So here I am. I am 31, 5’10, and as of this morning I weigh 171.5lbs & have a 25.1% body fat. I know what it is that I need to be doing, and I have spent the last week slowly setting up my life so that I can put it in place again. First hurdle is to get back down to my normal weight of 163. Next goal is to see if I can get below 160, and take it from there.
I don’t want to look like Britney (pre-breakdown). I don’t want to look like Madonna, or Twiggy. Right now I’m a size 12 jean, and the reality is that a size 10 is the lowest my bone structure is ever going to allow me to go. The universe saw fit to give me a skeleton complete with what are often referred to as “child-bearing hips”, even if at the moment the Cosmic Muffin seems to have forgotten to send someone for me to practice with.
Right now, this is what sits on my desk:
Healthy. Strong. Not starved. Able to wear a bathing suit without feeling like a beached whale. (I actually can’t remember the last time I actually owned a proper bathing suit, and I’ve lived in Los Angeles for ten years now.)
The thing is, the more weight you lose, the harder it becomes, so it’s these last 10 or 15 lbs that will be the worst – they’re the ones that will cause me to have to change the most. And it’s gonna suck. I won’t be able to cheat. I won’t be able to slack. I’ll have to do extra cardio than my other teammates, who are mostly lightweights & thus weigh 135lbs or less. And every day, every meal, I’ll have to remind myself that I don’t want that cookie. That ginger tea with raw honey is every bit as good as a hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. To find ways that will make me say, “Sure, the raw veggies are totally better than anything else that I could get with a quick walk to the 7-11 across the street or the cafe at Museum!Co.”
But even after all that, if I actually manage to pull it off eventually, I know that somewhere, in the dark recess of my brain, will always be that little fat kid, and I will always have to have The Chat with her every so often. Because no matter where you go, or what you do, the truth is that fat kids are like Goonies – they never die.