Yesterday I discussed my own initiation into the business of body hate that began with mean-spirited comments slung at women on the thinner side of the size spectrum. Today, I want to continue by talking about the dreaded problem anyone who has struggled with their weight encounters: the Yo-Yo Cycle.
Who hasn’t heard of the “Freshmen Fifteen” that plague many a college student who gets into the habit of drinking too much coffee and eating too much fast food (we won’t even touch the alcohol!)? Like my fellow students, I gained them as well . . . plus another fifteen because I’ve always been a bit of an overachiever. Until college, I spent so much of my life being active (walking, playing sports, bike riding, etc.) that my metabolism could support some pretty awful dietary choices. Burger, fries, large coke, AND an apple pie for lunch? Super size it, and you have a deal! I never needed to learn proper nutrition, and as a result, when my activity slowed during college, all of those poor choices piled on the pounds. My size 6/8 clothes gave way to a size 12.
At first, I didn’t realize I had gained weight. With an engineering heavy course load, I didn’t have time to shop or spend much time obsessing in front of the mirror. Couple that with skirts that have an elastic waist, and you have a recipe for unnoticed gain. The summer after I turned 18, I went to the beach with my family, and I had to go bathing suit shopping. Until that point, I think I was in denial about how much my body had changed, but when I saw myself in the mirror squeezed into unforgiving lycra/spandex blends, reality crashed down around me.
Even now, I’m not sure why I suddenly felt so bad about my size 12 self. Nobody had commented on my shape, and I can’t recall being influenced by the media (although perhaps I was on a subconscious level). Whatever the reason, I wasn’t happy, and like most women who are unhappy with their bodies, I decided I wanted to lose the weight. Yesterday. So, again like most women, I overhauled every bad dietary and exercise habit I had developed and lost about twenty pounds.
Of course, the sad fact about weight loss is that the loss itself is only half the battle; the other is maintenance. School started again in the fall, and the same lifestyle problems (long hours, lack of healthy choices, etc.) resurfaced and the weight crept back up. By the next summer, I was a size 14, which meant I had even more weight to lose.
Eventually, the poor choices I couldn’t seem to shake combined with a medication side effect to skyrocket my weight to 210 pounds. I was exceedingly happy if I could squeeze into a size 16 although an 18 or 20 was a better fit, and I went from being unhappy to being miserable. Then, I started torturing myself with my wardrobe. All of my clothes were from my size 12/14 days and hung abandoned in my closet, collecting dust and serving as an accusatory reminder of how much weight I had gained. Cheap yoga pants and baggy tee shirts were the staples of my pathetic wardrobe because I was adamant about not buying any clothing in my current size. It would only be a month or so before those size 12s fit again, I reasoned.
Every day, I purposefully avoided the mirror because staring at my now foreign body clad in ratty clothes escalated the depression to a whole new level. Buying new clothes in a size that actually fit me meant recognizing that I might stay at this current weight long enough to wear them, and I was petrified of acknowledging that possibility. Refusing to buy clothes at my new size acted as a psychological buffer, which prevented me from fully accepting my weight gain and enabled self-loathing instead of self-love.
After three months, the scale taunted me by rejecting my pleas to concede even a single pound. Worse yet, my blood tests came back and revealed I was pre-diabetic, and my blood pressure was a little high. Around this time I was also diagnosed as having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome—a disorder that can make weight loss even more difficult. We were in the end of summer, and I heard the nasty comments people love to make about plus-size women in bathing suits. I took to wearing an over-sized tee shirt on the beach to conceal my shape and the stretch marks. Oh the stretch marks!
We all know that people can be cruel, but it doesn’t change the shock you feel to be on the receiving end of that cruelty. I love the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission,” but that’s a lot easier said than done when someone calls you a beached whale. It’s hard not to feel inferior when you’re being berated with that message from all angles, but Mrs. Roosevelt was right. You have to ignore the hate from people who don’t matter and love yourself for who you are. Some days are just easier than others.