I’ve been a “swing-dieter” for as long as I can remember. It’s not a healthy way of living, but it’s what I was used to. It was a learned habit, probably from my mother, who learned it from her mother, and it was an accepted way of life in our home. Weekend? Eat what you want. Vacation? Splurge on that ice cream, or order extra dessert at a restaurant. Birthday? Enjoy whatever you’d like. The result was inevitable — associating food with celebrations, comfort, and a happiness.
Did I know I was fat growing up? I had somewhat of an idea that I was overweight; I grew out of the children’s department by the time I was eight, and trendy stores like Limited Too never seemed to have jeans or t-shirts that fit over my love-handles. I needed to wear a sport’s bra in fourth grade, and it was not because I was an early-bloomer. But words like Fat weren’t words that were thrown around or taken lightly in my family.
When I was in fourth grade, wearing a sport’s bra, my best friend Jackie decided to make a Slam Book, where each of my classmates had a page dedicated to them, and fellow classmates could share their opinions anonymously (this was obviously before facebook). When every person had something written on their pages, I flipped to mine to see what my classmates had written about me. My name, in black magic marker, was at the top, and my eyes began to scan the lines looking for a familiar scribe, desperate to find out what my “friends” really thought about me. After reading the first few comments, my objective changed. I didn’t care what my classmates thought about me. I just wanted to read their kind thoughts. One kind thought. I must have read the “Carly” page fifty times, just looking for one nice thing to read about myself. When I gave the book back to Jackie, she saw that I was crying, “No one had anything nice to say.”
Timidly, the next day, Jackie handed me back the Slam Book. On my page, in pink gel pen, Jackie’s handwriting in the center of the page read “A nice girl.” I’d found my one nice thing. The Slam Book Incident was my first clue that people thought I was different, and since every other insult on my page had to do with my size, the oversize glasses I wore, and my whiny, high voice, it was also my first clue that my image had to do with my social status.
As I got older, I started to realize that not only my classmates thought I was fat. I noticed many more nuances having to do with my caloric intake, such as my mom’s raised eyebrows when I went for seconds of pasta at dinner, or the middle-school lunch lady’s expression when I went to buy a cookie instead of an apple. When I needed to buy a fancy outfit to wear to my cousin Josh’s Bar Mitzvah, I had to go to a women’s store. I spent many moments crying in dressing rooms over jeans that were supposed to fit; tops that made my arms look humongous, and bathing suits that made me want to crawl under a rock.
My parents sent me to Fat Camp when I was ten years old, between fifth and sixth grades. It was the best thing they could have ever done for me: at camp, the tables were turned. I was the skinny (or rather, the ‘skinnier’ one), and I had the opportunity to experience some of the “power surges” that the bullies at my elementary school savored when they said mean things, or left me out of sports games at recess. Each year, for five years, I’d return from camp skinnier, more confident, and with more friends; more capable of playing knock-out on the blacktop with my classmates than I’d ever been before.
A few weeks after I’d return each August, people would stop noticing, or commenting on my weight-loss, the friends I’d made at camp each summer would stop calling as frequently, and the scale would begin inching higher and higher as I started to feed the feelings of loneliness as they came on. The camp I went to didn’t (and still doesn’t) have a support system in place for campers once they return home from the year, and while the weekly nutrition and cooking classes are helpful in the moment, but the education stops with the campers, who don’t usually bring it home. As the scale would climb, I would try everything, from crash diets, to South Beach, to Atkins, and Weight Watchers, but somehow my plans would always derail, and I found myself continually relying on “next summer,” on “going back to camp.”
This created a vicious cycle, and once I turned twenty, I could no longer diet for one week and lose five pounds like I could in the past. The scale wasn’t budging, no matter how hard I tried to cut fats and sugars. After a new medical diagnosis, which I am sure I will get into later, the pieces started to fall into place, and I realizes that sometimes, it’s not enough to just want to be thin. Now, I need it. I need it for my life, my future, my family. And needing it makes me want it more.
I realized the problem with all of those years between summers is that I had very little accountability. I felt accountable to my friends, I felt accountable to my counselors and trainers at camp (and to Tony, who’s glare each summer-start when he looked at the scale was PALPABLE), but I didn’t feel accountable to myself.
Now, I do. And to help me stay honest, I downloaded an App on my phone, called FatSecret. FatSecret is a food diary, blog, and weight tracker all in one; with nutrition facts for thousands of different brands, foods, and ingredients. It helps me recognize my strengths, my tendencies in which I eat foods, and enables me to easily count calories each day. It keeps me accountable, and so far, so good — I religiously enter in each bite of food I eat, and sometimes plan my meals calorically in advance, so that I can be prepared to either be able, or to not be able to enjoy a small cup of frozen yogurt or, on days when I’m really good, ice cream.
Being honest with myself has been a challenge. Some days, I am extremely tempted to fib about just how much oil I put in the pan where I fried my eggs, or just how much of a potato I ate with my dinner. But being honest with myself has to be a part of the process: honest with my expectations, honest with my goals, and honest with my situation. The reality of it is: I have to stop waiting to be thin, I have to stop waiting to lose the weight, and I just need to do it.
One step at a time.