Let me start by saying I do not often share my story because I am afraid it will be seen as whiny, and I will be perceived as just another privileged millennial with First World Problems (I fully acknowledge I am privileged, mostly because my parents made sure I had everything I needed, and little because I worked hard). I am even more acutely aware of this potential since I started my graduate work in public health in 2011, and have since worked with many individuals far less advantaged than myself. However, I do believe everyone has a story, and this piece of mine has provided me a perspective on how society’s views on health, food, fitness, beauty, etc. do not always align with what is realistic, sane and “normal”. I also have to point out I am currently a petite-sized person, who normally wears size 2 pants. I bring this up not to have anyone focus on my size, but rather to acknowledge a current reality. A reality which has not always been the case, and sometimes creates problems; is it realistic to stay this size? Is it worth worrying so much about food in order to stay this size? A day does not go by without at least one of these questions popping into my head, hence, this blog. So in the interest of total honesty, here’s my story, whiny or not.
From the time I was 14 or 15 until about 21, I experienced yearly weight swings in the range of 25-40 lbs. I am only 5’ 3”, so 25-40 lbs was noticeable. Each winter I would find myself as low as 110-115 lbs without trying, and by summer, I was around 140 lbs. I had been dancing multiple hours a week since the time I was four, and throughout high school participated in marching band in the fall (band geek jokes welcomed), so this was not happening due to a lack of exercise.
I was never an unhealthy eater, but I was used to eating cereal, bagels, sandwiches, cookies, etc. After years of yo-yo weight swings, I also became accustomed to worrying about calories, but not worrying about other nutrients. That summer, I learned how to look at a nutrition label differently, mostly looking at listed ingredients and carbohydrate amounts. And guess what? It worked! Slowly the weight came off, and I was feeling better. While this was a transformative summer, it was just the beginning of the past eight years. The most important part for you to know is that I never intended to lose all the weight I gained. The nurse, my parents and I spent time discussing what was realistic for me, and we landed on somewhere around 125 lbs. Now here is the important part, just like my body had done in the past, it dropped way below 125 lbs without me doing anything differently, once again putting my biology and my brain into a warped cycle.
I remember liking how I felt and looked around 125 lbs. I felt strong and confident, but do you know what can make you feel even more strong and confident? 115 lbs. I get angry thinking about this sometimes. I wish I had never had the comparison, I wish I had never known the difference in both how I felt and in how other responded to me. Have you ever noticed this? Your friends, family and even strangers make positive comments about your appearance when you fit our societal standard of beauty, but not any other time? Did I actually do my make-up better when I was thinner, or did someone just take the extra time to look?
Why am I writing this blog? Mostly because I finally decided I need a place to put my thoughts on paper in order to get the never ending circle of thoughts →anxiety→more thoughts→more anxiety to end. In an attempt to stay healthy I created some unhealthy relationships with food and the scale, placing too much emphasis on a number (this is a relationship that started when I was 14). I suspect this is a struggle I will deal with in some form my entire life, and I do not even have an expectation that it needs to go away, my only expectation is to learn how to put less importance on my size and more importance on how I feel and how I treat my insides.
I am also writing because I learned a lot seeing a therapist for about six months recently, but it is now time to take what I learned and put it into practice. Learning to deal with daily struggles and anxiety, and most importantly recognizing what is and is not a normal level of anxiety takes practice, so here I am, practicing. My greatest hope is someone else finds this and can relate to how I sometimes feel, however, I will be equally happy if no one reads it and it just becomes a space for me to think.
Ok, so now the important question, why should you care about what I am writing? The short answer, you may not care, and that is ok. The longer answer is everyone has life experiences which give them new perspectives on many different things. I have gone through experiences related to food, body image, fitness and well-being which have produced (ever-changing) thoughts and ideas on what makes me a healthy person. As I mentioned before, I do not believe there is a right or wrong way to be healthy, but I do find it increasingly frustrating to find what is right for me in a culture where I am surrounded by mixed messages of what is “good” and “healthy” and “right”. I am finally trying to push all of it aside and figure it out for myself, I hope you join me.
Shout Outs - I did not go through my past experiences alone, and am sure will continue to have great support in whatever life throws my way from the same people. My parents had to put up with many tantrums in high school, I can never thank them enough. My brothers have kept me laughing since they were born, which brings me happiness even in my darkest moments. My husband decided to marry me, eyes wide open, knowing I come along with a brain that does not turn off, although I think my cooking is a decent trade-off.
Walking enthusiast, kitchen experimenter, sports lover (watching, not playing), and future world traveler.
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