I come from a long line of women who have struggled with their weight. Not only are we ‘full-figured,’ but we’re tall, too (my mom is the runt of her family at 5’9″…). So basically this is all a nice way of saying that we stick out like a sore thumb.
I wasn’t much different. I grew up not only being the tallest kid in my class, but also being one of the heaviest. I longed to be like the other girls….thin and petite and tiny. Unfortunately it just wasn’t meant to be.
Not only was I bigger than average, but I grew up in a sedentary family. We didn’t go on family walks or hiking trips or play sports or any of that stuff. That seemed really alien to me. My only activity was gym class, which is an awful, awful experience when you are a chubby kid that doesn’t excel at sports.
When I was 14 I decided that I was going to be vegetarian. I had always loved animals and it just didn’t make much sense to me to eat them, so I stopped. At this point I hadn’t really learned how to cook…my mom typically took care of making dinner every evening. Bless her heart, she made sure I had something vegetarian to eat every night, even if it meant cooking two separate dinners (my dad is one of those ‘men folk’ who insist they NEED meat and potatoes every day or they will wither up and die). I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but gosh I’m sure lucky to have such a great mom.
Okay, sappiness aside, neither my mom nor I knew very much about nutrition. To me, vegetables were those gross frozen corn/pea/carrot medley things that Green Giant made. I was not a fan. I mostly ate starch and cheese. My mom always poked fun, saying that I was a vegetarian who didn’t eat vegetables. It was true. And eating bread with cheese and ranch dressing certainly didn’t help my weight problem.
Let’s fast forward to the year 2001. I was twenty-one years old and nearing completion of my bachelor’s degree. I was still eating a steady diet of starch and cheese, only now I was a chain-smoker as well. Lovely.
I was tipping the scale at 200 pounds and knew that it was time to start making some changes. I still didn’t know much about nutrition, but I started making some obvious healthy choices like eating more fruits and veggies and cutting down portion sizes. I bought a few exercise DVDs and would do them at home in my living room. Slowly I dropped 30 pounds and I was feeling good. I wasn’t what I would call ‘thin,’ but I felt healthier and I was finally starting to like my body. I hovered here for a couple of years.
Let’s fast forward again. This time let’s go to the year 2006. At this point, I was 23 years old, in graduate school (hello, STRESS), and living in a new city where I didn’t know many people and didn’t have a very good support network. I started to become obsessive over my weight. I was sure that if I was thin my life would be so much better. I meticulously counted calories, trying to stick to 500 a day. Every three days or so I would have a monster binge and then start to restrict my food again the next day. Oddly, I stopped exercising. For the last couple of years, exercise had become something positive in my life, something I enjoyed doing. Once this weight obsession started I started to get depressed and just wanted to stay home feeling badly about myself so I stopped going to the gym. Sure I lost weight, but it was mostly muscle and I didn’t feel or look good.
This binge-restrict pattern continued for a couple of years, up until 2008. I was getting horribly frustrated and tired thinking about calories and my weight all of the time. It was putting a huge strain on my relationship and I knew it had to stop. I started exercising again, only this time I turned to running. I competed in a 5K and eventually I even started triathlon training. For the first time EVER, I was actually having FUN being active. When I was younger, physical activity (i.e., gym class) had been a source of torture and so I had nothing but negative associations. Finally, I was starting to build positive associations and incorporate my new hobbies into a healthy lifestyle.
This was also the period of my life where I turned to veganism. At the time when I became vegan, I was living in a prairie city with not many vegan options. This was going to require that I learn to cook. I started out with a few cookbooks and soon I found a whole new hobby that I loved: cooking! I had avoided it for most of my life, but here I was enjoying being in the kitchen and trying out new recipes and ingredients. Go figure.I really credit loving to cook with getting rid of my obsession with calories and weight. Instead, I began to focus on nurturing myself with healthy ingredients and delicious food.
So here I am. Sure, I still have days where I feel “fat,” but overall I am well on my way to making peace with my body and focusing on my health.