My physical weight has plagued me for as long as I have been conscious about my body. I remember the realization that 140 pounds and not yet five feet tall in the 5th grade made me bigger than most of the other girls, and I’ve thought about my body and weight every day since that early memory.
I thought about it when I noticed that the boys I liked in middle school only liked girls who were smaller than me. I thought about it when I joined competitive cheerleading and was always the “strong” base for the stunt, and never the flyer.
I thought about it when I joined the 9th grade cheerleading squad and got my uniforms, which were passed down every year, and I was the only one who had to get mine altered. My middle school band director was upset that I wouldn’t continue with band in high school if I made cheerleader, so during tryouts he told me I was not what the cheer coaches were “looking for.” The subsequent uniform altering process made me think he was right, even though I had already proven him wrong.
I remember Special K challenges okayed by my pediatrician, and six months of Jenny Craig in the 12th grade. I remember panicking during my freshman year of college when I started to gain it all back.
Now, a decade later, the cycle continues. A couple of years ago, I moved out of the city and worked on a farm for a year, which allowed me to maintain my weight (and emotional health) in an effortless way that I didn’t know was possible. That year, I didn’t think about my weight everyday. I was moving, working my body – my mind and soul felt lighter, and my body was physically lighter. I was not dieting, but I was eating well.
Now that I am back in an office environment, I still eat much the same way, but the weight has creeped back, and I am in the part of the cycle where I feel a little panicked.
In the years between graduating from college and now, I learned how to eat much better than I did growing up. When I was a kid, Texas Double Cheese burgers from Wendy’s were for dinner at least twice a week (fries were for special occasions). Other staples were extra long hot dogs from SONIC, Mexican pizzas from Taco Bell, and Arby’s pasta dishes.
Most days I ate fast food for dinner, a school lunch of fries and chicken tenders or some variation, and cereal for breakfast. I didn’t have a concept of healthy eating until I went to college and saw how other people prepared their plates at mealtime. That is not to say I immediately adjusted — it took a long time to incorporate the healthy eating habits I witnessed into my understanding of nutrition. Even now, I’m pretty good about what goes into my body, but I still struggle with how much.
I think of the ‘journey’ with my weight in terms of breaking points. One was starting the Special K challenge when I didn’t fit into the 9th grade cheer uniforms. Another was starting Jenny Craig when I was an officer on my high school dance team, and I wanted to ‘look the part.’ Another was during my first real job in NYC, when I went to the doctor and watched the scale hit 160 pounds for my 5’3 frame. At that point I started running five miles two or three times a week from my job in Chelsea to my apartment in Harlem.
Those efforts all led to weight loss, but none of them ever led to a sustainable lifestyle. The only times I’ve been down to my self-proclaimed ideal weight, 130 pounds, were times when my anxiety was off the charts from highly stressful situations. I fight the distance between 130 and 145 pounds — the closer I am to 145, the worse I feel about myself.
I don’t know if it’s chicken or egg, but by the time I’m on the heavier side, I notice that my depression is present as well. It’s hard to say whether the depression comes first and the weight follows, or if it’s the other way around. When my anxiety is very high, if it’s a sustained bout, weight loss follows.
I have done a lot of work on my mind in the past few years — seeing therapists, practicing yoga, journaling. I have come to understand and believe in the power we all have to control our brains in a way that dictates our bodies, our actions, and our circumstances. I know, intellectually, that I have control over my body.
That said, when I’m in a cycle of life that feeds my depression rather than fending it off – when I am inside all day, when I’m feeling uninspired, when I feel like I am not creating enough – that feeling of control dissipates, and I find myself struggling to maintain the weight I feel comfortable with.
When things are better — when I’m in flow, when I am outside often, when I’m creating, sharing, connecting – it’s much easier for food not to be the thing I look forward to, which makes controlling my weight easier. That cycle isn’t unique to me. We all go through ebbs and flows of feeling uninspired, feeling stuck — it’s completely normal. The added pressure of fearing the accompanying physical weight is what makes the ebbs of life harder.
I feel fortunate that while I do struggle with depression and anxiety, I am aware of the tools that allow me to manage them, and I am mostly aware of how and when to use them. The difficult part is when I feel exhausted — when I’m tired of working with the tools, and I just want to be. When I look back at the end of summer and realize that I averaged two beers a night at least every two days, said yes to most desserts and sides of fries, and ate unhealthy snacks at work more days than not.
It’s easy to feel like I’ve lost control when the weight comes back, especially since my healthy meal staples largely stay the same, and my exercise regimen remains consistent. But it’s the little allowances made while living in the ebb that makes the number on the scale creep up. I only feel out of control over my body when I’m not honest about the splurges that turn into habits.
Our culture is all about excess – who can get the most money, the most Instagram followers, the most designer products. That lack of balance in consumption is also present when it comes to food and drink, and I fall into the habit so easily I don’t see it happening until my pants are too tight.
So now I’m here, at another breaking point, trying to convince myself that I do indeed have control, that I will be fine, that if I lessen my portions and say no to the cookies and beer, I will get back down to where I want to be. But the reality is, I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know how much extra I have to do to go down in weight, but I do know what I have to do to maintain it.
I downloaded a weight loss app, and I’m going to buy myself a scale for the first time. I haven’t owned one before because they intimidate me, but I know that they are a useful tool – as long as I don’t connect emotional energy to the number. Easier said than done.
I’m trying to be excited about what this breaking point might bring. The promise of crisp, cool fall air is around, which energizes me and makes me excited about getting more exercise. I’m remembering the feeling of steadily running up the Hudson for miles – my naturally athletic body easily carrying me alongside the river to Harlem. I’m remembering the way my body soars when I ask it to do flips, stretches when I ask it to do yoga poses, carries me to the top of mountains, and moves rhythmically and confidently whenever there is music.
My body is amazing, and it consistently serves me well and does what I ask – even when it’s hard. It’s interesting that I haven’t brought that up until now, at the end of this entry, but it’s true. My body does amazing things — it’s athletic, agile, and able. I’m sad that it takes so long for me to get around to thinking about that when I think about my body. Hopefully with this breaking point, I can learn to be thankful for my body too.
I feel best when I give my body the correct amount and type of fuel it needs to do its thing. Maybe this time, instead of feeling like I am limiting myself when I say no to certain foods, it will feel like an investment in the rewards my body consistently provides me. Maybe this is the breaking point when I will understand that what I put into my body is simply a method to fuel it, and not something I have to fear. Maybe this time I will learn that all of this – how I treat and think about my body – is an important form of self-respect.