When I was in high school and college, I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and not gain an ounce. I didn't exercise (frankly, I hated physical activity) and my food choices were usually nowhere near healthy. Pot pies. Chocolate cake. Corn dogs. Cookies. Cinnamon rolls. The concept of eating a balanced meal with vegetables, protein, carbs, dairy, and fruit was usually in the back of my mind, but I didn't pay too much attention to it. After all, I was young and healthy and heck, if I could get away with eating whatever I wanted, why worry about it?
We can be so dumb when we're young, can't we? I sure was.
Here's the thing: when I could eat anything I wanted and stay a slim size 7, I got used to all my clothes fitting just fine. I didn't know what it was like to struggle with my weight.
Of course, I'd already had image issues from wearing braces and glasses in junior high and being called ugly by a boy I liked (why does that still sting 22 years later?), so when I did start to gain weight, I didn't handle it well.
Those weight issues began shortly after I graduated from college. I put on about 10 pounds or so, and when I went back to attend college graduation for some of my friends a year later, one of my guy pals said, "You've put on a little weight. You look good. You were too skinny before." Well, that comment didn't bother me too much. The trouble was, I was still eating the same and not getting in any exercise.
Fast forward a few years to marriage and pregnancy. I didn't gain all that much weight while I was pregnant, and a month after I'd had my daughter, I was able to fit into my old clothes again. Not bad at all.
And then a botched birth control shot sent my health into decline. I put on 50 pounds in a year. My thyroid started failing. And then I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). Over the next ten years, my weight see-sawed. I learned to exercise - I loved going for walks and going to Curves - but I still didn't know how to eat properly. My female health problems became incredibly difficult to handle, culminating in a hysterectomy in 2012. After the surgery and more weight gain, plus a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, I finally went to see a nutritionist to learn how to eat so I could lose weight.
Now part of this battle to lose weight was related to my health. I had high cholesterol and my triglyceride levels were through the roof. I also was pre-diabetic. So I knew I had to make some changes.
And while I would like to tell you that those issues were my underlying reasons for losing weight, they weren't. Yes, they were a part of it. But the real reason I wanted to lose weight was this: if I stayed overweight, I wouldn't be enough. I wouldn't be beautiful enough, smart enough, desirable enough. If only I could be a size 7 again then I would be enough.
I'm not the first person to say these words. I certainly won't be the last.
Here's the thing, though: when I lost 30 pounds last year and kept it off, I did feel like I was enough. My self-esteem soared. I felt pretty and accomplished and proud. I felt desirable. I felt like I did when I was in high school and college. And yes, I should be proud of myself for learning to eat right and exercise. I worked hard to lose that weight despite my health struggles.
But I still had a problem.
You see, I was very aware of every single bite I put into my mouth. I was always anticipating the next time I could eat. I never, ever missed a meal or a snack. I would allow myself one dessert a week and only 3 pieces of Dove Dark Chocolate a day. But if I over-indulged, the guilt would be terrible. I would cut back on my next meal to make up for my faux pas.
Then I got hit with mono in September of 2013. My appetite plunged and I ate what sounded good - mostly chocolate. It took me awhile to recover, and in the process, I gained about five pounds. No problem, I thought. I'll be able to lose it easily. But then the holidays came and I threw caution to the wind and ate whatever I wanted to. Those five pounds stayed. And so did the guilt.
And I started to get really tired of worrying all the time about what I put in my mouth. So I would indulge in hubby's chips or have more than three pieces of Dove Dark Chocolate or, gasp! even more than one dessert a week. I'd stop the descent into madness every few weeks and get back on a healthy eating schedule, but you know something? Not a day went by that I didn't step on the scale. I was still exercising and still trying to stick to a healthy eating plan, but my control was slipping. And the waistband on my pants was tightening.
I would veer between panic that I was gaining weight and apathy over how much and what kind of food I put into my mouth. Up and down the scale went. I'd ride my bike with my daughter, then tell myself I could have another piece of Dove chocolate. I'd reassert control over myself and eat great for a week or two, then revert back to two days of endless snacking. On and on it went.
And then June 2014 hit. Pain began in my lower left abdomen and it kept me from exercising. We determined a cyst on my remaining ovary was causing the problem, so I decided to have it taken out - putting me into instant menopause. What do you think of when you hear the word "menopause"? For me, it was "weight gain."
Before the surgery, I joked with my husband that maybe I should starve myself for a week and lose 10 pounds so that when the surgery was over, I could comfortably gain 10 pounds again. He wasn't pleased by the idea.
To make a (very) long story short, the pain wasn't caused by my ovary, but (they think) an entrapped nerve. I've put on another five pounds in the past six weeks and the pants are tighter. I can't exercise as it hurts too much, I'm on pain medication, and I do not care about how much chocolate I eat. My rheumatoid arthritis has been flaring something awful lately and I just feel pretty darn yucky. I wear t-shirts and shorts most of the time.
And once again, because I have gained weight, my self-esteem has plummeted. I look at women skinnier than me and feel jealous. I see women who have perfectly toned bodies running and exercising and I scrunch my nose in annoyance. Why can't that be me? I think.
Then the guilt starts.
If only you would control your eating habits...
If only you weren't such a wuss and could exercise through the pain...
If only you could just eat healthy all the time...
If only you would just drink water when you're feeling hungry instead of reaching for food...
And it all comes down to this:
What's wrong with you? Why can't you get it right?
And it doesn't matter that I have about five different health problems that make keeping a steady weight incredibly hard, and it doesn't matter that I've been scarcely able to move for the past six weeks, and it doesn't matter that my appetite has been completely off and I eat only what sounds good to me, and it doesn't matter that the various medications I'm on can cause me to gain weight, and it doesn't matter that I'm in menopause and my body is going to do all sorts of wacky things.
The only thing that matters, in my head, is that I am failing. I am failing at controlling my eating. I am failing at controlling the pain. I am failing at being strong and fighting back against all of these medical issues and overcoming them. I am failing at pushing through and exercising.
And once again, I am not enough. I am not strong enough to stop eating chocolate. I am not strong enough to push through the pain and exercise. I am not disciplined enough to make a balanced meal even when the pain meds make my stomach nauseous.
I want to make the guilt go away. I want to be able to eat without worrying about every single thing that will go into my mouth. I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and love what I see no matter what the scale says. I want to be able to accept that I have limitations because of my health. I want to tell myself, You are enough just the way you are.
I know that God loves me just the way I am. Yet believing it myself is so much harder.
And for now, I don't have a solution to this self-image, weight gain problem. I just don't want to care about it anymore. I've spent so much mental energy worrying that I could have plotted five novels with that brain power!. And of course, our culture doesn't help matters any when everywhere you turn there's another "lose weight quick" diet or someone telling you that if you want to lose weight and cure your rheumatoid arthritis, well, eat this way because it worked for them! Don't get me started on society's obsession with thin people and how you can "have it all" if you're skinny. (I know there are a lot of thin people who have body image problems, too).
It's not that easy. So, what am I doing?
Taking it one day, one hour, one moment at a time.
By now (if you're still reading), you're probably wondering:
Why am I opening up such deep emotions and letting you in?
Because it's what I do. I'm a writer. And for me, writing is the way I figure out who I am and how I make sense of the world. It's how I realize what I'm feeling and what it is I'm facing, and most importantly, it's how I find the solution to make it better.
But also, I share this with you because I want you to know you're not alone.
I can't tell you how many times I've read a blog entry where someone was sharing their struggles and I nodded along as I read, thinking, "I know exactly how he/she feels." There is such comfort in knowing you are not alone, isn't there?
If my words can help you feel less alone, offer you comfort or commiseration, then I am incredibly glad. I don't want pity or sympathy. Why? Because every single one of us struggles with something. None of us are untouched. We all have our issues.
I choose to share mine in the hopes my words might help.
Here's to keepin' on.
I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net
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