Saturday, June 02, 2007

Eight peas, soccer player legs, and life in the countries that other people's parents use to guilt their kids into finishing dinner

I realized this morning that I still have such a distorted sense of my body. Sometimes I think I am past it, but I'm not. I don't know that I'll ever be.

I no longer look in the mirror and only see my thighs. I can take compliments, and in fact, eat them up. It used to be that if someone said I had a pretty face, I would immediately think, "Oh, god, he thinks I have a horrible figure."

Fucked up.

That horrible eating disordered culture that you find in schools here was also present in my high school in India. India! Where people were starving for lack of food! But there we were in this American school, all these weight-obsessed, eating-disordered high school girls.

Our parents could never say, "Finish your food! There are children starving in Bangladesh!" Because, of course, we could literally just walk our plates out the gate and practically trip over those starving children.

In high school, at 5'3" my weight was mostly 110, although depending on the year, I fluctuated between 100 pounds (my lowest) and 115 (in a heavier year on a hugely bloated PMS day). I weighed myself every day.

I remember weighing myself and being 5 pounds heavier than the day before, and bursting into tears with my best friend Kris and wailing, "How did I get so fat so fast?"

To get down to 100 pounds, I exercised three hours a day. I would run five miles at noon in the Indian sun and think nothing of it. I ate as close to nothing as I could manage.

Actually, there were so few things I would eat, I can still remember what I ate just about every day. And it was not very much.

I walked to school - 2.5 miles - so I figured that probably burned off breakfast. After school I'd go running. Somewhere between 3 and 5 miles, unless it was a weekend, in which case it was more like 7 or 8. And then lift weights. Or, if it wasn't a weights day, swim a mile. And then walk home - another 2.5 miles. Which then prepared me for dinner.

Dinner, dinner was always incredibly stressful from a food perspective. Hell, it was stressful for a multitude of reasons, because if you have been reading, you know how fucked up but unwilling to talk about anything my family was. So any issues, oh, they weren't discussed. We just let the palpable tension hover over the table and suffocate us just a little.

I mean, really, if your dad accidentally set himself on fire, would you jump up to help him, or would you pass the salt?

My family always ate together. You had to be home for dinner. It didn't matter if play practice or sports or anything ran late. You weren't late. And dinner was where my father could comment on what I was eating and how skinny I was.

But dinner was also a daily personal triumph. Because, as I have said before, my dad couldn't do anything but get upset about the fact that I was only eating 8 peas and half a potato. Or six string beans and the broccoli I'd picked out of the stir fry. Or whatever.

He would fume and I would give him baleful looks, and carefully, oh so carefully, spear one pea at a time.

When I got down to 100 pounds, I looked like a stick. With thighs. And I hated my thighs. But there's only so much starving and exercising you can do to change your body. Your body type is what it is.

I still have soccer player kind of legs. Now I can pat my thighs and say, "With these legs my Viking ancestors walked across the prairie." Ha. Now I can mostly appreciate them. But then, I loathed them. I couldn't see past them.

And I had it all very carefully under control until I got to college and my world fell apart and lost any modicum of control I had. I ate chocolate and cried every day. I gained 30 pounds. I was so thoroughly wretchedly miserable. And it took me a couple years to get it back in hand.

Now I don't ever weigh myself; I haven't for years. I can't - I obsess about the number. And I lift weights, so though I don't have a big frame, I've got a lot of muscle. I've been told a variety of times, by men who have physically picked me up, that I'm a lot heavier than they expect from looking at me. This is OK with me, as long as I'm fine with my size.

For the last week or so, though, I have been seriously convinced that I had practically doubled in size. Warm weather clothes which, last time it was this warm, did not fit me snugly, were tight.

Truly, all it takes to send me on one of two wildly divergent courses - either a long run or the consumption of a consolatory pound of peanut M&Ms - is a suddenly too-tight pair of pants.

I'd like to be able to manage what are actually only a couple pound weight fluctuations with equanimity. I'd like to feel like it doesn't matter. But it's such an insane trigger. These pants are tight=I'm fat=nobody is ever going to love me.

It's toxic thinking, to be sure. Completely irrational. But I still have not yet gotten rid of that deep-down panic reaction.


  1. Do we ever? That's a question I've been asking myself for so many years. My eating disorder was, I think, a reaction to having been a heavy teenager. Being a fat teenager is a miserable experience. It was a case where I lost weight healthily for awhile and then, happy that I was finally considered "attractive," I went too far. Waaaay too far. And I've never gotten away from it. Even when it's gone, it's still under the surface, just waiting. It has become my default mode, my reset button. As much as I hate it, I don't know if I could live without it, if that makes sense.

  2. I know you're not fishing for compliments - that's not your style at all - but I'll say it again. I've seen you and you have a fantastic figure. I totally envy your lean, sinewy physique. You look healthy.

    I get the couple of pounds setting you off. When the couple of pounds creep up, I wish I would do the right thing and exercise a little more and watch what I eat. But I have the opposite trigger. Once the scale starts moving up, I bury my head in bags of plain M&Ms because the day, week, month is already shot and why not? I can be careful tomorrow, starting Monday, on July 1st.....

    Keep at it - if it's just a couple of pounds, it doesn't take drastic, unhealthy measures. But you already know that.

  3. JN - I've read some of your posts on this topic, and they were intense. I believe you are right - it's under the surface, just waiting. I sometimes wish I had the control that I used to, actually, even knowing how unhealthy I was.

    DCup - Thank you. I'm flattered. You are right - that's not in my character, although I do appreciate it. I totally envy your voluptuousness! I think if I had more on top to balance, I'd probably be less paranoid about my hips and thighs, actually.

  4. Not weighing yourself very often is one of the smartest things you can do, if you want to stay healthy, IMHO.

    I wonder if there's a woman alive who doesn't have weight/food issues to more or lesser degrees. I wish that it were different, but I don't think it ever will be. In fact it seems as though things are worse than they ever were.

  5. Seriously, I think clothes shrink while in storage. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

  6. Anon - I know very few women who have never had any kind of weight/food issues. I do think the not weighing yourself helps a great deal.

    AW - Haha. Or maybe the elves take them in while we're not looking.

  7. Rather than leave a comment, I instead want to ask a question:

    When you are in love, does the man in your life have any effect on your self-image?

    Suppose he falls over himself, complimenting you, reminding you how attractive you are... in all the myriad ways that a man can (and should). And he believes it; it's not just the knee-jerk response to "do I look fat in these jeans?"

    Does it cause you to re-frame anything? Does it maybe help you push that self-deprecating, that doubt, that fear out a little further from the center of you? Even a little?

  8. Justin - Wow. I really had to give this some thought. I have dated a couple people who worked to erode my self-image, and I've dated some who have really worked to build it up. I think that yes, it does help to mitigate those fearful feelings, but ultimately they are so tied up in other things that aren't actually about weight. Skinnier is just one of the -er things - smarter, prettier, better at X or Y, etc etc - that you fear you might not be enough of. I think they all go together. But certainly, someone who really cares about you and thinks you're great and believes in you and tells you and, more importantly, shows you so is incredibly helpful.

  9. i think recording the progress of the baby-body is great! i'm always interested in stuff like this and i'm such a voyeur (i guess that just makes me nosy but whatever)
    anyway i have yet to meet someone/a female who's truly happy with her weight/shape. i spent 9/10 of my life hating how skinny i was and now i wish i would stop expanding (even though i know i'm still small in comparison to others). that's life. the grass is always greener.
    i'm really curious to see if you continue this even after that baby is out, that's what really intrigues me. i'm so impressed with how fast some people take the extra weight off... i have a feeling you're one of those


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