My mother’s always been rather dramatically up-and-down with her weight and it’s a great concern of hers. From where I sit now I think that as a kid and during my adolescence I had a perfectly healthy weight and body shape. And then, as now, in fact, my body image has always been decent. Even at my highest weight I have always been able to look in the mirror and think I look somewhere between okay and fantastic (the same is not always true of photographs), and I’ve never been one to talk negatively about my body to myself or others. While to some degree what my weight is doing is a reflection of my self-regard, it’s not at all the main source of it.
There were a few months when I was 13 when I dieted severely in reaction to social pressure (a jerky boy and the naturally slender girls at my lunch table) but for the most part any worrying about my weight when I was growing up came courtesy of my mother, despite my reasonable-for-me then-size-8 shape. I remember lots of forced time on the stair climber and a preponderance of dinners consisting of tofu and cabbage. I’m not naturally and never will be a slim person, that’s true, but I certainly wasn’t overweight, so when my mother’s doctor at my pre-college health exam told me my BMI was too high, I recall feeling like it there was no point in trying to control the quality and quantity of my food if I was going to be “fat” regardless.
That’s why it’s no surprise that, once off at college and in charge of my own diet and exercise habits, they became extravagantly unhealthy. My first year of college I gained weight from grilled cheese sandwiches. My second year of college I gained weight from macaroni and cheese. My third year of college I gained weight from pizza. My fourth year of college I gained weight from cheese enchiladas. (I guess I really like cheese.) By the time I graduated I had gained something like forty-five pounds!
I married and got a miserable job that required me to drive around a lot, leading to my eating a lot of fast food. When I got a desk job, I spent a bunch of time hunched over at the computer, snacking. Then I went through infertility and became depressed and gained even more, and my particular version of infertility was worsened by extra weight. The medication for my fertility-reducing insulin problem (which I’d had symptoms of even back in high school, before I was overweight, just for the record) and the reproductive endocrinologist’s insistence I exercise helped me slim down a bit, and as a result of these various factors and the mysteries of reproduction, I eventually became pregnant.
Morning sickness the first third of the pregnancy helped me shed around twenty pounds; I eventually gained forty back, but by the time I finished lactating I was dozens and dozens of pounds slimmer than when I’d gotten pregnant. It was the first time in my life I’d lost significant amounts of weight and I put no effort into it at all. After I stopped breastfeeding the weight loss slowed, but healthier eating habits (gained from caring about what I fed Little Girl) and a more active lifestyle (especially when we lived by the beach and I was swimming and jogging every day) helped me get to what I think was a perfectly reasonable adult weight for me. It was still twenty pounds over what I weighed in high school, but I think it was a good, healthy size for Adult Me.
But then we moved to Sweden. Chocolate balls, cinnamon buns, ice cream trucks, strong Swedish coffee which I had to put tons of sugar in to tolerate, a long, snowy winter, boredom, loneliness, immigrant stress—they all took their toll and I gained weight. I became pregnant and had no morning sickness and gestated a boy who made me very hungry, and, by the end of that pregnancy, put on forty pounds. I didn’t breastfeed long enough to shed much of the baby weight.
This left me unable to fit into lots of my clothes and feeling rather lumpy. But not exactly unfit. Even at 41 weeks pregnant I was hiking in the forest and climbing flights and flights of stairs without getting winded. It was just extra fat from extra calories from too much sugar that I’ve been carrying around; I kept up my pregnancy eating habits long after the pregnancy was done. After a few months of just sort of hoping I would magically lose weight, I discovered that my summer shorts wouldn’t close.
Since I’m way too cheap to buy new shorts, that was the motivation I needed, evidently. Over the last six weeks or so I’ve cut out most sugar and snacks and eaten smaller portions of healthier food and, hardest of all, gone hungry a fair amount (I’m hungry right now). It’s been really very challenging and extremely slow going and I have had days where I’ve gotten frustrated and eaten chips and salsa for breakfast, but I can finally button those damn shorts. In a few more pounds I’ll even be able to wear them in public. That’s all I ask. I hope I never gain a bunch of weight again and have to try to lose it, because now I finally know what everybody is talking about when they say losing weight is so hard.