Today, mere moments ago in fact, I ate for lunch some sliced turkey breast right out of the deli package, some pan fried sweet potatoes, and homemade far-superior-to-store bought coleslaw (my secret: apple cider vinegar). One quadrant of my brain—the part that operates independently of the rest of my brain, constantly focused on food all day, every day—will over-analyze this meal for the next hour or so. It will ask such vital questions as: Was that enough sweet potato to get half my potassium for the day? How much sugar did they use to cure that turkey? The butter—argh! The butter!—is that my friend or foe? Was I even hungry enough to warrant a meal?
I do this a lot.
That little anecdote is just a brief introduction to my relationship with food. It will take me weeks of writing and dozens of posts to really touch on all the facets of this complex issue, so for now, I’ll take Sister Maria’s advice and start at the very beginning.
When I was conceived…OK, maybe that’s too close to the beginning.
Alright, my mom. I’ll start there. My mom is a freak of nature, God love her. Her metabolism is that of a…hmm…I don’t have an analogy here. Grr. Her metabolism is insane, let’s just put it that way. She is a tiny little person (5’5” and 115 lbs.) and she eats more than most linebackers. She eats salads that spill out of mixing bowls. One Hot N Ready pizza is an appetizer. In my lifetime I have seen hundreds of waitresses blanch when they realize the stick figure in front of them just ate an entire “serves 4” size plate of nachos. She’s the luckiest woman on the planet.
I hate her.
It’s not that she doesn’t have to make some effort for her figure: she works 12-hr shifts without a lunch break, and she plays soccer sometimes 4 times a week (though she’ll dispute this, she’s the best Sweeper in every league she’s ever entered.) But still, growing up watching her devour a horse every night gave me a skewed idea of how much food is a “serving.” I grew accustomed to downing six or seven slices of deep-dish pizza for dinner. I love, love, LOVED cereal, and ate approximately 3x the recommended serving every morning. I would eat a whole package of Oreos over the course of two days without a second though.
When I was pre-pubescent, this gluttonous lifestyle did seem to be a problem. I was 48 pounds in the 4th grade, 52 pounds in the 6th grade. Yes, you read that right. I gained 4 pounds in two years. I was creepy-skinny and never knew it. But the summer before 8th grade, over the course of a matter of months, I ballooned from 52 to 95 pounds. And the numbers on the scale just kept climbing from there. I was mortified— and a little repulsed—by my own weight gain, and it didn’t occur to me that this change was necessary for me to, you know, be a healthy woman. It may not have been so life-shattering had my mom viewed the sudden appearance of hips on her once bony daughter as welcome. But as she watched me try on jeans at Kohl’s, she grimaced and said, “You’re gonna lose a few pounds before you wear those in public, right?” I felt…gross. And hurt. And…disappointed in myself.
When my period made its grand entrance a few months later, things made a bit more sense, but I still wanted nothing more than to be all ribs and shoulder blades again. I developed an unhealthy liking for Self magazine, especially when you consider it’s only slightly less tawdry than Cosmo and I was 14. I started working out. A lot. I was a dancer, and had 8 classes per week, which is a good amount of exercise. But when I’d get home from dance at 10:00pm, I’d pull out dumbbells and do all the ridiculous workout regimens I read about in those magazines to the point that I couldn’t sleep because I had gotten my heart rate up too high too close to bedtime.
All this time, though, I was still eating ludicrous portions of food. I used to say I looked 7 months pregnant after a meal because my abs couldn’t hold my food baby in. But one time at a family gathering, I sat down next to my aunt who was actually 7 months pregnant and our bellies matched. It was disturbing on so many levels.
Around this time I became a vegetarian. It was something I always felt like I should do, even if I didn’t have a concrete reason why, and I figured it would help me be healthier. Turns out, just because you don’t eat animals, you don’t miraculously become svelte. (The whole Veggie Tale is another post).
When I joined the track team my sophomore year, that made a bit of a difference in my body. My weight didn’t decrease but my muscle mass certainly did, so I was a bit more confidant. But the night before a meet I’d eat half a pound of pasta. And after the meet I would go home and eat an entire pan of rice krispie treats. I took carbo-loading to a whole new level, and I was only a sprinter.
My senior year, I was Captain, I was aiming to beat the school record in the 400M, and I was in great shaped thanks to the sports conditioning class I took with the football team. I quit dance so I could my all into track, and I should have kicked ass…were it not for the new head coach. I’ll admit it, I’m still bitter. If I could have stuck with the training regimen my coach for the previous two seasons had designed, I’d have been great. But little Coach What’s-Her-Face thought she knew better and started to have me train with the distance runners. And while I was still fast as hell, my legs aren’t built for distance. I got shin splints within two weeks, and a stress fracture that had me sidelined by midseason. I was the Captain, standing inside the track taking times, watching a freshman take my record in the 400. I wanted to die. I had no physical outlet and my dreams were dashed, so I ate. Even more than usual.
By graduation, I was 157 pounds. My highest weight and my lowest point.
College was my salvation. Escaping the unhealthy view of food in my parents house allowed me to see that you don’t have to eat as if every meal is your last. I learned to eat until I was full, not bursting at the seams. I learned that even if the caf is offering your favorite Turtle cheesecake, if you don’t feel like eating it, then DON’T because they’ll probably have it again next week. I was taking off weight just a few weeks after school started, but when the weight started to fall off, I should have been suspicious.
It wasn’t until the following June on my summer vacation that I learned I had had mono for the past 8 months. So my decreased appetite and sudden shrinking was due to a virus that could have killed me, not my own improving food views. And when your doctor, commands you to sit on the couch and NOT MOVE for one month, well, poundage finds its way back to you.
I could keep cataloging each weight fluctuation I experienced, but I won’t. I’ll just say that I ended up learning about moderation and eventually my weight leveled out at 140 pounds. I told people I was 130 pounds, even when my weight crept up to 145, and I secretly always wished I weight 125. It wasn’t ideal, but I sorta just figured I was stuck at that weight. Like it was my metabolic destiny.
Then, a few months ago, my cousin tells me about this amazing diet she’s on: the Paleo Diet. I am, at first, a total skeptic. I love food, and any diet that says “NO CARBS AT ALL” just sounded insane to me. But she looked great, was healthy, and just had so much to say about how great and happy she felt. I just thought, “Well, I want to be happy. And healthy. It’s worth a shot.” I looked into the science, it all made sense, so I decided to test the waters of this new diet, even if I was still hesitant to say goodbye to pasta (I’m Italian for God’s sake!).
I started really making sure I was getting enough protein, and was cutting sugar out of my diet as much as possible. I lost 4 pounds in a month or so, and that was nice. When I decided to wade into the Paleo pool a little deeper and stopped fearing fat and started really shunning carbs—as it happens, saying goodbye to pasta isn’t so hard—another 6 pounds fell off in less than 2 weeks. I was dumbfounded. I had abs. I’ve never had abs before. EVER. But the most beautiful part wasn’t the weight loss: it was that my hair was growing back (will discuss more in future posts); it was that I had so much energy when I never even realized I was tired before; it was that I didn’t get a cold for 2 months, and I am the perpetually sick girl (again, more about that later). I finally found something that seemed to be working for me.
As I sit here today writing this, I am actually 130 pounds, sometimes 128 depending on the day and how generous the scale is feeling. I feel pretty damn good. I have new issues with sugar binges that I never had to worry about before, and I think about what I’m putting into my body more than I’d like. But all those years I was feeding my belly, not my body. I think it’s reasonable to worry a bit more about your diet when you’re actually concerning yourself with your wellness. And that’s what I keep telling myself here. For years, over a decade, I was unhappy with my body. But more importantly, I wasn’t healthy. Now, I’m a limit approaching healthy (if you don’t get that, study up on your calculus!).
Wellness. It’s the new cool.