I’ve been thinking a lot lately (always) about food, about dieting, about weight. The reality of being 60 means a lot of history to contend with and a lot of struggles to sort out. I am back on medication for Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension. For 2 fabulous years, I was able to maintain normal levels with Chinese Medicine but rising levels meant seeing a specialist and mainstream, western medication. Now I am committed to exercise and losing another 25 pounds to be able to take the least amount of medication possible.
I want to talk about my story with weight, with body image, and with insecurities. When I was 13 years, I went away to summer camp where the camp nurse weighed each of us. I stood innocently on the scale and weighed in at 160 pounds. The nurse reacted with a Wow! Or something similar to that. I think she told me it was too much. I was overweight. That was the only beginning. I remember being a very lonely child. My dad was strict and I wasn’t allowed the same freedoms that my brothers had. I had to come in before dark and sleepovers were not allowed. I had a friend who lived across the street – Karen. She always seemed so normal – typical……just what I dreamed of being. We stopped at the grocery store near our school a couple of times and bought a chocolate bar. I thought I was so cool!! I told my Mom and I saw her face fall. I knew she was thinking that I was too fat to be eating a chocolate bar. Now I knew I was fat…fatter than the other kids…the fattest….the big one. Different, the odd one….the fat, Jewish one. D.i.f.f.e.r.e.n.t. and that was the beginning of a life time of dieting.
In my teen years I tried a few very weird diets. One day I ate only bananas and almost fainted in gym class. Gym class – now that is a whole story in itself. I always felt fat and awkward and clumsy. I was sure that all the other girls were athletic. I do remember thinking I was a great soccer goalie well, until half the girls on the other team came crashing and kicking at me! I dreaded gym from day 1 until I finally could drop it as a course in Grade 10 when it was no longer mandatory. My favourite teenage diet and one I often did was 500 calories a day eaten in 2 meals. Each meal allowed a half piece of bread, 1 cup of salad with no dressing, 3 ounces of meat or fish and 1 apple. Great diet for a growing teenager! I would usually keep this regime Monday through Friday and eat normally on the weekend. On this diet you should lose a pound per day they proclaimed. I usually lost a pound or 2 a week. I once asked my Mother to show me how big a pound was and she took out a pound of butter from the fridge. That was my go to image each time I lost some weight.
At 19 and madly in love, I ran into some relationship problems. I couldn’t eat. I was heartbroken. My boss used to ask in the morning if I had eaten anything and send me to the cafeteria for tea and toast that I usually threw up after eating. Lunch was cup-of-soup, an apple or some popcorn and dinner wasn’t much better. I often had a few crackers with some dip. The weight was falling off and I was at my lowest weight of 150 pounds. Only 10 pounds lighter than my normal weight of the past 6 years but of course, everyone said how great I looked and I felt like a super model. 150 pounds was still 30 pounds over the weight the charts told me I should be at. I got married in this time and had some very beautiful photos taken. I knew that the long white dress hid my curves and the beautiful face shots hid the body.
I don’t remember my husband ever telling me I was beautiful or sexy or openly admiring my body. I didn’t have a lot of money to buy really trendy clothing. Clothing is a very important part of this narrative and one I have been thinking of a lot. When I was around 12 years old, my mother took me shopping at Curls in Moncton, N.B. , an independent store for mature women and definitely not for teens. She bought me several new dresses. The sales woman was my aunt. Both my Mom and Aunt were in their 50s by then. When I got home and we showed the new clothes to my dad, I remember him telling Mom the clothes were too old for me and Mom saying that younger clothes didn’t fit me. When I was old enough to shop for myself, I remember struggling to find jeans in size 14 and later size 16. I was a travel consultant at Eaton’s Travel and we wore uniforms from Eatons. I couldn’t find a suit to fit so I had to have mine custom made. Fortunately, the Ports’ blouses fit my corpulent size 16 body. When I was 30 years old and still wearing size 16, I was a manager of a large women’s clothing store, Fairweather, and rarely found clothes that fit me. We were supposed to wear only Fairweather clothes. I often had to find something similar in another store. Although, a solution always was possible, I was always aware that I wasn’t an “average” size.
Over the next 15 years, I gained 50 pounds at 5 pounds per year until I reached 255 and a size 24. I was fulfilling my self-proclaimed prophecy as a fat woman. However, I always felt that I looked good. People always told me that I was beautiful…they loved my clothes….copied my style…told me I flowed when I walked…told me I was sexy….saw me as a trendsetter. I did some plus size modeling. I dated…I had confidence…turned a few heads when I entered a room but deep down, I knew that I was the fattest one! At least, that was the old and ugly tape going on in my head.
At 45 years old, after years of weight gain and then years of maintaining my weight, I started dieting again using the Weight Watchers plan. I couldn’t afford their program so I got their books from my size 0 zero (and lifelong Weight Watcher member) and taught myself the program.
I don’t remember what motivated me to make that commitment. After losing 35 pounds, I thought about how my role as a mother was changing. My daughters were leaving home for university and no longer needed me to be to be 2 parents or needed me to protect them. I wondered if my subconscious realized that my warrior/protector role was changing and I didn’t need to be so “big and strong”. I got smaller through diet and daily exercise. I walked the 6 km to work and back. I then started biking to work and in the first week dropped 7 pounds. I hit a plateau at 217 pounds and I felt like a little mini. It was exciting. I dropped 3 sizes and felt so healthy. I maintained that weight for the next 10 years. It took me a long time to realize I was actually no longer a size 24 – I once went in a fitting with size 24 pants that fell off me. My daughters both told me they thought I had a touch of body dysmorphia (might be a bit of a stretch) but the truth is, I always subconsciously, saw myself as the biggest one in room.
In the past 2 years, I have dropped another 40 pounds. I am now 175 pounds. This was my weight in my 30’s and I have really been working on seeing my body as it really is. As I mentioned earlier, I have been struggling with health issues – hypertension and type 2 diabetes. These problems can be genetic – my father, my grandfather, my grandmother, mother and brother have had one or both. However, all I hear is OBESE, caused by OBESITY….ringing painfully in my head. I also believe that if I lose another 25 pounds, I will miraculously be cured. I will be the picture of health.
I remember an experience with a OB/Gyn during my first pregnancy. His “bedside” manner with me was never that good- although he had been recommended by several of my friends. I was never sure what the problem was but at one of the Jewish holidays, I asked him if I should fast. He said no, but that didn’t mean I should be eating Cheetos in the synagogue!! After a few more rude comments, I decided to move on to another physician. His nurse told me that the only other time a patient complained she also was overweight. I was 5’3” and weighed 190 pounds. When I was living in Haifa, I had a knee injury and went to the hospital where the doctor asked me to raise my skirt so she could see the knee. She literally gasped and said, “I didn’t realize you were obese!!” Can I just say, Yowza….what the hell was that?
I have always loved my body….I like looking in the mirror. I actually admire my luscious although downward facing breasts, my rounded hips, my full and juicy belly. I really wish we saw more photos of all body types and I really hope we all continue this conversation. This isn’t an issue particular to men or women. It is a struggle all around. I have loved and enjoyed many body types.
I wanted to share this story today. We are talking a lot about fat shaming, loving all body types and then the issues around health and wellness. When I openly refer to myself as fat these days, I am reclaiming myself. I am not shaming myself. I am saying openly….this is who I am and I like it! I am a voluptuous, big, bold and beautiful womyn! I am hoping that you will share your stories with me. I am hoping that you will stand in the mirror and say with passion and love…..I love me!!!!!!!