I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time now. I’ve wanted to write it for a few weeks. Ironically, it hasn’t been written because I’ve been feeling too damn awful to focus on much of anything lately.
When I was 15, I had this idea about my 10 year high school reunion. Mind you, I was a freshman in high school at the time. I was going to be skinny. I was going to dye my hair blonde and let it grow really long. I was going to look so not like my 15 year-old self that people went “who is that!?!” I was going to enjoy the hell out of watching them all have their jaws drop.
Once I was thin, I’d find true love. I’d get married, have a couple of babies (without gaining any weight, of course). I’d be a famous Broadway actress. When I watch Glee, I can so relate to Rachel because that was my dream. Living in NYC, going to a performing arts college, and working towards getting on Broadway. Of course, I had to be thin, first.
“Once I lose the weight, I’ll do…” was my mantra. I spent so much time fantasizing about losing weight. I tried all the diets, though at 15, I was in the throes of my eating disorder. In fact, I’d spend over seven weeks hospitalized for it that year. The therapy at the eating disorder hospital was helpful, but only to a point… partly because I spent so much time envying the anorexic girls. Yep. You heard right… the most deadly mental illness to have, and I envied them. It’s funny in a very sad way, actually. Everyone looked at my weight and acted like, at 15, I was a ticking time bomb. But I know at least two of the girls I was in that hospital with died before they were 40, and it wasn’t because they were overweight. It was the anoerxia’s toll on their hearts. But I digress. Unfortunately, there were really no other girls like me in that program. Even the girls who were bulimic to start, and maybe 20 – 30 pounds “overweight (as defined by BMI charts, not me)” to start had tilted towards the “too thin to be healthy” side of things. The entire time I was there, there were two older women who battled bulimia and were what would be deemed “overweight,” but not one person was even close to my size. It made all my self-conscious issues a lot worse. There was also a heavy emphasis on me losing weight. My one friend, who was anorexic and at 5’6″ weighed 86 pounds, joked with me. We wished we could swap bodies for a while. I gained weight just looking at it, and she could lose weight easily. If only we could swap…
Fast forward a decade. I had found my true love, and GASP… I didn’t have to get skinny to do it. I wasn’t a Broadway actress, but I was living in NYC, on the Upper East Side, nonetheless. I was going to school, had chosen a major I loved. Life was good. We went to museums, we’d walk around the city. We did street fairs in the summer, and spent a long weekend in the Adirondacks each fall. We had a great dog, a beautiful apartment. Hell, we had a doorman. I grew up in poverty, the child of an addict… my life had changed so much, and it was so sweet and good. Except… I was still fat. And I was still trying desperately not to be fat. I tried all the trendy diets, and always wound up going back to Weight Watchers. I’d lose 25 pounds, and then it was like I hit a brick wall. I spent so much time thinking about what I didn’t have (a thin, socially acceptable body) I didn’t ever completely appreciate all that I did have.
At 26, I joined a gym. It took an enormous amount of guts for me to join a gym in my neighborhood where a size 8 was “fat.” But I did it. I went 3 – 4 times a week on average. Some weeks I went even more. It felt good. I didn’t know it yet, but I already had fibromyalgia. The symptoms were mild, and the main issue at that time was sleep disturbances. I associated it with the thyroid condition I discovered I had that year (and that, my friends, is why my weight loss journeys were so fraught). I followed WW’s plan. In the beginning, the gym was an awesome thing for me. I’d end it with a small drink from Jamba Juice… it was a ritual I enjoyed, even though it was hard. I couldn’t do anything but some weight training and the treadmill because everything else caused me pain. Which, of course, I blamed on being too fat. Turns out, that was the fibro. At any rate, the exercise boosted my mood, and in the first few weeks I loved it. Then I stopped losing weight. Again. The weighers and leaders at the WW meetings clearly didn’t believe me. I was cheating somehow, or not really working out. I tried all the “tricks.” I ate my extra workout earned Points. I didn’t eat them. I tried the Wendie Plan, where you eat under your Points some days and over on others (still balancing out to the actual total number for those days). I did everything right. Why wasn’t I losing weight? Didn’t my body know I had things to do??? Things I couldn’t do until I was thin???
I began to hate the gym. Oh, I still went. But instead of it being fun, instead of feeling exhilarated after the exercise, it became one more way I was a failure. Clearly, I wasn’t doing it “right.” I didn’t give up, though. I just hated every single minute of it. Even my post-workout Jamba Juice lost its sweetness. I became obsessive about the gym, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t losing weight. Yet again, I barely managed to hit 25 pounds lost (I remember this so well because the 25 pound mark earns a special “award” at WW). Then I hit the wall. I’d gain weight doing “everything right.” Or I just wouldn’t lose. It would go on for a few weeks, and then my resolve would crack and I’d wind up bingeing. Ironically, I often lost a tiny bit of weight the weeks I binged. But I hated myself. I felt weak, and like a failure. I remembered my 15 year-old self when I was in the hospital envying the “willpower” of my anorexic friends (that “willpower,” btw, was a topic the bulimic girls and I used to discuss frequently). I felt like I just lacked willpower. The WW weighers and leaders must be right. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.
Meanwhile, I kept putting off things I wanted to do because they’d be easier, or because I wouldn’t look stupid (aka fat) doing them once I lost weight. After about 6 or 7 months of regular gym visits, I hurt my knee. I blamed it, of course, on my weight. So did my doctor, who, by NYC standards was fairly fat friendly (and that’s why I saw her). The physical therapist, however, who was not American (and I suspect therefore less predisposed to the “it’s your fat” argument), told me the problem was that the muscle in my thigh was so tight, it actually pulled the knee cap, causing an injury. I didn’t know it yet, and wouldn’t for five more years, but I’d just had my first fibromyalgia related injury. To this day, there are times when my thigh muscles (particularly the left one) get so tight they pull the knee cap. This meant no more gym. I could only do the treadmill, and suddenly that was taken away from me, too.
Fast forward another decade. I’m now 37. I dieted repeatedly until 2007, when, after having moved away from NYC (and away from so much fat hating), something in me finally “broke,” and I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I spent 18 months working with an eating disorder therapist on Intuitive Eating. It made so much sense. I stopped getting weighed. My weight stabilized. I didn’t really lose much weight, but I stopped the endless cycle of “lose 25, gain 35.” I felt so much better emotionally. I discovered I hated half the foods I binged on. I also hated half the foods I’d forced myself to eat when on Weight Watchers.
I stopped waiting to do things, but… unfortunately, I stopped waiting too late. The fibromyalgia had taken a strong hold on my body, and so many of the dreams I had were crushed. Not by being too fat, but by being too sick. When we first moved to Colorado, I had a dream of climbing a 14er (that’s a mountain over 14,000 feet). It turns out my body doesn’t do well over an elevation of 11k, so that dream would likely never have been realized anyway (and elevation sickness is irrelevant of physical fitness, for those uninitiated with life at high elevations). But I had the dream, and I tried to “train” for it, and realized… it would be too damn painful. I couldn’t do it. It’s not a matter of “suck it up.” It would mean risking injuries.
Today I am in the worst shape of my life. It has little to do with being fat, and much to do with being sick. It is endlessly frustrating to want to do things, to try to do things and to have it hurt so much I shake, and wind up near (or actually in) tears. I think back to the 26 year-old me… to the 15 year-old me… and I want to shake myself. I want to scream…
My body was strong. It did amazing things, and I beat it up over the ONE thing it didn’t want to do… lose weight. I wasted years of health on a fantasy of being thin.
So here is my message to all of you. Regardless of whether or not you still want to actively pursue weight loss, something that is a very personal choice, STOP WAITING TO LIVE. If you have a dream, go for it. Start trying today. You might lose the weight and find you can’t do it for some other reason. You might not lose the weight, and miss your chances… like me. I could’ve done so many things I was waiting to do, and now I’ll never get to do them because of the fibromyalgia. Even if I were to somehow magically lose weight today, my pain is not related to my weight. It wouldn’t make much, if any, difference.
I lost my chance. Don’t make my mistake. Stop weighting. Stop thinking of the things your body can’t do, or the things you think it shouldn’t do (like wearing a bathing suit). Go out there and celebrate all the things your body CAN do!
There are other dreams I have now, ones unrelated to my weight. I just hope the fibromyalgia will let me realize those dreams. I won’t stop fighting, though. I know all too well what happens when you don’t fight to make a dream reality. So, I keep trying. Whether or not I ever get there is irrelevant, really. At least I’ve stopped waiting to try. Finally.