A few days ago a very courageous friend very gently mentioned, with the utmost genuine concern, that I had gained a lot of weight. It’s true. I think in the last 7 years I have gained at least 60 lbs., the last 30 in 2 years. No, I have not had children. Sometimes I can hardly believe the pictures I see are really me. And my doc and I agree that it’s time to do something about it before my health starts to pay the price.
I think I have always struggled with my weight in the way any girl has who’s grown up in America. My earliest battles were efforts to conform to ridiculous societal standards and the result of comparing myself to the other girls around me who were genetically more petite than I would ever be, despite my best efforts and my worst.
My worst efforts to control my weight started in college, at around age 18. I had just returned from my senior year of high school abroad in Argentina. I gained a ton of weight (as do most exchange students) and lost it like overnight upon my return to the States. My best friend at the time was a size 2 at best, and for me being a size 6 was just not small enough.
I worked out a lot in college, but ate…well, like people eat in college! I commuted, so I didn’t have the “freshman 15” experience. I had broken up with my boyfriend of 3 years shortly after the fall semester started and well, as I review my journals from back then, was not hurting for the want of male attention. I’ve grown to realize that male attention has little if nothing at all to do with my self-validation. In fact, it’s played a staring role in crumbling much of which I’m working so hard to rebuild.
My weight would go up and down about 10 pounds at the most early on. I could control it by giving up French fries for a week or so and things were back to normal. I’d inevitably pick the pounds up again and eventually giving up fries for a week turned into giving up food altogether for a day, or two, or three. I was a Super-Christian back then (cape and all) so I could easily disguise my eating disorder as spirituality. I was fasting, of course! But, I like food too much so the anorexic thing was not working for me at all. I remember telling a girlfriend I was “fasting” with for 3 days (I’m sure she was serious about the fast) that even the Meow Mix commercial was tempting! I chose vomiting as my preferred self-abuse mechanism because that way at least I got to eat.
By the time I realized I was a full-fledged bulimic I was dating the man I eventually married. He had told me from the beginning that he was not attracted to big girls, had not set out to date a big girl and would not be happy should the girl he was with (yours truly) get…big. Boy, was I well on my way to recovery now!!! The next few years I got smaller and smaller, until I weighed about 119 pounds.
Now, 119 may not sound that tiny to you until you see the picture of me in a bikini, with my ribs showing and my head looking like Skeletor. I was at least 15 pounds below my ideal bodyweight and more like 30 pounds from what I believe is a healthy weight for me. I was a size 4 and I thought I had reached Nirvana.
A couple of my guy friends thought otherwise. One of them looked at me one Sunday afternoon (I’ll never forget it) with the most desperately pleading look I had ever seen and said, “Lex, what’s wrong? You look terrible.” He was referring to so much more than my weight. I knew it and he knew it, but neither of us knew what to say next. So, we said nothing and have said nothing to this very day.
The other one, about a month or so after the bikini shot I mentioned earlier, said casually, “Lexi, it looks like you’ve put on some weight.” I burst into tears. He looked stunned and confused. “What? What did I say? That’s a good thing. I meant that in a good way.” In my mind there was nothing good about gaining weight. Even if it was 5 or 10 much needed, healthy pounds. I was a sick girl, hurting, desperate and grasping for control of something, anything that would make my life seem at the very least, manageable. A few people heard my muffled cry for help, but no one heard it clear enough to offer any direction, or if they did, they had no clue how to help.
My demon was not my weight, but I had no clue what I was battling at the time. As I gain the courage to tell more of my story, we shall see together how the fragments of my life come together to form a clearer image of who I am. We are the sum total of our experiences and no matter how hard we try to eliminate the horrific ones from the equation, they must all be given their place, purpose and value.
I kept my behavior secret for years and friends are shocked now when I talk about it in retrospect. I stopped purging years ago, but the battle continues, just on a different terrain. I have still used food to my detriment, only in a different way. What was once the enemy has become my best friend, my comfort, my go-to girl in the time of need. I’m an emotional eater. When I’m happy, eat. When I’m depressed, eat. When I’m indifferent and bored, eat. And, though I’ve done my share of celebratory feasting in the last 2 years, I’ve mainly been feeding the pain of betrayal, loneliness, fear, loss, depression and anxiety.
Awareness of the idolatrous place I have given food in my scavenger hunt for redemption, for healing, for home is but a beginning, a significant first step, but one of many, many steps that may need to be visited and re-visited along the way. I am entering yet another dark room on this journey through my soul. I am afraid. I am hopeful.
I fear failure. Yet I know I can not do this alone. Redemption is not mine to conquer. I fear what I may be forced to face as I eliminate my choice distraction. I fear what I’ll be left to feel when I remove that which I’ve used to fill the emptiness and numb the pain. I fear what it will mean for me to see my body take a shape again that draws men’s attention. I’m afraid of how it will make me feel about me, about men. I’m afraid of what I’ll do with those feelings. I’m afraid of what I’ll try to use to take food’s place. I’m afraid this will become about losing weight and not about finding life. I’m afraid to become religious about a routine or a regimen as if in it I’ll find redemption.
And still I am hopeful. I am hopeful that on this journey I’ll know more deeply the love and support of friends and family. I am hopeful that I will learn to honor myself, and my body. I am hopeful that I will learn to love and celebrate that which makes me a woman and beautiful. I am hopeful that I can honor the parts of my story that have caused me to dishonor my body. I am hopeful that I will emerge and be known and honored for who I am, not for what I look like physically. I hope to be truly known, and truly loved.
The journey begins.