When You Were Young

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

The blog I wrote yesterday, “She’s a Beauty”, came on like a fever. I had to write it. I woke up with the thoughts needing to be come out. Like labor pains, it couldn’t be avoided or delayed, I just had to sit down and write.

Then, unlike most of my blog posts, I shared it on social media and it received a fair amount of responses. People understood what I was trying to say and many of them had their own stories to contribute – whether in the comments or by private message. I knew many would resonate with what I was saying about the endless battle so many of us face with loving/hating our bodies, but I wasn’t prepared to see even some of my friends whom I think are so thin and couldn’t possibly have body issues also resonating with what I wrote. It just further underscores my point: we are all so messed up about food and body image!

It felt good because earlier that morning I had been battling with the idea of starting another diet, but instead of giving any energy to that idea, I battled it: I wrote about it, declared my opposition to it, and then went and ate what I wanted to eat yesterday without another thought about it. No obsessing, no measuring, no tracking. I decided to have a great day yesterday at the weight I am at. I did everything and put off nothing until I lost a few pounds.

While I was running this morning, I had a vision of all the scales, fitbits, calorie-tracking apps, weight-loss books, diet pills, shakes, everything the diet industry tries to sell us being sucked down a giant vacuous hole. I imagined what the world would be like if there were no more Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Jennie Craig…if all of it just disappeared along with all before and after pictures, Tab soda, and rice cakes. The world would miss none of it, and in fact, would feel so much more free.

And then in that same vision, I imagined if I got back every bit of time I ever invested in thinking about weight loss: all the time I spent planning the next diet, counting calories, weighing whether or not to eat something, weighing actual food items, entering calorie counts in a little notebook or an app, looking at my fitbit, reading weight loss books, reading weight loss stories in magazines or on the internet, feeling bad about myself for how much I currently weighed, and all the time I was forced to listen to cruel people make remarks about my weight when I was in elementary school and junior high. What if I could have back the time I wasted trying to find clothes that actually fit me when I wanted to shop in the stores the other girls shopped in back in the 1980’s? Imagine if I could get a refund on the time I spent trying to burn off the calories – all those miles around the track, all those hours on the stairmaster, every minute I spent at the gym out of self-hatred instead of self-love? I figure the first 30-40 minutes of most of my workouts exist because working out makes me feel good,  and if it goes much beyond that it is usually to punish myself for past transgressions or make up for future ones. What if I could have all that time back?

And the money! The money I spent buying food I hated, another exercise DVD, another book, another pedometer, another plan – what if I could have all of it back?

I would likely be ten years younger and ten thousand dollars richer.

And that is a modest estimation.

My first diet: For many years, since very early elementary, I had been bullied because of my weight. I was lucky I also had good friends, but it’s hard to describe how incessantly I faced name-calling and harassment because of my size. There were certain ‘mean kids’ I tried my hardest to avoid, but they were everywhere. The worst part was that this was before schools started cracking down on bullying and so most of the time the bullies were not punished and I just accepted it was all my fault. I slinked around the edges of the hallways and classrooms trying not to be noticed too much – because if I was noticed, I was so often ridiculed. When the meanest, most consistent bully of all ended up sitting behind me in eighth grade Algebra class, each day was torture. I think I ended up hating math mostly because of him. Every day he hissed insults at me and made me the butt of his jokes to his friends sitting near us.

In retrospect, how I wish I had simply asked the teacher if I could be moved to a new seat – but like I said, I blamed myself. Wasn’t it my fault for being too big, taking up too much space, existing? If I could just magically shrink and be able to wear those cute little jeans and sweaters my classmates wore, everything would be fine.

My mom knew how miserable I was. I talked about wanting to diet and she gave me a list she had gotten from the doctor of the calorie amounts of about 500 different foods. The doctor intended it for my dad since my father had gained a lot of weight in recent years, but I took that list and made it my bible. That whole summer, I ate no more than 1200 calories a day (usually far less) and exercised like it was my job. Mom bought me a little red track suit I wore as I starved and sweated. I lost weight. I laid in bed at night dreaming up elaborate fantasies of the reactions of my friends when they saw me again.

And it was as glorious as I knew it would be. People could hardly recognize me with my new figure that was still slowly shrinking and mom bought me some new clothes, too. It seemed everyone in the entire school needed to comment on my weight loss and suddenly the mean kids were mute around me. They weren’t outwardly friendly to me, but at least they weren’t being vicious mean anymore.

It was like a match to dry grass then, the way I took to dieting. To finally feel acceptable, pretty, even admired – there was nothing as intoxicating as that. I kicked the weight-loss efforts into beast mode. I was having a small nutrition shake for breakfast, a mustard sandwich (because mustard has no calories) for lunch, and maybe a few saltines and chicken noodle soup for supper.   I savored each bite, trying to make my meager meals last as long as I possibly could. I had an exercise routine I followed religiously after school for two hours: jumping rope, ‘toning’ exercises, situps, repeat, repeat, repeat.

It was all very satisfying for a while. I could ignore the hunger pains because the scale was heading in the ‘right’ direction and at the end of all my hard work I was going to look just like the models in the magazines and never have to worry about food or insults or fat ever again. It’s amazing what a person can do with the promise of something like that shining like a beacon out in front of you.

Except it was a false promise.

I did shrink and I got down to the size of my friends, but life wasn’t magically perfect. I was still shy and kind of a dork, just a thinner one. And then, on top of that, I was still SO HUNGRY! I was hungry to my core. I was so hungry that I felt on-edge, jittery, and weak all at the same time. I tried mightily to hold on to the starving, the small amount of calories I was ingesting each day, but eventually biology won out over self-control, and the binging began. Diet #1 over. A lifelong rollercoaster of weight-loss, weight-gain, and mental turmoil only just begun.

That is what is so maddening about it all when I look back over my journey with dieting – the promise was false.

While all along my body had been running perfectly, trying to tell me what it needed and to settle at a weight pleasing to it, I battled it in return. I believed what media and friends and ‘health experts’ and everyone else told me and promised me rather than just listening to what my body needed.  How else was my body supposed to respond to my starving it, except to binge?

I won’t get all the time, energy, and money back that I lost to the diet industry. It’s gone forever. And while I have always said I have very few regrets in this life, I am coming to understand that this loss is something I regret. I grieve for the girl I was who lost herself in the morass of diet culture.

But I am thankful for the woman I am who is finding my way out.

 

When You Were Young

By the Killers

You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy to
To save your from your old ways
You play forgiveness
Watch it now, here he comes

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But he talks like a gentlemen
Like you imagined when you were young

Can we climb this mountain
I don’t know
Higher now than ever before
I know we can make it if we take it slow
Let’s take it easy
Easy now, watch it go

We’re burning down the highway skyline
On the back of a hurricane that started turning
When you were young
When you were young

And sometimes you close your eyes
And see the place where you used to live
When you were young

They say the devil’s water, it ain’t so sweet
You don’t have to drink right now
But you can dip your feet
Every once in a little while

You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy to
To save you from your old ways
You play forgiveness
Watch it now, here he comes

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But he talks like a gentlemen
Like you imagined when you were young
(Talks like a gentlemen, like you imagined)
When you were young

I said he doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But more than you’ll ever know

 

 

 

 

She’s a Beauty

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (a daily exercise to write a reflection based on a song from my morning run)

What antagonizes me is all the mental energy I have given it over the years. Even though I have worked hard to battle it, still, whenever anything is wrong or upsetting in life, my first reaction is to return to it – my crutch, my solution, my goal that I hate.

I’m referring to the rollercoaster that is dieting.

This is how the storyline goes:

On an otherwise unremarkable every-day, I decide that something in my life is uncontrollable or vexing and I feel the frustration in my body. Even if I had previously been totally satisfied and comfortable in my skin, a sudden loneliness or frustration or anxiety occurs and my knee-jerk reaction is to blame my stomach that is unacceptably rotund or my infuriatingly sturdy legs.

One way or another, I decide it is time to take control of the situation and monitor my caloric intake. Diet. I have called it other things: finding balance, cutting out the junk, being healthy, taking care of myself, eating clean – but ultimately it is all the same thing: dieting.

And I am really quite good at it. Why the heck wouldn’t I be? Anything a person has done most of their life since they were 15 they would be good at.

I know how to watch every morsel I eat.

I know what food has more calories and what food has less.

I know where the hidden calories are and how to avoid them.

I know how to ‘lighten up’ dishes and use smaller plates.

I know how to add in lots of greens and other veggies! Yes! (Because you’ll definitely lose all your taste for junk food forever if you just eat more greens!)

I know how to stay out of difficult situations or prepare for them by bringing along food.

I know how to remain satisfied so I don’t get too hungry and go off ‘the plan’.

And I know that within a few weeks, people will begin to notice, my efforts will begin to pay off, and the compliments will start to come – and they will feel like the sweetest, most savory reward. “Have you lost weight?”  “You look great!” And I smile a self-satisfied smile to myself.

By this time I might be starting to get rid of some of my old ‘fat’ clothes and spending a little more time in front of the mirror, admiring my shrinking shape. I’ll shake my head and think to myself, “I can’t believe I had let myself gain so much weight again.” Tsk Tsk. Never again. And I will feel such pure satisfaction and pleasure at my resolve, my courage, my tenacity, my ability to take up less space in this world now. Even though I banished the scale to the dark recesses of the closet a few years ago, I won’t be able to resist dragging it out to watch the numbers confirm what I already know. I’m slimming down. I’m trimming down. More acceptable, attractive, and positively tiny by the day.

And then I will start to weigh myself every day. Because why not? Isn’t this super fun? Isn’t this just the best time ever? To be obsessed with each morsel I am putting in my mouth, fixated on what fits me again, enchanted by my cheekbones reappearing, but never fully satisfied because there’s always more weight to lose. “Just keep working at it, Ruth. Just a few more pounds. Be patient.” And I settle in for the painfully slow, death dirge which is any weight loss that comes after the first 10-15 pounds.

But knowing it will never be enough. Never. Losing weight is the really un-fun game that never ever ends.

But back to how things go:  Then, I get hungry. Or shaky. Or tired. Or bored. Boredom is a big one: I can lose weight easily when I stick to a tiny menu of ‘safe’ things – but, like most living creatures, I adore food and flavor and after a while, usually about six weeks, I would rather pluck out my eyeballs than stick to the same claustrophobic eating plan day after day, week after week. I decide to give myself a break, and the break feels so good that I slowly slip away from worshipping at the altar of all my ‘healthy habits’. Even as I cower under the guilt of succumbing to my appetite yet again, I savor being able to enjoy pizza with my kids, cream in my coffee, a piece of the birthday cake at the party without worrying all the dang time about calories, fat content, the size of my rear-end…

Until I decide it is time to take control of the situation and monitor my caloric intake…

Put this cycle on repeat, to more or less degrees of freneticism, and you have the last 32 years of my life.

On good days, I can say I have put dieting behind me, that I am past all that crap and I no longer waste time on it – and that can be true for months and months at a time. I won’t weigh myself, I eat intuitively what sounds good to me, I exercise daily but just because I love it, I’ll soften all the incessant ‘rules’ about food and just live. I like being in that mental place. It is a relief, because then I’m able to focus my energy on things that actually matter: my family, my writing, work, travel, living and enjoying life!

But that seed of insecurity still lives in me and sometimes it still grows strong. I crave the affirmation, the self-satisfied weird pleasure that comes from giving in and just dieting a bit – shrinking into the ideals of the world around me.

In 2012, I finally received my doctoral degree after nearly six years of hard work (not to mention I did it while raising my small children, and while going through the sickness and death of my parents). While everyone around me knew this was a big accomplishment for me, any accolades or congratulations I received were sparse and lukewarm at best.

That same year, I lost a significant amount of weight…and you would think I found the cure for cancer with how people were in awe of me for that, constantly stopping me at church and on the street to compliment me.

I knew how lopsided it was – to be congratulated for counting calories, to be congratulated for not putting stuff in my mouth, for taking up less space in the world. I knew it was messed up that this seemed like my really big accomplishment that year – to others, and to me, too.

But this is the price we pay for the world we live in. This is what I get for growing up in this culture, a child of the 80’s, subjected my whole life to commercials featuring thin, thinner, thinnest. Heavier people being portrayed in media as punchlines, sexless, expendable, or just plain invisible.

Most of the time now I fight this ridiculous culture, I damn the word ‘diet’ to hell, and just eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, and exercise for no other reason than it makes me feel good and I love it. But just yesterday I found myself lingering over the image of a new diet book on Amazon, wondering if I maybe ought to try it.

But I won’t! I won’t, because dear Lord, I don’t want to look back over my life someday and realize I spent most of this gorgeous existence on the hamster wheel of dieting. It would be different if the outcome was ever something new, but it is always the same – for me and for 95% of people who go on a diet: Yes, weight is almost always lost with dieting, but eventually the weight always comes back, and oftentimes more than what was lost in the first place.

I want my children to remember me as a person who was passionate about all sorts of interesting things, that I loved and lived extravagantly – not with my head buried in a little book where I tediously wrote down my calories and exercises for the day, not bound to a cycle of consistent, certain, repetitive frustration. Let me give my energy toward celebrating this strong body, this healthy body that has never had to be on medication for anything even though according to the body mass index charts I have been considered “obese” most of my adult life, this body that has borne two healthy children, this body that has climbed mountains and run marathons, and holds my brain which is full of good, kind thoughts.

It’s so hard to shake the seduction of dieting. She’ll always call out to me, promising all sorts of false glory, but I am so infinitely tired of her. She’s already stolen way too much of my time, energy, thought process, and money. Not a second, a smidge, a dime more.  Join me, for your sake and for the sake of the generations who follow us and say a huge, emphatic NO to the diet industry. Tell them to take their diet books, plans, monitors, pills, bands, meditation CD’s, exercise DVD’s etc. and shove them all. Join me in ceasing the effort to take up less space in the world.  You are never “bad” for eating the delicious cake. You are lovely – no matter if your pants are snug or loose today. You are so freaking beautiful, just as you are, in the body that God gave you.

She’s a Beauty

By The Tubes

Step right up and don’t be shy
Because you will not believe your eyes
She’s right here, behind the glass
You know you’re gonna like her ’cause she’s got class

You can look inside another world
You get to talk to a pretty girl
She’s everything you dream about

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) She’s a beauty
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?

You can say anything you like
But you can’t touch the merchandise
She’ll give you every penny’s worth
But it will cost you a dollar first

You can step outside your little world
(Step outside your world)
You can talk to a pretty girl
She’s everything you dream about

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?
(But don’t fall in love) If you do, you’ll find out she don’t love you
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Now why would I lie? Uh

(Step outside your world)

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Now why would I lie?
(But don’t fall in love) If you do, you’ll find out she don’t love you
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?

(But don’t fall in love)
(She’s one in a million girls)
(Why would I lie?)