How happy are you with your body?
I have never been happy with mine. I’ve always been “lumpy,” as one doctor described me in high school. I was even “husky” at one point, that awkward category for slightly-larger-than-average preteen boys.
But recently I’ve felt more uncomfortable with my body than I ever have.
In high school I was 180 pounds at 5’11”, and already doctors had labelled me overweight. Pictures showed a slightly heavy kid, with bad acne and crooked teeth. I didn’t mind the last two so much. Now that young guy seems impossibly thin. My friends in theater were almost all skinnier than me, and I was always cast as comic relief (a “clown,” for those familiar with Shakespeare). I could be funny, but I could never be leading male handsome.
I gained about 30 pounds through college, although I had the benefit of attending a campus with steep hills to climb between classes. Really, I didn’t look bad, not much different than high school, minus the shoulder-length, naturally curly hair I inherited from my father. I ate like a college student: soda, pizza, the occasional scotch.
Things went south when I started my first programming job after college, around 2007. We drank a lot of Mountain Dew, and our boss brought giant tins of buffalo wings every week. My next job, the one I’m at now, wasn’t a lot different. Once we had so much soda that we could wall off a doorway by stacking 24-packs like cinder blocks. Friday doughnuts were a regular occurrence. It’s also when I picked up the habit of afternoon Starbucks, which i recently quit.
In 2009, around the time Avatar came out, I weighed 255 pounds. I had just read The Hacker’s Diet, and I thought “man, if I really want to cosplay a Na’vi, I have to drop this weight.”
I never did cosplay one of the blue cat aliens, but by the end of 2010 I was down to 185 pounds through calorie counting. I had also started running, both as a means of stress relief and a way to keep my metabolism up. I was even running 34-minute 5Ks, times which seem impossible now.
I got complacent. I started a relationship with someone who didn’t value fitness or healthy eating, and my habits slipped. Worse, I didn’t pick them up after our breakup, and my weight started creeping up again.
In 2013 I was at 240 pounds, after some brief weight loss during my trip to Japan. (Small portions and lots of walking can be blamed for that!). Since then I’ve been hovering around 260 pounds, give or take a few.
I’ve gone from fat clothes to skinny clothes to fat again.
I can’t run like I used to. My knees argue if I push them too much, not used to running with 70 extra pounds. It makes exercise more difficult, as I need to rely on low-impact activities.
My body is changing in other troublesome ways. I likely have pre-diabetes. I get overheated easily, a problem when you live in a state like Florida. I keep a towel on my pillows at night so I don’t soak them. I find stretch marks in places I never saw them before, like next to my armpits.
People who were once interested in me lost that interest when I gained the weight back. They never said it in so many words, but I’ve noted how they interact with me at my current weight and at my lighter weight, and it’s a good explanation.
I’d be happy at my size if I weren’t pre-diabetic and I liked how I look with the extra fat. Some people look very, very attractive at a heavier size. However, I don’t.
I know I’ve lost the weight before. So why haven’t I lost it again?
God knows I’ve tried. I hate calorie counting. It’s imprecise when you eat out a lot, like we do at work. You rely on calorie estimates to tell you what you can eat and when, not on your gut. So I tried everything else. I’ve gone vegetarian. I’ve gone low-carb. I’ve tried intermittent fasting.
My diets break easily. It just takes a bad day at work, then a day to recover from the bad day, then a day out with friends who want to eat everything you can’t have, and then you don’t care.
What changed since 2010, when I was at my lowest weight?
I’m older, yes, but people older than me have lost weight.
I’ve been dealing with anxiety for a few years now. I saw a therapist for it after I had a panic attack one afternoon. But that also started at my lowest weight.
Perhaps the biggest difference was this: I become involved with someone who discouraged my efforts at healthy eating. And I truly thought I wouldn’t have to worry. After all, I had lost the weight, and if it got too bad I could lose it again easily.
Not so easily again, as it turns out.
I’m counting calories again, doing the thing I hate most because I know it works. I log my meals on my phone, using an app that has a sizable database of fast food entrees, grocery items, and generic foods. I make meals with plenty of vegetables, and I take vitamins as insurance against malnutrition. If I get hunger pangs at night after I’ve spent my calorie budget, I heat some chicken broth in a mug and sip that until I feel satiated again.
There’s one bright side to calorie counting: I can eat anything I want, as long as it comes in small portions.
The recovering alcoholic takes things one day at a time. Although they are armed with a variety of coping strategies, they sometimes have to “white knuckle” through an hour of hell. I know what I feel when I want a pizza omg-right-now isn’t hunger, but craving. I can eat a small frozen pizza slice, but if that isn’t enough, there’s nothing I can do but “white knuckle” through it. Because I don’t really want the pizza. I want stress relief, or safety, or comfort, or companionship, or a dozen other emotional triggers.
Like the alcoholic, I’ll need to be hyper-vigilant. I’ll have to practice mindful eating and food journaling for the rest of my life if I’m to keep the weight off, as studies have shown that that’s the only way that works.
When I’m back to 200 lbs. or less, I’ll know better. I won’t end up here again.