Last week, I shared with you this picture and the introduction to my story of weight loss. Unlike many of those “before and after” stories you might read online, there were no ‘miracle cures’ for me. In fact, the process of losing 50 pounds took 4 years — and had as many episodes of backslides as it did forward progress.
You know how Hollywood love stories often end with the wedding? Well, as someone who has been married for a while – and is fully aware that no marriage is without its share of ups and downs – I’m often left feeling that these “happily ever after” endings really do us no favors.
I don’t want my weight loss story to be like that — because the last thing I want to do is hold out some false paragon of “happily ever after”. My story is long and winding, just like yours, and believe it or not – dates back way into my childhood.
(Actually, if you struggle with your weight — and with your self-image — you probably have no trouble believing that, because you no doubt have a similar story.)
So today, I want to start my journey in earnest, by sharing with you some of the “backstory”. Because you don’t end up 50 pounds overweight out of nowhere.
Four years ago, I was invited by the Chabad Women’s Circle to speak about living life on a budget. The speaking engagement coincided with my 10th anniversary, so I decided to bring my husband along with me and make a trip out of it.
After my presentation, we rented a car and drove out to Cape Cod, where we enjoyed three lovely days together.
It was on Cape Cod that I took this photo.
Looking back at it now, I can so clearly see the effects of the extra weight I was carrying. Physically, it’s around my eyes, in my cheeks, my neck. But emotionally, it’s there, too, hidden under a shawl.
Yet at the time, I thought – or rather, told myself – that it wasn’t “that bad”.
(I also didn’t think it was “that bad” that I got winded walking up the steps to my bedroom.)
In fact, I was shocked when I got home from the trip and plugged my height and weight into a BMI calculator. The number was 31.9. Squarely in the “obesity” category.
“That can’t be right,” I thought.
I knew I was pudgy. I knew I had packed on weight with each pregnancy, and hadn’t bothered losing it in between them. (I had actually told myself that there was no point, since I was just going to get big again with the next one.)
So, yes, I knew I wanted to lose some weight. But “obese” was a real shocker.
Reflecting on how inaccurate my perception of my body was then, I realize that it’s really no wonder – because I have spent a lifetime “practicing” such inaccuracies. Of course I didn’t realize how big I had gotten… I never realized how small I once was either.
This is me at my wedding. I weighed 126 pounds. My dress had to be taken in twice. Yet I didn’t feel like a thin girl then.
When I went shopping last month for a dress to wear to my son’s Bar Mitzvah, I took size 10s back into the dressing room with me. It was my first time shopping since losing 30 pounds. I was shocked when the 10s were too big. After I fit into a 6, I told myself that it must be size inflation.
Not perceiving oneself accurately – objectively – is a struggle that many women (and even some men) share. And yet despite being common, these perceptions can feel very isolating. If you see yourself in my story – if any of my words or experiences ring familiar, I want you to know: You are not alone.
My first recollection of being negatively aware of my body was in 4th grade. I was upset at myself because my stomach was “even” with my hip bones. Somewhere along the way, I had gotten the idea that my hip bones were supposed to protrude from my body, and that my stomach should lay below them.
Objectively speaking, I was a thin little girl. Yet I was already noticing parts of my body that didn’t fit what I thought “thin” was supposed to look like.
Around this time, I also started internalizing a narrative about food — that it held some kind of power over me. Like many kids my age growing up in the 70s and 80s, I spent a lot of time in front of the TV. And for me, TV time meant junk food time. I could mindlessly eat an entire canister of potato chips, or bag of cookies, while watching my shows. Mostly I was eating out of boredom, but I remember feeling like I “couldn’t stop” – I never got full and always wanted more.
In high school, my “treat” was a can of store-bought frosting, eaten by the spoonful. By this point, these occasional binges were more associated with emotions than with boredom – an argument with my mother or an unkind remark from a friend would send me straight to the can. Which I kept under my bed.
Eating the frosting made me feel bad about myself. Hiding it made me feel worse. Thankfully, these bad feelings weren’t persistent – in fact, most of the time I was a pretty typical teenager with normal self-confidence.
But the frosting episodes definitely nagged at me – a nagging that would stick around for decades.
This post got a lot more personal than I intended when I sat down to write it. I’m sorry about that – I hope I didn’t make anyone uncomfortable!
In the next post, I will share more recent history: Specifically, how I gained 60 pounds in 10 years (hint: most moms will understand!), and how — and why — it took me 4 years to lose it.
I know this stuff is super personal, but if you have struggled with your weight — recently or historically — I want you to know that I’m here and I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment if you feel comfortable sharing publicly — or if you’d rather share privately, you can always send me an email.