When I casually mention that I grew up overweight to new acquaintances or run into old friends from high school or college, 9 times out of 10, I’m asked the question “How did you do it?!” What they want to know is my secret to my success. You know, what weight loss supplement or diet or surgery cured me. I’m sure they expect to hear the usual story: an epiphany about how I couldn’t live with my excess weight anymore, a diet/supplement/workout that changed my life, and my sprint toward my weight loss goal. But it’s impossible for me to comply with this expectation. That’s not my story.
Watching my mom’s weight yo-yo up and down for years during my childhood as she tried out every fad diet that swept the country taught me two things: 1) Fads don’t produce lasting results. 2) Diets and supplements suck!
I learned another valuable lesson growing up with a naturally skinny sister who suffered with extremely low self-esteem: Being thin doesn’t guarantee good self-esteem. So, I decided at a young age to love myself at any size and never be conned into a fad diet or anything that promised accelerated weight loss.
Truth be told, I’m not really the type of person who should have a weight loss success story. I was loud and proud of my plus-sized self. I was comfortable in my own skin (even if I didn’t particularly love my rolls or the limits imposed on my style by plus-size clothes). I took pleasure in defying fat girl stereotypes.
For starters, I wasn’t a junk food junky. Don’t get me wrong, I love my baked goods, chocolate and cheese but I didn’t grow up eating Snickers bars for breakfast or binging on fast food. I don’t even like pop or soda. My diet was the same diet as most Midwesterners: cereal every day (maybe twice), typical American snack foods, Hamburger Helpers, homemade casseroles with frozen vegetables, Americanized Chinese food, tacos, lasagna and pizza. Unlike many Midwestern’s, our family made sure to at least have two vegetables every night with dinner (though usually they were frozen or from a can). Admittedly, it wasn’t an awesome diet but I wasn’t starting my day with ice cream or cake either.
I was also an avid fan of walking and weight training. During middle school when the weather was nice and I wasn’t in school, I’d put my Walkman on and stroll down our country road in Indiana. When we moved to Michigan, I got in the habit of going on midnight walks through our subdivision so I wouldn’t have to run into the other high schoolers in our neighborhood. In college, I walked everywhere. I joked that I practically walked miles out of my way every day to finish conversations. Throughout all of that time, I periodically did light weight training and some aerobic exercises. While I wasn’t exactly “active,” I liked to feel relatively fit.
I was good at choosing clothes that flattered my body. The limited selection of plus size clothes available put a damper on my style but no one could say I wasn’t well dressed by the time I entered high school.
To me, my weight was an outward expression of my hunger for a rich life full of good relationships and good food.
What changed? Why did I decide to lose weight then?
Honestly, it sort of happened on accident at first.
I was over in England for a summer abroad program at Oxford when my weight loss journey started. To save money, I split groceries with a housemate who ate pretty healthy. I got used to eating a lighter diet. Plus, since I have an extreme aversion to buses and we lived in a house in walking distance to about everywhere you’d want to go, I walked a lot almost every day. Between those two things, I lost 15-20 pounds during the two months I was overseas without setting out to.
Back home, I realized how much I prefer the lifestyle that I had unintentionally picked up overseas. I’d learned that portion control is not only easier but equally satisfying when my taste buds are happy. I’d also discovered how much I prefer a Mediterranean-ish diet. It felt pretty great to be wearing a smaller size too. So, I kept up my new habits stateside.
It helped that my first semester back, I made friends with a hot guy (imagine a cross between Brad Pitt and Josh Hutchinson) who followed me around the lunch line as I put food on my plate. While I ate lunch, he’d chat my ear off without eating himself. Having his crystal blue eyes locked on me made it that much easier to make healthy choices.
The rest of my weight loss journey has involved a lot of ups and downs. I’ve used a lot of tools along the way (first the Food Pyramid was my guide, then I utilized Weight Watchers, after that I graduated to counting calories, now I do a combination of counting calories and keeping in mind the Food Pyramid) and I’ve tried out tons of different workout routines (though nothing beats dancing around in my underwear). What has worked for me, might not work for anybody else. You might want something I never have. I don’t care about having a bikini body. I just want to stay out of plus size clothes and have a normal relationship with food.
The thing I’ve struggled with most—more than cravings for sumptuous baked goods or longings for rich Italian dishes—is the feeling that I’m betraying the bold, beautiful fat girl that I grew up as. Over and over again, I have to remind myself to stay true to the first of my two tenets: Love yourself at every size.
Feature image by Alice Donovan Rouse.