Maybe We Shouldn’t Be So Scared of the Scale

My favorite way to win a prize at a state fair or amusement park when I was a kid was by challenging the person who guessed weights. They rarely ever got mine right so it was an easy victory. If I ever have to choose a carnie job that would be the one I’d want. I think I’d have a better success rate than most of the ones I met because I’ve developed a knack for accurately guessing people’s weight. It helps that I have a lot of data to draw from (since I am comfortable telling anyone and practically everyone how much I weigh at any given time, people are pretty comfortable sharing their weight with me). What also helps is that I understand the subjectivity of weight.

It seems to me that most people have preconceived notions about weight. Like, if someone weights less than 100 pounds it is assumed they are probably anorexic and if a woman weighs more than 150 pounds or a man exceeds 200 they must be overweight. These ideas are absolutely ridiculous! I have friends who are healthy at a mere 90 something pounds and others who are trim and thin at 210 pounds. There are men in my life who would be overweight at 180 pounds and women I know who could be underweight at 180. Outside of the unique context of each individual person, these numbers have no real meaning.

Bone density, height, muscle mass and, of course, fat all play a large part in determining what someone weighs. It is by looking at each person as an individual, seeing their unique attributes, that I’m able to guess pretty well what weight range they fall into. But this guess isn’t ever a judgement because that number alone doesn’t determine if they are healthy or not.

Age, physical activity, and overall physical well-being in combination with those other factor all play a role in what weight is ideal for each individual person. This complexity of weight is part of what makes it so interesting to me. It is also what makes it so hard to determine what a “healthy” weight is for another person or even yourself. For all of us, these factors change throughout our lives. There may be a time when [insert number] is the best weight for you and a time when it isn’t.

I like being open about what I weigh because it creates the opportunity to talk about the assumptions and misconceptions that we have about weight. One of the first things that I discovered is that many thin people feel as scrutinized and sensitive about their weight as heavy people do. My best friend Nichelle and sister Christa are great examples. Nichelle is 5’ 10” with a medium to large frame and enjoys lifting weights so she never weighs less than 160 lbs. Whenever she admits her weight, people often feel a need to “comfort” her that she only weighs “that much” because she has so much muscle. What they are implying is that they think she weighs more than they expected, so they have to rationalize it to themselves. My sister Christa is on the other end of that spectrum. She’s 5’ 10” with a very small frame and hasn’t ever seriously worked out. She rarely weighs much more than 125 pounds. She grew up with doctors suspecting she had an eating disorder because she didn’t fall into the “healthy” weight zone on their BMI chart. For her, that weight is normal.

There is an odd comfort in realizing that most of us—overweight or not— feel like our weight doesn’t measure up to our culture’s expectations. It bridges the gap that we can feel exists between us and it creates the opportunity for us to realize that we can’t judge ourselves based off of these inaccurate notions of what is and isn’t healthy. In my opinion, we shouldn’t judge ourselves off of these numbers at all.

I don’t need a scale to tell me when I could use to change my habits and burn some fat. It certainly can’t tell me when I could use to gain some more muscle (moving into a new apartment, struggling to lift half of my furniture and boxes, made me realize that). I think most of us know our bodies well enough to know when change is needed. The number I see blinking back at me on my scale may confirm what I already know but it always has to be interpreted though my knowledge of what is healthy for me as an individual, not what is perceived to be healthy for me by others.

Even though this number is subjective, it can be a powerful act to stand up and publicly state what your weight is. At least, that is how I feel about it. I feel like it is a way of saying, “Whether you approve of my weight or not, this is what it is. And I am okay with it.” Even when I know that my habits could use some improvement and I could use to get my body into better shape, I still find it important to own the weight I am at and accept that, ideal or not, this is me.

Feature image by Scott Webb.

The Perks of Growing Up a Fat Girl

Or: 6 Reasons to be Glad You Grew Up Overweight

While I’d love to erase the stretchmarks left over from growing up overweight, I wouldn’t want to erase anything else. In my opinion, the perks of growing up a fat girl outweigh the detractions. Many of the challenges you’ll face in our culture as a result of being a heavy kid turn into benefits in the long run. These are the top six advantages of growing up as a fat chick.

1. You cultivate a wonderful, self-depreciating sense of humor. I’ve rarely met a large woman who can’t laugh at herself and set a whole room at ease with her humor. I think it’s because learning to laugh at yourself is one of the greatest ways to cope with being persecuted and belittled. It’s a way to regain your narrative power and, of course, shame your bullies by being way funnier about your foibles than they are.

2. You develop thick skin (and I don’t just mean literally). Another silver lining to growing up getting disapproving looks and being called fat is that you develop more grit. Sure, it still hurts—you are human after all—BUT your body’s natural self-defense mechanisms help you to become more immune to bullying and trash talk. (If you are anything at all like me, you also learn how to put bullies in their place.)

3. You take more pride in who you are than how you look. The ironic benefits of being excluded from our culture’s definition of beauty is that you can feel freer to rebel against the notion that your beauty defines your value. Instead of using your looks to win friends and influence people, you rely on your personality.

4. You learn to appreciate your beautiful features. One of the pluses to maybe not loving your full naked body so much is that you spend more time in front of the mirror clothed. It gives you more of an opportunity to focus on the small things to love about yourself like your flowing locks, your expressive eyes, your great legs that almost compensate for your small breasts…alright that’s my list but you get my point.

5. You’re less competitive with other women. Knowing that the odds are stacked against you in a competition of beauty makes you more inclined not to compete. Making that decision can completely alter your relationship with other women for the better. Instead of seeing them as your rivals or the measure of your worth, you’re more inclined to view them as comrades and sisters. This seriously helps to eliminate cattiness from your relationships (for the most part).

6. Your laissez faire attitude will be your ticket to coolitude. You know that moment in Eat, Pray, Love when Elizabeth Gilbert decides to throw vanity to the wind and inhale the pleasures of Italy by eating her way through the country with abandon? You have been embracing that unfettered hunger for life since childhood. It’s your ticket to cool. Once you realize how powerful it is that you have less vanity and a greater sense of abandon, you’ll be the life of every party.

Feature image by Jaie Miller.

How Did You Do It?

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.

The Good, The Bad & The Awkward: Say Goodbye to Idle Flirting

A couple of months ago my sister said, “You know, Lindsey, people always say that I’m flirtatious because I’m nice to everyone. You legitimately are a flirt.” Until she said it, I’d never thought about myself that way but I couldn’t deny it either. Enough friends have pointed out to me that I can get carried away around men.

If I’m a flirt, I’m one in the true sense of the word. The playful banter that I slip into with many men is entirely for amusement (most of the time at least). And I can’t help it that I find it deeply humorous to brazenly come onto my guy friends on occasion for sport.

Back in my younger, heavier days, the men I flirted with weren’t inclined to take it seriously. I could be brazen without creating confusion about my intentions. At the time, I didn’t contribute this freedom to my weight. I also didn’t think of it as flirting. To me, it was just a natural way to interact with men in certain environments. Those blissfully naïve days are over. I can’t idly flirt without consequence anymore.

Take for example my first day working my day-job handing out samples in a grocery store. It was a painfully slow day. I was stuck back in a corner on a week day. Hardly any of the few customers in the store crossed my path. All I could do to pass the time was cut up scones. My only relief from the sheer tedium was an awkward grocery worker who kept passing by my station.

He was extremely awkward but I was equally bored. So, I began exchanging banter with him as he passed through to help the day go by more bearably.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a talent for sucking people into conversation. I’m so good at it because I instinctively know when to turn up the charm to get someone to abandon what they should be doing, at least for a while, to chat with me. Using any amount of charm on this guy turned out to be a bad move. By the end of my shift, he asked my manager for my number. He uncomfortably pursued me for quite a while afterward.

This has become the story of my life.

I even had a guy friend—who I thought knew me well enough to get my humor—become awkward with me for two months because he thought I had a crush on him. All because I showed up to our non-romantic date dressed up and then teasingly came on to him. I had even explained that my fanciness was purely the result of my own vanity and desire to wear new accessories.

You might sympathize with him but, let me tell you, he wouldn’t have misread the situation if I still weighed 240 pounds. Back then, I had a guy friend tell me that I had the rare ability to say a come on without it coming off that way. All the other guys in the car with us agreed. I act the same way now as I did then. That is the crux of my problem: while I still feel and act like the same person, I’m treated like a different one.

There is a plus side to how seriously my flirting is taken now. It’s easier to date. It definitely makes me feel more feminine, more desirable. But it also means that I’ve gone from being the frequently rejected to the frequent rejecter (like I said, my flirting isn’t an actual indicator of attraction). I thought that would make me feel like hot shit. Mostly, it just makes me feel like shit.

Those douche-y men you daydream about turning down are rarely the ones you get to reject. It’s the weird guys, needy guys, old guys and married guys you get the uncomfortable privilege of turning down most often. What is even worse is when you have to let down those sweet guys you wish you liked but the chemistry and attraction just isn’t there for you.

I’m trying to tone down my flirtatiousness but it’s hard to break a decade long habit of being a flirt. I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye to idle flirting when I began losing weight.

Feature image by Scott Webb.

Coping With Wavy Hair

Or: When the Patron Saint of Fat Women Stops Smiling Down At You

Just when I started seriously gaining weight in middle school the Patron Saint of Fat Women* must have petitioned God on my behalf to send me a compensatory blessing: curly hair. The same year I exceeded 260 and kept gaining, my stick straight brown hair began to transform into beautiful ringlets. Okay…It wasn’t a beautiful sight at first.

Since I would never let my mom do my hair nor do anything with it myself, we had compromised on short hair. So, when it first began to curl (meaning it is also got incredibly frizzy) I looked like Einstein in his most unkempt portraits. I had to put up with my classmates’ teasing until my hair grew out and I learned how to manage it.

Luckily, we had a hairdresser at our small church who taught me what products to use and not to ever brush or comb it once it had dried. With the right hair products, a little scrunching and longer hair, I soon had a physical feature that nearly every woman around me seemed to envy. I loved my new hair as much as they did. I could run out the door with sopping wet, unstyled hair and it would look great by the time it dried at school as long as I’d put enough hair gel in it. Even at that age, I was all about looking good with little effort.

I could never understand those curly haired girls who straightened their locks every day. Besides being mystified by the sheer amount of time they decided to devote to it, I couldn’t comprehend why they didn’t realize how undeniably gorgeous curly hair is. I was also a little bit of a snob about curly hair. I had friends with wavy hair who would say their hair was curly. While I was polite enough not to disagree with them to their face, I always thought, “Sorry, dear, but your hair is not curly. It is wavy. Unlike us curly haired women, you have to coax your hair to curl while our struggle is taming our curls.” Along with internally refusing to admit wavy haired women into my exclusive little club, I never under stood their complaints. This has all changed.

It seems that the Patron Saint of Fat Women isn’t in my corner now that I’ve been out of plus sizes for a few years. My hair has been gradually losing its curl. Some days it teases me by being intermittently curly, but I am not fooled! I’m an officially wavy haired woman now. I image that old patron saint came before God with some pious sounding reason, like an argument that they now have a need to keep me humble or brought His attention to my elitist attitude. Whatever it was that she said worked. He agreed to rescind the gift.

Let me tell you, this is one of the hardest prices I’ve paid for leaving the fat girl club. It has given me a deep respect and sympathy for all women who have had wavy hair their whole lives. I find it almost impossible not to complain about my hair every single day. I’ll walk out the door with nice waves and by the end of the day most of them will have fallen out unless I use a serious amount of hair products. Even then, there are days when my hair just looks over gelled and stringy. It is awful!

One of my teachers in middle school, who caught me checking out my hair in a reflective window I passed by in the hallway, told me that I’d lose my beautiful hair if I was too vain about it. He pointed to his own thinning head of hair as proof. It seems that he was right. I’m holding out hope that eventually my old patron saint will favor me again. No matter what my pant size is, in my heart, I’ll always be a fat girl.

* Though I’m a Protestant, I love the idea of Patron Saints. While the Papacy might not recognize the Patron Saint of Fat Women, I believe in her.

Feature image by Alessio Lin.

Life as a Lapsed Fat Girl: The Ubiquitous Backhanded Compliment

“Wow!” You don’t look it.”

That’s the most common response I hear when I mention to a new acquaintance that I grew up weighing around 240 pounds (sometimes more, sometimes less). That response makes me feel like Katherine Watson in “Mona Lisa Smile” when—out of frustration and disappointment—she shows her class a girdle ad that says “You couldn’t choose a better way to be free.” I want to yell at them the same thing she did, “What does that mean?!”

Are they surprised that I don’t have sagging skin? Or do they mean that I’m more confident, more stylish, than they imagined a lapsed fat girl would be? Or is it just one of those meaningless things people blurt out when they don’t know what to say? Probably, it’s a combination of all three.

It’s usually said in the tone of a compliment. That’s the only reason why I resist yelling because I’m pretty sure they’re trying to be nice. But, as far as compliments go, it’s pretty pathetic. I can’t help but feel that it’s one of those subtle indicators of our culture’s prejudice against overweight people.

The irony about my weight loss journey is that it’s made me more sensitive to how heavy people are treated by our culture. Before I started losing weight, I blithely wrote off the people who looked down on me or disregarded me because of my disproportionate size. Now that I’m out of plus sizes, that same prejudice makes me want to pick up arms in defense of the fat girl that I was. While I believe Michelle Obama’s intentions are pure, her campaign against obesity has made me feel like it is necessary to start another campaign: A campaign for better treatment of and more understanding for obesity-inclined people. No matter what number my bathroom scale blinks at me, I will always be one of those people.

Just like a lapsed Catholic will always have a place in their heart for the Papacy no matter how long its been since they attended mass, as a lapsed fat girl I will always have this sensitivity and awareness.

The next time someone you know mentions that they used to carry a significant amount of weight, I hope you’ll refrain from replying “I never would have guessed by looking at you.”

Dieting & Devotions

Out here in eastern Michigan, winter has been lingering around like a guy who just can’t take a hint. While outside my window there has been bright, beautiful spring-y sunshine for the past three days, it still practically feels like winter (this morning when I woke up it was 22 degrees). I haven’t coped well with this winter. I’ve been lethargic. I’ve been withdrawn. And I’ve gained 10 pounds!

10 pounds. It doesn’t sound like that much. Years ago I would have laughed (internally, of course) at someone who made a big deal about a measly 10 pounds. But, now, I get those women’s distress. Back when I was wearing plus sizes, 10 pounds hardly made me go up a pant size. To really do damage, I had to gain at least 15 pounds. Now 10 pounds means I’m up TWO pant sizes (thankfully, the super stretchiness of some of my skinny jeans has been forgiving but my dress pants and regular jeans sure wont forgive me).

While I begrudge going up a few pant sizes (and seeing 17- on the scale instead of 16- :( ), the worst part has been how out of control I’ve let my eating become again. For the last few months, I haven’t seemed to comprehend the word restraint. It’s like I’ve felt a need to prove why I spent about a decade weighing 240+. Like I’ve needed to prove my love of food by overconsumption. Mostly, I blame winter.

The season is undeniably beautiful (as long as there is snow on the ground), still, I loathe it. It all boils down to the fact that I hate being cold, cut off from sunlight, and surrounded by barren plant life. I was born in the middle of summer and that season is in my blood. I feel most alive when the world around me is blazing and in full bloom. I thrive on being able to augment my days with sun naps and evening strolls neither of which are going to happen during a Michigan winter.

My tolerance for cold diminishes more and more each year (and with every pound lost). I can stand it for about as long as it takes me to get from my apartment door down three flights of stairs to my car. Tragically, my poor old Cadillac’s heat barely works if it’s cooler than 35 outside so even my car rides have been freezing this winter. Therefore, if I wasn’t being paid to brave the cold and leave my apartment, I pretty much didn’t.

Months and months of being confined indoors makes me feel like a tiger I once saw at the Grand Rapids zoo. She kept restless pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in this torturously small enclosure. Every frustrated turn bespoke an obvious, furious need to break free. I’ve been as restless. Instead of pacing, I eat just about as incessantly.

Like I said, I’ve been coping badly.

Back in January, I was starting to really get in a panic about my eating. I was afraid I was on a slippery slope that would lead my right back to 240. Then two of my female coworkers and I lingered after work to talk about how much we all hate winter. I found out that they were having the same problem as me (well, similar at least). We’d all gained winter weight. My middle aged coworker had gained 25 pounds since Halloween. My petite, slim 19 year old coworker said she’d gained so much weight that her skinny jeans were cutting off the circulation in her legs. It felt good to know I’m not alone in my winter weight gain.

That conversation reminded me of something our culture is loath to admit: it’s natural to put on weight during winter time. The extra pounds help to keep us warm and the extra serotonin from carbs compensates for the little we’re getting from sunlight. With the poor heat in my car, I can’t say I’ve been too sad to have some extra insulation.

Even so, there is a fine line for me between normal and dysfunctional. I know that I’ve been leaning towards the dysfunctional. The more these cold months have dragged on, the worse it’s gotten.

Almost every winter I find myself in a similar place. Lent is usually the time that I re-connect with my body and with God (our relationship suffers as much in the winter as this blog has). It’s when I begin relearning restraint and get back into the habit of having a more active relationship with God as I prepare for Resurrection Sunday and spring. That didn’t happen this year. As you know. My focus was on adjusting to this new job and giving myself a professional makeover (more on that to come).

On Easter Sunday, I realized that I still need a Lenten season. Just because I missed Lent doesn’t mean I can’t have one. Starting April 1st, I began Dieting & Devotions. I’ve committed to do daily devotions (i.e. begin each day by reading from the Bible) and diet until my birthday, July 1st.

When I say diet, I mean that I’m trying to eat within the daily caloric range MyFitnessPal  gives me (a great free app, by the way, that I’m liking more than Weight Watchers) and exercise more regularly again. I know, that’s not exactly a “diet.” I don’t do well when I decide that I can’t eat something. Plus ,I know that the most effective way for me to lose weight is through something that is sustainable. My definition of Dieting is being more active and intentional eating with moderation as well as making healthier food choices.

So far, so good, but it has only been 3 days. I’ll let you know how it goes.

How to Keep Off Those Holiday Pounds

I probably should have posted this before Thanksgiving but for me the month of December is the hardest. All month there seem to be temptations everywhere: peppermint bark, holiday cookies, pecan and pumpkin pie, etc. Plus, the days are getting so much colder and shorter. We had a nice little dusting of snow on Thanksgiving and since then the temperature seems to keep dropping. Though it looks like this will be a relatively mild winter, much like last winter, it’s still cold enough that getting up the motivation to hit the gym is that much harder. Less sunlight means more cravings for carbs. In short, it’s a lot harder not to pack on some pounds.

While I hate to be all self-help-y, I know I’ve found it helpful to read other people’s tips. Here are mine:

Give Yourself Permission to Snack But Not Binge

All year round this is basically my motto but it’s especially important through this month. I can let myself have a small slice of pie, a modest piece of peppermint bark, or a nice size Christmas cookie without guilt. I just have to be sure to stop at one and not neglect to include those points/calories in my daily count. You can have a treat a day without gaining weight as long as you’re mindful that you don’t overdo it. During this season, it’s better to let yourself have a few sweet treats instead of making yourself feel deprived.

Enjoy Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

The cooler it gets, the more I want to eat warm savory foods. It’s tempting to start making more pasta dishes and other heavier entrees. Many of the best seasonal fruits and vegetables are delicious when roasted such as all varieties of squash, apples and pears. Roasted broccoli and carrots are also good. I’m finding it to be important to intentionally include a hefty side of these seasonal vegetables and fruits with a meal. This Autumn Butternut Squash Salad has become a favorite for lunch. I’ve also been thinking that a low sugar cobbler with a light topping of oats would make a perfect low calorie dessert/snack.

Stay Active

This is really the hardest for me. I feel like there is no good reason to get up before the sun rises when I don’t absolutely have to. Braving the cold in my workout clothes isn’t a very inviting idea. I’ve found it helpful to find workouts that I can do in the comfort of my room. If I really feel the need to get the gym, I remind myself that working out will make me warmer (since I’m practically always cold now, this is pretty motivating). When I make plans with friends, I also try to intentionally get in more exercise. Like making extra laps around the mall, always taking the stairs and being willing to take part in festive activities like ice skating.

Keep Counting Those Points/Calories

Since Halloween I know I’ve been less and less motivated to keep track of my Weight Watchers points. I think it’s partially due to the natural lethargy that comes with this change of season. Also, because I hate seeing how many points a piece of pecan pie is. But I know that, if I want to keep weight off, I have to hold myself accountable. This is the time of year when my body is really working against me. When it keeps telling me that I’m hungry even though I’ve had my fair share of calories. The only way to keep my weight stable is for me to keep track of what I’m eating so I know when I’ve hit that limit and I need to drink some tea or a large glass of water to appease those deceptive hunger pangs.

What works for you?

Reluctant to be a Skinny B*#$@

Identity has clearly been a theme this week. I’m sure this has a lot to do with the fact that it’s something I talked with my friends in NYC about. Over the last few months, I’ve realized how much my identity has changed. We talked a lot about how it has become undeniable that, no matter how much I may still feel like a fat girl at heart, I’m not considered one anymore. There was an instance at my demo job a while back that perfectly illustrated this.

During a lull in traffic, I had gone over to my coworker Lance’s cart to sample the product he was passing out. We looked at the calories on the back together after I tried it. I casually mentioned that I always have to be conscious of calories. “Really?” He asked, looking genuinely surprised.

“Yeah. Well, I used to be pretty heavy back in high school and college.”

“I can’t imagine that! I can’t imagine you as a heavy girl.” He had such a sincere expression on his face as he said this that I knew he meant it.

I haven’t been able to forget about that casual exchange. When my sister Christa and I talked about it she understood just how strange it is for me that someone would meet me and not know about the identity I proudly accepted for over a decade.

Browsing through my facebook pictures recently it struck me with full force that I haven’t weighed significantly over 200lbs for more than two years now. Each month, I’m getting further and further from that number. I’m now just 8lbs away from having a healthy BMI at 160 and a total weight loss of 100lbs.

When I’ve told women about my weight loss and mentioned looking back at my old pictures, they often suggest it’s time to un-tag myself in those fat photos. I never get insulted by their suggestion, but I’ve also never considered it.

I will admit that, now that I’ve adjusted to this smaller size, I’m initially a little in awe of how large I used to be (especially during that period I was at my biggest). But I get passed that pretty quickly. Then I look through those pictures in the same way I do all the rest.

Like a normal woman, my thoughts range from “That day was so fun!” to “That color looks awful on me. What was I thinking?” And “My hair looks stunning in that photo!”/ “My hair looks out of control”!” to “Aw. I miss that skirt! And that friend.” With, of course, a few more thoughts of “You know, control top panty hose are your friend. You definitely should have been wearing them at that event.”

One of my absolute favorite pictures is from my sophomore year of college. I weighed anywhere between 230-240lbs at the time it was taken. It’s a photo of a group of female friends and I before a dance. I’m wearing my favorite formal gown (which I’m sad to have given away, though I know it wouldn’t fit now). While everyone else is looking at the camera, I’m looking to the side and obviously laughing. I love it because every time I look at it I think “That’s me!”

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Yeah, that’s me near the end on the right in the navy dress.

Even now, I think that.

Though I don’t see all of those extra pounds when I look in the mirror anymore, it’s hard not to still think of myself as a fat girl. While I feel like there might have been a complement hiding in Lance’s comment, I will always be proud of that identity. It’s still a little hard to accept that I have another one.

When a friend and I discussed losing weight a while back, she said that she never wanted to be one of those “skinny bitches.” In fact, her fear of becoming one was an obstacle that made her hesitant to lose weight. I knew exactly what she meant.

In all the blogs and articles I’ve read about weight loss, no one talks about how it involves leaving one social group for another. Not only that, it means becoming a part of a social group that has mocked you and told you that you’re less valuable simply because you’re bigger. A social group I personally spent a decade saying a much deserved “Fuck you” to.

Last November, I realized that I’d stalled in my weight loss and regained weight in part because I was hesitant to join this new social group. I was hesitant to cave into our society’s limited view of attractiveness. But I also had to face that my eating was out of control and I was hurting myself.

Discovering Andie Mitchell’s blog Can You Stay for Dinner helped me overcome my reluctance. Even though she’s lost 135lbs and kept it off for six years, it is obvious that she is still a fat girl at heart. In my weight loss research for my client Frank, I learned that, physiologically, a fat person will always be a fat person. You can lose the weight, you can change how you look, but on the inside your body will always be different from someone who has never carried around extra weight. I like knowing this.

I’ve gotten more comfortable with this new identity by realizing that I’ll always be tied to the other. The stretch marks scaring my skin, that I used to be so embarrassed of, I now wear very proudly. They are a lasting, visual connection between who I was and who I am.

Feature image by Chris Barbalis.

So Much More Than a Physical Transformation

I must confess that I feel a little guilty about all that I’ve kept from you this summer. Though I definitely think some of my titles (“If You Don’t Want to Be My Boyfriend Maybe You Shouldn’t Act Like You Are”…”Taking Applications for a Male Sidekick”) sort of screamed ‘I’m a little bitter and let down,’ I hated not being able to bring you into what was going on behind them. The timing wasn’t right though. Both because I hadn’t had that final conversation with my friend and because I’ve needed to catch up with how my life is changing.

Yesterday my mom got after me for stating that I’ve transitioned from the “heavy girl I was to the beautiful woman I have become.” She was offended by the implication that I was not beautiful 85 pounds ago. I respect her opinion, but that isn’t what I was implying. What my statement reflects is not simply how losing weight has changed me physically, but how my definition of myself has changed.

85 pounds ago, I firmly believed that I was pretty and absolutely believed that I was desirable but I didn’t think of myself in terms of beauty. Losing weight alone didn’t change that.

Two years ago, when I was basically the same size I am now (minus 5 pounds or so), I felt less attractive and less desirable than I ever did at 240lbs/260lbs. Even though strangers were hitting on me and asking for my number frequently, there were days when I didn’t want to change out of yoga pants and my sweatshirt or leave my apartment because I felt utterly unattractive. For the first time in my life, I was pretty convinced that I was ugly.

There were a lot of contributing factors to this crisis. Overall, it happened because for years my identity had been wrapped up in being heavy. And all of the great things that it implies, like that I stake more value in who I am than in what I look like. Like that I have a big presence and an insatiable love of life. For about a decade, that term meant more to me than being beautiful. I didn’t know who I was or how to love myself without that qualifier.

In the process of rebuilding both my confidence and sense of self, I discovered that I’d never believed I was entirely beautiful. I thought I had beautiful legs and hair and eyes but I didn’t think the whole package of me was beautiful. I thought that aspects of my personality are lovable but not all of me was. I accepted partial attraction because I only believed I was partially attractive. This has changed.

As I’ve come of age over the last two years, I’ve come to believe that I’m entirely beautiful and entirely lovable. When I say this I don’t mean to imply that I’m perfectly beautiful and perfectly lovabe. Let me tell you, my body is still not flawless. It is not “bikini ready.” My face is not completely clear of acne. I still think too much. I’m still too loud. I can still be petty and tempestuous and impossible. I can still be completely awkward and totally graceless. But we all have flaws and faults. As a whole, I think I’m lovable and beautiful. That I am well worthy of being wanted and desired in my entirety.

The fact that my desire for my friend died the moment I found out that, like all the leading men of my past, he just wanted part of me and not all of me reflected this change. Even so, it’s been hard not to believe that all men who seem interested in me will just follow in these footsteps. As my dad has said, there is a rule of three. Once you’ve had three similar experiences, they set your expectations.

Though, over the last two months, I’d noticed different men’s interest, I internally doubted my instincts. Men have always seemed attracted to me. And all that attraction has ever boiled down to is an insane amount of admiration or respect or whatever. While I’ve never let this stop me from humoring hope (how boring life would be without some petty crushes), I wasn’t going to believe it until I knew the actual nature of their interest.

I think it was that need to know which prompted me to bring up the topic with two of my coworkers this weekend. When one of them asked me to name off the guys I thought liked me, ‘cause he could tell me if I was right or not, part of me expected that he’d disillusion me. Instead, I was dead-on.

It’s surprising to me how much I’ve changed through these years and how much my life has changed as a result. When I said that I’ve gone from being a heavy girl to a beautiful woman, I am referring to a transformation that has been so much more than physical (technically, my BMI isn’t even “normal” yet-though it’s very close). What it reflects is how I have redefined myself, as well as how others now define me. It’s important to remember that beauty is not merely a physical attribute. When I use that word, I mean it in that much broader sense.

I am much more beautiful now than I was two years ago. Not because I weigh less (which I hardly do). But because I know myself and love myself better. That has happened because I’ve fought to find the beauty in every bit of me. Despite flaws and imperfections. It’s happened because I know that I’m desirable to God, no matter what, and that means I must be deeply and essential beautiful. I think that the men in my life are responding to this as much as they are to my physical transformation.