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An Autobiography

The Story of My Life (in as few parts as possible)

I was skinny as a child and can remember being in elementary school and being proud of the fact that I was the second skinniest girl in my class. I was a very picky eater as a child. My favorite food to eat out at a restaurant for several years was a salad. My grandmother fussed to my mother that I wasn’t getting enough vitamins because I never ate, so my mother got me some Flintstones vitamins at the age of about 5, which to me tasted just like SweetTarts, which I dearly loved. So I learned to climb up to the top of the refrigerator to get them (I remember being able to read the bottle “push down and turn”—so much for a child-proof cap). My mother noticed that evening that about half the bottle was suddenly gone and I had to go to the hospital and drink syrup of ipecac to vomit it back up, lest I get iron poisoning. That was the last of my mother trying to give me vitamins.

As I got bigger, I learned to eat more. I can remember my grandmother saying, “All that food must be going straight to your feet.” I was always slightly taller than average, but remained skinny. Like most children, I was told to eat more, clean my plate, don’t waste food, finish that or no dessert, etc. In other words, all of those nagging phrases that turn you into a compulsive eater. Imagine if you didn’t feel guilty when you left something on the plate, when you “wasted” food—not because you have to leave food on your plate because you’re on a diet, but because you are genuinely full. No worrying about those starving children in Africa or China; just to eat what you want and to leave the rest. I still frequently clean my plate even though I know I’m full already.

Somewhere along the line I discovered a love of pizza and Mountain Dew and entering puberty I started to consume mass quantities of both. Luckily for me (ever so lucky!), I went to a high school that did not tolerate hazing in the slightest. Hazing carried the same 3-day suspension that pot use did, they were so serious about it. So as I began the pubescent spread sometime after 8th grade, there was no fallout from it—at least not at school. My best friends ended up being a tall, thin, but big-boned shy girl and a petite Chinese girl who talked enough for herself and my other friend together and who could eat us both under the table. So together we made a good mix of people; all three of us were different heights, all three with different body frames, all three of us different weights/shapes. We bemoaned our flaws together and pointed out each others’ best features, but generally I think we were all okay with who we were.

There was certainly no pressure to change from anyone at school. People were held as cool who were different. One guy was envied for his old 1980’s-style, faux wood paneled station wagon. One year a guy in my class decided to grow an afro which was the coolest thing a bunch of white kids from a university village (not even a town) on a rural mountain in Tennessee had ever seen. There was frequent talk of how big he could grow it. Interestingly enough, he was a very large person. He was tall, big boned/broad shouldered and overweight. But George was quiet and polite, a good wrestler and football player and he had the ‘fro. That made him super cool. I am one of the few people in this world who would love to go back to high school again because it was one of the best places in the world to be.

So from somewhere around 10th or 11th grade, I was a size 14. I don’t know what my weight was, because I rarely weighed myself and our scale at home was never accurate (or I never believed it). During my freshman year in college I developed a dysfunctional gall bladder. They also had a succession of cooks in the cafeteria that culminated after a few months with a really horrible one (or maybe it was the kitchen staff themselves having to do it without a chef, I can’t remember which). Anyways the cafeteria food started sucking big time and I was still a pretty picky eater. Since I was perpetually poor and could only get off campus once a month to go to the grocery store, I started to go hungry somewhat frequently. I can remember dreaming about being hungry and about not being able to get to food. During my spring semester my gall bladder got into full swing and I started refusing food because everything I ate made me nauseous. By the time I came home for the summer I was physically exhausted, horribly ill and had dropped to a size 10.

Of course most of my family members went on and on about how good I looked since I had lost some weight (my father’s mother, bless her, is a wonderful, loving woman, and I love her second only to my fiancé, but she did get on to me sometimes about needing to lose a little weight, get some weight off my pretty face—the usual). I thought it was weird then, them thinking I looked so good, but when I look back on it, I see everyone else were freaks. I thought I looked terrible. I was really pale (even for me) with this grayish tinge. I felt like shit. A lot of my weight loss had come from my chest, so my bras were now too big (no woman wants to lose her boobs!) and I had those Hollywood starlet clavicles that are often said to be able to “cut butter.” At one point that spring I put on a suit that I had worn for my senior picture (which happens to be the second best picture of me ever taken). I thought I looked ghastly in it because of my color and because of all the ribs I could see above my bust line. I certainly didn’t look as good to myself as I did when I was bigger. Yet everyone went on and on about how great I looked slim. I can’t remember if I ever pointed out to people that I had lost that weight because I was sick as a dog and I’d gladly have had it back if it would only mean an end to my sickness and pain.

I eventually learned to overeat when I was feeling well to make up for those periods of time when I couldn’t eat much because I was sick. So by the time I graduated college I was back in my trusty size 14 clothes again. Right after I graduated I went to Ireland on a work abroad program and spent three and a half months there. I went back down to a size 12 in part to a three-week-long unrelenting gall bladder attack that left me eating a single bowl of Corn Pops a day, and partly because I walked everywhere. When I lived in the city, my usual Sunday outing was to walk up the hill to St. Canice’s and climb up the 100’ round tower just to see the view. When I took a room outside of town, I walked a mile and a half to two miles into work four days a week (and walked it back home again). On my days off I walked a mile into town to pick up my groceries for the day, then walked back home again. I went on an outing one day to another town; I bet I walked 10 miles during the course of that one day. Except for the lingering gall bladder problems, I felt great and really acquired a love of walking.

After I came back to the U.S., I wasn’t where I could walk miles every day and I soon went back into 14’s. And there I stayed for two and a half years. By this point I had come to accept the fact that I was destined to be a size 14. When I wasn’t sick, that was the size I would get to and just stay at. That doesn’t mean that I was completely happy with myself; that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like being thinner or even wish I was thinner. But I wasn’t happy about losing weight by being sick and I was totally unmotivated to lose it through dieting (some people would call that “being lazy”), so I accepted being a size 14.

Now like most stories of growing up overweight (even if my weight didn’t occur until after I was 13), there is the mother factor. My mother was very thin when she was young. From what I can gather, she achieved this by skipping meals, namely lunches at school. My mother looks just like her father’s mother, and her father’s mother looks like her mother, who was a Cherokee Indian. And from what I can tell from going to the reservation in Cherokee, NC, Cherokees are naturally very round people. And I don’t mean that as a euphemistic term for “fat”; I mean that they have very round faces and very round body types and most are on the short side which only contributes to this “roundness”. In fact, when my mother and I were in a store there I kept losing her because she was short, round and black-headed just like everyone else. I think I called three women “Mama” before I finally found her. The only difference between her and the pure-blooded people was the fact that she was much lighter skinned.

So my mother had weight issues as a teenager and she denied her natural shape in order to keep her 5’4” frame at 125 pounds or a bit less (which was thin by the standards to the mid-1970’s, although it’s just considered normal today). This is what she weighed when she got pregnant with me and she stayed at that weight for a few years after I was born. But gradually nature took its course and between raising a child and working her way through nursing school, she couldn’t afford to skip meals. As the years went on she became more and more plump until she reached her normal size of 16-18. For a really long time now that has been the size my mother has worn, so it only follows that that is her normal size. Only she has never accepted that as her normal size and she truly believes that she is horribly fat. She dieted some when I was growing up some, but for the most part she, like me, didn’t really have the motivation to change and to stick to it. But unlike me—who just shrugged my shoulders and went on with life—she hated herself and would often talk about how fat she was and would speak of her size and shape with utter loathing and contempt.

Of course feeling this way about herself made my mother feel negatively about other people. When we were out and would see a really large person, my mother would make some comment (although, unlike some people, she was never so horribly rude as to point or say anything so that anyone else, much less the fat person, could hear it) about how horribly fat that person was and she would be embarrassed to be seen in public looking like that if it was her and that she hoped to God she never got that fat. And secretly, I think that was what her greatest fear was: that she would keep on gaining weight until she weighed 300 pounds or more. She never recognized the fact that she had reached a weight-gain plateau and that she would have to force herself to gain more than that, just as she would have to force herself to lose weight. And she never excused her weight on her polycystic ovaries and low hormones—even though that is a known cause of weight gain in women.

I was not immune to her criticisms. Unlike fat people at restaurants or in stores, I did hear what she said about me. When she was feeling particularly low on herself, I think, is when she got on me the most. She liked to make fun of my wide “birthing” hips. She liked to point out to my stepfather how wide my ass was when I bent over (he never participated in this ridicule himself because he doesn’t have a problem with his weight or size, despite being only 5’2” tall). She also liked to make fun of things about me over which I had absolutely no control (i.e. things even a starvation diet wouldn’t fix). She would laugh at my boobs and tell me how ugly and saggy they were and that I looked “just like one of those women in Africa that’s nursed 10 babies.” She also likened them to “a big ball hanging at the bottom of a sock.” (Funny, I don’t think I’ve seen a woman with a size D breast that’s natural AND perky.) And she liked to make fun of the way that I walk, despite knowing that I was born with my legs turned slightly out. She would pantomime with great enthusiasm how I walked like I was wearing swimming flippers and told me once that I looked horrible in high heels because I walked like I had “a cob up my ass.” Oddly enough, my fiancé doesn’t see any of these flaws. He was particularly perplexed with the whole walking thing, saying he’s never noticed that I walk unusually. When I laid down on the bed and showed him that my feet angle out rather than point straight up, he said he would have never noticed that if I hadn’t pointed it out and that it certainly didn’t affect the way that I walked. And for good measure he called my mother a “nut job.”

But that’s how it is, isn’t it, when you hate yourself? You get so used to criticizing your own looks that you think nothing of criticizing others. You even imagine flaws in others in order to feel morally superior to them. And this is to say nothing of my mother occasionally asking me or my stepfather “Am I as big as that woman over there?” She both compared herself to someone else (and thus based her self worth on that comparison) and knowingly selected women much larger than herself for the comparison so that we could honestly say, “No, she’s much bigger than you,” and she could therefore feel better about herself. No matter how fat she felt, at least there were people out there bigger than her. That’s what it amounted to, isn’t it?

For reasons known now only but to God, I decided to go a diet summer-before-last. That lack of motivation that had kept me from “watching what I ate” for more than a day or two suddenly happened and I took up dieting. I had already started walking again because my office had moved to a new building and had put in a walking track around the parking lot. It didn’t take me long to work up to 30 minutes of walking 5-days a week (1.5 miles), and sometimes I would squeeze in an extra quarter or half mile. I quit eating cereal for breakfast and switched to Slim Fast (although I did usually eat something approaching a normal meal for lunch). I kept careful count of my calories in a log book and budgeted them like I budgeted money: here’s my daily deposit, so I can’t overdraw this amount. I started out at 1,600 calories and every week or two I lowered that total allowance by 50-100 calories. I was on my diet for a total of four months and went from a size 14 to a size 10. My daily caloric intake went down to 1,200 and I stayed there for two or three weeks before I finally admitted that I had reached a plateau and that I couldn’t lose more weight without lowering my calories further. That was something I would not do because no reputable doctor recommends less than that amount a day and secondly I was hungry all of the time and I couldn’t have stood having even less to eat. All in all I lost 23 pounds. My goal had been 32. That would have put my weight firmly in the middle of the normal range on the BMI scale (which means that an average woman of 5’6” should be wearing a size 8 or less).

Interestingly enough, before I started dieting, I never realized I was “overweight.” Even though I knew a size 14 was a bit on the big side, I never equated that with being “fat” or “overweight”. So I was both amazed and appalled when I finally saw that being a size 14 put me into the “overweight” category by a good deal. How could I be THAT overweight? I look a bit on the plump side of normal to me. Funny, I never knew I was supposed to be sick and have health problems because of my weight. Yes, there was my dysfunctional gall bladder, but hey, everyone in my family has one of those and my surgeon said there was a much higher rate of GB disease among people of Native American descent than of most other races. So I had genes going against me there. But cholesterol? Normal. Blood pressure? On the low end of normal and given that I get dizzy sometimes when I stand up too fast, it may even be quite low at times. In fact, before my gall bladder was diagnosed I went through just about ever test in the book and everything came back perfectly normal. Shame on me. As an overweight person I ought to be hobbling along on bum knees and wheezing after walking from my car into McDonald’s. I shouldn’t be climbing 100’ towers or walking 10 miles in a single day or be out in 90 degree weather with 90% humidity in long-sleeved medieval dresses, setting up canvas pavilions and helping schlep armor and weapons and shields to and from the tournament field.

I guess I never felt like I was fat because our society says fat people are lazy and fat people wheeze and fat people don’t have the strength or energy to do things. Well, I like my quiet sitting time more than some people, but I’ve never wheezed except when I had the breath knocked out of me once as a kid. And while I may lack motivation some of the time, I certainly never lack the ability. I’ve always been a bit stronger than the average woman and I have always been proud of that. I don’t like being told I am too weak--too girly--to do something. Yes, I was something of a tomboy growing up. So how can you be fat if your size doesn’t hinder you from doing anything? How can you be fat if the average American woman wears between a size 12 and a 14? How can I be anything but normal?

So here I am now, a bit over a year after getting off my diet and, of course, I’ve gained some of my weight back. As I am wearing a size 12, I reckon I’ve gained back half of my weight. It has taken me that year and a bit, though, to realize that going on that diet was a horrible mistake and in retrospect I wish I had never done it. Because even at a size 10, I could only see how much fat there was still on my hips and how I wish I could get that fat to go away. I told my fiancé I could care less about losing weight on my waist or ribs, I wanted it off my hips (I have an hourglass figure, but my hips still seem overly wide when compared to my shoulders and/or bust). He laughed and said we couldn’t chose where the weight came off and he was quite right about that. Even if you lose weight, you still cannot achieve a desired shape because you can’t control that. And the other thing that I realized was that even if I literally starved to death, I would certainly be no smaller than a size 6. My bones—namely my pelvis—are just too wide to allow for something else. So it’s a lie that with dieting any woman could be a size 6 or a size 0. If you don’t have the frame for it, you don’t have the frame for it. You might as well try and eat to make yourself taller.

So dieting made me much more dissatisfied with myself than I was before I dieted. And when I started to gain the weight back, I really began to hate what I saw in the mirror. Look at that poochy belly, all that fat on my hips, I look horrible. Luckily I eventually realized I was thinking these things about myself and I took a step back and said, “Why am I thinking I look so horrible and fat? I’m still a dress size smaller than I was when I was a size 14 and I didn’t feel this bad about myself then.” That’s when I realized I had issues. That’s when I started looking online for advice and help. I read “The Obesity Myth” and found this website and have been getting better. I try very hard not to judge myself when I look in the mirror (or look down) and I have not allowed myself to feel guilty at all for helping myself to the cornucopia of sweets that is on our office table for the holidays. I am trying to learn “intuitive eating” as having had gall bladder problems for so long messed up my eating patterns and I have been in the habit of eating when I’m not hungry in anticipation of lean times ahead. Now that my GB is out and I have medicine to treat the excess bile, there really will be no more lean times to have to suffer through, so I need to learn to eat when I am hungry and that’s all. Also, my gall bladder messed up my hunger signals to the point where I felt full even when I had barely eaten or felt sick rather than feeling hungry, so I have to learn what my body signals are now so I can eat when I should and only when I should and quit eating preemptively or when I’m bored (really bad about that one). My fiancé and I want to get a treadmill and I look forward to going walking again every day. If I lose a dress size or stay this size, that’s okay. If I go back to being a size 14, well that’s okay too. That’s what I’m most used to shopping for. But from now on the only thing that’s going to regulate my diet is my gastrointestinal tract. If it says I can’t have something, then I won’t have it. Other than that, everything’s fair game.

Did you know...

  • Keriamon has been with BFB for 12 years 15 weeks? It's true!
  • Keriamon hails from TN?

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