I got a really positive response to my post “Four Things They Don’t Tell You About Weight Loss Surgery”, but I also got a lot of questions from people that wanted to know more. I realize that post was just a snapshot and didn’t go into detail about my backstory and why I ultimately made the decision to go with surgery, so I thought I would write a post with more detail about that.
You know how most people are born with a “switch” in their brain that turns on when they’ve eaten a normal portion of food and tells them, “Stop. You’ve had enough” ?
Yeah, I don’t have that switch. I don’t know if I just wasn’t born with it or it just broke somewhere along the line.
I’m thinking it must have broken somewhere along the line because I was born kind of small (six pounds) and my mother told me I was small for my age until I was at least five or six years old. Where most kids wear clothing sizes that match their age or are even bigger, I always wore clothing sizes that were six months behind. At eighteen months I was wearing twelve month clothes. At age four I was wearing size two.
Around age five or six, I “caught up” and just wore normal sizes for my age. I stayed that way until that awkward pre-pubescent age when kids seem to get chubby right before they go on a crazy growth spurt. Except, I didn’t outgrow the chub. It just kept getting worse.
Of course, it didn’t help that by then, my brother’s mental illness and drug/alcohol abuse was in full swing. Food became a comfort for me, as I knew it was for my mother and always had been. She struggled with her weight her whole life and when she saw me heading down the same path, she went into full panic mode and hauled me off to Weight Watchers at the tender young age of twelve.
I should point out that even though this was my first time as an “official” member of Weight Watchers, I was intimately familiar with the organization. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in a meeting with my aunt and cousins, watching my mother get a pin for losing fifty pounds. I spent countless hours watching them weigh and measure their food, listened to them talk about their weight, their clothing sizes and their “cheats” for which they seemed to think they should be flogged.
With all of this, came negative body images. I would say “fat” was a four-letter word in our house, except that it was thrown around quite casually. I began to think I was fat too, even when I was normal size, but how could I not? It didn’t help that my brother, too, had observed that the women in our family hated their bodies and it seemed natural that I should hate mine also, so he often suggested that I was fat and should diet as well. Some of this may have been typical sibling meanness on his part, but honestly, I think he was just parroting what he heard, the same way my inner voice was doing to me.
As a little girl, watching all the female role models in your life hate their bodies has to take a toll. My grandmother was five foot ten before Osteoperosis crippled her down with a hump on her back, and she never weighed more than 115 pounds soaking wet (she never weighed more than 90 pounds in my lifetime). Had she been a teen in the sixties, she would’ve fit right in with the Twiggies of the world, but she was born in 1912 and came to adulthood in the thirties when being a little chunky was desirable and also a sign of wealth. She spent her whole life feeling self conscious about her “skin and bones” and consequently, made sure her two daughters (my mother and aunt) got plenty to eat and more.
My Mom and Aunt grew up self conscious of their “roundness”. I remember hearing them both commiserate about how some old relative of theirs used to describe them as “fleshy” and how it pained them to hear it. Somewhere around Mom’s seventh grade year, the family doctor decided to put them both on a diet complete with diet pills that were basically amphetamines.
The pills, of course, worked but I recall Mom telling me she would have the craziest dreams at night. When she could sleep, that is. When you’re a twelve year old getting pumped with uppers, sleep tends to elude you.
Once the weight was lost, and they no longer took pills, Mom’s weight crept back on. My aunt went the opposite way and kept her weight off by just not eating anymore, using an iron will that followed her to her death at age 68. Mom used food as a comfort while my Aunt used the lack of food as a comfort.
And they both hated their skinny/overweight bodies.
And so began my own hate/hate journey with my body. In my preteen years, as things with my brother deteriorated and I became more isolated and spent more time alone, food became my comfort. I gained weight and my seventh grade year became a living hell as my brother was hospitalized and the kids at school became cruel and started bullying me.
Obviously, I wasn’t the same person at age twelve that I am at age forty-six, or even the same person I was two years later. The girl I was at age fourteen would’ve shut that bullying shit down, but that little twelve year old was just lost and sad and didn’t have much fight in her. She just came home and ate whatever she could find in the house.
So at the end of my seventh grade year, Mom and I joined Weight Watchers together and over the summer and during my eighth grade year, I lost a bunch of weight.
I was five foot two and 125 pounds at my eighth grade graduation.
I still thought I was fat.
If only I knew then what I know now!
And then the yo-yo began.
As soon as I would start to gain weight in high school, I turned to all the tricks really stupid high school girls use to get or stay skinny.
I starved myself.
I took Dexatrim, which was a pretty popular OTC diet pill at that time. I have no idea if they even make it any more.
I tried purging but I didn’t like the whole feeling of throwing up so that didn’t work.
At one point, I was drinking a diet coke and having a Snickers bar for lunch and that was my whole day’s food.
And between all these extreme tactics, I would just stuff my face with food.
I can’t say college was much better. Walking a huge campus and taking aerobics classes really helped, but my eating was crazy. At one point, my roommate (who also had a weight problem) and I were eating one bagel a day with fat free cream cheese. But all too often, we’d get “hangry” and order a large pizza and each eat an entire half in one sitting.
Then there was the phase where we ate nothing all day and stuffed ourselves with a cheeseburger at Chili’s at night.
After college, I started teaching. I was living back in El Paso and my Mom and I would go out to eat nearly every night together. Huge portions of whatever gooey, cheese-filled, carb laden food we could find.
In my fourth year of teaching, I changed school districts and had the principal from Hell, who I nicknamed Godzilla. At the same time, one of my fourth grade students was hit by a car while riding his bicycle and died a few days later. To say it was a horrific year would be an understatement.
I turned “stuffing my feelings” into an Olympic sport. I remember staying after school until well past dark, trying to plan lessons and fix my room and do everything this bitch of a boss wanted me to do so that she wouldn’t ruin my career. I was helping a roomful of nine and ten year olds deal with the death of their classmate and friend.
I would either go through a drive-thru on the way home or sometimes I’d stop at the store and buy a bag of chips and a container of French Onion dip, and I’d eat the entire thing.
And I hated myself. Every minute of every day.
This pretty much describes my life for the next twenty-five years. Stuffing my feelings, then looking for the next good diet.
Weight Watchers really needs to go ahead and present me with an honorary Lifetime Membership, because even though I never made my goal with them, I’ve given them enough money over the years that I’m sure I’ve singlehandedly funded their 401K program for at least 10 years.
In no particular order, I’ve also done: Atkins, South Beach, Eat For Your Blood Type, Richard Simmons Deal-A-Meal,The Military Diet, The Heart Patient Diet, Various versions of Low Fat or Low Carb diets, Sparkpeople.com, MyFitnessPal.com, and many more I can’t even remember right now. I’ve done “medically supervised” programs where they put me on appetite suppressants and pills to stimulate my thyroid and I’ve even done acupuncture and self-hypnosis.
I’ve joined gyms, hired personal trainers, sweated with the Oldies, did both the old and new versions of Tae-Bo, Tai-Chi, Yoga, walking, Couch to 5K and probably a lot of other things I don’t remember.
And somehow, at age 44, I still found myself 125 pounds over my ideal weight for my height and age.
I’m sure sitting at a desk job for eight hours a day didn’t help.
We are required to keep “talent profiles” on our intranet at work, so that if we apply for other positions, we already have a sort of in-house resume that our prospective new department heads can look at.
You know you’re in deep doo-doo when the first skill you consider listing on your talent profile is “stress eating”.
It became clear to me that the switch in my head needed resetting, and after a lot of research, I decided that counseling and weight loss surgery might be the only thing that could actually flip the switch and I was right.
I still have work to do and I have to good fight every day when it comes to food, but it is nothing like it was before. I lost 85 pounds and though I’ve been at a plateau for the last year, I don’t intend to give up on reaching my final goal. It’ll happen.
I know a lot of people that have been able to overcome these issues on their own, without surgery. More power to them and congratulations! Clearly, I’m not one of those people, and I’m okay with admitting that.
I’ll write another post soon with details about the actual process before and after surgery, but for now, I’ll leave you with the results of a lifetime of looking for myself and finally finding her. Stay well, my friends.