It all started when I was a kid, around 10-11 years old. I clearly remember a day at swim practice when my mother was talking with another mother on the side of the pool as we did laps. I’d catch snippets of their conversation as I swam by.
Lady: You’re brave to let your daughter swim on the team. Aren’t you worried she won’t get a good husband if she gets swimmer shoulders?
Lady: After all, she’s already kind of chunky.
This lady had expressed her many husband-related concerns to my mother before. Because I’m tall. Because I’m “big boned”. Because I swim. Because I’m a tomboy. Because I don’t like HER daughter. It went on and on. This is also the same lady that blew huge clouds of cigarette smoke on us as we were doing sprints in the pool. If only my mother could have seen how crazy that lady was. I seem to recall this all happening on the next day, but it may have been a short time later. One morning, all the snack (ie, junk) foods had been moved to a locked cabinet in the laundry room. On my plate at breakfast was not a big bowl of cereal with sugar, but a half a grapefruit, no sugar.
Mom, with her own half a grapefruit, happily announced that she and I were going on a diet together. “Absolutely EVERYONE is doing Scarsdale and it will be good for us.” As I choked down that grapefruit, I scanned through the book and quickly realized:
diet = punishment
Clearly I had done something very bad and I was going to be punished. This was going to suck.
And that was the beginning of a long road of dieting. I would notice pants that were a little too snug (okay a lot snug, it was the 80’s) or a particularly bad photo next to a skinny friend, and I would be off to find a new diet. And this time for sure-It was going to work! There was Scarsdale, Grapefruit, Cabbage Soup, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, Dexatrim diet pills by the handful as a teen, the Hollywood diet, more grapefruit, starvation, cayenne pepper drinks, expensive shakes, Atkins, South Beach, diets, diets and more diets. With each “diet”, I would restrict my eating severely, lose 10 lbs, and over time, gain back 15. I’d lose 15 and gain back 25. I’d lose 25 and gain back 40. And so on, and so on. To 351 lbs. You know how it goes! If I had a time machine, I would go to that poor girl right now. I would grab her by the shoulders and tell her, “YOU ARE NOT FAT!!!” You are beautiful just the way you are. Your mother has some issues that are not about you. AT ALL. Because it wasn’t about me. It was about my mom and her taking what that crazy woman said and actually thinking her 11 year old daughter needed a diet when she was swimming 10 hours a week. What it was doing was laying the groundwork for the massive infrastructure now in my brain to set up all kinds of rules about food. Good food. Bad food. Evil food. Food to make you happy. Food for when you’re mad. Food to make it all go away. And plenty of punishment and suffering when your body image isn’t quite right.
But I was also setting up a relationship with an idea that wasn’t my own about what it means to eat a “healthy diet”.
You see, if diet = punishment, then a doctor telling me to adjust my diet to manage my diabetes means, “never eat anything fun ever again”. Nobody can maintain that, so I was setting myself up for failure again and again and again.
Does this sound familiar to any of you?