I’m tired of being 5’11″, 167 pounds, and still feeling like I still live in my 14-year-old 235-pound body – my inner Fat Kid. (I think he actually ate my Ego.)
The summer between 9th & 10th grade, I lost 40 lbs. I went from being a weird, nerdy, insecure, smelly 235lb 13-year-old kid who only wore “husky” sweatpants and baggy shirts (to hide the chesticles) to being a weird, nerdy, insecure, slightly less smelly 190lb 14-year-old. And no, I wasn’t into P90X before it was cool. (Newsflash: it will never be cool, so stop writing about it on Facebook, people named Eric.)
I owe that relatively astounding & ultimately life-saving drop of elbees to my sister, who was diagnosed with anorexia in spring of that year. In fairness, the fam knew something was not right, but in our little town, eating disorders were not widely discussed. She was down to 68 lbs (even at 4’10″ that’s not a sustainable weight) and had started growing fur all over as her body’s survival instincts to keep warm started to kick in. It took her collapsing in shock at the bus stop one morning at school & a concerned school nurse to get her to the right medical professionals & to be diagnosed.
Not that I find her disease to have been a good thing just because it led to my transformative summer. In no way was her challenge a healthy one. It was a cloud, a pall of frustration & embarrassment & worry over our heads for years later. But if you can’t grow by going through that type of thing, then you’re doing it wrong (along with a lot of other things, probably).
For all the agony that summer and the years leading up to it contained, it was the turning point in our knowledge about food. Nutrition Facts had only recently become de rigeur, and at 235lbs I obviously couldn’t stop eating boxes of Wild Berry Pop Tarts long enough to examine that panel, let alone translate the numbers into anything useful… and useful was loosely defined as delicious for me at that time. And the parents? Forget it. Food was food, and the faster and cheaper and easier it was to feed us, the better. Aside from the occasional seasonal tomato (for 5 Minute BLTs on white Wonder bread slathered with mayo, of course), the main color of our fridge’s interior was soda-caramel-brown; we used the “Crisper” drawer to hold a case of soda, and I just thought that was the model name of our fridge, like a car. Our pantry was a New Mexican sunset of clay reds & mustard yellows & unnatural purples, Betty Crocker scalloped potato AND brownie mixes, Hamburger Helper, Tuna Helper, Little Debbie, Hostess, Lays, KoolAid… Basically we bought food that had someone else’s name or charismatic cartoon character on it. There wasn’t a whole grain or unrefined flour to be found. Scratch was not a type of cooking, it was only something you did to your ass or balls when it was hot out.
I was addicted to eating that way. Did it for 14 years. And we honestly didn’t know any other way to do it. (I certainly didn’t, and if the parental units did, they chose the path we were on in spite of it.) So the addiction (which maybe now I could downgrade to an extreme affinity) to that sort of food, whether it’s mental or chemical, is still there.
That spring my sister spent two months in the hospital, learning the skills she (okay, we) needed to eat enough of the right kinds of foods. For better or worse, we learned later that her main concern with food was about control: she refused to be told by Mom or Dad that she had to eat, what to eat, when to eat; so in order for us to know that she was getting the right nutrition, we ALL had to learn what the right nutrition was.
In my mental movie of this life, the transition happened so fast that I barely even remember it, but it seems that almost overnight, the soda was replaced by cans of Ensure or Boost or Slimfast (the band aid solution to being able to count calories and track nutrient mix for her until we all got up to speed on just how shittily we were doing as eaters). Then the 2% milk became skim milk, and was even (briefly) replaced by soy milk. (This was still mid-90s in rural Pennsylvania though, so it was long before there was “milk from beans” that didn’t actually taste ironically like a cow’s asshole; hence the brevity of its appearance.) Then, in what seemed a remarkable shift in the palette of our kitchen’s canvas, there was color… naturally-occurring, found-on-trees-or-leaves, non-Looney Tunes-related colors. Salad. Fruit. Wheat bread. Vegetables that DIDN’T come out of a box. It was like living 100% Warhol for 13 years and then discovering, oh, I don’t know, EVERY OTHER ARTIST THAT EVER LIVED.
So gradually, I started to shed some weight. I no longer looked like the really fat Keebler elf that bakes delicious treats in a magic tree that somehow never burns down even though there are elven bakers living in its insides. I started to more closely resemble Theodore from Alvin & the Chipmunks, only slightly taller & with longer shirts. And I felt so much better about myself, which got me fully invested in dropping more weight, creating a virtuous cycle that, eventually, became most of the food habits I still have today.
Slightly smaller chesticles, and the possibility of them going away completely, weren’t the only reasons I was investing in this less convenient & significantly less fun meal plan (there is something entertaining about eating M&Ms by the handful). Being the nerd that I was (okay, am), I really became obsessed with the numbers & the math & the science behind nutrition, metabolism, weight loss, etc. I began counting calories, tracking nutrient mixes, and genuinely thinking about eating instead of just eating what I was given or eating because I was bored. It gave the analytical side of me something to do every time I encountered food, which was quite often.
But it wasn’t easy giving up the fun foods. I started to feel incredibly guilty every time I ate something that I knew my sister wouldn’t have even thought about eating, which was a very long list of all my favorite things. In my head I knew if she wouldn’t eat it, it couldn’t possibly be good for me, but I still craved them. Unknowingly, she was a huge source of dissonance for me. (No hard feelings though – only now am I even aware that that happened, and the guilt couldn’t have come along without the life-saving change to healthier options. They’re like matched luggage.)
And I went about managing that dissonance in exactly the wrong way: I deprived myself of them as long as I possibly could, and then when I found myself confronted with them & no access to a healthy option (I.e. School pizza parties or birthdays), I over-ate like no other. Friends from high school have stories of watching me eat a whole pizza, multiple foot long subs, bags of Doritos, cases of Pepsi, boxes of Little Debbie, barnyards of McNuggets… All with a dollop of guilt slathered on top like a condiment. Tasted great on the way down, but the taste of mental anguish lingered for HOURS afterward. That type of avoid-resist-indulge-binge-hate cycle is exactly what defines addiction, and its key side effect is Guilt.
The guilt still sits with me. The addiction to shitty food and its associated guilt are huge parts of my daily internal monologue. There is still a fat kid inside me.
Over the years & with lots of research and experimentation, I’ve finally figured out the path around those pitfall moments, but the negative feelings surrounding those foods are omnipresent. The knowledge we gained eliminated any possibility of the ignorant bliss I need to be able to actually enjoy most of them. I can’t really even look at the bakery case at ShopRite without triggering the craving, fighting to resist the craving, and then hating myself a little bit for even having the craving itself – even if I completely succeed in fending it off. How f’ed up is that?!?!? I can’t even let myself LOOK at a baked good without some level of self hatred? That, my friends, is what the French call Le Bullshitte.
In my humble opinion, Life without muffins and chocolate cake would not be worth living. But not being able to enjoy them without self-imposed psychic damage is, arguably, a worse proposition. What it means is that I still struggle with the self-loathing fat kid in me, and will always struggle if I don’t forgive myself (and the Fam) for ever being a fat kid in the first place.
So I am forgiving myself. Three reasons:
A) I never chose that lifestyle or that body in a conscious way.
2) Behind Regret, Guilt is the second biggest waste of energy in the world (Glenn Beck is a close third).
D) I don’t want my daughter (or any of my loved ones) to pick up such a useless attitude towards the food that can be such a wonderful, simple & available source of pleasure.
I’ll take one giant Chocolate Chocolate Chip muffin please. Leave the Guilt on the side.