If you know me, you know that I have been on a diet for….ever. I started dieting when I was 13 and was stubbornly holding on to what my mom called my “baby fat.” She taught me to try to suck in my stomach so that the muscles would solidify and harden, kind of like a permanent facial expression, and I could have a nice adult woman stomach.
My abdominal muscles failed. My poofy belly just stayed poofy and as joined by saggy everything else.
Now, before you start saying “Oh, but graceless, you’re not fat…” as a way to comfort me, I actually am repulsed by that. It’s not sincere. It’s not true. And when in the world did the concept of being “fat” be such a horrible thing.
“Fat” is not a four letter word, a profanity that is said in a whisper and behind a flat hand. “Fat” should not be an insult that has a similar meaning to: imbecility or filth. Fat is a cellular mass or, in a singular meaning, a cell in which fat is stored and can be used as energy.
When people hear me describe myself as “chubby” or “pudgy” or “fat,” they rush to my defense which negates the truth. I was (note the past tense) a compulsive eater. I ate to heal. I ate to comfort. I ate to fill my stomach. I ate to feed myself nutrients (physical, emotional, and psychological). I ate when I took communion. I ate because I wanted to or had to (especially when hiking the Appalachian Trail). My physical reality is that I have too much weight for my age, height, and gender. It is a simple truth that requires no comfort, no negation or sympathetic phrases. In some ways, it’s a weird reverse form of body shaming, like I am not allowed to accept the truth about my body’s physicality. I must deny who I am to make others feel better. Isn’t that the same as conforming my body’s shape to please others?
Regardless. I dieted. A lot. And failed. Nonstop.
And I’m dieting again.
What I always refused in my past was help. This was my journey and mine alone. Get off my treadmill and don’t stare over my shoulder when I get on the scale and stare at a stagnant number. Just leave me and my fat cells alone because I hate them and hate myself. Yes. Contradictory a bit much.
But that was the past.
You see, the joy of the past is that’s over my shoulder, behind me on my personal road. When I decided that I wanted to hike Maryland and that I wasn’t going to dream anymore about it but make this a reality, I knew I had to make changes that were going to last. On top of that, in a year, I will be 50, and I am seeing more and more how age can flay the body of its healing abilities. I don’t bounce back like I used to. Last February, I fell on the ice and really hurt my left ankle. It’s still not fully healed.
But I also noticed that as long as I was waiting for it to heal, I was not exercising like I should and still eating like I shouldn’t.
On top of that, for the last two years, my skin has constantly flared up with painful and itchy hives that start as half-dollar sized discs that, when scratched, bloom across my skin in large, ugly, red mesas that are sensitive to touch and hot and painful. I had to wear soft, loose clothing that would billow around my skin and offer some form of comfort.
So exercising, wearing shorts that scrub across my skin, or getting warm and sweaty which also engenders more breakouts, was a form of torture.
But the trail beckoned to me. Escaping my neurological safety nest was necessary as another step to maintain a healthy aging process (another long blog for another day). I had to move.
So I started walking. A half mile. A mile. Two. And I sort of charted what I was doing on Apple Health which is nice but…not helping. I could see how many steps I was taking (when I had my phone with me) and how far I was walking (when I had my phone with me). But I needed help with calorie counting and math and stuff that is beyond my literary brain.
In fooling around with my Apple Health app, I noticed a recommendation for another app, Lose It. It helps with counting calories. And it converts steps into burned calories. I could finally see the ratio between what I was eating versus what I was burning. And, for some reason, this clicked. I gave away my comfort candy. I found my AT water bottle. I put on my running shoes.
But I wear dresses and skirts (because they are loose and billowy and don’t touch my skin) that don’t have pockets. And I hate buying clothing because it’s nothing more than a reminder that the body I want to feel good and successful on the Appalachian Trail is not the body being poured into the pant legs or squished by zippers and buttons. So I knew I was missing steps. So, I took another bite of courage and did something that makes me super uncomfortable. I bought a fitbit.
I refused to buy anything like a pedometer or smart watch or thing like that because I didn’t understand the purpose. I thought just getting on a treadmill was enough or going for a 5 mile walk was enough. I didn’t think about the other intricacies….the points at which I could move but didn’t because I was ignorant to the motivation awaiting me.
Three weeks ago, I bought my fitbit. And in those three weeks, I have walked 253 miles. I have started running again. I’m doing a hundred modified pushups a day. Today I added in a hundred squats. And I’m doing sit ups (just 30 and they’re really not that great).
The fact is…I’m changing. I cut out candy. Completely. And my skin has changed. I have not had an outbreak in three weeks. I can actually comfortably wear clothing (which is getting a wee bit looser). I really don’t eat bread or carbs that much either. I’m not on any special diet. I’m on my diet. And it’s not about weight loss anymore for me. It’s about taking control of my skin and finally feeling comfortable within its folds, its angles, the scalloped way it covers my bones and my muscles. For almost my whole life, even before I started dieting, I hated my skin. I hate its pastiness. I hated the beads of bruises I developed on my shins that made everyone ask the same question “What did you do to yourself?” I don’t know. Climb trees? Play tag? Climb the side of the playground? Roll down hills? Pretend I was a dog on the Battleship Gallactica? Defeat the Empire with Han Solo because Luke was boring and a bit too whiney?
I have hated my body for so long. And I still shy from looking at it. It’s far from perfect. Hell, I will never have the “perfect body.”
But I am learning to give myself grace. To pat myself on the back when I have huffed and puffed my way through a really slow jog of a quarter mile. Because it was more than I did the day before. And I celebrate the tenth of a pound difference in my weight each day. Because I am making these changes. I am taking ownership of my body. I am not seeking comfort in food but within my faith, within my strength, within the confines of my skin and how it encapsulates me.
I am a woman plagued by insecurities. They defined me to the point that I turned to candy bars for solace (Hershey’s with Almonds). They defined me when I swirled my finger across the face of a Domino’s pizza and ate the cheese and pepperoni as an act of comforting defiance against the boy who had just broken up with me. They defined me when I hid behind doors and ate whatever was appealing and appetizing but didn’t want the world to see another fat girl eating because she didn’t love herself and didn’t think anyone else could either.
I am a woman who is unshackling those insecurities and building a new definition, pushing against the sides of the fused and rusted cookie cutter and creating a new shape. I will still question myself. I will still have anxiety. I will still doubt my choices until I have seen and accepted the consequences. I will never stop.
I might fail at this diet too. I’m three weeks in. I have a long way to go.
But this is my time. This is my year. This is my moment and my journey and it’s leading me to many different paths that I want to walk. And, finally, I will no longer be ashamed.