Do you remember how old you were when you first thought about your weight?
I’m sad to say it was grade three when I first did. Grade THREE – isn’t that crazy?! Is this typical for girls? I wasn’t an overweight kid and my mom and those close to me never really obsessed about weight, so why did the issue take hold of me so early on?
Writing this post was tough for me. It’s easier to tell someone else’s story than it is to share your own insecurities. For a long time my struggle with weight was difficult for me to talk about, given it reminded me of the times in my life when I was insecure and felt the worst about myself. I hated looking at some of these pictures so much that I’m shocked to have found any kicking around, let alone be sharing them for all to see (we’ll leave the discussion of my awful nail polish and dye job for another post!)
Over the years, obsessing about my weight occupied far too much brain power. As a kid, I was tall and usually claimed the position of back row, middle for class pictures. While my height may have helped me make sports teams, it definitely made me feel uncomfortable. Most of my friends were petite and the boys at that age were even smaller, having not yet hit puberty. I felt awkward and specifically remember thinking it was the end of the world when I climbed into the 100 pound ‘zone’ while my friends still weighed in the 70 – 80 pound range. Isn’t it amazing that something seemingly so minor can impact your thinking and stay with you for so long? I was so skinny that my head looked too big for my body and yet because the scale indicated I was 100 pounds, I thought I needed to lose weight.
Very early on I started lying about anything to do with my weight and developed a very unhealthy relationship with food. Sometimes I’d deprive myself completely, while other times I would lose control and binge on all the wrong foods. I had no concept of nutrition throughout the years when I was growing and needed good quality nutrients the most.
By the beginning of high school I was finally starting to feel like I didn’t stand out so much given I was suddenly ‘average’ height. I still had the wrong ideas about food, but as long as I maintained a size six, I wasn’t overly concerned about what I ate. I played lots of sports and credited them to keeping me in shape (my diet certainly didn’t!)
In grade 11 I started at a new school located within walking distance of countless restaurants. A typical lunch could include anything from pizza to poutine, chicken fingers and fries, burgers and even Chinese food buffets. By the time the year was over I had packed on over 40 pounds. I don’t know why I was surprised by my weight gain, but I was. I remember seeing a picture of myself and being shocked at the girl staring back at me. I didn’t recognize myself – I had low energy, my skin was breaking out and worst of all, I felt depressed and incredibly insecure.
Shortly thereafter a guy in one of my classes made a snarky comment about my weight. I felt embarrassed for letting myself get to the point that others were noticing and decided that no matter what it took, I would lose the extra pounds.
I began a strict diet consisting of mostly watermelon, cucumbers and salads. It wasn’t long before I was back to my original size and as a result, this became my go-to strategy for maintaining my weight. I’d eat whatever I wanted and then when it started to catch up with me, would go on some drastic diet.
Like many people, I used this approach all throughout my late teens/early twenties and was constantly fixated on the fluctuating numbers on the scale. The first year of college I was determined not to gain the dreaded ‘freshman 15’ and was able to avoid it. My second year I was partying more, stressed with school demands and started to find it a bit harder. By the time I began working, I was putting in long hours and living a relatively sedentary lifestyle, which led me to start packing on the pounds again.
It wasn’t until my diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis in 2009 that extra weight no longer seemed to be the most critical issue in my life. My fears of weight gain were replaced with the fear of not being able to maintain my mobility or being wheelchair bound in the years to come. I began seeing a naturopath and changing my diet; I eliminated processed foods and adopted one that was rich in organic, nutrient-dense foods. I quickly found that when I provided my body with the nutrients needed for optimal function, I felt great and that when I did not, my symptoms would flare up.
For the first time in my life the foods I consumed were about my health and not about my weight. After years of yo-yo dieting I finally came to the realization that the consequences of a poor diet go beyond the numbers on a scale.
I now look at my food as a way to best fuel my body and not as something that temporarily fills an emotional void or acts as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, anger or hurt. The key to my success in adopting this lifestyle has been to forget about weight entirely and go into it with the intention of improving my overall health – the maintenance of my weight is just a bonus now.
Like everyone, I’m not perfect and have faced many challenges over the years that have caused me to falter on my healthy lifestyle. It’s not about being perfect all the time though, but recognizing you slipped up and move on. Each time you start to incorporate small, positive changes into your life, more of the negative habits are pushed out. Learning about nutrition, how the body functions and the implications our food and lifestyle choices have on health has been more of a motivator for me than weight loss alone ever could be.
When a client comes to me with the number one goal of losing weight, I always ask them to dig deeper as to the reason they want drop extra pounds to begin with. Is it to increase energy, lower the chances of diabetes, be able to keep up with their kids?
As gratifying as it might be for some to squeeze into that smaller pair of pants, trying to lose weight to fit within society’s definition of the ‘ideal’ figure is not a viable longterm solution. Skinny does not necessarily mean healthy. Losing weight may temporarily boost confidence, but if not done properly can be very taxing on the body. To be successful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it’s imperative we re-educate ourselves on how proper nutrition contributes to the manner in which the body performs and feels, versus solely focusing on how it impacts the scale.