Friday, May 26, 2017

My Life in Scales: Part 3, The Reckoning.

After about a year of working at my new branch, I had to go to the doctor's. And now we come full circle. There was nothing wrong with me, just a typical OB-GYN appointment to get the lady parts checked out. But of course, I was going to have to hop on that damn scale. This time, I knew better. I took off my coat, my purse and even slipped out of my shoes and cardigan. I dumped everything on the near by phlebotomy chair much to the chagrin of the nurse. I was not taking any chances this time and I was going to make sure my weight was as accurate as possible. I stepped on the scale. She adjusted one little gizmo. Then another. Then she started inching that little one, further and further to the right. A little more. And there. 220. I think my face crumpled, because the nurse looked very sympathetic. I was actually shocked I weighed so much, I always assumed I was around 200. Turns out I was 20 whole lbs over what I had initially thought.

I really shouldn't have been surprised though. I worked a job at a desk, and I didn't really watch what I ate. I never got any exercise, aside from the odd walk around the mall or neighborhood. I knew I was steadily getting bigger, as my pants and dresses stopped fitting me as well, or items that used to be a bit too baggy were now fitting properly. Like most Americans, I never really thought that my diet and lack of exercise would have any kind of consequences. I decided that I was okay with my weight. I felt beautiful, curvaceous and I was finally finding great clothes in styles that fit me. What did I have to change? Still though, I had a niggling sensation in the back of my mind that this is not okay.

There was another point after that moment that made me think a bit. I was sitting at my desk, working on something when I heard an audible "pop!" from the region of my left boob. And suddenly lefty started to sag just a tiny bit. My damn underwire broke. I thought I was going to cry. That was my best bra. It lifted and shaped my large and unwieldy chest so I looked like a bombshell. I tried to save it, but once the underwire was gone, I knew I had to let go. I went to Lane Bryant and picked up some new bras. I was pleased to see they had new colors and styles, so I happily skipped back to the dressing room with an armload of underwear.

Cue the meltdown. My old faithful was an old design that they nixed at the end of that last year. Apparently some women who don't know how bras are supposed to fit complained that actual support was uncomfortable so Lame Bryant changed it. And now I looked saggy and fat in the new style of bras. I was devastated, as I looked upon my gut sticking out even more started to cry. Those bras made me look so fat. I decided that I needed to get some real bra advice, so I logged on to Reddit when I got home and introduced myself to the A Bra That Fits community. With recommendations and brand names under my belt, I started a frenzy of buying and returning bras, trying to find that perfect fit. Each one I tried felt nothing like my beautiful oldie-but-goodie, and all I saw in the mirror was my stomach looking distended.

At this point, I knew I had to face the facts, and look at the truth. The bras were not making me look fat, I was just fat. Which, necessarily wasn't a terribly bad thing. Dramatics in fitting rooms aside, I really did like what I saw in the mirror. I loved my style, I loved my curves, and I felt adorable. And yet, when my clothes came off, I was stunned by how large my waist had grown. Even at this point, looking back in hindsight, I don't know if I even really liked what I saw. I think that instead of really accepting myself for who I was, I was settling. Moreover, I was worried about my health. I knew very well that I was on the road to obesity. I decided I needed to do something before all of this got out of hand.

The real question was "what to do?". I absolutely hated exercise in any form. Walking too much made my back and feet hurt. And since I was a smoker, cardio was out as it made me want to die. I decided to change my diet and start practicing yoga. I downloaded MyFitnessPal, a free calorie and exercise tracker that expects you to be honest about what you eat (oh, god). Yoga was fun, and I was starting to see a strength and flexibility in my body I had never seen before. I was starting to feel pretty good, and I was seeing some results. I lost about 12 pounds...and then I quit. I am not entirely sure why, I think I just got tired of restrictions, and I think I tried to go too hard too fast. I tried to start eating all organic, and basically making my meals all lean protein and veggies.

It wasn't a sustainable diet. I went from zero-to-sixty over night and I couldn't keep it up. I even lost my taste for yoga, as getting to the classes, settling in and getting home from the classes became a two hour ordeal. And that was when I just decided to give up. I leaned back and while not exactly accepting my fatness, I just existed with it. I figured if I was was going to be "this way" I would try to be more positive about it. I started to read blogs that espoused body positivity and plus size fashion. I tried really hard to accept myself as I was, but I still had trouble really loving my body. I hated the aches and pains, the weird tightness in my chest when I would climb stairs. My knees would hurt. If I was out and about for too long my lower back would scream by the end of the day. My skin was constantly breaking out, no matter how many different gels, creams and lotions I used. Even my hair was miserable, limp and oily by the end of the day. Still I carried on like this for five years. I ate and drank whatever I wanted, consequences be damned. I blithely went about my day, trying to be happy in my body.

However, things had to get much, much worse before they could get better.

To be concluded...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My Life in Scales: Part 2, When Life Hits You Like a Semi Truck.

When I finished college, I felt like the entire world was open to me. I had a degree, and therefore I knew I could get a good job and start a career. I would then be able to pay off my student debt, buy a house, and live my life to the fullest. The universe, however, had other plans. As the new year of 2008 dawned, and I set out on my post undergrad life, the housing market decided to collapse. My hopes of finding a good paying job were completely dashed as the country was sent into one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression. Thankfully, I was able to snag a full time position at the local department store I had worked at during the Christmas season. Instead of wrapping gifts for harried holiday shoppers in the gift wrap department, I was now shilling sheet sets and electric blankets to old ladies in domestics.

While bad for my personal economic future, this was a decent turn in regards to my activity level. I was able to walk around at work, lifting things, bending and stretching. One day, I did get curious about exactly how much I weighed. We had scales over in the bathroom section for sale, and sometimes they ended up getting opened. We had one digital scale that we didn't even sell any more that had no package and my co-workers were constantly checking their weight on it (remember, this was a small local department store, we had few customers and much time on our hands). I decided to give it a go; I hadn't been weighed in nearly three years since my bout with mono in 2005. I slipped away from my area and popped on to the scale. 210. Wow. I mean, I wasn't entirely shocked but I was ashamed of myself. 210 is not a healthy weight for my height and I knew it. I decided that I should try to lose 20lbs. That should be easy, right?

I knew my activity level at work was helping me, so I decided to tackle the food issue. I thought that if I just cut the fast food and have some salads and Lean Cuisines for lunch I would be set. I think this lasted less than a week as I went back to my typical diet of fast food and potato chips. Not even saying that particular plan was even a good one. It had good intentions, but it truly wasn't something that would launch me into a complete and much needed lifestyle change. That moment though was important. For the first time as an adult I fully recognized that I needed to take control of my weight. I did make a conscious decision to try and lose weight because I knew I was fat.

Later on that year, life took another interesting turn. I had been applying at various companies to land a full time position and start my career  but with no offers or even interviews. In exasperation I eventually applied to a bank as a teller. It was more money, and a decent place to be until I could maybe go back to school or find something better. I had interviewed twice, and while I did well I was never offered anything. They said they would keep me in mind. Well, by the end of the summer, I suddenly had a clock ticking over my head. That family run department store I was working in was going into Chapter 11, and my store was on the chopping block. If I didn't find anything else, by the end of that September I would be out of a job.

After the store closed, I was unemployed for a whole of two and a half weeks. I was still getting paid from the store because of some snafu the company caused and the bankruptcy courts ordered them to pay us wages through the middle of October (It was a pretty awesome two weeks, TBH). I did manage to get a position at good ole JCPenney's, which actually really did suck. But still, I had a job that kept me active. Of course, at that point I didn't really care what the entailed, let it be active or not, I just really needed a job. I was working there for a about a month and a half, when I finally got the phone call I had been waiting nearly a year for. The bank I had interviewed with all that time ago finally wanted me.

And this is where all this background story leads to. With taking a job with the bank, I launched myself into a very different kind of job than what I had been doing up until this point. The customer service end of it was very much the same. What was different and completely blew me away was that as a bank teller I was allowed to sit down. This was huge for me, as previously I had spent my working days on my feet in various types of retail jobs with only 30 mins to sit down on break. While I gloried in not having an aching back and feet at the end of the day, this proved to be ultimately disastrous for my waist line.  

Starting in  my new career in banking, I was much more focused on the job itself, and I never really thought about how physical the job was itself. Truthfully, it is the more physical job in a branch as there is more standing, lifting and bending. But, the activity level was nowhere near where my retail jobs were at. In conjunction with this, my diet did not get any better. I was still drinking soda by the gallon, indulging in sweets and fast food. Not surprisingly, I gained weight. I don't know exactly how much I weighed at that particular point in time, but I knew I was gaining weight because my clothes stopped fitting me.

Luckily, this was around the time the whole concept of plus-size became a more mainstream option. Before, clothes in larger sized were always relegated to the back of stores, in some shadowy corner in an apparent attempt to pretend plus sizes didn't even exist. Now, stores like Torrid and Lane Bryan were available to me, and Target was getting a better plus size collection. But still, I could also shop in the "straight sizes". I had begun to accept my body more, as society started to accept the fact that bigger bodies do, in fact exist. I stopping feeling so much shame over my fat rolls, I felt like I could actually finally accept myself as me. One huge factor in leading me to this was my then boyfriend, now husband, Ed. He always (and still does) would tell me how gorgeous and sexy I am. He loved every wobbly inch of me, and I felt that if HE can find me desirable, and love my body, well so can I!

 I began to eschew any indication of going on a diet. I decided that instead of trying to eat super healthy, I would make my meals more well rounded, with meats, veggies and some kind of grain. Here and there we would go out to eat or grab some fast food, but it wasn't always. I wanted to put a better effort into making our meals, so with some help from my mom I taught myself how to cook. I took to it like a fish takes to water and became a rather competent chef, if I do say so myself. With this new culinary world open to me, so did a new world of different kinds of food. I liked to experiment with different kinds of cuisines, trying out things that were easy and hard. We ended up eating rather well for a long period of time. Ed actually started to fill out more - he was always a very lean guy, to the point of too skinny.

As my cooking skills blossomed, so did my career in banking. I moved from being a teller to what we call switcher, meaning I would now in addition to teller duties, I would have the same duties as a banker would too. After a year of that, I took the next step up into being a full fledged banker, and moving to a new branch as well. This was a great move for me, as I ended up working three minutes from home (I know, right?) and with an amazing manager. I very much enjoyed the work, even though it came with a whole new set of stresses and concerns. Never-the-less, I was still happy where I was at. The problem was, I got very comfortable in my lifestyle that came along with this new position. Not surprisingly, my weight started to creep, and creep, and creep upwards. And yet, I still blithely continued on.

To Be Continued......
(okay, so I am trying for a little dramatic effect here, so sue me.) 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Life in Scales: Part 1, In The Beginning...

This is the beginning of a series of entries about me and my struggles with weight. I am tackling this not only as a way of telling my own personal story, but as a way to digest and externalize the issues I have dealt with for most of my life. I find that it's cathartic to put into solid words feelings that I have been internalizing for a very long time and on such a public forum (for all, like, six you that read this). With out further adieu:

When I was 14, I was in the 7th grade. My mother took me to a doctor's appointment, for a routine physical and check up. I can't remember what month it was, or really any particular details from that visit. But what I do remember, most acutely was when Dr. Files was making his finishing remarks. Everything looked good, I was healthy, except for one thing. My weight. He was very matter-of-fact when he made the suggestion that my mother and I sign up for weight watchers. I was absolutely horrified. THAT kind of thing was for overweight adults. Not ME. I was a teenager. I was mortified, since I never really thought of myself as fat. I mean, yeah, I was pudgy but not Weight Watchers pudgy! When we got into the car, my mom tried to smooth things over by mentioning he was always telling her to lose weight as well. And she then gave me the little talk of you are beautiful at any weight, and it was only a number on the scale.

In actuality, I was not so much bothered by what the doctor had recommended, but it was the stark realization of the truth hitting me very squarely in the chest. He was right. I was overweight. I don't remember exactly how heavy I was, but I knew I was definitely bigger than I should have been. When I compared myself to my friends of the same height, I was definitely fatter than them. It never really was a issue for me, because I never got teased. Any unhappiness I had with my body was self generated. I truthfully don't remember ever really being a normal weight. Growing up, I was always just a bit bigger than everyone else. Mostly I was attributing it to the fact that puberty hit me hard and fast. In my school picture from 5th grade I had boobs. At 12, I had discernible boobs under my sunflower print strappy maxi, complete with jean jacket bolero (shut up, it was 1995). This is not to say there were not  comments - hurtful ones at that - made to me about my body. I remember once the boys across the street saying, "You would be fat if your boobs weren't so big". There was also a little gem related to me by my 7th grade boyfriend's best friend, "He only liked you for your boobs at first, but now he thinks you're really cool". Uh, thanks, I think?

Puberty was a good excuse for my weight gain, but it stopped being convenient when I wasn't growing any taller or slimming out from that baby fat. Buying clothes as a teenager was always a disappointment, and again filled with embarrassment. I could never seem to fit into Junior sizes (this being well before Junior's Plus was even a vague concept), and had to mosey over to the Missus section, which not surprisingly lacked age appropriate clothing. My friends wanted to shop at Delia's in high school, and I had already been sized out of their line by the time I was in 7th grade. I would end up swathing myself in anime tee shirts (Gundam Wing Deathscythe tee, R.I.P) two sizes too big and jeans from Old Navy, and men's khaki pants. This cutting edge style statement was to be my mainstay through high school and a bit into college.

When I started college I was more self aware of my status as a Plus Sized gal, but always (thankfully) on the smaller side of things. I could still flit in and out of the higher range of "straight" sizes and be comfortable. My life style then was fairly active, working on my feet in retail jobs and walking around a large urban university (Temple U, represent) as a commuter student. My diet however was in shambles, which is not to say I ever had a good diet to begin with. Remember when I mentioned about three paragraphs ago that my mom also had weight issues? It really isn't coincidental that through genetics and how I was raised that I ended up with weight issues too. My relationship with food was never as bad as my mom's, but I still liked to eat and I loved to eat things that were sweet and comforting. From an early age I remember always drinking soda, having snacks around the house and candy. I was never denied anything food-wise. My grandmother was constantly trying to restrict my mother's food and put her on a diet as she was growing up. My mother decided she was not going to raise her daughter the same way.

I know my mother meant well, and I am certainly not going to blame her completely for my food issues as an adult, but there is some culpability to be found. I also want to make it very clear my mother was always cooking meals for us. She loved to cook, and I loved her food. She did make good healthy things too, and also some deliciously caloric bombs of fat (I am looking at you creamy Chicken Cordon Bleu). But she was also a single mother, working hard and sometimes a dinner from Wendy's was much easier than making a full dinner at night. From this environment however, I learned to clear your plate and that it was okay to eat whatever you wanted. Fruits and veggies were never eaten as a snack and portion control was pretty much a foreign concept. With this as my background I went into young adulthood with little to no knowledge of what a balanced, healthy diet looks like.

In college I typically ate to live, trying to find the cheapest tastiest things possible. In the morning I would snag two pretzels (Philly, yo!) and a cup of tea (sugar and cream, of course) from the little stand outside the library (Paley Library, R.I.P). In the afternoons I would pick up a sandwich from the Bagel Hut, or maybe some mini egg rolls from the Thai place. Before I hopped on the train home, I would hit up the news stand for one of those enormous chocolate muffins to munch on train. I would go to work, and then come home with a bag of Burger King. Going to school in a food town like Philadelphia, I was kept in ample supply of vaguely disguised junk food as meals. While it was not okay, with my activity level, I was keeping myself just on the threshold of obesity. Regardless of my activity, my food intake was still keeping me big, much bigger than I really should have been. When I finally graduated college, I was launched into the "adult world" and with it the freedoms and limitations of being an adult on my own entailed. Little did I know, this would also come with quite a different lifestyle change as well.

I won't say I grew up fat, but I definitely grew up bigger, chunkier. While it was not hard, it was not easy especially in those hard years of middle school and high school. I liked to dance to the beat of my own drum, but it was completely frustrating that my body didn't want to be slim - that I could not eat like my friends did and be thin. This frustration would stay with me for quite some time - all through college and into my post college years. After graduating is where my struggles became almost epic in proportion and scale (see what I did there?). I never became more aware of my body then I did in my mid to late 20's.

So ends the first part of my story, to be continued at a later date.