Monday, July 16, 2012

The Happy Millennial on Finding Body Peace

During her freshman year of high school, The Happy Millennial went on a strict, torturous diet. Now, she loves her body, wobby bits and all. (This piece is reprinted from the third issue of M.L.T.S. Magazine.)
(Photo by Michele Elaine Hannon)

I thought I was up for the challenge. Certainly the pay-off would be great. Pictures of Gwen Stefani’s rippled abdomen and Sarah Jessica Parker’s toned arms danced in my head. This is funny because the challenge I thought I was prepared to face was a diet—not a fitness regimen. In fact, the woman who had created the diet did nothing to encourage exercising. Perhaps this is because building muscle would skew the results of the weekly weigh-ins that cost $3.

This was six years ago and three of us – Mom, my sister Lily and I – signed on with big dreams of smaller frames. It certainly sounded promising: this was a diet designed by a maternity nurse to help new mothers shed pounds, and quickly. After several of her patients lost weight on her diet, she decided to expand her clientele, renting a doctor’s office, which was across the street from the hospital where she worked, to host those $3-a-pop weigh-ins.

She held orientations for new patients in that same office. At the orientation, she gave us a folder with information about our new restrictions and pages designed to keep track of our daily eating habits. First, we were allowed to binge for a week—eat anything and everything! she said.

After that, we were on a strict cleanse and had to drink more than 64 ounces of water a day. I probably had to pee every 15 minutes! Then, after roughly two weeks, we were able to reintroduce carbohydrates to our diets. But only three days a week. Since we did weigh-ins every Saturday, we were allowed one baked potato, servings of French fries or a piece of bread a day on Saturdays (only after the weigh-in), Sundays and Mondays. The rest of the week, it was fish, turkey burgers without buns and lots and lots of vegetables.

There were other restrictions. Fruits and fruit juices were limited due to the natural sugar. We could only have a teaspoon of salt a day. In addition to salt, we could use only a specific amount of one condiment (any salad dressing, mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup). Oh, and we were allowed 12 ounces of any diet soda a day and no more.

Going in, I knew almost all of these rules and I believed I could handle it. There was one factor for which I could not account. This was the irregularity of my bowels. Once we started, a week or more might pass before I pooped. This posed a problem: a body full of waste weighs more than a flushed system. Our guru suggested we try things like cabbage and cranberry juice (although only as much as we were allowed of any fruit juice) if we wanted to see greater results on the scale. If that didn’t work, we should try special teas that made you go number two. Soon, we integrated the tea into our Friday night routine so that around midnight before our early morning weigh-in, we’d lose an extra half-pound or so.

We attended our 7 a.m. weigh-ins every Saturday for six months before we stopped. It was partly a money issue and partly a result of exhaustion. I think each one of us was tired of hitting plateaus. For weeks at a time, we lost nothing and sometimes gained a pound or two, even though we continued following the rules.

After six months of tuna in Glad containers and salads drier than the desert, I lost 32 pounds, going from a size 16 to a size 8.

One of the biggest motivations for our big weight loss was the hope that shopping would be easier with a thinner body. When I was a size 16, I usually ended up crying in the dressing room because all I could ever find were clothes too small for me. Then I got down to a size 8. I shook my tinier butt into short denim miniskirts and wore a small in some things for the first time. But ultimately, I found that I ended up crying in the dressing room because I couldn’t find any size 8’s.

And we tried to keep following our strict diet, but I could only eat so many more turkey burgers. Eventually, I stopped wrestling my natural urge to eat. I love a good steak, a baked potato with sour cream and a slice (or two) of cake. Bit by bit, I broke the rules. One day it was two servings of a condiment and the next it was a can of my beloved (non-diet) root beer. Now, I eat what I want when I want.

My mother stayed on the diet, adding an exercise routine (Walk Away the Pounds on DVD), and for a long time after we stopped going to weigh-ins, she continued writing in her food diary.

I think the reason why I didn’t stick with it was this: I didn’t really feel any better about myself even when I thinned down. The unspoken goal was to feel better about myself, to love what I saw in the mirror. Honestly? I didn’t feel any different about myself when I was thirty pounds lighter. I still felt like an unattractive chubby girl whose biggest crush – the Rita’s Water Ice Boy – would never know she were alive.

We returned once to the doctor’s office where the nurse ran her business while I was in my junior year of high school, two years after we started our diet. I had put on the weight I lost on her program and when she saw me, the nurse exclaimed that I should start anew so I could be skinny again by the time I’d need a junior prom dress. I made nice and returned her exclamations. “I should! That would be great!” Safely back in the car, I knew it would never come to pass. At that point, I just couldn’t hate my body enough to put myself through that torture.

Since then, I’ve struggled with my weight as many women do. One of my greatest concerns for years afterwards was that I would never find love at my size. It was no help that whenever I was depressed about my body or anything else, my mother would say things like, “Exercise; the endorphins make you happy,” and “You’re so much prettier when you’re thinner.” I’ll tell you; it’s a real kick in the imaginary balls when you find out your mother looks at you, thinking how much prettier you’d look if you lost five pounds.

But recently, a friend IMed me on Facebook and mentioned she planned to consult a doctor on a diet and exercise plan. This friend is a size 14/16 like me, and she’s beautiful. I asked her why she wanted to see a doctor and she said she was freaked out because she’d gained five pounds. Five pounds!

I told her about my experience dieting – and told her to stop weighing herself because I maintain that scales are evil. She said she couldn’t manage her weight without a scale. Because I’d never tell anyone to do the crazy diet I did, I suggested maybe she should attend Overeater’s Anonymous to deal with the reasons why she eats as much as she does. While she insisted that she would see a doctor, I told her I was available to talk anytime she needed to and I silently rejoiced that I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I am comfortable with my body as is. I must say, I quite like my wobbly bits.

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