my struggle with weight: part one

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I was going to wait and post this tomorrow but I’ve decided to split it into two parts instead. This post outlines my history with weight and tomorrow I’ll explain my breakthroughs.

The fact that I’m able to talk about this here on MML is in and of itself a minor miracle. This makes talking about the break up earlier this week seem like a cake walk. For the last nine years the most dominate topic on my mind has been my weight. And for the last eight and a half years, no one had a clue about this internal battle. I never discussed it, felt ashamed, and quite frankly: I was obsessive.

Writing this, I feel like I’m shining a huge spot light on the one area of my life I’ve kept cloaked in darkness for almost a decade. But the time has come to let this out in the open and move forward.

Since going through the lessons I mentioned on Tuesday with the “relationship evolution” over the course of 2010, I am thrilled to say I have made remarkable headway in understanding my obsession with eating and weight. And I know I am meant to share this story because I am sure there are many, many women out there, just like me. Hopefully others will be able to relate to what I’m about to share. And more importantly, anyone else struggling with this obsession right now can know that if I’m able to shake this habit; given time, reflection, and patience they can as well.

I’d like to start by saying that my struggle with weight has never been diagnosed as an eating disorder. I never threw up food, I never spit. At no point did I receive any medical treatment. But regardless of the lack of anorexia or bulimia, I have made what I ate and weighed the most dominate topic in my life for almost 10 years.

What began as an innocent way to stay in shape between basketball seasons in high school between my freshman and sophomore year evolved into a daily obsession. By manically counting calories and logging my running miles, I lost 20 pounds that year. Looking back on this time in my life, I realize that I never intentionally decided to become obsessed about my weight. However I did eventually start monitoring my food intake in order to avoid dealing with difficult situations in my life. Rather than face difficulties head on, I unconsciously decided to think about something I could control: what went in my mouth.

Eventually a routine physical resulted in my doctor telling me that I was underweight. Everyone assumed that by just adding a few extra pieces of food on my plate or chocolate sauce on my ice cream would resolve the whole issue. And in time, I did just that: I ate a bit more and everyone thought things were back to normal.

But the reality was this: I learned weighing so little was bad– so I simply raised the bar on my weight goal and maintained the same frantic obsession, just at a new, “healthier” level. The purpose of the calorie counting and running was still the same: to distract myself from difficult situations. And whether I was 103 pounds or 123 pounds, I could maintain the same frantic focus as before. I just looked healthier while I was doing it.

While in college, I had many points where I was at a healthy weight, but I continued to manically monitor calories and exercise. I continued to think about the weight as a project that constantly needed attention. If I felt out of control in this area of my life, it seemed as if everything could crumble.

Until I hit a breaking point. During my junior year (right before my purpose, MML), I faced one of the most difficult challenges in my life. And rather than manically obsess about eating and working out, I did the following:

I manically obsessed about eating and working out WHILE binge eating.

This terrible combination of trying to restrict and permit at the same time was incredibly devastating and I gained 20 pounds above my naturally ideal weight for my size/frame in about six months. During the day I would do my best to eat the same restrictive calorie count I did for years before, but when feeling upset at night, I would eat candy bars from the dorm snack shop: three at a time. It was a terrible cycle. In the morning I would try to eat “perfectly” – only to find myself emotionally and physically ravenous at night. These binges again served the same purpose as the restricting did in high school: while binging I couldn’t think about my problems. And for this reason, it served the same purpose and goal, just in a very different form.

Fortunately there is a positive ending to this story, I’ll explain more tomorrow.

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  1. You’re SO incredibly brave to talk about this struggle, Jess, and I know that so many women will identify with what you’re going through. I certainly do, but in a different way–I’ve been struggling my whole life to lose weight. I truly believe we’re all in this together as women on so many levels. Bravo for talking about your story! Can’t wait to hear part II.

  2. Weight is a struggle for most women (either maintaining or most likely, keeping it in check). I definitely had a period of time where I was obsessively working out and avoiding outings with friends because working out was my main focus in life to be the size I wanted to be.

  3. Molly

    I applaud you for talking about something so personal. I also went through a short period in my life where I felt I couldn’t control anything in my life but food and exercise. I understand and have been there. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. Rosie

    Jess, I have been remiss at commenting about everything that has been going on with you. It is amazing how much you are opening up about these difficult life changes. I wish you nothing but happiness as a result of your decision to end your relationship.

    Like Krista, I have struggled my whole life to lose weight. I think it is so easy for overweight people to believe that thin or “normal” weight people have it easy and don’t “have to worry” about this stuff. The reality is there are many women like you who endure the same amount of pain and obsessiveness that overweight women do.

    It is such a struggle to find true balance. If I’m not obsessed with my diet I’m obsessed with cooking, trying to ignore the diet. How do we conquer this?

  5. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Not only was it extremely courageous for you to talk about, but it’s a subject that I think no matter how confident we are, struggle with.

    I too have a similar story and know EXACTLY what you mean about obsessing, as well as counting calories. Heck – even when I was hungover and in no condition to do any physical exercise, I pushed myself hard to burn the calories.

    I can’t wait to read the second part.

  6. Jess – It’s so brave of you to talk about this. Our society is totally messed up about the concept of weight. I am a supporter of the Health at Every Size movement. Have you heard of it? The basic premise is that we should accept that body shapes and sizes are naturally diverse and respect our bodies by re-training ourselves to respond to our natural hunger cues. A huge focus is also joy of movement – that if we choose activities that engage our bodies in a natural and pleasant way, we’ll have a much better relationship to ourselves.

    I’m only sharing all this, because I think the movement is so important – for people at every point in the spectrum.

  7. You’re basically describing where I am right now: constant obsession with my weight and size of my thighs, but binge-eating at the same time. I don’t drink alcohol, smoke (anything), or do drugs, but I eat junk when I’m stressed out, and I eat LOTS of it. At the same time, I’m very active hitting the gym 4-5 times a week and I’m a STRONG believer in eating organic, local, non-processed foods…Um, hypocrite much? It’s like a “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality.

    I can’t wait to read Part II. Thanks for sharing, Jess. : )

  8. Jill

    Jess… what a week you are having! I am so proud of you for baring your soul here – again and again! While I don’t obsess about food and working out, I have other obsessions… and for me they all go back to control as well. What is it about our psyche that has this strong desire to control things that sometimes are completely out of our control? I look forward to reading part two… and of course am thankful for your willingness to share your struggles so that we can all benefit from them.

  9. Thanks for sharing this. Up until three years ago I never worried about weight, calories, or exercise, but once I hit a certain age my body began to change. My metabolism slowed, my stress levels went up (with school), and became less active. There are now consequences for my sweet tooth and inactivity (thighs and muffin tops…). I have not gained a lot of weight, but my body is certainly different…and I’m having a hard time accepting different. Long story short, I’ve become obsessive, but I don’t take any action (healthy eating/exercise/good sleep) to make a change. So I spend a lot of time feeling down on myself. I think part of it is being unwilling to accept a changing shape and part my disappointment with not following though. hmm

    Your post has challenged me to examine my own issues.

  10. Thaís

    I could see myself writing these words, I spent two years thinking in the same way (the more I thought I needed to loose weight, the more I ate every food I saw in front of me). When some people see us talking about food, weight, they say it’s a small problem, that we shouldn’t worry about it, specially when you haven’t healthy problems, but the worst and most suffering part is the psychological. It’s very tiring to spend the whole day thinking about something we create to try not to think about real problems (this was the way I felt it), thank you for sharing this here Jess, I’m very curious to see the second part.

  11. @chicspace/Marguerite

    Hi Jess,

    Again, you’re very brave…and very calm about how you’re processing this (although I know it took a long time). And again, thank you for being inspiring.

    Similar story…although I think my thought process was a bit different (just very controlling on what I ate, not counting cals or anything). Anyhow, thinking back on it after reading your post made me realize that I did this in HS at the same time my mom was dying/died of cancer and I was trying to be perfect…went anorexic, never treated (but I only relapsed after my divorce 14 years ago). So thank you for making me think about this, it really helps :).

  12. Jonna

    Thank you for speaking out loud about this! So many of us share this struggle that has no name and no diagnosis. 🙂

    It’s always rooted in emotion. I recently read this book (as seen on Oprah)…

    A must read!

    She does a beautiful job of gently telling us how our obsession with food can actually lead us straight to the insights we need to know about and heal in ourselves. Food lets us not feel. Somewhere we learned we aren’t allowed to or aren’t worthy of feeling certain feelings.

    It’s incredible to see that once we start allowing us to feel it – ALL OF IT – we start to not “need” the food to numb as we did before.

    Can’t wait to hear you share more! 🙂

  13. rachel

    Yes, yes yes! It’s like I could have written this. Jess, thankyou so much for your bravery and your honesty this week, it is uplifting and encouraging to read.
    I know exactly what you mean with not really realising how bad it was and suddenly finding you were trapped in a bad cycle, having started off healthily and with the best intentions! It’s insidious, how this weight-thing traps you.
    I still have a lot of ups and downs (lately lots of downs, this year has been like a huge step back for me in terms of bad eating/exercise habits. Coping strategy when the rest of life is crazy…) I am trying to be gentle with myself and not put too many expectations on myself…easier said than done, though, for perfectionist me.
    Looking forward to reading part 2, thanks again for posting! xxx

  14. Melony

    You are a remarkable woman, Jess! Thank you for sharing your story. As one who struggles with food and weight, your story is a nice reminder that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. I sometimes wonder if all women don’t have some food and weight issues . . . whether we wear them visibly or not. Contrary to popular belief, “fixing” the “weight” problem doesn’t fix anything at all. I’m learning that it really isn’t about the food or the weight. It’s something deeper. Raw. I’m far from knowing what sits at the core of my food and weight issues, but I am hopeful (and determined!) that I will get to the bottom of it and, with love and kindness, come out on the other side with a healthy relationship with food.
    Thank you, Jess, for sharing. I look forward to hearing the next part of your story. You are so very inspiring!

  15. Laina

    Jess, I am so glad you have decided to post such personal things in such an open and honest way. I think that so many women can relate to the words you wrote in this post in one way or another. One of the reasons I am so passionate about fitness and eating healthy is because I think there are so many mixed messages out there and that we have such a bulimic society. Ads that tempt you to indulge yourself in fattening treats with models that are stick thin, not to mention the constant contradictory “nutrition” advice.

    When it comes down to it, it really is all about balance, getting back to basics (eat more fruits, veggies and whole grains than meat and dairy, be active) and listening to your body – this is definitely what I’ve discovered over the past 5 years or so. I struggled with something similar to you between freshman and sophomore year of college. I lost about 15-20 pounds in one summer (I was not overweight going into that summer), it was absurd. Since then I’ve just focused on what makes me feel good and how I look. I don’t focus on calories in and out or what the scale says. It’s all about listening to myself inside, seeing myself on the outside (I celebrate great abs day when applicable, for instance), and not restricting myself – aka no food is “evil”. And aside from frozen yogurt, I find that the less I restrict myself, the less I eat. I am very excited to hear how YOU have worked through these issues and to hear the second half of this story. Thanks again for being brave and sharing!

  16. Oh, Jess – it’s so brave of you to talk about this. It sounds like we’ve had similar struggles. I definitely don’t have, nor have I ever had, an eating disorder, but I spent more than a decade being fairly obsessive, with the most intense years being college. I was never underweight, but I cringe to think of the amount of focus and time I gave to my appearance, which is really not the most important part of my life. Almost two years ago, when we had a major family crisis, I was forced to give it all up because taking care of my stepdad was so much more urgent. In a way it was a huge relief, but it went a little too far and I’m above the weight range I’m comfortable in. Now that things are (hopefully) settling down, I plan to start a more mindful routine for myself, but I’m hoping that I can keep it mindful and not obsessive.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, dear! I know how hard it must have been.

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