When I was about seven, I remember being critical of another girl’s body (and my own) for the first time. We were at a softball tournament, and we had these black pants that we had to tuck our uniform into. I remember looking at her little belly and thinking, “Well, at least I am not as fat as she is.”
When I was nine I moved to a new school. My two friends that I became closest with were skinny girls–they were super cute and totally popular. (To be said with a hair toss…) I remember wishing that I could wear running shorts and t-shirts, but that my legs weren’t skinny enough for them.
When I was twelve, I went to yet another new school. The vice-principal was this really nice black woman. She would always comment on my legs which made me feel good and slightly embarrassed at the same time. She’d say, “Woo! You’ve got dancer legs!” I would admire my muscles–all the while criticizing my fat. This was the same time that I was aware of the black guys at school staring at my butt or making comments as I walked by.
When I was in ninth grade, I went to the doctor for my well check. I had to have a physical form signed to play soccer. I remember how much I weighed. I remember the doctor saying that was too much, and that I should really work on losing weight. When my soccer coach saw the form, he seconded the doctor’s opinion. That wasn’t the last time that he made a comment about my weight. Ultimately, his concern (because as an adult, I know now that is what it was) is what caused me to stop playing soccer altogether. I don’t even remember what my excuse was.
Around this same time, my body image became interwoven with why boys wouldn’t date me. My sister’s (thankfully) ex-husband would talk about me losing weight. He was honest: Boys in high school are interested in looks. They aren’t interested in how awesome you are. Lose weight=have a boyfriend. While I am sure that he, like my coach, weren’t aware of the damage they were doing to a young girl, that advice hurt me. I can even attribute some bad choices with future relationships to those same comments. Losing weight then became a necessity in order to find love and acceptance from the opposite sex.
I know now that I had a eating disorder from the time I entered high school into my mid-twenties. I would eat very light in front of my friends, but then I would sneak food. More than once I would buy sweet treats (like Little Debbie Cakes) then hide them in my room. The purpose was two-fold: 1) No one else could eat them 2) I could eat as many as I wanted without witnesses. They were usually gone with two days. Sometimes, I would wait until everyone was in bed, then I would creep down to the kitchen to stuff myself with whatever was in the fridge.
Even as an adult when my sister and I lived together I continued this unhealthy habit. We would have friends over. I would eat a little of this or that. Then I would wait until they were busy, go in the kitchen, and gobble up as much as I could. I sat in Weight Watchers meetings where I heard women confess to eating a bag of chips. I never admitted it, but I have finished off a bag of oreos–one after the other. I continued this trend of binge eating–even though I knew it wasn’t normal. I felt helpless, and unable to stop myself from that downward spiral.
When I was 25 years old, my sister and I were talking about losing weight. (She wouldn’t eat at all if I wasn’t living with her.) And I shared that I was constantly thinking about food. What I would eat. What I wanted to eat. What recipe I would like to try. What foods would taste great together. ALWAYS food was on my mind. My mom got this strange expression on her face, and she said, “Jania, you need to figure out why that is happening. What do you need that you’re replacing with food?”
That was probably the beginning of my healing.
It’s been nearly five years since that conversation–and I am happy to report that I don’t give in to binge eating anymore. Sometimes the thought goes through my head, but I’ve since learned to analyze it to find out WHY I want to eat. Am I unhappy? Am I stressed? Am I mad?
Will food really help me feel better? The answer is always no.
Take it from me: The road to happiness isn’t paved in cookies, pie, and mashed potatoes, people. I’ve been a traveler on the wrong road for way too long… Glad for certain road blocks in my life that cause me to take a detour.