When I look at pictures of myself as a teenager or young woman, I feel sad for the person I see. And that's not because I was overweight; I was actually slimmer back then. I feel sad for myself because despite being so much slimmer than I am now, I was miserable. I felt so completely UNWORTHY. I felt ugly. I hated my life. And being slim did absolutely nothing to help.
Fast forward 20+ years later. I'm so much happier. I am grateful to God for my fantastic husband and my two beautiful, zany kids. I am doing the work that I love and that I prepared myself for over the last 25 years. I am financially stable. I love my home. I have good people in my life. And yet, now I am overweight. I'm not happy about this development, LOL. But I am pleased to now know that true contentment does not rely on what the scales say. Being slim never helped me to enjoy my life and being overweight hasn't stopped me from loving it. That said, the battle is real. It is multilayered, deep-rooted and serious.
I know people like to use being 'big-boned' as an excuse for being fat. But I am genuinely big-boned. As I headed towards puberty, I shot up in height, my feet and hands got big, I turned into quite a pronounced hour glass and everyone in my family had something to say about it. 'You're so big!' 'Please lose weight!' 'You're like a horse!' - these are all real quotes, by the way. But my pictures tell a different story; I wasn't actually fat at all. I wasn't even chubby. I was simply big for my age and I had a large frame. Not only did people incorrectly assess my size, they actually felt entitled to tell me what they thought. I remember this really overweight woman at my old church. She came over to me one day, shaking her head in disapproval and dismay, telling me how disappointed she was that she had seen a picture of me when I was younger and realised how much weight I gained. I remember another man at that same church telling me that my 'bottom is getting too big' and I needed to do something about it. I know, right? Aside from the complete irony of being fat-shamed by a fat lady is the borderline sexual harassment of having my bottom size analysed by a church minister. No wonder I was absolutely miserable, being criticised and picked apart by my so-called friends and family.
My weight wasn't their business then and it isn't anyone's now. But because it's one of the first things people see, it's easy to make it a point of conversation. And it is also easy to attach largeness to behaviours and beliefs, i.e. you're fat because you're lazy, you just need to exercise and stop stuffing your face, you're killing yourself and death is imminent, blah, blah, blah. Of course, loads of super skinny people who drink too much, smoke, take drugs, eat loads of rubbish, abuse themselves in untold and unimaginable ways, and may frankly be horrible people for one legitimate reason or another. We don't necessarily see what they're doing to themselves - or anyone else. But they're slim. So, they're acceptable.
As is well-established above and in life, the battle with weight is both external and internal. Externally, we are faced with the fact that in the Western world, food is eaten for pleasure, not purely for nutritional benefit and cellular sustenance. We are surrounded by orally-satisfying and 'fast' foods. Even if you go the supermarket for healthy food, you will be faced with the reality that 70% of foods on offer (including 'healthy food') is made from highly-refined carbohydrates - the kind of carbs fuelling obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Nutrient-dense food produced from the ground (as opposed to created in a factory) is hard-sought and expensive. The other external factor is that our sedentary way of living requires us to find ways to move and burn calories, rather than lifestyles 50 years ago when people naturally drove less, walked more and sought entertainment and play outside of the home rather than inside from a screen. You now have to find time to exercise in a daily schedule that is usually packed with other things to do.
I am impacted by these external factors but for me the internal factors are even more insidious. In addition to my genetic tendency to be big (you should see some of my aunts!), at 44 and after two children my biology is working against me. My metabolism is slower than ever and my body almost wants to hold on to weight. As a wife, mother, carer and business woman, there are so many demands competing for my attention. Inevitably, I tend to take care of others first and take care of myself last. And like many others, I sometimes treat food as recreation rather than fuel for the body. So my food choices are not always great.
BUT THE BATTLE IS NOT OVER! No, it's definitely not. Why? Because I am determined for it not to be. The most important lesson I've learned along this journey is that this is not about weight at all. It is about self care. Do I care about myself enough to do whatever necessary to be healthy? I didn't before. I was preoccupied with meeting some external standard of beauty that paid no respect to my individuality and my right to be valued as a person rather than a visual prop. Now, I do care. More and more. I am working on myself continually to adopt habits that promote better self care. I know that when I eat nutritious food I am less likely to crave junk. I know that if I meal plan and prepare nutrient-dense foods in advance, I'm less likely to eat rubbish. I know that if I don't make two hours of protected time for myself each day, I'm likely to feel stressed and not likely to exercise. So, rather than being focused on losing weight, I am working on cultivating these life-giving habits that help me to take better care of myself overall. Eventually, in time, all the excess weight will drop off.
So, the battle continues but not because I'm failing. It is because I am worth the fight. And I am worth the victory.