During my lunch hour yesterday I made a quick trip into the city to the nearest Barnes & Noble to buy Caitlin’s new book Operation Beautiful. To celebrate the book’s release, Caitlin has asked people to write about their own experiences with body image.
As a young child I don’t really remember disliking my body per sé, but I do recall comparing it to my friends’ bodies. In elementary school most of my friends were tiny, little sprites. I wasn’t a big kid and was never overweight during those early years, but I always felt like a giant when standing next to them. I took dance lessons from the age of 3 to around 13, and as I got older, spent a considerable amount of class time scrutinizing myself and the other girls in the mirror. How did I look doing those leaps across the room? Does Brittany look smaller than me from the side? I wasn’t consciously putting myself down, but the constant comparisons weren’t helping me either.
When I stopped dancing sometime in middle school, my physical activity pretty much ended. I always preferred reading a book to running around outside, and I never played team sports. My eating habits weren’t excessive, but my diet wasn’t very balanced. I had a deep love for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (and I cannot tell a lie, I still do!), Cheetos, and white cheddar popcorn. I guess you could say “cheese” was the theme of my formative years! By the time I got to high school, I was a little bit larger than my classmates – if not slightly overweight, then definitely at the high end of the healthy weight for my height (around 5’4” on a good day).
I definitely gained weight in college once I was eating in the dining hall (freshman year) and cooking quick (unhealthy, high calorie) meals for myself. I never bought fresh foods and lived mostly on packaged, processed items. By the time I graduated in 2004 I was hovering somewhere just below 200 pounds. I don’t know for sure because I didn’t own a scale.
I moved back home after graduation and continued to gain weight. I was working full-time in the marketing department of a large publishing house and buying breakfast and lunch every single day. I’d also snack after dinner each night out of boredom. Exercise was a four-letter word. When I went for my annual exam in the fall of 2006, I saw the number 208 on the doctor’s scale. I was wearing size 18 pants and knew I never wanted to see a size 20.
In October 2006 I moved out of my mom’s house and into an apartment with two of my childhood friends. Christine had also struggled with weight over the years, yo-yo-ing up and down a bit. That January she came home from the gym talking about the sign for a new Weight Watchers meeting she had seen in the locker room. She wanted to attend but didn’t want to go alone. I piped up and said I’d tag along. It was a total whim. I actually didn’t think it would amount to anything. I’d “tried” to change my eating habits in the past, never lasting more than a day. I went to my first meeting on January 18 and never looked back.
I weighed 197 pounds at my first weigh-in (I’d actually managed to lose about 10 pounds by laying off the nighttime snacking since moving into my apartment). I didn’t have a goal weight at that point. I just did my thing – counted points, started working out at the apartment gym every night after work and in the mornings on the weekend. I was a perfect little Weight Watcher. I consistently lost weight every single week. I hit my goal weight of 130 pounds on October 17 that same year. Nearly 70 pounds in 9 months. I felt great, I looked great.
But I thought I was done.
I was never able to maintain my weight. I liked the idea that people on the street might look at me and think, “Oh, she’s so lucky. She’s thin and doesn’t have to think about what she eats.” I bought into that illusion myself and thought I could go back to my old ways now that I was a healthy weight. I was craving sweets (something I never did before I lost the weight) and started eating large quantities of cookies, cupcakes, candy. I got lazy and stopped going to the gym with such dedication. But I still weighed myself every morning before my shower – and often after my shower as well. The number on that scale started to mean way too much to me.
Fast forward nearly 3 years, and I’m back up to 158 pounds. At the beginning of last week, though, I weighed 2 more pounds than that. You see, I’ve started taking care of myself again – with my eye toward a different kind of healthy.
I’m currently training to run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon with Team in Training this October – October 17 actually, which I just realized is exactly 3 years from hitting my WW goal. Spooky. I started running at the beginning of May, as soon as I signed up to run with TNT in memory of my grandma who passed away from leukemia a almost two years ago. Prior to that I hadn’t worked out consistently in at least a year.
It was rough at first. I started out with the Couch to 5K program and moved on to the Team in Training half marathon training plan after that. I’ve been surprising myself week after week with what I’ve been able to accomplish – I achieved a new personal distance record this past Saturday when I ran 9 miles.
I feel strong now. I may be overweight, but I’m doing something I never thought I could. I’m proud of what my body has accomplished. It’s done everything I’ve asked of it so far, and that makes me very lucky. Now when I run down the street, I think about how great it is that I can do this – at whatever weight I happen to be. That part isn’t important anymore.
Becoming a runner has taught me that there’s more to me than that number on the scale. I am a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend, a dog owner, a coworker, that girl you pass on the street.
And I’m strong.