My Journey

I learned at an early age that one could never be too thin.  At least, that’s what my mother seemed to think when it came to me.

As a child, she called me fat repeatedly.  She had me on a subsistence diet from the time I was 8 until I was 14.  When I say subsistence, I mean subsistence.  My daily intake of food was this:  breakfast was 1/4 cup all bran, 1/2 cup puffed rice or wheat cereal with a little bit of watered down reconstituted dry milk on the cereal, a four ounce glass of prune juice and a six ounce glass of the watered down reconstituted dry milk.  Oh yeah, and a whole handful of vitamins.  Lunch was a half sandwich and a small piece of fruit, usually an apple, with a pint of 2% milk at school, or a six ounce glass of that powdered milk at home.  Supper was a very small portion of what every body else was having.

I was constantly hungry.  I’d wake up in the morning hungry, never ever get even comfortable, and go to bed at night hungry.  In order to get some of the calories that I needed and wasn’t getting in my daily diet (you know, the calories needed to grow bones and muscles and cognitive functioning), I would occasionally sneak food.  I couldn’t do it too often, as that would make my weight increase, and I’d be in trouble.  But occasionally, I would take a small handful of saltines (something my parents couldn’t account for every single one of) and put a ton of butter on them.  Or I’d sneak a small spoon of ice cream.  Or a piece of fudge Mom had in the refrigerator.  Or a banana right after the adopted grandfather brought them home from the store, before Mom had a chance to count them.

To this day, ripe bananas taste nasty to me, all I can eat are the green ones.

During this whole time, besides learning disordered eating behaviors (sneaking food, having food used as rewards for good behavior, a type of binging that increased in later years when I didn’t have the parents checking every bite I put in my mouth), I was also acquiring a dysmorphic view of myself.  Because I was constantly on a diet due to me being so fat, I started to see myself as fat.  I have a few pictures of myself when I was a child, and I was extremely skinny.  However, I would look in the mirror and hate myself and my fat body.

Because of the lack of calories, my body didn’t develop as it should have.  I’m 5’2″, and haven’t grown any taller since I was 12.  At age 14, I weighed 90 pounds, and would have had a BMI of 16.5 (if there had been a BMI back then).  16.6 BMI is 2 points lower than the lowest ‘normal’ indicator on the BMI scale.  In running in track and field, I would have severe leg cramps daily.  The PE instructor thought I was faking it because I didn’t want to exercise, and so would make me continue to run, even after I’d fall down in severe pain.  At the time, I didn’t know it was lack of nutrition that was doing that to me.

When I was 14 and a half, I moved out of my Mother’s house and went to live with my Grandmother.  I went from famine to feast.  Grandma put no restrictions on my eating.  In some ways (right at the very beginning) she even encouraged me to eat more than I had been, because I was so skinny.

Unfortunately, that stopped when I became too heavy for her aesthetics.

Once I got to 145lbs, she stopped buying me new clothes except when I absolutely needed them.  I had one pair of jeans for most of the time going through high school.  On laundry day, I would have to wear my one pair of nice pants or one of my skirts (of which I had two) so my jeans could be washed.  I suppose I was lucky that I had two bras (one spare so I wouldn’t be ‘flopping around’ on laundry day).

What we didn’t know at that point, and didn’t find out until much, much later, was that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome/Disorder.  PCOS is most likely a genetic disease that affects between 5 and 10% of US women.  Back in the early 80’s, there wasn’t much known about it.

During this time, because of my family, because of my body dysmorphic views, I continued in a lot of disordered eating and behaviors.  I would exercise for an hour a day during PE, walk 2 miles total to school and back (and yes, we clocked how far it was on the car one day), and then come home and do two hours of “high impact” aerobics.  Remember Richard Simmons first exercise tape?  Or Jane Fonda’s?  I did them both, every night. 

I became a “vegetarian”, although I didn’t know what it meant to be a vegetarian.  I coupled that with starving myself as well for a real interesting time.  I would only eat one “meal”, it being a serving of frozen veggies at dinner.  Grandma didn’t understand what being a vegetarian meant either.  So I had no protein, and very limited nutrition.  I did that for about a month until I crashed and binged.  When I came off that “diet” I ate everything in sight for a while.

The sad thing is that I only lost 10 lbs that month, for all the starving I did.

The really sad thing is that I gained 20 back.

The ultimate sad thing is that I ever felt I needed to do that in the first place.

Over the years, I’ve tried everything you can think of to lose weight.  I’ve exercised as much as 4 hours a day.  I’ve taken laxatives (Ex-Lax TM specifically) daily.  I’ve “fasted” for two weeks at a time.  I’ve done liquid only diets, I’ve tried protein powders instead of eating, I’ve tried Atkins, counting calories, severe caloric restriction (at one time 500 calories a day).  Nothing worked. 

Oh, I might lose 10 pounds, but that was all I’d lose.  And when I eventually gave up on the diet, because none of them were sustainable, I’d gain back 20 or 30 pounds.

During this whole time, I would go to doctors when I had insurance.  Even though my cholesterol and blood pressure and blood sugar was all within normal parameters, every single doctor always told me that I was fat, and would die if I stayed at this weight.  I was ‘risking’ heart attack, stroke, diabetes.  Never mind that diabetes doesn’t run in the family (although heart attack and stroke do).  At one point I was trying extremely hard to get pregnant, but my insurance wouldn’t cover fertility treatments.  I was told by one doctor that the way for me to get pregnant was to lose weight.  When I went back a year later for my next exam, I was told I obviously didn’t want children because I’d not lost any weight.

Yeah, nice bedside manner, that.

That was only one physician in a long line of physicians who diagnosed me “fat” whenever something was wrong with me.  I’ve had exactly three doctors since I’ve been an adult who’ve not diagnosed “fat” when there was something else wrong with me.  One doctor, the one who finally diagnosed me with PCOS, still told me to lose weight, and it would cure the PCOS.  Ummm, okay.  Since obesity is one of the symptoms of PCOS, I want to know how that works.

I finally got off the diet roller coaster 8 years ago.  I finally realized that, it didn’t matter what I did, how many hours I exercised, I wasn’t going to lose weight.  However, I still didn’t accept myself.

That (accepting myself) took me finally getting angry at the world in general and doctors in specific last year.  See, I had this knee problem…

In 2000, I used to do a lot of mountain hiking in the North Carolina mountains.   Once a week, my husband and I would go hiking the mountains, having a lot of fun.  This one Tuesday we were hiking on a pretty strenuous path (a 4/5 rating, where 5 is the toughest of the hiking paths, after that you start getting into ratings for climbing).  One of the challenges of the path was a huge boulder that you have to go over to continue on the path.  I went over, and coming down the other side, something “popped” in my left knee.  It didn’t hurt, so I shrugged and tried to continue on.

My husband wasn’t having it.  He forced me off the mountain (using the only thing he knew would work on me — guilt over having people have to rescue me in the dark if something really was wrong).  As we were in the parking lot, I was doing the “I told you so” bit as I was getting into the car.  That’s when my kneecap decided to dislocate.

I had no insurance, and had to deal with it myself.  So, I forced the kneecap back into place. 

For the next two months, walking at all was a challenge.  I had a rigid knee brace and cane from an operation I’d had on my other knee a year previously (I’d been doing something athletic and fell, tearing my meniscus in the process), and so I used those.  Obviously, my activity levels went way down.

Over the next following seven years, I would have times of extreme pain and agony with my left knee.  Most of the time when I tried to do something physical.  Sometimes my knee would act up for no reason, sometimes it came with a change of weather.  Sometimes, it was in the performance of my job.

In October 2007, my knee locked up.  I was in excruciating pain and couldn’t move for about 20 minutes.  Finally, something unlocked and I could move again.  This started a chain that sent me to the doctor (finally I had insurance).  I went to a minor emergency clinic with a specialty in sports medicine, and they sent me to get an MRI.  When the MRI came back, we found that my knee was slagged.  I had multiple bone shards, it looked like a torn or no meniscus, bone spurs on the side, a cyst forming on one of the bones.  Of course, I was told to get to a specialist.

Who took one look at me, and decided that my kneeS were shot, and that I only needed to lose weight and I’d be all better.  He pumped my left knee full of cortisone and sent me on my way with a referral to a Physical Therapist.

I became angry.  I knew my knee problem had been caused by that untreated injury back in 2000.  The doctor completely disregarded what I’d said about it.  I found a different doctor, and his findings were that when I put the patella back in place, I didn’t get it in the correct place.  So for 7 years the patella had been wearing a new groove in my leg bones.  And oh yeah, the groove was hooking, which is why my knee locked up like it did.

One reconstructive surgery and a lot of physical therapy to recondition the leg muscles and reteach myself how to walk properly, and my knee is good as new.  I’m even wearing heals (low, only 2″ maximum height)!

But it was last year that I finally said I wasn’t going to 1) punish myself or 2) let anybody else punish me for something I had no control over.  And yes, that’s exactly what the first surgeon was doing — punishing me for being fat.  Because when he said to just do physical therapy, I asked him about the bone shards and spurs, and was told, “Oh, surgery would be helpful for those, but we won’t be doing surgery on you.”  By the time I did get the surgery (it took two more months to get it all scheduled), I was in a wheelchair, walking on my knee was so painful.

So, yeah.  It took a long time.  I’ll be 42 in a couple days.  It took 41 years to finally stop punishing myself for being “too fat”, or “too lazy”, or “too stupid” to figure out what I was doing wrong.

This doesn’t mean that I’m completely over my body dysmorphia, or my disordered eating patterns (there are things I still have a hard time eating where people can see me do so).  But I’m doing a lot better.  I’ve finally figured out that it really doesn’t matter if I’m fat or not.  I’m a human being, and as such, I deserve a modicum of respect.  I deserve my doctors to not be lazy.  I don’t deserve to be moo’d at or almost ran over on a street (when I was exercising no less).

I’ve got a long way to go yet, but I’ve come a long way as well.


18 Responses

  1. Hey – It doesn’t sound like you are too lazy at all!

    I have decided to get myself fitter to enjoy my little lad (2 1/2), and I was getting out of shape. I’m not fat…or thin…and don’t care much for those words, I just wanted to be happier for myself, and fitter for my lad.

    People are people – and you sound a great person! I think it’s great that people can share these things on blogs – Far too many people think they are the only ones going through xyz…

    The only fat people I have trouble with are the ones that have fat between their ears….. 😉 …. and that doesn’t sound at all like you.

  2. I feel exactly the way you do about all the riduculous fat talk. Love your blogging…keep it up!

  3. This is an interesting story. I feel compassion for your having had to suffer this string of misfortunes. I had a similar series of misfortunes in my childhood, involving physical abuse, like you have mentioned elsewhere, and also involving the struggle of parents and child over food.

    Setting the physical abuse aside and looking at the struggle over food, it sounds like my parents were more benign than yours, and simply trying to deal with the problem of having an overweight child, and not having a clue as to what to do about it. They did make it absolutely clear, though, that my fat was unacceptable, and this left me with a permanent hatred of my body (which has always been overweight). I am now 60, and since I am no longer in the running for female acceptance, I feel that self-hatred beginning to blessedly relax. I am now simply concentrating on dealing with the overweight as a pressing health concern.

    I have no knowledge of your politics, but I feel so troubled about the part of this story concerning the leg injury that I am going to take the chance of adding that if you had lived in Canada, Europe, or even Japan when that injury occurred, the entire sad story line of your leg would not have happened because you would have gotten free treatment for the injury when it occurred. There must be a million stories like this one that other Americans could tell, if anyone would listen. In my opinion the USA has a lot to answer for in placing ideology and profit before peoples’ health.

    The main thing that your story, and mine, make me think of is this: that to be human is to be a hostage to fortune, subject to experiencing the heights of joy or the grimmest kinds of suffering simply as chance dictates. Being of a dark turn of mind, I do not see the solution for the misfortune of falling in the suffering group as lying in adjusting how one thinks about one’s plight, although I respect what seems to be your effort along those lines.

    Personally, I believe that to live is to suffer, and so I am trying in a desultory way to become a Buddhist. The fudamental ideas of Buddhism certainly teach acceptance of one’s fate, and if your road includes that approach then our roads intersect.

    I wish you well on your journey.

  4. interesting story…i wonder where your mother developed her behavior from?

  5. this made me tear up. thank you for sharing.

  6. Thanks for sharing your journey. I wish you good health and happiness.

  7. I love your site! 🙂

    Experiencing a slow PC recently? Fix it now!

  8. Thanks for being strong, sista! The cause of your adversaries will never be as rewarding or uplifting or fulfilling as your cause is for you. Negativity is negativity, and it effects those who wield it as much as you. Thanks for speaking out for decency. I wish you the very best indulgence of the senses and the very best of heath. Warms my hearts and smiles my face to read your words of strength. Woot woot!

  9. I am very new to the blogging world and am doing my own blog as a gesture of healing, a desperate cry of ‘hey, I’m human to!’. I have also been ridiculed for that. Been told that I have no right to feel the way I do, brought it all on myself, and other “kind” words. As with every other human on this planet, I am trying to heal from many things…all at once. I came across your blog and I cannot adequately express to you how much I appreciate the courage you have to continue to let ones into ‘your living room’. Courage is one of the greatest gifts we were given as humans, it takes great amounts of it to continue, in whatever way we can. Thank you for inviting me into your ‘home’. I feel more human.

  10. We are all human. We can decide by our actions to be inhumane. We can decide to alter the lives of those effected by our actions. We can blog and wallow in self pity and blame others for our emptiness. Or we can get over the past, forgive and move on to being better people, promising we will not treat our children like our wicked mothers treated us. Promising we will not involve ourselves in relationships that are toxic because it feels so right, because our fathers taught us abuse was love. Courage is being more than abuse beat us down to be. Abusers get their power from hurting others, having control over someone elses inner being. STOP handing over the power! Blogging to heal yourself is important, blogging with the wrong selfish motive of hoping you’ll catch they eye of a married man is sick and wrong. I applaude your ” a day in the life” blog, you are doing it for the right reasons, healing yourself and helping others!

  11. Oh girlfriend! I’m thinking we could sit down with a hot cup of tea and compare war wounds big time! Been there, done that – on so many levels.

    The two years I spent in the wheelchair because of my high BMI (66) and blown knees – painful on so many levels it’s hard to define.

    I’m looking forward to reading more and getting to know you more. May you find healing and peace, dear one!

  12. I can totally relate to your struggle with PCOS. I’m 20 years old and I’ve struggled with my weight for most of my life, and was recently diagnosed with PCOS as well, only to have my doctor tell me that if I lose weight it’ll fix some of the symptoms of that. I’m happy to hear that you have become more comfortable with yourself regardless of your weight. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I just randomly came across your blog and I just couldn’t stop reading. I feel my heart go out to you because I also spent most of my childhood sruggling with being called ‘fat’, ‘fat cow’ etc. and then I lost weight when I fell in love and the object of my affection was such a hunk…in those days ( who is now my bald husband with a round belly, whom I love dearly!)

    But I tried such extreme measures to lose weight as well…close on starvation resulting in poor hair and no strenght. Now I feel like I’m already 90 years old and about to DIE when I’m still in my thirties. I’ve gained weight again…lots after childbirth but haven’t got round to losing it yet…My husband loves me thank God and I feel very lucky to be fat and loved. And if you’re really loved, it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re fat or thin.


  14. What a sad story you have to tell. That is so good that you have decided that society needs to change its views, not you because that is so true!
    I’m just wondering if you live in the States? Just from reading about your run-ins with the doctors and having no insurance at times leads me to believe you’re from the States. If you aren’t already I really encourage you and anyone else from the US to support Obama in his efforts to reform health care. I live in Canada myself, not to far from the US border and it would never even occur to a Canadian not to go to the doctor because we didn’t have insurance. No matter what happens we all go to the doctor and recieve exceptional medical care and it’s all FREE! I just can’t believe that doctors would tell you all your problems stem from being overweight and tell you to lose it to be better. That is not what a doctor should do! The US healthcare system is so corrupted it’s ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I love the US and its people, I just think the media puts out false information because the corporate giants are paying them to do so and then people become misinformed. I just wanted to let you know that when we hear about the opposition Obama is recieving here in Canada, our hearts just go out to Americans because you all would be just so much better taken care of if the point of your medical system was to take care of people rather than make a gross amount of money for corporate companies.
    Take care, and great blog!

  15. Thanks for sharing.

    Since the first day I stepped into a school (I was 5 then), I was clearly discriminated against. People laughed at me, mocking me right in front of my face. During PE lessons, when weight of students have to be taken twice annually, I really hope for some privacy. Instead, each and every teacher just goes XXkg, shouting across the room and of course, laughters filled the room.

    I grew up facing words that I am so used to. From the common FAT, to OBESE, everything was taken in by me. In the end, I figured out the brilliant way. Anytime these words are thrown at me, I smile and thank the person.

    I shall be looking around your blog and looking forward to more!

    Smile Always,

  16. All I have to say is that I am really sorry, from the bottom of my heart, for the pain you endured at others hands. Be peaceful, you are beautiful

  17. Ohh…u r really strong…u’ve been through so much…! I have weight problems too and had the same knee injury while exercising last year.but u knw i am from a country(Bangladesh) which is much much poorer than yours..but nobody here needs medical insurance.i’ve seen a good knee specialist here being from a lower middle class was easily parents were really supportive too.great that heroine and models here arent that thin like hollywood.all the very best to you.u inspire me.stay strong…:)

  18. I too had a mother that made me feel bad about not being a size 8. This type of parent leaves an impression on you that somehow you’re just not good enough. Strangely enough, when I went through a divorce and was a size 6-8 my mother told me I was too thin and too concerned about my appearance. Over the years I have come to appreciate me for me with the help of a loving husband. I am “normal” sized now for my bone structure and body type. I am never going to be defined again by size. I wish you much success and happiness and I send kudos for being so honest and facing so many obstacles. You will prevail.

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