Tuesday, March 25, 2014

No Lightbulb Moments: How I Gained, Lost, and Gained Almost 50 pounds

My high school weight pattern was pretty straightforward.  I'd maintain or slowly creep up for a while, then start some diet or health plan (usually the latest fad) with tremendous motivation and lose 10-15 pounds. Within a couple of months, I would get sick of dieting and slowly regress back to old habits. I'd start gaining slowly again, sometimes as little as a pound a month. During high school I tried Atkins, South Beach, and calorie counting, all with some degree of success.

 Because of this gain-lose-gain cycle, I usually stayed somewhere around 160, so about 30 pounds overweight. What's funny looking back is that I hated my figure so much as a teenager and was always trying to lose weight, but 30 extra pounds doesn't seem like too much right now. I guess it's all about perspective.

I never got to a healthy weight, but I also never got to an extremely unhealthy weight. I just wandered somewhere in the middle, too large to even consider feeling good in a bikini or buying single-digit sizes, but not big enough for any plus-sized clothing or major interventions.

After high school graduation, my unintentional pattern stopped - so I just started gaining and gaining. I took a gap year abroad before starting college, and while I had an amazing experience, I struggled to eat well and didn’t really exercise. I was also having too much fun to realize that I was gaining weight.

However, it was freshman year of college that took me to my highest weight ever. During this time, I was trying to figure out how to manage a schedule, and generally stressing out at the progression of life. My university was not one to stray from societal demands, so we students had easy access to lots of (often free) junk food all over campus.

I made some good friends and spent time with them, went to class, and studied, but there was still way too much time left for ... nothing. I treated my boredom with food, as well as my desire to have something to do with my hands while I watched every episode of Friends. There were no binges or secret donut boxes under my bed; I gained weight by eating "normal" but oversized (for my height and gender) portions at meals, and 400-calorie muffins or the endless supply of free college candy as desserts.

By the beginning of sophomore year, I had hit my highest ever weight of 200 pounds. But that wasn't a wake-up call. When I saw that number flashing up at me from the scale, my thoughts went something like, Hmm, that is a new number. Okay. Better not gain any more weight now, I think 200 is as high as I should go.

It’s obvious now, but I managed to be blissfully unaware. In some vague part of my mind, I knew that this was bad, I knew that my size 16s were getting snug and in reality I could probably fit into 18s, but I just didn’t want to face dealing with it. I was passively avoiding it and delicately skirting around things that might make me face it, like shopping or trying an athletic class. It's the easiest trap to fall into. My parents weren't saying anything, my friends weren't expressing their concerns about my size, I didn't get comments from passing cars - it was pretty easy to live in my little world where there was no need to consider my growing size.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care at all about the extra weight, I just had no idea where to start and was in denial of how unhealthy I’d become. I got pains in my calves from walking around too much, and somehow never connected that to the extra weight. Thirty pounds was one thing, I was used to it, but I could not expect to be seventy pounds overweight without consequences.

Giant hipster glasses or Minnie Mouse lingerie?

Finally, my parents sat me down one weekend during sophomore year when I was home for a holiday, and told me that they were scared for my health and for my life. That they had waited, hoping I would take some action to lose weight, but after six months it was clear that I was not dealing with this problem. So now they were talking to me because they were terrified. They, very kindly, told me that they would not let me go abroad for a semester if I didn't lose some weight. 

So I started, just like that. Maybe I was waiting for someone to call me out on my bullshit, or a threat I could understand, or a good kick in my oversized ass. There was no revelation, I just started keeping track.

This was during a "eat small meals throughout the day" fad, so I carefully consumed six 200-250 calories snacks/meals each day. It was a pretty good time - I didn't feel hungry or deprived, and I lost 20 pounds that semester without exercising. The calf pain disappeared, and I finally connected that the pain had had to do with my weight. 

Part Two: How I Lost Fifty Pounds, and then Gained Most of it Back will be coming soon. 

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