Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Million Dollar, or Seventy Pound Question: Why Did I Get Fat?

Why did I get fat? I started gaining extra weight in kindergarten, and reached what would be a healthy weight for my current height by age twelve. If only I could have just stopped there.

This is a topic to which I've given a lot of thought. Childhood obesity is a highly debated and heavily researched area, with sciencey people looking at factors such as my family and my environment, citing fun things like easy access to junk food, no access to healthy food, and too much television with too little exercise. And of course, my genetics. It's mostly experiments on mice and a lot of correlational studies (let's link video games to obesity!), because we can't go experimenting on children.

I don't know how much I fit into those risk factors - I was really lucky. During my childhood, there were always fresh fruits to snack on, and vegetables with every meal. Dessert was reserved for Friday night and special occasions, and my parents only ever bought soda or white bread for guests. Most meals were homemade and eaten at home.

Except when we had wax.

My family was and is healthy. But I was still a chubby 10-year-old who was jealous of her friends in their cute pre-teen bikinis, but who still sneaked extra Oreos at school parties and didn't understand why she couldn't just make herself skinny by wishing hard enough.

It was probably more emotional. I suffered from depression and had low self-esteem as a kid. My parents are wonderful, and did all they could. But I was still an unhappy child. Science says that could have contributed to weight gain.

My current hypothesis is that the initial chubbiness was a fairly standard weight gain, the result of a few overindulgences and being so excited by the junk food that came my way at school or friends' houses that I overdid it and ignored my hunger or fullness signals. This happens to plenty of children, and they often grow into their weights (less so these days, but it used to be more common).

But being a little overweight helped create that classic cycle. I felt badly about myself, so I ate more. My parents wanted to help me lose weight, but they didn't really know how. I didn't know how myself. Food could be both a reward and punishment. I could eat to spite their attempts and punish myself, or I could eat to feel better, or feel in control. Eating felt guilty and great. Or maybe it's a little of all of that.

High school was much better - I slowly got out of feeling depressed and generally grew up a little.  I think time was the biggest factor. But food was still comforting, and while I seemed to be maintaining my weight, it was about 30 pounds too high.

College is a more complicated story, for later.

All in all, I think, I hope, that I'm at least a little more self-aware than I was as a child, and now have the tools and knowledge to get healthy.

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