What We Talk About When We Talk About Weight 21

credit: Fybrid

credit: Fybrid

Sophomore year in high school, I ate a Suzy Q and a Diet Coke for lunch nearly every day. Then my mother and I started going to Weight Watchers, where I learned to pack a lunch and drink sugarless drinks, like boring iced tea, which everyone knows is an Old People Beverage. (I’m surprised WW let me in, because I was hardly what one would consider large, though I thought I was.)

In college, I managed to maintain a healthy weight until my second gigantic depression hit. Instead of getting help, I swam in Andrew Mellon’s basement pool* in the early morning hours and then helped myself to white bagels under a shellac of peanut butter and cream cheese. I ate these in my room, where no one could see me, fat and ashamed. This is also where I ate my fried chicken lunches complete with litres of Coke. By the time I graduated I weighed nearly 200 pounds.

The year following graduation, I vowed to lose the fat. So I consumed no fat. None. I did, however, eat every form of sugar I could get my chubby little fingers on. But I shed that weight like a beast. People oohed and aahed when they saw me, and it was good. Because I was SLENDER.

Through my childbearing years (and it is with some distress that, though I want no more babies, I come to the end of my childbearing years) I took so many trips up and down the scales I could make myself dizzy recounting them.

The Weight Down Workshop helped me drop the last of the weight I was hauling around after Kid One, and drop to my pre-pregnancy weight 6 weeks after Kid Two arrived. WDW taught me that I was a good Christian if I only ate when I felt hunger pangs, and even better if I stopped eating as soon as I felt sated. I drank unsweetened tea, again, and did not have dinner with my family if I was not yet hungry. My portions were like some kind of boutique restaurant’s: meager and unsatisfying to my taste buds. But it was good, because I was SLENDER.

Kid Three brought stress and depression and about 65 extra pounds. After his birth, the only place I went more often than I went to church was the gym. And lo, it was good, because I was SLENDER.

As I approached my forties, I decided I didn’t really care what the scale said. I was healthy. I was a RUNNER, after all. I kicked booty. Someone told me, “If I run, I eat,” which was the sum of my nutrition plan. And eat I did. In the span between the two marathons I ran in 2012, I knew my weight was ballooning. I squeezed into my running gear and shrugged. “I’m a long distance athlete,” I told myself. I hid my muffin top, or tried to, with bigger shirts.

The truth is: I was ashamed. I was mad at myself for not getting a check on it sooner. I was mad for ballooning again. For eating trash when I was trying to achieve specific goals. The angrier I got, the more I ate, in secret, in my room. Just like college.

When I visited the sports doc recently about the pain in my knee, and we did all those super fun and expensive tests, it was revealed that I had a touch of the “age appropriate arthritis.” Not even some bad-to-the-bone athelete injury. Just run of the mill age. He gave me some suggestions, and some anti-inflammatories. Then I asked him what I really wanted to know:

“Will it help if I lost some weight?”

“Yes. Definitely.”

Without a pause. Without a duck of the head for propriety. Without so much as a blink. He did not do a little doctoral dance around the fat bush. He laid it out. If I want to run without pain then dropping some LBs would go a long way toward that end.

This story is not unique. It is not special, or different or superior or worse than every other weight story in the world, and there are legion. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting about my process, much as I did at the beginning of my running quest. The posts will not be about recipes or tricks and tips. I will not be giving unsubstantiated nutrition advice, neither will I engage in fat shaming or program comparison. The posts are designed to help us scrape away the outward stuff, and get to what we really mean to talk about when we talk about weight.

It will be a safe place, and I welcome you to come with me.

*My college campus was built around the homes of former Pittsburgh tycoons and philanthropists. Andrew Mellon’s home was the locus of our dining hall, admin offices and the basement pool.



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21 thoughts on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Weight

  • Melanie

    Weight was an issue for me until my mid-30s. And I was never overweight. In fact, I have an hourglass figure that was truly amazing in my teens and 20s (and even into my 30s), but I never saw it as such. I only saw room for improvement (weight loss). I would stand in front of my mirror and pull my inner thigh back so I could see what it would be like not to have those huge legs.

    With pregnancies, depression, some bad habits, and medication, I ended up yo-yoing up and down throughout my 30s, finally stabilizing at a weight I was comfortable with at 37. I was not slim, but I was at peace and I was healthy. Turning 40 helped me embrace myself even more — there’s something about 40 that just lets you say “this is me and I love it.”

    And now I have lost 8-10 lbs (I say 8-10 b/c it fluctuates day to day) because of stress, a fixed thyroid (it had stopped my metabolism), and other medication. I am back down to a weight I never thought I’d see. I’m ashamed that I’m so thrilled. And I’m ashamed that I am falling back into my old habits: I weigh myself every day (sometimes twice a day) to see if I’ve maintained the weight; I feel bad if those 2 fluctuating pounds are back; I’m afraid to buy new clothes because I’m certain I can’t maintain this new weight and I’ll ‘balloon’ back up to the weight I was perfectly happy with six months ago.

    I wasn’t ashamed and now I am. I wasn’t fat, but now I think I was. I constantly compare my new weight to my old weight — how my clothes feel, which belt hole I use, etc. And if you’d asked me six months ago if I wanted to be this weight I would have said no. If you ask me now if I’d be OK going back, I’d tell you no. But I wouldn’t tell you how scared I am that I might.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      I felt that same way, @358e6efda021463e23df35a7b284153f:disqus, when I hit my 40s. Like, aw yeah. But that feeling also made me lazy about my health (which gets more important to us as we age, doesn’t that just beat all.)

      I was thinking of you as I worked out this morning, getting on your scale over and over again. I hope you can break that cycle, because it’s just beating yourself up. (At which I also excel.) Maybe together we can come to some sort of weight reckoning.

  • pastordt

    Well, here come the snakes. You have opened Pandora’s box with this one, Jennifer, and I think I’m grateful. My weight has been the bane of my existence since I began bearing children 45 years ago. That is true because my mom made it an issue when I was much younger than that and not at all overweight. Except in her anxious eyes. I think in many ways, my issues with weight began with a kind of naivete about quantities of food and how directly that impacts what we weigh. Then, it became the way in which I rebelled against some of the strictures with which I’d been raised. Some of it is genetic, pure and simple – every woman in my mom’s family deals with obesity. But a lot of it is crazy mixed up emotional crap, spiritually overlaid with unreasonable guilt and shame. I got really sick in 2010 and managed to drop about 45 pounds without effort. Now it’s creeping up in little bits – 5 pounds heavier overall now than I was then, up and down, of course. So, I look forward to your reflections on this painful topic and I hope I can find my way to moving down again. I’d like to do another 45 eventually, but have decided to live with the satisfaction of maintaining a biggish weight loss for two years – the first time that has ever happened in my long and twisted history with this stuff. (Weight Watchers – many times; Jenny Craig; Nutrisystem; counting calories ad nauseum. Dropping down large amounts about 3 times over these years with NO success at keeping it off, ever. So two years seems amazing to me at this point.)

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      @pastordt:disqus I wrestled for weeks before decided to share this. I’m not a huge fan of revealing inner demons, but when I awoke with the first sentence on my mind, I knew it was okay to do it. I was nervous for a lot of reasons. For some reason, the way we feel about ourselves with our weight is so fraught with pain and shame, and I kind of hate that. I think the truth is, we can’t confront our weight until we confront the layered issues around it.

      That said, you hit the nail on the head with your decision to be proud of a 2 year maintenance. The number is less important that the daily decisions to love yourself. I look forward to walking through this with you.
      (ps, I’ve tried all of those programs, too.)

  • Mary Johnson

    You go girl! Being an athlete/ runner myself I too always heard and lived by the rule of…I workout therefore I get to eat what I want.
    It was about a year ago that someone challenged me to a more nutritious way of eating and how it can help in the way I feel and perform. Food is medicine and it can do wonders and so much harm. Since paying closer attention to what I put in my body, I have become stronger, faster and feel amazingly more energized.
    I am excited to read about your journey!

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Mary, I’m really glad you stopped by, because when I saw you earlier this year, I felt like, “damn that girl is gorgeous,” by which I meant “slender and gorgeous.” But you’re right. No matter what we look like, we have room to improve. I’ve been having the same kinds of food revelations as you. I’m killing my sweet tooth and shoveling in the leafy greens. And it helps, not just the weight, but the pain and the hope I have for continued running. It’s much bigger than looking at in a bikini! Thanks again, Mary.

  • Kelly Kinkaid

    Thanks so much for bravely posting this post. It’s a battle I’m sure most have experience at one time or another. I personally didn’t start my struggle with weight until after my 2nd pregnancy. And my attempts to lose were always only partially attempted until a few years ago when I started running. In fact I started running because I noticed that every thin person I knew ran. Surprising to me was the fact that running did in fact not change my size or weight one ounce.

    Running, however, has done a lot for my spiritual and mental health, but my body keeps rejecting a lot of my runs every time I try to amp up or do more that I’m doing. The weight blended with the strain of running was just too much for it. So 2 years ago I started watching what I ate very carefully to give my joints, etc. what they needed so that I could keep running. I finally started using the tools my health nut mother taught me as I was growing up. And I studied, and studied, and studied to learn more about fueling my body.

    Now I could probably tell most people more about nutrition that most nutritionists, and yet the weight still clings to my body. I keep playing with the numbers…eating more, eating less, eating different things, trying different plans, tracking my calories, studying my metabolic rate, talking to doctors, and on and on and on.

    Then this morning, as you know, I discovered a health issue I’ve been having may be the cause to all of my worries. I worry that I’ve waited to long to take care of my body, and that I will forever be the size I am now forcing me to quit running.

    At the same time I’m ashamed not to be grateful for the body that I do have. There are always others to compare yourself that are worse off than you are, and that is a burdon. And there are always others to compare yourself to that are better off than you are, and that is also a burdon. Letting go of the burdon I think is the biggest challenge. And some day I hope to be able to conquer that part of me.

    But I think for a while I’m just going to have to mourn time wasted and mistakes made. I just have make 100% sure that there aren’t options I’m unaware of out there to help me. And I have to do all of this without making myself insane. Perhaps it’s time for another run.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      you know, @facebook-537096279:disqus I believe there is a time for mourning. And then it’s time to get going again. And over and over. The health issue sucks, but as I say, when you can name it, you can solve it. And so that’s part of the task. The other part is knowing that no matter how we look in those race day photos, no matter what the number on the scale shows, we still run our fannies off, and are amazing.

      This is a tough issue and it’s going to take time and patience. Much success to you.

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    i’m tall and had always maintained my weight without being especially active until i weaned james last summer. five years of constant pregnancy, breastfeeding, and eating whatever i wanted didn’t really take a toll until i stopped nursing, and my weight ballooned. i look forward to gleaning from your wisdom:)

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      @somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter:disqus Oh, pregnancy and young motherhood are havoc for weight. We’re busy, we’re tired, and we eat from the floor! I don’t know if I have wisdom, but I do know I’ve learned a thing or two. I also know that we are walking through it together, and weight is something that weighs (!) on many of us. Thanks for sharing.

  • Marie at the Lazy W

    Looking forward to this… After reading your personal story in Run With Me I am enchanted by your perspective. Glad to know you are ok, injury-wise, and I am thankful for your candor! xoxo Take care! I’ll be reading for sure.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      You know me, Marie. I’ll tell anybody anything. I bet my family wishes I’d shut my mouth more often! The more I lose, the better my knee will feel, and I’ll keep strengthening my legs, too. It’s been a good thing to learn: that if I want to keep doing something I love, I need to take better care of myself.

  • Melissa

    Well said, Jennifer! I gained weight when I ran or exercised a lot and it was very discouraging. I try to focus on how I feel and look in my clothes rather than weight.

  • Andrea Cumbo

    I’ve been thinking about weight a lot, as I try to get back to a healthier place where my knees don’t creak as I climb the farmhouse stairs and as I talk to my friend who has lost 70 pounds in a healthy combination of diet and exercise that has nothing to do with a plan but just simple science.

    Yet, even as I trust you, I find myself nervous to read this post because when these discussions come up, I worry that we focus too much on weight and not on the issues that cause us to gain. The very issues that you want to peel the layers from.

    For me, weight is about comfort and ease. It’s about hiding. I will read along passionately, if nervously, as you write, Sugar. Thanks for this.