Monday, December 08, 2003
How Very 13
posted by Julie |
From diet-brained to fitness focused
As a kid, I don't think I came to a full awareness of my weight until pretty late in the game. I was an overweight kid, not huge, but chunky. Soft. A kind of mushy, messy kid whose buttons didn't always match up with her buttonholes, whose hair didn't always land where it should, whose thick glasses slipped down her nose. No edges, just roundness and softness. I was heavier than my classmates and received comments about it, but it was my farsightedness that became the real focus of their jokes.
Then one summer, without trying at all, I dropped weight. Or maybe I grew taller. But anyway, I slimmed down. I had spent most of that summer in the water, swimming in a small lake. I lived in my bathing suit, pulling myself up onto and diving off of rafts, pretending to scuba dive, playing Marco Polo, underwater tag, keeping busy. We'd dive, too, into my mother's gardens to steal vegetables, taking these back to the raft. Vegetables and fruits were the only water-proof food we could find, so that's what we ate by day.
I didn't know I'd slimmed down until many people began to comment on it. I received lots of praise, lots of cooing for having developed such a flat tummy, for my new figure. Most of these comments came from women in my mothers' circle. They commented on body parts that were their own particular concern. One neighbor made a particular fuss over my tummy, another noted how my hips had slimmed down, a lady at church constantly commented on my height, another made comments about my "filling out" behind her not-soundproofed hand.
This fuss made me proud and curious. I had done something very right, clearly, and so, going in search of more praise, I suppose, and for the first time ever, I began to step on the scale in the bathroom, and consider what I weighed. I also began to wonder what I SHOULD weigh. I didn't know what that number would be, but suspected that it would be less than wherever I was.
Less is more, where weight is concerned. I'd figured that much out. I was 13. I was 5' 7" tall, and I weighed 135 pounds. And I was on a diet.
I read in a teen magazine about teen model, Christine Modean, who was my height and supposed to have weighed 120 pounds. Finally, then, I had a goal, a number to shoot for. That winter, of my 13th year, I learned to count calories. I learned to go hungry.
So, I didn't decide to lose weight because I was overweight and tired of the criticism. I wanted to lose weight because I'd experienced the attention that weight loss could bring me and wanted more of it.
By announcing I was dieting, I invited criticism of everything I ate from every corner, so I soon learned not to mention my diets in public. I would read diet books on the sly, try to manage my own eating, get too hungry, then sneak food to my room to fill up again. I gained and lost and gained and lost, but maintained a really very normal weight all through high school and college. I suspect now that I would have been exactly the same weight without trying or putting myself through cycles of starvation and feasting.
But I was never very active. Or, more correctly, activity came in cycles. If I took up skiing one winter, my weight dropped, if I sat still the next winter, my weight went up, but I never noted that the difference was exercise. I would try to correct the problem with whatever diet was on the air. If I had two dance classes one semester, my weight stabilized, three dance classes, and my weight would drop, no dance classes, and I ballooned. But I never equated dancing with weight control.
Weight control was purely a food equation for me, and along with my college buddies, I engaged in all manner of crazy cures for weight gain, from liquid protein diets and cider vinegar cocktails, to hot lemon water and hotdog binges. I went one week eating nothing but iceberg lettuce. I don't recommend this to anyone.
Many, many years later, having developed a steadily more inert lifestyle, and steadily higher weight, I worked with and read the works of exercise physiologists who somehow convinced me that exercise must accompany diet for permanent weight control. Once I believed them, the only problem ahead of me was that I don't really like to exercise.
I like to sit still. Very still. A fire. A pot of tea. A book. Some magazines. Some newspapers. This is heaven. The quieter the better. I have been this person all my life.
Finding some form of movement and making myself do it every day requires real mind work. I have to talk myself into it every single day. Still, two years after losing more than 100 lbs., I never go joyfully into exercise. It's shoehorning, bribing, cajoling, tricking that gets me there.
And that's the real work of this column. That's the real magic of any of our journals, I think. In these paragraphs, pages, blogs, we talk ourselves and others into a new way of living. In support groups, through bulletin boards, in chats, we plan a new reality for ourselves. This is what journals have always been for. We post our intentions. We say what we want to do, how we plan to do it, where, when, what we will wear. We find out how to get started, learn what to expect, get ready, gather courage, and then once we've gone out and done the thing, we come back to report on it.
And good report or bad, we get a lot of positive reinforcement for making an effort. It's very 13 of me, in many ways, to work on this thing. I suppose it is. But who among us ever really got over being 13?
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