Saturday, November 22, 2014
I recently read a blog post about PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and its effects on the author's weight, and it kind of took me back. Not in a fun, those-were-the-days sort of way, either: in a terrible, alarmed, self-loathing kind of way.
Some background: since hitting puberty, my weight has been a yo-yo. I blossomed, sure, but I also ballooned. I grew enormous breasts in a very short amount of time, and I went from being a skinny kid to an unskinny teenager. I had no idea why.
Like lots of kids, I turned to food for comfort. Cookies tasted good, but I was no dope: I've known how to read a calorie listing since I was in the sixth grade. I taught myself how to purge (although, credit where credit is due: Seventeen's concerned articles about the whole ana/mia thing were very helpful), and so even though I continued to eat my feelings, I did lose weight. It was clear from the guys in my high school that to be thin was to be a prize. I wanted to be a prize for someone.
This is old territory for me, and not something that I'm proud of. Although, if we're being honest, I'm not really ashamed of it any more, either. I look back at that girl who just hated herself because her stomach wasn't concave, and because her arms jiggled when she moved, and I feel so tender towards her. I was so mired in shit back then, and it took a huge amount of courage to pull myself out of it. It forced me to start being what Anne Lamott calls "militantly on my own side."
But, the process of pulling myself out of the La Brea tar pits of self-loathing meant that I had to re-learn how to eat like a normal person. I hadn't ever really done that as an adult, and, to my alarm, it meant that I started gaining weight at a rapid clip. Like, 45 pounds over a span of a year? Which meant that, at my heaviest, I tipped the scales at 159 pounds. That's a lot for a 5'1" person. My eyes, which have always been anime-big, started to look smaller because my face was so bloated. I was helpless against the scale, and without purging, I had no idea how to fix this creep.
Things came to a head on Father's Day 2012, when my mom took one look at me and said, "Oh, you're not doing well, are you?" She didn't mean, like, LOL fatty. She meant Oh, your skin is turning gray. Which it totally was. I couldn't stop gaining weight, I was constantly bloated, and I was in a hellish cycle of diarrhea and constipation. To top it off, I had recently been diagnosed with PCOS, since my history of cysts and total weight explosion was enough for the nurse to flag it, despite not having the related hormonal shifts, body hair, or missing periods. I was fat, potentially infertile, and terrifically gassy.
Apparently, "learning how to eat normally" hadn't quite hit the mark.
I've read that women who are gluten sensitive have a higher incidence of both depression and eating disorders. This might be because of a couple different things: it's easy for a preoccupation with avoiding certain types of food to bleed into avoiding most food; it's also possible that the bloating and digestive issues that comes with gluten sensitivities can trigger a win-at-all-costs approach to avoiding them.
After that Father's Day picnic, I was ready to try anything. I started on a paleo diet, which involved cutting out grains (rice, corn, and wheat especially) and legumes, and piling my plate high with protein and produce. I ate some dairy here and there, I cut down on sugar (although, if cavewomen had had chocolate, lord knows they would have eaten it), and I ditched beer completely.
People tend to dismiss the paleo diet as being extreme, but I did this because I was suffering under a modern mealplan. Cupcakes made me fart. Bagels triggered exhaustion. Once, I ate two slices of pizza at a work function and had to go lie down on the bathroom floor for twenty minutes. Nobody wants to live like that.
And dudes, paleo isn't easy. All fast food is basically grain-based: burgers, pizza, sandwiches, falafels, sushi, ramen. Steel yourself to get really excited about desserts like meringues, which is usually (and correctly) presented as the finishing touch on a lemon pie. Baking is a write-off, and anyone who tries to sell you on paleo baked goods is a huckster fraud, because that shit tastes like styrofoam peanuts.
But the results can't be argued with, at least in my case. I started to sleep better. My stomach de-bloatified. My skin cleared up, for god's sake. And, to top it off, I dropped 35 pounds. The nurse who had originally diagnosed me with PCOS redid the tests a year later and proclaimed her original call to be in error. I no longer fit the symptom profile. A weight, no pun intended, had been lifted.
To some degree, I will always be a fat girl. Maybe not on the outside, where my weight-lifting and dance marathons have paid off, but on the inside, where the numbers on the scale get burned into my brain. I tend to overload the importance of weight in my self-worth calculations, and even though I've gone through hundreds of hours of therapy and have truly embraced kale, the math still gets skewed. M had done much heavy lifting on this topic, and while he met me at my lightest, he's loved me at my heaviest.
But the thing is, I needed to learn how to love myself at every weight. If the numbers on the scale start to tick up again, I like to think I have strategies in place to cope, and not just more vigorous dancing or less chocolate. Strategies like self-acceptance, a sense of humour, and the belief that my body is good enough no matter what it looks like. That's the heaviest—and the lightest—part.