How old were you when you went on your first diet?
I don’t know when I began dieting per se.
I began drink diet soda when I was 9 or 10 because that was one thing my mom kept loaded in the refrigerator. I don’t know why. I don’t know if she thought about whether she should be giving her kid chemical drinks, cause that is the only beverage I drank, other than Koolaid, Capri sun, and Sunny D, until my brother and I were whisked away from home in 5th grade to a foster home, and subsequently my penny pinching Grandma’s home.
Naturally, sucking down poisonous (long-term) beverages, along with a diet of Ellio’s and Tombstone pizza with intervening bouts of Mac n cheese and Cosmic Brownies, led me to be a chunker of a kid.
Until I landed at my Grandma’s…
Now let’s start with who my Grandma was (is?).
She is a Presbyterian, Norwegian, hard knocks, thrifty person. Waste not, want not. Kitchen cabinets that only held the essentials:
- Skim milk
- Pepperidge Farm thin sliced white bread
- Whipped butter
- Thin sliced white American cheese from the grocery deli (maybe because she knows my brother and I loved the free cheese slices the deli counterman offered whenever we picked this up with her)
I can’t remember anything else in her cabinets because the food was so plain and nondescript, you would have thought she was part of rural Telford, PA’s other most popular religions – Mennonite or Lutheran.
I remember the cereal because every morning, as the three of us – Grandma, younger brother, and me – sat silently at breakfast, I would read the cereal boxes, over and over again. When I got bored of this, I’d read the labels of other items in the home. I didn’t care about the ingredients, but I was enthralled but the nutritional facts. I don’t think I knew what nutritional was, but I memorized how many calories, fat + protein grams were in any one thing, and I began to measure my food portions.
Mix this with a little more activity outside – football and hockey with my new neighborhood friends – and the weight, unbeknownst to me, melted away. I learned in gym class I could run the fastest mile. I afterwards became an athlete, 3 sports a season through my senior year in high school and was briefly a walk-on to my Division 1 Track & Field team.
Did I begin dieting then? Or just resuming life as a healthy being with a penchant for reading nutrition labels?
If anyone from my high school is reading this, they’re probably wondering, “When is she going to mention the year or two she looked anorexic?”
After a year with my grandma, we returned to live with my mother who had recovered from her nervous breakdown. She was doing much better, had steady employment, kept a tidy home, and sent two kids to school and to day camp in the summer.
While we were back in a home packed with kid-approved tasty snacks, my journey into reading the nutrition facts led me to ask my mom to stock fat-free, rather than regular ice cream. Skim, rather than whole or 2% milks. Fat-free cereals. I think thinning down at my Grandma’s, discovering I loved sports, and also starting to be aware of how my body looked in clothing, as puberty swung around, made me start to think, “How do I maintain… or get thinner?”
Switching foods to low-fat, low sugar, combined with heavier exercise as I became more serious about running + not having a mother aware that she ought to be telling to eat more as my growth spurt hit, led to me growing to 5 ft 4in, and weighing under 90 lbs!
I was not even aware I was that thin until one of my coaches pulled me aside and said she’d have to bench me unless I gained weight.
So not explicitly, I took dieting too far, far beyond my own awareness as a 14 year old, as to what healthy might mean.
Fearing I’d be taken off the team, fortunately as this was right around Halloween, I stuff myself with candy – I remember eating a lot of Snickers – and my weight quickly swung up to 130 within a few months.
Also not healthy! Gaining so much weight so fast, and by eating unhealthy fats.. and so much sugar! But of course, my mother wasn’t prepared to help me with this, and neither were the coaches who forced me to gain weight.
Ever since I’ve struggled with binge eating. The whole experience really fucked me up. I still struggle today with my diet, even if I’ve seemingly brought it into some hemisphere of ok, but that’s a whole other story.
What word or phrase do you most associate with your body now?
It’s funny because I’m writing this while switching between jogging and running on a treadmill at Crunch. But it’s not because I have any diet goal in mind.
I hover around 129 lbs (which is lighter than I was in high school, when I floated under 140 lbs).
My diet is not really one. It’s an ethical choice as I’m vegan.
It’s really rewarding, after writing the above, that the word I associate with my body now is
My current body can hold 5-10 lb mechanical curtain rods above my head, while balancing on a 6 foot ladder, with the best of the building supers for endless amounts of time, or at least long enough for them to shift these back into place, which surprisingly can run up into minutes.
I see my muscles ripple (not like crazy) in the mirrored room of my “Ass & Abs” and “Chisel,” and even though I still need to modify many many of the exercises to make up for a weak core, I’m happy with my overall strength, and I kick ass in any exercises involving my legs.
I feel really good in my clothing (as long as it’s a menagerie of loose or soft sweats, tees, tanks, shorts, and leggings). I don’t look in the mirror and feel ashamed as I used to in college, of my muffin top.
And for now, that is just what I need.
The next step, if there is one, is just getting stronger. My instructors regularly kick my ass in my classes, especially with Core-centric workouts. Side planks are a near impossibility, but I will get there, with being able to support my own body weight while performing one of these and then lifting weights.
It’s been a long journey, and I still binge, but it’s better, and in a world where we are told to eat one way or another, but then plyed with all the shitty, processed food that exists out there + large portions + GMO foods, I am doing my best to keep a grip on what’s best for me.