Throughout most of my life I’ve been considered a “heavy” person. From childhood into my college years I associated food with comfort and family. I always looked forward to meals prepared by my grandmother, although probably unhealthy at times, and she loved cooking for me. Growing up in Puerto Rico food was equivalent to a healthy family dynamic. Meals brought everyone together and provided a time for sharing and bonding. I also also grew up in a society that valued image. A woman who was overweight was often considered lazy or simply uncaring of herself. It became increasingly difficult for me to balance two great cultural influences.
I always looked up to models, artists, and actresses whose figures I envied. I knew their eating habits probably differed greatly from my own, but they never had the privilege of tasting my grandmothers lasagna. I often became depressed and self conscious about my looks. Going to school or walking around town triggered thoughts of self-loathing and disappointment. Eventually I came to believe that I Would never be “beautiful” by society’s standard. I was a heavy girl and would always remain so.
My demeanor in college was always confident and assured, but secretly I wished I could find a way to change my figure. I dieted, exercised, and tried supplements but nothing gave me the results I wanted. I reached my lowest point (and heaviest at 210lbs) last summer. It became painfully obvious that I was using food as a way to dull whatever sadness and pain I was feeling. Sometime in July I was laid off. I was yet another victim of a poor economy and my world went into a spin. I not only had to deal with a damaged self-image but I was now unemployed as well. In my mind I became the stereotypical fat lazy person, even though it was the farthest thing from the truth. I vowed to change everything in my life at that moment.
My daily diet drastically changed. I went from eating about 3000 calories a day to 800. I exercised 4 times a week and drank mostly water. Everyday I reminded myself I was fat. This daily self-deprecating behavior led me to view food as a an evil necessity, my enemy. As my calorie intake became more obsessively controlled my stress level rose. Food was on my mind constantly. Nutritional information became my bible. The less calorie content the better. Soon the weight started coming off quickly. I avoided the scale for months and allowed my shrinking waist to be my guide. In nine months I went from a size 14 to a size 5. A grand total of 87lbs lost.
I was rewarded with positive comments from my co-workers, family, and friends. Most of them could not hide their shock having become used to seeing me overweight for most of my life. I felt pleased at my accomplishment, but through the compliments I sensed worry and trepidation. Through their smiles I saw genuine concern. I began to self asses the events that had transpired in those nine months.
I remembered during that time experiencing my first panic attack. It was the single most terrifying moment of my life. In my ignorance I was forced to call 9-1-1 as I believed myself to be at death’s door. I had tunnel vision and extreme chest pain. An ambulance visit later I was given a clean bill of health and advised to see a medical professional for anxiety. I was truly taken aback. How could it be all in my head?
The days following my attack I was in a state of continual heightened stress. Having another panic attack terrified me. I had difficulty concentrating and simply being “happy.” I was not aware that through this ordeal I reduced my eating even more. Some days ago I was approached by someone close to me and informed of their concern for my health. They believe I suffer from an eating disorder. It is in fact true that I obsess over my weight, but having lived many years not caring about my diet I think I can afford to be a little strict now. I also tell myself that I am still within a healthy weight range for my height. I am 5″3 and 120lbs on any given day. Just the fact that I am now able to actually confess to my weight is an achievement in itself.
But there are times when I do worry. Am I really experiencing the beginnings of an eating disorder? I eat 2 meals a day, about 4 cups of tea with honey for relaxing, and probably at least 2 pieces of chocolate as well (I will never give up chocolate! lol). But some of the people around me say my portions are too small or that I’m starving myself. I don’t know what to think. I believe myself to be a healthy adult (aside from severe anxiety and the like). What to do? I simply do not know.
I’ve visited a doctor recently and no mention was made of a weight problem, then again this was not the same generalist I had seen for years. He was not aware of my dramatic weight loss. I’ll admit, I’m a stubborn person when it comes to asking for help, but what am I to do when I do not believe I have need of asking?
The media and society idolize beauty and slender figures, yet they also demonize too much strictness. I feel as though I will never be able to win this image battle. I’m either to heavy or too obsessive with my diet. I wish they would just make up their minds. In the meantime I will enjoy a piece of dark chocolate and hope for the best.
Ah chocolate, what a lovely mistress you are!