The Girl in the Mirror Grows Up

I didn’t understand how I got there:  mid-forties, and seeing numbers on my scale and in my clothing that I hadn’t seen since I was pregnant.  I was living my adolescent and young adult terror of being what my grandmother used to euphemistically call “heavy.”

On an intellectual level, I know that I was not “heavy,” that my height and weight combination gave me a 21.9 body mass index (BMI) – perfectly normal and healthy, but I was used to being firmly in the “underweight” BMI category.  I was used to wearing a certain size clothing, and seeing two or even–gasp!–three sizes higher than that threw me into fits of insecurity and brought forth in me an irrational need for self-flagellation.

After being told I was underweight and it would be difficult for me to get pregnant at my weight, I gained twenty pounds. Gulp. Once I  got pregnant, I then gained another eighty-five pounds (no, that is not a typo!) during my pregnancy, but after my son was born and I was breastfeeding, I dropped all one hundred plus pounds within six months.

Yoga, walking and a busy lifestyle kept me thin, and while my over-forty friends complained of slow metabolisms, I held steady between 110-115 lbs.  Then my son began to get more independent, my family started requiring more of my time and energy, financial issues started requiring more of my time to be spent working, and my life hit a few major snags brought on by my father-in-law’s death and nasty litigation.**

That’s when the time I was able to devote to staying fit decreased and my weight started to creep up slowly.  That’s when my normal jean size began creeping up one inch at a time.  That’s when gravity started catching up with me.

So there I was.  I know how I got there, but on a visceral level, I didn’t understand how.  My entire life, my whole manner of living, had always focused on staying thin, and as I got older, staying fit and healthy while being thin.  I shuddered at the thought of venturing into a gym the way I looked and felt at that time, but I was caught in a catch-22:  while I knew I needed a gym and classes to motivate me and peers to hold me accountable, I didn’t want either until I was back in shape or dropped at least twenty pounds.  I loathed that I had to buy clothes because I could no longer fit into the majority of what was in my closet, but I refused to squeeze into too-small clothing because it looked horrible and made me feel worse about myself.

I found myself counting calories, something I hadn’t done since the height of my battle with anorexia.  I was counting and mentally tallying everything that went into my mouth, then beating up myself if I succumbed to the siren call of Dairy Queen or the Gifford’s Lobster Tracks sitting in my freezer.  I threw chia seeds into and onto all my food in vain attempts to make myself feel full.

Our refrigerator was stuffed with yogurt and fruits and vegetables, our pantry full of granola and low glycemic index foods.  Of course, given that I live with a junk food junkie, there is a lot of “bad” stuff in there, too, but since eating it made me (and still makes me) want to worship at the altar in my water closet, I was and remain pretty adept at avoiding it.

At that time, I turned away from looking in the mirror because I didn’t recognize the woman I saw there.  I didn’t see the woman I know I was and still am; instead, I saw someone I never wanted to become.  I saw the caricature of the suburban mother and harried housewife that the media so often portrays, and not in a positive light.

So I stopped looking. I stopped doing anything that didn’t feel right. I was tired of being angry at myself, of chastising myself.

And I started. Walking. Eating only when I was hungry instead of at socially predetermined times for the classic three meals a day. Drinking more water and fewer cups of coffee. Cutting sugar out of my diet little by little.

And here I am.

Five years later, back to feeling like myself again.

My body is still different than it was in my 20s and 30s, but now it’s different because I’ve carried, given birth to, and nourished a child. Now it’s different because feeling strong is more important than what size my jeans are. Being healthy is the most important thing to me now.

I want to be healthy–to experience life with my family, to see my son grow and to watch him build a fulfilling life for himself, to watch him find happiness and love in all that he does.

So now I eat what feels right, what makes me feel healthy. Now I move my body when it wants to move, and I rest when it tells me to stop. Now I live for myself and not for some artificially imposed definition of what is good for a woman–of a certain age or of any age.

** Fortunately, the financial issues and the litigation have been largely resolved by some hard work and by some amazing individuals determined to suss out the truth about our situation and rectify a long-standing injustice.  However, I have not yet figured out a way to bring back my husband’s beloved father.  If I do ever figure out that particularly thorny issue, you will likely find me traveling the world in search of the perfect beach, because I’ll be in much demand as a re-animator.

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