My default position was that I was not fat, I did not overeat, and I only ate health food. None of these beliefs were true, but I am an extremely stubborn person and I was not prepared to change my mind. I believed the same things that many women believe: that any discussion about weight was 100% about appearance; that the beauty myth was a tool of the oppressor; that my weight was nobody’s business but my own; that going to the gym was for ninnies; and that any limits on what I ate would automatically cause some kind of psychological damage.
Now that I’ve come out the other side of the weight loss process, I can spot patterns in my behavior and thought processes that were not evident to me at the time. My weight has ranged back and forth over a 35-lb continuum several times in the last 20 years. I never purposefully set out to gain or lose weight; it always “just happened” as a result of some change in my life, and usually I wouldn’t notice until someone said something (loss) or I had to buy new clothes (gain), and maybe not even then.
I had a cancer scare at age 23. A nodule developed on my thyroid gland that caused a constant tickle in my throat and made it impossible to speak when I was lying on my back. I had an actual goiter that is visible in photos. Around the same time, I had my first migraine and got diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Good times. In retrospect, I’m pretty certain the migraine and the FM are related to the thyroid disease, but that was the 90s and nobody suggested it at the time. The other thing I have noticed in retrospect is that my symptoms are directly tied to my weight and my activity level. The more weight I gain, the more often I have migraines and flare-ups, the worse the pain, and the longer it lasts. The more sedentary I am, the more weird symptoms I get, like developing a bald patch or being chilly when it’s 75 degrees out. I’ve always been in the “normal” range for thyroid hormones, but I can pull out test results from the extreme low end to near center range, and they chart well with my energy level and activity level during those time periods.
We had a weird year in 2013. Had to move four times in three different cities. I gained 17 pounds, because apparently I believe that putting things in my face helps handle stress, and my health collapsed. I was screaming and slapping myself in my sleep, migraines were happening every week, and I started having FM flare-ups for the first time in many years. Also, none of my pants would button. I knew that if I kept my weight under 135 (BMI of 23), I didn’t get migraines, so that was my weight goal. But in practice, that meant 135 was always my low weight and I was constantly slipping upward. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing that caused me to keep gaining weight. I was done and ready to change. But how?
We hit the New Year and I decided on “Do the Obvious” as my slogan for the year. This was a broad-spectrum strategy, and health and fitness were only part of the game board. It struck me that “the obvious” for weight loss would be to choose a target weight, rather than trying to stay below a maximum weight. So I Googled “healthy weight for 5’4” woman.” Every search result I found turned up the same weight of 120 pounds. Okay, I thought, I know I can easily gain a pound a day and keep it, so if I feel somehow “too thin” at 120 I’ll just eat more for a while. The worst-case scenario would be that I would spend a few days being a little scrawny.
The end result of the experiment was that I felt FREAKING AWESOME at 120. Awesome in a way I’d never felt before. The last time I was at that weight, I was 12 and two inches shorter, so I had no way of knowing. I gained back 8 lbs while I was training for my marathon, hit my highest weight in six months the morning after Marathon Day, and then had to quit running for 7 months. I lost the training weight while sitting around on the couch icing my ankle. What I learned was that “healthy weight for my height” feels about 10x better than “default weight I thought was normal.” I learned that diets do work if you’re ready to make a permanent change. I learned that maintaining a healthy weight is 1000x easier than trying to manage extreme fluctuations. I learned that exercise doesn’t really have any impact on weight loss. I learned that my past eating patterns were dysfunctional and made my life harder. I learned that size zero clothes are really hard to find, especially if you aren’t a teenage girl and don’t want to dress like one. I learned that being perceived as a “have” makes other women feel like they have the right to swear at you and give you dirty looks. I learned that my beliefs about lifestyle, health, fitness, and nutrition make me a heretic. But I’m a heretic who can do pull-ups and run a marathon, and I haven’t had a migraine in nearly two years.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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