Origins of my lifelong struggle with weight

I’ve been struggling to answer a question my sister asked me over a month ago:

How does the journey seem to you?  How are you making yourself ready to be that size?  It seems like you almost have to go back to the age you were at that weight last and emotionally work through what has happened in your life since then, sort it out and put it in its place as the adult you are now—kinda like your body’s time clock of life.

The question has prompted me to explore the origins of my lifelong struggle with weight. My perception of myself has always been that of an overweight girl. How can I get myself to believe otherwise, to let my head catch up with my body?

As I delve into the past, I don’t want to have a victim mentality where I blame others for my choices. These are only possible reasons and influences for my struggles. Any blame for my excessive weight lies squarely on my shoulders: I have been the one who has put the food in my mouth. And sat on the sofa. Me alone.

Generational issues with weight: It started before I was even born…

Circa 1946: Mom and her little sister

My dear sweet Mom, God rest her soul, was probably the biggest influence on my attitude toward food and body image.

My Mom was eight years older than her little sister. Mom had to take care of her a lot, especially while their parents, who were heavy drinkers, went out and partied. Her mother and sister were thin, stylish and beautiful, while my Mom was stocky, sturdy and plain (only in her family’s eyes; I see photos of her growing up and think she was adorable).  She always felt like the oaf in the room who could never measure up.

Several years ago, my sister found a bunch of letters written to my Mom from my Grandma. My Mom was 19 years old and living with several girlfriends, just before she met and married my Dad at age 20. In those letters my Mom was nagged constantly about her weight:

  • 9/9/1954You must peel off a few more pounds and don’t forget to take your vitamins.”
  • 10/20/1954 “Now kiddo, you’re going to get bawled out, but good. If you don’t take of twenty pounds by Thanksgiving, we’re not taking you and Carol home with us. Now I mean it. Daddy was very disappointed when he saw you hefty again. Quit worrying about your job and you’ll not eat sweets.”
  • 11/15/1954 “Hi skinny! I hope. Are the pills working? They should, but be careful.”
  • 12/13/1954 “It was nice to see you even if it was for only a few minutes. You’re looking marvelous and we are so happy you’re not fat anymore. How are the pills holding out? I just hope you don’t always have to take them.”

You get the gist. It’s painful just transcribing it. Those are spirit wounding words. I could feel my Mom’s pain, knowing how she felt about herself back then. Our Mom never, ever, ever talked to us like that.

Check out this photo of my Mom at age 21, just after she had her first baby. And she felt fat.

My parents met at a dance, got engaged after one week, and married three months later.  They had seven kids. They were married for 52 years until my Mom died of Alzheimer’s in 2007.

My Dad dearly loved my Mom. However, about the same time my parents got married, my Dad’s brother married a cute, confident, petite woman with whom my Dad always compared my Mom. It was tough for Mom, going to family events and knowing my Dad wanted her to be more like his brother’s wife. It was a lifelong comparison in which my Mom always came up short.

Mom at her smallest size in many, many years, wearing her snazzy outfit and expressing her joie de vivre

Mom was always at war against her weight. In her 60’s, she finally found a diet that worked. At her new petite size, she was having a blast buying fun clothes and accessories. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2004 at age 68, she was at her lightest weight in probably 40 years.

My family of origin.

I’m the youngest of seven. Mom and Dad had three girls, three boys, then me. By the time I was eight, my sisters had moved out of the house and it was just me and the boys.

Mom and me (age 9) on a family trip

For the majority of my childhood, my Mom stayed at home to take care of us. We were so, so blessed to have her. Mom was my confidant when I got home from school, listening to me talk about my day over milk and cookies or cheese and crackers.  When I was a teenager, Mom and I watched soap operas together in the summertime — a guilty pleasure. When my Dad drove up our long driveway, we’d scramble to turn off the TV and start cleaning or cooking, as if that’s what we’d been doing all day. We’d smile at each other. We were complicit in our deception.

Me at age 7 scarfing on lemon meringue pie. It was Thanksgiving, after all. 🙂

We were a dessert-after-dinner family, so there was always cake or cookies in the house. I remember one time, Mom made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and they were gone before I got to have one. From that point forward, I always made sure I ate plenty as soon as they were out of the oven — just in case I didn’t get any later.

For a couple of years Mom worked at a cookie factory called Grandma’s Cookies. She’d bring home cases of the stuff. My favorite: chocolate mint — those wafer cookies with mint on top, covered in fudge.  My brothers and I would constantly badger her to let us have some. My exasperated Mom finally gave up. She put 10 cookies in a baggy and told us that’s all we could have for the entire day. I remember waking up the next morning, excited about getting another bag of cookies. I’d often finish them by noon. But I’d find a way to sneak into the freezer or cupboard to get more.

I remember my Mom saying to me, “You’re always thinking about your gut.” It was true.

I recently found a diary I wrote at age 10, in 1980. There were clues there… Even at an early age, food redeemed a bad day.

Today I had a terrible day. Even though it’s Sunday, I had to go to the Andersons (they are old people from church) with mom and dad. I was wasting a lot of time there too. I was just sitting around. We did get to have caramel corn today. We stopped at Dairy Queen. I got a dilly bar.

Oh, those brothers.

I always thought I was fat. Always. Despite looking back on family pictures and seeing evidence to the contrary. My brothers never let me forget.

This kid (me, age 7) was not fat.

One brother called me Hemisphere because, “You’re not as big as the whole world, but you’re as big as half of it.” It was sort of an affectionate nickname, but painful nonetheless. When I would walk across the floor, my brothers would yell, “Boom, boom, boom” in sync with my steps.  In adulthood, they have all apologized to me for any damage they may have done to me as a kid. (No worries, brothers! I’m over it. Love you guys!). Just thinking back on things…

As far as I can recall, when I was little, my Dad wouldn’t comment directly to me about my weight. He would say things like, “Put your shoulders back,” or “Stand up straight.” He’d make indirect comments about fat people in general — a not-so-subtle way to get his message across. It wasn’t until we were adults that Dad really started making comments directly to my sisters and me about our weight.

Kids can be so mean…

Me posing at age 13

In school, I wasn’t a nerd but I wasn’t super popular either. I didn’t get picked on and I had plenty of friends.  I played soccer from the third grade all the way through high school, but that was only about four months a year. I also played basketball from fifth through ninth grade. Those sports are probably what kept me from being an obese child.

At age 16, my legs were definitely getting thicker...

There were a handful of times when someone would comment on my weight — and about my butt, in particular. I remember those comments well because they were so painful.

1980, age 10. From my diary: “It’s getting harder and harder to like Stacey. She’s always being so mean. Today at basketball she goes, ‘You’ve got a big butt.’”

1982, age 12. On a trip to Victoria, Canada with my Mom and a sister, I was walking down the street by myself. An older boy I didn’t know hollered at me from a block away — a block away! He yelled, “You have a huge butt!”

1985, age 15. During a one-week summer soccer camp, I was only one of only two girls on an all-boy team. The team captain couldn’t see me standing behind a tall boy and asked my female teammate: “Where’s your fat friend?”

1987, age 17. Here’s a positive comment. : ) Going off to college, meeting new people, one girl asked me, “Are you an athlete?” I told her I played soccer. She said, “I thought so.”

Age 17, leaving home for college

1989, age 19. Going inner tubing down a river with a bunch of college friends. Behind me, a guy named Steve yells, “Jen!” I turn around. “What?” He says, “You have a big butt!” I tried keeping my butt under water after that.

So that brings us through the first two decades of the origins of my struggles with weight.

I’ll save the rest for another post…

Is this TMI? Too much info? Am I boring ya’all to tears?

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10 thoughts on “Origins of my lifelong struggle with weight

  1. I love your sister. What a fantastic question to ask and how brave of you to begin the answer. About 8 years ago I wrote my “food history” much like you are writing here. It really helped me to acknowledge patterns and thoughts I was unconsciously hanging on to. Thanks for sharing your journey here.

    • Thanks Cori! My sister is so wise. 🙂 She’s taught me so much through the years. All 3 of my sisters have. Thanks for your encouragement. I was nervous writing about this, but felt compelled to do so. Grateful for your comment! 🙂

  2. What a raw and honest post; thank you for sharing. It certainly made me reflect a lot of my “food history”, and how it’s so similar and yet so different from yours. My mom also struggled with her weight my entire life, but I didn’t have to worry about mine at all until I was in my 20’s. I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain a pound, but unfortunately that led to some very unhealthy food habits and addictions…

    I’m anxious to read more of your story! 🙂

    • Angie, I’m so happy this post resonated with you. I really want to think this stuff through… It really seems to matter. I’d love to read more about your food history if you ever want to share it… 🙂

  3. Jen, it was hard to read what you’ve already shared in part in person. What struck me most were the power of words, and how we remember. I may not have always struggled with my weight, but I always thought no one saw anything when they looked at me but my nose. I would always try to never show a profile. I too can remember things said and done, etched on my self-esteem like irreparable scratches on glass.

    It meant we had to, like mom, find our value in other aspects of ourselves. We are hard-workers, faithful to friends and loved ones, generous and sacrificing. We try to be kind and positive. Yet we are never allowed to forget that we don’t ‘measure up’ to the skinny, lovely standards of our culture.

    The standards of this culture will never change. The thin and beautiful (and now, I think: young) will always be preferred….. to be looked at. Can’t compete in that court; never have been able to. Never will.

    But there is the court of ‘being human.’ Of being human as humans were created to be. Your journey of sacrifice and struggle places you in the center of this path. Plod on.

    • Teri, so well said. Your comment gave me goosebumps. Thanks for knowing me so well. I love you sis! I love how you captured aspects about one other that we each share. What a great club to be part of!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I can’t help but wonder about the guy who told you that your rumpass was big … most guys like larger rumps than girls.

    My girls … tellin’ them they have a big butt is a complement! hahaha! That took some getting used too. 😀

    • It wasn’t until I met my husband that I learned it’s a great asset to have. 🙂

      As for the rest of the world… over the past decade or so, I think Jennifer Lopez has inadvertently raised appreciation for well endowed behinds… 🙂

  5. Thank you for your candor. Your story is so much like mine it is crazy! I will be starting lindora this week, I am scared. I am afraid of failing once again, you have given me some hope.

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