It's a question I ask myself frequently. Multiple times per day, in fact: whenever I think about eating; whenever I have difficulty breathing; whenever I feel completely exhausted. And these are all things that happen frequently during my waking hours.
If I'm going to be committed to changing my lifestyle and breaking free of this emotional hunger that presents itself as a "need" to eat, I should get to know the history behind my eating habits. Shall we journey back to the beginning?
I would say I was a fairly average sized child up until the age of 9 or 10. I remember my body starting to change (hm, this sounds like a health class video) and putting on some weight. I'm not sure if this is related, but it was also around the time my grandparents moved back to NJ from Florida. I'm told my grandmother was a food pusher, but could that really be the reason I started to plump up? In reality, it was probably a combination of things: my body getting ready for puberty, a "clean your plate" mentality, little concept of healthy foods or snacks (6 Oreos swimming in a giant glass of milk were not an uncommon snack to me), and my affinity to sit and read The Babysitter's Club rather than play tag or kick ball.
I distinctly remember the first time I ever considered my weight. And by "considered," I mean I was completely disgusted. I was in the 4th or 5th grade and we were doing the Presidential Fitness Test. It may have changed over the years. I'm 27 now and this happened when I was 9 or 10, so who knows. But here's what happened back in my day: We were tested on several activities (which I think were pretty similar to what's tested now, if not identical) and we were also escorted into a semi-private area of the gym where we were individually weighed and measured for both height and body fat percentage.
I don't recall how tall I was. Maybe 4'10" ish. (I'm totally pulling this out of the air. I really have no idea, except that I know I've been 5'3" ish since I was 14 or so.) But I remember weighing in at 108 lbs. At 10 years old! I cringed as my gym teacher took out those white plastic calipers and pinched my fat between them. In my mind, the damage was done. I was 10 years old, under 5 feet tall (most likely), and weighed over 100 lbs. It didn't matter what those calipers said, I already knew the truth: I was fat!
It wasn't long until the idea of dieting planted itself in my head. But as I mentioned, I was 10 and had no idea of what was actually healthy. One day, I was in the grocery store with my mom and saw an issue of Seventeen magazine. On the cover were triplets. They were stunning, with shimmering blond hair and bright blue eyes. Also on the cover was a story about "great new diet." I don't remember if the diet had anything to do with the triplets (probably didn't), but I think I correlated in my mind that if I followed the diet, I'd look like them. I insisted my mother buy me the magazine so I could follow the diet. It wasn't anything like current fads where it specifically said you should eliminate a food group. It also didn't teach anything about nutrition.
Rather, it had meal plans clearly outlined for 7 days. I'm not sure if I tried to get through a couple of days, or if I gave up right then and there. After all, I was 10. I had no control of the grocery shopping, meal planning, or cooking, so how was I supposed to really follow a plan that specifically laid out everything I was supposed to eat? I guess it's best to get your first diet fail over with when you're young and can bounce back, right?
Over the next few years, I grew a few more inches and started to become more... proportionate. I don't remember the insecurities getting any worse in middle school, and I think they may have even subsided for a couple of years. But by the time I was 15 or 16, I felt fat again. In retrospect, I was a healthy weight. I maybe could have used some guidance on how to tone up, or how to eat well, but our gym class was more focused on teaching us the rules of certain sports and our health classes were focused on first aid or why drinking is bad. And I definitely didn't get the necessary tools for a balanced diet from home. So for about half of high school, I pretty much ate whatever, but whined that I thought I was fat.
And then college happened. I insisted that the Freshman 15 was brought on by too much beer and pizza. And since I didn't drink, it would be a problem. I'd have no beer, and wouldn't want drunken 3am pizza. Well, I really didn't drink at all in college (until I turned 21, a month before graduation), but I still loved some late night (buffalo chicken) pizza. Oh, and you know what has just as much calories as beer? Soda! And while my friends were binge drinking on liquor and beer, I was binge drinking Vanilla Coke.
That was my freshman year. I don't know how much, if any, weight I gained. My second year was when I learned that I eat my emotions. I was taking 18 credits, including a super stressful, very involved honors course. I was working as much as I could, as well. And I was living in a 3 bedroom on-campus apartment with 5 other women. Put 6 women together for any extended period of time, and it's almost inevitable that drama will follow. So in November (with most of the year left to go) the serious roommate drama started. Between the drama, a ridiculous schedule, multiple deaths, and more, I found myself eating my way through a fairly significant depression. By the end of that year, I was at my (then) heaviest weight ever, about 35 lbs heavier than when I'd graduated high school.
That summer, I joined Weight Watchers Online and fell in love with the program. It finally taught me about how/what to eat, how to incorporate treats, etc. In 9 months, I'd lost almost 40 lbs! I felt great. I looked great. My confidence was through the roof. I walked with my head held high, and I'm pretty sure I left rainbows and unicorns in my wake. I was simply on top of the world.
After I hit my goal, I discovered the joys of eating real foods. I had no fear of fats or carbs or anything. I somehow managed to embody the idea of moderation. And I learned to actually enjoy working out. I was a totally different person. Just thinking about the person I was back then makes me nostalgic. I want her back! That was truly one of the best versions of myself I have ever known. There are definitely certain things I've developed since then, and I think if you took those things and combined them with the rest of that person from 2005-2007, I'd be ... well, I'd be totally awesome!
So what happened to that Stacey? Where did I lose that version of myself? Stress. I started grad school, came down with mono, got into a horrible car accident (I still thank God regularly that I walked away with just a sprain and a bruise), got into a new relationship, changed jobs, tried to balance work-school-romance-friends, changed jobs again, new job went Chapter 11, new job decided to close doors, decided to speed up MBA program, finished MBA and lost job 2 weeks later, was unemployed for 3.5 months, was helping my mom recover from surgery since I had no job, was interviewing for job after job to no avail, finally started another new job, have had multiple direct sales businesses in addition to full time jobs (the current one is where I belong, I love it!), had plenty of good times, bad times, happy times, sad times, and just about everything in between.
That time line starts in Sept 2006. By the following fall, I had regained all I had worked so hard to lose. I vowed to lose it all in 2008. I lost 10, gained 10. 2009, 2010, 2011 repeat. Except this year, I regained those 10 pounds about 3 times instead of just once. And I realized that I've been eating not just my stress, but my celebration, my fatigue, my boredom, just about any emotion or feeling you could thing of. I've been self-medicating with frozen pizzas, doughnuts, and candy. I've been binge eating. I've been eating in secret. My body is so out of whack. I'm always tired. Always. I have trouble breathing just from walking up a few flights of stairs. I can't even find the energy, let alone the desire, to exercise regularly.
It may take me a while to get my old self back, but I'm sure I can do it. As of last week, I was 191 lbs, so I need to lose at least 50 lbs just to be in a healthy weight range. I'm thinking for more like 55-60. My birthday is 5 months away, and I think it's reasonable that I could be half way there by then. I'm ready to tackle whatever mental and emotional blocks I have that keep me in this body.
It's time for a transformation!