Do you ever sit across the table from someone at a restaurant and watch them order whatever they want on the menu and feel sheer envy, wishing you could do the same thing? Wishing you were them? How did we pull the short straw when it came to food, dieting and weight? Why are we so screwed up, those people who can’t just order the French Fries like the rest of the world?
This jealousy often happens to me at breakfast time as well. I’ll watch someone eat a bagel for breakfast and just wish I could do the same. After all, I can’t eat bagels. Someone like me can’t eat bagels. This admiration of people who can eat whatever they desire usually takes me to the “poor me” space where I let myself have a five to ten minute pity party as I open my Chobani and pour in fiber sprinkles.
Knowing everything in life has a point of origin, I decided to rack my brain and try to remember my earliest food memory. My rationale, if I relive this, is that I’ll have a better understanding of what shapes my thoughts and feelings surrounding food.
As I let my mind time travel I made it all the way back to 9 years old. This is when I started my very first diet. If my memory serves me correctly, I put myself on this diet because someone called me fat on the school bus. I remember the school bus being very crowded that day and all the kids needed to sit three to a seat. To make matters worse, I was sitting in the seat with the goddamn wheel so my knees were already up in my chest. Still to this day in the rare chance I find myself on a school bus, I avoid that seat. I remember it was a boy who called me fat. I don’t remember what he looked like, his name and I couldn’t even tell you if we were in the same grade; but what I do remember is that he said, very loudly, he would have more room if I weren’t so fat. Ouch. I still shutter thinking of the sheer embarrassment I felt in that moment. It was the longest ride of my life. I came home that day, cried in my mother’s arms and put myself on a diet.
I don’t hate that boy. Kids can be cruel, he didn’t know any better.
My 9-year-old diet wasn’t like most diets today, but in my 9-year-old mind, it made perfect sense. It went like this; instead of eating the two Strawberry Pop tarts in the package, I’d have just one. I’d then put the second, in all its foiled perfection, back in the panty for the following day. I’d limit myself to just one bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, not two. I’d pack my lunch myself, the night before, to monitor my intake. My lunch had the same thing everyday; 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich and 1 side, usually an apple or a small zip lock baggie of pretzels. At dinner; I’d eat whatever my family was serving, but just one serving. My little diet also consisted of what are known as present day “cheat days” in that I would eat whatever I wanted on special occasions. I remember those cheat days vividly as I’d usually end up sick. Looking back, that was pretty good thinking for a 9 year old. In fact as I’m taking my trip down memory lane I’m wondering if I should go back on that diet, especially with all the new Pop tart flavors. I digress.
While on this diet, I remember sitting at the lunch table and hoping none of the other girls would notice that my lunch was smaller than theirs. Right then, dieting became my dirty little secret.
I lost all my baby weight during that first diet. I felt good, great actually. I loved the compliments I received from family who hadn’t seen me in a while, I loved the way my clothes fit and I was so proud of my discipline. But I was naive in thinking that I had solved the problem of being “the fat girl on the bus.” The reality is, I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten off that first diet; because, many of the things I still do today mimic my childhood diet, emotionally and physically.
Fast forward to now being 30 when it’s absolutely insane to think that I have been dieting for over 20 years. I know some people reading this have been dieting for even longer than me.
That being said, does that mean that all of us who struggle with weight related issues have been on a diet everyday of our lives; yet, 20 years later we STILL have ten more pounds to lose?! Oh dear God, that math is enough to pump the breaks.
So why are we still dieting? For many of us we aren’t even capable of “not being on a diet.” It causes sheer panic, uncomfortable feeling, and we immediately feel out of control.
But we must ask ourselves, are we dieting for ourselves or for others? What does losing weight REALLY mean? Are we still scared someone is going to call us fat? What are we trying to protect ourselves from? What is that first memory that shapes who you are and what you feel surrounding food?
Even though we grow, we change; the core of us is still that 9-year-old girl who is only allowed one Pop tart at breakfast. And although I think of her fondly, it’s time to tell her that no one can hurt her anymore. She’s safe. And losing weight will never be a means to the end.
We should all try, today, as hard as we possibly can, to shed the shame of these memories . . . instead embrace them, and get off that very first diet, forever. We can do it!
Here she is in all her glory: