From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Weight in the Balance

Health is not a condition of matter, but of mind.

Mary Baker Eddy

“You’re having twins, aren’t you?” the woman at the checkout counter smiled and asked.

“No, just one,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said after a long pause, while she stared at my midsection. Then she turned abruptly and started stocking the shelves behind her.

Ms. Twins wasn’t the first person to ask that question during my pregnancy, nor was she the last. I attempted to brush off these comments and others like, “You shouldn’t wear such bright colors, dear.” Instead, I endeavored to bask in warm expectant-mother thoughts, but deep down the remarks hurt. I had a difficult time putting aside the feelings of shame and guilt that I’d felt about my weight since childhood.

I received my first diet book in junior high. My mother bought it for me because she worried over how much I “filled out” during puberty. People constantly referred to me as a “big girl.” A swim coach told me to work harder since I was solid and would drop like a stone to the bottom. One guy who tried to pick me up during vacation on a cruise-by said casually that he “liked big girls.”

The adolescent diet book was the first of many diets I tried throughout the years. Other diets included outright starvation (followed by bingeing, of course), pills, high fiber/grains, low-fat, no carbs, grapefruit, excessive exercise and the ever-popular divorce diet. I eventually came across a book on how people used weight gain as a buffer against events and situations in life. Armed with that knowledge, I started looking at my own life. When did I gain weight? When did I lose weight? What worked for me? I realized that I was an emotional eater. I ate to insulate myself against family friction, school and peer pressures, job stress, and unhappy relationships. Every major change in my life brought on scale tipping as well.

A few years ago, my life settled down into a steady routine. I joined a YMCA less than a mile from my home and signed up for kickboxing classes. By being vigilant, I learned how much I could eat versus how much exercise I needed to lose weight and then maintain it. No more yo-yoing up, up and down the scale. I thought I’d finally captured the balance. I felt great. I was in control. I was confident: I told myself I’d never be a “big girl” again. Then I left my job and my life as I knew it and moved back to my home state. My wonderful balance spun out of control. The combination of starting over, trying to reconform to family pressures after being away for a decade, and a whirlwind romance filled with wining, dining and ice cream sundaes with my soon-to-be husband took its toll on my newly balanced figure.

With the support of my husband, I searched for my balance again. I was heavier than I’d ever been in my life and it was a struggle. My weight yo-yoed slightly, and then I became pregnant. I was in bliss for most of the pregnancy (when people weren’t making comments), anticipating the birth of my child. I told myself that it was perfectly acceptable to be heavy while I was pregnant. I had a very important job to protect and nourish my unborn child.

I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. A bittersweet time followed. The joy of being a new mom was tinged in despair.My body ached.My feet hurt all the time. I felt so old and decrepit. For months I wouldn’t go anywhere without my daughter. I tried to justify my weight— I wasn’t just fat, I had a new baby. Hope for a quick weight loss from breastfeeding was dashed when the pounds crept down the scale agonizingly slowly, with long plateaus (contrary to what all the pregnancy books said). The old self-loathing came back as a new mantra. I felt frumpy, lumpy and wholly unattractive. My body seemed forever changed, and I was heavier than ever before.

After my daughter stopped nursing and began to eat regular food, I felt a shift inmy attitude as I focused on providing her with well-balanced meals. I realized that every bite counted for her. She couldn’t afford to eat wasted calories if she was going to get what she needed to grow. Her nutritional needs reminded me about balance—not only regarding food, but also physically and emotionally.

In the past I concentrated on the balance between exercise and eating for weight loss. That wasn’t enough incentive for me to stay in balance. The emotional aspect had been missing. This time around I wanted to be a good role model for my daughter. To do that I needed a gentler approach, an approach that I could live with for the rest of my life and not another quick fix. For instance, controlled portions included “nondiet” food, such as dried cranberries and toasted almonds in salads and, of course, chocolate, in small, daily doses.

Once my infant grew into a toddler, exercise became a day-by-day thing and could only be accomplished in smaller segments, like a half-hour yoga session or kickboxing video or a short walk with her around the neighborhood.

Progress has been slow and steady. I take one day at a time and continually ask myself: What do I want? What can I live with? What will keep me going? Is this something I want my daughter to emulate? This is my balance for now. I know I don’t have the perfect, end-all solution for the rest of my life. What I do have, though, is the perfect solution for me at this point in time, and I hope that I can weather future change well enough to stay the course and keep my balance. A funny thing has happened, too. I feel better, not just minus aches and pains, but I feel at peace with myself, and that truly is life in balance.

Laura Schroll

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