When I entered puberty and started to get hips and boobs, my parents cautioned me against gaining too much weight. When we went clothes-shopping, Mom always had me start by trying on clothes that were my old size, that were too small, only then could I try one size larger. She only got me clothes that fit me exactly right. I grew quickly, which meant that my clothes quickly became too small. I got used to wearing clothes that were uncomfortably tight. I thought it was because I was fat. (At 14, I was at my adult height of 5' 6", and weighed maybe 130 pounds dripping wet.)
Once when I was 15 I tried on a dress that was a size 12, and it was too big. It felt so strange to wear something that was too big. It felt... comfortable! I liked it! I tried to convince my mom to buy it for me, and she refused. She said it made me look "dutchy" and poor, like I was wearing hand-me-downs. We argued, but I ended up getting the same dress in a size 8. It was a little too tight. Mom said I just needed to get a little more exercise and it would fit me perfectly. But my boobs were still getting bigger, so the dress became impossible to wear within a few months.
I grew up in a weird combination of food scarcity and food overabundance. My parents didn't have much money, so my Mom drew on her public health nurse's training to devise nutritious and inexpensive meals that could be made quickly and easily. This usually meant not very tasty meals. We had cheap stick margarine, generic mashed potato flakes, day old white bread, reconstituted non-fat dry milk, and canned vegetables. On the other hand, we always had a lot of non-tasty food available. And my Mom is a good cook, when she's working with good ingredients, so we had a fair amount of delicious food too.
I clearly remember the first time I tasted real butter. Heaven. It took me years to try fresh spinach, and I was amazed to realize that it was nothing like horrible yucky canned spinach.
Nobody was allowed to waste food. There would be terrible battles over eating food. My brother did not like peas. My Mom would insist that he eat them. He learned how to hide peas in his cheeks, then leave the table and spit them out behind the sofa. This worked for a month or so, then Mom pulled the sofa out from the wall to vacuum behind it, and found a mound of dried-up old peas.
The worst of the battles were over my sister Liz. She was always being forced to eat things she hated, like eggs and various vegetables. She was not allowed to refuse a serving of eggs or spinach or beets. And she was not allowed to leave the table until she ate it. She spent many, many Saturday morning hours crying at the kitchen table, trying to force down a fried egg. But she was also "the fat one", and not allowed to eat things like noodles or pudding.
We did not have junk food in the house. We had desserts like jello with fruit cocktail, banana pudding, or apple brown betty; snacks were healthy things like celery with peanut butter and raisins, or graham crackers. For parties we had home-made cookies. For special occasions we'd get home-made trail mix, often raisins and peanuts and carob chips.
So when I was a teen and earning my own money, I spent most of it on junk food, methodically trying every single flavor of every brand of chip and soda and snack cake and popsicle and candy bar. When I was supposed to buy my lunch at school, I bypassed the cafeteria food and got Fritos and ice cream instead. That was my standard lunch all through high school: Fritos and ice cream. My Mom would have had a fit if she knew. I never told her.
At college I lived off chocolate bars and hard candies. I'd have a pot of coffee and a large chocolate bar for breakfast, and a handfull of hard candies for lunch. When I cooked dinner, though, at first I followed the pattern I'd learned at home. Start with an inexpensive iceberg lettuce salad, followed by a canned soup, then a meal with lots of vegetables, and a fruit dessert. But after the first year of college I lived with my boyfriend (who I eventually married) and he used to refuse to eat "leaves". He didn't care for my apple betties, either, or canned tomato soup. I made a lot of grilled meat and potatoes.
When I was 19 I wore a size 10 wedding dress that had to be taken in at the waist. I thought I was fat, because my boobs were so big and at 145 pounds I weighed near the top of "normal range" for my height. I went on a crash diet for a while, to get down to 125 pounds. At that weight I looked like a Barbie doll, with D-cup breasts on a stick figure. My hip bones and ribs showed, and I was hungry all the time, but according to the charts I was right in the middle of "normal" weight for 5'6".
I rebounded. I gained it all back plus some. I enjoyed not having to diet during my pregnancies, when I could justify my eating. I gained 60 pounds or more with each pregnancy. I'd diet after the baby was born, but I'd always end up gaining back even more than I'd lost. I stopped dieting. When I was clinically depressed a few years ago I lost weight, but when I was just stressed out and anxious I ate for comfort and gained even more. I weigh 280 pounds now.
I spent many, many years rebelling against the attitudes towards food and fat that I'd picked up as a child. I always had candy in the house. I wore loose clothing. I felt fat-positive. If anyone criticized my weight, I'd point out that I was healthy. I had low blood pressure, low cholesterol, and healthy blood sugar levels. I could walk for miles and lift heavy loads.
But within the last couple of years that has changed. I have developed glucose intolerance, and if I lose weight I'll reduce the chance of developing diabetes within a few more years. (There is diabetes in the family.) Also, if I lose weight I'll be able to put off having knee surgery. I can no longer walk very far without my knees hurting. I can't dance more than a few minutes at a time without losing my breath or my knees hurting. I still have low cholesterol but my blood pressure is inching up; if I don't lose weight it will probably keep going up.
I don't like exercise. It's boring, and I hate the slimey feel of sweat on my skin. I need to do it, though, if I want to gain muscle and lose fat. I need to eat more vegetables and less sugar, to keep my glucose levels healthy. I hate being hungry.
And it feels like cheating to start restricting what I eat, to go back to the childhood regimen of healthy food and worrying about weight. It has been good for me to think about this. It has been good to participate in the Incendiary Food projuct, to see what I really eat and also to see what other people really eat, with no cover-up.
(crossposted to incendiaryfood)