Made To Order
The summer before eighth grade was life changing. I discovered exercise and fell in love with it. Before that, I was always chubby and the last one picked for team sports. After school each day, Iíd just park myself in front of the TV to watch old movies.
Iíd been taking fun courses in summer school for the past two years. With home economics and art behind me, the only elective left was P.E. so I checked that box. I donít know what I was thinking, because P.E. had never been a pleasure for me.
The night before summer school began, I had a nightmare. I saw myself standing on the sidelines while the skinny kids played ball for two hours. I had to force myself to get out of bed that morning. I trudged to class filled with dread.
My teacher was a pleasant surprise. Not the drill sergeant I expected, he was around thirty, trim, dark-haired, and friendly. Best of all, he seemed fair to each of us regardless of our weight or physical abilities. Day one established our three-part routine: calisthenics, track, then team sports. Relief swept over me with the knowledge that the majority of each dayís class would not involve being picked or, in my case, being passed over.
My regular school had P.E. just once a week for a half hour. Here, the first thirty minutes, the calisthenics, was just the warm-up. Following the jumping jacks, sit-ups, toe-touches, etc., I felt invigorated for track, though it was more of a walk than a run for me. Finally, miracle of miracles, I was accepted, and not ostracized, for softball, volleyball, badminton and every other sport we played.
After my first day of fear and uncertainty, I woke up eager to get to class for the rest of that summer. Each day I returned home with newfound energy. Along the way, without ever counting a calorie, I lost fifteen pounds.
In September, when I began eighth grade, I was bombarded by compliments on my weight loss. I weighed 115 and everyone told me I looked good. I started to think Iíd look even better if I got down to 100 pounds.
Then I became obsessed. I started giving away my lunch every day at school. I fed my dog under the table when I was home. I counted every calorie. I kept lowering the number Iíd consume, until I got below 500 calories a day. Apples and celery became my staples. I derived my enjoyment of brownies and cookies vicariously as I watched friends and family devour them.
By Christmas, I was down to 100 pounds and not looking healthy. During her annual visit, my Aunt Julia was shocked by the change in my appearance and told my mom that I looked like Iíd been in a concentration camp.
Mom was busy with my sisterís wedding, planned for January 27th. She was sewing all the bridesmaidsí gowns and making their hats as well. Her fuse was short and when sheíd yell at me to come to the table for dinner, Iíd hide under my bed or in the closet.
I continued dieting. By eighth grade graduation, I was down to 89 pounds. My arms were like toothpicks. I had so little energy that I was usually leaning against something rather than standing up straight.
Freshman year, I met Richard, a sophomore, at my first high school dance. Though pale and gaunt, I thought I looked like a model. His interest in me reaffirmed my new confidence in myself.
I was stunned when, a month into our relationship, Richard told me I was too skinny and ought to put on some weight. I thought I was in love and wanted to do whatever made him happy. In this case, I decided eating fries and drinking shakes would do it. It didnít seem like such a bad idea.
Eating what my friends ate was fun, and soon I was back up to 100 pounds. I wasnít able to stop there though. Once I began eating, I felt better, less moody, and happier. It was as though Iíd been mentally ill while I starved myself and now I couldnít go back to that deprivation.
My tiny clothes were replaced by larger sizes. Richard started criticizing my weight for being too high. Heíd look at me in disgust and say, ďYouíre getting fat!Ē
After games and dances, while everyone devoured hamburgers, fries and hot fudge sundaes, Richard would humiliate me by ordering me a side salad and a Diet Coke. I never protested, hoping that his efforts to control me would go unnoticed.
My rebellion would strike right after he dropped me off. Iíd raid the kitchen. We didnít have much to munch on in the way of packaged cookies or chips. Instead Iíd make cookie dough and eat it raw. Or whip up a bowl of frosting and eat it without any cake. The pounds kept piling on. When I surpassed my previous all-time high, I quit stepping on the scale.
Sophomore year I surrounded myself with supportive people, most decades older than me, in a Weight Watcherís class. I learned about sensible eating. It worked until I lost enough weight to earn the compliments I longed for. As soon as I looked good, I stopped following the program. Soon I was back to my out-of-control binge eating.
Junior year I skipped both breakfast and lunch, which led to my biggest weight gain. I started eating at 4 P.M. and didnít quit until I fell asleep. Jeans were out and I replaced them with long, baggy dresses that I used as cover-ups.
After high school graduation, I attended our local state college. Parking was expensive and sparse. I rode my bike to school out of necessity, but found myself feeling firmer and more energized as well. Eating breakfast was a must if I was to maintain my focus in my early morning classes, especially statistics. I carried apples and bananas in my backpack to snack on between classes.
Without counting calories, I got back down to 140 pounds and made the final break with my always-critical boyfriend. Free of his control, I realized Iíd never felt as self-conscious about my weight as I did when he was demanding me to be a certain size and ordering my food. Without the outside pressure, I took charge of my food choices and fitness level. I felt reconnected to my body much like I had at the end of my P.E. summer. This time I dropped another ten pounds and maintained the loss while enjoying swimming and dancing.
The urge to binge lessened. I wondered how Iíd downed all that cookie dough and frosting. I didnít beat myself up over it though.
The last time I ran into Richard, he asked why I never looked this good when we were together.
I shrugged. I guess Iím just not "made to order.Ē
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life