My issues with weight began very early in life. I was relatively normal until the first or second grade, at which time I started to outweigh other girls my age (and some of the boys!). Puberty hit before I hit age 10, and the horse left the barn at top speed!

Growing up, I was probably called names that other overweight children can probably identify with (some of which I still hear): “big-boned,” “heavy,” and even “fatso” (that one came from a relative who, during his lifetime, rarely if ever called me by my name).

When I started the fourth grade, I became a latchkey kid. This meant that no one was at home to monitor what I was eating, and I started to gain an average of eight to 10 pounds every year.

A few interesting things happened during the year I was in fifth grade: First, when my classmates and I went for our annual school physicals, I found out that I weighed 150 lbs. I had only turned 10 a couple months before, making me one of the youngest students in the class, and now I was one of the heaviest! Second, I started wearing juniors’/misses clothing that year, and I remember my mother taking me directly to the size 12 clothes. One Sunday I wore a very cute dress that I had recently worn to a birthday party to church. A girl in her upper teens or even her twenties ended up sitting in the same pew that day, wearing the very same dress! The difference between her dress and mine was that I was clearly wearing the larger size even though I was several years younger. Finally, I spent part of my summer that year in the South where I have relatives, and when I came home I became pen pals with one of my cousins. In one of her earlier letters she wrote to me, she noted that my hand-me-downs that my mom packed up and sent down periodically were too large either for her or my other cousin (they were 2-1/2 years older than I was).

By the end of the following school year I was up to 165 lbs. and I was inching my way into size 14 clothes. I attended a summer program that year and needed a swimsuit. My mom brought one home one night with all the colors of the rainbow. Her only explanation for bringing me such a monstrosity? “It was the largest one in the whole store.”

I also realized during this time that excess weight ages you. I remember walking from my aunt’s house to my church on a Sunday afternoon and getting catcalls from a truckload of grown men singing the latest Rick James song: “She was only 17, 17 … but she was sexy!” Hello, I was 12!

I graduated from the eighth grade two years later; I was still wearing size 14s even though by this time I had gained another 20 pounds (185). When I was in the seventh grade my parents separated and my mother started experimenting first with the Dick Gregory diet, then with Slim-Fast (which at this time was relatively new) … so I did too. When I came home from school, I ate lots of snacks, which was of no help to my waistline. During this time I remember that Lee jeans were extremely popular (as well as the matching jackets), and in the eighth grade I finally broke down and begged my dad for a pair. He obliged, but I wasn’t in them very long.

I started high school and my poor eating habits continued. I ate a light breakfast, but most days I wouldn’t eat lunch. Even with two lunch shifts, my small high school didn’t have enough seats for everyone assigned to that lunch period, so rather than risk a detention for getting caught eating in a classroom, I wouldn’t eat anything at all. After school, I was involved in a few activities, so I wouldn’t get home many days until 4 p.m., and then I went to the corner store and bought some canned pasta, a 16 oz. bottle of regular soda, and a package of cupcakes. Then my mom came home and made dinner, and I ate again. Naturally, I gained. Shopping for my clothes got harder - stores like Lane Bryant, Lerner Woman (predecessor to The Avenue) and Ashley Stewart had not reached our area yet, and my mother was apprehensive about me wearing clothes that came out of stores with names like Smart Size and 16 Plus (“a size, not an age”).

I attended a girls-only high school so I wasn’t really bothered by my weight during class, but getting home in the afternoons was a different story. In my sophomore year I was walking home one day and a school bus stopped at a red light. Some of the boys on the bus began spitting out of the window, and as the bus pulled off, one of them yelled, “Lose some weight!” Another time, I was in front of the school and a boy started making fun of my coat - it was a bulky swing design and when I made a comment about waiting for friends, he pointed to the coat as if to suggest they were hiding in it with me.

During one unsuccessful shopping trip with my mother when I was 15, I made a remark about wearing what my peers wore, and she said, in exasperation, “You have the body of an old woman.” Shortly after, I stopped wearing misses’ sizes for good; I thereafter entered the realm of custom-made clothing: lots of church outfits, a cotillion dress, and my senior prom gown.

Despite my weight issues and lots of stress, especially during my senior year, I did very well academically in high school. For the first time in seven years, my periods stopped, and I started getting skin rashes. When I was ready to go prom dress shopping, I went to a fashion show and was dismayed that I would not be able to get the dress I had my heart set on; the staff took my measurements and found that I couldn’t fit into their largest size (20) - I was too large in the bust (no surprise there) and the waist. They were willing to add material to the dress to make it fit - for a fee, of course, which nearly doubled the price of the dress.

I had to submit a medical form for the college I ended up attending and I had my exam just before graduation. I found out that I weighed 202 lbs. I wondered if the guys in the truck five years before would still find this 17-year-old sexy.

When I started college (as a 20W) I found out that I stopped breathing in my sleep - it drove my roommates to madness. I learned much later that this condition is called sleep apnea, that it is common in overweight and obese people, and that weight loss often improves the condition. I wish someone had the courage to suggest it then.

During my freshman year, I decided that I was interested in a particular organization, and in the spring I submitted my interest and was accepted. During that semester, a male student who lived in my dorm commented on how much weight I was losing (I never weighed myself so I never really found out how much) and that I had a secret admirer. I had an idea who it was, so I was determined to make things work in the fall.

Over the summer, I went to lots of social functions that involved food, and I got a job at a restaurant. One of the employee privileges was free drinks and I filled up my water bottle with lemonade and Dr. Pepper after every one of my shifts.

When I got back to school, it must have been obvious to everyone (other than me, of course) that I had gained all my weight back. The man I had my eye on was newly single, and I decided not to waste time being coy. Two weeks into the semester, no one approached me, so I finally broke down and asked my informant from the spring, “Who is this secret admirer?” He said, “I was just bugging [kidding].” As I walked away, I didn’t know who to be angrier at - him for getting my hopes up or me for being foolish enough to believe him. (Of course, I got nowhere with the man I was interested in.)

Later the following year (fall of my junior year), my mother’s company began several series of massive layoffs. Fearing she would not survive the next round, she agreed to accept the company’s retirement package and decided to move back to her home state.

What followed were the worst 12 months of my entire life. In addition to not having my mom around anymore, my father experienced a layoff, and I endured every misfortune imaginable. I found out that I was not nearly as ready for the adult world as I thought. I combated each difficulty with food; I spent my summer months in seclusion, solving jigsaw puzzles and eating chicken wings from the local Chinese restaurant.

The last straw? On Sept. 6 of that year (Labor Day) I was assaulted in an acquaintance’s apartment. I started another destructive habit that very day: I took the bus to the local theater and sat through two matinees. I sat alone in the darkness for hours with only a large buttered popcorn for company. I did this during many weekends and during each of my breaks for the rest of the school year, and for many years after I started working.

I also ate and slept more - I started oversleeping and missing some of my classes, something I had never done before. No matter - I wasn’t being missed. In the spring my two closest friends both left the dorms; one transferred to another campus within the university, and the other dropped to part-time status and took classes from home. On the occasions that I did leave my suite, I was on autopilot. Despite the mental fog that I was in, I received a number of senior honors and my mom sent me clothes to wear for the various ceremonies. By the time I graduated (at age 21) I was a full-fledged size 24W. I started working and quickly realized that the size 34 jeans I had worn all through high school and college no longer fit. Nor did the Gloria Vanderbilt stretch jeans I had bought only four years before; I came home one day and found that I had worn holes in the inner thighs of a pair of dress pants I wore in college.

A year and a half after I graduated, my mother suddenly died at age 50. Up to this time I had tried to eat responsibly and exercise, and I had said that I would do something if my weight ever reached 250 (a ridiculous statement for a 22-year-old woman to make, I know) - but between this and the events of two years prior, I simply stopped caring. I used to walk from the train station to my office (10 blocks maximum), but this stopped, and I found myself waiting on a bus that passed the area every day. In addition, my takeout habit bumped up from only Fridays to almost every day - breakfast and lunch. I worked late hours two nights a week and these nights involved lots of pizza, soul food and deli selections. I later changed jobs and worked evening, then overnight, hours. In both cases, I would eat heavy meals only a couple of hours before going to bed. It wasn’t hard to gain about 10 pounds annually.

After settling into a new city, I started to experience a number of wake-up calls. I started working daytime hours and found that my back hurt so badly some mornings I could not get out of bed. I bought a new dress (a size 30W to accommodate my bust), wore it once, got home and found that I had ripped it in three places. In December of that year my office held a blood drive. The staff ended up taking my blood pressure twice and then reported that it was too high for me to donate. I had discovered some uncomfortable information recently and it might have upset me enough to elevate my pressure. When I finally went to the doctor a month later, it was still high and I was prescribed medication. I was 29 years old!

A few months after that, I started shopping for my wedding gown. I drove for two hours and ended up being fitted for a size 32 dress. I figured that I could always have the gown resized if I lost weight and made that my mission. In June of that year, a Curves facility opened in my town and I quickly joined. I thought I still weighed 270 or 280, maybe 290 at the most. I was horrified to discover at my initial weigh-in that I weighed 310 pounds!

I didn’t lose any weight before the wedding; in fact, by June of the following year, I had, once again, gained my customary 10 pounds, so now I was 320! I knew that if I did nothing, 350 was right around the corner, and I was already bursting out of size 32 clothing.

By this time, bariatric surgery had gained popularity, but I knew that my insurance company would require documentation of a medically supervised diet, and I knew I didn’t have that. So I promised myself I would make one year of honest effort before I considered it.

Nine months into this pledge, having lost 12 pounds on my own, I bit the bullet and joined Weight Watchers. The rest, as they say, is history!


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