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
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
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
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!