Body Image

Wait…Weight?

The topic of weight is something I’ve been composing in my head for the past few years. Literally, for years. This isn’t easy to talk about. It’s not so much the telling itself, but the anticipation of possible reactions. It just never seems like the right time. I’ve never ended up regretting anything that I’ve posted here, so hopefully it’ll be the same with this. There are other strong, female bloggers who have spoken out about their feelings on this topic and I really admire them for it.

My issues with weight didn’t develop until my early 20s (usually eating disorders tend to develop in adolescence). Weight and body image were never important to me when I was growing up. I was homeschooled for most of my school-age years, so that might have been a factor — I was largely separate from the angst and competition of other girls during that formative period of my life.

When I was between the ages of 18-20, I remember hanging out with my friend Dana and walking to the convenience store, where we’d each buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and go back to her apartment and eat the entire container. I wasn’t skinny, but I also wasn’t fat. I was fine with how I looked — it wasn’t something I ever really thought about.

In 2000, I decided I needed to lose a few pounds. This was the first time I remember consciously thinking about dieting and changing my eating habits. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2001, when I had back surgery, that the weight loss started in earnest. It wasn’t the surgery itself that caused the weight loss, but I knew I’d be out of commission for a few months while my back was healing — and since I’d already lost about ten pounds by that point, I didn’t want to risk gaining it all back.

That was when the calorie-counting began — the first time in my life I’d ever tracked nutrition information — and although I’m not as obsessive about it as I once was, it still continues today. (There is nothing wrong with calorie counting in itself — indeed, it is a smart thing to do, to be conscientious about what goes into your body — but there’s a difference between calorie-counting and calorie-obsessing. I’ve mentioned that I wouldn’t take certain things in the past that I knew would be good for me, like flax oil, because I thought it was too high in calories.)

By the time 2002 rolled around, I was at my lowest weight. By restricting calories I had managed to — and I stress this part, because I was never on a crash diet that caused me to lose a bunch of weight all at once — gradually lose another 15 pounds. That meant I was only losing about 1-2 pounds a month after my surgery, but the fact was I didn’t need to lose it, so it was obvious. My weight was low, and so were my spirits. Since I was underweight, I didn’t have a lot of energy. Relatives and friends were asking me if everything was okay.

There is a tape that I believe still exists — I’ve only seen it once. My friend Chris had a birthday in March 2002, and all of his friends got together and recorded a video-message for him. I remember watching the tape at his birthday party, seeing myself on TV, and I was shocked that I looked so skinny. “Oh, God,” I distinctly remember thinking at the time. “That’s not how I look in the mirror.” It was a big realization for me, but it wasn’t until later in the year that I started to regain some of the weight I’d lost.

I don’t remember exactly what my weight was when I watched the tape, but I do know that I was at my lowest weight when I went to California for the first time a few months later. It was May 2002, and I was going there to visit a friend and then see my aunt, who were both living in/near Los Angeles. I have some pictures that were taken during that time, which are at the bottom of this post, to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Here is where I give the numbers:
I don’t know if this is the “correct” thing to do, since most people don’t give out this type of information, but I’d rather do it this way than try to be vague. (If I were to say that I was once 10 pounds, 20 pounds, 30 pounds from where I am now — well, where is that? What does that mean?)

So here it is: when I first decided that I need to lose a few pounds in 2000, when I was 20 years old, I was 5’9″ and weighed about 150 pounds. Even at that weight I knew that I wasn’t fat; I’ve never worn jeans larger than a size 10. According to the CDC’s BMI chart (Body Mass Index), at a weight of 150 pounds, and for my height, I was squarely in the range of “normal” with a BMI of 22.1 (the normal range is 18.5-24.9).

At my lowest weight, during the spring/summer of 2002, I weighed thirty pounds less than that — I had gotten down to 120. (I was weighing myself practically every morning, and the lowest number I ever saw was 118.) I pretty much stopped having a menstrual cycle; for a few years I had a period only about 1-2 times a year. At 120 pounds, my BMI was 17.7. Underweight, according to the charts. If I accidentally hit the side of a door when walking through, or did something else that normally wouldn’t have caused me any harm, I’d get a bruise. My hipbones jutted out, so I had almost constant bruises on my hips during that time.

In the years since then, I’ve returned to a more normal weight. It can fluctuate, depending on what I’m eating and how much I’m exercising, but generally I’m somewhere between 128-132 (BMI of 18.9-19.5), and the highest my weight has been since since then is 135. That BMI range sounds low to me, but the mirror is still where I’m at my most critical. In the mirror I see a rounded stomach, and thighs that I wish were thinner. At the same time, I hate feeling this way and I am the first advocate to tell other people — absolutely truthfully — that they are beautiful just the way they are.

Why am I writing this? Why now?
Like I said, this is something I’ve lived with for over five years, and it has changed me. Even though I don’t obsess about food and calories and weight as much as I used to, the feelings have never completely left. The Skinny Monster found me one day when I was least expecting it, and he refuses to let me go.

I think part of the reason for the drastic weight loss was my tendency to be a perfectionist. When I started to lose weight, even though I knew in my head that I didn’t need to lose it, I also didn’t want to gain it. I felt that if I gained the weight back, it meant I was weak and I had failed.

I don’t know if what I’m saying right now is adequate. I don’t think I’ve said everything that I want to say — all the things I thought I might say once I finally got up the nerve. But this is a start. I’ve put it out there, and hopefully it shouldn’t be as hard to say things in the future if they come to mind. If anyone has any questions or input, I’d be happy to hear it. Maybe it’ll help spark what I forgot.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam, June 2002.

With the iBook

June 2002.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, September 2002.

Laughlin

Laughlin, NV. June 2002.

In Vegas

Las Vegas. June 2002.

Me and Deneice

Charleston, SC. September 2002.

Maymont

Maymont Park in Richmond, VA. March 2002.

Me and Dana

Me and Dana, March 2002.

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19 Comments

  • Reply Katyola January 8, 2007 at 11:43 am

    Really thoughtful, interesting and bold post. You really articulated what a lot of women think about.

  • Reply Jul January 8, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Wow, Zandria – it’s brave of you to share. Thank you for speaking up. I think only good things can come from this kind of communication. I hope it felt good to get it out there.

  • Reply Vivacious Vegan January 8, 2007 at 11:55 am

    I commend you for your bravery on such a sensitive topic. Putting our thoughts to paper helps us understand and analyze our actions and beliefs. I have never really sat down and collected my thoughts concerning my body image but it would probably be an enlightening experience for me. I’m going to try to do that in the coming month.

    In general, I am not satisfied with the way I look. There are many things I would like to change about myself – unfortunately most of them are unchangeable – like my thin lips and even thinner hair.

    My body, however, is one of the items that is changeable. I am at a normal, comfortable weight. But I still have minor issues with the way my body looks. I do weigh myself every day and if my weight goes over 3% of my ideal weight, I cut back on my eating and exercise more. I wouldn’t say that I am obsessed. I just try to carefully monitor so that it doesn’t become a larger problem later on down the road.

    One thing that has definitely affected my self image is makeup. About 3 years ago I chose to stop wearing makeup (for the most part; I do occasionally wear it for parties). I used to feel really self conscious and uncomfortable without makeup. I wouldn’t say that I am completely comfortable now without it but I’m almost there. There are still times that I meet people and I feel “frumpy” because I’m not wearning any makeup. But I would say that those times are getting farther and fewer in between. Not wearing makeup has helped me learn to be more comfortable in my own skin.

    You are really beautiful and look very healthy at your current weight. I hope that you are able shake that awful Skinny Monster because we all know he’s nothing but trouble. I think you looked too skinny in your 2002 pictures. (I just showed both pics to my husband and he agreed.)

    Much love and hugs to you.
    Crystal

  • Reply Recovering Overachiever January 8, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    This was a really great post. I’ve battled with weight and body issues myself and I know how difficult it is. It’s something that seems to come up every day. I hope that you’re happy where you are now. Continue being healthy!

  • Reply Dana January 8, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    This is one of the many many reasons why I love you Zan, because you are brave enough to share your story with everyone. I am so proud of you for doing this. You will also help others in their battles with the monster as well. I love you my dear, and you know you are always beautiful in my eyes. As for the picture of us from 2002, if I were to put that side by side with a picture of me now, people wouldn’t think its the same person. (on the side note of what I mentioned in my email)

  • Reply Ron Southern January 8, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Maybe you were too thin in those photos. Generally speaking, though, you’re my kind of fat girl! Be considerate to yourself, you don’t have to be or avoid any extreme except the unhealthy ones! I used to be 100 lbs. fatter most of my life and lost it due to illness mostly. I look very thin to me, but with my clothes on, I’m presentable. I think I’ll keep my clothes on! (147.2 lbs. as of a couple days ago!) Get fatter and you could beat me up! I’d force you to wrestle, though. If I’m gonna get beat by a girl, contact sports would be best.

  • Reply Stephanie Quilao January 9, 2007 at 12:41 am

    Hey Zandria! I am so proud of you for having the courage and strength to share your story with us. Your post was gracefully written. I’m also very honored that I could be of some inspiration to you. It is very scary to put yourself “out there” but you are writing from a place of love and a desire to help other women, and that is a noble thing. By sharing our stories and connecting with others, it helps eliminate the shame that is so often attributed with body issues and eating disorders. But mostly, it shows that we are not alone in our pain and struggles. Being real shows our human-ness and authenticity, and that is beautiful.

  • Reply Elissa January 9, 2007 at 8:53 am

    I watched “The Secret Life of…Diets” on the Food Network last night. I read this post yesterday (and didn’t comment…bad Lissy) so all I could think of was you Zan. The show covered the Vegan and Vegetarian lifestyles and other diets like South Beach and the Zone. At first I was apprehensive about you trying the Vegan “thing” I was worried that you would have less variety than you were currently eating. I always knew you were eating enough (to be healthy, not happy) but like I told you yesterday, it bothered me most that you always measured and ate your cereal, Boca burgers and brown rice and veggies…rarely eating ANY thing else. Now it absolutely delights me that you have started trying new recipes and go shopping in different markets…making it an adventure. I think food should be fun, satisfying, good for you and always full of variety. I’m proud of you for talking to “the world” about this.

    By the way on the show last night featured a restaurant in SanFransico called Greens…the food looked spectacular!! Maybe we can try it out one day….
    http://www.greensrestaurant.com/

  • Reply jen m. January 9, 2007 at 11:53 am

    i admire you for posting about something that was hard for you, but i’m a little mystified because in my mind you said absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. i think there are almost zero women in the world who have any less body issues than you do, and that you actually have a very healthy attitude compared to many many women. i’d be more surprised to hear that you loved your body all the time and didn’t struggle with these issues, i don’t know anyone who doesn’t. i don’t say this to minimize your struggle, because i know from experience that it’s real and it’s not fun. i just say this to emphasize how you so totally need not worry that any reasonable people are going to think negatively of you for saying these things.

    i also started having body image issues much later in life than most (not till after college). i had a lot of the same issues you are describing although i never did get thin enough to look too thin or to be unhealthily thin. actually at my smallest i was very buff and probably looked amazing, although i still thought i was fat. (at the time i was seriously weight obsessed, i would have been jealous that you were able to get as thin as you did.)

    but as i get older i don’t care as much. my weight varies within the range of healthy. i wish i were thinner, but i’m not nearly as perfectionist about it as i used to be, and it’s really not a high priority in my life. maybe part of it is that as you get older you appreciate stuff like health and making the most use out of your body while it still works for you, and how it looks becomes a lower priority. now that i feel much more mortal, i’d definitely do something healthier over something that would make me thinner, when that wasn’t true when i was 26. i also rather spend my energy planning vacations, trying new physical activities, and otherwise just having fun while i still get around well enough to do those things than worry about how i look.

    you seem to have a really healthy outlook, and without sounding too condescending, i think you’ll find that it gets even easier as you hit 30 and beyond.

  • Reply Another Chris January 9, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Oh, I left a nice comment yesterday (or thought I did) and now it’s not here! ๐Ÿ™ I clearly did something wrong…but as always, very brave Zan…the way you reveal yourself to us just amazes me. Be well, sincerely, Chris

  • Reply Maryam in Marrakesh January 9, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Oh wow. Your post just left me speechless. So amazing. Thank you for posting.

    I am 123 and 5 foot 6. That is 10 pounds more than I weighed before my pregnancies. Still, most people consider me slim. I have mostly accepted the fact that I am this weight now. But some days I look in the mirror and think I should lose a little weight. But then I get a grip and have a bagel and cream cheese. Life is too short to count calories. I am thankful for what I have.

    love to you,
    Maryam

  • Reply lynds January 10, 2007 at 1:02 am

    Zan, I second what everyone is saying. You are brave to bring this up. But on the same token, only good things can come out of this .. now that we know. You see we all have our issues. Often we are too scared to confront them. But when you confront them, especially in a public forum like this, you find support.

    As you know I have my own weight issues, quite different from yours today .. but I did go through the same thing you’ve experienced in my adolescence. I too weighed 113 and was 5’8”. I kept on trying to lose and lose, but just couldn’t .. I was down to eating one bowl of cereal a day & exercising insanely .. yet no more weight would come off. My mom took me to the dr and it took him telling me I was actually underweight for me to realize that I really was.

    I have to honest, looking at these pictures of you is hard. I am so glad you’ve recognized & are confronting this & should you need support .. know I’m here & ready to talk whenever. You gotta take care of you or we’ll all gang up on you ๐Ÿ˜‰ Cuz we are friends & that’s what friends are suppose to do .. Be honest & look out for each other whether the topic is pleasant or not. Hang in there. Love ya! Now, can I share some of my fat w/ ya?? hee hee .. I sure have quite a bit I’d love to surrender ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply janet January 10, 2007 at 1:04 am

    I really admire your courage in posting this. I have food/weight issues myself (gah! don’t we all, in some way I guess!) but more on the other end of the spectrum. It’s always a little weird to feel JEALOUS that you have so much self control…I know that sounds stupid, but hey…we are all honest around these parts right? Anyway, I hope that you are on, and that you stay on, the journey to a healthy body and positive self image.

  • Reply Mala January 11, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    Zandria,

    Your post is very thoughtful and courageous and honest. I think a lot of women have weight problems… in fact everyone I know has had an issue – either too much dieting with compulsive exercising or overeating and risky yo-yo dieting.

    I think your candid post is really helpful and encouraging to a lot of your readers.

    I know I really appreciated your story.

    You’re beautiful Zandria!

  • Reply Nadine January 12, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    I cannot believe I missed this post! What an awful blogfriend I am. What a brave and honest post. I’m glad you’re doing better. You look so good & healthy now!

    For some reason I’ve always thought you had overcome a battle like anorexia. Maybe it takes one to recognize one ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Stewart January 22, 2007 at 5:10 am

    I appreciate how hard it is to bring these things up, ive been battling with weight issues for about a year now and i’ve only ever told a couple of people out of fear of what kind of reactions i’ll get.

  • Reply maryelizabeth February 28, 2007 at 11:10 am

    i just had time to read this post. it’s interesting because whenever i’m with a lot of women body image inevitably comes up within the first couple of hours, whether it’s a full on conversation or just a comment here and there. i’ve had a lot of problems with it in the past and am now just settling into myself. it’s a good feeling.

  • Reply Vegas Vegan October 29, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    I know this is an older post, but I couldn’t help reading this one first…

    My grandmother was anorexic. She dieted until the day she died, proudly declaring to anyone exactly how much she weighed at that moment. Being Vegan and a devout yogini, I sometimes worry that I could easily slip into her mindset.

    Doing yoga has made me realize how beautiful my body can be in any form. I’m finally appreciating what I have – but it’s been a long Looooooong process.

    Reading your story gave me a lump in my throat. You are strong. You are beautiful. And thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Salsa_Girl October 31, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us! Your story is similar to mine.

    I am also 5’9″ and went from 150 pounds (my highest) in January 2005 to as low as you in about a year. I even dipped a bit lower. It was gradual, as you said your’s was, but that didn’t change the fact that I weighed too little.

    I never felt fat or disgusting. I never weighed myself, but I had a dr. appt. where I saw the 150 and realized I had gained about 10 pounds in only a few months – when I was last weighed for a surgery I had. I got a little bummed, but like I said, I never felt FAT and didn’t officially go on a “diet.”

    I moved to a new city shortly after this “150-pound” dr. appt. and I think all the changes brought out the ugly part of my perfectionist side (like you!), and I tried to control my life through careful healthy eating and exercising.

    I lost my periods and still have yet to have a “real” one. I saw a nutritionist, who assured me that I would need at least 2,800 calories a day to slowly gain while still exercising (something I can’t totally part with!)

    I can’t say things are totally “perfect” now, but they are a lot better. I don’t “fear” food as much as I did, and have toned down the exercise a bit. I have gained about 10 pounds since I started, although is has stalled now for quite a few months. I’m hoping to jumpstart the gain again and resume my period.

    That is my story – in short form – but I feel it was too similar to your story to not comment. Thank you again for sharing. You’re a beautiful and talented girl!

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