When I meet people, make new friends, chat up the bartender, an immediate impression most get from me is that I love food. And rightly so. Because I do love food. But then invariably, I hear, “You’re so lucky” followed by something about high metabolisms or being naturally skinny or something along those lines. I have yet to find the appropriate response to these comments. I understand the superficial picture I present: I’m 5’6″ tall and around 120 lbs, pretty small with an athletic build. When all I talk about is pie and donuts and cooking with lard or when someone sees me eat as much as Bearface (a farmer boy about twice my size who can really put it away), the logical conclusion is that I am naturally skinny or I have a ridiculous metabolism in order to eat as much as I do and stay as skinny as I am.
I do not have a ridiculous metabolism. I am not naturally skinny. I work hard and lead a very intentional lifestyle in order to stay healthy. So how should I respond when someone says “You’re so lucky?” I still haven’t figured it out without launching into the history of my weight. My story brought me to my current weight and self image and determines how I respond to how others see me. And while my close friends and family know my back story and know how I got to my current size and what I do to stay here, most do not.
As a kid and teenage, I wasn’t small but I certainly wasn’t large. Just generally a little thicker. I played sports in high school, ate whatever I wanted and cultivated a serious love of food, maintained a tomboy persona, and really didn’t put any effort into maintaining or losing weight even if I wanted to. Then as a junior in high school, I studied abroad in Beijing, China for nine months. I lived with a host family who loved me very much. And I loved them. While they expressed their love by feeding me, I reciprocated by expressing my love by eating. At the beginning of my trip, my host grandma served me a bowl of porridge and an egg for breakfast every morning, and I ate it. Then she started giving me porridge, an egg, and a meat filled bun. And I ate it. Then it was porridge, two eggs, and bun. And I ate it. Then it was porridge, two eggs, and two buns every morning! And I ate it! Seven months into my nine month stay, I finally said I didn’t need that much for breakfast. My grandma laughed and said, “I just kept giving you more because you kept eating.” And I laughed and said, “I kept eating because you kept giving me more.” This is the perfect summary of my entire, wonderful experience abroad. And as a result, I returned home several pounds larger. While still not large, I was definitely thick all over and weighed in at the most I’ve ever been: 160 some lbs.
It was at this point, my father, Dr. Sam intervened. I was starting to push an unhealthy weight and it just wouldn’t be right for a doctor to have an unhealthy daughter so he acted preemptively. I was living at home with him taking classes at the University of Minnesota for my senior year in high school and under his supervision (and with his help cooking), I went on a strict no gluten, no casein diet. I still ate as much as I wanted, but no bread, pasta, cookies, cake, milk, cheese, ice cream, nothing. I typically had a big jug of fruit juice for breakfast every morning and started doing Bikram Yoga two to three times a week. And in four months, I lost almost 35 lbs. This was in 2002 before Celiac disease or Gluten sensitivities were really on the map and before Gluten free products or cookbooks were even available. But I managed and continue to maintain a low-gluten and low-casein diet today, though how “low” varies more now than it did when I first started.
I was at that size, give or take a few inches here and there, for all of my college career and for the years after. I was happy at that size. Never small enough to be remarkably skinny, but I was content and healthy.
And then in the winter of 2009-2010, I suffered from a major depressive episode. Eating has always been such a happy activity for me, associated with good times and people I love. When I became depressed, I became very withdrawn and virtually stopped eating for about a year. I lost more weight than I like to talk about. It was a hard time for me, and during the worst of it, I was down to 105 lbs. The smallest I’ve been in my adult life.
And then I was remarkably skinny. And people remarked. A lot. It’s tragic that something so negative for me (weight loss due to depression) receives such positive reenforcement from society. At the clothing store I worked at and from friends and family and strangers, people would tell me good I looked and how skinny I was. It was the first time in my life I attracted a signifigant amount of positive attention because of my physical appearance. And while who doesn’t like positive attention and being told they look good, it positively reenforced my despression as well. After counseling and opening up to my friends and family about my struggle with depression, things did get better and I started eating again. It is hard for me to talk about that time in my life, but its an important part of my weight story and one of the major reasons that I don’t like to hear things like “You’re so lucky.” I don’t consider myself lucky in what I went through to get skinny. I now actively manage my depression and do the best I can to keep it from creeping to the surface, but it is still a struggle, just as anyone living with depression can attest to.
And now? I maintain what I consider to be a healthy weight for me, both mentally and physically. I lead an active life of dancing, biking, swimming, an occasional yoga class or day on a dirt bike thrown in there. At home and for most of my meals, I eat small portions consisting predominantly of fruits and vegetables, some grains and protein. Little meat and few refined sugars or processed foods. Those are the majority of my meals and what I like to eat and cook. But I don’t restrict or punish myself: I allow myself to eat whatever I want and a lot of it when in the company of friends and family, when I feel and share love, on special occasions or at particular events. And it is those times I blog about and in those situations that I meet people and am confronted with statements about my supposed “high metabolism” and “luckiness.”
And what do I say? Without launching into this whole story? I usually just shake my head or say “not really.” I know my story, I know what I do and how I live, and I leave them to believe whatever they will.