Sunday, January 1, 2017

Real Talk About Health & Body Image

Well, another year has come and gone. I hope 2016 treated you well. I know it was a difficult year for the world as a whole, full of celebrity deaths, political turmoil, and civil unrest. Not that we as a race don't have to deal with those things every year, but perhaps 2016 seemed to serve up a slightly larger dose of human shortcomings than usual. For me personally, 2016 was a fairly neutral year. No huge accomplishments or changes, but nothing really bad to report either. I consider myself extremely blessed to have not experienced the loss of anyone close to me and to be safe, relatively happy and physically well.

Today, January 1st is traditionally the day that people embark upon their "resolutions," little promises to themselves that generally end up lasting a few weeks to a few months at best. A vast majority of individuals seem to make resolutions related to weight loss, and unfortunately making healthy lifestyle choices every day can be very difficult to stick with. 
I generally like to keep my blog pretty lighthearted and not discuss many personal matters as it is my "happy place," a sort of refuge to get out of my own head and discuss fun and frivolous things such as nails, wax and shopping. Many of you may not know this but I'm a pretty anxious person and I try to distract my mind from obsessing about the things that concern me by living a pretty low stress lifestyle and focusing on the things that bring me joy. Whether this is avoidance or just a good coping strategy I don't know, but in the spirit of the new year I have decided to open up a bit and talk about some more serious matters from time to time. Since weight loss and being healthy are such prominent topics right now, I thought I'd share a bit of my journey and thoughts on body image.

As a child and teen I was always an average and healthy weight. In the 8th grade I was only about 5ft tall and weighed around 100lbs. The first couple years of high school I gained about 4 inches of height and hovered around 120lbs. I had a couple of good friends who were heavier than me and I witnessed them being teased for being "fat" and felt so bad for them, but it never occurred to me then that I could ever become overweight myself. 
To be fair I have never had particularly healthy eating habits nor gotten an above average of physical activity on a regular basis. I was a much pickier eater as a child and my parents generally let me eat whatever I wanted. Sure, there were some fairly wholesome home cooked meals but there was also an abundance of my favorites like chips and ice cream. In high school I would usually end up eating donuts or French fries or pizza for lunch every day and it never seemed to cause a problem. I had PE freshman and sophomore year, but other than that I didn't play any sports or exercise regularly. I never made the correlation between healthy habits and weight at that time because it didn't seem to affect me; I generally assumed I was always going to be naturally thin because I hadn't seen any evidence to the contrary. By my senior year I had reached my adult height of 5'6 and weighed around 135lbs. Even though it was just the normal maturing process of my body, a family friend noticed that my clothes were becoming a bit tight and commented on how I had "put on weight." Although I knew it was just an offhand comment and not meant to be mean, it upset me. This was the first time I ever began to feel like I was "gaining weight" even though I was not overweight and that was actually the ideal healthy weight for my size. What I wouldn't give to be near to that weight now...
Anyway, at the age of 19, one year later, I married my high school sweetheart who was also an average, healthy weight ar that time. My wedding dress was a size 8 and my weight between 135-140, and that was probably the last time I ever felt good about my weight. After that I began taking birth control pills and I feel that change in hormones was the first catalyst in a long series of events that would lead to me struggling with my weight ever since.
In the first few months and years after I got married, I noticed my weight beginning to creep up and it really concerned me. As I went from wearing single digit sizes to double digits, I didn't understand why because I wasn't eating or doing anything much differently than I ever had. If anything I thought I was making better choices for myself. As a newly married woman I was enjoying cooking on a regular basis for the first time and eating less fast/processed food. I also had a job that required me to be on my feet all day, and since it was a "healthy" sandwich chain I got a free and relatively well balanced lunch every day. I honestly have no idea what I was doing wrong at that time, other than I think my metabolism was changing. My husband was also slowly gaining weight at about the same pace I was, so I really can't pinpoint the exact cause.
After about 4 years my husband and I felt it was time to make a career change and both left our jobs. He was away doing training for nearly 2 months and that was probably one of the most difficult periods of my life. We has never been apart and I was shocked to be at a heavy weight, somewhere in the 190's. Plus I had just gotten my driver's license because I would need to be independent while my hubby was away. I had never been a very confident driver to begin with and I was promptly rear ended at a stop light a few days after he left. I wasn't injured but it was extremely traumatic for me and also gave me the added stress of dealing with insurance and car repairs. To top it all off, my grandfather who had been battling cancer for 10 years suddenly took a turn for the worst and passed away shortly thereafter. It was extremely difficult to go to the funeral without my husband to support me. But I digress. Even though I was depressed and lonely during this period I decided to try and lose some weight since I had just quit myjob and had a lot of free time. I began to walk everywhere since I was fearful of driving anyway and attempted to eat healthier food options. By the time my husband returned home I did manage to lose about 12-15 pounds and did feel a sense of accomplishment in that and felt better about my weight overall. That was at the beginning of 2012 and that was the last time made a real effort to lose or even manage my weight.
Right after that my husband and I unwittingly made probably one of the worst lifestyle choices we possibly could have and would spend the next two years traveling the country in a big rig, getting very little excercise and eating a ton of fast food.
This was probably the most tumultuous 2 years of my life to date. While it was interesting traveling the country and seeing new sights, it also wrecked havoc with our sleeping and eating habits. Husband's truck driving could require us to be awake at any hour of the day or night and we were often quite sleep deprived. Plus when living from truck stop to truck stop you often only have access to fast/fattening foods.
I would have to visit the doctor every several months to get my checkup and prescription renewed, and I was very alarmed to see my weight creeping up every time I was weighed. It sounds foolish now, but it never occurred to me that I could weight over 200 pounds; that seemed just an astronomical number. But over the months of bodily neglect it happened and I blew right past 200. Every time I checked my weight it was worse: 215...225...
By the time we finally moved back home in early 2014, I was absolutely appalled that I weighed around 250. It took me several months to decompress from that hectic lifestyle and get used to having such creature comforts again as having unlimited access to bathrooms, food and a safe place to sleep. I wish I could say that I dove into losing weight and making healthier decisions, but I did not. Even though I was no longer sitting all day and eating junk, I never really found the motivation to start a regular exercise program or give up sweets and snacks. A lack of motivation is definitely my biggest obstacle.
Present day I hover around 270lbs. This is the most difficult part for me to talk about because I never discuss my weight with anyone. I feel that people would never guess just by looking at me that I was quite so heavy. I love fashion as an expression of myself, but I also wear my clothes as armor; I've gotten quite good at picking out flattering garments that disguise how much excess weight I'm carrying around. I like the ego boost of sharing my outfits and nails and having people praise my looks. Honestly, who doesn't? I think I somehow feel that I have to validate to society and to myself that I can still be beautiful and stylish at any size. I am fortunate that I haven't really been negatively targeted for my weight. The online communities I've participated in have been largely positive and my family and friends are very close knit. Obviously they are aware that I've put on weight over the years but no one really brings it up and I don't feel judged for it. Oddly enough, my husband who had also put on as much weight as I have has had the opposite experience. Somehow everyone seems to think it's okay to point out how much weight he's put on. Co workers, family, friends; he seems to get it from every direction and I don't understand why. Sometimes it's in a joking manner and sometimes it's expressing concern for his health, but I wish everyone would just stop. It's not like he doesn't know and he's probably more unhappy about it than I am. 
To be honest, I actually don't dislike the way I look overall. While I'm well aware I don't have striking supermodel-esque features, but I also don't dread looking in the mirror and I generally feel okay about myself. I am comfortable with my large chest and curvy backside. I have certain features I really like such as my piercing blue eyes and shapely calves. I don't want to change much except I really desire to lose the protruding belly and double chin. Those two things constantly remind me that I'm actually obese. Sure, I can wear garments that are loose in the middle and master the art of taking a selfie from above to hide the chin area, but I can't hide from myself the fact that some every day activities are unnecessarily difficult. It's kind of shameful to admit, but I struggle to bend and do things like put on shoes and socks and paint my toes. Walking short distances is fine, but I start feeling so fatigued after walking or standing for long periods of time. For the most part I can bare it and still function normally, but there were a couple of public incidents that were quite surprising and embarrassing. Last summer I was at an amusement park with my hubs, my best friend and her fiancé, and we had waited in line for nearly an hour to ride a particular roller coaster. When my husband and I got in our seats, the ride attendant could not fasten the security bar across our laps and we weren't allowed to ride the ride. Apparently we are not the only people who this has happened to because there's actually a test seat where the beginning of the ride formed but it never even occurred to me that we should try it because we might not fit. We tried to shake it off and enjoyed the rest of our day, but it really was an unsettling experience. Later that year I was helping the same friend set up for her wedding at a gorgeous venue up in the mountains. The building was at the top of a very long and steep hill and after the first time trekking up it, I was sweating profusely and out of breath and had to sit down for a good 10 minutes to return to normal whereas almost everyone else who was of a normal weight seemed completely unfazed by the climb. Even though no one was really paying attention to me, I felt embarrassed and useless. I was still able to lend my support and the wedding turned out beautifully, but I really had to limit the amount of times I walked up that hill.

I say all this to make the point that I don't want to lose weight to be "prettier" but because I want to feel better physically and not develop health problems in the future. Having been obese for a few years now, I'm honestly surprised I am still quite healthy. I fear that it's only my youth and strong constitution keeping me healthy because diet and exercise wise I'm certainly not taking the best care of myself. I do get a Dr.'s checkup a few times a year and my blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar have always been normal. My greatest fear is that if I don't make healthy changes soon I will end up with diabetes or heart problems 10, 20 or 30 years from now. I rarely get sick, have never been to the hospital, never even had a broken bone or sprain. My greatest fear is I will end up with some health problem I could have helped prevent. My husband is also concerned about this; he is 31 and has already been treated for sleep apnea and has seen a heart specialist because of excessive swelling in his feet and calves. Fortunately his heart is fine right now but it probably won't be in another decade if we continue on our current path. Plus, if we decide to try for children, pregnancy is more difficult and riskier for overweight women, so that is definitely another concern.
You would think all of this would be enough of a motivator for us to make changes but we both struggle with apathy a lot.
Maybe it's easier to ignore problems and just live in the moment rather than do the hard work that is necessary for long lasting change. I often get frustrated with myself because if I intellectually know and acknowledge all of these things, why can't I seem to do anything about it? I think part of the issue is that setting a big goal such as losing over a hundred pounds is so daunting that it's hard to want to get started. I don't believe in New Year's resolutions per se, but I would like to set a couple of small goals that I think are realistically attainable.
Not my usual type of humor but it made me chuckle. Anyway, the first thing that I would like to do for myself is cut back on sugar. I've already taken a couple of steps towards this, such as not drinking my weight in sugar and only having unsweetened tea and water. I need to do other things such as avoiding sugary cereals and pastries at the grocery store. Once the last of all the left over sweets from the holidays are gone I should not buy more.
The other thing I would like to do diet wise is rekindle my passion for cooking and start making more well balanced meals with fresher ingredients again. My husband usually works late and we don't eat dinner together most nights so I don't usually bother to cook elaborate meals and just graze on snacks all day.
I mainly just want to feel less fatigued overall. We shall see how I do with this and if it makes a noticeable change in my health.

I thank you for reading this far and supporting my blog and musings. I am happy to discuss any of these issues with my readers should anyone feel so inclined.

Have you ever struggled with your body image? Do you have any personal goals or resolutions you would like to accomplish in 2017?


  1. My own weight gain came around age 40. I'd always been average, but for whatever reason I just started packing on pounds in my early 40s. I went from a norm of about 170 (I'm 5'6") up to where I am now, which fluctuates between about 200-210. I haven't made any serious attempt to change it. I firmly believe if it's not small changes you can live with every day it's not a change you'll stick with. So I have made small, easy to incorporate changes to try and be healthier but not necessarily focused on weight loss. Sometimes I'll drop down to maybe 195 and be all "Yay!" but it will creep back up. And it's the protruding belly for me too! If I could squish that fat into other areas and just flatten my stomach I'd be happier! lol I've never been a fancy, girlie-girl dresser but even so, once the weight went up and I got this pregnant-looking belly back, I really quit wearing anything besides roomy t-shirts. I love you still rock fashion, Amanda!

    My hubby has also gained a ton of weight, more than me. He leads a much more UNhealthy lifestyle too and it bothers us that he does nothing to help himself. He seems to be in a frame of mind that 'Bah, I'm getting older and these things happen.'


    1. I forgot to mention, not being able to go on amusement park rides happened to Casey this year. He went to Six Flags with friends and encountered the same problem. It was weird because one of the girls in their group is also rather large and she managed to fit. He said "Hers must be squishier." LOL

      But hubby's size has been a problem when we go to Vikings games and even to movies, because the seats are quite snug for him. It's one of the reasons we so rarely go out to see movies anymore.


  2. GREAT post, Amanda. I really admire your bravery and transparency. I agree with you about having a few small, attainable goals. The biggest change with me is that now I actually have to watch what I eat, think about portion sizes, etc. When I was younger, I had a rockstar metabolism and could eat anything. I never realized how much my metabolism would decrease with age. It was really a bummer! As far as my personal goals for 2017, I am actively working on becoming more organized, which is difficult. I'm not a naturally organized/tidy person, and it's something I really have to work at. I want to have a place for everything in my home, so that when I need something, I can actually find it easily!

  3. This was a really wonderful post, Amanda - I greatly admire your ability to talk about these kind of issues openly. I cried when you described what happened to you at the amusement park - that's legitimately a gigantic fear of mine, and it's kept me from a place I love - Disney World - for years because I'm afraid my size won't let me enjoy it in that very specific way. I'm so, so sorry you went through that.

    Because my husband and I? Both big, big people. Me specifically, I used to be skinny, so skinny, too skinny. But the second I stopped exercising for 15 or more hours a week (in high school I was a cheerleader, and I danced recreationally, too) the weight just piled on, and I haven't been able to take it off in any sort of meaningful way since. The problem/not a problem is that my husband and I are very content people - we love each other no matter how we look. That's a wonderful positive, of course, but also a gigantic negative, because it stops any attempt to take the weight off, because why mess with what's (sort of) working? Like you (and like a lot of people, I'm guessing) I just haven't made much of an effort to take the weight off, and neither has he, and since it doesn't matter tremendously to either one of us, around and around we go.

    Except it DOES. It totally does. My health is shit - a mess of weirdo aches and pains that I'm sure are tied to my poor frame drowning under too much weight. His is not fantastic either. And we can each think we're as hot as we want, but if we're dead, how is that going to help us?

    I think that's a motivator right there for people like you and me who are just sort of dumbfounded at the long, slow creep of weight-gain, and also that very odd feeling of "I know it's not good for me, but I'm fine with it for now" - just that reminder that it's really not fine, and we're hurting ourselves and others. But how to implement that with any meaning, especially when things like aging metabolisms get in the way? Like you said, it's not as simple as just cutting back, cutting down or whatever. Sometimes you can do all that stuff and still not see any results, and that's INFURIATING.

    Okay, novel finished now! But for really real, hang in there, try to stay focused and just try to chip away at it a bit every day. In the meanwhile, I love your style - pretty sure I've spotted a few ModCloth tunic tees in your wardrobe that are also currently hanging in mine!

  4. I can relate to what you're dealing with somewhat. I don't have any tips but I know if I was in your situation, in which it was up to me to eat/snack on whatever without my husband or myself preparing dinners, I wouldn't have the willpower to eat healthy.
    May I suggest you utilize tools like online weight loss communities, apps, groups/challenges? I'm crap at making myself do it on my own, but when I pair up with a friend, local or long distance, I'm much more successful at eating heather and excercising. I need that accountability for motivation.
    My husband grocery shops half the time and it's so much easier when he's on the same plan, so I hope yours is willing to support your goals. My employer sponsored a wellness challenge for 12 weeks, our 1st weigh-in was today. We got step trackers, and a free cookbook with $ going into the pot for weight losses, while $ is owed for gaining or maintaining. I know a challenge doesn't work for everyone but if you are like me, you respond to extrinsic motivation so try to find it/use when you can. Good luck to you and your husband, you make a beautiful couple.