It still shocks me when I am shopping for clothes and the saleswoman asks me, "What size are you, a size six?"
I reply with insistence, "No, absolutely not! If I'm lucky, a size ten!"
She argues with me. "You, a petite thing like you? You must be a size 6 or 8!" I find myself in the perverse role of convincing someone that I'm really bigger than I look.
It wasn't always this way. For twenty years I battled an eating disorder so fiercely, it consumed my life. My closet did contain a few size eights, for those rare moments in time when my body actually squeezed into them. That lasted about a month or two. Most of the time, I hovered in the size 12-16's, on one endless diet after another.
I started dieting when I was age 11. I stopped when I was age 32.
During that interim period of time, like so many women and men, I tried every diet ever invented, purchased countless numbers of health club memberships used for six months or less, paid thousands of dollars to therapists and weight loss organizations, attended overeaters anonymous and convinced myself that I would be a recovering binge eater for the rest of my life, and mostly, I despaired. Since a woman has to eat, and I couldn't seem to eat like a normal, healthy adult, I had received my life sentence -- binge eater and overweight woman for life.
I was wrong.
It has been ten years since I last dieted. I have been the same weight -- 122 pounds -- for the last ten years. The only exception were my three pregnancies when I gained the necessary weight to create a healthy baby, and then shortly after birth returned to a healthy weight. I write this story to give hope to women and men who don't believe that for them, this is possible. It is.
The turning point for me came at one particular desperate cry for help -- an intensive personal growth workshop (I don't even remember the name!) I attended ten years ago.
I was thrown into a room with forty strangers for five days. We spent every waking moment together. We were lead by the facilitator to go deep into our psyches and to heal the wounds that were stopping us from living our lives in joy. I stuck it out, despite an agonizing couple of days. And a miracle happened.
When we started the workshop, each of us were strangers. We judged one another initially based on outward appearance, and were drawn to, or away, from certain members of the group. Slowly, as the workshop progressed, barriers came down. Spend enough time looking deeply into another human being's eyes, and you will see his or her soul, not just their outward appearance. Listen long enough to another human being's pain, and you will hear your own.
On the last day of the workshop, my turning point arrived. We were paired up with another member of the group for an exercise.
As luck would have it, my partner was the size four I had always envied. A beautiful woman, of model material. Part of the assigned exercise involved hugging one another, deeply, for several minutes, not just the cursory, "Hi, how are you?" kind of hug. I hugged this woman, and I felt her bones. She had the body I had always envied -- the one I spent years dieting, trying to achieve. She was a beauty to gaze at, but her body did not give me a feeling of "ahhhh" when I hugged her.
It wasn't that she wasn't beautiful -- she was. It's just that I understood at that moment that there are all kinds of beauty. I had been so focused on one particular kind -- the size four kind -- I had missed so many other ways to be beautiful.
Next, I was assigned a new partner, a woman you might describe as "hefty." Again, when the assigned time came, we hugged, for a long while.
I loved the feeling of her hugs. Her voluptous, round, soft body engulfed me, and I felt SO comforted in her arms.
In that moment, I got it.
She was beautiful, inside and out.
And so was I.
I looked around the room with new eyes, gazing on all of the members of the group. They came in so many sizes, old, young, middle-aged, brown, white, and so on. Each of us were so unique, and really, so beautiful. After spending five intense days with this group, I no longer saw only their exteriors.
I saw a room full of God's creatures, and each of them was beautiful to me.
A peace settled over me. After twenty years of dieting, and a lifetime of believing that if only I could lose weight, I'd be beautiful, I stopped. I ended the cycle of binge eating that always resulted from depriving myself on one measly diet after another. I accepted myself, completely, at the weight I was.
When I totally lost the drive to binge eat, I lost weight effortlessly, over a year or so. Although I had come to accept my body as it was, overweight, my body naturally sought to be healthier and thinner, when I allowed it to be.
The addiction to overeating was totally lifted from me.
I thank God, and a woman, whose name I do not even remember, who gave me the best hug of my entire life.