When I was twelve, my favorite album was Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”. There’s a song on it that I love called “Mary Jane”, and it remains my calling card to this day. The lyrics cut me real deep, in particular the part that goes, “I hear you’re losing weight again, Mary Jane. Do you ever wonder who you’re losing it for?” One time on a car ride I told my mom that I felt like I was Mary Jane, and when she asked what I meant by that, I told her about that line and she started to cry. I didn’t understand why back then, but now I think it was probably because she knew what it was like to be a woman. It probably hurt her that even at twelve I felt the pressures of a society that placed so much emphasis on looks rather than on being a person of substance.
I’m trying to remember the first time I became aware of my body, and I think it was in sixth grade. A boy in my class called me a whale. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, like “Hey, whales have excellent hearing, and have a very intriguing way of communicating. You are very much like a whale.” It was in a mean way, said with disgust. “Look at her, she’s a whale!” I guess he meant it in more of a “Whales are very large mammals so it’s no surprise that they consume large amounts of food” way. I don’t remember why my body was a topic that was up for discussion at that time, I only remember the sharp sting that came along with that word. It was as if I had been slapped across the face. I was stunned into silence, which was odd for a kid who was pretty much widely known for being a big mouth (apparently avid communication is another thing I have in common with whales). I just sat there staring at him, with a burning urge to punch him in the face. I knew I couldn’t do that, and not in a Martin Luther King Jr., “violence is never the answer”, kind of way. More like an “I would never be strong enough to overpower a boy” kind of way.
I don’t know when society decided that fat means ugly, but it has been the story that has been told to me all of my life. That I WOULD be beautiful, if only I wasn’t so fat. The first time a guy said some variation of that sentence to me, I was 14. I’ve heard it so many times over the course of my life, I can’t even count them all. Although I am confident about certain talents that I have, I have never ever been confident about my body. I don’t know a life where I haven’t been aware, at all times, that I am overweight and therefore less desirable, less capable, and less beautiful than everyone else in the room.
I wasn’t a fat kid, but I was a chubby teenager who grew into a fat adult. If these terms make you feel sad or uncomfortable, I feel you. They make me feel sad and uncomfortable, too. I didn’t ask for these to be the words that described my body or my looks, but they were the words that were thrust upon me by those around me, and by society at large through movies, television, and magazines. The majority of people who made comments about my body were boys, but some of the more cruel girls would make remarks too. Sometimes they were meaner than “fat” and “chubby”, and sometimes they were more subtle, like, “Are you really going to eat that?” or “I thought you were on a diet?” As far back as my memory takes me, my weight has always been an issue, and it’s been an issue that, for some reason, other people feel the need to comment on. It’s exhausting for me to think about my weight; to think about every piece of food that I put in my mouth, and to plan out every bit of physical exercise I do. In many ways it is a miserable life to constantly feel like who you are is wrong, lazy, bad, ugly, etc. As exhausting as it is to calorie count and restrict myself, the bigger pain associated with my body comes from the unsolicited comments I receive from other people about it.
Despite my weight, I’ve always been an active adult human. For many years of my life I got up at 5:00 in the morning to walk around the block before work. When I got a job that started earlier in the morning, I joined a gym and started exercising later at night. I’m a Just Dance champion. I use five pound weights with my workout DVDs. I do yoga. At one point in my life I could hold a plank pose for three minutes straight, which I think basically means I’m Wonder Woman? Being overweight means most people assume you’re lazy and you do nothing but eat all the time. To those people I say GOOD DAY SIR. Most people are surprised to find out that I don’t binge, snack, or overeat, and that I exercise regularly. While exercise is a big part of being mentally and physically healthy, it doesn’t make you skinny. Obviously.
My body isn’t like other bodies. Because of my medical condition, I have a very hard time losing weight. I’ve tried many diets in my lifetime, some more weird than others. I once did I diet in high school where I ate a grapefruit and bacon for breakfast every morning. That lasted all of five days. I’ve tried the Atkins diet. Body For Life. Weight Watchers. I’ve choked down more gross food than I can count. I saw the best results when I counted calories. For a straight year I exercised every day, and restricted myself to a daily intake of 1,250 calories. I lost twelve pounds, and four of them were lost in the first month. Those kinds of results are depressing to say the least. I got the feeling that I was trying so hard to get my body to be something that it wasn’t. Losing weight seemed impossible for me, so why was I trying so hard to look like someone I wasn’t?
A couple months ago, I decided to try the Whole 30 program. I first heard about it a few years ago, through the #whole30 Instagram hashtag, and when I looked into it initially, I thought anyone who did it must be crazy. As someone who loves food, I couldn’t imagine being that restrictive on what I ate for an entire month. No bread, no grains, no dairy, no sugars, not even honey. I am not one of those people who eats for fuel. In fact, I am a person who rolls my eyes at people who say they eat for fuel. I eat because I love food. Food is my friend. Food helps me cope with difficult things, it helps me feel better when I am sad. Pizza would never let me down. Cheeseburger always makes me feel happy. I couldn’t imagine going a whole month without my friends. What was I supposed to do when I had a bad or hard day? You mean to tell me that I can’t talk to Burrito about it?? I have to just deal with it on my own?? What kind of sorcery is that?? It wasn’t something I ever even considered possible for myself, which is primarily why I decided to do it. I didn’t like that there was something out there that I thought was impossible to do. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something that was very difficult for me. If I lost weight on the diet, I would count that as a bonus, but what I really wanted to do was challenge myself, and hopefully change my relationship with food and my body.
I’ll be real honest with you, this diet was rough for me. I really struggled. On the first day, I got a migraine and barfed three times. As I sat on the bathroom floor, sobbing and gripping the toilet seat, I started to doubt myself. I wondered if this was maybe not the best idea for me. I was doing the diet with my husband and a couple members of my family, and they all assured me that it was okay if I needed to quit, and I did seriously consider it. I laid on the couch with my head throbbing and tears in my eyes and looked over at the white board that was in my kitchen. My husband and I had written so many encouraging things on it the night before, along with meal ideas and grocery lists. Emblazoned in the middle of the board in bright orange ink were the words “DAY 1”. I stared at that board for a long time, imagining what it would look like when it said “DAY 10”, or “DAY 15”. I thought about how amazing I would feel when I would finally be able to write “DAY 30”, and I wanted so badly to feel amazing about myself. I wanted a win. With the image of myself writing that on the board secure in my mind, I decided that I wasn’t going to let one bad day keep me from finishing what I had started. I was going to keep going, and I was going to finish.
Spoiler alert: that wasn’t the last hard thing I went through. The first ten days were miserable. I choked down every broccoli floret, every dry piece of chicken. I lived for the few “treats” that I allowed myself; dried apricots, Utah peaches, and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. I savored those things and they tasted as good to me as any scoop of ice cream. Three days into the diet, I dreamed that I drove to Little Caesar’s and got a Hot n Ready pepperoni pizza, without my husband knowing. I took one bite out of it then began to sob because I cheated and ruined my diet. I tossed the rest of the pizza into a dumpster and woke up in a cold sweat. The dreams I had on this diet were truly wild, man. I dreamed about chicken strips, I dreamed about ice cream. I dreamed about taking a bath in ranch dressing. I spent many waking hours being disappointed with the weakness of Dream Gabi. She’s a maniac, I tell you.
I read a lot about this diet and most everyone commented on how hard the cravings would hit you, and they weren’t kidding. On day ten I went to the grocery store to get a couple things I needed for dinner, and I became a salivating savage in the bakery section. I walked around like the velociraptor in that scene from Jurassic Park. You know the one, where the steam from the raptor’s nostrils fogs up the window? Yeah, that me. I went to the little containers where they sell fresh baked bread and lifted the lid and took a giant hit of fresh Kaiser roll. My eyes rolled into the back of my head. I sadly slunk past cheese island without taking any samples. I was a hero, I tell you! Strong and noble. Joan of Arc and her flames have nothing on me and my resistance to carbs and dairy! Feel free to write about me for future school papers on strong women.
During the first part of the month, I cared more about food than I ever had in my life, mainly because I couldn’t eat any of the things I wanted. Going to the movies was a particularly sad affair. Two weeks into the diet we snuck fresh pressed juice into the theater in my backpack. I was disappointed in myself for spending $13 on two small orange juices, but desperate times call for desperate measures! Movie popcorn is my number one all-time favorite treat. Not being able to have it was bad enough, but smelling it and listening to everyone around me smack it around in their mouths during the movie was torture. Over the course of that month my husband and I had many “nothing” fights, purely because we were hangry. In a particularly low moment, during an argument where I was unnecessarily irritated because I was so hungry, I started crying like a toddler and then maniacally laughing. It was a wild ride, my friends.
People online talk a lot about the “Tiger’s Blood” phase of the diet, which sadly I never achieved. I never felt anything even remotely like a tiger! I was generally less energized, more tired, and my skin was as bad as ever (I knew my acne was all hormonal but that didn’t stop me from hoping that it would clear up when I cut out dairy completely). Most of the time I continued on with the diet only because I didn’t want to be a quitter, and I really didn’t want to let myself down. Because I’m such a fan of social media, I really wanted to be able to post about my experiences online. I decided against sharing anything related to the diet until after I finished it, because I didn’t want to have to tell all of my friends that I failed. Except for the vent sessions I had with my husband or my mom, I kept everything I was feeling to myself. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m most surprised by, the fact that I went 30 days without pizza, or the fact that I did it without talking about it online. Both were difficult in their own way.
Reading all this probably makes you wonder if there was a single positive thing I felt while dieting. The answer is yes! I did have some good feelings! Most importantly, I really never felt so proud of myself. I was so thrilled to write “DAY 30” on my white board. I still haven’t erased it, it’s just so dang satisfying to see it up there. I feel accomplished. This is the furthest I’ve ever gone with an extreme diet. About ten days in, my belly started feeling smaller, and continued to get smaller throughout the month. That was a huge deal for me! My husband and I took measurements and weighed ourselves the night before we started, and the morning after we ended. I lost 21 pound and five inches off my waist. That’s almost double what I lost in a whole year of calorie counting. I do love that during this diet I didn’t have to count or measure anything out. Sometimes I feel like I spend my life counting, and that gets old after a few years.
I’ve been done with the diet for a few weeks now, and sometimes I still can’t believe it’s real. I can’t believe I really went a month without pizza, soda, ice cream, chicken strips, etc. The people who work at the Soda Shop probably think my husband and I are dead! Though we are finished with the initial 30 days, we have decided to continue with the Whole 30 program during the week, and eat in moderation on the weekends. I’m hoping to continue to lose weight while still allowing myself to eat for enjoyment every once in a while. I’ve found a new appreciation for my body in these past 30 days. I think it’s kind of amazing, all the things it can do for me. Although I have changed the way I see food, and I now make better decisions on what I eat, I still love food a lot. That hasn’t changed much. There’s a quote from a famous supermodel that goes, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and that makes me sad because she’s obviously never had the sourdough pizza that we make in our backyard, and I feel bad for her.
I think back to who I was at twelve, the girl with the flushed face and balled up fists in her sixth grade classroom, irate over the boldness of a strange boy who felt like her body was available for his commentary. I love that girl. I don’t think she is fat or ugly. I think she is brave, and smart, and kind, and it makes me sad that she ever felt like anything less than that. Why do those feelings only apply to past versions of myself? Why is it so hard to feel that way about myself now? I think maybe what I’m most proud of myself for is the fact that I did this for myself. I could have quit, but I didn’t I kept going because I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I hear you’re losing weight again, Gabrielle, do you ever wonder who you’re losing it for? This time I was losing weight for myself, and that really does feel better than any pizza tastes.