I have made no secret of the fact that I have long-standing body image and weight issues. I’m not going to re-hash them all, but suffice it to say that they’re pretty much as old as I am, and just as stubborn. Like many moms, I am trying my very hardest not to pass those attitudes along to my children. I am very careful to NEVER talk about restricting my food or “dieting” in any way in front of my kids. They see me eat, I don’t make an issue of it one way or another. I let them eat when they’re hungry, I don’t make them clean their plates if they are done, I try to present healthy choices. I never, ever make disparaging comments about myself or my body in their presence. They see me exercise, which makes me happy, and I always talk about it in terms of being healthy and strong and working hard. Never a word about losing weight, getting smaller, or anything like that.
My mother-in-law has long struggled with her weight, too. She talks about weight ALL THE TIME. Especially with me, maybe because it’s some kind of common bond? It’s annoying, because even I get tired of talking about it. Yes, we struggle. We wish we didn’t. End of story. Apparently not. When M and I were first dating and we’d go visit his parents, literally EVERY time we were there, she would talk about how M used to be so skinny. (And he was, almost alarmingly so, but whatever. It was 15 years ago. Get over it.)
Over the weekend, when my in-laws were visiting, my kids found a small framed picture of M and me, taken the night we got engaged. The kids like carrying it around. What does my MIL say? “Oh look, there’s Mommy and Daddy when they were young and thin!”
The somewhat insulting nature of that comment (and the fact that I was not “thin” then, either) completely aside, I was aghast that she would talk that way in front of my kids. And I noticed it wasn’t the only time she talked about “getting fatter” or thinner in front of them, and other related topics of being fat or not. Now that I’ve had some space to mentally digest it, I am even more appalled, and you can bet I’m going to call her on it the next time she does it. You can’t always change people, and there are plenty of differences that you have to let slide. But this isn’t one. I’m livid.
I got home late last night and should have gone straight to bed, but instead found myself watching Biggest Loser on the DVR. For any issues I may have with the silliness of reality shows, I love it and watch it religiously. I love to see these people work their asses off (literally and figuratively). I love watching their successes and their unbelievable progress.
Last night was the second-to-last episode [spoiler ahead, in case you haven’t watched it yet]. The remaining four contestants were sent home for a month and told they’d be brought back for one last weigh-in and to run a marathon. Basically, it’s a test to see how they can apply the lessons learned with the trainers when they’re at home and on their own. One contestant, Daris, really struggled. Despite losing 150+ pounds in four months and becoming nothing short of an athlete, despite running a marathon in a scant four hours, he actually gained two pounds while at home (the others lost between 9 and 20 pounds in that same time). The food still haunted him.
I know there are people who watched that outcome and screamed at the TV. “You’ve come this far! You’ve lost so much weight! You’re so close to the end! There’s $250,000 at stake! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF?”
I didn’t ask that. I already know the answer. Watching what Daris did was like a punch in the gut. It was me. I get it.
If you’ve never truly struggled with your weight, it’s hard to understand. I didn’t get fat because I don’t know that vegetables are good for me and cookies aren’t. I didn’t get fat because I don’t know what a portion size is supposed to be. It’s not because I got a little carried away making all of the Pioneer Woman recipes. For whatever long-standing reasons, I have a different relationship with food that much more closely resembles addiction than simply a “bad habit.” Sometimes I’m in control of it, and sometimes I’m not. But it’s fundamentally different than the person who simply put on a few pounds over the years, or is having a hard time with that last bit of baby weight. It’s different.
I don’t say that as an excuse. I am physically able to exercise, I am capable of monitoring my food intake and losing weight. But just because I can sometimes get the demons under control doesn’t mean they ever, ever go away. I will never not have to deal with this.
And that’s why last night’s overly-dramatic reality show stuck with me. That struggle was so very real and so very familiar. You can watch the “plea” of each contestant and cast your vote over at NBC if you’re so inclined. It might not be the most eloquent thing you’ve ever heard, but Daris’s breaks my heart each and every time, so I voted for him. It felt like I was voting for me. His battle is far from over. The truth is that, for all of the contestants on that show, it will never be over. And neither will mine.