I have a confession. I am addicted to dieting and diet pills.
Yes, I know they are bad. Yes, I know they can be lethal. But I can’t stop myself. The sad thing is that it’s been this way for close to 20 years now. I’ve tried every diet on the market, from Atkins to Weight Watchers, and every pill from SlimQuick to the Kardashian-branded Quicktrim. None have produced long-term weight loss, and each time, I gained back what I lost plus interest. So why not break the cycle? It’s simple—I can’t.
When I was young, I was fat. But more than that, I had (and still have) very low self-esteem. I was picked on, unpopular, and for all intents and purposes, depressed. The thing is, yes, a lot of it was the kids at school picking on me, but the most hurtful words came from my mother. Yes, my own mother. The woman who was supposed to love me unconditionally was the person chastising me the most for being overweight. She has always been obsessed with the number on the scale and clothing size. And she passed her weight obsession along to me. I hated my life and my body.
Then, for a brief moment, things changed for the better. As a teenager, I became a competitive swimmer. I got that lean “swimmer’s body” and all the confidence that came with it. It felt good. For the first time in my life, I felt popular, proud even, and that made me happy. I realized that the happiness I was finally experiencing came with a price—thinness. The thinner I was, the happier I would be. So I began measuring my body fat weekly. At my “best” I was at 17% BMI. In my mind, though, that wasn’t good enough. I needed to lose more. So the dieting and pill-popping began—laxatives to flatten my stomach, crash diets to lose 10 more pounds before the next race. It’s a cycle that to this day has not been truly broken, but Lord knows I’ve tried.
You would think that pregnancy and giving birth to my children would have helped my addictive tendencies, but no such luck. They actually made them worse. Instead of embracing what my body was doing, I hated it. I resented the weight I gained and ate even more out of depression. When I gave birth, instead of giving my body time to heal from the ordeal that is delivering a child, I began dieting immediately. I recognize now that I’m beyond lucky to have four healthy, thriving, children. But between my second and third child, I lost a pregnancy. The loss hit me hard because although the doctor emphasized there was nothing I could have done, I’ve always secretly feared I lost my baby because of the diet plan I had been following just a month before. It’s a pain I’m afraid I will always carry.
At this point, you’re probably wondering about my husband. You should know he’s been in love with me since we were teenagers. He’s never minded, aside from the health risks, if I was heavier or thinner. He continually tells me that he loves me no matter what I look like and points out that only I could have given him the four greatest gifts. That alone should be enough to straighten me out, right? It’s not.
My mother’s voice is still in my head, telling me I’m not thin enough, that my husband will leave me for “letting myself go.” The cycle that has consumed my life since I was a teenager has not yet been broken. I am ashamed to say that I continue to lie to my husband, because he has no idea that I continue to take diet pills.
If my husband’s unconditional love couldn’t do it, surely my children could help set me straight, right? Wrong again. I strive to be that perfect mom who doesn’t look like she’s had four children. Interestingly enough, I fully acknowledge that this is a terrible state of mind, and I’ve never wanted my children, especially my daughter, to inherit these issues. I have worked tirelessly over the course of my daughter’s life to ensure she has the self-esteem I don’t and self-value I just can’t seem to allow myself to have. She doesn’t know what a “diet” is, only that certain foods are healthy and others are meant to be enjoyed in moderation. She will tell you over and over that food is fuel for her body to grow and be strong. I’ve made it a point to constantly tell her how beautiful she is—inside and out.
Sadly, I was so concerned about my daughter’s well-being that I ended up focusing on the wrong kid. It turns out my son is the one struggling. He thinks he’s fat. Starting this past summer, he refused to wear a rash guard out of fear of looking fat. He thinks other kids will make fun of him. My son is nowhere near fat. He is tall, strong and athletic. Numerous coaches scout him to play their sport because he is a natural athlete. Unfortunately, none of that matters. He thinks he’s fat, and for a time, he didn’t even want to eat. It scared me, shook me to my core, that my son could be plagued by these thoughts. It sounds silly, but it had never occurred to me that my boy would go through this. I went on a crusade to find out who had put these horrible thoughts into my precious boy’s head.
The horrifying answer slapped me in the face. It was my fault. Not because I had ever said anything degrading to him, like my mother had done to me, but because of all the times he heard me putting myself down. These things are caught, not taught after all.
I simply have no choice; I need to be better. I need to be the mother my children deserve, and the wife my husband married. I need to teach my children what true love is. That it’s not necessarily a model with a seemingly perfect body or a woman who bounces back from childbirth immediately. That a real man will love his wife no matter what. I need my sons to know that their future wives may not look like the woman on the cover of the Sports Illustrated magazine, and that’s OK. I need my daughter to not feel the pressure society places on women to look “perfect.” And I realize now that it begins with me.
I know I’m not alone in my struggle. Our shape and size doesn’t dictate our self worth. Even when we think no one is watching as we struggle with our imperfect bodies, someone is watching. Little eyes who see nothing but perfection are watching. And learning.