I’m going to share a not-so-secret fact with you: I’m a big girl.

On a good day I tell myself I’m curvy, pleasantly plump, voluptuous, Rubenesque.

On a bad day, I’m chubby, flabby, a hippo. Fat.

Fat. How I hate that word. The implication is one of sloth, laziness, poor self-control.

The truth is, I haven’t always been a big girl. In fact, most of my life I was thin. In high school, they called me bean pole and told me if I turned sideways, I’d disappear. I ate like a horse, whatever I wanted, and never gained an ounce. I remember trying to gain weight at one point.

As a young adult, my grandmother worried over me, asking me if I was eating enough. After I had my first child, my mother was relieved that I kept on ten pounds. After my second child, I kept on another ten pounds, and it didn’t bother me.

The changes started a few years after that. I gained a few pounds, “ballooning” to a size ten. I lamented the growth, but didn’t truly worry about it. After all, even I knew the size four I was before my kids was too small for a 5’7” woman. I had curves, an ass, and never lacked for attention so I figured all my bits were just about right. Besides, with wild, flowing chestnut locks, big, doll-like eyes, I was rocking it.

From around the age of twenty-six, I continued to gain the weight. It crept up slowly, about five pounds a year. By the time I turned thirty, I was a size twelve. Still, I reasoned with myself, wasn’t Cindy Crawford something like a size ten? And she was a supermodel! Not to mention, I still got the “look.” Maybe not as often as before, but it was still there.

When I was thirty-one, I finally settled down and got married. We ate well together.

During this time, I worked in the gourmet food industry, specifically Italian. I was already a pretty decent cook before this, but afterwards… shazam! Pastas and sauces became a regular in my house. My husband and I also loved to eat out, trying new foods. Often I would go home and try to replicate the recipes, expanding my cooking repertoire, learning and growing the whole time.

Unfortunately, I happened to also grow in the literal sense, still adding those five pounds or so each year.

When I was thirty-two, I tackled my biggest, baddest habit and quit smoking. It was a struggle, but worth it in the end, and to this day I’m still a nonsmoker. Six months later I broke my ankle and had to sit on the couch for six weeks to avoid surgery.

By the end of those six weeks, I’d gained another twenty pounds.

Flash forward to today. I’m forty years old, and I weigh about forty pounds more now than I did when I was full term pregnant with either of my children. I look in the mirror every day and wonder if I will ever see that slim girl I once was again.

I know the script. Eat less, move more. You’re not trying hard enough if you can’t find thirty minutes a day to exercise. Cook healthy, non-processed foods. Eat more vegetables. Control your portions. Cut carbs. Cut fat. And I’ve done it all.

I’ve exercised. I joined the YMCA and worked out three days a week, two hours at a time. After four months, I gained four pounds. I knew the whole spiel about muscle having a higher density than fat, blah blah blah. It’s not very encouraging when what you’re trying to do is slim down, no matter what your trainer says. And I didn’t really notice a difference in my clothes. In the end, I felt like all the effort and sweat and pain was for nothing. Eventually, I just stopped going.

I’ve dieted too. I’ve counted every calorie, every carbohydrate going into my body. And I’ve lost weight doing so. Significant amounts each time. If I cut myself down to less than 1500 calories a day, eating lots of salad, egg whites and fish, the weight kind of melts away. For a while, at least. After the first twenty or thirty pounds, I hit the wall. I continue for a while, but soon it starts to weigh on me (no pun intended). I start thinking, “Am I going to have to do this for the rest of my life? Will I never be able to eat normally again?” Eventually, I start to sneak in all those naughty foods until I’m right back where I started.

It’s a painful process that hurts me each time I climb on the scale and see I’ve gained another pound. One that sends me reeling back to those potato chips and fast food.

If you’re thin and eat like a horse, you can’t understand the agony of being overweight. I didn’t. It all seemed so easy back then.

If you’ve struggled with your size, you know the hurt that comes with it. You know the pain of fat-shaming, especially the shame you put on yourself. You know the days you look in the mirror and think, if only you exercised a little self control, you wouldn’t be like this.

Or, how many chins do you have now? Two? Three?

Or sometimes, why do you bother fixing your hair and putting on makeup? Do you really think that dress and heels are gonna do it? Quit pretending any of it matters, no one thinks you’re cute anymore.

And on the really bad days, you look like a cow. You’re a fucking bovine. Moo. Moooooo. Go eat another hot wing, you moose. It’s not like it’s going to make a difference.

I don’t need others to shame me, I do plenty of it all on my own.

I know the solution seems simple. And it is, at least on the surface. I also know that quitting smoking, the toughest habit for me to break, was child’s play compared to this. It’s a daunting image to look down through the years and think that I’ll always struggle, that it will always be this hard. It becomes easier to just eat and ignore it.

What a vicious cycle. And one that never ends. After all, you can’t just quit eating like you do cigarettes.

I’m getting ready to start a new “lifestyle change,” as I call it. It’s not a diet, it’s a new way of living and thinking about food. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to struggle with my body image and the messages I feed myself. It will be a struggle, and there will be bad days. But there will be good days too.

There will be days when I long for those potato chips and pasta.

And there will be days when I can’t get over how much I enjoyed that fresh tuna steak with thin sliced avocado and baby greens.

There will be days I can’t stand to look at myself.

And there will be days when I look in the mirror and wink at my reflection and say to myself, you’ve still got it.

There will be days when I will be so unsatisfied with my progress that I’ll want to give up. And some days I will.

And there will be days of victory.

The truth is, I know this will be something I fight with the rest of my life. I also know that I’m doing the best I can with the tools I have in front of me. And I’m a bad ass bitch who doesn’t give up. I know that one day, something will click and I’ll tackle this issue with all the gusto and enthusiasm I have.

I also know that I’m not alone. Each of you who took the time to read this, who struggles just like me, and who walked through this fire and came out the other side, well… you inspire me. You take a little piece of my pain, and I in turn take a little of yours, and together we make it just a little better.

And sometimes, a lot better.

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