I was a skinny kid. A really skinny kid. The kind of "skinny" people made fun of. I was called names like anorexic, bulimic, Ethiopian, Olive Oyl (from Popeye), and others. Clearly, kids did not understand the seriousness (and meanness) associated with the first 3 names. I did not have an eating disorder. And I was not malnourished or literally starving. Nonetheless, these are some of the names I heard over and over.
I grew to hate pretty much every word that meant skinny...because whenever people used that word about me, it didn't seem to be a compliment. Skinny. Thin. Willowy. Underweight. Those words almost always followed "too." Too skinny. I tried everything I knew to gain weight. I drank weight gainer shakes. I ignored eating "rules" like don't eat at night or don't eat dinner immediately before bed. (I mainly ignored these so called rules because I was hungry...and for me, hunger at night is intense. I am hungry every few hours...so I eat every few hours. Meaning, I eat at night...after dinner. My younger self knew this wasn't normal...especially when I spent the night with friends...I can still picture the looks on my friends' and their parents' faces when I would declare hunger or ask for a late night snack.) I have always eaten healthy foods (because I have always loved them) but I never denied myself sodas (I was a coca-cola addict!), fast food, fried foods, or dessert. (Note: I haven't had a soda, carbonated beverage, or sugary drink in almost 4 years. I occasionally eat fast food, fried foods, and dessert...more than I should, but MUCH LESS than my younger self.)
Even as a young adult, people made fun of me. I worked at FedEx for many years. I started in the hub of Memphis. You had to take a lift test to get the job...and I'll admit, I needed the help of a personal trainer to pass that test. When I started the job, I overheard people placing bets on how long I would last. Many people underestimated me. A few actually told me about it and apologized later. I can vividly remember an exchange at work. A man who was not my direct boss, but in a managerial position...a higher position than I held, made a comment that even with all my winter gear on, I was "too skinny." I don't remember his exact comment, but I remember it set me off. Here was a man who was the same age (or older) than my father, making a ridiculous and insulting comment...and it was supposed to be funny. I was not laughing. I looked at this man and without missing a beat I asked him "Do you make insulting jokes because you are self conscious about being short or bald? How much fun do you suppose it would be if the jokes always centered on your baldness? I might of missed something recently, but I'm not sure that's the 'cool' style these days." I immediately felt awful. He apologized and I apologized right back. By this time, we had drawn a crowd and I said "These jokes are mean...they are not funny. For some crazy reason, people think it's okay...maybe because skinny by itself is supposed to a good thing. Jokes about too skinny are not okay...and it's the same as making fun of someone for being too fat or too bald...not really acceptable jokes. I don't like it and I want it to stop. Now."
A few years later, I acquired the nick name "change the channel." I was "so skinny" that my knees reminded someone of the old fashioned knobs on a television set...the kind you had to walk to and turn in a circular fashion to change the channel.
I was "too skinny" for the first 25 years of my life. Then, I gained weight. When I first started gaining weight, I was thrilled. But one day I realized that I had gained "too much." I was no longer too skinny, I was overweight. I started making healthier choices and lost a few pounds. Not as much as I wanted...and I've struggled with about 10 pounds for years.
As someone who has been on both sides of the weight issue (no...not to extremes, but I have experienced the under and over side of the ideal weight scale), BOTH sides are HARD.
For the last 6ish years, my internal critic has been quite harsh regarding my weight. I shouldn't be here. I can't believe I'm now trying to lose weight after spending the first 26ish years of my life trying to gain weight. I should have more will power with food choices. I should have more discipline when it comes to exercise. After all these years of exercise, I should be able to do more push-ups, more burpees, run faster, run further, run more. Less, less, less (food). More, more, more (exercise).
Until. My brother got cancer. Until I started seeing critically ill patients. I mean really seeing them. I've worked in health care for a long time. I've learned about many illnesses. But understanding the science of a disease is different than really seeing and understanding the implications of said disease. One day (more recently than I'd like to admit), I finally got it.
Now, I'm no longer beating myself up over what I consider my shortcomings. I am celebrating my abilities. Not everyone can do a push-up. Can you imagine falling on the floor and not being strong enough to push yourself up? Not everyone can run...even a mile. The lungs or the legs don't work. Can you imagine not being able to breathe? Or move your legs? Not being strong enough to carry your own weight? The fact that my brain sends signals and my body responds seamlessly is an amazing thing. Can you imagine how frustrating it must be for someone whose brain and body are not in sync? What if your brain sent the signal to move your leg, but your leg didn't respond? Or you thought "walk" but could only "slowly shuffle"? What if your balance didn't work? I can sit on the floor and stand up. I can bend and twist (not as a yogi, but I have a normal range of motion.) I can squat, pick things up, run, jump, push myself off the floor...my body moves. I do not have to be a barbie doll or an Olympic athlete to celebrate my abilities. I am amazed when I think about all the things my mind and body are capable of. I am grateful to be average sized with average strength and athletic abilities. And you know what I learned through all this? When I started appreciating my abilities, it became easier to take care of them. It doesn't feel like punishment or deprivation. Health and ability are gifts. I am grateful.