(WOMENSENEWS)--I used to be slim without thinking about it.
Size 2 jeans took no effort to fit into. My thighs always looked fine, and when my sister asked if she looked fat, I would roll my eyes. Who thought about things like that?
Calorie-counters annoyed me and dieters bored me with their talk of--well--dieting, and I vowed to never become either one.
At 30 I got married, and my husband and I received rolls of pictures taken by family members. I did not "Oooh!" or "Ahhh!" Instead, I grimaced at my thick neck and quickly passed images of my unusually large face.
At 5 feet 4 inches, I weighed 130 pounds the day we married. While not technically overweight, I was overweight for me. Having spent most of my adult life between 115 and 120 pounds, I wasn't used to the body in the pictures.
That wedding weekend, relatives had said how nice it was that I'd "filled out." But I, like many, have a certain amount of vanity, and I didn't like that the added weight made my eyes squinty, my chin less defined. Weight distributes differently on different people, and those 15-20 pounds did not sit well on me.
Bony actress types had never been my physical role models. Thin throughout childhood, the last thing I wanted was to go back to being the kid who'd taken to obsessively riding her bike to bulk up skinny legs. I only wanted to return to a weight I thought attractive on me.
A body mass index calculator put my healthy weight anywhere between 115 and 140 pounds.
I won't go nuts, I told myself. I won't learn what a calorie is or set foot on a scale. I would judge by my jeans: when my favorite pair didn't nudge up a muffin-top, I would consider my goal achieved.
Out With the Creamy Pasta
Most evenings, balanced meals replaced creamy pasta. Hamburgers became turkey burgers and pasta was allowed once a week. Desserts: low-calorie (and delicious!). I exercised religiously.
My husband and I both did.
Within a year, he lost and kept off the 40 pounds he wanted to lose, and I just knew I was back in my old jeans.
Curious, though, I had to weigh myself just once. How bad could it be to check?
I dragged out the scale--the evil tool of the diet-food industry--and stepped on: 113.2. All right, then, 113.2-ish pounds it was. I would check, say once a month, to be sure I was maintaining.
The next morning: 114.3.
Apparently, I needed room for fluctuations. A buffer-weight. A few pounds of give or take would, I decided, be the best way for me to reduce the need for intensive focus. If I kept myself at the same general weight, I'd be doing well.
My buffer weight--meaning, the lowest I could go--would be a very reasonable 111. Since 113 was my chosen ideal, anywhere between 111 and 113 was the weight I would try to maintain.
A week later: 112.7.
Well, that was too close to 113. One dessert could launch me into 114 territory. I needed a new buffer; 111 became 110.
"If you get below 110," my husband said, "we're talking." (He knew my tendency to go overboard.)
106.8 was my lowest registered weight.
Which I'd not have known had I not become a scale addict.
Avoiding the Backslide
That desire to not have to start all over with the huffing-puffing three-mile walks and jeans that didn't fit was the innocent beginning.
It wasn't long before I wasn't able to enjoy food the way I once had. Everything made the calorie bell go 'ding!' And while that encourages responsibility in a daily diet, it would also have been nice to simply love--without reservation--a good steak.
On the days I weighed a pound more than or the same weight as the buffer, I would look in the mirror and believe I looked heavier when, in truth, I didn't. Our minds can all too easily trick us that way.
A year after our wedding and one year thinner, we visited a friend who lived near the beach. I was proud to wear my bikini; the year before, it had been
. . . snug. I put it on, checked the mirror, and thought I could be in a magazine. Why not? I was a thin female; everyone loves thin females. I thought I looked fantastic the whole weekend. Aptly figured and well-proportioned.
My head was too big for my bony body, and where were my hips? I'd never been an hourglass, but a Bobblehead? I'd buffered my curves away!
How embarrassing to have flounced around Florida thinking I was gorgeous when, instead, I'd looked scary.
Because of my natural tendency to go overboard, when articles I'd read on anorexia or excessive weight loss were starting to feel familiar the time came to stop and think. Had my weight dropped any lower, my husband would--and should--have dragged me to a doctor if I'd have refused to do it myself.
It took seeing myself from the outside--pictures work; mirrors don't--to recognize I was in desperate need of a decadent cookie from the local coffee shop.
I got one, along with a non-skim latte, and I ate--and continue to eat--healthy food in healthy portions three times a day.
Gaining back weight wasn't easy, psychologically. I watched the scale, grumbled, counted calories. It was less about weight gain and more about hating dieting. Losing weight was the kind of "work" I didn't enjoy and, to a strong believer in enjoying things in moderation, dieting seemed like an inherently excessive activity. (Close food-watching. Exercising to lose, rather than to maintain. Maintaining is always easier.)
I was lucky to have caught myself before some buffer-craze took complete control of my otherwise rational self and to have remembered I never wanted to be anorexic; I just wanted to take off a few pounds.
Kristen J. Tsetsi is a fiction and freelance writer living in upstate New York. Links to much of her published work can be found on her Web site, www.kristentsetsi.com.