The past few days I’ve gone a little nuts with the eating and drinking.
Wednesday I had some cookies for a “meal” while at a meeting, then came home and had half a bottle of wine and hummus for dinner, with more cookies for dessert. Thursday, I had five strawberry mojitos — they must have been virgin or something, because I swear I was just drinking strawberry juice — and a burger and fries. And, then because I didn’t have a pizookie at BJs, I decided to make a batch of mint-chocolate chip cookies Friday night and finish the bottle of wine. Saturday, I took it easy. Just a burrito. And, then Sunday, I had french toast in the morning with eggs and sausage, and then two pints, some pizza, and a brownie sundae.
All of which meant last night I was laying in bed and really felt like throwing up. And, not in an abstract way. I mean I actually could imagine the food coming back up. I thought it might make me feel better, like when you’ve had too much to drink.
That’s not something I would actually do — force myself to throw up — because it’s 1. gross and 2. crazy. But, laying there, I could imagine what people feel like before they do.
Growing up, I never thought about food or weight. At all. Not even a little bit. I was vaguely aware that what you weighed was something other people cared about and that twice a year the doctor would tell you to jump on a scale, which I always found fascinating, but it never crossed my mind the other 363 days. It’d have been like caring about learning to sing opera. Why would you?
When I tell people that I never learned to care about this and I grew up with no ability to understand why someone might stress about their weight, they think I’m overcompensating or lying, protesting too much. I’m not. I simply never lived in a house with a scale until I was 22. I also am incapable of identifying car brands, couldn’t have told you which was the Pacific Ocean until I after lived in California for two years, and can only vaguely pretend to care about musicians because I have sensed over the years that it would make me weird if I didn’t.
So, besides health classes and Lifetime movies that went on and on about anorexia and bulimia, I remained blissfully unaware. (Evidently, now, health classes go on about diabetes and obesity.)
I headed off to college and for a whole wealth of reasons — mono; being sick limiting me from walking on to the cross-country team; in turn, laying in bed a lot and watching TV; all-you-can-eat buffets in the dining hall, which included unlimited sugar cookies that were easy to sneak out in giant tupperware containers; eating those sugar cookies while lying in bed and watching TV; a diet that consisted mostly of cookies and Hot Pockets — I went from being something around 108-114 lbs. to something around 126-131 lbs.
As I understand it now, that’s a large weight gain. But, I swear, you couldn’t tell. Sorta.
Here are some pictures from when I was in high school:
Here are some pictures from my freshman/sophomore years, when I was “bigger:”
So, can you tell? Yeah, probably, somewhat. But not really. At no time did I ever enter the realm of unhealthy, even when once I bent over and the top button popped off of my favorite jeans — something I, to this day, regret, because I loved those jeans. Still, it genuinely never really occurred to me that I was putting on weight. I laughed when the button popped off and cursed the laundry machines and bought new clothes over Christmas break.
Self-confidence has never been an issue. For better or worse.
That meant that precisely when you thought I’d have developed a sympathy and understanding of what other people were going through, I didn’t. Instead, I thought: hah, I can put on 18 lbs. and you can’t even tell. (Sorta.)
It wasn’t until I started on the triathlon team that someone really gave me a reason to care about what you weigh. Because it can make you go faster. (Actually, I think the main lesson I took from the nutrition guy that first year on triathlon was: Eat immediately after workouts. I’d stand in the showers after swim practice, then, with my giant bag of M&Ms and swear to everyone it was “recovery food.”)
I’m mostly a rational person, and also I like eating, so while I was aware that there’s a theoretical optimal race weight, I didn’t go nuts. It was all a theory. You lose weight, you gain it, you try to eat some vegetables, whatever.
But, once there was a scale in front of me and numbers, then it was easy for it to just become another target to hit, like any workout. Certainly, numbers wouldn’t go down every day or forever. You don’t get faster every day or forever, either. Instead, you’d write them down on your calendar next to your training and look at the overall trends and nod in satisfaction.
When I told someone this once, they said I had an eating disorder. Which, I thought, was idiotic, because – besides being wrong – it missed the point. Caring about the weight numbers was no more unhealthy or obsessive than caring about the bike power numbers or the swim splits or tearing yourself up because you couldn’t hit your track times. It’s probably not even the most messed up thing plenty of athletes worry about.
Yet, briefly, as I tried to get down to something close to race weight once (in a healthy, reasonable way over six weeks, ok), I could almost see what it was everyone cared so much about. I wasn’t going to keep driving those numbers down, obsessed, until I became a 60 lb. skeleton of a person, because that’d be 1. gross and 2. crazy. But, I could see that cliff edge off in the distance and understand how someone might find themselves looking over it.
So, the past few days I’ve gone a little nuts with the eating and the drinking, which I’ll stop for a while and which I’ll probably do again at some point, because, you know, it’s life. And, I will probably feel horrible again when I do, like I will be full for the rest of forever. And, then, regardless of whether I had the chocolate-chip cookie platter or the salad, I’ll go out and try to hit my targets and my goals and my paces. I’ll write down my little numbers and stress about them.
I’m sure you can understand.