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Awaken the Diet WithinFrom Overweight Mom to Beauty Queen-My Nine Steps to Successful Weight Loss
By Julia Griggs Havey
Warner BooksCopyright © 2004 Julia Griggs Havey
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePART I
FROM THE BEGINNING
It took me until age thirty-five to realize and embrace the fact that we are not our bodies. Your body is the vehicle that houses who you are, that which makes you uniquely you-your soul, your being. Identical twins may have bodies that look the same, but their souls and personalities are completely different and individual. Realize that your body does not define who you are now, nor will it when you are thinner. This concept is similar to the misconception that simply having more money will make people happy when, in reality, if they're not happy without money, chances are they won't be happy with it.
My obsession with my weight and body image began long before I became heavy. In fact, I had spent most of my thirty-plus years obsessed with my body. Throughout my life, I'd find myself thinking things like "I'm too fat, my thighs are too big, my chest is too small." I measured my self-worth by how others viewed my body and how they treated me. I sought my self-esteem via others' image of me based upon the appearance of my body, rather than through my image of myself-spiritually and emotionally-the person inside who really mattered.
My father enjoys telling the story of my first brush with overeating. After I was born, my mother required a few more days in the hospital to recoup from an infection. Since Dad had managed to raise two other babies without incident, they felt it was safe to send me home alone with him. He marveled in his skill at caring for me. I was a perfect baby, for a girl. He was 0 for 3 at attempts for a son. I was healthy, and could I eat! I was certainly thriving. My weight had nearly doubled in the week following my birth. It wasn't until my mother arrived home and pointed out to him that you have to dilute the formula that he realized I was merely bloated and about to explode.
I wasn't a particularly fat kid, but I wasn't a skinny one either. Regardless of size, I remember other children teasing me and calling me "Griggs Pigs." I vividly remember being crushed when a saleslady announced that I couldn't fit into a size 6X any longer. That moment might be what triggered my size obsession. A 6X was tiny, petite, cute kid clothes! I didn't want to wear the plus-size big-kid clothes. I think I just didn't want to grow up. But continue to grow I did. As children can be cruel, I doubt that any of them realized how badly their school-yard pranks hurt. It just seems to be human nature to make fun of people who are different.
The name calling and my continuous growth didn't curb my appetite. When my friends and I discovered my mother's stash of pre-made desserts in the freezer in the carport, we devoured them. After all, who would miss a few-dozen! I will never forget my mother's reaction when she found them missing. That negative reinforcement should have been enough to curb my closet eating, but it wasn't.
Once my junk-food source had been cut off, I began sneaking to the store on my bike to buy Pop-Tarts with my friends and gorge on them before we got home. That was the beginning of my unhealthy eating habits: I was a self-taught closet eater. It was the family mystery: Why did Julia keep getting bigger?
At thirteen, I had a lot on my plate, both figuratively and literally. My parents were divorcing and my sisters were going off to college. For a while it was just my dad, Nana, and myself. Talk about bad eating habits. We ate either the outrageously good, though very fattening, southern-fried soul food my nana's helper made us, or my dad's "roast in a bag" special. I often stuck with the Pop-Tarts. That's when I developed my habit for skipping meals and eating only sweets.
In the next few years, my dad retired from the United States Air Force and we bought a house in St. Louis. Finally, I thought, we had a permanent home. I would be able to have friends I could get to know well and not have to say good-bye to in a few months. A school where I could get to be part of the cliques-no more of these schools by the base where the locals have all known each other their whole lives and aren't about to let military brats into their circles. I was really looking forward to this.
My weight wasn't bad then; I felt like a normal teenage girl. I wore a size ten or twelve, and by my definition I wasn't fat or even chubby. Things went well for me at my new school. I had a boyfriend the first year. I met seven girls in my Spanish class. We were known as the Big 8-eight girls, each one crazier than the next!
My friends and I all shared the same appetites, as well, and we could easily evacuate a refrigerator after school, sometimes without the formality of silverware. However, the world can be an unfair place. After all, they never seemed to gain weight. That appeared to be my job.
Although I was relatively thin at the time, or so I thought, a few boys in school would often tease me by calling me "Namu the killer whale" and "Buffalo butt." How bullies are able to locate your weak point and then exploit it is beyond me, but there are those who are so good at it they make it an art form.
A girl with high self-esteem would have realized that these pimple-faced boys were merely looking for attention from one in the more popular group, a point that I, of course, could recognize only with the wisdom of a grown woman. As a young girl, it drove me to the Diet Center for an entire summer, slimming down to a practically anorexic 110 pounds-at five feet, eight inches tall, that's a bit extreme.
My willpower was intense that summer; the girls and I all went to an outdoor concert and I drank only my diet soda with lime while they imbibed in a few (root?) beers. I got so thin that summer that my boyfriend du jour's father bought a candy bar and made me eat it. I can look back now, with wisdom, and see so clearly that I made stupid decisions out of an attempt to gain acceptance. I wasn't secure with who I was. I needed to hear from others that they thought I was great because I didn't think very highly of myself.
How well I remember the craziness of weight obsession in my teen years: the unhealthy diets, the desperate thoughts, and the strange rationalizations. There is not a diet out there I haven't tried. Once, out of pure desperation, I offered a friend $500 to drive me to a hospital emergency-department entrance and have her chop off my rear end. Then the doctors would take me into the hospital and sew me up. Sure, I'd be horribly scarred, I thought, but at least I'd be thinner.
(You've never been that desperate?) Another time, a friend and I jogged to the all-night bakery and ate a dozen cream-filled doughnuts. I guess we figured we could eat as much as we wanted since we had jogged a few blocks. Let me tell you, getting back was a lot harder than getting there!
You can't name a fad diet I haven't tried. I'm sure that now you'll believe that I once bought "miracle weight-loss pants" from an ad in the back of a magazine. You know those ads: "Amazing! Drop 20 Pounds and a Dozen Inches in Two Days!" Maybe you purchased the pants as well? The ad promised inches off my waist by the very next morning. I waited weeks for my package to arrive, eating all I could in the duration, assured that the svelte body I sought was "in the mail." The package came and I ran upstairs with it, tearing it open along the way.
In preparation for the magical transformation, I ran back downstairs to get the vacuum cleaner, then back upstairs to pull on the miracle pants, which were made of something that resembled a plastic trash bag. I attached them to the vacuum as instructed and commenced running in place. I guess the idea was that I would vacuum out the fat from my body. Things went great for about thirty seconds. Then, in all the excitement, the unthinkable happened. The rear end of the pants split wide open. I was released from the compression seal and, thus, a complete "blowout"! I was devastated. My dreams of a "Playmate figure" were shattered. Not only had I not lost inches, but my eating spree while waiting for the miracle to arrive in the mail left me with more pounds and inches to contend with. I don't think my family ever took any of my dieting seriously from that moment on.
In my senior year of high school, all I talked about was becoming an ADPi, a sorority my mother had joined in college. She was the campus beauty queen and a teen Miss Florida-an Elizabeth Taylor double and an actual descendant of Spanish royalty. On her side of the family we are related to the original first family of Florida, back to Ponce de Leon and all the conquistador history. I have a photo from Town & Country magazine of my mother and grandmother posing with the reigning royal family member. If only America still used formal titles so I could go by the title Contessa Julia!
I didn't know my mother very well; I have seen her only a few times since my parents divorced. I do remember her, though, as the outwardly perfect southern woman, very graceful and charming to others. I felt that joining her old sorority would somehow make us closer. Growing up without her all those years, I wanted more of a connection to her. I never told anyone why this was so important to me; everyone thought I just wanted the social fun of belonging to a sorority, but to me it meant more-a lot more. I would share something with my mother that was a huge part of her life. Joining that sorority and being part of that group was all I wanted out of college.
I guess I thought that would make up for the mother I didn't have. When I began college, I was much too immature and unprepared to be on my own. I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up, or even if I wanted to grow up. My ignorance during those days stretched so far as to question my friend Betsy, who knew that she wanted to become an engineer. I thought, Why in the world would she want to operate a train? My grades in high school reflected my don't-give-a-darn attitude at the time, and therefore the sorority system that I so desperately wanted to be part of turned up its nose at me-Ouch! They pushed my dreams aside without so much as a chance to prove myself worthy. I had blown my chances without even knowing it.
I was miserable at college. I felt like everyone belonged to something except me. I really tried to fit into the college scene, but it never seemed to work for me. I became very depressed and plunged farther into my eating disorders. I even dabbled with bulimia. My dad insisted that I pull myself together, that I tell my professors I was sorry and would work hard to make up the work I had missed. But it wasn't as if I had the confidence to walk up to a professor and admit erring. That was my whole problem. I lacked any belief in myself or my abilities, academically or personally. I allowed not getting into a sorority to eat me up inside. I felt like a big loser.
At one point, though, I did manage to confront my philosophy teacher. He was understanding; perhaps he knew that my self-esteem was very low. He convinced me to stick with school and try. He would rank as one of those wonderful people whom I have been lucky enough to encounter along the way who really cared about me and tried to get me to see that I was more than what I gave myself credit for.
After a few more years of the same, my dad eventually tired of my academic-probation status and suggested I take a break-maybe to become a stewardess. So I left school in hopes that change would do me good. I was accepted for the stewardess position, and it gave me great happiness to have been accepted-I finally belonged to an elite group. There was the weight requirement, though, and as time went on I noticed (as did my boss) that I was always on the high end, literally, of the acceptable weight limit. Much like at the air force bases, when I was the boss's daughter, I caught a lot of flack now. My dad ran the airport in St. Louis and this was the largest airline in the city.
It was always "She's his kid," or "Wonder how you got the job?" So much for fitting in and being accepted. But that didn't keep me from having a great time. I really loved the job and I was good at it as well.
To me, it was like hosting a dinner party every night: It was my job to make sure that all passengers not only got to their destinations safely, but also had a great time getting there. I was beginning to realize my strengths: I was social, not academic. I loved working first class on the long flights-the airline's service was very elaborate then (and so was the food).
The layovers as a stewardess (of course, "flight attendant" now) were a blast. We went sight-seeing in different cities and participated in a lot of social activities. One such layover in Hawaii, coupled with too much sun, made for a very long flight home. I remember passengers feeling so sorry for my sunburned and blistered legs that they took out their aloe and rubbed me down.
My more professional crew members didn't enjoy my style. I thought that they believed I shouldn't be having fun because I was bordering the weight limit, and that I should take this matter seriously.
I missed the point. It wasn't my weight that they took issue with; it was my lack of maturity and decorum. I thought then that everything revolved around my weight.
The variety of restaurants across the country made for great eating. My years in college had conditioned me for eating to feel good. Too good, in my case-I started filling out. Much to my embarrassment, my male boss summoned me to his office so that he could weigh me, asking, "Hop on the scale, Miss Griggs."
Weighing in was a serious matter. If I was too heavy, I could be grounded or put on weight check. For years I struggled to control my eating and maintain my weight. Laxatives became a food group for me. I didn't think I looked overweight back then, and I had only the airline's rules to keep me in check.
Out at the bars one night during an airline strike, I met a union man who kept giving me a hard time about crossing the picket line and not supporting my union. He was handsome, in a burly sort of way, and I suggested he try to change my mind over dinner. Laughing to my friends, I joked, "Watch me fall for this one!" You guessed it: I married him. We had a great time together. My weight started creeping up after one year of marriage-I was at about 160 pounds, compared to 135 when we married.
In hindsight, I am not sure how in love I really was. I think that even my decision to marry was mostly a matter of acceptance. My husband told me on our first date that his "wife and children would always come first." That sounded great to me.
To my relief, I became pregnant just at the time the airline would have required me to lose fifteen pounds. I now had a license to eat.
Excerpted from Awaken the Diet Within by Julia Griggs Havey Copyright © 2004 by Julia Griggs Havey. Excerpted by permission.
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