Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Story {part 1}

Just a few short days ago marked the one-year anniversary of when I decided to take my health into my own hands, though my story starts long before that...

As long as a can remember, I had always been "bigger" than the other girls my age. I always felt badly about this as well, and have many sad memories linked to being the "fat friend" even as young as 11 years old. On top of being overweight, I often felt sick. The symptom I remember the clearest is nausea. I almost always kept these feelings of nausea to myself, telling myself I had just eaten too much or too quickly. I finished the 5th grade weighing in at 125 lbs.

Between the 5th and 6th grades, I shot up a couple inches all while maintaining my weight of 125 lbs for 5'5". I looked thinner and therefore felt better about myself, and while my weight was perfectly normal, I still wasn't what anyone would call skinny. I realize now that most of my softness and size was due to excessive bloat.

I slowly gained weight throughout middle school. I did the least possible in gym class, no extra sports, and a packet of PopTarts was a standard mid-morning snack. To make myself feel better, I fell in with the wrong crowd and started smoking. The smokers accepted everyone who had cigarettes, as opposed to the in-crowd who only accepted certain physiques and brand-name clothing.

The summer before entering high school, I decided that things had to change. I crash dieted, counting my calories and staying under 1200 calories per day. I babysat for a very pretty and thin woman who had the soup diet hung on her fridge - I was convinced that calorie restriction was the only way to go.

I succeeded in losing weight, dropping back down to my 125 lbs "happy spot", though I remained soft and round in the midsection. I also decided to apply myself in gym class, taking full credits each year in an effort to slim down.

Once I started working at my first student job, I started noticing other issues with my body. I would go home from stocking shelves at my local grocery store with aching joints, so much so that I would sometimes have a hard time falling asleep. I accredited this to the many hours spent in the dairy fridge, and eventually quit the job partly because I had decided it was too physically demanding for me.

About this time I had joined the Color Guard - and as captain to top it off! The slow, rhythmic walking was easy enough to keep up with and I rarely noticed any excessive joint problems. At this point, I had learned to live with a constant dull ache in my knee and hip joints.

I quickly found a new job at a local burger joint, which meant I was on my feet all shift - and had all I could eat and drink each work day for a petty $1 fee. This is when I really started worrying about my joint pain. I discovered I was incapable of standing back up on my own after crouching down to put ice in the customers' cups, and that once I was upright again, the pain in my knees was excruciating. I decided to talk to my biology teacher about my aches.

He listened and kindly asked a nurse friend of his to come to school one day and examine me. She poked and prodded, looked into my mouth and under my eyelids, and asked all sorts of questions. Her final diagnostic was "auto-immune disorder". Wait... wasn't that AIDS?! I felt very ashamed and pretty gosh-darned scared, so I only shared this information with my then boyfriend (now husband). He looked worried, but told me not to worry about what the woman said.

Shortly after this, my boyfriend, Rob, went home to Belgium. He was a foreign exchange student in my high school, and his student visa had expired. We decided that life without the other was unthinkable, so I was going to follow him to Belgium once I finished high school myself.

I took summer classes in order to graduate 6 months early, and pleaded with my boss so he would give me every available shift possible to help finance my move. This meant that during the school year I was going to class full-time, as well as working 50+ hours per week. I pulled double-shifts on Saturdays and Sundays, and worked every day after school until closing.

This schedule was horrible for my health for many reasons, the most obvious one being sleep - or lack thereof. I would try to get the bulk of my homework done at lunchtime, but my social side often got the best of me and I would find myself finishing my assignments after work once I got home.

Another impact was a decrease of physical activity. Because of my crazy schedule, I had to quit the Color Guard. This meant the hours of walking I had been doing each week was finished. Most of my movement was refined to the 4'x6' space behind my counter at work and mopping the small diner each evening.

But the biggest downfall was my diet. Five days a week, I ate breakfast at home, usually a bowl or two of sugary cereal with skim milk. Five days a week, I ate my school's hot lunches, usually pizza or chicken sandwiches. Every other meal came from the burger joint I worked at. Every. Single. Other. Meal. (Except for Sunday morning breakfast when the boss treated us to a huge box of doughnuts from the local bakery.) I was also washing these meals down with liters of pop and milkshakes.

Needless to say, I put on a few pounds before stepping onto the airplane destined for Belgium...

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