Kimberly Thomas, Guest
Trigger warning: Body Image and Eating Disorders
Weight Problems Began At Age 10
When I was around 10 years old, I went from being a skinny kid to developing a potbelly, excess weight gathering around my middle at an alarming rate. Nothing else had changed. I still ate like a normal kid, still participated in P.E. and dance classes. Squeezing my new body into my leotard for class was depressing and embarrassing, but I hadn’t done anything “wrong” to warrant this sudden change in body type. I’d always been a skinny kid up until that point. My well-meaning mother attempted to restrict my intake of sweets. I responded by keeping a Smurfs lunchbox full of candy under my bed, and adding a stolen Tupperware container full of Hydrox cookies to my special stash for good measure. At least then, I wouldn’t catch any grief for the eating these things, as long as it was done in secret. My dad, stationed overseas, would come home to visit and call me “pudgy”, an insult that stung me to the core, but which he’s long since forgotten.
When I was 12, I compared myself to the girls my age on TV and knew I didn’t look “right”. I gave up the candy stash and began working out to Cindy Crawford’s exercise tape in the hopes that one day I could grow up to have her body, healthy and curved and aesthetically pleasing. Around age 13, again with no changes in diet or exercise, I slimmed down considerably and was met with much praise and a new wardrobe. Over that winter break from school, I gained 10 pounds in the course of a week, once again barely squeezing into my clothes, that potbelly rearing its ugly head once more. I was always cold and tired, my feet turning blue at times. My mom took me to the doctor who checked my circulation and ran some lab work he deemed “normal”.
Exercise And Extreme Calorie Restrictions
In retrospect, I don’t think I was ever an unhealthy weight at that point. I simply didn’t look like I thought I was “supposed to”. I went vegetarian at age 14 for animal rights reasons. By age 15, I’d gone down considerably in weight again, from a junior’s size 9 to a 3. By this point, I felt like that still wasn’t good enough. I went vegan in the most unhealthy way possible, using it as an excuse to avoid eating most anything, and by the age of 16 I was restricting my caloric intake to under 500 calories a day. When my size 3 jeans became loose around my bony hips and I was able to buy a favorite pair of size 2 plaid pants, I was elated. I rewarded myself with a haircut I’d promised myself I wouldn’t get until the scale hit a certain number.
I probably looked emaciated, but no one could accuse me of having a potbelly, and for once, I was happy with my appearance. When I decided the extreme caloric restriction was no longer sustainable and also went back to eating a regular vegetarian diet, I gained weight again. I compensated by making myself vomit. I fit a size 7 at that point, and felt fat, bloated, and out of control. If I couldn’t even control my weight, what was I worth?
At the age of 17, I ended up going on medication well known for causing weight gain and thyroid dysfunction. Again, my labs all came back “fine” although I felt miserable. My weight would fluctuate wildly and I’d try to compensate by purging and spending time on the treadmill. By 19, I was spending an hour a day on the treadmill and some days all I’d eat would be a can of peaches. I tried to avoid taking my medication, convinced it must be the culprit. My doctor still insisted I was fine.
At age 20, I got married. The thermostat became a constant battle between myself, my husband, and our roommate at the time. Within two years, I’d gained 20 pounds, still tired and cold, back to restricting my caloric intake whilst working out for 45 minutes daily. My efforts were rewarded with my husband’s new nickname for me: “fat lazy bitch”. My hair began falling out in clumps in the shower, my part an ever widening gap, as I continued to wonder what was wrong with me.
Finally, The Diagnosis
At age 23, I packed on an additional 20 pounds in a week. I had labs run again and found out that my thyroid did not work properly. My TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone, a pituitary hormone that tells your body to make more thyroid hormone) didn’t even register on the lab’s chart. My number simply read as >200, whereas the modern accepted lab range is between 0.3 and 3, per the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. I asked my doctor if this was why I kept gaining and couldn’t lose weight no matter what I did, and was met with an affirmative response. He said it was a wonder I could even get up and get to work, much less exercise, as I was so ill I was close to a myxedema coma, a serious complication of long-standing hypothyroidism. I had to have scans done of my heart to ensure that no damage had been done by the long-standing thyroid dysfunction. Luckily, everything turned out okay on those tests.My TSH didn’t even register on the lab’s chart. My number simply read as >200. Click To Tweet
I was fortunate enough to see a physician who did further investigative work rather than blame this all on the medication I was taking. As it turned out, I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease characterized by fluctuating thyroid hormone levels until such time as the thyroid stops functioning completely. Suddenly, it all made sense. The skinny energetic years, I was probably hyperthyroid, and the fat, potbellied, cold years were the ones when I was hypothyroid. I was put on thyroid hormone and, with much time and effort, the excess weight came off and my hair grew back. I will have to take thyroid hormone for the remainder of my life, and my weight will always be more of a struggle than if I didn’t have this ailment.
A Healthy Mindset
More than a decade on, my weight has continued to fluctuate, but I never again resorted to unhealthy and disordered eating and exercise habits. I am within a healthy weight range, though not what I consider my personal ideal weight. Though I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t want to lose a few simply to look and feel better, it is no longer an obsession. At my most ill, I simply stopped worrying about the label on my clothing or the number on the scale and focused on getting well. In an odd way, getting so incredibly physically sick is what cured the ailment in my head that told me I could never be skinny enough, pretty enough, good enough.
I only wish I hadn’t taken the extremes I did in my youth, damaging my body and mental health in the fruitless effort to meet some ideal of what I thought I should be.