I was 12 when my family first put me on Weight Watchers. I never really saw anything wrong with my body before that point, but I vividly remember the number “125” blaring from the scale, how determined everyone was to get me to lose 10 pounds. In most Jewish families, teenagers are encouraged to eat until they cannot fit another bite of food into them; in mine, I felt constantly watched and restricted.
I recently came to terms with the fact that I have been obsessed with my weight, food intake, and workout regimens since that day in 2007. There are so many things in this life that you cannot control. Unlike death, taxes, and anxiety, my calorie consumption and burning has always been something that I could control: whether that has been by completely binging or sticking to a strict 1200-calorie-a-day diet. I have never been one for starving myself or skipping meals — even at my most restrictive phases — but I definitely have spent more hours than I care to admit trying to “erase” calories that I have eaten on an elliptical machine.
Despite every wholehearted attempt I ever made to lose weight, for years I still found myself overweight and more or less cyclically gaining and losing the same five pounds. I lost nearly 20 pounds when I first discovered spin classes in college, but as my body got used to logging miles on a stationary bike, they slowly crept back on. I had eventually come to terms with the fact that I could eat only vegetables for a week and spend two hours in the gym each day and still not lose an ounce.
In the summer of 2018, a perfect potion of anxiety, a ClassPass membership in New York City, and not barely being able to afford groceries on my entry-level non-profit salary suddenly made all of my dreams come true. Everyone, from colleagues to Instagram followers that I had not spoken to in five years, started telling me how “skinny” I looked. In my new body, which was far from perfect, I felt like I was finally worth something. Weekly panic attacks were definitely a steep price to pay for a less-than-perfect thinner body, but at least cute nice Jewish boys were finally noticing me.
I framed the weight loss as a “revenge body” on a guy I had recently ended things with, but it really just… happened. In that time, I had been so anxiety-ridden by my relationship status, underemployment, and living situation that monitoring my food intake was the last thing on my mind. My diet at that point probably would not have been recommended by most dietitians, and at the same time I was wearing size 4 pants for the first time since middle school.
I had started seeing a therapist, and by the end of the year, moved and started a new job. Soon, the consistent anxiety started going away. I noticed that my old eating and workout habits were rearing their heads; this time, determined to keep my new body, I started weighing myself every day. I thought to myself that if I kept a daily track of what I weighed, there was no way I could gain five pounds overnight.
Determined to make 2019 a better year than 2018, I decided that it would be the year that I got back down to my middle school weight of 125. Yes, that is the same number that triggered my family to put me on a diet — however, it has been the number of an “ideal weight” that has stuck with with me all of these years. I was so close, and determined that the “F-Factor Diet” could help me get there. I figured that a diet built on the tagline, “Eat carbs. Dine out. Drink alcohol. Workout less,” couldn’t be so bad. So, on New Year’s Day, I bought a few packages of GG Crackers, created an accountability Instagram, and put my ClassPass membership on hold.
By my birthday in late April, I was only four pounds away from my goal weight. I had ditched my boring elliptical addiction for only one HIIT workout and one cycling workout per week, and instead of counting calories, I was counting carbs and fiber. If you asked me at the time, I’d say it was the most sustainably healthy I had ever been. I was preaching this new lifestyle of mine to anyone who would listen. My family members started telling me how beautiful I looked, rather than how much weight I had to lose. And I loved the control that I had over my food intake. I loved that I was finally on track to being in the body that I wanted to be in.
If all of this sounds like disordered eating to you, it’s probably because it is. I had never heard that term until recently, but it was actually when I was watching Taylor Swift’s new documentary Miss Americana that I realized I have been expressing symptoms of disordered eating since I was put on Weight Watchers in middle school. She talks about how there is “always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting,” and when she would see a picture where she had gained weight, “that would just trigger me to just…starve a little bit.” She goes on to talk about how her body was just meant to be a size 6 instead of a size 0, and how food gives you energy, which makes you feel stronger. They say that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels; however, at my lowest weight I felt ravenous all the time from a complete lack of carbs.
According to NEDA, there is a rise in eating disorders in the Jewish community, and many Jewish girls turn to eating disorders in an attempt to achieve what they believe is perfection and control. Eating disorders are especially prevalent in ultra-Orthodox and Syrian Jewish communities in Brooklyn, where one study reflected that 1 out of 19 girls was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I know that the decision to put a tween on Weight Watchers was made simply because those who love me wanted the best for me. This wasn’t something my family did to make me spiral into years of self-loathing — it just contributed to my already existing anxiety and added more fuel to the fire that is my self-quest to be perfect.
If you talk to anyone who has lost or gained a substantial amount of weight at any point, chances are that they, too, have faced some form of disordered eating. You get so wrapped up in counting calories, going to the gym enough, and keeping the scale number down that it becomes all you can think about. Society convinces us that being thin and beautiful are directly related, rather than putting emphasis on being healthy at any weight. Though I would still do a lot of immoral things to see “125” on the scale, I know that number doesn’t define me. And I just wish that instead of putting me on a diet, my Jewish family told me to eat more.
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