My experience with weight as a child went something like this: I was skinny. The end.
I never had a weight problem until I started having children. Then, it seemed, I never lost baby weight before I was pregnant with the next one.
Dustin’s experience with weight as a child was much different. In fact, we grew up together, so I remember Dustin as an awkward, overweight fifth grader who needed braces. He even was the hall patrol. With his orange vest and shiny badge, he told me to “walk, don’t run,” in the hallways.
But when Dustin hit puberty, after years of growing out, he finally grew up. By the time he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, he almost looked too thin.
When we married, we were both very skinny.
And then we had babies.
Thirteen years later, I was 70 pounds heavier than my wedding day.
Only, I never saw this happening. Not really. In my mind, I was always the knobby-kneed girl who ran track and had to use belts to keep her jeans up. My perception of myself did not match what the reality on the outside. If I happened to catch an unexpected glimpse of myself in a reflective window on a building, or in a mirror at the mall, I was shocked.
“Well, who is that chubby lady? Certainly not me!”
I use “chubby” because that feels more friendly.
I didn’t even comprehend the extra weight after a year of being photographed once a week for “Dinner with the Smileys,” nor during all my television interviews for the book’s publicity. Sure, I saw my double chin on the “Today” show, but I chalked that up to the camera adding 70 pounds. And, yes, some “helpful” readers passed along links to online commenters’ wisecracks about my weight, but, well, they were online comments, and no one takes those seriously, right?
Dustin, by the way, has the opposite problem: despite being nothing more than “a little overweight” since he lost all his childhood pounds, he still views himself as that kid in grade school who didn’t look like the others. Despite being compared to the handsome good looks of Tom Cruise today, Dustin is not arrogant. That little — I’m using the word loosely — fifth grade boy keeps him humble.
Dustin will always view himself as he was when he was 11 years old, and unfortunately, I was doing the same with myself.
Then I had a blood test in early-August. It was a routine test that was part of my yearly physical. I didn’t think much about it, and I was rushing to have lunch with a friend as the nurse poked my vein.
A few days later, while I was in D.C., the doctor called. My blood glucose level was high. Really high. I needed an A1c hemoglobin test to check for diabetes.
What? But I’m that skinny girl from grade school who eats whatever she wants and doesn’t gain weight. The next day, I stepped on the bathroom scale and saw I number I never wanted to see. My heart sort of sank to the floor. I was overweight.
Finally, I got it.
Dustin and I walked around the nation’s capital that day, and I recognized that my legs felt heavy. My ankles kept swelling. And, actually, that had been happening for some time. I needed to stop and rest in between monuments. I felt like crud.
The good news, however, is that my A1c hemoglobin test, which checks blood glucose levels over a period of time, came back fine. I don’t have diabetes. Not yet, at least. But the doctor agreed I was headed that way. Plus, I take more blood pressure medication than an almost-37-year-old should.
So I decided to get serious about losing weight. One month later, I lost eight pounds. After 10 pounds, my ankles quit swelling. Fifteen pounds down, and my collar bones emerged. I’ve been watching what I eat, thanks to years of Weight Watchers, for a little over eight weeks now, and I’ve lost 17 pounds. My blood glucose has dropped even further, and in another 10 pounds, the doctor will reevaluate my need for blood pressure medicine.
I still have a long way to go, but I’m feeling great. I’ve tried — sometimes in earnest, sometimes not — to lose weight for years. I even had some success in 2009. But there’s nothing like a good old diabetes scare to make you serious. People ask how I’ve done it, and I tell them that it’s deceptively simple: I don’t want to get diabetes. That fear, coupled with what I’ve learned from Weight Watchers, has made it relatively easy.
I look forward to the day when my inner view of myself and my reflection in the mirror at the mall are finally in sync.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.