I was born in a western suburb of Chicago in 1983. I am the second of four children. I’m sandwiched 20 months on either side by sisters, Meredith (older) and Ashley (younger). I am 8 ½ years older than my brother Andrew. My parents raised us as Protestant Christians, attending church every Sunday. When I was nearly three years old my dad took a job overseas and that meant the whole family moved with him to Tokyo, Japan. We moved from there to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I attended Kindergarten and 1st grade. Living overseas was a great experience.
My dad was a banker while overseas and decided to switch careers and go back to school for both his (2nd) Master’s and PhD in marriage and family therapy. I haven’t quite sorted out all the details, but I believe that this transition impacted me and my relationship with food (and myself in general) in a significant way. For starters I know that the frequent transitions were tough on my mom. She has told me many times that having to start over in each new place we lived caused her to feel very depressed. I don’t completely remember experiencing her that way; I know that I am generally tuned into how others are feeling so I’m sure I had some level of awareness about her emotional wellbeing. That sensitivity to how others feel would make me feel very worried, or sad, and may have lead me to seek solace in food. Maybe having a mom that was clearly overwhelmed by multiple moves with young children, starting over, and then the birth of my brother made room for me to begin a relationship with food and comfort that forever changed me.
I don’t recall being all that aware of my weight and how it had any correlation to the amount of food I ate until I was in high school. I do have memories of comments here and there that were upsetting but then I’d move on and pretend those hurts didn’t stick – although they most certainly did. I was by nature, larger than my older sister by the time I was 4 or 5. She was very petite and small framed (as was/is my younger sister) and I grew taller and more solid than her pretty quickly. So as I added unhealthy weight I think I convinced myself it was just because I was just naturally bigger than my sisters.
It wasn’t until we moved back to the Chicago area (I was 12) that I began to have an awareness of my extra weight. The move back to the Chicago area was challenging for me for a variety of reasons and I put on a significant amount of weight during my junior high years. If I remember correctly I went from around 160lbs at the start of 7th grade to 199lbs when I graduated from 8th grade. I remember having to shop in the women’s department with my mom to find clothes that would fit me – thus began my hate for clothes shopping because the only person I could ever go with was my mother. There was a lot of shame involved in having her go look for larger sizes and take me to the “plus size” stores, but she was the only one I could endure the embarrassment with. I played softball and that helped with the activity level some, but I stopped playing after my sophomore year – because of a foot injury that happened twice in six months and because of my fear of the running we had to do at practice. I feel sad for my younger self that I made a decision about discontinuing a sport I loved because of my fear that I couldn’t handle all the exercise that was required of me.
In high school I went from 199lbs to about 260 when I graduated from high school. (And somehow my drivers license has always said 176 ) High school was fun at times but there was also plenty of drama with friends that made me want to turn to food to cope. High school was the beginning of my years of self-loathing. I began to believe that people that didn’t treat me well did so because of my weight and therefore I was unlovable. This is a concept I continue to struggle with.
I went to college in Iowa for two years. I felt like such a lost soul for those two years… too much drinking, not enough studying, and what I perceived to be the biggest betrayal by my best friend that I could ever imagine. My fourth semester there I took one class, worked at Walmart, and drank and ate myself into a very dark place. I decided that Iowa was not the best place for me and with my parents help I transferred schools and arranged so that I could commute from their house to my school in the city. I left Iowa weighing something in the ballpark of 280lbs.
So moving home it was, I lived with my parents and had one good friend in the area that I hung out with while commuting to school. I was smoking about a half a pack of cigarettes a day, my friend and I ate out 5 to 7 days a week, and exercise was a four-letter word in my book. I had stopped going to church in college, but had been really active in my church youth group in high school and yearned to feel connected to a church community again. My friend and I tried out some new churches but struggled to find something that fit. My faith never faltered but my connection to a spiritual community was non-existent and I felt lost without it. The fall of 2004 I signed up to attend a huge Christian conference for college-aged kids in Nashville, TN the following January. It is there that I found the strength to make some changes…