As I look back at old pictures of me, I would have described myself as a child with an athletic build. I likely would have been described as average size until around the age of eight or nine. My first memory of being aware that I was larger than my peers was in elementary school. We were preparing for a 50s Sock Hop musical that my grade was performing. It was obvious which girls were going to be twirled and flipped around, and which were not. Another lasting impression from that performance were the outfits. I didn’t have the poodle skirts that a lot of the girls were wearing. In a pinch, my Mom let me borrow an old skirt of hers that she said looked like a 50s style skirt. I was pleased with this solution, and went on my merry way.
Either before or after that performance, I ran into my beloved second grade teacher. I was excited! I told her that I was wearing my Mom’s skirt. An important side note here is that my mom was very petite before she had children. I was almost as tall as her by the time I was in 3rd grade. The expression on my teacher’s face looked to me as one of concern or disappointment. Who knows what she was thinking. Maybe she felt bad for me that I wasn’t wearing a poodle skirt (I wasn’t the only one). Maybe she was anxious to get home after a long day of teaching (it was an evening program). However, I walked away from that interaction feeling like she thought that it was bad that I could wear my Mom’s skirt. I felt like something was wrong with me and my body. I wasn’t able to shake that feeling until I read the book Intuitive Eating at the age of 35.
If I could go back, I would point out to my elementary school self all the ways she loves to have fun. She loves to swing, play kick ball at recess, ride her bike, swim, and read. I would highlight how easy it is for her to make friends, and how much her teachers appreciate that she is a “Truman Self-Manager.” That’s what matters. I would ask her to please not watch diet pill, Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, and Jenny Craig commercials, and dream of what could be. I would tell her that she is beautifully designed.
If I could go back, I don’t know what I would tell my middle school self. I’m not sure I could have stopped or gotten the attention of that hormonal puberty train! If I managed to do so, I would tell her that she is worth so much more than the attention she gets from the opposite sex. I would tell her to write more, read more, not to spend every spare moment on the phone (usually with boys). My middle school self did A LOT of walking. This was solely for the purpose of getting from point A to point B (usually to see boys), but often those were long distances. I would encourage her to notice how much she enjoys walking outside, and how good it feels. I would encourage her to hone in on the unique gifts that she has. She is a writer, a nurturer, and has excellent interpersonal communication and listening skills. I would encourage her to sign-up to become a peer mediator even though she thinks it’s nerdy, or is afraid of what others might think. I would tell her that she is smart, and help her to see that she likes to learn. I would let her know that many of the friends that she is making now, will be lifelong friends. And…I would tell her that she happens to be right - live music will eventually lead her to “the one.”
If I could go back, I would let my high school self know that she is an introvert, and that is not a bad thing. I would point out that while she can easily tap into her extrovert skills, she gets her energy and her focus from being alone. I would tell her that it’s OK that she would rather be at Barnes and Noble finding books, and spending time with her Dad on weekends instead of “going out.” It kept her out of a lot of trouble in the beginning of high school. I would congratulate her on discovering that she loves exercise. I would beg her to not start dieting. I would again explain to her that her self-worth is not dependent upon her body, or the opinion’s of the opposite sex. I would tell her that she is smart. She is capable of being a very hard worker with a strong work ethic, and has a strong sense of integrity. She is loyal and an excellent friend. I would tell her to take less risks and follow her intuition. Her Guardian Angel can only work so hard and eventually, she might not be able to keep up with her. I would let her know that the friends she depends on now, will be many of the friends she will still depend on in her 30s.
If I could go back, I would tell my 20s self that she is on the right track. She is recognizing her academic ability, and her capacity to achieve challenging goals. She has discovered the kind of person that she wants to be. The only thing that is really holding her back is her need to perfect her body. I would encourage her to continue to engage in the exercise that she loves, and to savor the wide variety of foods that she enjoys. I would beg her to stop dieting. I would tell her to re-read the book that her friend gave her, written by Geneen Roth. I would tell her that the information in that book isn’t just something that could be great for other people, it can apply to her too. I would tell her to read Intuitive Eating and dive into the research. Her body and it’s signals are not broken. I would tell her that with every diet she goes on, it increases the likelihood of evolving into an eating disorder, promotes weight gain and ratchets up her set-point. I would tell her that she will likely gain back what she lost (possibly more) with each diet. Diets don’t work - not in the long-term - they are not sustainable. I would point out that she is increasingly restricting and over-exercising with every diet. That is not her purpose in life. It’s taking way too much of her energy and time. It is keeping her from living fully. I would tell her to continue to work hard for her academic and professional goals, but be present and have FUN. Don’t take life and yourself so seriously. I would tell her that he is SO wrong, and that her body is BEAUTIFUL.
If I could go back, I would tell my early 30s self that she is kicking ass at most areas in life. Despite this, she will embark on the last of her countless rounds of Weight Watchers. She will follow this up with her final diet. The diet that will completely suck her into trenches of diet culture. This is when she will hit diet bottom. This is when she will realize that this is no way to live. This is when she will realize that she has so much more to offer the world, and that she would be so sad, if her kids devote their lives to diet culture/the diet industry.
Looking back, it all led me here. I don’t wish my experience with diet culture on anyone. Yet, there is nowhere I’d rather be in life than exactly where I am. With my husband, with our children, with the life that we have created together, with my academic and professional background that I’m proud of, with the work I’m able to do now as a result of my experience, and with the new goals that I now have professionally and personally. I didn’t need a certain type of body to accomplish any of that. I now have an abundance of compassion for myself as my body and mind heals from diet culture. I have found the peace with my body and with food that I would have loved for my younger self to have, that I want my kids to have, and for everyone to have.
I believe that change is happening thanks to the brilliant dietitians, researchers, advocates, and spokespeople presenting the evidence that supports Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size. I believe that change is happening thanks to the brave voices coming forward with their personal stories of the harmful effects of dieting, and the hope that exists with IE and the HAES movement. I’m excited to have a very small part of creating that change, and to LIVE MORE in the process.
Tiffany was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She lives with her husband, kids, and chocolate lab. Her favorite vacations so far (beyond camping in the family motorhome), have been to Kauai, Key West, New York City, and Sayulita. She looks forward to expanding that list!
A heartfelt thanks to Julie G Photography.