When This Happened, I Suddenly Stopped Caring About My Weight

So often, we spend our lives obsessing over shaping and changing our bodies' appearances. Then, one day, something happens that forces us to see our bodies, our food, and our physicality in a whole new light. Marie Holmes' journey, which I'm thrilled to share this week, is a beautiful example of that. — KM
Photo: Courtesy of Marie Holmes.
I imagine the first time I heard a woman complain about her weight was while I was in utero — my mother bemoaning her pregnancy weight, and me being the cause of it.

"I was good today," I remember her telling me as a child. "All I had was a yogurt and a salad."

"I'm fat." "I shouldn't be eating this." "Take this away from me before I eat any more." I grew up hearing these things every day — not just from my mother, but from seemingly everyone. I figured that this was just what it meant to have a woman's body: the constant battle to suppress its desires.

By the time I was 13, it was my daily routine to count all the calories I put into my body and wake up at 5:30 a.m. to try to run some of them off before school. As I grew up, I became aware that ideals of thinness were arbitrary and oppressive — and still, I couldn't let go. The counting and chiding played like a loop in my head, not so much the background noise of my brain as its essential structure — my mother tongue.

As an adult, I realized that not everyone approached food like this, but by then, it was an unbreakable habit. Trying to forget how many calories were in a particular food sounded about as possible as forgetting to chew. It felt like being told to become left-handed or to learn to walk on all fours.

Then, something happened that forced me to learn.
Photo: Courtesy of Marie Holmes.
I wanted to carry a baby like I wanted to be thin: for longer than I could remember. When my partner, Sarah, and I began exploring the possibility of me carrying our child, the whole project seemed tailor-made for my obsessive need for body control.

I began to track my basal temperature and check my body for other signs of ovulation. As it turned out, other than my period blood, there were none. Something was up. We booked an appointment with a fertility specialist who immediately told me to stop running.

"But I'm not underweight," I protested. "I'm not even close!"

"It doesn't necessarily matter." The doctor shrugged. "Everyone's different."

I knew that athletes and people with anorexia often stopped ovulating. But I was a jogger, not an athlete, and a calorie-counter, not anorexic. I ate all sorts of things (and tallied in my head as I did). I refused to believe that my body needed more fat to contain the estrogen that ovulation required. For God's sake, reed-like Nicole Richie had just announced a pregnancy! The doctor was guessing and probably wrong, I told myself and my partner. And I kept running. I had to. If I gave up my vigilant routine, wouldn't I lose control over everything?

We sought out another kind of expert, a lesbian midwife in San Francisco who claimed expertise in donor conception. When she also told me to quit running, I finally started to take the idea seriously.

I kicked my running shoes to the back of the closet. I was restless and grumpy for a while, but I channeled all that pent-up energy towards the upcoming insemination and learned to lean on yoga classes for some of the same solace that running had provided. I promised myself that after the pregnancy (or if I never became pregnant, as I feared), I could go back to it as long and hard as I wanted. My biggest fear, though, wasn't that I couldn't live without running. It was that, having stopped, I might never be able to start again. Then what would become of me (and of my body)?

At the midwife's request, I forced myself to bypass the calorie count on nutrition labels, instead noting how much protein and fiber different foods contained. I fed myself previously forbidden fattening foods, like nuts and egg yolks and red meat. When I ate something filling, I found that I didn't have to worry about fighting cravings soon after — because when I ate what sounded good, rather that what sounded low-calorie, I stopped being so hungry all the time.

Still, the first, and second, and third inseminations failed. Despite never running and eating whenever I wanted, I wasn't pregnant. Strangely, I also hadn't gained any weight. I looked exactly the same. All those years, I thought, all the running, counting, hand-wringing, and hunger — it didn't make a difference. There were so many valuable things I could have done with my body and mind if I hadn't been trapped in the cycle of weigh, count, eat, chastise, and repeat.

At the time, though, I was too preoccupied with getting pregnant to register this revelation. Many months of fertility treatments followed; I boomeranged between hope and despair, feeling like I was falling in love and then getting dumped with every single cycle. I cried often and without warning. A heavily pregnant woman sat next to me in yoga class one day, and I had to bite my tongue not to scream, "There's a prenatal class! Go to the prenatal class and stay away from me!"

After a year of failures, I would've eaten, or not eaten, or run, or lain perfectly still, if I thought there was a chance it would get me pregnant. During the days leading up to the egg retrieval on our second round of IVF, I did only gentle, restorative yoga. I don't even remember what I ate.

Photo: Courtesy of Marie Holmes.
Two weeks later, the clinic nurse smiled and said, "You're pregnant." I fell back against the exam table, breathless and unable to say anything other than, "ohmygodohmygod!" You could have told me I'd gain a hundred pounds of pregnancy weight, and I would've just made a little brushing gesture in the air with my hand.

I didn't gain a hundred pounds. I gained the recommended 30, delighting the whole time in watching my weight rise and my belly swell. I ate whatever I felt like, minus the usual precautions, and exercised moderately. Mostly I just walked the dog in the park.

After our son was born, I spent his first few months in my pajamas. I was too engrossed in his care, too exhausted, and too deeply in love to mind. But just before returning to work, I realized I had to buy new clothes.

Here it comes, I thought. The baby is out, and if the body-hatred is going to return, it'll be under the fluorescent lights in the dressing room.

I looked into a full-length mirror for the first time in ages. I was recognizable, but clearly changed. I was heavier, and my hips seemed to have permanently widened. I was still soft with some lingering baby weight. I looked a little rounder, less severe, and unmistakably maternal. I was up a couple of sizes, but I found some pants that fit comfortably, and, upon inspection, looked nice on me. I did not look like a skinny teenager or an exercise buff. I looked like a mom. A normal woman — wasn't that what I had wanted all this time?

Now that it had given me a baby, had my body earned forgiveness? Could we make peace with one another, finally?

There had been moments when I thought that infertility would ruin me, make me permanently depressed, bitter, and cruel. I worried that the strain might break my relationship. But as painful as it was, infertility — not pregnancy or motherhood — is what released me from this constant battle with my body.

My current emotional health is far from exemplary. There are plenty of other things that I worry about and obsess over. But I continue to be amazed that I was able, somehow, to give up the body-control beast. Infertility gave me a new way to judge my body's worth, and, while it was a nightmare, I can't imagine what else could have forced me to let go of this lifelong obsession.

My son is now six, and we have a daughter who'll be two in January. As a constantly overwhelmed parent, all too often I find myself doing the very things I promised I never would: bribing my son with candy, letting my toddler play with the iPad. In certain areas, though, I am a bastion of consistency, and I will always provide my children with this: a mother who feeds herself when she is hungry.

Marie Holmes' writing has appeared in the Washington Post, xoJane, and other publications.

The Anti-Diet Project
is an ongoing series about intuitive eating, sustainable fitness, and body positivity. You can follow Kelsey's journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject (hashtag your own Ant-Diet moments, too!). Curious about how it all got started? Check out the whole column, right here. Got your own story to tell? Send me a pitch at kelsey.miller@refinery29.com. If you just want to say hi, that's cool, too.

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