It has been three long years since I stepped on the scale and saw a number that started with a one instead of a two. When I looked down on the scale and saw 198, I thought I would feel something momentous. Instead, I shrugged, not feeling nearly as accomplished as I thought I would.
How Did I Let This Happen
At my heaviest, right after I had my first child, I weighed 260 pounds. I hadn’t been exactly skinny when I got pregnant but had no idea what weight I started at because I was too scared to step on a scale.
After the end of my first marriage, I went through a party girl phase that saw me drinking too much and order too much take out. Without any effort, I ballooned up to over 200 pounds. I remember stepping on the scale at a party and thinking there was no way that scale was working.
But it was, and I knew it.
I had always been a “big” girl. Not huge, but curvy, solid, thick, or whatever nice way you can think of to say bigger than most of the girls in my senior class. All through high school it bothered me but didn’t hold me back.
I made All-State for dance and was a cheerleader. I played softball on a church team and thought that I was just fine. My mother didn’t agree, but she’d always been weird about weight.
There were times I felt like she was too harsh, times when my sisters got treats and I didn’t because of my weight. Then there was that time she put all the sugary snacks in a box with a lock on it because I wasn’t allowed to have any.
It created a weird mentality for me when it came to food. I didn’t see that it was creating this twisted, emotional view of food in my adolescent mind. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t see the damaging toll her methods were taking on me either.
Started from the Bottom
After my son was born, I thought the weight would just fall off on its own and at first, it did. I was breastfeeding and started to see some weight loss, so after three years of not stepping on a scale, I braved it. Without even trying, I had dropped thirty pounds.
Then nothing changed for six months.
I wasn’t watching what I ate because I was a busy mom, parenting by myself, and barely noticed what I was eating. But eventually, I gained back some of the weight I had lost from breastfeeding and was absolutely beside myself.
I didn’t know where to start, I hadn’t ever been focused on losing weight before. At the time, I headed back into the workforce while my mom watched my son. With no college degree and living in a small, dead-end town, the job opportunities were slim. I ended up taking a job as a school custodian and surprisingly, loving it.
The kids were fun to be around, I listened to audiobooks or music in my headphones while I worked, and I was constantly moving. Money was rolling in, well maybe not rolling, but enough for the two of us, and the pounds were falling off.
After six months on the job, I weighed in at 158 pounds, the lowest I can remember weighing since junior high school.
I have so many pictures from this time in my life because I loved the way I looked and felt. Nothing was holding me back anymore, I had energy, and I was happy.
All Good Things Must End
Then I went through a series of life events that threw me back into the spiral I had been in my whole life without even realizing it.
I was an emotional eater.
When something bad happened, I would turn to my friends and decide that we were going to the store. We would fill the cart with pizza rolls, ice cream, chips, and whatever else we felt like and I would buy it all. Then we would go back to my house, pull up Netflix, and feast.
It was like being an alcoholic or a drug addict, using substances to nurse our pain. All of it would kill us, but with food it was legal.
My mom had seen it and tried, in her warped, crazy way to curb my issues with food. Unfortunately, I think in the long term she created more issues for me than she solved.
Mentally, I wasn’t prepared to see that she was trying to help me back then. All I saw was that I was being singled out, I was being told that I wasn’t good enough because I was different. I wasn’t bone skinny like my three siblings, so I wasn’t allowed sweets.
There are so many better ways she could have gone about it, but in the end, it didn’t matter how she handled it. She was in charge of my health when I was a child, I am in charge of my health as an adult.
I gained back all the weight that I lost after I left my job at the school. During this time, Graham received his Autism diagnosis, I went through a terrible breakup, and I had to leave my job at the school because I no longer had childcare.
My whole world was turned upside down and all I could think to do was eat the pain away. But pushing those calories into my mouth never made me feel any better even as it was happening. Slowly all the cute clothes I had bought when I was in the 150s were too small. I was jobless, living off my savings, gaining back all the weight I lost and falling into a deep depression.
Fear and Self-Loathing and Las Vegas
For three years, I didn’t willingly step on a scale or worry about my weight. I had another baby and was sick throughout my entire pregnancy. Every time I had an appointment, the nurse would weigh me before taking me back to see the doctor. I tried so hard to block out how much I weighed. My eyes would fall to the floor, and I’d avoid listening to whatever she said to me.
When Emilia was born, she was the tiniest thing. I felt like I was going to break her just by holding her. I remember looking at my bloated stomach and swollen breast when I got home, thinking that this was it, this was my body now. I couldn’t get it together with one kid, how was I going to get it together and lose weight with two.
Then I met Casey.
He was this pure figment of my imagination, I swear. If I could have designed a man to walk into my life, I couldn’t have done a better job than God himself did. When we first met eyes, it was a feeling deep inside me that just knew, he was mine.
We met when Emilia was three weeks old, so I had an excuse at first, for the extra weight attached to my thighs and around my waist.
But after a few months, the number on the scale didn’t change. I was still sitting at about 220, but not as worried about it as I had been before. We were happy, in a bubble of romance, cooking amazing food and drinking great wine, and falling in love.
When Casey wanted to go to Las Vegas for his birthday, I remember being horrified.
Girls like me don’t go to Vegas.
Vegas is hot, filled with hotels and swimming pools. Those swimming pools are full of cute, skinny girls in bikinis. I don’t care how much Lizzo self-love anthems you play, nobody wants to be the fat girl in a swimsuit at the pool party.
At least, I didn’t.
Here I was, dating this beautiful man, who looks likes he is twenty-five still when he’s about ten years older than that, cut and fit, and all I could think was “what the hell am I suppose to do in Vegas.”
And it wasn’t long before the voice in my head was no longer just talking about Vegas, but instead was wondering, “what the hell is this guy doing with a girl like me?”
Six months after that, our relationship ended. It ended for a few reasons, but the main one was my insecurities. I was struggling to lose weight and I was blaming him for a lot of things, including the way I felt about my own body.
There were nights when I was so confused about what I thought about my body and what I thought he thought about my body, that I would be an emotional wreck. I knew that he loved me then, I know that he loves me now, and I know that none of that is based on how I look. But when I was in that negative headspace, all I could see was the dimples on my thighs and my massive ass, and all the imperfections that I was sure he was paying close attention to.
But he wasn’t.
Making all the Right Changes
Four weeks into my weight loss journey and I’m down thirty-one pounds. My body is changing, but it doesn’t look like the models on Instagram. I’ve had two children, without plastic surgery my stomach will never look like the models on the gram.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn to love it.
I didn’t feel much like celebrating when I got under 200 pounds. There weren’t any balloons or confetti, no streamers or cake. While it doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment when I think about all the weight I want to lose, it is still a major goal achieved.
Life under 200 pounds feels different, something worth celebrating. I started running and my ankles and knees don’t hurt. My days are spent playing with my kids and I can hang with them a lot better now, without being out of breath.
It doesn’t come without sacrifices (goodbye sugar) and pushing myself, but it’s worth it. For myself, for my kids, and hopefully, next year, for that bikini in Vegas.
Ashley Shannon is a queer single mom of two kids, one with autism. She writes about relationships, mental health issues, being a single parent, and sexuality. She is currently looking for the perfect school bus to turn into a traveling tiny home and can be found on twitter @as_publishing.