I was naturally skinny as a teenager and right up into my early 20s — I'm talking 5'10" and 130 pounds. Then, at 33, I landed my first 9-to-5 job. The sedentary lifestyle, coupled with a boyfriend whose idea of a romantic evening was lying on the couch inhaling buckets of butter-drenched popcorn, caused my weight to inch up to 160 pounds, the heaviest of my life. Intellectually, I knew I was supposed to embrace my curvaceous self, but let's face it — Rubenesque may have been the look circa 1633; in 2003, fat was just fat.
Then a serendipitous thing happened — I got sick with an intolerable combo of bronchitis and the Norwalk stomach virus. I'll spare you the details, but I dropped 10 pounds in two weeks without effort. This jump-started my weight loss, and in less than a year, I was 145 pounds. Healthy. Normal. I had no idea what was lurking up ahead. Within one horrible month, I was reeling from a trio of traumas: I lost my dream job, my close cousin died after an 11-year battle with cancer, and, due to my mother's chaotic financial mismanagement, I had to sell the family home that I co-owned and move into a tiny apartment I hated. Many people might have turned to food for comfort. I was too angry and depressed for that. Instead, I stopped eating.
As my world hit rock bottom, so did my weight. A mere six months later, I was a skeletal 120 pounds — and it felt like consolation. I was convinced that my severely skinny state snagged the affections of a man 10 years my junior. We started seeing each other regularly (after I dumped the couch potato), and while things were going well, staying thin, I reasoned, was the only way to hold his interest. I even bought a scale for my apartment, weighing myself whenever my mood needed a boost, which was often.
While I was clearly unwell, many of my friends, especially those in the fashion business, saw my whittled-down physique as entirely attractive. Clothes looked fabulous on me, like they do on hangers. In my vulnerability, I lived for their compliments, their genuine envy. But it wasn't the real nourishment I needed.
Nicole Richie had nothing on me. For well over a year, I would never finish a plate of food, no matter how small. What I binged on instead were skirts, pants, and dresses — all size 4. My once-starved closet was now full to bursting.
I could slide a pair of jeans with a 27-inch waist over my hips to the floor — without unbuttoning them. (Conscious of how scary this was, I was secretly satisfied at the same time.) I was maid of honor at my best friend's wedding, and on the actual day, I felt sexy and beautiful in that silk bias-cut (read: clingy) slip gown. But the photos told another story. I had no ass and no arms, and my complexion was sallow — the picture of unhealthiness and unhappiness.
Fortunately, one very close fashion-stylist friend, intimately acquainted with the female form, took notice. We were at a boutique where I was modeling a hip-hugging Miu Miu pencil skirt and cropped sweater. In the mirror, all I could see was how perfectly it fit. My friend had a different opinion: "You're too skinny for fashion. You need to eat."
He was right. My appetite was mirroring my emotions. I was starving.
Recounting the sacrifices I had made — from the missed birthday cakes to the skipped Sunday brunches — I finally realized that fitting into that wispy size 4 was not worth the mental and physical stress. So with the support of friends — and my own concerted effort — I gobbled up burgers, pasta, and desserts as best I could. I gradually regained the energy I needed to campaign for a new job — which I got — and then left that horrid apartment to move in with my younger guy. The dual victories helped my appetite return. In a year's time, I was back to a happy 145 pounds — size 8.
But what about going forward? When life throws me a curveball in the future, will my weight remain steady? Well, maybe not always. But I can accept that. Coming to terms with my emotional eating was winning half the battle. And in hopes of conquering the rest, I gave away the scale.