True: Just shy of 180 pounds at age 14, I needed more exercise and less fried food. That's a fact I determined lightning-fast once I entered junior high and met the boy who deemed me worthy of the nickname "Big Tit Karla."
From that moment on, I set my eyes on the very false weight-loss prize to prove to that boy that I could be more than his first impression of me. I could be more than the "fat girl." I could be more than the object of his disdain.
The quest started out reasonable and healthy. Grilled chicken sandwiches stepped in for chicken fingers, and each school night wrapped up with a 30-minute spin on the elliptical machine. Progress, praise and the daily calorie deficit piled up, and within one year, I had reached a skeletal 94 pounds. The girl who was once bubbly, curious and extroverted became snippy, tired and anti-social.
My hormones went haywire. A psychologist diagnosed me with anorexia and depression, and I diagnosed myself with a solid case of perfectionism.
Each day became a battle to be "better" than I was the previous one, which meant "be less." Shrink away.
Each day became a quest to make it to bed, that oasis 14 hours off that was the finish line for making it through another exhausting day.
A psychologist, a dietitian, and a primary care doctor, tried to adjust my course, but to no avail. It took a real talk conversation with my generally-stoic Dad ("We're at our wits end. Your Mom and I are going to send you to an inpatient treatment center if you lose another pound.") to inspire me to change my black-and-white view of food. By that point, I had taught myself that egg yolks, cheese and nearly anything with more than 5 grams of fat would make me fat, so I was scared to the bone to take a bite of a burger. On the off chance that it caused me to undo all of my hard, perfect work, of course.
Dad drove me to get a milkshake after I nodded begrudgingly that I would be willing to try to heal my starving body. That was day one of a nearly 10-year struggle to accept myself, curves and all.
I was able to reach an almost-normal weight and slowly work my way through the darkness of depression over the course of the next six months. But for years to come, I continued to keep a constant mental tally of calories in and out. That's a tough habit to break, turns out! I barely drank any alcohol (because 7 calories per gram!). Birthday cake? No thanks. Even at my party. A slice of delivery pizza? I'll pass.
That calorie-counting habit broke right in half as soon as my elbow and four bones in my foot did. In 2012, I was walking home from work to pack for my first marathon and was hit by a car. Who knew how long it would take to recover and get to the point where exercise was even an option again?
I threw myself into being the social extrovert I used to be before "Mission Lose the Curves." For nearly a decade, I'd eaten in secret to avoid judgment. But at that painful time, I didn't want to be alone anymore. Life is short, damn it. Eat the brie. Then scrape the plate with a slice of baguette and enjoy it all over a glass of fabulous champagne with someone who accepts you, flaws and all. I reminded myself often: If you died tomorrow, would you count the calories?
Sure, Karla circa 2004 was skinny, but she also came from a place of "no." Today, now that I've set aside that black-and-white mindset and the fear of being less than perfect, I'm able to accept all of the awesome the world tosses my way. Cheese? Yes, please! A trip to Africa? Book it. Jumping out of a plane? Sign me up. A curvy butt? Curve-hugging jeans, please!
There are certainly regrets for the time I lost and the damage I did to my body. Kids are most likely out of the picture and my bones will despise me when I'm 80, but I know that there are no re-dos. So let's do this thing called life and let's do it with gusto.
Because life is about much more than being thin. It's about much more than being "perfect." It's about being more YOU.