I remember vividly the day I found the first stretch mark on my stomach. I was in high school, and I had been steadily gaining weight for months. I was going to go on a bike ride with my mom and my uncle (if I recall correctly, and I know I could be called an unreliable witness in court for my tendency to have a fuzzy memory). I pulled on my stretchy, too-tight bike shorts and gasped at myself—at what I saw on my stomach. I took a double and triple look, just to be sure that I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. I even checked my reflection in the bathroom mirror—there was no mistaking it. I had seen it right. Where the last time I’d looked there’d been none, a stretch mark now ran just to the left of my belly button and up a couple of inches past it, moving towards my ribs. I tried to flick it, rub it, and push it off my skin with my hands—no luck, it was there to stay. One of my first thoughts was “How will I wear a two-piece swimsuit now?” …I had never once in my life worn a 2-piece, so it was a quite outlandish thought. It wasn’t that I had a suit in the closet, ready to wear—I just hated that this stretch mark was taking away my option of wearing one in the future.
So, it had turned out that my secret eating wasn’t calorie-free after all. I wasn’t immune to impact from eating far more calories than my five-foot-five inch frame could handle. I was used to stretch marks on my thighs—those I had first discovered when I was 12 (I remember that day, too! That was a swimming day, and I was appalled in front of my skinny friend who’d come over to swim.) I had come to some terms with those scars already when my stomach broke out in stretch marks.
Each scar was created as a result of me having an unhealthy relationship with eating and with my body, and reacting to the stresses of life by leaning on food. Food had become my sanctuary, my lifeline. Bad day? Ice cream. Wicked hard homework? A bag of chips. The habits were built in from a very young age, and I repeated them with ease and regularity, right up through high school. When I got my driver’s license and my first car, it was like a one-way ticket to an all-I-could-eat buffet. I would drive around and ponder where to stop—which craving to fill first. I tried not to go to any store, cafe, or restaurant more often than once every couple of weeks, so I could avoid running into the same cashier too often as I bought junk food item after junk food item. That just meant more time joy-riding to get to a different part of town, and more time to contemplate which items I would be buying next. I was a wreck, but I was heavily self-medicated on the good stuff—the white powder (no, not that powder—sugar!). I would get my fix and think that no one would notice, because I could still do everything I usually did. Except it didn’t really work, because everything became harder and harder to do as I became more and more lethargic and overweight.
So there I was, a miserable teenage girl who had just discovered stretch marks on my belly. What did I do? I went to the store and bought shea butter for the stretch marks and peanut butter M&M’s for my heartbreak. It would be quite a few more years before I would get my weight under control. I topped out at well over 200 pounds, and as of today have lost more than 70 pounds total. That took years—I would lose 10, gain it back, lose 30, gain back 20, and so on. The control over the reckless eating took a lot longer to get managed. There were years where I exercised in order to keep my weight steady, sometimes working out like a fiend and not losing weight because I continued to binge eat whenever life got stressful.
Do I know that I won’t ever binge again? No. But I don’t live under the debilitating, painful shame of my food obsession anymore. And I have a lot more tools and tricks to handle my life and keep from turning to food when my emotions show up and want to have a go with me. I am thankful for all the tools I’ve learned over the years, from friends and family, Dr. Phil, Brene Brown and her work on shame and vulnerability, and my latest guru, Susan Peirce Thompson, founder of the Bright Line Eating program I am a big fan of these days. I am headed down to my goal weight and I never thought that would happen, but it did because of her program. I finally feel like I have the ability to manage my eating and not eat as a result of tough situations, which helps me keep everything in my life a little more shiny.
I still have stretch marks on my stomach—they won’t ever go away. I’ve thought about drawing on them in facepaint and then taking pictures of it, creating stretchmark art that can help me learn to love these scars…a project I haven’t gotten to yet. I know that these scars are a part of my journey, a reminder of how far I’ve come. I can’t say that I love the little buggers, but seeing as they’re a part of me, literally etched into my skin, I’d like to learn to love them. I hope to love them, someday.