As if the ability to intellectualize what we should or shouldn't do could override millions of years of instinct, or even a few years of unconscious habit.
What if stress - fear, pain, shame - caused our metabolism to change, storing calories rather than burning them - providing a squishy shield against famine, cold, and predators?
I started gaining weight when I was nine, about a year after my mother started abusing me.
I was only fat compared to small-framed girls. I was a tomboy, active in sports, climbing trees, winning races against the neighborhood boys. I was tall for my age and strong.
When my mother started calling me fat, telling me I was going to grow up to look just like my obese grandmother if I didn't stop eating the junk food that she and my younger siblings were eating, I started losing those races. Rather than playing sports and climbing trees, I retreated into books and ate while I read. I hid food and stole money to buy more food to hide. I even ate my fingernails.
By the time my mother died, I really was obese. My mother's abuse continued in my head. I was a woman's size 12 at age twelve, a 14 at 14, a 16 at 16.
When I was seventeen, I started taking karate with my best friend, and I actually lost 20 pounds and went down to a 14 again. I started feeling attractive, and dressed differently, wore make up and jewelry (huge heavy earrings and pewter pendants on black strings that I got from the flea market.)
That year I finally landed a boyfriend. He was 22. He raped me, and I blamed myself. Desperate for love, I tried to keep his attention for a few more weeks. I have pictures of myself literally clinging to him at my Senior Homecoming dance. He spent the entire dance hitting on every girl he saw, and dumped me soon afterwards.
I didn't tell anyone about the rapes for years. My friends and family had no idea why I went bat-shit insane, cutting myself, hiding in my apartment for weeks at a time as my grades dropped and my finances dwindled. I lived on pizza. And ice cream. I ate ice cream out of a glass between bites of pizza in lieu of a beverage.
I was a size 18-20 then, and ashamed of my belly. Whenever I sat down, I held my backpack in my lap and hugged it like a shield. A couple times my therapist convinced me to put it down, and a moment later I would be hugging a pillow.
I didn't know it until years later, but I had also become codependent. I went through a string of very short relationships, and I continued to gain about ten pounds every year. When I could no longer find a gi that fit, I gave up on karate, and started gaining 15 pounds a year until at 27, newly divorced and having my very first and very last friends-with-benefits type relationship, I conceived.
As a pregnant woman, I finally stopped hiding my belly. I gained 60 pounds while pregnant, but fell in love with my body the night I gave birth. In my third trimester, eating for nutrition rather than comfort, I lost weight for the first time since high school.
And then I found myself a single mother living with and engaged to a man who completely ignored me except when he wanted sex.
I don't know how much I gained that first year of motherhood. The scale only went to 330 pounds. My 32-34 clothes became too tight.
And then my toddler and I were homeless.
Fear of losing my child. Shame for being poor, fat, and alone. Pain of loss, failure, old wounds reopened. Anger towards myself, towards my ex, towards my family and friends who stood back waiting for me to save myself.
Brand new friends tossed me a rope. Gratitude toward them, hope stemming from my faith, and love for my son gave me the strength to climb that rope bit by bit.
Two years ago, I took a leap of faith that changed my life in ways I barely dared to dream.
This time last year I was the happiest I had ever been in my life.
Despite the PTSD, which had, if anything, grown stronger. 2012 gave the PTSD even more fuel.
In February of last year, my 32 year old fit, happy friend had a stroke. In March, she died...and then my aunt informed me that my 26 year old cousin had cancer in his brain and two years to live. In June, that cousin died, and the day he died, my 40 year old uncle had seizures and went into a coma no one expected him to survive, and at that point I became convinced that I was next.
I joined a gym and hired a personal trainer because I was determined to get fit, finally. I spent hundreds of dollars that I really needed to be saving, thinking I could force myself to commit now that the powerlessness of depression no longer ruled my life.
Then I got it. Fear. Shame. Pain.
Fear of being homeless again, of leaving my son motherless, of becoming my mother.
Shame that I was still fat, that I couldn't seem to commit to my own values, that I wasn't the person that I wanted to be.
Pain...missing my lost loved ones, revisiting the losses of my past. Pain of feeling like a failure.
There was one more fear I was ashamed to admit, even to myself.
Looking at images of myself at 17...I was beautiful.
Every one of my rapists told me I was beautiful.
I'm afraid to be beautiful.
I'm stronger, healthier, wiser now. But the idea of giving up my shield of fat, of my fat-girl identity is still as terrifying as it is thrilling.
What would my life be like if I could hug my own knees? If I could choose clothes to accentuate my curves instead of minimizing them?
What would it be like to be in front of a camera without sucking in my belly and tilting my head up to minimize the neck rolls?
Who would I be if I were healthy, had tons of energy, climbing trees and running races with my son when he's ten?
How do I even begin that journey?
Oh, wait...I'm already on it.
I stepped on my path to health when I committed to changing the way I ate the month gestational diabetes threatened my home birth. I stepped back on it when food poisoning left me allergic to animal products, and I'm stepping back on it now because I deserve to be healthy and because I am ready to commit to my own happiness.
If I slide off the path during a time of high stress, that's okay. I have the power to climb back on.
In the last couple of years, I've come to understand how Pain and Fear and Shame fuel each other, amplify each other, sapping my will to commit. I understand that I can't change lifelong habits overnight - that I need to work on changing one habit at a time.
If I'm still fat this time next year, that's ok. I will love myself anyway. I will be proud of myself regardless.
There is nothing I need to lose more than my silly human hang ups.