Joining Weight Watchers As A Teenager Gave Me An Eating Disorder
I was always a bigger kid, and I pride myself on being the least picky eater of all time, so at age 14, I told my mom I wanted to lose weight. I have been 5’8 since I was 13 and at the time I approached my mom about losing weight, I was 165 lbs and a size 10/12. My mom had done weight watchers to lose about 10 lbs, so she was happy to get me started with it. At the time, they did not allow teens at their meetings where I lived, so she would be my coach and do my weigh-ins.
When I started out, I was allowed to eat 20-24 points per day (no idea what caloric intake that translates to), and when I got to 150 I was allowed to eat 18-22 points per day. My mom prepackaged everything for me and I was totally lost without her. I would panic every time I would go to a sleepover party and not be able to control what food was served. After my first sleepover party, I calculated that I had consumed about 20 points during the party alone and dreaded being invited to anyone’s house where meals were served. I was a competitive swimmer during freshman year of high school and travelled a fair amount during the winter and stayed with host families where I felt I had to accept everything they gave me or else I’d be rude. Luckily, I was swimming so much (2.5 hours a day/5 days a week), that it didn’t matter what I ate, but I never made that connection because weight watchers never adjusted points for exercise.
At the end of the year, I had lost 30 lbs and was a size 6/8. We also moved from London, UK back to New York after 14 years abroad that June, and the scale was in a larger shipment that was due to arrive in late July. Without the scale, I gained some weight back. I also went away to sleep away camp during the summer and food was affecting everything. Thursday’s were “lazy days” which meant we only had brunch and dinner, which really threw me off. I remember eating 9 points of Raisin Bran at 10 am and was ravenous 3 hours later because I was never educated on eating foods that kept you full, it was all points-based, so I ended up avoiding foods high in fat, because fat cost more points, instead opting for foods high in sugar, because at least at this point in weight watchers, sugar wasn’t used in the equation to calculate points (I believe at the time it was calories, fat, and fiber).
I started boarding school in the fall of 2006 and was so paranoid that I ended up under-eating and getting down to 130 lbs. My grandma pulled me aside at a family function and told me she thought I looked too thin. The next 2 years were mostly yo-yo dieting, which involved following WW strictly and then every once in a while, having an all-out binge. Food defined everything for me, and I never stopped thinking about food. At lunch, I’d calculate how many points everyone else was eating and feel powerful if I was eating fewer points than everyone else.
My senior year, things took a turn for the worse. I was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity, started weighing myself every day, and avoided all social interactions that involved food (aka all social interactions). Every time I ate something that wasn’t pre-portioned by my mom, I would drag her into the bathroom and ask her how many points I ate. By the time I graduated high school, I was 108 lbs, a size 0/2 and was eating 10 points per day.
Everyone was telling me I was too thin and I loved it. When I started college, I was only eating vegetables and fruit and tootsie pops. I would chew 9 packs of gum a week to keep me from eating. I still have jaw problems. Whenever I ate “unsafe” food, I would go to the gym until I burned 1000 calories. That lifestyle proved unattainable, and after many suicide threats, I was forced to take a semester off of college.
During that semester off, I ate whatever I wanted and gained 60 lbs in 4 months. All the therapy never directly addressed the eating disorder I had developed thanks to weight watchers, and a lot of the work I ended doing myself.
It’s been almost 14 years since that day I told my mom I wanted to lose weight. I’m still 5’8, currently about 200 lbs, or somewhere around there. I don’t weigh myself except at the doctors office when I have to. I have run 2 half marathons and I am training for a third. I have joined the sports bra squad. And I have had a healthy relationship with food for 7 years now.
I wish so badly that my mom would’ve told me that I didn’t need to lose weight and that we’d talked about balance instead. How to fit food choice into my lifestyle rather than revolve my lifestyle around food. But I’m also so insanely proud of the woman I’ve become because of what I’ve been through.