I have a confession to make. I’ve held back revealing a dark secret for fear having it held against me. What could possibly be harder to reveal than the two times I was molested as a child? I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m one of those people who can eat anything they want and not gain weight.
Perhaps Thanksgiving isn’t the right time to admit that I can eat that pumpkin pie with extra whipped cream without fear of it being applied directly to my hips, as Rhoda Morgenstern famously quipped on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Rhoda would probably hate me, too.
When we go to the fancy Christmas parties thrown by the company Keith works for, I always save room so I can fill my plate — and my stomach — with a sampler platter of petit fours. I have a small appetite, but a HUGE sweet tooth.
Is it any surprise that Cookie Monster was my second favorite Sesame Street Muppet? (Oscar the Grouch was first in my preschool book.)
Still, my ration of cookies had to be carefully controlled, not due to fears of weight gain but because my appetite was so small that if I ate a cookie before lunch, that would become my meal. I therefore had a deprived childhood.
I’ll pause a moment to let you to wipe your eyes.
My small appetite, however, is only part of the story. I simply don’t tend to pack on the pounds. Sorry.
I inherited my seemingly physics-violating metabolism from my dad. He’s still thin into his 70s. We didn’t know that until I reconnected with him, but it was obvious that my metabolism didn’t come from my mom’s side of the family.
If you ignored the hair, you wouldn’t know that my mom and I were even related, at least in terms of girth. (She’s the first one to joke about this.) Her brother weighed as much as 600 pounds, but my mom isn’t nearly that overweight, fortunately.
I’ve seen firsthand with my mom — who doesn’t overeat — that there very real differences in metabolisms. It’s not just about self-discipline. That’s one of the many reasons why I’ve never been tempted to fat shame.
At any rate, I was always near the bottom of the normal range in my growth and weight charts. Amusingly (at least to my mom and me), when we were trying to diagnose what we later learned was permanent lung damage, one doctor pronounced that I was anorexic, despite the fact that I was still in the normal range. My mom assured him that I did eat and had been skinny my entire life.
He refused to believe her.
Anorexia was just beginning to become widely publicized. It was therefore the hot new diagnosis. Decades later, I actually did grow anorexically thin due to dermatomyositis and my 6-week coma. More on that shortly.
Yes, Stephanie, You Can Gain Weight Too
Fear not, yea of normal metabolisms. I’m not going to tell you that my entire life has been a raspberry — of the non-pastry variety — to those who suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous temptations. I have in fact had periods when I gained weight.
The first time I gained weight was after my lung scarring was finally correctly diagnosed. I was used to being a hyperactive, perpetual motion machine. And since I had never been able to gain weight, I thought nothing of eating a candy bar for energy every time I needed to do something tiring.
I hadn’t factored in that I had transitioned from the Energizer rabbit to a de-energized slug. And since I hard never been in the habit of monitoring my weight, it slowly edged up without me noticing.
You might wonder why I didn’t notice that I looked heavier or that my clothes didn’t fit. First, I wasn’t really fat for most people. I was fat for me, as a 5-foot-tall, extremely small-boned woman. Every pound looks like five on a person like me. I was also young enough that I was still developing. And my clothes already fit big on me because of my diminutive size.
Please don’t hate me. I was born this way.
In early 2013, however, I was puzzled as to why I had noticeably gained weight again. I hadn’t been eating more calories than usual. Had my metabolism shifted with age, as so many people had warned me it would?
I was therefore concerned when I was forced to start taking prednisone to control my autoimmune disease, after it was finally correctly diagnosed. Prednisone is notorious for making people gain weight rapidly. I stocked up on baby carrots and cauliflower to slake the insatiable hunger the drug induces.
Instead of gaining weight, I shed pounds daily. WTF?
Those mysterious pounds I had gained were actually water retained by my inflamed muscles as they were being damaged by dermatomyositis (DM). My weight dropped from under 110 into the 80s. (My adult average is 95)
My anxiety instantly shifted to my unhealthily low weight. (One of my DM symptoms had been difficulty swallowing. It was taking me twice as long to eat, and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t eating enough as a result.)
Fortunately, Keith and I were about to leave for Sicily. I had begun treatment for my DM just in time for my muscles to recover enough (barely) to take this long-planned trip, which Keith nearly cancelled due to the diagnosis.
After we arrived in Sicily, I scarfed down cannoli with abandon. A month later, I returned home with countless delightful memories and a raging case of Legionnaires’ disease. I soon fell into a six-week coma.
Once again I was on a liquid diet, though not to intentionally lose weight. After my kidneys shut down, I was put on dialysis. Kidney failure patients are put on a low-protein diet. In my case, it was fed to me through a tube.
When my kidneys started working again, It should’ve been switched to a normal formula. It wasn’t.
I don’t know what I weighed after my Cannoli Diet — soon to be a bestseller — but my weight eventually sank to 83 pounds while I was recovering in the nursing home.
I didn’t start to regain weight until I was given the go-ahead to eat solid food again. I was instructed to eat as much as I could manage. If you’ve ever been in the hospital, you’re probably groaning, but the nursing home food was actually pretty good.
Once I returned home, I continued my high-calorie diet. But I eventually overshot the mark.
I gained weight again…and this time it was real. I hadn’t noticed it for the same reason as before — I’m not in the habit of being weight obsessed. I should’ve known better because I was still on prednisone at the time.
This time, however, I didn’t go on a weight loss diet…unless you consider eating healthier a form of dieting. I cut out desserts and other junk and switched to a healthier, sugar-free fiber cereal. My metabolism and my rehab exercise took care of the rest.
My pulmonologist is amused at my weirdly wonderful metabolism because I’m so different from so many of his patients, many of whom could improve their breathing if they shed some pounds. On my last appointment he told me, “At least you didn’t lose weight,” with a bemused smile.
(I didn’t exercise before my coma, so I have to be especially careful not to get too thin now.)
I expect a gently admonishment from him when I see him in December. But I did warn him that I had stayed within a couple of pounds of 95 my entire adult life without effort.
I will assure him that I’ll start adding extra calories to my diet. Indeed, I already am.
It started with treating myself to the leftover Halloween candy, but Operation Calories will continue from Thanksgiving through Christmas and beyond. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
When you loosen your belt — as visions of pounds gained dance in your head — perhaps you’ll spare a moment to mourn for my plight.