Skinny people have feelings. I should know I was one for over forty years. “Is that Carole hiding behind the broomstick?” Mr. Bird, my high school art teacher hollered when he couldn’t see me one day. Funny, that most people assume it’s okay to tease skinny people. It’s not. My first real job was as a bus girl at a restaurant known for pies. Anytime someone made a mistake on the pie they were serving, they would give it to me. “Give it to Carole, she can eat anything,” was a mantra I often heard. And I could. It didn’t matter how much I ate, or what, I never gained an ounce.
As an adult, people didn’t tease me for the most part, but I still got the, “you’re so skinny, are you feeling all right?” questions. And the worst is the disdain thrown my way if I dared to stand in a circle of women discussing weight problems, and even worse if I accidentally said, “I know” or nodded my head. Hey, I liked to eat, so I’d commiserate about the cravings that would hit at night, miles from a grocery store. It was tough heading out in a storm to buy a bag of Cheetos and then living with the stomachache caused by eating the whole bag at once. I could relate. Then as an LDS Young Women's leader, I attended a youth fireside on eating disorders. I got stared at the entire lecture, and afterward one of my young women broached what they’d all been thinking. “Do you have anorexia?”
Well, I love food. If you’re offering me free food, then I’m there. Once I even joined a depression support group because they served lunch each time. Somewhere along the line, I admitted I wasn’t depressed, but just liked to eat. Fortunately, they didn’t kick me out. They laughed. Laughing is good therapy for depression right?
Our town has some awfully good cooks. Many of them are older women and in the local chapter of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. Somewhere along the way, a friend invited me to attend the once of month DUP meetings. There, I enjoyed the best rolls I’d eaten since before my Nana died in 1975.
Another thing happened about the same time I joined the DUP. It was
discovered that I had such severe iron deficient anemia that the doctor thought they made a mistake in the testing, since I shouldn’t have been, well alive . . . let alone functioning. I didn’t feel great, but I managed. The doctor asked me in all seriousness if I liked to eat dirt? Not dirt, but I munched on ice-cubes non-stop, trays and trays of ice every day and everywhere. I also knew all the best fast food joints—not for food, but for the soft kind of crushed ice. Sometimes I bought a taco at Taco Time, even if I wasn’t hungry. “And could you please give me a cup of ice with that taco,” And “Yes, no water with that ice.” Sometimes I’d shiver all the way home as I ate my ice with the heater full-blast. Even though it wasn’t dirt I craved—ice craving—or “pica” can be caused by anemia. Weird huh? It took pints and pints of liquid iron infused into my veins to bring me up to par. The doctor told me infusing iron “is not without risk.” Then admitted that some people go into a kind of shock reaction, and some unfortunately . . . “die.” Fortunately, I had no reaction and obviously didn’t die, but rather spent five days with cancer patients, since my doctor was also an oncologist.
As patients, we came together five or six at a time, all in a small room, each equipped with our own lounge chair and IV. I learned a lot in those days about determination, and optimism, and about life, and death. I felt guilty for not having a life-threatening illness. It wasn’t chemo going into my veins, but rather dark red iron. Still since it was October, I shared the same plastic pumpkin full of candy, picking out all the pink and yellow Starbursts—my favorites—as the terminally ill. And I received the same care from the nurses who continued to bring anything we wanted from water to juice. One time a nurse handed a bottle of water to an elderly woman and walked out of the room. The patient struggled with the lid and finally an older man across from her offered to try the lid. He easily opened it and handed it back to her. The elderly woman gushed about how nice it was to have a man around, and that it had been years since she’d had a husband to open jars. The man, her knight in shining armor in this case, dryly quipped. “A wrench is as good as a man any day.” We laughed. Another time a man griped about the town council being a bunch of morons. “I thought you said Mormons,” his wife said. “That too,” he said. And we all laughed about that too.
The iron fixed me up. And I was on my way. Over the next few months, I recognized one of those patients in the obituaries, and then another. But to hear the laughter in the room, it was hard to believe it was a room of the very sick. Folks always say you don’t know what you can do until you have to. I’m hoping I never have to.
Shortly thereafter, I began to gain weight. It might have been my age and metabolism slowing, or it might have been that my body didn’t have to work so hard just to keep me alive. I don’t know when it was I could no longer see my ribs when I showered, or people stopping calling me skinny, or tried to fatten me up with a gooey dessert. I’m not fat, but I’m no longer thin. When I complain to my husband about all the weight I’ve gained, he says, “Of course, iron is heavy!”
Now in new year, I’ve finally made a goal for the first time in my life to lose weight. I’m physically active, so that isn’t a challenge, but I need to increase what I’m already doing—walking fifteen to twenty miles a week—and I need to limit my food intake. I’m off to a good start. I’ve joined an aerobic class. We meet twice a week, and man is it a workout. We have a great teacher. One way not to fail with an exercise plan is to have others depend on you. Offer to give a friend a ride to a class. That way, someone needs you. No one likes to be a slacker. Or you could be the one in charge of opening the building. Our class is held in our local church house, so someone has to unlock the doors.
If you like to exercise outdoors, like I do, work with a partner who has similar goals and you can help each other out. In our town, I started a hiking group in the summer. Every Saturday for two months, we went on a different hike. It was great, and already we’re talking about next summer or adding snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to the mix. The hiking group worked because I would send out emails in the week and tell people what time we were meeting, and where we would be hiking. People depended on me and I didn’t want to let them down. It’s amazing how this one thing, helps you find the time. And it was fun. Anytime you can combine fun, and sociality with exercise, it’s bound to be more successful. It’s not about the weight so much as it is about good health. If you feel better, then you look better. Being health conscious is on everyone’s minds these days. Make a small change in your lifestyle for some big results. Make this the year to feel great.