My first spoken word wasn't "Mama" or "Dada." I'm pretty sure it was "food."
As far back as I can remember, food played an integral role in my life. My grades suffered in elementary school because I was hyper-focused on what was in my lunch box rather than the math equations on the chalkboard. When it came to birthday parties, I didn't care about the games or prizes—I wanted the cake. Same goes for family holidays. Easter was all about chocolate bunnies, and Christmas meant an abundance of cookies cooling on the kitchen counter.
Halloween was my favorite, for obvious reasons. I knew which houses gave away full-size candy bars and which ones gave apples. Needless to say, my bag was heavy with enough cavity-inducing treats to pay a dentist's salary for a year.
I never thought much about what I was eating until the neighborhood kids started poking fun at me for my round stomach. Their teasing did a number on my self-esteem and made me realize that I didn't want to head into my teens looking like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
By the time I entered middle school and discovered boys, I started the first of many diets. What fresh hell is this? Boiled chicken that looks like breast implants and tastes like cardboard? Dry lettuce leaves sprinkled with lemon juice? Broccoli without butter? AND WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE'S ONLY APPLES FOR DESSERT?
It was a nightmare, but I kept at it so I could become one of the cool skinny girls at school. All I wanted was to fit in to a tight pair of stovepipe jeans. Just so I could fit in.
High school was no easier. The pressure was on to look like Farrah Fawcett and the rest of "Charlie's Angels." I battled the bulge by yo-yo dieting for years, and cared more about my ass than class. In fact, the only course I excelled at was Spanish, because once a month we were required to bring an authentic dish to school. I lived for those Fridays when I could binge on flan and paella.
I tortured my body for years with every fad diet and weight loss pill on the market. My weight fluctuated so much that I felt like a human accordion. And my closet was a testament to every thing I did and didn't put in my mouth. I had "fat" clothes and "skinny" clothes, and what I wore was strictly determined by playing roulette on the scale. As time went by, the skinny section of my closet had more cobwebs than clothing.
Pregnancy was an amazing time for me, not just because I was carrying a baby, but because I could chow down without guilt. No one looked at me sideways when I ordered two cheeseburgers and a large fries. Another plus side of pregnancy was the comfy maternity clothes I wore: elastic waistband slacks, leggings and blousy shirts. What more could an overeater ask for? This might also explain why I kept having babies.
The pressure to drop the baby fat hit hard in my mid-30s. The scale and the mirror became my enemies, each mocking me for the imperfect body I was left with after giving birth to four kids. I hated what I looked like and decided to join a gym and jump back on the dieting hamster wheel, a cycle that lasted well into my 40s.
It also sucked a lot of joy out of my life because I was too busy calculating every calorie I put into my mouth and measuring my waistline daily. I was a food junkie living in the halfway house of dieting hell.
And one day while food shopping, it hit me: I didn't have to prove anything to anybody anymore. I wasn't in a race against other women to see who could reach the finish line to skinny bitch first. The reality was that I'd never be a size six again because I'd had four C-sections, and because I happened to enjoy good food as much as anything in life. Yes, I wanted to be healthy, but I didn't want to spend the rest of my life eating like a rabbit.
It has taken me more than 50 years to realize that life is too short to compare myself to other women or to worry about what other people think. All that matters is how I see myself. I've learned to embrace my imperfections, stretch marks and all. I may not have won all the battles of the bulge, but in the end I won the war.