Food fights: Carla Marie vs. ”But it won’t last, right? You know that?”
The comments, veiled criticisms or outright attacks on someone's weight aren't exactly news to someone who's overweight or obese. But one thing "weight loss success story" tales don't mention are those comments aren't banished with the weight loss. You could say the food fights with loved ones simply advance onto a new, slimmer battlefields.
One of Massachusetts resident Carla Marie Ciampa's biggest hurdles -- and oddly, motivators -- are the food fights waged with her loved ones. These didn't melt away with her 40 pounds, but they haven't stopped her from keeping those 40 pounds off, either.
In this Corner ... Supergirl
Carla Marie weighed 160 when several of her family members died of pancreatic cancer. Concerned with the hereditary nature of the disease, her chiropractor recommended an 11-day total body cleanse from Isagenix, which parlayed into an intense study of nutrition. Avoiding preservatives and closely monitoring which foods she paired together, Carla Marie revolutionized her Italian pasta-with-a-side-of-pasta family dinners and dropped to 130.
After maintaining 130, she settled into 120. She's astounded by the process, to the point friends tease. Yes, she knows "Eat your vegetables" isn't exactly the nutritional breakthrough of the century. But Carla Marie can't help but describe the changes as "something magical -- not only the weight loss itself, but life after it." "After I lost weight, I realized my body's healthier, but my life wasn't," the single mom says in a telephone conversation after putting her 9-year-old daughter to bed.
Inspired by her victory, Carla Marie kept the victories coming. She keeps redefining her sense of style, pleased she can do so much easier than before. She left a job she hated -- a windowless office at a manufacturing plant laden with chemicals (hardly ideal for someone eating a chemical-free diet) -- in favor of her own graphic design business. She began steaming vegetables for the week ahead and developed an exercise routine, walking several times a day. The life changes after her weight were a pleasant discovery and surprise.
"I feel like Supergirl!" she says, in a peppy, exuberant voice more in line with Clark Kent's mild manners than the Maid of Steel's faster-than-a-speeding bullet assertiveness. "When you're willing to defend yourself against the bully, you're a little bit stronger for the next one, and the next one … and then finally it doesn't seem so scary anymore."
Round 11 and a Narrowly Avoided KO
It's not a stretch to say that most folks who are or were overweight remember the weight loss bullies in their lives. But the most interesting facet of Carla Marie's experience is the "bullies" aren't necessarily intentionally demeaning ones.
Weight loss isn't elementary school. Sometimes, like leaving a job she hated or beginning the weight loss itself, the bully lives in her head -- the fear of going for it. But just as complicated are the bullies with friendly, loving faces -- those you don't anticipate until you're flat on the ground and knocked out. There are the friends that invite her to a three-day-weekend only to eat constantly, leaving Carla Marie in a sugar coma and ruining the trip.
Some members of Carla Marie's Italian-American family say "You look great! You're not going to lose any more, are you?" which Carla Marie finds baffling. It wasn't time she heard that when she reached her final weight of 120. It happened plenty along the way. Carla recounts family comments with nonchalance: "I'm Italian. Thin isn't in our vocabulary!"
Other comments, like the words of her ex-boyfriend of seven years, aren't so easily shrugged off. Both Carla Marie and her ex remain friends even after their breakup. She still speaks of him with respect. "This is not a Neanderthal kind of guy. He's really enlightened, he's like my Dali Llama," she says. "Honest to God, this man loved me the same at 160 than 130. He really loves me no matter what I look like. I've been happy and I've been miserable. We helped each other through each other's divorces. Carla Marie, he, and their kids gathered for his birthday meal at a restaurant, enjoying the evening and each other's company. The kids ate merrily; Carla Marie opted for a turkey burger sans bun and her companion a fully-loaded variant. Carla Marie's weight loss came up in conversation, and with that her companion's reply: "You look totally great, and I always thought you were amazing. But it won't last, right? You know that?"
When the birthday cake came, Carla Marie passed.
To her surprise, so did her ex. The kids devoured it instead, oblivious. Carla Marie, conversely, was in shock. "I couldn't breathe," she says. "What kind of answer was that? This is a man who's been in my life for seven years, we love each other, and that was what he said to me. That's the only time, on record, that he's not supported something I was doing. That came out of his mouth." Long after the exchange, The Sentence rings in her head. But it won't last, right? You know that? became another bully. On occasions when she wants to empty her own fridge for less health-minded reasons, The Sentence appears for an encore: It won't last. And Carla Marie closes the door in disgust.
"I'd hear his voice, and then I'd say to myself “I'd be goddamned I gain a single pound,'" she says. "I had already gotten down to my perfect weight, but there were times I thought I'd bounce, and I was afraid. But I never gave myself permission to bounce: There were no moments like that after that comment."
The next day after our conversation Carla Marie e-mailed me back. When she woke up after our talk, she realized they broke up before The Sentence, not after as we discussed. In the fallout of the breakup, she was having difficulty sleeping. Maybe the comment was in reference to the sleeping, not her weight? Maybe? Perhaps? Were these just second thoughts after talking candidly to a reporter and not wanting to hurt a man she cared for. Or maybe she misunderstood his intent all this time? Maybe the bully was in her head, not his? Possibly? Or is it possible that The Sentence is so powerful it's easier to explain it away than confront it.
Armchair psychologists could have a field day with this, but I ask that you don't play that game in the comments section. It's an unfair response to Carla Marie's candor about a difficult subject, for starters. Also, the theories about what Carla Marie's ex actually meant -- mine, yours, even her's -- miss the point.
The Sentence, for all things it could have been, left its mark. Carla Marie and her ex still see each other platonically and remain close. They never discuss The Sentence, so what the truth, none of us will ever know until he says so. In some ways, it's irrelevant.
After 12 Rounds, Supergirl Wins by Decision
For all the food fights, sometimes Carla Marie scores a win. Each time she picks her daughter up from her parent's house, Carla Marie gets the same invitation to dine from her father -- who lost weight himself early in his life himself -- and he receives the same rebuttal each time. She can't eat like she used to, after all. Carla Marie understands why the invitation, but that understanding doesn't make handling it any less complicated.
"I'll say, 'I'll bring my own dinner,'" she says, "In the last year, I'm pretty much mostly vegetarian. “What should I get?' he asks. I'll say vegetables. “Well, which vegetables? I don't keep vegetables in the house.' He can't wrap his brain around it. And nothing hurts his feelings more (than for me to turn down his meals). He's not trying to be destructive, because to him this is how you show love. "
One day, after many refusals or counter-offers to bring her own food, Carla walked into something different on the family table. In a sea of Red Sauce and meat, there was a single plate of green. Asparagus. Grilled asparagus even. "He was so proud of himself -- he made a grilled vegetable!" Carla Marie says, laughing. She doesn't see it as a win -- hearing her tell it, it was clear she loves her father so much his difficulty with vegetables just amuses her. On the other hand, her father put in an effort, I countered, and everyone won -- Carla Marie got her vegetables, and her father found a new way to communicate food with love. Sometimes a plate of asparagus isn't just a plate of asparagus.
All this goes to show that appearances are deceiving, even after a weight loss. The new life still has new versions of the same old relationship difficulties the old life did: do you think "It won't last" is that much different from "Don't you get tired of being so fat?" or "Are you sure you want another slice of pie?"
And the other misleading image: For all her mild-mannered Clark Kent demeanor, Carla Marie's proven to herself that she's made of an extraordinary, gently brave piece of steel. Now that Carla Marie has one taste of life as Supergirl, nothing would have her give it up. Not for anyone, any food or any bully. Especially not those in her head.
"Deciding you deserve better is an important first step," she says, looking back on not only the weight loss, but also life after it. "Giving yourself that permission to deserve it, to ask for more, to set a new standard for your life. "If nothing else, the permission to be healthy."