Life was great growing up in a small suburb of San Antonio — Helotes, Texas. Only 347 people lived in Helotes at the time. We were very sheltered.
I had known my classmates at Helotes Elementary School from an early age and I remained with this core group of friends throughout elementary school.
But life changed drastically when my parents told me and my brother that we were moving to California in the middle of fifth grade.
My world and safe haven came crashing down.
We left Helotes during spring break week of fifth grade. We drove for three days before arriving in San Jose on March 28, 1986. I considered this the worst day of my life, made doubly worse because it was my 11th birthday and the worst “gift” I could imagine as a preteen.
In April, I finished elementary school at a new campus as the “new” kid. I discovered very quickly how cruel kids can be.
From the first day, I was teased. I wore a skirt and the kids teased me for having hairy legs. I never wore a skirt in elementary school again, and I wanted to shave my legs as a fifth grader. Shave my legs! In Helotes, I was never teased and had plenty of friends, but in San Jose, I had nobody.
All I had was food, which became my new best friend.
Things didn’t get any better at my new middle school in San Jose. Since I hadn’t made any friends in fifth grade, I entered middle school alone and lonely.
Yes, I made friends slowly but surely. But the teasing didn’t end. It only got worse. Kids continued to harass me, and I got depressed. This sadness made me eat more and more. I kept gaining weight.
It was like a vicious cycle because as I gained weight, I was teased even more about being fat. I was never fat in Texas, but during my middle-school years, I gained 50 pounds.
Again, things got worse when my family moved to Walnut Creek a week before I began high school. Once again, I found myself starting at a new school with no friends, and at such an impressionable time.
Right away, I was the target of bullies who teased me for being overweight. Food again became my best friend. I ate more and more, and the teasing got worse and worse.
Every morning before school, I would literally make my stomach hurt so badly with all the anxiety I had about not wanting to go to school — literally making myself sick, but not sick enough to stay home.
My parents never believed I was truly sick, and each day I went back to school hating my life and myself.
By my junior year in high school, I weighed more than 200 pounds, with the addition of the 50 pounds I had gained in high school.
I was fat and I was tired of being teased. Simply put, I hated my life.
What changed this? Certainly not my peers. They continued to be cruel and teased me day in and day out. I flitted among groups of friends — one week with the brains, another with the druggies and another with various other misfits like me.
Even though I hung out with the “wrong crowds” some of the time, I never tried drugs of any kind or smoked cigarettes, despite many opportunities.
In junior year, I took yearbook class – this sparked changes in my life. This was the first high-school class that I truly loved.
I found I had a talent in yearbook. The whole class banded together and became friends. I took yearbook my senior year, too, since I wanted to develop this newfound passion.
Yearbook gave me the confidence to begin changing my life, and more specifically, my weight.
I began to take better care of my body. I started exercising a little and monitoring the foods that I ate. I started to see a little bit of weight come off.
I did not try to lose weight quickly, instead I looked to change my entire life. I knew a quick fix was not the answer, nor was a diet. When I had tried dieting in the past, I did great for a few weeks, but as soon as the diet ended I gained the weight back and then some. I'd go back to my same old habits.
What I needed was radical change. Permanent change.
I started using low-fat or nonfat alternatives, took butter out of my diet and got rid of all fatty sweets.
Over a three-year period, I lost about 60 pounds. I also discovered an underlying health issue — thyroid cancer — that may have been one of the reasons I had gained so much weight and then had trouble losing it (but that's another story).
I celebrated my 36th birthday on March 28. So, the big question is, have I triumphed over my weight issues?
The answer? Yes, yes, yes!!!
I truly changed my life at the end of high school. I live a healthier lifestyle today than ever before. I eat healthy foods and exercise regularly by taking long walks in the fresh air. I have never gained a single pound back from where I once was, and I am at a weight I had never dreamed of.
In fact, when I tell people how overweight I once was, nobody can believe it from the looks of me. I'm thin. I'm healthy.
Moving before starting middle school and again right before high school were tragedies to me. The weight gain and subsequent teasing made life even worse.
But I changed my own life for the better. I didn’t wait for somebody to come in with a magic solution and rescue me — I rescued myself.
Bullying in our schools is rampant. That's what teasing really is. Words do hurt — no matter what anybody says. Even as a 36-year old, I remember what those kids said to me and it still hurts.
That old adage about sticks and stones and words not hurting is simply not true. It is our job as parents to make sure this vicious cycle of teasing ends — today.
Using words to hurt others is unacceptable and has lifelong effects — I know that from experience. What we say really does matter. Somebody’s weight does not have anything to do with who they are on the inside.
Diets don’t work but life changes do. That’s my reality and my own triumph over challenges during teenage years.