(This is the second installment in my “Flashback” series, some pieces written to tell a little more about me, my past, and my journey through weight gain, weight loss, and some other tidbits as well. I hope you enjoy and learn that my weight loss journey started a long time before this blog did on 9/1/09…)

Today I was looking through an old photo album and ran across some of those classic bad school photos. The kind that make you scratch your head and wonder “What the hell was I thinking?”  I really thought the outfits I wore on picture days back then were good. Maybe it was, back then, but I highly doubt it.  First, I flipped through the pages of me as a baby…so adorable with my blonde hair. I was a cute kid too, and in lots of pics I was flat out SKINNY. Until kindergarten. I noticed a trend that every couple of years I looked a little chunkier. I had fat happy cheeks in that kindergarten graduation pic! Third and fourth grade pics were chunky, as were the following years. I turned the page and saw my photo for the eighth grade and took a longer pause to reflect on that year. It was not a good one, but you couldn’t tell from the huge smile I was wearing in the pic. My mom always taught me that no matter what, always smile for your picture. So I did. She called it my “picture face” and I took it to the next level (and probably still do!) In that pic, I smiled with my hideous purple and black striped shirt, black wrangler jeans, and a haircut that was supposed to look like Luke Perry’s (Dylan) did on 90210. More like 9021-NO.  It actually looked more like Eddie Munster. Or anyone from Jersey Shore these days.

I spent a little too long staring at that eighth grade picture. So many memories, most of them bad. That was the toughest year of school for me.  Moving to a new town, trying to fit in and failing, and most of all: the extreme loneliness. I was already overweight when I started, and after all the teasing and bullying I gained even more weight that year. I remember so desperately wanting to end my life just to end the pain. I thought I would never make it out of that school alive. Looking back, now that I’ve grown up and have had so many hard real life experiences (career, relationships, and finances!), eighth grade was nothing. But you couldn’t have told me that back then.

About halfway through the school year, and approximately 600 boxes of Little Debbie cakes later, I made my first friend in the new town. Megan was also overweight, perhaps that’s what brought us together. The difference is Megan had lived in the town her entire life and knew everyone in the school. Still, she wasn’t what you would call popular. She had friends, but not a ton. She was also sort of an outcast from the popular crowd-but again, nowhere near the degree I was. My first friendship blossomed quickly. We talked on the phone all the time and even hung out after school on several occasions. We seemed to bond by talking badly about the popular people in our class…and truth be told we were probably just as vicious about them as they were about us, but it felt good. Perhaps it was my first dose of free therapy!

The school year ended on a higher note. I ended the year with about three very good friends. I still got picked on, but mostly on the bus ride home. That was the absolute worst part of my day. So after I stepped off the bus, I would head right to the fridge–and then to the couch.  It was a vicious cycle, and looking back now I can see WHY I ate (often times a ton of junk food before a very unhealthy dinner…) and why I ate so much. I used this as an escape from the way the bullying made me feel. Thus, I just got bigger. And bigger, and bigger.

I smiled down at my eighth grade picture–wannabe Dylan hair and all–and remembered how glad I was when that year finally ended. On the same page in the photo album, directly under that school pic, I smiled even bigger at a picture taken on the last day of school that year. It was me and two of the three friends I made that year. My smile in that photo was genuine, so pleased to have met two girls that accepted me and made my new life better. I was also dressed a little better…but not much. My smile faded when I noticed the weight change in the two pictures. I was definitely heavier on the last day of school than on picture day. In fact, I was at my then-all-time-highest weight. I may have been smiling, but on the inside I was still unhappy.

I turned the page in the album and my insides filled with pride.  In the lone photo on the next page, there I stood: still badly dressed (light blue jean shorts, a faded gray Dallas Cowboys tshirt, huge white sneakers, and the thickest glasses ever), but in this picture I was wearing something you couldn’t buy at any clothing store: utter joy. In the pic, I was 55 pounds lighter than I was on that last day of eighth grade..in just a little over 3 months. I held my weight-loss certificate in the picture…and for evidence, it was taped onto the page below the very pic I held it in. The years have faded it a good bit, but it’s still proof of all the hard work I completed that summer, through diet, exercise, and commitment, all towards the goal of going into high school a little bit smaller. A little less overweight. A little less noticeable…and a lot harder to pick on.