Sometimes weight loss books are so quick to get to the skinny victory. They check off a former self with its struggles as a completed task. There is distancing from being fat as if it might be an infectious disease. It makes me sad to see this happen, even if I am someone on the sideline cheering on the lifestyle change. Deep down, each of us is a compilation of greatest hits of what has occurred in our lives to get us to the point we are at now. If we erase 5 or 10 years, our music isn’t as rich and full. Growing up fat isn’t everyone’s story, but it is mine. And it’s Andie Mitchell’s too.
In her memoir, It Was Me All Along, she doesn’t dole out condemnation, even now that she’s 135 pounds smaller. What she does instead is share her story of suffering and survival, of coping and coming to grips, accepting being “the fat girl” and then making lasting changes. Being fat is really misunderstood in our culture. A person’s size might be more of an indication of deeper problems and is a cloak of protection as it was for Andie. “I built walls around myself with bricks of cake, using frosting as a mortar.” (p. 68) Just like in food writing, often food is the conduit through which to talk about deeper truths. Unlike alcohol, food addiction isn’t something one can abstain from consuming entirely.
Pieces of Andie’s story reflect like a mirror into my own life, like combating loneliness, “Our apartment wasn’t so lonely with two dozen cupcakes cooling on my kitchen counter.” (p. 51) Her weight loss challenges start at childhood, follow her through high school, and then coast on into college where a trip to Italy helps her conquer her disordered eating. Andie describes how she and her mother regarded her weight like New England winters, “wishing they weren’t so burdensome, but accepting that they probably wouldn’t change any time soon.” (p. 54) And yet, that after many futile attempts at dieting, support groups, calorie counting and bingeing, she is able to change is powerful. Her story hooked me as I read it cover to cover one weekend annotating my copy with penciled-in underlines and comments.
Years ago, I met Andie at a healthy living bloggers conference. I began reading her blog and kept coming back to it because of her strong writing voice and ability to tackle the tricky terrain of weight loss with compassion. Like her blog’s title, Can You Stay for Dinner, hers is a hospitable place where often readers open up in the comments section, feeling safe to share their own stories and struggles. She is a kindred spirit and friend; I became excited when I learned she would pen a memoir. So, when Clarkson Potter offered to send me a copy, I leapt at the chance (and re-routed my preordered copy to a friend). Andie’s story is one of overcoming—it is one that gives others courage and a glimpse that they too can overcome whatever obstacle they are battling.
There are moments in the book where the reader feels squeamish on her behalf, like watching her as a child in a room full of adults at a Weight Watchers meeting. When she and a group of college friends are passing a frat house, pausing to find out about the party going on inside as a frat member looks at her and yells, “No fatties allowed!!” (p. 103), I winced. She brings the reader into the scenes of her life as a witness. I sobbed when I read about her father’s death. But even, and especially in the struggles to make a lifelong change to lose weight, we see her character shine on: “Moments when I felt my weakest, when I was absolutely certain that I’d rather give up than keep going: that was when I learned what I’m made of.” (p. 129) And this is where the book really excels. That is a learned quality anyone can glom onto, whether weight is the challenge or perhaps something else, like addiction.
Readers will cheer her on as she makes the connection between satisfaction and contentment. “I sensed contentment coursing through me. It was what it was: a much loved meal. And now, I said to myself, it’s over. Remember it fondly. Another plate wouldn’t have brought me any greater satisfaction, because contentment doesn’t double by the serving.” (p. 142)
From the cover of the book, a young Andie in a swimsuit grins at the camera showing gaps between her teeth. The ocean surf is lapping the sand behind her posed posture. Her joy is infectious. She embodies childhood. In this snapshot, her story is just beginning. The power is summed up best in the title that gets fully realized in the closing chapter. Whether she is skinny or was fat, she is always the same person. And that truth is one size fits all, just like her book.
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