Brave Body 9; Denise's Story

Denise Vitola
IG Handle: @deezworkoutz

I probably weighed about 135 pounds in high school. I was 5’8 or taller on a good day.
I was very muscular as I played sports all year round from cross country running to basketball to soccer. I was always in the weight room and I was always obsessed with the way I looked.
I was FAT.
In fact, I thought I was huge compared to the other girls.
The girls who looked more like the models I saw in magazines.
I never saw ones that looked like me. 

So, there it started, my downward spiral into self-hate and body shaming. 

As a very confident young lady who loved just about everything else about herself, I was determined to make some changes. I won’t eat…that’s what I will do. If I stop eating I will lose some weight and look like those other girls.

Well, the not eating didn’t last very long. I was dizzy at practice and sleepy all the time…never mind always being hungry, which I tried to curb by eating sleeves of lifesavers (no it didn’t work). I saw on TV that there were shakes I could replace my meals with and would lose weight…Slim Fast to be specific. The thought of not eating a meal upset me because I loved food so I tried the route of forcing myself to throw up. I am a baby who couldn’t do that, so I got on the Slim Fast train very quickly. Boy did I lose weight. I was the skinniest I had ever been. In fact, all you saw were my muscles since I was still playing sports so hard and hitting the gym twice as much. 

It wasn’t until college where I began seeing other girls like me that I allowed myself to eat again. However, I overdid it big time – as most binge eaters like me would do. I gained the Freshman 15 and then some. I went from being the skinniest to the fattest I’d ever been. I was still playing sports, but I was eating an insane amount of food, taking in more calories than I would burn in a day.

I never knew what my healthy weight should be. I only knew what I saw on TV so again, I hated myself for being what I perceived to be as fat, but now I look back and see a very sexy body. It is sad that I did not see it then. Instead it led to more years of feeling like a fatty all the time. Trying one diet after the next, losing weight and gaining it, my life was one constant struggle with having a negative body image. 

I lost weight, again, for my wedding in 2001, but shortly after, put on nearly 75 pounds. I got married 9/8/01 and 9/11 happened only days after my wedding. My husband, FDNY, was on his honeymoon with me, but he lost many friends that dreadful day. He went into depression and so did I. Once we came home, I gained more weight than ever. I was 225 pounds. The fattest in my life and I couldn’t even fit into normal size clothes anymore. I quickly went on Weight Watchers and lost 80 pounds, but after two years, the weight began creeping on again as I overdid it with that diet. I never had to lost 80 pounds, but according to some bullshit government guidelines for my height, I was supposed to weigh a measly 126 pounds. 

I struggled and struggled to discover me, my body and what was right for me. Today there are body positive movements and women to look at with curvier figures. There was no Ashley Graham or any others like her when I was growing up. 

After my home drowned in Super Storm Sandy, something else washed away. The desire to make tons of money. I shifted my thinking to be about me, my health, my loved ones and my happiness.  It was not an immediate thing, but a transition that took at least 4 years, but today, I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. I gave up the big paycheck to get my health coaching certification, personal training license and open my own business. I feel rich in life more than I ever have. At 43, I finally figured out what works for me. I am 175 pounds and very muscular. I don’t eat processed foods, I allow myself cheats here and there and I stay away from sugar and refined carbs as much as I can. My motto is if it is not raised on a farm or swims in the ocean or grown from the earth, we shouldn’t be eating it.

My plea for everyone is to stop comparing yourself to others. Not one person is like another. My problem was thinking I could ever have a small figure like those other girls. It was never in my genes. I was beautiful the way I was, and I wish I would have known that then.