The fact that I used to carry the equivalent of an entire person in addition to my current body weight is hard to wrap my head around at times -- 115 pounds! That's practically a Backstreet Boy! I didn't start out heavy, by the way. I was a normal-sized kid, a thick (but healthy) teen, and then depression and psychotropic meds led to an obese 20-something.
I can't tell you exactly how many fad diets, pills, or potions I tried, but there were many. There's always such appeal, right? Against our intelligence, sense, and dignity, we think, "Well, I know all those other things were shite -- but maybe this will be different!" Who can blame us for wanting to believe?
But the cycle (shortcut --> hope --> disappointment) got old, and one day it hit me like a punch in the gut: If I really want things to change, I must figure out what I can do differently for the rest of my life, or at least the foreseeable future. At the time I was working a 9-5 that I hated, getting little-to-no physical activity and eating a steady diet of fast food, candy and soda.
The first question was: "I wonder if I can kick soda?" The answer was yes! I switched from regular to diet, and then gradually down to just a couple a week (caffeine withdrawal is nasty but short-lived!) and so on, replacing with water and tea along the way. I wasn't physically able -- or interested yet -- in exercising intensely, but I did walk around the block after work a few times a week. Believe it or not, these two small changes yielded some results! And results, however small, tend to bring confidence and incentive to keep going.
I knew next-to-nothing about nutrition but decided the next step would be to work on what I ate. Initially, I kept eating whatever I wanted as long as it came from a grocery store (and not restaurants or convenience stores), choosing favorites like mac and cheese, Spaghettios, and frozen meals.
Slowly, I started paying attention to labels and realizing what I was ingesting. This led to swapping out terrible choices for better ones (margarine instead of butter, wheat pasta instead of white pasta, etc.). Eventually, I discovered how many calories were needed daily to sustain my body weight, and I sought to eat less than that number (you can do this by typing "calorie calculator" into any search engine and following the instructions).
Learning what real portions are of things like rice, meat and sauces, and then living within those confines, was very challenging! I vividly remember thinking, "How do people live off of this?!" At first I had to eat double or triple the servings while my body adjusted, which was frustrating. I very much wanted to eat a lot less and with a quickness! But taking into account how much food my body was used to receiving, I learned that it wasn't a realistic option for me. So on that note, if you have tried to change your habits rapidly or dramatically only to revert back to old ones, don't get discouraged! Trying to reduce intake by too much at once can be a shock to the body and not sustainable, in my experience. I know every time I attempted to do so, it inevitably led to a break down and overeating.
What's the message here? I know it's cliché, but it's true: Slow but steady wins the race! Little by little, we get better. Pretty quickly the changes in my body started to become noticeable, within a year they were undeniable, and now when people see my "before picture," they say I'm unrecognizable. (On a side note: Don't compare yourself to other people, especially those with different body types! Everyone loses at different rates.) But whether you want to lose one pound or 100 pounds, it's going to take time, and until it happens ... be good to you! Be kind.
By the way, this idea of patience and kindness is really at the heart of what I want to say. I wish I had a sweet story about how I've loved my body at every stage and that the journey was fun and beautiful, but that's mostly not true. For a long time I hated my body. There were all too many days while looking at myself in the mirror, I wished I could literally rip the fat from my body. But I believe these feelings -- and most others that might arise -- are totally normal and have to be cleansed like the weight itself.
Something I've noticed a lot of people with food and/or weight issues have in common is that they don't always express themselves fully (or in extreme cases, at all). If this is a truth for you, I strongly recommend being brave and trying to learn ways to get that crap out of your system! Sometimes on hard days, I lost it and cried like a baby, or told a friend, or journaled. Other times I covered my body in quotes and colors, and took pictures, and you know what? Between all these actions and Papa Time doing what he does, the feelings passed, as they always do if we can wait it out. I truly believe learning how to effectively express emotions (especially negative ones) can make an incredible difference in one's relationship to food and weight.
Now, as you may have gathered, weight was not my only problem when I first started all this business. I had fairly extensive emotional and family issues, a history of abuse, and was definitely one of those people from the paragraph above who had an unconscious habit of repressing feelings. I had some initial success without tapping into these factors, but change really came when I began attacking all my demons, not just the ones people could see. I weaned myself off of psychotropic medications and learned how to be alone. I took up creative endeavors like writing poetry and taking photographs. I branched out into different kinds of physical activity, like playing tennis and volleyball. I began building relationships with the family I had isolated from during the previous confusing years and made the decision that I was going to leave the job I hated and go back to school by any means necessary.
Sound ambitious? It was. But thankfully, I've been able to achieve just about everything I set out to do. In May of this year, I obtained a bachelor's of social work from the University of Central Florida and began a master's program of the same discipline (also at UCF). I live with my boyfriend, who is an incredible, other-worldly man. We take care of each other, laugh often, have serious intentions for the future, great conversations, and a lot of fun! I have amazing friends and wonderful relationships with my immediate family and much of my extended family too!
While still working toward my health, nutrition, and weight goals, I've maintained a 100-pound loss for several years now. I've gone from loathing to loving exercise! I do it three to five times a week, and have learned that I thoroughly enjoy hiking, biking, canoeing, running, bikram yoga and spinning. I'm an excellent cook (well, either that or my loved ones are really impressive liars) and life is good.
So if you're frustrated with your weight, you've probably tried everything else, so why not try "something new" and take it slow? Decide what you can commit to that is realistic for you (a walk at night, using one-half the condiments you normally do, switching to diet soda, etc.) and use it as a starting point? If you're not in the habit of sharing your feelings, try it! Especially when it comes to something as wonderful but maddening as self-improvement. Above all else though, be easy on yourself! The number you see when you look down at the scale doesn't define you. We decide who and how we want to be each and every day, so choose wisely and make it happen.
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