Thoughts on moving forward

“You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” –Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button screenplay

Each of us is on a journey. Some days it feels like an adventure. Other times it feels like a forced march through difficult and trying terrain. How we think of the journey, what emotional baggage we carry with us, directly impacts our perspective.

Weight and body issues have been a major story line in my personal narrative, as they are for so many of us. In this blog, I have chronicled my own process through losing half of my body weight (from just over 350 pounds to a low of 176) and, recently, of regaining a significant portion of that amount. Over these years, I’ve learned so much – one important lesson being not to judge anyone else’s journey.

Early in my weight loss process, I undertook a hunger challenge – raising money for hunger relief as I lost weight myself. When I asked friends to sponsor me for this challenge, one sent me an email saying, “I’ll sponsor you as long as you aren’t having weight-loss surgery.” I assured him that I wasn’t, and his response was to say, “I don’t agree with people having surgery to fix a problem because they don’t have the willpower to fix it themselves.”

At the time, his comment didn’t really bother me – probably because I agreed with him. I had not yet undertaken either the physical work nor the emotionally difficult excavation of my underlying issues that significant weight loss required. When I did do that work, I discovered that coming into a “right relationship” with myself, and my body, is about so much more than the actual weight. When I realized that I had been trying to keep my head above water in a sea of self-loathing and shame, I understood the loving compassion I had often extended toward others needed to be extended toward myself. Once I began doing that, I could see that my judgement about other people’s bodies or weight loss methods, my attitude about other peoples’ life journeys, had simply been a projection of my own nasty insecurities and fears.

Three weeks ago, my sister Gwen had gastric sleeve surgery. I am so PROUD of her! First, I am aware of how much energy it requires to undertake such a major step. There was the better part of a year spent in medical and psychological screenings and preparation. Then there was the surgery itself, not a minor consideration. Finally, there is the life-long behavior change required to make the rest of it worthwhile.

Gwen had to face her inner demons – I don’t know them because they are hers, but I have no doubt they are as powerful as my own! Many people never manage to face theirs, much less stare them down. Many people keep finding reasons for inaction when action feels daunting.

It requires courage to do these hard things.

In fact, it requires courage to move forward in our journeys – whether in bold steps or incremental. Our fears, our shames, our regrets, our guilts are voiced repetitively in our heads. Every day they tell us to avert our eyes, to distract ourselves, to comfort ourselves with things that may feel good but are not nourishing to our souls (food, habits, consumption, competition – whatever). Their real message is “Don’t.” Don’t try. Don’t change. Don’t think you’re special or worthy. Don’t take that next step – stay here where you may not be happy but at least you feel safe.

This is true for everyone – not just those of us with weight concerns. Once you see this clearly for even a brief span, you can’t really go back to judging other peoples’ journeys as if it is your business or as if you actually know their innermost secrets. Once you see this clearly for even a brief span, it is much more difficult to brutally judge yourself.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”                                                                                                  –Brene Brown





Channeling Lizzy

Mill City Ruins, January 11, 2014

It was not till the afternoon, when he joined them at tea, that Elizabeth ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have endured, he replied, “Say nothing of that. Who would suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

“You must not be too severe upon yourself,” replied Elizabeth.

“You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”

— from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Mr. Bennet (above) facetiously observes that we are are prone to be too severe on ourselves. Had he been written in the last decade (as opposed to two centuries ago), he might have appended the word, “NOT!” to his statement. One of the reasons I’ve always appreciated Mr. Bennet’s character is just this: he may fail utterly due to a weak will, but he is clear-sighted enough to be aware of his own failings.

The reason I have loved his daughter Lizzy more, though, has always been her self-efficacy and willingness to change.

As I considered what I intended to write about this week, I heard Mr. Bennet’s voice first. His “mea culpa” in the scene above has stayed with me over the years and comes to me when I am feeling particularly – and rightly – self-critical.

This post began when the photo I shared above popped up on my Facebook memories (though its subject has been hovering, unspoken, for a while). The picture is from a particularly memorable weekend in January 2014. The day of the photo, I worked an 8-hour shift on my feet, biked fifteen miles in the snow and cold for fun, attended the mayor’s victory party (another several hours on my feet) listening to speeches by people I admire like Senators Klobuchar and Franken. The next day, my friend Mike and I bundled up for another wintry bike ride, this time to – and on – Lake Calhoun, followed by coffee at Spyhouse.

That weekend was indicative of the whole year that followed – jammed full of new experiences, standing in crowds of people listening to folks I admired (mostly musicians, rather than politicians), shift-work on my feet, miles and miles logged by bike and on foot exploring and laughing with friends. By the time the year was over, my average mph by bike had risen from 12 to 16. My feet always hurt but the rest of my body felt amazing – by January 2015, I was in the best shape of my life.

Seeing my photo of the Mill City Ruins brought it all back. Looking so closely at my memories from 2014 into 2015, I could hardly avoid the sharp contrast with where I am today – a mere two years later. There has been, in those two years, a spectacular failure of will – mine. I’ve stopped riding or walking, I’ve stopped making time for new people and experiences, I’ve stopped paying attention to my food intake. I am now seventy-five pounds heavier and in horrible shape. My feet hurt, my heels hurt, my knees hate me. Like Mr. Bennet, I need to own it, need to feel it. Though moments of self-recrimination have popped up occasionally, even the worst of these passed by without effecting any real change in my behavioral choices.

And now, I’m worried that I’ve left it too late. What if I’ve backslid so far I can’t fix it? I haven’t written much about it here, even though this whole blog began as a record of my weight loss journey – and this certainly qualifies as part of that long travail. I haven’t written about it because  I have been too ashamed. Not embarrassed by a number on the scale – I’ve truly learned not to measure myself or anyone else based on that. Rather, ashamed of my self- neglect. Ashamed of my almost willful lack of self-discipline.

So, this is probably the moment to call upon my inner Elizabeth Bennet, rather than her father. Lizzy could have allowed her pride to carry her forward, refusing to be seen as fickle in her opinions or wrong in her assessment of character. In doing so, she certainly would have saved herself some moments of extreme embarrassment – imagine having to admit to virtually everyone in your community that you were the complete opposite of right! But there’s a good reason Lizzy is a beloved heroine to generations of women who’ve read Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy chose to grab her chance to be happy even though it meant admitting her mistakes, standing up to those who wished to belittle her (especially that bully, Lady Catherine deBourgh), and working to set right the damage her behaviors had inflicted.

This is definitely the moment. But, I can’t help wondering, is there enough of Lizzy’s fortitude in me? Getting healthy and in shape the first time around required all of my attention and energy, plus most of my non-work time. It also sucked up oceans of support from loving friends and family. Now that I’ve pissed all of that away, can I find the strength to do it again? I honestly do not know. But it is about time to find out.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.

   — John O’Donohue, from “A Morning Poem”



An Inside Job

Recently, I have been lamenting, kvetching, complaining or just plain old whining about being stuck, weight-wise that is. I have recommitted to my goals, renewed my determination, and reviewed You: On a Diet to little avail. I have upped my workouts in both time and intensity and (with the exception of a little Oscar night snacking) have measured and counted calories with real discipline. There has been some incredibly slow, incremental movement on the scale, but I’ve been impatient.

Then yesterday came along, in the middle of a busy and frustrating week, and something shifted. I was sore from an incredibly demanding workout on Tuesday, but I powered through an intense early morning cardio blast. When I got dressed for work, I just felt right in both my skin and my clothes.

After work, I went clothes shopping with my friend, Sara. I looked at myself in the full-length mirror, just before trying on the massive pile of clothing I brought into the fitting room. And for what was the first time in many years, what I thought wasn’t, “Wow, look how fat you are” or, more recently, “Wow, I thought I’d lost more weight than that.” The thought I had, standing in the Von Maur fitting room under horrendous fluorescent light was, “Hmmm. I look normal.”

Normal. As in, not huge. Not outside the norm. I felt like anyone else might feel in a fitting room, preparing to try on clothes — I could see my figure “flaws”, I could see what I wanted new clothes to emphasize or detract from. But standing there, in a short-sleeved t-shirt over a long-sleeved thermal shirt, and broken-in jeans I also thought I would blend in any crowd. So what that the pants I was trying on came from the women’s section, and the shirts did not? So what if I wasn’t at my ideal weight – who in the fitting rooms was?

As I tried on clothes, Sara and I found quite a few looks to laugh at. But almost everything I tried on fit, some things just didn’t work. As I made my selections, and put my own clothes back on, I realized how happy I was at that moment (even before getting to the shoe department!).

Happy and clothes shopping. Two concepts that, for most of my life, have been diametrically opposed. And I realized that this new experience was an inside job — meaning that it really had nothing to do with the external circumstances of the reading on a scale, or how I looked in a full-length mirror, or whether manufacturers made clothes that fit my frame. Instead, it had everything to do with what I was feeling and accomplishing internally. I have really been working hard – harder than I ever have – on my fitness and diet. And I am so proud of that work, and so surprised to discover capabilities beyond my expectations. Being proud of myself for being disciplined and for being internally motivated is a very new feeling. And a very good one.

So, this morning, still sore from Tuesday, I rolled out of bed with every intention of another workout with the dreaded TRX bands. And because its Thursday, before getting into my workout clothes, I stepped on the scale. Down a pound. Cool, but not defining. Moments later, I stepped out the door, on my way to another normal day.

Comparative Obsession

For many years, I pretty much refused to step on a scale.  What did I weigh at my heaviest?  Who knows?  The highest number I ever saw register on a scale was 352 pounds.  Over the past few years, I’ve thought a lot about my weight.  Sometimes, I have been accused (or pointed the finger at myself) of being obsessed with the scale, my weight, or some other aspect of weight loss. Of allowing my mood to be dictated by my progress or lack of progress. Of always talking about my “weight loss journey”.

Last night, I started thinking about this.  And a thought came into my head that feels right and true – and not only because it lets me off the hook (though that’s a nice side benefit!).

Every day, every minute, of my 352 pound life I was obsessed with my weight.

The thoughts that consumed me were all about this one factor of my life – what I could do/could not do/was too embarrassed to do; what I would eat/would not eat/would never let someone see me eat; what people thought about me/didn’t think about me…there’s an endless list of weight-related items, and I haven’t even gotten to the self-loathing thoughts, the cruel comments of others, the invisibility I had in public as the “elephant” in the room and how those things impacted my obsessive thinking.

Today, I thought about my weight at the following times:  when I got up and stepped on the scale; when I went to the gym and worked with my trainer; at each meal; when I declined the offer of dinner out at a Mexican restaurant because I can’t control myself around the free chips baskets.  And now, as I sit writing the post I will publish on my blog in the morning.

What was happening in between those moments of focus on my weight?  I walked to work just as the sun broke through clouds and I rejoiced to feel light and warmth on my face.  I laughed. I interacted with friends and colleagues. I took the stairs without thinking about it because that’s what I do now: I take the stairs!  In other words, I went happily about my day.

There are whole chunks of time in which I am busy thinking about something other than what I weigh and the complicated mental and emotional underpinnings of being fat and ashamed.  Where I am now, even with the continued focus on losing weight (and the frustration I’m feeling about this last stubborn 60 pounds), is pretty good – and by comparison to my old life, not obsessive at all!

That said, I’m not where I want to be yet.  To get there will require focus and determined effort.  There will be times when it seems, both to myself and to others, that there is only one thing in my life that I care about.  Friends may tire of listening to me talk about it, I may tire of listening to myself talk about it. But this obsession leads to a healthier, happier life, full of opportunities and promise. Seems like a comparatively small price to pay.

Why Am I Still Doing This?

A few weeks ago, I was feeling pretty discouraged that my weight was stuck in the 230-233 range for a very long time.  One of the frustrations was that I would weigh myself daily, but Thursdays – when I take a snapshot of the scale and post it to this blog – were always my heaviest day of the week.  So, being the superstitious person I am, I started taking snapshots any day that the scale showed a lower weight.  In my (admittedly warped) mind, this was proof against Thursday — and my body wouldn’t dare put up a higher weight when I could prove I had weighed less the day before!

This morning, when I stepped on the scale, up slightly from last week, which was up slightly from the week before…well, I was pretty frustrated.  I had a photo from earlier in the week where the reading on the scale was 225.  I thought seriously about posting that photo instead of today’s.

As I sat at my computer, indecision gave way to resolve.  I have to choose the whole truth when it comes to this journey — the good, the bad, the ugly…that has been my internal contract since I started blogging about my weight loss.  Whether anyone ever looks at it or not, I have to tell my story as honestly as I can.  NOT being truthful with myself is, to a great degree, what made this journey necessary in the first place.

So, here are some truths I have to keep telling myself:

  • Losing weight is hard.  Even after all this time, despite ongoing daily commitment and more good choices than bad choices, it remains hard to do.
  • It would be nice to have the pounds drop off “Biggest Loser” style, but for most people who have large amounts to lose, and for me, weight loss is a long journey: a marathon, not a sprint!
  • Be happy about progress, even though it may not show in the way you want it to on the scale.  My body shape has been changing while my weight has not.  I am now uniformly wearing size 16W in pants, and regular XL or Large in tops.  Two nights ago, I bought my first size 14W skirt.  While it is strange to be straddling the “womens” department and the other departments at stores, it is also awesome!
  • Feeling good trumps everything else! This is the secret that is so hard to hold on to when I get discouraged at the scale.  Imagine, if you can, how it felt to weigh 352 pounds…panic attacks, labored breathing, never feeling good about how I looked, never fitting in chairs or public transportation…I can tell you that it rarely felt good.  Now, I pretty much feel great every day, both physically and psychically.

Posting my weight on Thursdays keeps me honest – with myself and with anyone else who looks at my posts.  I want others to know that, while there are plenty of them, it is worth the hard parts.  And I want myself to know that the truth has, truly, set me free. And that, friends, is why I am still doing this.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2010-09-09_06-20-04_767.jpg, originally uploaded by jhnsn728.

My wise friend Sara says I need to tell everyone my current weight goal, since publicly sharing goals makes us more accountable for achieving them. As you can see, I am *hopefully* finally getting past the 230 pound plateau. My current goal is to be below 200 by the new year. That is 16 weeks away, and considering how difficult actually losing pounds has been the past couple of months it will be a challenge. However, my ultimate goal will never be reached if I don’t push a bit harder! So, 200 by 1/1/11, here I come!