I received two copies of Woman’s Day Magazine in the mail on Tuesday. Initially, my idea was to have my husband read the article first. By reading his face I would know what to expect and be somewhat prepared. Did that happen? Nah. I tore that envelope open before my foot crossed the threshold! There in the Healthy You section of the magazine were the words: I Lost 105 Pounds! I flipped to the article and read through it quickly. Hmm. No initial damage control needed. Then I read through it again, more carefully. I thought it was well-done. Nothing like I had expected, but nonetheless, well done.
It wasn’t an article really, but more like a timeline that showed how I started and where I finished, complete with little snippets of information along the way. Short and sweet. Very short, actually; but I realize that landing magazine space is kind of like the equivalent of landing a good apartment in New York: it may be short on square footage but you’re grateful for any room at all. So, while I wish a bit more of my story had been shared, it’s really okay that it wasn’t. Shh…. I happen to have this blog, see? And there, I can fill in the blanks to my heart’s content.
Many of you who’ve been reading me for the last couple of years have seen the photos depicting my loss, but were unaware of my full history. So, for those both old and new – here’s a bit more of my story.
Even though I was of average size growing up, things began to change once I entered college. I’d just moved away from home and had little experience in making new friends. Art classes were very demanding. Those pressures combined with depression made it incredibly difficult to adjust; it was during that time when I started using food for comfort. All of the stress, insecurity and depression I felt were often quieted with carry-out pizza and cartons of ice cream. Art majors spent a great deal of time working on projects so it wasn’t uncommon for me to reach for food while working late into the night. I gave little regard to what I was eating. All I knew was that it provided me with the tools I needed to cope with my sadness, school, roommates and relationships.
By the time I graduated I had a very solid, unhealthy relationship with food that continued to grow worse. If I were depressed or lonely, food would calm my mind. If I were anxious, food would change my focus. And if I were happy – of course, I would celebrate with food. I lived like this for years.
When my father died in 1998, in part from diabetes complications, his death was the first experience I had in losing someone close to me. I remember being at the funeral and suddenly becoming very self-conscious of my weight. Friends and family that I hadn’t seen in years no longer recognized me. The stunned looks on many of their faces were noticeable; on my five-foot-two frame I weighed 235 pounds. I was grieving the loss of my father and the person I used to be at the same time.
My moment of clarity came shortly after my father’s funeral. I couldn’t shake the reality of how different my life had become, how isolated I was and how much I used food to escape the problems I couldn’t face. My father’s life ended much too soon and I became afraid that I too would become a diabetic – maybe even die young, if I didn’t change the way I was living my life.
There were lots of fad diets out there and I believe I tried them all, but the best investment I ever made for my health was an impulse buy and cost me $12. It was a pedometer. I’d read somewhere that one needed to walk 10,000 steps a day to maintain a healthy weight so I made it my mission to reach that goal, no matter what. I didn’t change anything else other than making a point to move, and I would find any excuse to do it. I’d march in place while brushing my teeth. I would walk back and forth in my hallway while waiting for my bathtub to fill. I’d step in place while washing my dishes or talking on the phone. Wearing my pedometer gave me instant gratification. I could look at it and see my progress at any given moment and that encouraged me to go even further. Before long I was averaging between 16,000 and 20,000 steps a day. By creating that one goal of just moving I didn’t feel as though I had turned my entire life upside down. Once I started feeling stronger, I wanted to move more, and I wanted to eat healthier. Notice that I emphasize on the word ‘want’. I did it because I wanted to, not because it was part of a series of strict diet rules I had to follow. That one good habit triggered another, which triggered another, and so-on. Once I began concentrating on my steps and how much I was moving my body I became stronger not only physically, but emotionally as well. Using food as a way to meet my emotional needs wasn’t as much of a priority as it had been. That’s when I knew that I was on the right path towards a permanent change.
It took more than five years to lose all the weight I’d gained. I know that probably sounds like a very long time to many, and in some cases it is – especially when you have health issues that need immediate attention. Even though I had common weight-related issues that were affecting my way of life (severe lower back pain, stiffness, lethargy) I never treated the idea of losing weight as a race. I never set specific goals to lose X amount by a certain time. Looking back I realize that I succeeded because I made small changes, little by little. This allowed me the time I needed to work on making this new way of living feel more like second nature. For me, losing slowly and steadily played a tremendous part in being able to maintain for as long as I have.
When I was interviewed I was asked what I’d learned along the way and how the loss changed my life. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I consider my emotional health as important as my physical health. I firmly believe they should work together as a unit when losing weight. I had to do a lot of emotional work along the way and get to the heart of why I was abusing food before I could move on towards keeping the weight off. Maintainers will tell you: losing the weight is the easy part, and I agree with that statement. Keeping it off required a complete understanding of why I overate in the first place. Without it, I would have likely regained all the weight I’d lost, if not more. I often say to myself, If I am fit emotionally, my physical health will follow. In other words, if I am under a great amount of stress – if I’m not taking care of my mental well-being, my physical self tends to suffer. If I’m at a good place emotionally, then physically I feel stronger and in charge of my life.
Finally, blogging has been an invaluable resource for me. By the time I started reading blogs I was already in maintenance, so when I decided to start writing Fat Girl Wearing Thin, it was initially to give others who were coming into maintenance a realistic sense of what to expect when they reached their goal. I also wanted to support and share advice to those just getting started. Never did I imagine what kind of love and support I would gain in return from such a wonderful community of people. I lost my weight on my own, but my ability to maintain has been made a lot easier knowing that there are others out there who understand where I’m at, where I’ve been and are always on hand to offer loads of advice, encouraging words and wonderful ideas.
For that, I want to thank you!