Category Archives: Self-Esteem

Beauty Underneath

Do women still lie about their age?  When I was small I was taught to never, EVER ask a woman’s age.  “That is rude and inconsiderate,’ my mother used to say.  A woman telling you her true age was about as likely as a woman telling you that she was wearing her natural hair color.  It just wasn’t done.  Some things fortunately do change though, and from my experience women are more comfortable sharing their age these days and don’t bat an eyelash about going from blonde to brunette.

Some things though haven’t changed.  Every so often I receive an email from someone asking about how I deal with loose skin from losing over 100 pounds.  Recently one woman wrote saying that she was embarrassed about her body after losing weight and that she felt unattractive and unworthy of love. How I wish that women would embrace their bodies regardless of what age they are or what battles they’ve gone through.  In such a ‘beautiful’ society it’s not acceptable to talk about the real world that we live in.  Why?  I believe its because the truth is sometimes scary and people don’t want to be burdened with it so they continue to strive for the unattainable: photoshopped models and the leggy, gorgeous exercise instructor at the gym.  But the truth is, our bodies are not designed to look voluptuous and taut throughout eternity.  That is simply not its job.  The body is designed as a vessel to serve us as we pass through this life; its bound to get a bit worn, a bit bruised and beaten.

 

 

One of the best photos ever taken of me (in my opinion) happened to be at the art show I participated in earlier this month.  From this photo you would never know that underneath I have excess skin from my weight loss or that I carry a pretty prominent scar on my belly from my hysterectomy.  Nor do you see the scar on my breast from a lumpectomy or the multitude of scars on my shoulders and back that removed cancerous cells which saved my life.  Yet my smile, my look of contentment – my happiness is genuine.  I am, for the most part, comfortable with my body.

I recently came across an article from The Huffington Post about a woman who has launched a project called Under The Red Dress.  Beth Whaanga is a cancer survivor that bravely and gracefully speaks out about the physical toll that cancer takes on a human being.  The link above will take you to her story.  The following link will take you 7 images of Beth.  The first one shows her in a beautiful dress, hair done and wearing makeup, however as you scroll through the photos you see another side of Beth – a woman whose body has been through cancers, surgeries, rapid weight loss, reconstruction.  The images are not meant to shock but to educate.  You can see these images here.

While the Under The Red Dress project is to bring awareness to cancer survivors I felt compelled to share Beth’s story here on my blog for anyone who believes that she is is somehow ‘less than’, whether it be loose skin from weight loss or heavy scarring from major surgeries.  No body is perfect.  We all have flaws.

I hope the above photos, though they may look extreme, shed some light on what’s hidden beneath and that we continue to break the stereotypes that manipulate women into believing that we have to be perfect in order to be an accepted part of society.  I commend Beth Whaanga and fully support her project.

 

Hear her roar – she’s forty-four

Age is a funny thing.  Kids can’t wait to tell you how old they are, and they’ll even cheat a bit by rounding up to the next number. Teenagers can’t wait to be older.  I think one of the greatest compliments I ever received as a 16 year old was being told, ‘really?  You look at least 19!’

But somewhere in the mid twenties, things start to change.  Suddenly we aren’t so keen on telling people how old we are anymore.

 When I was a small child I had a doll named Johnny.  He and I were inseparable.  I carried him with me everywhere and when he wasn’t with me I cried.  I loved him to the moon and back.  Last year while helping my mother unpack her belongings in a new apartment she’d recently moved into I opened up a box marked winter clothes.  There inside was Johnny.  “I found him up in the attic and thought you’d like to have him,” she said.  “You were given lots of pretty dolls when you were a little girl but they just sat on the shelf while you played with Johnny.”  I picked him up and looked at his worn, plastic face.  His stuffing, once tightly fitted in crisp yellow flannel pajamas was now lumpy and sparse.  His body was now worn and tired; two fingers appeared to have been slightly chewed – signs of a child trying to break herself from the habit of sucking her thumb.    

I thought about what my mother said about the other dolls in my room, all waiting to be played with while instead, I clung to Johnny.  Most of them had long flowing hair, perfectly smooth skin and frilly pressed dresses.  My baldheaded doll-baby may not have been the prettiest thing to carry around but I can assure you that he was the envy of all the other toys in my room – we went places, he and I: vacations, car rides, grocery store outings, restaurants, you name it.  He’d been dragged though the snow, sat in the dirt, left out in the rain and if I remember correctly, vomited on a couple of times but truthfully, as I held him that day at my Mom’s apartment he still looked pretty good for being over four decades old.

Today is my birthday and I have no reservations whatsoever about telling you how old I am (forty-four).   As I reflect on what this new age represents, I guess I’m kind of feeling like my childhood doll: some places are looking a bit worn (wrinkles around the eyes), the stuffing is now a bit sparse in some key locations (slightly droopy breasts) and a few chewed up areas (some pretty impressive scars).  Recently I was scouting for a quote to pair with one of my paintings and came across one that I really connected with; I put it in a little notebook that I keep handy so I will always remember it:

I don’t want another girl’s body.  I want my body – happy, healthy and strong.  

How true this statement is for me.  Sure, there’s still that tiny part of me that wishes I had beautiful, long hair or lean and perfectly toned arms but at the end of the day I’m just grateful for the things my body does for me.  It’s likely that all this wisdom has something to do with the aging process and feeling more comfortable in my own skin; it’s positively true that I’ve learned to appreciate my body through the practice of yoga. I’m just feeling pretty darned lucky to be here I guess; that’s a feeling I never intend on taking for granted.

 

 

 

 

Five minutes of reality

I was just commenting the other day that the Internet is a perfect place for those suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. There are literally endless opportunities to be entertained, educated and engaged twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Our eyes flicker across so many visuals, it’s mind boggling.  Further, it’s easy to become numb or immune to certain images because of the multitude of times we interact with audio, video, photo – many of which affect women in ways that shape the way we think, behave and what we perceive to be true.

If you have five minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching this video featuring Jean Kilbourne, who avidly speaks out against how women are portrayed in advertisements.  Ms. Kilbourne does a fantastic job of explaining how the flawless beauty we are subjected to is completely unattainable and utterly fictional.  If you need any reassurance that the negative perception you have of yourself is unjustified and that you are beautiful in every sense of the word, you will find it here:

Self Critique

When I was majoring in graphic design in college I had a class that was titled: Drawing Critique.  It was a semester of insane project deadlines and when it was time to submit the artwork, part of our grade was  standing in front of the class as fellow classmates critiqued the work of the student in front of them.  Rule Number One:  No compliments allowed.  If you didn’t have something bad to say, you didn’t say anything at all.  And if you chose not to say anything? You’d be docked half a grade.  Oh, and if you thought you could get out of critique by not showing up for class that day?  Again, you were docked half a grade. 

I hated that class.  HATED it.  To me, it was much worse than than Public Speaking because not only did I have to stand and listen to 15-20 of my fellow students say harsh words about something I worked hard at creating but in return, I had to say the very same things to the classmates around me. 

I sat uncomfortably and watched as incredibly talented artists stood – some with stunning pieces of art, while others ripped them to shreds. The walk back to was always filled with either frustration and angst, embarrassment or just plain hatred on their faces.  No one left unscathed during Friday critique.

Looking back, I think about what I was supposed to learn from that class.  How to develop a tough skin?  Take criticism like a champ?  Probably; but I also think that my professor didn’t want there to be any shining students.  He wanted all of us to be on the same playing field – as equals.  Still, I never understood why we weren’t allowed to follow constructive criticism with something positive about the work.  Was that such a crime? 

I think the point of Drawing Critique was to teach us that there is always room for improvement.  Always.

Believe it or not, that class has had an effect that’s stayed with me to this day.  I think it’s one of the reasons why it is still difficult for me to accept a compliment.  When someone tells me that they like my artwork or that I look nice, I wait for the ‘….however’ to come.  When it doesn’t, I’m all ready to lend a hand and come back with my own critique so that I can ‘even things out’;  I don’t even need a roomful of students to do it. 

My hair looks nice?  Maybe, but did you see my dumpy clothes?

You like my clothes?  Possibly, but have you seen how lousy my hair looks? 

You like my paintings?  I can find you an artist who does a much better job than I. 

Can I blame all of my adult insecurities on an art class?   Mmm – okay.  Just for today. 

I’m not saying that criticism has no place in this world, because it truly does.  But with criticism should also come commendation and praise.  Otherwise you end up with people like me who fight with the words, ‘Thank you’ at the age of 43. 

There will always be someone out there who’s more than willing to ‘help me’ by telling me that I’m doing things wrong or that I should be more like someone else, but I’m making great strides on that front.  I don’t have to obey a professor’s rules in exchange for a good grade anymore.  My self esteem is worth much more than an A+. 

I love this photograph:

 

Lesson:  Laugh it off.   

And to my college professor, I leave this quote:

I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.
Charles Schwab

Have a great weekend, everyone. 

~Ellen

Article regarding mental and physical aspects of losing weight

I just ran across an article written by Jen Larson who lost 180 pounds via weight loss surgery.  I am linking to this well-written and totally spot-on story because it is a reminder from yet another maintainer that losing weight isn’t the cure-all, fix-all solution that many people believe it is.   

I remain firm and steadfast about my opinion on this topic as well:  Lose the weight to be healthier.  Lose it to feel better.  Lose it to enrich your life, but don’t lose it hoping it will fix everything that’s wrong in your life.  Love yourself whatever size you are on your road to healthiness.  You’ll enter maintenance a much happier person. 

Here is Jen’s article, which I highly recommend reading, and if you do I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic.  What Losing 180 Pounds Really Does to Your Body – and Your Mind

Have a great day, everyone!

~Ellen

Mail Call: Answering a question about weight loss

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to have many people from all over the US contact me because of the article in Woman’s Day Magazine.  Most inquiries are from women who share their own struggles with weight loss; others offer encouraging words or have questions about how I’ve been able to maintain for so long. 

This weekend I received an email from a woman who asked this question:

What snapped you into action?  I read in the article that you decided to lose weight shortly after your dad’s death, but was wondering if there was a specific moment that made you say to yourself, ‘from today on, no matter what, I’m never going to be this heavy again.’ 

I think that maybe what she was asking was whether or not I had experienced one of Oprah’s ‘aha’ moments – an event or significant happening that started my path towards a healthier lifestyle .  Let me share with you this story:

When I started college I had no idea that I’d gain roughly 15 pounds every year for the next 6 or 7 years.  By the time I hit my all time high, the only medical problem I had was degenerative disc disease, aka: a bad back – though I wouldn’t be properly diagnosed until many years later. One thing I did know however – the more weight I carried, the worse my back became. 

One day, my mother called and asked if she could bring my oldest brother over for a visit.  My brother, who is mentally handicapped, had come home for a few days and wanted to come over.  I had some laundry to do so I let my mother know that I’d be leaving the front door unlocked in case they arrived  while I was still in the basement. 

I put a load of laundry into the washing machine and walked up the stairs.  There was some mail on the counter that I quickly perused;  when I turned to toss the junk mail into the trash, I felt a rippling sensation in my lower back that brought me to my knees, then flat on my back onto the kitchen floor.  Every time I tried to move, the spasms knocked the wind out of me.  I was literally paralyzed from pain. 

It’s okay.  It’s fine, I thought. Mom will be here any minute and she’ll help me up.  I heard the doorbell ring and yelled, ‘Come in!  I’m in the kitchen!’  Moments later, I could see two pairs of legs walk up towards me and heard my mother say, ‘Good lord, what happened to you?’  I tried to explain that my back went into severe spasms every time I attempted to move, but my brother, whom I’d already forgotten was standing behind my mom began singing in an amused voice, ‘My sister’s having a seizure!  Are you having a seizure Ellen?  Mom, Ellen’s having a seizure! Seizure, seizure!’  **Side note: if you’re wondering whether its appropriate to laugh at this part of the story, the answer is yes.  In fact to this day, my brother who never forgets anything, still asks me when I’m going to have another seizure because he wants to be there when the fire trucks come!**  Both Mom and I tried to explain to him that I was NOT having  seizure; I’d simply hurt my back but he liked his version better – way more exciting! 

My idea of being helped to my feet was a joke.  Any attempt to lift my legs from the ground sent my back into wild, debilitating spasms.  If I lifted my head the same thing would happen.  Finally, with my mother’s urging and brother’s observances, ‘Ellen’s going to swallow her tongue’ , yes she is.’ I relented and allowed Mom to call for an ambulance. 

Less than ten minutes later the front of my house looked like the scene of a recent crime.  There was a fire truck blocking the street, with lights flashing.  Two police cars pulled up behind it, and an ambulance was on it’s way.  The firemen arrived in the house first and one of them was carrying a backboard.  I panicked and my first thought was: how many of them is it going to take to move me from here out to an ambulance?   To make things even worse, I knew one of the firemen.  We hadn’t seen each other since high school. At first he didn’t recognize me.  The vulnerability and humiliation I felt dropped like a lead balloon when my mother told him my name. I watched as his shock quickly changed to composure. 

 

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by something that your mind makes the decision to shut itself down in order to refrain from having to deal with what’s happening?  Yeah well, I tried that and it didn’t work.  So, I made the decision that no matter what I was simply going to keep my eyes closed so I didn’t have to look at anyone or anything around me. 

I heard things like my mom talking on the phone trying to make arrangements for someone to drive my brother home while she accompanied me to the hospital.  I listened and answered questions as the paramedics took my medical history and blood pressure.  I heard the firemen discuss how many of them it would take in order to get me safely down two flights of steps and out into the ambulance (the answer was four).  I kept my eyes shut tight as I held a death grip onto one of the firemen’s arm as they tilted and angled me from side to side until we were safely on the sidewalk; my eyes remained closed as the kids from the neighborhood asked ‘Did that lady get shot?  Is she dead?’  I wished for that moment to end – not because of the excruciating pain I was in, but because I wondered if it were possible for someone to literally die from embarrassment.  On the street waiting for me was a gurney to which I was transferred. They lifted my body into the ambulance and closed the doors.  Slowly, I opened my eyes. 

It took over 10 days before I would recover enough to return to work.  From that period and for the next 5 years my back would go out 3 more times.  I have permanent damage as a result of these bad discs but luckily since meeting my goal weight, my back hasn’t gone out since. 

Not until that day had I ever been more conscious of how heavy I was.  I can still feel my cheeks get warm when think of the embarrassment I felt.  I’d like to be able to tell you that on that day I made the decision to change my life and begin a healthier lifestyle.  It would make for a great ‘aha’ moment, but it simply didn’t happen.  I continued to gain.  Then my father died.  It’s true that shortly after the funeral I awoke and knew that on that day I was ready for a change, but it wasn’t immediately after his death.  I remember using food to numb my grief long after the funeral was over.  

My thought is this:  maybe some people have an ‘aha’ moment.  Maybe a major event takes place and at precisely that time a wave of energy floods that person and he or she feels forever changed.  I do believe that for ever action there is a reaction, but sometimes our reaction to negative things comes in the form of a seed that’s planted.  For every embarrassing moment, every humiliating experience, I tried to carry on the way I always had because I thought it proved I was strong enough to rise above it.  Though I didn’t acknowledge it at that time, those seeds were there – and they were growing.   The day I decided to change my life was most likely a day like any other, except for the fact that I had outgrown the ability to ignore what was happening within me.  I couldn’t shut my eyes any longer so I opened them, took a deep breath, and started a new path. 

 

Perhaps some of you can help answer this woman’s question from your own point of view.  Did you have a moment that snapped you into action, or was it small changes along the way that brought you to a better place in your life?

Beginning Again

I had a déjà vu experience this week.  I found myself overwhelmed and anxious (I know, nothing new there, right?); but, it triggered a sugar craving like the ones I used to get when I was heavy.  The feeling was instantaneous.  It wasn’t a simple desire, but more like a desperate urge that I had to fill. 

No, I wasn’t on Pinterest looking at all of the food porn that’s constantly making appearances, nor had I just finished watching something from the FOOD Channel on TV.  I wasn’t even near the kitchen when it happened.  I was in my bedroom, reading.  Specifically, reading about the ‘8 Mistakes Small Business Owners Make’ when I put my laptop down and started thinking about eating. I got up from my comfy reading spot and my train of thought specifically went to lemon squares.  What my deal is with lemon squares lately, I do not know.  But there it was, festering.  I began to pace around the house, wondering which route I would take to get to the one place in town that has the best lemon squares I’ve ever had. (Damn you, Uptown Kitchen!)  Just so you know, not only was it storming outside, but it was also cold – the two things that normally wouldn’t drive me from the house for anything.  But as I say, I had serious crave brain going on. 

I changed my clothes, put on my shoes and took one last look outside at the wind and rain, and noticed something.  I couldn’t stand still.  I was shifting from one foot to the other.  Slowly, I started paying more attention to my body language – the fidgeting hands and the urge to leave the house.  I realized then that what I was experiencing was the same type of feeling I used to get in college, which always led to a sugar binge.  I’d have a deadline for an art project that I felt I wasn’t ready for;  or, say, a critique in class that left me feeling unprepared and nervous.  In other words, my anxiety was at warp speed and wanted that sweet relief it once used to get. 

I immediately sat down at the table with my coat still on, picked up a marker and slid over a piece of watercolor paper.  If I want sugar that bad, I’m going to have to work for it first, I thought.  I began to write down all of the things that I was feeling anxious about.  The first thing I wrote down was the word Etsy.  Okay, I’m obviously having anxiety over starting my own business; that’s perfectly normal.  But then I began writing things down that included phrases like: time constraints, not enough talent, fear of making mistakes, poor marketing skills, and so on. Separately, I wrote a list of frustrations I’ve been experiencing as a result of my sloth-like recuperation from surgery two months ago.

It took about 15 minutes to purge myself of the negativity I’d been keeping locked away in my mind.   When I read everything through a second time I realized that aside from my post-surgery woes, 90% of what I wrote came from something I’d recently read about starting a business.  There are endless articles online that want to show me what I’m doing wrong, what I could be doing better and why I’m not succeeding.  Realistically, if I took every piece of advice and actually did all of those things, I’d literally drive myself mad.

 

 

Starting anything, whether it’s a business or a diet can be extremely intimidating.  One of the reasons why it took me so long to regain control of my health was because it was too overwhelming to throw out all of my off-limit foods and adhere to a long list of diet rules and make time for all of the exercises and weight loss group sessions.  Doing nothing may get you nowhere, but feeling like you have to do everything perfectly can make you feel just as paralyzed, trust me. 

I may have conquered my weight issues, but stress, anxiety and fear are just a part of life.  I needed to get a handle on how I was going to deal with my feelings of doubt but reverting back to old habits was simply not an idea that I had the luxury of entertaining. 

Deep Breath……now repeat: We do what we can do. 

Okay…so, yes I’m nervous;  yes I’m scared, and yes, I’m afraid that I may screw up; but I also need to start taking my own advice.  Maybe there was a reason why Woman’s Day contacted me during the same summer that I had major surgery and my job ended. Perhaps I needed a reminder of the day I began the bold yet scary task of losing weight; of how hard, yet how rewarding it was/is.  Maybe it was to remind me that it’s okay to be overwhelmed and afraid – I just can’t let it stop me from the act of beginning. 

If you’re beginning something new,or contemplating a new start for a better life, you’re not alone.  Just remember to keep focused, do what you can and treat every little accomplishment as a big deal, because it is.  We have to remember that to succeed, we must begin, regardless of how small and insignificant the act may sound.  Because really, who knows where we might just end up? 

 

 

 

**GIVEAWAY**

I had thirteen responses to my book giveaway, and I was glad to see many new faces in the comments section!  If you’re new here, WELCOME!!

It would have been so COOL to have taken pictures of me plugging in my cyborg robot as it mathematically produced the lucky winner from its mouth (which also serves as a printer!) But, my bazillion dollar robot is unfortunately in the shop at this time so I had to resort to option 2:  asking my husband as he was leaving for work to shout out a number between 1 and 13.  He yelled back:  NUMBER ELEVEN – HAVE YOU SEEN MY COFFEE MUG?  You’ll sleep well knowing that we did find his coffee mug (and thanks honey, for the help!)  :)

So, Margot – you are my lucky winner of Unjunk Your Junk Food!   Please contact me and send me your address so I can wrap this baby up and ship it out to you ASAP!! 

To the rest of you who entered and to those who entered after the deadline, I plan another giveaway next month, as I always do around my blog’s anniversary – and I have a few great items lined up so stick around!

Have a great weekend, everyone!  See you back here next week.

xo,

~Ellen

Filling In The Blanks

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!

 

X0~

Ellen

A Lesson in Art and Perseverance

Wednesday’s discussion on sugar and sugar substitutes was really informative.  Not only are you educated and strongly opinionated on your use of sugar and/or sugar substitutes but there are several of you who, like me, are still searching for a comfortable coexistence with the right sweetener.  Thanks to all of you for bringing your opinions to the blog.   It’s an important discussion and one that I’m sure will reappear sooner rather than later as I keep trying searching for foods that I can live with and feel good about eating. 

 

I consider this a kind of hybrid of blogs, weaving topics of weight and maintenance with subjects of art, dogs and life. Since it’s Friday, and since I accomplished something big this week (I finished reading the biography of Vincent Van Gogh -  all 950+ pages, aloud my employer) I thought I’d change gears and write about my favorite painter today not just for you, but for me as well, because my mind is packed high from corner to dusty corner with information that I need to release out into the open.  If I don’t, I may never find my car keys again!

First, I should let you know that I’ve read many books to Mrs. P before, including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.  Those books were enjoyable, but reading them out loud was no easy task.  The author was Swedish and even though the books were translated, many words were incredibly frustrating to try and pronounce.   Imagine how hard it is to constantly attempt the correct pronunciation of words like Aftonbladet or Dagens Nyheter while still trying to make the book sound interesting.  Not an easy task.   FYI, reading violent anal rape scenes to a 90+ year old woman can sometimes leave you feeling more uncomfortable than she.  Sometimes I’d be interrupted during a particularly graphic depiction because she’d calmly want to know, ‘Now, how on earth would that even work?’ Don’t ask me what I ended up telling her.  I’ve blocked it from my memory.

Ahem. Back to Van Gogh (yes, please let us get back to Van Gogh).  This was by far, the most comprehensive, thorough book I’ve ever read about him.  In fact, it took 2 forensic authors more than ten years to complete.  They had access to more than 1,000 saved and archived letters that were written between Vincent and his family, many of which described what Vincent was feeling at the time he painted certain works of art.  There were many urban legends laid to rest as well.  Here are a few that you might find interesting.

Myth Number One:  Vincent cut off his ear to show affection for a local prostitute and sent it to her as a gesture of love. 

Truth:  Vincent suffered from what was later diagnosed as temporal lobe epilepsy, which likely caused most of the anguish in life.  He had several mental breakdowns which brought on tremors, loss of consciousness, severe depression, agitation and terror.  When he cut off his ear it was because of a psychotic break triggered by an argument he had with Paul Gauguin.  Gauguin threatened to leave the house they were sharing and Vincent wanted him to stay.  He cut off part of his ear, wrapped it in paper and delivered it to a local brothel where Gauguin was known to visit and asked that the parcel be delivered to him. 

Myth Number Two:  Vincent’s last painting was entitled Wheat Field with Crows.  It depicts a road with no end, symbolizing the end of Vincent’s own life, for which he was about to take. 

Wheat Field with Crows

 

Truth:  This was not Vincent’s last painting.  Wheat Field with Crows was completed a couple of weeks before Vincent’s death and symbolized his increasingly despondent mood after having had an argument with his only friend, his brother Theo.  He completed several more paintings in the 2 week period that led to his death. 

Myth Number Three:  Vincent committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. 

Speculation.  There is not much evidence that supports the claim that Vincent shot himself.   The only controversy surrounding this book is that the authors firmly believe that Vincent did not shoot himself, but was shot by a young man named Rene.  There are several pieces of evidence supporting this theory and it sounds entirely likely (to me, anyway) that this is how Vincent truly died.  For a very well-done 2 part story that 60 Minutes did on this book and Vincent’s life, you can watch here.

 

What saddens me is that Vincent failed at every single thing he ever tried.  He was ridiculed, rejected and humiliated by everyone he ever came into contact with, including his fellow painters.  No one wanted to be friends with him.  In fact, the only communication he ever received later in life was when ordering food during mealtime.

How could someone paint something as beautiful as this…

Four Cut Sunflowers

 

…also inscribe in a letter, “As a painter I will never amount to anything important.  I am absolutely sure of it.”

 

While reading this book it was difficult to remain uplifted when here was a man who failed at practically everything he ever tried, but I think it’s important to see the beauty in his perseverance. He never gave up, despite humiliation and constant dead-ends.  No matter what people said or did to him he was true to himself. 

He wrote, “If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”  

I intend on borrowing some of that passion and conviction and use it in my own life.

 

Have a  great weekend, everyone.  Persevere, no matter what.

XO,

~Ellen

The Ups and Downs of Weight Loss

As I was catching up on other blogs last night I came across a post written by a blogger that resides pretty close to my heart.   She is a special one, Teresa is.  Always supportive, always thinking of others needs – even when she herself is struggling.  I noticed that she hadn’t posted in a while.  When that kind of thing happens to a blogger I value, I both worry and talk myself out of worry.  “I hope she’s not sick.  No, she’s just terribly busy, that’s all.  It’s fine.”  Finally a post popped up in my reader and as I read, I realized, at least partly, what had been going on. She’d gained 12 pounds and avoided writing about it on her blog.  I could feel the frustration in her words, the disappointment she felt in herself, and finally, her determination to get herself back on track.  Her commenters were loving, kind, and supportive as they always are within this community. 

That post immediately transported me back to the time when I could have been the one writing those words.  I’d finally broken from the 200’s and slid into the 190’s seamlessly.  I had a little help breaking through that barrier, though: stress.  My first marriage was failing.  Consciously I didn’t know what was happening, but deep down I must have been aware of the affair.  I kept myself busy with diet and exercise and that became my focus. If I look better, I can save my marriage.    The weight continued to drop and I made it down to the 180’s. 

I don’t quite remember what triggered my sudden reversal, but I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that since my weight loss didn’t affect how my husband felt about me, I kind of gave up on it.   Becoming healthier wasn’t going to save my marriage, so why bother?  (as I write this, I wish I could speak to that girl and give her all the wisdom she would ever need to know about putting herself first. It kind of breaks my heart to see myself as that person but in retrospect, I needed that experience to happen in order to save myself.) 

What followed was depression.   Depression and overeating go hand in hand with me and so I ate, while watching the scale rise, rise, rise.  I remember continuing to weigh myself even though I knew I was gaining.  I think it was probably some form of self punishment, because it only made me more depressed.  And yes, then I would eat more. 

It wasn’t until one morning when I weighed in at 199 that something ‘clicked.’  You hear people say that a lot….. I don’t know what happened.  Something just clicked…Sometimes we can explain it; sometimes not.  For me, it was like I’d finally had my fill of self abuse.  Suddenly, I was done abusing my body for an action that wasn’t even mine to own.  I was angry, and sad, and determined.  And it was enough to turn me in the right direction once again.  Yes, I was losing the same 15 or 16 pounds that I’d already lost, but it was my life and I had three choices: to continue abusing myself, to stay the same, or to regain control of my life.

 

When reading weight loss success stories and seeing the before and after photos, it’s easy to forget how much time has passed between Point A and Point B.   Many of these stories are just snapshots of what was in reality, many months of denial, bouts of depression and then finally, clarity.  Every day provides us with some kind of challenge.  Maybe today it’s the decision to have a hysterectomy.  Maybe tomorrow it’s trying to figure out how to deal with the constant fear of that post-menopausal weight-gain that one keeps hearing about.  The point is, today is all we have. 

We do what we can do today. 

We find the strength today. 

Life is going to roll on as she pleases, and sometimes she’s going to roll right over us, like it or not.  Maybe next time when she’s in her foul mood, we step a little faster; maybe we get lucky.

I feel terribly lucky right now.  For years I chipped away at my weight alone, not realizing this community even existed.    It’s only now, in maintenance, that I feel truly home with all of you, wherever you currently are in life. 

I wasn’t really sure where this post was going when I started it this morning but I guess the bottom line is this:  please don’t consider yourself a failure when you don’t meet or exceed your expectations.  It may take 4 or 5 ups and downs before you hear that ‘click’.  It doesn’t mean you don’t want it badly enough.  It just means that you’re still learning how to get there.

Have a great Thursday.

XO,

~Ellen